So what does Brexit mean for animals?

The EU referendum is a topic of hot debate at the moment, with inter-party fighting and the general public at a loss to decide ‘what is really best for me?’. But, who is thinking about animal welfare and our natural world in all of this?

 

George Eustice, the minister for Agriculture said that ‘animal welfare would be better if Britain was not having to obey by EU standards’, suggesting that Britain could compensate farmers to provide better welfare for animals by using the funds which would have been drained by the EU.  But, do we have a guarantee of this? No. He later conceded that there was no guarantee that this would be a sustainable option for the government, meaning welfare standards would rapidly fall again.

 

So what exactly has the EU ever done for the UK to protect animals and the environment? Well, quite a lot actually!

 

Some of the biggest acts of the EU to improve animal welfare across the whole of Europe were the fights against cosmetic testing on animals, banning hens in confined battery cages and pigs in restricted sow stalls in 2012 and targeting people illegally trading in endangered species and their products.

 

In addition, the EU has sought for greater welfare and care for animals in transit in and out of the EU. The use of great apes in animal testing has also been stopped as a result of European law as well as a ban on the sale of any cosmetic products that have been tested on animals. Shouldn’t we be proud of these great achievements? There is a risk however, that leaving the EU could reverse all this.

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Last year saw the launch of Operation Cobra III – an international collaboration between Europol, Border Force and the UK’s recently saved National Wildlife Crime Unit, alongside various international agencies.  This investigation resulted in over 1200 illegally traded items being seized, some still alive – a great result for wildlife with over 200 criminals being brought to justice – but would this ever have happened without the strength of the EU behind it?  Just last week the EU action plan was launched setting out 32 specific measures to crack down on wildlife trafficking.  The illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illegal trade in the world – worth an estimated £14 billion a year. Without cross-country collaborations and huge financial support from the EU – do we really have a chance at tackling wildlife crime at this level?

 

People are perhaps unaware that the EU now has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Although, the UK has been a true pioneer to some of the efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade or improve animal welfare standards across Europe, its vital that we try to influence as many other countries as possible to follow in our footsteps. At the end of the day, don’t we all just want to make the world a better place for animals?

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Digital Genius – how to campaign online

Since working in the charity sector with such experienced and diverse fundraising and digital teams, I have been really inspired by the many fantastic ways to influence change through supporter and community engagement.  So I thought I would share some of these ideas with you and see what you think:

E mail upgrades – why is that we are so willing to help the individual sufferer and not the millions that really need our help.  There was a great article I read online once that helped explain the phenomenon (http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/11/05/361433850/why-your-brain-wants-to-help-one-child-in-need-but-not-millions), but I think essentially it comes down to what a person genuinely feels they can help with and building that personal experience and relationship with cause.  That’s why this email campaign by Save the Children was a great way to customise that individual support, giving the receiver the option of a low and slightly higher donation. This is very effective.

save the children

Animal Webcams – one of my personal favourites is this new fad of placing a webcam in a barn, a zoo enclosure or on a famous monument to get a birds eye view and first-hand experience of the animal we are fascinated by. They are simple, cost effective and highly inspiring concepts that prove to be addictive viewing for the public.

My top 3 are:

Quizzes – these are both a fun and informative way to get the message out there, or teach people about your campaign.  Some of the most effective quizzes have been amusing, such as the idea of assigning an animal to a person’s personalist.

My top two are:

Internet things – this refers to the invention of little gadgets without the physical gadget part.  From controlling you heating from home, to remote printing, the idea is the use the internet to do things for you that you would normally have to do manually at home/work. Genius really.

Wearables – well these really the new big thing! Either for promoting knowledge, fitness or simply a brand.  By being able to wear an object like that, people feel an instant connection with an issue or aspect of their life. Its also proved a really inspiring way of educating people, such as a Tru Activist campaign about sweat shop t shirts with a t shrit vending machine luring people in – http://www.trueactivist.com/this-vending-machine-sells-t-shirts-for-2-euros-but-no-one-will-buy-one-see-why/. Some of the other well-known examples are:

3D printing – probably one of the biggest inventions of this decade.  3D printing has proved a phenomenon from technological use, recreational use and even scientific research and medical use.  Its possibilities seem endless but unfortunately the price tag is still very high.  One great campaign was run by World Animal Protection Netherlands with their Oliphant campaign – http://www.worldanimalprotection.org/news/launch-life-size-elephant-petition-protect-elephants

Cryptocurrencies and Bit coins – something a bit beyond me, but essentially a currency made out of nothing but data. It sounds preposterous but already the value of these bitcoins and data crypts has become huge, with people exchanging the equivalent of thousands of pounds on regular basis.  I expect a time will come where paper money is simply a thing of the past.

Disconnecting – with the rapid popularity of social media and connecting with friends far and wide, people have become so connected in each other’s lives that there has been this concern that we are in naïve, antisocial bubbles.  As a result, people are turning back to the old days, where you are simply disconnected from the world around you and more involved in your community.  A really interesting app called Somebody (http://somebodyapp.com/) has come up with the idea of sending message to your friends, but instead of your friend receiving it, someone near to them with the app receives it and is asked to communicate the message. It encourages socialising and helps up stop relying on silo conversations. Not sure I would feel comfortable with this myself, but then I’m from London when making eye contact with a stranger is simply frowned upon.

Hashtags – the trend of a hashtag can literally make or break a campaign these days. But what I have found most interesting about the top two trending campaign hashtags #nomakeupselfie and #icebucketchallenge were not the sheer amount of cash they made, but the fact they weren’t even started by the charity that received the donations. It was simply a case of a trend being hijacked by a celeb, or accidentally going viral b y a select few very keen individuals and then BOOM a huge influx of cash to the chose charity. Every charity wants to do this, but its nearly impossible to replicate that kind of success. Sometimes it really just depends on the time of day, the celeb that pick it up and how they really feel about that cause.

Clever buttons – one my favourite campaigns of this year was by Compassion in world farming who used an amusing technique in their emails to supporters.  By customising a button in an amusing way like this it can really make a difference to the opinion of the reader, especially if really putting their potential action in perspective of what it will really actually achieve for the campaign.  Honesty really is the best policy. And in this case, it just wants us to be annoying. Something anyone can do.

compassiong

Mass contributions to design  – we’ve all heard of crowd surfing, and more recently corwd funding where loads of people can come together to raise funds for an issue they believe in, but have your heard of crowdsourcing creativity?  The Johnny Cash Project (http://www.thejohnnycashproject.com/)  is a fantastic example of this, bringing all his online fans together to help design and album, knowing that 100% your contribution will be included in this iconic singers album cover.  A really ingenious way of cementing that support and thankfulness in fans and supporters.

Twitter – bye bye Facebook. Twitter has fast become the fuel for some campaigns and the conversations between activities, supporters and celebrities – all coming together to discuss, debate and support key issues.  It provides a space for anyone and everyone to come together to share their voice and the support of some can really prove invaluable to a campaign such as https://twitter.com/iansomerhalder/status/555070399034458113 Something I must mention thought is a really successful campaign called Tweet4Elephants an initiative by The U.S Embassy and Wildlife Direct spurred a great conversation yesterday on the twitter platform where it got over 100 million impressions and close to 2.3 million tweeps participating in the conversation. The conversation lasted for close to four hours and also attracted over 20,000 tweets trending in. It truly was an epic success, no exaggeration. Read more here; http://allafrica.com/stories/201501140994.html By Lilian Mutegi.  I have to say my top 3 twitter accounts though just to see some funny ones:

  • Horniman Walrus “of course I’m a fan of #whalefest”
  • Orkney Library “we also have books that teach you how to read”
  • Rainforest alliance – incredible images, fun blog and top lists (not afraid to re post content)

 

Videos with a twist – we all see videos online all the time, but one of my favourite spins on this is videos with a message, that is not what you realised.  Two fantastic examples are by World Animal protection for the  Wildlife in Entertainment campaign, where they are actively seeking to see an end to elephants rides and tiger selfies. See what I’m taking about here along with some other great examples;

Interactive data – so yeah of course some data can be positively boring. We’ve all seen the horror that is a spreadsheet but the city taking did something brilliant with some complex data and had some great results.  Ever wondered who from Marvel really was the best superhero?  The results here are pretty conclusive if you ask me: http://comics.thecitytalking.com/

Social media online gadgets – there are now so many online gadget and thingymajigs that can seriously help you with anything to everything.  Here are some of my new found discoveries:

  • Vines are very engaging and so easy to make – useful if humorous and have huge viral potential
  • Medium – good simple blog that looks super professional and serious (right on brand!)
  • Timeline creates timeline images, from old to new i.e. summarising work in an area for example
  • Us vs them does incredible quizzes (inspiration for Crimestoppers campaign maybe?)
  • PIcmarkr or  Marksta – will put a watermark on the image for free
  • Pull quote – will pull quotes instantly from reports/long text for instant twitter posts etc
  • Canva – create your own infographics/graphics super simple!
  • Flipboard – allows you to aggregate news topics easy e.g. just on wildlife
  • Steller – brilliant story line app, simple images in a sequence making a story
  • Thinglink – can put links on top of images, i.e. say on top of someone’s face there is an embedded link to who they are, or fundraising links when you hover your mouse over it – genius!
  • Picfont or Type A – image + text = overall single image that is sharable e.g. a meme
  • Cinemagram – creates short fun videos
  • org – for tips on bio content – useful for professional linked in and twitter account biogs so that they come up in best searches

But the all-time favourite social media tip to you is to watch this video and know what not to do! – sh1t social media on radio” – ENJOY!  (watch 30 secs in)

 

So what’s my favourite online campaign?

Based on everything I’ve told you I would have to say that my favourite online campaign in one by Animals Australia about animal abuse. The digital appearance is so inspiring and emotional and its interactive aspect is hugely compelling. So huge thumbs up to whoever came up with it! http://www.animalsaustralia.org/appeal/investigations/

Hope you found this is interesting and even useful, so much to take in, but really worth it!

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Conservation Update Q4 2014

To wrap up 2014 I wanted to focus the final edition of the year of conservation updates on wildlife crime.  My new role as campaigns officer at World Animal Protection means I work on our current campaign to promote and provide solutions for tackling wildlife crime in the UK.   I have learnt a lot about different types of crime here through meeting parliamentarians, other NGOs and various police forces, so I wanted to summarise some of the key areas of wildlife crime and why its so important we campaign against it.

  1. My first parliamentary event was attending an event organised by Wild Futures, a conservation organisation focused on primates and the environment, centred around raising awareness with MPs that keeping primates as pets is not illegal in the UK and should be.First and foremost I was actually shocked to discover this, but low and behold it’s the truth.  The animal welfare act has certain loop holes that although you’d be unlikely to see a monkey for sale in a pet shop, shockingly you would be able to find them for sale on eBay and on top of that it wouldn’t be a crime to do so.  Unbelievable!  Luckily with iconic support from those such as Jane Goodall and Bill Oddie, Wild Future are able to campaign for such an “easy win” for MPs as I really think most people would be in support of changing todays legislation.  As my first insight into political lobbying I was inspired to see how such passionate and dedicated people can come together to make a difference.  It made me realise I’m exactly where I need to be.

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  1. Illegal Wildlife trade online

Late last year IFAW (International federation for animal welfare) were credited highly for the release of a critical report that could be used to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, by focusing on sales and advertising online.  The report specifically focuses on eBay where it is known that you can practically buy and sell anything from houses to air guitars, and the results for illegal trade were astonishing.

Looking at adverts across 16 countries it found approximately 33,000 illegal items worth a staggering £7 million!  Some of these included adverts for live tigers, orangutans and chimps – including a “toilet trained” gorilla.  The results were well and truly horrifying and showed the real extent of illegal wildlife crime.  It is estimated that this is the 4th most lucrative illicit activity in the world after drugs, human trafficking and counterfeit goods, with an estimated global value of £10billion per year.

And all these illegal items are available at your fingertips with the simple click of button.  With its huge links to organised crime and terrorism (through funding) we are astounded that this area is so minimally enforced or tackled by policing agencies.  At World Animal protection we are working with national police forces, the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service and Border Force to highlight the need for effective wildlife crime enforcement both locally and nationally.  With huge backing from the likes of the Duke of Cambridge we will hopefully see huge strides to fight this crime in the future.

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  1. Plight of the Ploughshare Tortoise

This September I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the Annual Durrell London Lecture.  This year they focused primarily on the critically endangered Ploughshare tortoise to which they have dedicated so much of the Durrell’s resources, time and expertise.  The ploughshare tortoise is known for its unique markings and petite size and throughout the 17th and 18th centuries was traded heavily in Asia for food.  Similarly it was collected for bush meat in its locality, the Island of Madagascar.  Unfortunately, with the additional threat of bush fires and the illegal pet trade, this species is now the rarest reptile in the world.

ploughshare-tortoise

The species is now endemic to bush scrub habitat in North-West Madagascar with an estimated 85 in the wild.  It was at this point that Durrell decided to intervene.  Breeding programmes were introduced, starting in Ampijoroa, and illegal animals were beginning to be seized at the Island’s airport.   Once a nursery was established, with more than 600 youngsters being produced, a 95% survival rate was recorded. It was at this point that Durrell decided to reintroduce them into the wild.  By attaching radio trackers they were able to monitor the releases and found it was complete success, especially with the ultimate discovery that young had been produced that related to the reintroduced females. The shells of these tortoises are iconic for the rich yellow/gold and black contrast, and in an effort to reduce to demand from illegal traders and reduce their value the reintroduced individuals were engraved with their identities, but this only halted trade for a moment.  In Madagascar now Durrell works closely with the communities, such as the one in Baly Bay, who have ploughshares close to their hearts and dislike the idea of them being stolen from their country.  As result Durrell have been able to train park wardens to monitor the site and apprehend poachers, and also educate communities to appreciate the benefits of conserving this species.  Close collaborations have also been attempted with the Border Force and UK trained border agents have been asked to help the training of Madagascan staff.  Other efforts such as the introduction of fire breaks have resulted in a reduction of bush fires by 75% in 6 years.

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It was a great lecture and I look forward to hearing the findings of Durrell’s most recent research.

  1. Poaching – Wildlife crime study

In the UK it might not seem that locally a lot of wildlife crime actually exists, but it does.  World Animal Protection is working to highlight the very prominent issues we have and how local police forces can work together to fight this type of crime. We are also promoting the reporting of intelligence to Crimestoppers anonymously if you know if people have or are planning to commit a crime relating to wildlife in your area.

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The major examples of wildlife crime are:

  • Illegal poaching
  • Animal/habitat disturbance or destruction
  • Violence or cruelty
  • Theft or illegal trade
  • Animal persecution

Illegal poaching can come in various forms, but the most common is illegal fishing and hunting of deer or game birds illegally.  The most highly controversial issue with weak persecution levels is the punishment for habitat destruction, particularly of bat roosts found in property developments that are being altered or demolished.  Currently as it stands, barely any persecutions have been successful enough that it might actually dissuade developers from dealing with vulnerable bat roosts. Animal persecution is also a common issue – the most well-known story in the news would be the poisoning of raptors.  Many cases have been reported in Scotland, particularly near land where species of game birds are bred and it is suggested that birds of prey are targeted so that they do not hunt the farms game birds.  Little successful persecution has been publicised, however, there is huge development in this area with strides in crime scene investigation and finding ways around the persecution of individuals by targeting them for other crimes such as those involving firearms.

Personally I find the acts of animal violence and cruelty the worst of all crimes, such as badger baiting, hare coursing, and random acts of violence to various wildlife such as kicking swans or shooting pellet guns at birds.  These acts stem from sadistic and cruel personalities that are truly abhorrent and these people are likely to be the most dangerous and unpleasant individuals in society, likely linked to other crimes.

Finally, the most widespread and profitable crime would have to be the illegal wildlife trade.  There are so many species that are endangered as a result of illegal trade with so many being killed for human use/trade.  It is estimated that 3 rhinos are killed every day and 96 elephants alongside that! From that angle it is shocking, but increased demand and to combined effects of poverty, corruption and poor law enforcement leads to increased poaching.  The ploughshare tortoise has decreased by 30% in the last 6 years alone, and is often seen in Asian markets fetching prices of around $37k! It is still unknown what these tortoises are wanted for: pets, traditional medicine, food, or simply symbols of wealth?  Durrell is going to begin research into this an attempt to plan a strategy to reduce demand for this endangered species through education and law enforcement.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of conservation updates!

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Conservation Update Q3 2014

Hey guys, sorry for the uber delayed 3rd conservation update of the year.  I have just started a new role at my organisation and like has been pretty mega, but now I plan to post a 4th update in the coming weeks to round up the year, so enjoy the next snippet of info.

  1. British weather takes its toll on Britain’s seabirds

Puffin-breeding-colony

The beginning of 2014 was bombarded with tragic news stories of severe floods and storm damage as a result of heavy rains and high winds, but with the pleasant summer we’ve have that seems long behind us.  However, for seabirds the legacy is much more dramatic.  From early February there have been reports of recovered seabirds that have perished at sea, and the estimated figures have reached more than 40,000, with half of that being puffins.  The results of some post mortems showed that some of the birds were in very poor condition and literally starved as a result of the harsh sea conditions.  Early surveys of shag and puffin breeding colonies have also shown declines, which may have a substantial impact on the populations in the future.  Unfortunately, with the ever impending doom of climate change affecting the environment so drastically, I think this is one major example of how many species just aren’t ready for these dramatic changes!

  1. Bears of the great North woods

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A while back I watched a wildlife documentary filmed in the forests of northern Minnesota.  Here a biologist called Lynn Rogers uses food (mostly peanuts!) to gain the trust of wild black bears, a controversial technique that built bonds with several individuals and family groups in the wild. He began studying black bears in the late ’60s and decided to use trust, instead of traps to build relationships with black bears rather than study from afar. They respond quite tamely towards him and share intimate moments in his presence, while he is able to gather huge quantities of data about how they behave in the wild. However, is this really natural behaviour with him conditioning them to his presence with the provision of an unnatural foodsource? This “domestication” of a wild animal is frowned upon in the animal welfare realm and can be seen to hinder their natural development as the wild animals begin to rely on humans for survival.  There is also the huge risk that with lengthy hunting seasons legal in the states, the bears become habituated to humans and do not flee from danger as they would perhaps do naturally, which as result risks their lives.  The main aim of his teaching is to reduce the fear that US citizens have towards bears, and show them that they are beautiful, caring and charismatic species that can be quite timid and friendly towards humans.  But again, is this compromising the natural behaviour of this species and by taming them, is he reducing from them from a wild animal to nothing more than a pet?  Yet, his efforts to prove to the public that bears are not wildly aggressive and are more frightened of attack/human presence, could potentially save many lives from those hunting and poaching in an effort to protect their land or themselves.  To read more on this check out this article in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/oct/27/bearwalker-of-the-northwoods

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2009/oct/27/black-bears-of-the-northwoods

  1. Life story

David Attenborough has recently graced our scenes with yet another fantastic collection of wildlife footage around the world.  Focusing on the life story of animals, from fledging, to asserting dominance, to mating and then to parenthood.  It is an iconic series, with a collection of old classics like meerkats to some spectacular new footage like 2 day old goslings jumping from 300ft cliffs.

My favourite segments are always anything to do with courtship rituals. The best examples being:

  • Tiny Japanese pufferfish

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These fish during courtship will create a grand sand sculpture on the featureless seabed by using just his fins.  The furrows he digs create an extensive and hugely impressive geometric pattern that he has to maintain 24hrs a day for a week waiting for a female to come along and appreciate his huge effort.  The sheer architectural feat of this is astounding and really brings to light how intricate life is on this planet.

  • Orange flame Bower bird

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A shot of the Papua New Guinea forest floor shows us a male orange flame bowerbird, endemic to the area, trying to attract a female with an elaborate construction of a bower, made of twigs and decorated with brightly coloured berries and leaves.  He then follows up with a mesmerising courtship dance. At the same time he constantly has the risk of rival males, either stealing his moves, distracting the female or dismantling his bower.

  • Long-tailed manakin

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This stunning bird of paradise with its unique tail has an incredible task of attracting females, but these females are so incredibly picky that the only thing that will do is a synchronised effort by TWO males; one master and an apprentice.  Their performance is elaborate and lengthy and the female will tolerate no mistakes.  As a result, his come-hither hops alongside his wingman eventually win over the female but only the master will reap the rewards and the apprentice might have to wait until the master dies before he gets to be the master himself.

  • Sharp-tailed Grouse

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One of the most amusing shots was of the sharp-tailed grouse displaying in a lek with upwards of 20 other males, in order to attract the attention of a female.  The males display on the lek by stamping their feet rapidly and rattling their tail feathers while spinning in a circle or dancing forward. They have brilliantly bright yellow eyebrows and purple neck sacs that are inflated and deflated during display adding to the performance. It truly was remarkable to see how bewildered one female can be seeing 20 males prance about for her affection.

  • Male peacock spider

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The most fantastic footage of the night however had to be the awe inspiring courtship display, which I can only describe as being much alike semaphore flags, by the male peacock spider.  He attracts a mate by flashing his brightly coloured abdomen fan and waves his legs in a repetitive fashion. Throughout the performance however the female is constantly trying to pounce on the male and test his worth and strength.  If he fails, she will consume him as a meal.  If he wins, they copulate, and she then consumes him as a meal. Tough life.

And on top of all this, I have to say the true love story of the albatross brought tears to my eyes. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p029n9yx

Well that’s it for this quarter; I will be back in December with a special Wildlife Crime edition of conservation update.

Image credits:

Grouse & puffin images courtesy of ARKive and Google

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Wildlife on the Wandle

Recently I attended a talk, courtesy of a dedicated London Wildlife Trust volunteer Derek Coleman, which discussed the varied wildlife and ecosystem of the River Wandle in South London.

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The river has often been referred to as a chalk stream, which is in fact very rare, however part of it is heavily influenced and utilised by Beddington Sewage Works as a main effluent carrier and therefore its appearance and habitat varies significantly along its length, particularly in terms of water flow.

There are a wide variety of species to be found in the River Wandle, some of which have very interesting histories:

  • Grey wagtail – in 1979 the National History Society did a survey along the Wandle and discovered several sites. By 2012 there were 19 breeding sites (particularly in shopping centre roofs)
  • Moorhen – from 1983-2007 BTO surveys water ways for breeding birds and in 1983 they found 15 pairs, but then 62 pairs in 2007 showing a huge incline.It is believed this is a result of better bankside management in the 80s.  Post 2007 they are in decline again, probably due to budget cuts reducing the maintenance of river banks.
  • Kingfisher – in 1983 there were no breeding pairs.In 1987 the great storm brought down a lot of trees leaving huge exposed root plates that kingfishers loved to nest in, so as a result the population boomed.  However, with encroaching ivy and weathering these roots plates have become less accessible and in response kingfisher numbers have dropped again. LWT and London Borough of Sutton have together built kingfisher banks out of excess silt from the river.  These have both had uptake by kingfishers, but with some sites being open to the public they have been exposed to disturbance.  The Wildlife Crime Unit within the Met Police have tried to patrol more frequently and persecute those that deliberately disturb nesting sites, but it is very difficult to enforce with limited resources.
  • Heronries – Beddington Farmland has a huge congregation of heron, where highest number recorded was 90.Nowadays you only see approx. 40, with just 15 breeding pairs last year.  It is unknown why their numbers are so rapidly declining.
  • Little egret – winter visitor only (non-native species)
  • Egyptian goose – numbers are increasingly rapidly and their coverage is spreading significantly (non-native)
  • Toads (2 species – common and Nattajack) – they don’t mind where they lay their eggs as fish soon learn they are toxic and let them be.Nattajacks also hibernate on land – the males in the mud and the females much further away (~2miles), which is why the males call so loudly during mating season in order to draw the females back.Juvenile-natterjack-toad-in-burrow
  • Frogs (1 species – common) – frogspawn can be seen everywhere and they will begin to pop out in the spring.Adult males have incredibly strong forearms which they use to hold on to the females for up to 3 days! This makes sure that they don’t miss out on the opportunity to fertilise the female’s eggs when she drops them (as fertilisation is external).  Males even have a hormone releasing gland in their thumbs which stimulate females to drop their eggs.  All frogs are so varied in their appearance, with some females even appearing to be red.  In Victorian times scientists would use this as a test for human pregnancy testing – if a woman’s urine stimulated an African clawed frog to drop its eggs you would know the pregnancy hormone was present and therefore the patient is pregnant.
  • Newts
  • Watervole – these died out in the 80s as a result of tidying up the embankments and predation from invasive mink species as well as rats.London Wildlife Trust have long term plans to reintroduce this species.
  • Flora – there are a lot of invasive species along the Wandle including pennyworth, Himalayan balsam
  • Fish – Trout stocks have been introduced several times as a result of the Wandle Trusts “Trout in a classroom” project that allows kids to rear trout eggs to populations that can be released into the river.This has been very successful. The World Framework directive has aimed to make rivers  more “fish friendly” and as some fish travel up stream in order to spawn, and the construction of many weirs in 1900’s, the fish are unable to continue their journey.  As a result some fish paths have been built. These are metal slopes that allow the fish to swim diagonally upwards to the next section of the river, however this has very much been a trial and error experiment, with some having to be lowered significantly. There is little evidence as of yet that these are actually being used.  But a similar invention for eels, has been very successful, and has even allowed the Wandle Trust to monitor eel populations in the river at the same time (Abbey Mills watermill).
  • Damselfly – the commons and the rare Beautiful Damoiselle have been spotted along the Wandle.The Riverfly Partnership and the Wandle Trust do kick sampling of the river every month to survey the biodiversity of the river, looking for cadis fly, freshwater shrimp and other good indicator species.  If there are any big problems this can be reported to the Environment Agency who will investigate for any possible pollution incidents.

There is a serious litter problem which inhibits the growth of many essential plants, and despite regular clear ups, the rubbish builds up as quickly as it is being removed.  In 1996 there was a serious pollution incident as a result of Thames Water and most species, particularly fish, were killed.  As a result Thames Water provided half a million to restore the habitat.

Clearly the river Wandle is a vital habitat for so many native and non-native species.  It is important that volunteer groups such as those associated with London Wildlife trust and Wandle Trust work together to maintain this key ecosystem.  Hopefully with more funding and continued dedication from its local community the River Wandle will flourish with life.

Wandle TrustLondon-widlife-trust-volunteering-opps

Photo credit logos and nattajack – Arkive.

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Sentience in Animals by World Animal Protection

Animals evolve to the environment in which they live, and as a result they develop a set of positive and negative behaviours out of motivation and possibly even enjoyment. Sentience in Animal welfare is a two-step process, the first is developing research that will allow us to effectively remove pain and suffering from an animal’s life, and then the second phase is encouraging positive behaviours and emotions in an animal.  Although fundraising within the charity sector can be focused around highlighting the plight of animals around the world through tragic case studies, promoting these positive behaviours can actually be a more useful tool at engaging with the public.

 

As humans we have a strong tendency to anthropomorphise animals by giving them human names and attributes, continually comparing them to ourselves in some way.  Unfortunately, a result of this can be that without an animal’s ability to converse to express pain or suffering many individuals can assume that they do not feel pain at all.  However, with the vast strides and development in animal behaviours we can learn to observe other methods of communication in different species to determine whether they are happy or suffering.  The legacy of the behavioural movement is focused on observing outputs, but sentience research wants to focus on scientific evidence and measurable outputs that can be proven evidence.  Misuse of anthropomorphic language in order to explain sentience in layman’s terms is also a risk so you end up with contradictory terminology across research papers i.e. cognitive bias vs. pessimism and affect vs. emotions.

 

Dawkins defined cognition as the mental action or processes which animals perceive, process and store information (2001).  Higher cognitive abilities have unfortunately been used as a basis for advocating protection e.g. great apes, to the detriment of many other species that are considered less advanced. 

 

A systematic review of all sentient research in the field by Proctor et al. (2013) highlighted that 99% of research has been conducted on vertebrates.  Research had been conducted for many different reasons, from human benefit to researching animal behaviour and focused primarily on mammals (92% of research).  Some interesting discoveries have been made such as:

  • Facial grimacing in rabbits, rates, mice and sheep (good because its non-invasive observation techniques)
  • Elephants console one another after distressing events, so do not need to go through the event themselves but recognised distress in others
  • Dogs show separation anxiety and some tend to be more pessimistic and depressed than others
  • Rats laugh when tickled – they actively seek/follow the hand of a scientist to receive tickling and appear to enjoy the experience as evidence by vocal activity perceived as “laughter” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_oKQ9Dzitc
  • Cows hold grudges and will dislike other cows in the group
  • Fish – research on trout and cod injected with bee venom or vinegar, revealed that they do respond to pain, and will change their behaviour drastically as a result of pain, including swaying, rubbing lips against tank, neophobia and reduced activity at the bottom of the tanks.The subsequent administering of analgesics then results in the fish returning to its normal behaviour
  • Fish can retain positive and negative memory and can develop preferences to certain environments depending on danger vs. reward.
  • Collaborative hunting in chimps and fish (e.g. moray eel and groupers) indicates a higher level of intelligence

 

Invertebrates are often forgotten when it comes to animal welfare and sentience research, and there is still so little legislation covering any species that inhuman acts such as boiling crustaceans alive or the ablation of prawns is still legal today all around the world. It has often been believed that invertebrates are incapable of feeling as their anatomy is so different to ours or other vertebrates, but some research has been done in the field to indicate otherwise such as on crustaceans, who have seen to perform limb rubbing and even lose limbs altogether in stressful/pain stimulating situations.  Cephalopods i.e. octopuses, are also becoming increasingly protected i.e. under the Scientific Protection Act. 

 

World Animal Protection’s science team recently conducted a study on measuring emotion in dairy cows.  By first allowing the cows to become habituated to them they were able to investigate the possibility of producing positive behaviours by stroking the cows in order to obtain scientific evidence that cows are able to feel positive emotions.  There are four types of measurable emotions; positive high arousal e.g. excitement, negative high arousal e.g. fear, positive low arousal e.g. relaxation and negative low arousal e.g. depression. This study was purely focusing on positive low arousal.  In order to measure their response to tactile stimulus such as stroking, their nasal temperature was taken, ear posture noted and %of eye white visible was recorded.  Overall, it was able to prove that cows enjoy this tactile treatment and it insights positive emotions in the animal, which in some studies has been shown to produce milk yield and quality.  As allogrooming is quite common in cows it has indicated the invention and installation of devices such as cow brushes are a successful measure to improve animal welfare in agriculture. Unfortunately, these devices can be quite costly, but the benefits are undeniable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_F_-RnXLu4.  Sadly, it is also apparent that animal welfare takes the least priority when weighed against productivity and in Indian buffalo where they are reared to produce vast quantities of milk, they as a species are actually able to prevent milk from dropping when stressed, and farmers instead of trying to relieve stress, will instead inject oxytocin into the animal to force it to drop its milk. 

 

Overall, it is clear that most if not all animals have the ability to feel pain or suffering in some form or another, but because they are unable to present it as clearly as humans do, it has often been disregarded altogether.  Research in this field is extensively devoted to scientifically proving animals suffer pain, which in itself is acting against animal welfare by causing the pain in which they want to study.  So World Animal Protection have decided as a scientific organisation to focus on studying and researching positive behaviours only rather than replicating research of already saturated field of negative behaviour.  This is ambitious work in this fascinating field is essential to the development and recognition of sentience within animal welfare.  The implications of being able to provide positive and negative emotions in animals can be invaluable to improve animal welfare standards around the globe. 

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How vets have moved the world to protect animals?

Working at World Animal Protection (formerly known as WSPA), has its educational benefits in that regular lunchtime seminars are put on for staff.  These talks involve presentations and discussions with experts in the field regarding animal welfare and projects around this subject.

 

One recent interesting topic covered World Animal Protection’s veterinary work around the world, and how this is absolutely key in ensuring animal welfare standards globally.

 

There has been some criticism that vets in general have sold out to animal welfare in support of high intensity Agriculture systems. With high profits in this area, some vets have leaned towards how to ensure maximum productivity for the benefit of people at the expense of animal welfare.  This poses a huge ethical dilemma between the oath they took when qualifying promising to uphold animal welfare, and a way to make money. 

 

D Broom said that an animal’s welfare is the state in which it is in in regards to its attempt to cope with its environment.  This means it ability to cope without human intervention and with access to natural resources. 

 

In 1780 Bentham was one of the first philosophers interested in animal rights by highlighting their ability to suffer as we humans do; bringing up the first ideas of Sentience.  By bringing up our tyranny over animals and their lack of rights, he focused on the fact that we as a more intelligent species do to have the right to harm another species.  This helped strengthen an entire career path of animal health and care which would eventually lead to the veterinary profession as we know it today.

 

Joe Anzuino from World Animal Protection enlightened us on a list of historic vets that have made a real difference to animal welfare, and the aim of the Education Team to promote this on #worldvetday.  Some of these most influential people are listed below:

 

–       Sung Yang, Ancient China – invented a good horse collar

–       Giovanni, M Lancisi, Italy – discovered link between mosquitos and malaria and protested the medieval approaches to containing rinderpest stating that it was better to kill infected indivdiuals instead of allowing disease to spread to allow for time to research a treatment

–       Claude Bourgela, France – he founded the very first vet school in the world in Lyon 1762

–       Walter Plowright, England – devoted career to eradicating rinderpest and created the vaccine TCRV in 1999

–       Professor John Gamgee, Hamburg – In 1863 Gamgee took the initiative to invite professors of veterinary medicine and veterinarians from all over Europe to a general meeting which was called the first International Veterinary Congress

–       Bob Beck, UK – taught his students about animal husbandry, and encouraged warm hands, speaking to them e.g. horse whisperer

 

Negative influence on veterinary development:

–       Genghis Khan – first use of bio warfare using plague victims

–       Gervase Markham – famous for nonsense treatments such as for treating tetanus you should sew pebbles in ears, and as a pregnancy test you put water in ears, and if mare shakes her head she is pregnant

–       John Clarke – 18th century – pushed for research, but was still promoting poor animal welfare methods such as *firing etc. which still goes on around the world to cure lameness (*firing can be hot or freeze firing, where the tendons or ligaments are shocked in order to accelerate the healing process of an injury, but if not done completely accurately it can cause more damage and severe discomfort to the animal.  No real evidence it works.)

 

Despite these innovations and developments in veterinary practice is it apparent that vets are not as financially rewarded for helping animals coping with environment, but in fact instead are financially rewarded by coming up  with ways of helping animals to live longer in poor environments.  The agricultural industry is a huge economic bank that has such a high influence on veterinary science and animal welfare today.  But it is the wider responsibility of the society to value animal welfare more substantially.

 

It has been considered that vet education and training actually desensitises people from feeling empathy for animal welfare, with the aim of not compromising animal science.  Problems can also arise when qualified vets will actually go away from working with animals hands on.  Empathy erosion in medical training is common around the world and some of World Animal Protection’s education work is specifically aimed at getting animal welfare into the curriculum.  Globally, and particularly in developing countries, it is common in the vet community that men dominate the sector, while often going from their veterinary qualification to factory work or a pharmaceutical career without having ever actually touched an animal.  But with rapid changes around the world it seems more and more women are going into veterinary care, which as a result has actually increased the levels of empathy in the industry. 

 

Most societies have history of developed techniques for animal welfare, but there is just a real lack of evidence/recording of vet science and traditions especially in Africa, whereas Europe is considerably more documented.  However the most influential factor in the development of veterinary history was the outbreak of rinderpest in the 1890s.  This epizootic virus was considered to be the most devastating epidemic to hit southern Africa in the late 19th Century, killing over 5.2 million cattle, and ultimately led to the starvation and death of 1/3 of Ethiopians and 2/3 of Maasai people in Tanzania.  As a result of this catastrophe the OIE was set up.  The World Organisation for Animal Health announced the free status of the last eight countries of rinderpest and confirmed its worldwide eradication in May and June 2011. 

 

Overall, this lecture was extremely enlightening and highlighted the issues of Animal Sentience and obvious empathy erosion in medical training.  However, it is also clear that charities like World Animal Protection are working towards using education as a way to bridge the gap between vets and animals welfare with the aims that one day it will be integrated fully into the curriculum.  To find out more check out Sentience Mosaic website here: http://www.animalmosaic.org/sentience/

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Giraffes – new perspectives on a ‘well-known’ species from ZSL

Recently, I attended a really interesting event at ZSL led by 4 experts covering interesting conservation and biological updates in Giraffes around the world.

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It was split up into 3 sections; the first covering stress and sleep patterns in captive giraffes, the natural history of giraffes in the wild, and then their subsequent conservation in the wild.  The biggest shock of the evening was finding out that giraffes, despite being listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List, are in fact in fewer numbers that elephants and chimpanzees – species considered threatened and endangered.  So why is that giraffes are so at risk of extinction?

 

To begin this discussion it is important to highlight that giraffe still have such limited research and datasets covering their natural history, which means there is still so much unknown about this iconic species.  Often covered in animation and film as an abundant species, and even humorous with its ungainly walking and it’s strange long neck, it is indeed a very complex individual where research is only just touching the surface.  One of the major issues facing giraffe biology is the only recent distinguishing of different subspecies.  Giraffe was originally considered one species, with 9 sub species, but with follow up research into morphology, behaviour, and DNA sampling, it has now been concluded that they are indeed 8 separate species altogether – but the confusion over calling this a sub-species is a result of the ease of interbreeding between species to produce fertile offspring; one of the main definitions of determining a species in the past.

 

Thornicroft's Giraffe

Thornicroft’s Giraffe

Masai Giraffe

Masai Giraffe

Male Southern Giraffe

Male Southern Giraffe

Male Rothchild's Giraffe

Male Rothchild’s Giraffe

Infant Reticulated Giraffe

Infant Reticulated Giraffe

West African Giraffe

West African Giraffe

Fred Bercovitch of Kyoto University, studied the behaviour and ecology of the Thornicroft’s giraffe endemic to Zambia and was able to confirm many different facts about the species.  Giraffes have individual patterns, that will remain consistent to adulthood, with only males darkening from brown fur to black when a fully mature bull.  Although giraffes can often be found in herds/groups, it is mainly females that have this formation – and more likely to be with kin and play mates (those born at similar times and locations).  However, a herd can be mixed and can vary from day to day, never staying the same for long periods of time.  Whereas in males, it is known that 70% are solitary roamers, as a result of their Roaming Reproductive Strategy. This means that they will roam from herd to herd searching for sexually viable females – determined by prodding the females behind, stimulating urination and then tasting this to determine reproductive status.  When it finds a suitable female, it will mate guard her, like a statue, until she is receptive and mating can be incredibly brief!

 

All of this was highly interesting, but soon led toward the bigger pressing discussion of giraffe conservation.  The numbers of reticulated giraffe are thought to have decreased by 80% in the last 15 years, similarly reflected in other giraffe species across Africa.  Human activity is responsible for this decline, including loss of habitat and climate change.  However, the biggest threat to this species is the use of them as bush meat.  It seems likely that there would be better sources of meat in areas of East Africa, however, the giraffe is known to taste good and its sheer size is enough to feed an entire village.  The prevention of this activity is difficult when faced with severe famine and human suffering at such an unprecedented scale.  Unfortunately, the conservation of this species is largely unreported and unrecognised.

 

Zoos can sometimes be considered a method of conservation, but with controversial opinions of animals in captivity and managing the studbook of this vastly diverse species, many cases of unfortunate press have hung around then, the most obvious being Marius Gate.  This was the case of juvenile giraffe being euthanized due to their not being enough room in the room for another male.  It has not been confirmed why it was not possible to move this male to another zoo, perhaps this was not economically viable, or there was no surrounding zoo housing this particular giraffe species, also requiring a male.  Giraffes do breed well in zoos, and have relatively short gestation periods, that allow them to be fertilised just 100 days after giving birth.  There are many issues around reintroduction, and its viable success, but again not enough is known about the species to consider improving the methods or delivery.  So Giraffes remain in zoos for the purpose of education – but our interest does not stop here, as it is vital that standards of animal welfare are met for those in captivity, and a really interesting study done by Florian Sicks into REM sleep patterns and stress in giraffes was so successful in this area, that it actually enabled them to save a sick juvenile from death.  The sleeping patterns of a normal calf were intermittent periods of 5 min of REM sleep per night, and noted in another giraffe calf that died after just 6 days, the REM periods were a lot longer.  When this lengthy REM pattern was spotted again in her brother, the vets were alerted and immediately separated him from his mother, bottle fed and monitored, only for its REM sleep pattern to return to normal – effectively saving its life!  This incredible research is just a small area of the work going into studying welfare and the biology of this fascinating species, and hopefully will help in some way to lengthen the lives of these animals.

 

I am truly grateful to ZSL for putting on these fascinating lectures and can only hope they continue further!

 

(All Images from ARKIVE website)

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Uganda and Rwanda 2014

Day 1: Kampala & Lake Victoria

Arrived in Kampala late and with no bag. Headed straight to my friend Clare’s house to be greeted by the cutest 3 month old Maltese puppy called Ralphie, and immediately all my woes disappeared.

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After a short sleep, we woke up to the official African morning. The view from the balcony of my friends ex pat apartment was of one of the Kampala kills, surrounded by lush green vegetation. Squealing monkey birds (East African Plantain eaters) filled the air with noise and made us eager to explore for wildlife. SO many butterflies were flittering around; I have never seen such numbers before!

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For a late lunch we headed to a place called The Bay, on the edge of Lake Victoria. It was beautiful here, and we ate the scrumptious local fish at the restaurant overlooking the pretty lake, while hundreds of dragonflies scooted around us – Ralphie was in his element.

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Day 2: Kampala Life

Our friend took us to a local shopping centre in an effort to get me some emergency supplies, mainly pants as I had nothing but what I wore on the plane! Lucky for me she was my size and outdoorsy, so I was able to borrow all her things for my hiking adventure.

That evening we went to a traditional African dance show, by an award winning troop. The performance was a combination of different tribal dances with comedic, romantic and dramatic stories interwoven throughout. The costumes were fantastically exuberant and music was mesmerising. It really was something I will never forget, particularly as in true African way, a 2 hour show was easily extended to 3.5hours long!

 

Day 3: Kampala Guided Tour & Relaxation

We were shocked to discover a monsoon as we awoke; a stark difference from the past two days, yet we decided to continue with our plans of a tour of Kampala. We were picked up by our guide and first driven to Gadhafi’s Mosque – the biggest in Uganda. After climbing up hundreds of steps we had 360 degree views of Kampala, and saw the fascinating lay out of the 6 straight roads that come out from this central point, dividing the king from the slums, from the markets and from parliament, with each hill around Kampala having its own meaning.

After this we headed to the palace. Currently unoccupied since the tyranny of Idi Amin, there were still people living here working the land and offering ad-hoc tours. After waking the guide up we headed to the prison hidden at the back of the land underground. It was a chamber of 3 rooms, each smaller than average sized living room, which would’ve been filled with 300 or so people each. The entry to these rooms was blocked with a pool of water that would’ve been electrified preventing any escape. This was where thousands of people would’ve been hauled from their day-to-day lives, considered threats to the king/parliament and locked up until they died. They were driven around for hours so that they had no idea they were still in Kampala. It was truly shocking the acts that were inflicted on the Ugandan population, yet no repercussions seem to have been a result and complete denial of the atrocities was admitted. It was a sombre sight to see, but an important part of Uganda history.

After this stop, we headed to the central market place, going past the infamous Hindu temple and thousands of boddas (taxi vans) that pick you and drop you off anywhere, along with 8 other people. Such a vibrant and people filled city. We were in dire need of a relax and signed up for a local massage where our friend recommended. I was poked and prodded until I was bruised, but definitely felt relaxed.

After our relaxation, our friend then dropped us off at Red Chilli hostel where we were planning to meet our tour group. There were 4 people; English, Australia, New Zealand and Swiss German. A good bunch! We went to bed early as we have a 4.30am start!!!

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Day 4: Kampala to Queen Elizabeth National Park

It was a long drive from Kampala, travelling about 350km. By lunchtime we had arrived at the Equator where we were given a demonstration of the flow of river each side of the equator and on the line – really very interesting! According to this, water travels clockwise on the Northern Hemisphere, but anti-clockwise on the southern hemisphere, only to go straight down on the equator itself – fascinating stuff! The drive was consumed of lush banana plantations, steep mountains and tangled forests with herds of the great horned Ankole cattle roaming the roads and villages.

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On arriving at the park, we saw elephants, warthogs and so many stunning birds. We set up camp a short distance from Queen Elizabeth National Park where we had a lovely afternoon of relaxing. Setting up camp was a team effort, from getting dinner ready, to washing up and putting everything back in the truck. The truck itself was pretty jaw dropping, being as tall as a double decker bus and storing what appear to be 40 people worth of stuff!!

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Day 5: Queen Elizabeth National Park

DSC_0743We set off very early to go on our Chimpanzee hike in Kyambura Gorge – a lush area of valley with a small river going through it. The hike lasted about 3 hours, but we were lucky enough to find the chimps in the first 30 minutes. It is beyond me how the tracker looked at a bush and could tell that over 30m away on the other side of the river were chimps, truly amazing. We saw an entire family in the trees and had about 15 minutes with them before they started to leave. The guide led us a different way so that we could follow them, which involved shimmying over a fallen log to cross a river packed full of hippos growling at us – scary times! We didn’t find the group again, but a lone male did come up right to us on the path, obviously investigating and then diverted to the nearest tree, a true close encounter! This was one of the happiest moments of my life; I was in true awe to see these creatures so familiar looking to us.

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That afternoon we went on a safari drive around the park. Unfortunately with the sun being at its peak and some bush fires going on around the park it appeared most animals were spooked, but we did see kob, water buck, impala, warthog, hippos, elephants and buffalo. We even headed to Lake George where the local village were mining salt and living alongside hippos that regularly kill villagers in the evenings as they pass through to graze.

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Day 6: Queen Elizabeth National Park to Lake Bunyonyi

After another early start we travelled approximately 240km to Lake Bunyonyi, where we were to camp before the gorilla trekking. This lake named after ‘Place of many little birds’ was true to its name and was abundant with brightly coloured sunbirds and kingfishers. This lake was 27km long, 7km wide and at an elevation of 1950 metres above sea level, surrounded by undulating hills between 2200m to 2478m high. With a depth of nearly 900m in parts this lake is the second deepest lake in Africa (the deepest being Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania). It was a beautiful view from the campsite and really relaxing place to set up camp for 3 nights.

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Day 7‐8: Gorilla trek day aka G DAY!

After waking up at 4.30am we headed to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. There we met our local guide and tracker who would take us through the jungle to find1 family of the 700 mountain gorillas that inhabit the area. These gorillas have been habituated to human interaction, but that doesn’t mean they want us there always, and therefore we are limited to just 1 hour viewing time, which in my eyes seems perfectly acceptable. We trekked for 3 hours in a small group up extremely steep and difficult terrain. Half of us hired local men as sherpers to help us up the mountain and carry our very heavy bags full of water and supplies in case the hike was 6 hours long before we found them and had to head another 6 hours back. When we found them we were desperately searching the trees with our eyes, struggling to catch a glimpse, and then suddenly we spotted a female sitting in a tree, watching us while she lounged along a branch. It was amazing. The guide was talking to us saying we have to be patient; they will only come to the ground when the silver back arrives and gives them the ‘okay’. We sat there for 15 minutes, half bewildered half upset that we weren’t seeing more. Looking desperately around us into dense vegetation it dawned on me that we might never get a good look at them, and they might be only metres from us. Then the guide interrupted my thoughts saying “the silver back is coming back behind us” and we all suddenly stood up, looked around us as if waiting for them to shout “RUNNNN!!!” but they just stayed super calm and said just wait and pointed 1m to the right of us…and there slowly making his way through the shrubs was the silver back. He just plonked himself down, ate a little and moved on. I was amazed but admittedly at the same time thinking, “wait, come back, that can’t be it surely!?” It was at that point that I realised the hike was only just beginning, as the guide gestured us to follow him and follow him into the depths of the jungle and so we did.

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Every few metres we stopped to take in the sight of the silverback munching away, while grunting to the guides who responded with specific grunts that apparently meant they were having a conversation. Incredible. I have never been so mesmerised. Although it was tough terrain, the pull of following this huge majestic beast, made your body easily gravitate further and further down the mountain just to keep up with it. It was until another 10 minutes or so that we were greeted with the incredible sight of the baby gorilla; just 2 ½ years old and eager to entertain. He was eating, playing and beating his tiny chest for us, all under the watchful gaze of daddy silver back. As they moved on again, we followed, and came across another young male, a few years older and also showing signs of manliness as he weakly beat his own chest. We stayed here for quite some time watching them play, eat and act as if we were not even there. It was difficult to see through the undergrowth, but as soon as they stopped, the guides would hack away at the nettle and soft vegetation, opening up a scene for us as if set up purposefully. It wasn’t clear where the others were in the group, but we knew they were close by as you could hear branches breaking and leaves crunching. With our hour almost up, we came across the silver back one last time, and having kept his back to us the entire time we were rewarded with a glimpse of his face for just a short while before he growled and grunted at another gorilla, reminding them who’s boss. When the guide said times up, my heart sank, but having been rewarded with this chance to see such incredible creatures in the wild, I was more than happy to leave them be and let them return to their natural world – who am I to disturb them any longer? I am just eternally grateful that they were happy with us to be in their presence, because if they weren’t, then we would definitely know. I will never forget that day and how hard it was to do, especially as the hike back was one of the worst in my life. But despite getting back to the campsite 12 hours later, we were thrilled at the day’s events and spent some time indeed going over videos and pictures captured from the day.

 

Day 9: Rwanda

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Although originally I wanted more time to relax and explore Lake Bunyonyi, but we were offered a day trip to Rwanda and I thought it would be crazy to turn down an opportunity I might never have again! It involved a long drive to the border, an intricate procedure of crossing and then another long drive to get us all the way to Genocide memorial ground. Here was a church and mass grave for nearly 40,000 souls killed back in 1994 as a result of the Rwandan Genocide between Hutus and Tutsis. It was a shocking revelation, not having learnt much about this at school, and to see the evidence of bullets and grenade explosions in a place as sacred as a church was sickening. They had piled up the clothes, bones and skulls in such a way, as there was no room, and in most cases no way of identification, so that the tombs could fit thousands. It was solemn to be there, but we actually ended up meeting a survivor, who had now grown up to be a successful author based on documenting his experience of hiding in a tree for 15 days to avoid persecution from the Hutus. After that visit we went to the Rwandan Genocide Museum in the city centre, it was such an informative place that really opened my eyes to the horrors of 1994, and after talking 1:1 with our driver I got the impression that it’s not really over and the threat of it happening again forever looms. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to live through that, and for some to even see people in the street who you know delivered such acts of evil upon your friends and family, but there is nothing you can do or say against them. There were other rooms focusing on genocide around the world, with obviously Nazism being the highest number of murders ever. What was most disturbing is how recent some of these are around the world and how in many case no repercussions have come from these atrocities, with countries like Turkey even denying it ever happened (Armenian Genocide 1915). It was a thought provoking day, although I was admittedly bummed out from the experience, but it interesting to see the comparisons with Uganda – that the country was so much cleaner, good roads, drainage, infrastructure, and even a ban on plastic bags paired with compulsory city clean up days for everyone. Obviously this “control” stems from such a dark history, but from an outsiders perspective it looks like it’s going the right way. After a long drive back to the campsite in Uganda we enjoyed watching gorilla videos to cheer ourselves up, and enjoyed our final supper with the group. The food our guide has prepared each lunchtime and dinner time was amazing, from local beef and fish, to fruit and veg so sweet it really made the UK appear bland in comparison.

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Day 10: Driving back to Kampala

Travelling approximately 550km it was a long long day in the loud and bumpy truck, but felt good to know we were heading back to Kampala, getting to see our friend again and appreciating a nice normal shower! We stopped for lunch at the equator which was well needed, and even had time to buy a few souvenirs for ourselves, as well as a gift for our friend for her kind generosity and having us to stay. The guide told us we were going to be dropped off outside the city centre and they would pay for a cab to go to the designated hostel as they didn’t want to take the truck through the city during rush hour, but after talking to our friend, it turned out they were dropping us off at a shopping mall 2 mins from her house, perfect!

It was an incredible adventure in Uganda (and Rwanda!) with experiences I will never forget! Such a lush country full of life and I would happily go back some day. I hope that my visit to the chimps and gorillas will prove that ecotourism is possible and successful, even though it clearly doesn’t work in some countries (e.g. Galapagos). But overall I hope I live to see these gorillas another day when their population is far more than a mere 600. I think the guards, trackers and vets that dedicate their lives to protecting these animals in their native country and habitats, are the most wonderful people.

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Conservation Update Q2 2014

Another quarter, another collection of items that have intrigued me so far this year, so I hope that they interest you too!

 

  1. Furry Narwhals and their flinging eggs

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While watching Springwatch a few weeks ago I learnt about a truly fascinating species nicknamed the Furry Narwhal, but actually called the Bee Fly (Bombylius major).  These clever bee mimics are excellent pollinators feeding on the nectar of flowers using their very long proboscis (looking much like a hummingbird!)  They are also dependent on several different host species, such as beetles, wasps and solitary bees in order to reproduce, but the most fascinating thing is how they have developed a reproductive strategy to utilise this host relationship.  The female Fly Bee will literally fling her eggs in the burrow of any of these species while in flight.  The pure ingenuity of this behaviour means that her larvae can hatch and feed on the grubs of the host burrow.  How this species is able to so accurately aim her eggs at each burrow is unknown to me, but the precision at which they are able to do it, is truly amazing.

 

2. Entangled

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The next biggest campaign to be launched by WPSA is our Sea Change project, focused on removing ghost fishing gear from our oceans.  Millions of marine animals are at risk from these silent killers through entanglement, abandoned/lost every year.  Once entangled wound, infection and starvation take hold, suffering can be for days week or even years.  There is also the significant financial loss to the fishing industry, as well as the obvious hazard to human welfare.  With plastic being the primary component of these nets, it can exist in the environment for 500+ years, and over this time, affects an unfathomable amount of animals.

 

It is however preventable, with solutions being implemented at a local level all around the world.  Ghost Nets Australia, has worked to remove over 12 thousand nets, working with local communities to recycle the nets for income, as well as actually rescuing animals trapped.  There is also similar work in Philippines with the Networks project and the Ghost Pot programme in Chesapeake bay, Virginia USA.  The nets to energy programmed in Hawaii is hugely successful where the waste is actually converted to useable energy.

 

Overall it shows that lots that can be done, but clearly a bigger effort is needed to tackle the issue at a global level, and if we can combine the efforts and resources of fishing companies, governments and NGOs perhaps a real difference can be made.

 

To see an inspirational video about this project, please click here.http://www.econyl.com/sea-change-through-ghost-nets-recovery/

 

 

3. Wildlife trips

index Print

My role at WSPA involves keeping an eye on animal news across the globe.  Something I have noticed that appears to have picked up some pace through campaign action by WSPA, Peta and other animal welfare organisations, has resulted in several large reputable travel companies, such as Intrepid and STA, no longer running animal activities in their tours. The most notable being elephant riding trips, visits to Tiger Temple in Thailand and trips to Seaworld.  With the huge controversy over the #blackfish campaign and subsequent scientific research into orca behaviour in captivity, a huge positive response has been given by the public who feel a species like this should not be in captivity.  Successful campaigning has resulted in these tours ending, including that of the notorious Tiger Temple in Thailand, where it is well-known that the tigers are drugged heavily so that you can pet them safely.   It is fantastic to see campaigning actions directly helping animal welfare, by discouraging the use of wildlife for entertainment.  I can only hope that this is adopted by more tour companies and that the organisations that enforce this poor animal welfare will be encouraged to change their ways.

 

Read more on the Guardian website here:http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/16/sta-travel-ends-unethical-animal-trips-elephants-seaworld

 

 

4. Scottish Beaver reintroduction

 Scottish Beaver at Knapdale Forest, Argyll, Scotland

Noted in the Guardian and shown on BBC Springwatch, it was great to hear that the reintroduction of the European Beaver to Scotland has been labelled a huge success!

 

This is the first time Beavers have been in Scotland for 400 years, so clearly a long time coming, and they have settled in so well, it’s as if they never left.  The team of ecologists responsible for this have reported that of the 4 pairs reintroduced, 14 young have been produced.  This combined effort of ZSL and the Scottish Wildlife Trust was admittedly a challenging start, but overall has been a triumph, even encouraging ecotourism to areas of Scotland previously rarely visited.  As well as being a flagship species for reintroductions, another successful result of this trial is the abundant evidence that beavers are an extremely useful flood prevention measure, with the building of dams.

 

The Scottish Beaver trial is an outstanding accomplishment for conservationists and ecologists alike and will hopefully set a president for future reintroductions of similarly threatened/extinct species.

 

Read more here:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/14/scotland-wild-beaver-reintroduced-knapdale

 

5. Two penguin dads

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Zoo keepers at Wingham Wildlife Park in Canterbury, were stunned in May to witness two gay male penguins successful rear a chick.  After having been abandoned by its biological parents, the same sex parents adopted the discarded egg, built a nest for it, and successfully reared it.  The foster chick has done incredibly well, but this led me to think about how common homosexuality is in the wild.  Homosexual behaviours have been witnessed in the Animal Kingdom for a long time and across a huge abundance of species, where in fact in some species it is quite common e.g. 10% rams in domesticated sheep populations are often not interested in ewes and readily mate with other rams.   It has been observed in Adelie Penguins as early as 1911 by George Levick.  Many zoos have also seen the fostering behaviour, with some incubating a stone in place of an egg.  It is possible that the penguins have only bonded due to a lack of females and being in such close proximity, and cases have later been seen where a homosexual pair have split when separated.  In contrast to this however, other cases of homosexual pairs separated hasn’t yielded any success in encouraging heterosexual mating, suggesting the pair bond is too strong.  Although the behaviour is yet to be truly understood, it is clear the homosexual relationships are quite common in various social species.

 

I’ll be back in a few months with more conservation news!

 

Photos from:

1. Natural History Museum © Michael Apel

2. Wikipedia

3. Google images

4.  Guardian © Rob Munro/Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

6. Telegraph

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