A new concept I’m going to embark on in my blog is discussing interesting conservation topics I have recently learnt through my work at the London Wildlife Trust, TV documentaries and lectures I have attended. I am surprised at the mass of interesting facts that have failed to be brought to my attention during my 5 years at university studying conservation. I thought I would structure it as a quarterly thing to do throughout the year and share with you some of my interesting findings.
1. Obese Leopards in South Africa
Recently I attended an Earthwatch lecture at the Royal Geological Society in Kensington. This lecture was based on the relationship between wildlife and humans and the conflict that can arise between the two. Examples were provided from all over the world, and some very familiar, such as Palm oil plantations resulting in mass deforestation and heterogeneity of the landscape and this ultimately reducing the numbers of resident orangutans drastically. This example is often used, along with crop raiding elephants in India and Masai people killing Lions to protect cattle and as a ritual into manhood. However, I was hugely interested to find out about a method of poaching previously unknown to me. Scientists in South Africa witnessed firsthand carnivore bating. This is where meat is provided at mass quantity in the same location over a period of time. As a result the large carnivores, in this case Leopards, become habituated to the presence of food, over feed and fail to hunt naturally or leave the area at all. As a result the leopards become morbidly obese and unfortunately become an ideal target for paying poachers. This is incredibly common in the region of … and I am shocked that this has not had real coverage before.
2. Urban Foxes
There has been a lot in the news recently about foxes attacking children in their homes. In just a few years, reports have risen considerably. The RSPCA have provided a statement saying how rare it is for foxes to attack humans, and if they do so it is out of fear. They are usually a timid species, and often avoid all human contact, unless scavenging for food provided by humans on their properties. Due to the controversy, a cull has been suggested as a means to eradicate the issue of aggressive foxes. However the London Wildlife Trust has said that this is not an ideal response to the issue, and that a cull would be costly and impractical. Instead if people can ensure that food is not provided for the animals and waste is disposed of sensibly i.e. in wheelie bins, then the fox population will be controlled naturally based on resources available to them. However, alternative controversies have arisen as a result of inconsistencies in the stories about the attacks, and some of the general public believe that these are not in fact fox attacks, but actually dog attacks that have been covered up in order to prevent dogs being put down – an inevitable outcome when a dog attack is reported to the authorities. The issue is a difficult one, and more research is needed to determine why the foxes are altering their behavioural patterns, if indeed they are.
3. Altruism in penguins
A fantastic TV show I have been watching recently is Penguins, narrated by David Tennant. It follows the life cycle of several species of Penguins and the stresses they endure through life. Cleverly disguised cameras have been inserted into populations and follow the stories of certain individuals; from mating, to chick rearing, to leaving for the sea. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable show that has been edited in such a way that although the real threats are often pointed out, there are no unhappy endings shown, a rare thing in documentaries, and although inaccurately presented, it makes it a wonderfully emotional show to watch. One really interesting aspect to one storyline however, was that of altruism between different species of penguins. A small group of emperor penguin chicks were huddled together in an attempt to avoid being attacked by a persistent and threatening giant petrel. However, out of the blue shows up an Adelie penguin, much smaller than an emperor penguin, and places itself between the crèche of emperor chicks and the giant petrel. Amazing to see, but I can’t help but immediately think why? What does an Adelie have to gain through protecting Emperor chicks, and why would it put itself in such danger, being so vulnerable and small compared to the petrel? Perhaps it’s because the Adelie failed to recognise the chicks where not Adelie chicks or its protective parental instinct is just so large that it was unable to distinguish between species. It would be really interesting to study this species and see how common the behaviour is, especially as Adelies are known for being quite fierce competitors for resources.
4. Chatty Rhinos in Africa
An obvious watch for any budding conservationist was David Attenborough’s miniseries about Africa. Such a huge continent to cover with some very different landscapes and ecosystems, with incredibly varied wildlife. One really interesting aspect I learnt from the very first episode on the Kalahari Desert was that Rhinos are sociable. This species has a reputation of solitude and aggressive temperaments when approached/threatened; therefore it was incredible for the BBC cameramen to have captured footage showing them to be sensitive and communicative in groups. The footage was obtained at night at a watering hole and showed Black Rhinos nuzzling one another, growling, squeaking and playing; levels of social engagement previously unseen by scientists. This was fascinating and enjoyable, truly highlighting how conservationists are continuing to learn new things every day.
5. Peregrine Falcons at the Tate Modern, London
My final story is a bit more close to home, well work actually. The Trust’s offices are right behind the Tate Modern Art museum, and with many keen birders in the office, it isn’t uncommon for a bird walk to go ahead at lunchtime. However, what I didn’t know was how interesting the bird life was around here; half expecting to only see a variety of different coloured feral pigeons, I was truly stunned to find out about a pair of peregrines that are now annual residents of the Tate Modern. These have been sighted here since 2008 at least 12 have been recorded across London as a whole. These species declined catastrophically in the 1960’s and have been slowly recovering ever since, with around 1200 pairs recorded today. Usually found in craggy rock faces, it is quite wonderful to them in the urban capital, living quite happily. As a novice photographer it’s my aim of 2013 to try and capture this amazing creature on film, but for now here is one from Peter Kenyon.
1. Obese leopard – Dr R Hill, Durham University, Primate and Predator Project
2. Urban fox
3. Adelie hero – BBC Penguins a Spy in the Huddle
4. Affectionate Rhinos – BBC’s Africa
5. Peregrine falcon – Photo taken by Peter Kenyon.