Conservation Update Q1 2014

A new year, a new bunch of interesting additions to my ever growing mental library of interesting science and conservation related information. Check out my top 5 things to kick off the New Year!

1. Bear Baiting in Romania and Pakistan – WSPA

This year, I started working for a new charity, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, set on preventing animal cruelty globally. One of our biggest wildlife projects involves ending the vicious blood sport of bear baiting, after successfully ending bear dancing in India. By using dogs to attack bears as entertainment is popular in rural areas of Romania and Pakistan. In order to avoid mauling or owner deaths, the bears have their teeth and claws removed and are kept in appalling conditions, gradually weakening them, making them ideal bait for fighting dogs. Of the 8 species of bears in the world, Asiatic black bears are often used in baiting and are subsequently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list. WSPA has successfully set up sanctuaries in both Pakistan and Romania to house bears rescued from bear baiting. However, it is important to note that WSPA’s aim is to have the bears willingly surrendered to them and not a simple case of stealing the bear away. This way they are able to educate the owners to alternative means of generating income for their families, rather than resorting to capturing another wild bear. This way bear baiting could hopefully be eradicated from history.

If you want to donate to WSPA’s efforts to end bear baiting once and for all then visit our website for more information:


2. New Cross Gate Cutting – railway cuttings, useful little spaces, forgotten microhabitats

I wanted to make sure that although now I work in the city, I don’t lose my skills and knowledge of outdoors conservation. For that reason I began working for London Wildlife Trust as a conservation volunteer for their south London team. So far we have worked mostly as New Cross Gate Cutting nature reserve, a small snippet of green alongside the railway in New Cross. It’s actually quite large once your inside, but unfortunately due to low staff, the reserve is rarely open to the public, making me appreciate volunteering that little bit more. It never fails to amaze me how these places can really ben in such a big and busy city, tricking you into thinking your further out of the city than you actually are.

Working there is tough work, but rewarding. I learned valuable skills on how to make steps, use old sleepers for new purposes and even basic tree monitoring skills, knowing when it becomes a hazard. We were shown how to use various tools from sledgehammers to sawing stakes. And despite the weather being up and down it’s always a fun day out, especially meeting great new people. I really recommend volunteering to anyone looking to get a bit more out of their weekends/free time. Not to mention the money you save on not going to a gym!


3. Predatory Hawks – Hidden Kingdoms, hunting in packs

After watching the surprisingly mesmerising wildlife documentary Hidden Kingdoms, I was fascinated to discover a species of hawk that has an unusual predatory behaviour. In the US, New Mexico lives the Harris Hawk, a species known to hunt its prey in packs, much like the behaviour of wolves. Although its usual prey is small reptiles and mammals, this novel behaviour means they can successfully take down larger prey. It is believed this behaviour has evolved from the pressures of survival in desert landscapes where food sources are scarce. By taking turns being point guard, it allows one individual to rest at a time, increasing the productivity of the “hunt”. This cooperative behaviour is an effective and impressive strategy showing the sheer incredibility of this majestic species.


4. Wildlife photography exhibition 2014

This exhibition is held over several months from Autumn to Spring, and I just managed to get there on its penultimate day. This day happened to be a Saturday and ultimately the Natural History Museum, where is it held, was practically heaving with eager families. Despite this, my fellow wildlife loving friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. Set in a large dark room, divided into smaller sections by wall drapes and walls, and ultimately allowed your eyes to truly focus on the creativity and individuality of each image, all of which managed to convey fantastic messages and activities of wildlife in their natural environment.

To see some of the images, obtained from all around the world, I was most fascinated by those taken by photographers aged only 10 years old. How is it that a 10 year old was able to capture such a fantastic image with such meaning and unique compositions? I have had my DSLR camera for 2 years now and would never imagine being able to produce something so wonderful.

My favourite examples were as follows (Photos courtesy of NHM website):


I sincerely recommend this exhibit for any wildlife lovers, or anyone with a remote appreciation for nature and our environment. It’s a truly eye opening exhibition, packed full of efforts to educate people about the importance of protecting our environment and understanding sustainability and balance when it comes to the way we utilise our environment such as ecotourism and agricultural practices. If one person can come away from that exhibition and feel differently about nature, feel positive, then that is a true success.


5. The evolution of the red squirrel

At a recent lecture at the Linnaean society it was apparent that too few conservationists think about evolution and extinction when talking about endangered species and conservation. A huge example of this is the infamous Red squirrel; known for being extremely endangered due to being highly outcompeted by the Grey Squirrel, as well as being highly vulnerable to Squirrel pox; a disease regularly spread by Grey Squirrels who are in fact immune themselves.

As a result, many restrictions and protections have been put in place to protect such a vulnerable and dwindling species, but alas, with putting them on a protective bubble, contamination is bound to occur and this is indeed the case for the Red Squirrel population on the Sefton coast. Here there as a loss of >70% of red squirrels as a result of one grey squirrel, carrying small pox, entering the site. The effect was instantaneous and catastrophic leading to panic across conservation experts and ecologists.   However, the National Trust are now detecting that through natural selection, some squirrels have actually evolved to be resistant to the disease.   This is a hugely positive sign that this rare species might not be doomed after all!

To read more check out the National Trust website here:

Red-squirrelPhoto’s from ARKive, London wildlife trust, Wikipedia and NHM website

I hope you enjoyed my top 5 for this quarter, see you in June for Q2’s conservation update.


About wilsoemi

A 1st Class Biological Sciences graduate, with a Masters degree in Conservation Biology. Dedicated to nature and conservation, with over three years voluntary experience in environmental and conservation charities and NGO's. Currently working for the World Society for the Protection of Animals and volunteering for London Wildlife Trust.
This entry was posted in Conservation & Research, Fresh Posts, Random, Volunteering. Bookmark the permalink.

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