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


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


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.



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:



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:


5. Two penguin dads


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


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.
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