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.
- British weather takes its toll on Britain’s seabirds
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!
- Bears of the great North woods
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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.
Grouse & puffin images courtesy of ARKive and Google