Tag Archives: animals

Orangutans in the trees! Photo from projectorangutan.com

Blading For Borneo

Today I want to give a little shout out for a close friend of mine, who’s been doing something amazing.

My friend Aleesha recently spent eight days skating solo across the whole South coast of England, raising money for The Orangutan Project in Borneo.

Between the 14th and 23rd of September 2014 she in-line skated from Hastings to Plymouth, a distance of 310 miles, averaging roughly 40 miles per day. You can read about her adventure on her blog, Blading For Borneo, which she updated each night while staying with generous coach-surfing hosts.  Continue reading

Monkeys in the trees, Peruvian rainforest. Not my image.

I Bought a Rainforest

Have you seen the new BBC documentary series called I Bought a Rainforest?

I’ve watched the first two episodes. It’s about a wildlife photographer called Charlie who spontaneously buys 100 acres of the Amazon, in Peru, in order to protect it from illegal loggers.  His patch is strategically placed next to a national park, at the end of the only road for many miles. Loggers are felling trees in the national park, despite it being a protected area. Charlie plans to stop them.

So far, so simple, right? The animal-loving camera-man is the goodie and the illegal loggers who are killing the rainforest – the lungs of the planet and one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world – are undoubtedly the baddies.

But no. It would be very naive to assume real life is like a story of good vs evil. Much to Charlie’s dismay, it turns out the nasty loggers decimating the protected forest are really just cripplingly poor locals who have no other way to feed their families. One of them has a disabled daughter who isn’t getting the care she needs and can’t go to school.  Continue reading

Mass protests for the crew's immediate release..

Greenpeace Activists Seized & Imprisoned

On the 18th September 2013, the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace campaign ship, carried 28 activists and two freelance journalists to Gazprom’s Arctic oil rig, where they tried to climb onto the infrastructure and form a peaceful protest against the drilling. Instantly, armed coast guards boarded the Greenpeace vessel and threatened the protesters at gun and knife point, before towing the ship to the Russian port city Murmansk. Three weeks later, all 30 of the ship’s crew are still detained in Russian prisons, despite mass appeals for their release.

The Greenpeace activists were working on the Save the Arctic campaign which aims to prevent oil drilling, industrial fishing and resource based conflicts in the Arctic, instead making it a global sanctuary like the Antarctic. Climate change is causing the ice to melt, which has made the submarine oil deposits accessible for the first time.  However drilling in this fragile environment would seriously harm the populations of endangered animals such as polar bears, walruses and seals. Even if oil slicks could be avoided (which is unlikely), burning these oil resources would be a major step backwards on the climate change front. Globally, we’re already heading towards the dangerous 2°C of warming and we desperately need to move our energy investments from fossil fuels to renewables. For more background see my earlier post on the issue.

Not my image.

After the Russian coast guards seized the Greenpeace ship and brought it to Murmansk, the activists and journalists were all charged with piracy, for which the prison sentence is up to 15 years!

Just so we’re clear, the Oxford Dictionary defines pirate as: “noun: a person who attacks and robs ships at sea”. The charge is completely absurd;  the protesters were not attacking or robbing anyone. Even though the Russian president has defended the violent actions of the coast guards, even he has admitted: “I don’t know the details of what went on, but it’s completely obvious they aren’t pirates“. (Quoted in The Guardian, 7th October 2013, my bold).

All 30 people who were aboard the Arctic Sunrise are still being detained in various Russian prisons, even though they haven’t had their trial yet. There have been demonstrations outside Russian embassies in 48 countries, with people around the world being outraged at the treatment of these activists and freelancers. Appeals for their release have been rejected, and Greenpeace International are filing a criminal complaint with the police, as they’re adamant that seizure of their ship was illegal.

Mass protests for the crew's immediate release..

Mass protests for the crew’s immediate release..

Personally, I’m disgusted by all this. I think Greenpeace have been doing really honorable and brave work, and the Russian government and justice system are clearly being completely biased because the energy giant Gazprom is state owned, and they simply don’t want any interference with its corporate actions.

If you’re of a similar mind, why not send an email to London’s Russian ambassador.
Also you can keep up to date with what’s going on with Greenpeace’s handy timeline.

I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed for these guys.
They don’t deserve to be punished just for caring about the planet.
And for god’s sake, they’re not pirates!

 

An Environmentalist’s Evolution

Sometimes I find myself wondering how I came to be so fiercely concerned with the state of the world; with all it’s complex social and environmental aspects. The truth is, my interests have developed, evolved and broadened as I’ve grown from a wide-eyed bubbah to a 20 year old university student.

My interest in the environment was probably given a good head start by my parents, my mum especially. I enjoyed a pretty unconventional upbringing, which involved home education, growing up in a woodland low impact settlement, plenty of wacky life experiences and a healthy dose of skepticism towards government and general authority. My mum taught me to respect plants and animals, to be grateful for my food and never waste it, not to waste water, how to make a fire and which wild plants were edible.

Whether because of this or for some other innate reason, I remember always, from as young as I can remember, being extremely fond of animals. I used to read zoology books constantly and fantasize about opening an animal sanctuary. When I was eight years old, I distinctly remember engaging two of my friends in conversation about the issue of animal cruelty. We decided we would do something about this broad and prevalent issue, and Tiger’s Eye Kid’s Club was born. Our parents thought it was great and helped us a lot, it would never of happened without their work. I made all my friends join and we basically raised awareness about animal rights issues and raised money for action groups. We had a website, which my dad made, and we had information stalls at Glastonbury Festival for two years.

I eventually dropped Tiger’s Eye as I became older and needed to focus on my GCSEs. But that was really where my interest in environmental issues came from, because my research told me that many animals are threatened mostly from habitat destruction and pollution. The more I learned, the more I began to see environmental damage as a problem in and of itself, rather than just because of the animals it affects. I took Environmental Studies at A Level which consolidated this view, and also showed me how complex environmental problems really are, and how many human effects they have. It was around my time in college that I began to look more at the human perspective, seeing pollution, hazards and climate change as problems that have severe and important social repercussions. I started reading and thinking about the concept of sustainability, which is being environmentally responsible because it makes sense from a human standpoint, rather than conservation which is good for ‘the rest of nature’. From there it was only a short jump to caring more deeply about social issues in the broader sense.

During my gap year, I did lots of reading around these subjects and I began to realise how most environmental and even social issues are caused by the way our economy is set up. This led to me taking a sudden interest in economics, and especially new or ecological economics pioneered by the Post Growth Institute, nef and CASSE. I spent countless hours scribbling in notebooks and racking my brains, trying to envision or design an economy whose rules would automatically encourage a sustainable and happy society – a kind of utopia that I was obsessed with imagining.

I went to university for a degree in Environment and Media Studies and so far I’ve loved every second of it. Last year we studied subjects I hadn’t really considered before, which broadened my interests still further. I became incredibly interested in politics, feminism, human rights, and especially with world development and poverty reduction. I continued to do lots of reading about alternative economics, and when I read Enough is Enough everything seemed to click into place. When I stumbled upon this concept of a post-growth or steady-state economy, where the goal is sustainable and equitable human well-being rather than profit, and the economy doesn’t grow but stays balanced within the Earth’s limits, I felt like I’d found the recipe for the philosopher’s stone or something…

I was elated.

This was the solution I’d been trying to dream up, already laid out neatly if slightly inconclusively by like-minded thinkers.

My attitude towards modernity, cities and technology has also changed radically since I was a young teen. I used to think people should ‘get back to the land’ and that technological advancement was no good for humanity or the Earth. I no longer think that way. I think cities are here to stay, and rightly so. I think technology can be harnessed to do great things and I’m a little bit in awe of the internet. I think there’s no sense in trying to return to a rustic idyll that wasn’t actually that romantic; I think we need to evolve to a state we’ve never read about in history books.
I used to be in love with the past, but we’ve broken up and now I’m infatuated with the future.

I’m just about to start my second year of university, and I can’t wait to begin soaking up more knowledge and learning even more about my subject. As ever, I’ll continue to post my thoughts, ideas and discoveries on this blog.
I’m now convinced that a post-growth society is our best possible hope of having a sustainable society with a high quality of life, as opposed to living very frugally amidst environmental desolation. I endeavour to learn more about this new but growing concept and maybe even add something of my own, one day.

It’s very interesting to study how interests evolve.
If I could tell my five-year-old butterfly-chasing, squirrel-feeding self that one day I’d be fascinated by economics, I don’t think I’d of believed it!

 

All rights to whoever took this lovely picture.

Unjust Badger Cull

Cases of the cattle disease Bovine TB have been steadily rising in the UK for many years, and the government have decided to deal with the problem by implementing a pilot scheme throughout the counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire for badger culling. The pilot scheme aims to cull 5,000 badgers, 90% of which will be free-shot and 10% of which will be caged and then shot.

You might think this is a sad necessity. But actually, although badgers have been killed on suspicion of their spreading the disease for decades, the science doesn’t support this suspicion!

All rights to whoever took this lovely picture.

All rights to whoever took this lovely picture.

Bovine TB has been a problem infecting cattle herds since at least 1930, and in 1971 the discovery of a badger carcass infected with TB lead to the assumption that these shy nocturnal mammals were responsible for spreading the disease. After this date, thousands were culled before the government commissioned a proper scientific study to assess the effectiveness of this measure. The Independent Scientific Group (ISG) was set up to conduct what was called the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). This trial took 9 years to complete (1998 – 2007), cost $50 million of taxpayers money and is considered the best scientific data available on the subject.

This is a summary of what the ISG found:

“Our overall conclusion is that after careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report, including an economic assessment, that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the control of cattle TB in Britain.

We further conclude from the scientific evidence available, that the rigorous application of heightened control measures directly targeting cattle will reverse the year- on-year increase in the incidence of cattle TB and halt the geographical spread of the disease.” 

(ISG 2007, Paras 10.92 & 10.93, respectively)

Why the government have decided to completely ignore the study that was commissioned, I have no idea. I can only imagine it’s because they can’t think of anything better to do, and culling badgers makes it look like they’re dealing with the problem.

When I first heard about this, my first thought was that bovine TB is probably increasing because factory farming of cows forces them to live in such awful conditions that – unsurprisingly – they’re prone to disease! I don’t have any scientific studies to back this up, but this article in The Guardian at least shows others are on the same page. It does make sense. Animals that are stressed, malnourished, unclean and cramped are more prone to all sorts of illnesses because their immune systems are weak. In fact in many of the worst farms it’s only large doses of antibiotics that keep the animals alive. Because cattle are kept in such large herds, the disease spreads rapidly and the centralised food system means it’s spread around the country – and beyond – quickly as well.

Intensive factory farming of cows. Not my image.

Intensive factory farming of cows. Not my image.

Many people agree that the badger is simply being used as a scapegoat, to avoid the real challenge of cleaning up our cruel, wasteful and unhealthy meat and dairy industry.

Badgers are one of the most distinctive wildlife species in Britain, and have been living here for longer than the islands have been populated by humans. They’re actually protected by law, as an important part of our biodiversity and heritage, and yet the planned culls would supercede that protection. If the pilot study leads on to a wider cull, the badger population of Britain will take a severe decline, probably causing them to become a threatened species. This would be a terrible shame in itself, but who knows how this could affect the ecology of the badger’s woodland habitats?

Image from www.wildlifeextra.com

Image from www.wildlifeextra.com

From an ecological perspective, this is disgusting. Just because we have a dodgy food system doesn’t mean we have the right to exterminate another species.

Resources:
http://www.badgergate.org/bovine-tb/
http://teambadger.org/badgers.html
http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2012/jul/15/letters-badger-cull-bovine-tb

On March 11, 2013, the EU’s sales ban on animal-tested cosmetics went into full force….

This is such fantastic news that I can barely believe it! To be honest I feel a bit out of the loop because I was really involved in animal rights and anti-vivisection when I was younger but haven’t really looked into it for a while. I didn’t know the EU was even close to doing this but I’m absolutely thrilled that they are. Subjecting animals to basically torture merely for new cosmetics products is just plain wrong. I’m so happy I might have to go (cruelty-free) make-up shopping to celebrate!

Pandas – precious cutie or evolutionary dead-end?

I want to discuss with you today the plight of the panda.

Aren’t they adorable? It’s no wonder Giant Pandas are one of the most loved species in the whole animal kingdom. Because they’re so popular they’re often used as  what’s called a ‘flagship species’ – an endangered species that is well known and well loved – often an attractive mammal such as a tiger or elephant. Its iconic beauty is supposed to capture people’s interest in a conservation issue, where something like a woodlouse, although just as important in ecological terms, might not ignite the same public interest. WWF even has a panda as its logo for this reason, and for most people pandas spring quickly to mind whenever the term ‘endangered species’ is mentioned.

Recent studies estimate the number of Giant Pandas in the wild to be just 1600, with a further 200 living in captivity*. They’re on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Animals, and they were first proclaimed to be endangered in the 1980s. The main threat to them is habitat destruction. Their wild habitat is now just a few mountainous parts of southwestern China – mostly in the Sichuan Province. As parts of their habitat are cleared away for farmland, it’s becoming fragmented and pandas find it hard to roam around and find mates. It is notoriously hard to get them to breed in captivity and they are also prone to digestive illnesses. I was always under the impression that pandas only eat one type of bamboo, but Wikipedia reckons they like 25 different varieties of the stuff!  The problem is, in their now limited and fragmented habitat, only a few of these are common.

A lot is being done in terms of conservation of the Giant Panda. In China there are now many large sanctuaries where they are protected. Breeding is encouraged, but if they’ve been captured from the wild they tend to lose interest in this… In these cases artificial insemination is often used. In the wild there is a problem with the isolated groups of pandas becoming inbred as the destruction of their habitat leaves them in little ‘pockets’ of bamboo forest and they can’t migrate very far to find mates. In captivity, conservationists are attempting to combat this issue by freezing panda sperm and transporting it to zoos and reserves on an international scale to expand the gene pool. This sounds pretty weird, but apparently they could reach what’s termed an ‘evolutionary dead end’ if they become too inbred, so it is important for their survival. What’s even more important however is the protection of their habitat…

A huge amount of money is spent of panda conservation efforts, and there is actually a school of thought that it isn’t worth it. Some people think that pandas are too fussy and aren’t interested enough in having babies, and thus they are bound to die out. They also have some quirks of biology, such as having a carnivorous digestive system and yet living almost exclusively off nutrient-poor bamboo shoots. The conservationist Chris Packham says all the money spent on trying to keep pandas alive would be better spent elsewhere, such as on rainforest conservation. He points out there’s not even enough habitat left to sustain them, and says that although he doesn’t want them to die out, we should prioritize and accept it.

Although I can see there are more important matters, I think we can all agree it’d be tragic to lose such a beautiful and charismatic creature. And it’s not exactly like pandas are dying out simply because of some evolutionary weakness – they’re threatened because humans are destroying their habitat. As their endangered status is our fault, surely it’s our responsibility to try and conserve them? And of course there’s also the point that all species are integral to the ecology of their environment… If pandas were no more then this would have knock-on effects on all the wildlife that share their habitat. Everything is connected and interdependent.

Happily, according to this news article, the conservation efforts in China are taking effect and the numbers of Giant Pandas are actually now on the rise. Although of course they’re still low, I’m glad to see some progress is being made!

*This statistic is from the first resource below. It’s clearly hard to estimate numbers of wild animals with any certainty and I have seen different figures on other web pages, ranging from 1000-3000.

Resources:

http://pandasinternational.org/faqs.html

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/wild-life-expert-pandas-die/story?id=8668627#.T3cOnWGmgl8

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-01-16/local/me-324_1_giant-panda

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_panda

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-01/20/content_410497.htm

All photos from Google Images.

The Right Whales

I dreamed about whales last night, so that’s the subject of today’s post. The rarest type of whale is the Right Whale, so named because in the days of the whaling industry, people thought they where the “right” ones to hunt. This was because they swam close to shore, were very valuable, and when killed, their bodies floated, making them easy to harvest.

This exploitation in the 19th and early 20th century, lead to the Right Whales population dropping from ten’s of thousands, to about 100 individuals. This shocking decrease lead to a whole host of conservation efforts beginning in 1935 and continuing since.

Today, the population is estimated to be between 300 and 350. This is of course still incredibly low, and scientists are not even sure that it’s on the rise. Extinction is a very real and possible threat to this quirky marine beast.

So why is it so threatened?

Research shows it could be it’s unusually high buoyancy that isn’t doing it any favours. Most marine creatures have negative buoyancy, which means they won’t sink, but are still able to move downwards with ease.  Right Whales on the other hand, have positive buoyancy. This offers an explanation as to why past hunters saw so much of them, and why their bodies float.  This easy floating might sound like a good thing, seeing as they are air-breathing mammals, but it actually puts them in a lot of danger. Many Right Whales are killed by collisions with ships, and this is partly because they can’t dive quickly or strongly enough to get out of the way.

Now that this has been noted, conservationists are able to divert human vessels away from areas where Right Whales are congregating. This should significantly reduce their mortality rate, but it does not tackle the other problem of them getting caught up in fishing gear.

The International Whaling Commission made commercial whaling illegal in 1986, and Right Whales can now be considered the “right” ones to watch instead, for the same reason they where once killed – their high visibility to the human eye.  Hermanus, in South Africa, is one of the world centres for whale watching. The Right Whales come right up to the shore and can be seen from the seaside hotels. They even employ a “whale crier” to walk around shouting about where they can be observed at that very moment. And in Brazil, a conservation area has been assigned where there is most breeding activity and an old whaling station has now been converted into a museum to celebrate the wonderful water giant.

Here’s to their continuing good health and fertility. ~

Unlike other whales, Right Whales have funny upside-down-looking mouths and rough patches on their heads.

 

Resources: 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_whale 

http://www.allaboutwildlife.com/what-is-the-right-whales-population

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whaling

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/worlds-rarest-whale-is-too-buoyant-researchers-find-667507.html

Pictures from Google Images.

I Am a Herbivore

 I’m vegan.

The first question annoyingly asked by many upon hearing this is “oh my god, what do you eat?” I’ve finally decided that trying to list every foodstuff that I enjoy is pointlessly tiresome, and that “well, plants…” is a better answer.

For those wanting elaboration, I suggest listening to this song.

The second question is usually “why?” and this is more interesting and more long-winded. This blog post is an attempt at a concise and lucid answer.

Firstly, I feel that the conditions in which farm animals live (and die) are incredibly cruel, and I don’t wish to condone this practice in any way. Even with organic and free-range farming, the welfare standards are not high enough in my mind. It is just a case of bad rather than barbaric.

Secondly, the environmental impact of farming animals is shockingly high. The  industry is fuel, water and chemical intensive, and creates a large amount of pollution. It is also unsustainable for everyone on this planet to eat animal foods, as it takes up so much more land than a plant based diet. It may have been workable in other parts of history, but for the modern day it is not an efficient or fair use of land and resources.

*

Once you’re used to being vegan it’s really not hard at all. I have been for about 5 years now and I find it perfectly easy. I don’t really see why people struggle so much. Plus it’s healthier, as long as you have some basic ideas about nutrition, which I do.

Anyway here’s an example of what I might eat in a typical day:

Breakfast: bananas on toast.
Lunch: minestrone soup with bread.
Dinner: vegan sausages, mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables.
Snacks: biscuits, fruit.
Drinks: water, juice, hot chocolate (with soya milk).

I don’t see any major self-sacrifice in that to be honest.

The only real advantage to eating meat, dairy etc is that you might like the taste of it. And that’s fair enough, but is it really worth it?

*

Of course you don’t have to agree with me, this was just me explaining my reasoning. But take a moment to consider that although you are entitled to your own opinion, animals and the Earth are apparently, not.  They don’t get the choice.

The frog with the translucent tummy

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could see inside a tree frog’s body? Well, now you can. The existence of the beautiful Glass Frog was brought to my attention while reading www.ecorazzi.com yesterday, and I’ve fallen in love with the little fellla.

Isn’t it cute? Most Glass Frogs have a slightly translucent, lime green skin that lets them blend in with the leaves of the South American cloud forests they call home. But look, look at their tummies!

Completely transparent! You can see their living organs working. I think this is really interesting because of course, so much of our biological knowledge is gained from poking around with dead animals. And the body isn’t really working properly if it’s dead, is it?

Members of this frog family are actually quite widely dispersed, also living in the Amazon, Mexico and Argentina. They spend most of their time in the canopy, but come down to the riverside to breed. They lay their eggs on leaves above the water where they are slightly more safe from predators, and when they hatch the tadpoles drop into the river.

The Glass Frog is just one of the thousands of fantastic creatures we won’t have the pleasure of planet-sharing with if we continue to destroy the rainforests. Please think about what you can do for them.

Image credits: http://mudfooted.com/transparent-glass-frog/