Tag Archives: conservation

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

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.

Saving The Rainforest

The following is a piece of college coursework I found of mine. It’s written as a magazine article. I apologise for the fact that the style of writing is a bit accusing. I was feisty in my youth, okay?! Enjoy.

~

THE PROBLEM:
It’s common knowledge now that the world’s rainforests are disappearing at a rate of roughly two football fields per second. Everyone knows it, and if you didn’t, you haven’t been paying attention.

But I don’t want you to think “oh no, not another doom and gloom herald of disaster” and flip the page for the (much more right-here, right-now, you think) piece on how to look your best in the Winter fashions.

And I don’t want to drown you in statistics either. I’ll try to just stick to the basics and tell you only what’s really necessary. Promise. And if you already know all this you can skip straight to the solutions section.

Tropical rainforests contribute several incredibly important aspects to the global ecosystem that the masses are only just starting to realise; now most of them are gone. The saying: “you don’t know when you’ve got it good untill you lose it” rings true here.

 

These great swathes of green across the equator contain at least half of the plant and animal species of the planet. Now, species are dying 1000 times faster than scientists estimate they naturally would, if there was just evolution doing it’s thing with no human intervention. A large proportion of this figure is down to destruction of the rainforests . But this isn’t just a cry of morals, and loss of beauty, it’s also purely practical. If the world’s biodiversity decreases by half, the gene pool will be so debilitated and unbalanced that all the remaining species, including us, would be weakened. Because of the vast complexity of the Earth’s global ecosystem (let’s think James’ Lovelock’s Gaia theory) and how interrelated the web of life is, it is possible, probable even, that we wouldn’t survive at all.

And it doesn’t even end there with ecology. They also absorb vast amounts of CO2, without them we’d have the problem of climate change falling down on us much harder and faster than it already is. As if this isn’t enough, they also regulate the entire hydrological cycle. They contain a 1/5 of the world’s fresh water and there are droughts and floods where too much deforestation occurs.

This, of course, is hell for the indigenous people, but it also affects us. The Western world is farther away from self-sufficiency than ever before, with the best of the soils in the ‘third world’ countries being guzzled up to grow coffee, soya beans, cattle, tea, sugar and fruit for our consumption. Will we wait untill the food falls off our supermarket shelves untill we decide to do something?

Of course, it’s up to governments to fix everything, and of course one action by one individual isn’t going to make a significant difference to the numbers. But untill people get over that fact and realise that everything adds up, and that doing nothing is dangerous in the (not too) long term, we’ll never get anywhere. So here’s some ideas.

THE SOLUTION:

  • Buy recycled paper, cards etc – Really, nothing else should be on the market, but you’d be surprised how much is made of virgin forest. On the upside, recycled paper is becoming much more common-place, and often isn’t any more expensive.
  • Recycle your used paper – Most county councils run curb-side collections and if your’s doesn’t, you can always ask them to start one. It really doesn’t take much effort to throw something in a box instead o a rubbish bin. Come on, everyone needs to do this at least.
  • Avoid fast-food outlets like McDonalds, Burger King, etc – they are all directly involved with this. They buy up the land, demolish the forest, and use the land to raise uncomprehendingly large numbers of cattle – which are slaughtered and turned into burgers. Vote with your pocket and tell everyone you know.
  • If you’re buying something wooden, look for FSC or ‘sustainably managed’ labels - if enough people do this the logging business will begin to see there is money in sustainable management.
  • Support ethical, sustainable projects and businesses such as ‘Raintree’ - see their website at www.raintree.com. They employ the local people to harvest herbs, roots and berries from the forests without damaging them. As well as conserving this vital habitat, this method also generates more income than cutting it down for logging or cattle farms. The indigenous tribes get to stay on their ancestral land rather than being evicted, and generation after generation can benefit economically from the rainforests while they thrive.

Loss of the rainforest, and deforestation in general, will have repercussions in our lifetimes; not in some far off generation we’re not obliged to consider. The effects are very real and anyone who denies this are simply in denial. All credible scientific bodies agree about the seriousness of climate change, and that it is happening now. They also agree that if the rainforest is lost, it will be a very short step from environmental disaster. This is because, as I have mentioned, the trees and other vegetation absorb huge amounts of CO2 – that infamous bane of the atmosphere – and therefore if they are not there to do this, we will have a greater concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Due to the enhanced greenhouse effect, this will cause a faster and more significant change to our climate.

If you don’t want these consequences to come to pass, the solution is simple: take steps to support the conservation of the rainforests and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If we do enough we should be able to save them.

It’s stupid to not try.

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