The ‘Four-Legged City’ Where Street Dogs & Cats Are At Home

When your holiday zest for sightseeing bazaars and palaces begins to flag, and you turn into the nearest cafe for a much-needed sit down and restorative coffee, chances are several street dogs and cats will have got there before you and nabbed the best seats.
As you settle at a vacant table, a furry feline will in all likelihood settle on you. And in this city no-one is going to turn them out. Because you are in Istanbul, the ‘four-legged city’, where the free-roaming dogs and cats get cared for as well as the pampered pets inside the home.
The cafe owner emerges from the kitchen with dishes of food for his four-legged guests. The fishmonger next door is slicing up pieces of fish for the hopeful, patiently waiting outside.

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Local residents are putting out bowls of water and food next to the little shelters they’ve knocked together for the furries out on their own streets. And of course, there are rich pickings to be had for the enterprising in the bags of rubbish thrown on to the street.

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Reinvigorated by your coffee? Then head for Nişantaşı Sanat Parkı, otherwise known as ‘the Cat Park’. There are cats, cats and more cats everywhere you look. Hundreds, yes hundreds, of them. Unlike feral cats in the UK, these are completely habituated to people, and will return your attentions with happy purrs and affectionate nuzzles.

You may be puzzled by strange white boxes dotted about the city. These are ‘smart’ recycling boxes. Recycling with an unusual twist: the box rewards you for recycling your empty water bottle by dispensing cat and dog food to give to the animals.

Canines beyond the city limits where food opportunities are thin on the ground are not forgotten either. A van is sent out daily to Belgrade Forest with 1,000 kg of dry dog food. The driver honks the horn, the signal that breakfast has arrived. The dogs come running out of the trees.

That’s hunger dealt with. What about thirst? The city has installed fresh water stations especially for the 130,000 thirsty dogs and 165,000 thirsty cats free-roaming the city – that’s about as many street-dwelling felines and canines combined as there are human residents of Nottingham or Belfast.

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Pic from Phys.org

If any of these free-spirited furries get sick, no problem –  if they can’t get to one of the 6 health clinics (with a little help from the always willing humans), the VetBus will come to them.

There’s no doubt about it: Istanbul’s four-legged residents are done proud. You could say they own the city.

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A paradise present and past

What a paradise for these lucky animals, a paradise present and past. Dogs and cats have been documented on the streets of Istanbul for hundreds of years. “The dogs sleep in the streets, all over the city,” Mark Twain wrote after a visit in 1867. “They would not move, though the Sultan himself passed by.”

Why is it that in this city they are not just tolerated, but actively cared for? “They are the neighbourhood’s dogs [and cats]. They protect us and everyone loves them,” says resident Hamit Yilmaz Ozcan.

Sadly the same cannot be said of many other cities in the world. In the last few years alone we have heard of cities like Sochi, Beijing, and Rio de Janeiro’s horrific mass killings of street animals ahead of big sporting events. Other places like Cyprus and Bali also view the street animals as pests, and regularly cull them. ‘Cull’ of course is just officialese for ‘kill’. But killing it is nonetheless. In 2013, Romania’s capital Bucharest ordered euthanasia (another euphemism) of its 50,000 strays.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are 200 million stray dogs worldwide. Countries such as Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Mexico have in the past, taken reduction measures [yet another euphemism to cloak the unpalatable truth] to control their large populations of stray dogs.” 

So what makes Istanbul so different, possibly unique?

The answer is, centuries of Islamic tradition in the Ottoman Empire, of which Istanbul was the capital and seat of power. The Ottomans took to heart the Qu’ran’s teaching that all animals were made by Allah. All animals are loved by Allah. All animals must be treated with kindness and compassion.

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“According to Islamic culture, people should avoid being unjust to others, and it places animals’ rights above human rights since it is possible to compensate for the wrongdoing to people by asking for their forgiveness; however, it is not possible with animals as they lack reason.” 

(Personally, I think it’s not that they lack reason, but that we don’t understand their language.)

“Prophet Muhammad told the story of two different women who lived long before his time. As he recounted, an evil women went to heaven because she gave water to a dog, while a good woman went to hell because she starved a cat to death.”

(Define ‘good woman’, I’d say. Starving a cat to death sounds pretty evil to me. But anyway, you get the drift.)

“Fearing this story, people in the past fed their animals before they sat down for meals and did not go to bed before they cleaned the animals in their barns and checked if they had water and feed. Moreover, the government punished those who carried barnyard fowls upside down or overloaded horses or donkeys, and people who harmed animals were alienated from their community in the Ottoman Empire.

“The Ottomans established foundations to feed street dogs, and wolves in the mountains, provide water for birds on hot summer days and treat storks with broken wings or injured horses. They also built birdhouses in the courtyards of buildings such as mosques, madrasahs and palaces and placed water pans on gravestones for birds.”

Even ‘worn out’ donkeys and horses, no longer fit to work, were not shot or abandoned as would have been, and often still is their fate elsewhere, but cared for until the end of their days.

Sad change in the 19th century

The people of Istanbul have always loved having the animals around – and who wouldn’t. The state though is a different matter. In the 19th century, the Ottomans, realising the image they were projecting to European powers was one of backwardness, decided to push beggars, orphans and the unemployed into forced labour or deportation. And at the same time made “systemic efforts to annihilate stray dogs within the wider picture of Ottoman modernizing reforms.”

In 1909, “although old Istanbul’s street dogs were very famous, the municipality collected all of them, ferried them to an island in the Marmara Sea and abandoned them. They were left with no food or clean water, and their cries were heard throughout the city. 

“The people who pitied them threw them food, but when all of these dogs died on the island, the residents of the city were disturbed by the smell of their corpses. The wars that broke out and the defeats of the empire following this incident were seen as a punishment for what was done to those animals.”

That sudden ruthless disregard for the centuries-old traditions of care and respect for the street dogs and cats continued right through the 20th century. Right up to the 1990s, officials were strewing poison around the city, consigning the animals to a cruel death.

In 2004 Turkey passed an Animal Protection Law

Everything changed again. The municipalities were forced to take a more humane approach. Instead of slaughter, an extensive neutering program was implemented by the VetBus and the clinics.

With rabies still endemic in Turkey, the thought of rabid animals roaming the busy streets of this ancient city is not one the municipality was prepared to countenance for a second, so the other important part of the program is vaccination. Under the Capture Neuter Vaccinate & Release program, CNVR, the dogs and cats are also chipped and given an ear tag so they can easily be identified as having been ‘done’ before they are returned to the street or square where they were found.

It’s a secret

The tons of food, the water stations, the recycle boxes, the clinics, the VetBus, the CNVR program – surely none of this can come cheap? The municipality refuses to say how much is being spent on the street dogs and cats of Istanbul. “If people knew how much money was spent on these services, maybe people would be more upset, but these figures are not disclosed,” says Yildirim, coordinator of the collective “Dort Ayakli Sehir” (Four-legged City).

But Turkey’s Agriculture and Forests Minister Bekir Pakdemirli did recently admit that between 2009 and 2018 his ministry expended 31 million Turkish lira (around $6 million) just contributing towards the budgets of local authorities across the country for their care of street animals.

Maybe still not quite such a paradise for the street dogs and cats after all? 

The best efforts of the CNVR program has only succeeded in keeping the stray feline and canine populations at a fairly constant level. Their numbers have not fallen over time as the municipality might have hoped and expected. Of course, there will always be some wily characters that escape the net and keep breeding.

But much sadder than that, according to animal welfare organisations on the ground:

“There is a high incidence of dog abandonment in Turkey. Pets are often bought on impulse, and frequently as gifts. But when cute little puppies grow into large dogs that need space, exercise and long-term care, many families simply abandon their pets to the streets or forests. Many abandoned dogs are pure breeds, like golden retrievers, that are temperamentally unfit to survive on the streets or in the wild.”

The self-same fate awaits cats:

“In Turkey everyday, thousands of puppies and kittens are sold in the pet-shops just like stuffed animals and most of them find themselves abandoned on the streets within a couple of months… Abandoned cats and dogs are everywhere. Sometimes people simply kick them out from their home right on the streets, sometimes they take a dog into a forest and leave him there so he can’t find his way back home, or even abandon him by the side of a motorway so he gets killed quickly.”

This little guy is one such victim. Only 40 days old, found all alone and whimpering in a ditch at the side of the road. Luckily he was rescued and put up for adoption. But there’s still a chance he could end up back on the street further down the line.

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Pic from Phys.org
Love for the street animals/casual, callous abandonment. How to reconcile the two?

Is it that the good people of Istanbul enjoy the pleasure the animals bring into their daily lives, and feel good giving food and some outdoor shelter, but don’t want the full responsibility of caring for them in their own home?

Or could it be that in today’s cosmopolitan city, while some still hold fast to the old traditions, others have discarded them as belonging to the past? That would be sad indeed.

From the centuries-old Ottoman Islamic ethic of respect and compassion, I believe there is much we and the world could learn in our attitudes towards all animals, great and small. Don’t you agree?


Please sign and share:

Petition to stop the poisoning of strays in Turkey’s capital, Ankara

Petition to end this tragedy in Turkey: dog starvation on a colossal scale.

Petition to stop neighbouring Jordan killing every street dog in the country

Petition to stop authorities in Benalmadena, Spain ruthlessly culling homeless cats

Petition to enforce ban on dog culling in Bangladesh

#AdoptDontShop  #PersonsNotProperty


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With thanks – Longhaul Trekkers blog post – warmly recommend for entertaining info and fab pics of the cats of Istanbul

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The state and the stray dogs in late Ottoman Istanbul

 

 

The Unspoilt Eden Let’s Hope We Will Never Get to See

Imagine a Forbidden Area, left to slumber for 100 years, in which lies a ‘Fairytale Valley’,“where diamonds were once so common they could be picked up in handfuls as they gleamed in the light of the moon.”
“The most unspoiled large plot of land left on the planet, and the only arid biodiversity hotspot.” A unique wilderness almost the size of Belgium, of “towering dunes, sea cliffs, soaring inselbergs¹, panoramic views, lonely gravel plains, the fourth largest meteorite crater in the world, and mass flowerings that follow spring rains.” A dramatic landscape of desert, grassland, coast and mountains.
This is the Sperrgebiet National Park. The park surrounding a diamond mine is an industrial exclusion zone where Nature holds sway.

(More about the Sperrgebiet shortly)

We humans have found a million ways to deface the planet. Our expanding cities devour the land, we crisscross it with highways, we strip away forests, and crush it under factories, we gauge out mines. We disfigure it with scars of a magnitude visible from space.

But do our worst, we cannot keep unstoppable Nature at bay forever. And when large industrial complexes for example, set up heavily protected security zones around them to keep unauthorised humans out, Nature seizes the slightest of chances to move right on in. Her healing hands transfigure what we have blighted into havens pulsing with life. Life finds a way to flourish in the most unlikely of places. Not least in industrial exclusion zones.

Introducing the Industrial Exclusion Zones

Possibly the most infamous of them all – the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

In 1986, the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl exploded and deadly radiation spread for hundreds of miles in smoke and dust, air and water. Every human being was evacuated from within a 30 km radius of the plant, and forbidden to return. An exclusion zone of 4000 km² was created. Fences and radiation warning signs were erected.

But wildlife is no respecter of fences and doesn’t read signs.

CEZ fence and wild dog inside the zone

30 years after the event, John Wendle made a visit to the CEZ for the National Geographic magazine, and wrote of finding “the tracks of wolf, moose, deer, badger, and horses. I counted scores of birds: ravens, songbirds, three kinds of birds of prey, and dozens of swans paddling in the radioactive cooling pond.”

And Ukrainian scientist Sergey Gaschak confirmed“We have all large mammals: red deer, roe deer, wild boar, moose, bison, brown bear, lynx, wolves, two species of hare, beaver, otter, badger, some martins, some mink, and polecats.” And a score of other mammals including bats, as well as ten or more species of big birds: hawks, eagles, owls, storks, and swans. What a wealth of wildlife!

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Wolf in Chernobyl – Sergey Gaschak

That was 2015. Now a bang-up-to-date 2019 study agrees – wildlife is abundant in the CEZ. Nature is thriving. Nature has taken over. Because we are not there. 

“In the exclusion zone, humans have been removed from the system and this greatly overshadows any of those potential radiation effects.” 

But the CEZ may be shrinking. Professor Jim Smith from Portsmouth University has been monitoring its radiation levels since 1990. In the outer regions of the CEZ radiation levels are lower than we would get flying on a plane or having a CT scan. And lower than the natural background radiation in many other parts of the world. In the decades to come, as people start to move back into the zone, what will happen to the fabulous wealth of wildlife that has so flourished in their absence?

Even in active industrial installations Nature finds a way

The Secunda Synfuels Operations plant, South Africa 

The securely-fenced compound of the Secunda Synfuels Operations plant has become an unexpected haven for servals. The servals have found Secunda’s exclusion zone such a great place to live that the ratio of serval numbers to area is “far greater than any other site on record across the entire range of the species.”

Happily for the servals, the compound intended to keep people out, encircles a large area of wetland. Wetland means a plentiful supply of rodents, and no prizes for guessing servals’ favourite food!

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Secunda Synfuels scars the South African landscape but servals thrive – credit Daan Loock

Jwaneng, Botswana

There is little more commercially valuable and well-protected than diamonds. The Jwaneng diamond mine produces 11 million carats of diamonds per year, making it the richest diamond mine in the world. To get those precious stones, nearly 47 million tons of rock and ore are dug out every year. That is one big ugly scar on the face of the planet.

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Jwaneng mine – Wikimedia

But the Jwaneng exclusion zone also encompasses the Jwana Game Park, home to the globally threatened lappet-faced vulture. Red hartebeest, impala, springbok, steenbok, duiker, wildebeest, gemsbok (oryx) kudu, eland, giraffe, zebra, warthog, baboon, cheetah, ostrich, leopard, caracal, and many other smaller animals are thriving in Jwana.

Venetia, South Africa

The Venetia diamond mine tells a similar story. South Africa’s biggest producer of diamonds, Venetia’s exclusion zone, all 360 km² of it, became the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve, notable for those most ancient of trees, the baobabs.

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Pic of the life-giving baobob from Facebook (Prince Syeed)

Three of the ‘big five’, lion, elephant and leopard live there in safety, as well as a broad array of large mammals such as African wild dogs, and cheetahs”.

Humans out, wildlife in.

Now to the Sperrgebiet, Namibia

German speakers will know that ‘Sperrgebiet’ means ‘Forbidden Area’. It lies within what was in 1908 – when diamonds were first discovered there – the colony of German South West Africa. The Forbidden Area, closed to the public for a century is now a national park extending over 26,000km². A national park with a difference, since nearly all of it is still forbidden to visitors. Though to this day diamonds continue to be mined there on a small-scale ,“the habitat is largely untouched and pristine.” It is a true wilderness.

Ancient signs still remain: “Warning. Penalty £500. Or One Year’s Imprisonment. The Public Is Warned Against Entering The Prohibited Area.”

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Namibian springbok

“Exclusion of humans has helped preserve the natural biodiversity of the region which is now a hot-spot for exotic flora and fauna. The Sperrgebiet has more biodiversity than anywhere else in Namibia, supporting animals such as the gemsbok, springbok, and brown hyena, and bird species such as the African oystercatcher, the black-headed canary, and the dune lark. Some 600,000 Cape fur seals live here, representing 50 percent of the world’s seal population.”

80 terrestrial mammal species have been recorded there, and reptile species are abundant.

As for the flora:

  • There are 776 types of plants in the Sperrgebiet
  • 234 of them are only found in southwest Namibia, an area known as the Succulent Karoo.
  • The Succulent Karoo holds the world’s richest flora of succulent plants, with one-third of the world’s approximately 10,000 succulent species
  • 40% of its succulent plants are endemic to the Karoo
  • With 630 recorded species, the region is also exceptionally rich in geophytes²,
  • 284 of the Sperrgebiet’s plants are on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species

The Sperrgebiet is in the world’s top 25 biodiversity hotspots. Man out, Nature in with a vengeance!

The problem is of course that where there are wonders of Nature, people want to see them for themselves. In 2007 the park management were “plotting ecologically sensitive guided driving and hiking trails. Given the importance, but also the fragility, of this ecosystem, tourism planning must out of necessity be carefully and sensitively addressed. Some areas with a high endemicity and range-restricted species are to be designated as Strict Nature Reserves and will never be generally accessible. Other areas will have access limited to visitors on foot, horse or camel back.”

Fine words, and let us hope they will always be born out on the ground³. Otherwise the Sperrgebiet may not remain the forbidden, undisturbed paradise it has been for so long.

But let’s end on an up note. I love this story – Elephant seals reclaim Drake’s Beach in California during the US government shut down. No heavy industry here, but normally lots of humans, including the 85-strong staff of Point Reyes National Seashore. The government shutdown left only 12 staff there, not enough to shake blue tarps to frighten the seals away as they normally would. Every cloud, as they say …

“In January 2019, elephant seals occupied the section of Drakes Beach adjacent to the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center, and, at times, the parking lot and wooden ramps leading up to the visitor center”. The elephant seals – nearly 100 of them – are mostly females with their pups, but there are a few males too.

When the seals showed up, staff promptly closed off the entire area to the public. Now they are experimenting with weekend opening of a small part of the car park, just enough for 20 cars, for supervised viewing only. If the scheme is a success, weekend viewings will continue until early April when the pups will be weaned and the seals will move on.

Drake’s Beach is a far cry from Chernobyl – or Secunda and the diamond mines if it comes to that. But the moral of the story in all cases is the same:

In the words of Point Reyes’ chief seashore wildlife ecologist Dave Press,

“If you just get out of the way, wildlife will find its way in.”

Never a truer word.


¹Inselbergs are rock hills/mountains that arise steeply from a surrounding plain. Inselberg translates as ‘island mountain’.

²Most geophytes are plants that store water and carbohydrates underground  – think tuber or rhizome such as the ginger we buy in a store. This underground organ helps them to withstand extremes of temperature and drought and protects them from grazing animals.

³Nowadays there is a strictly controlled guided day tour to Pomona, a ghost town abandoned at the end of the diamond rush, and the famous Bogenfels, a 55 metre high arch of rock on the Sperrgebiet’s Atlantic coast.


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Sources

Chernobyl: The end of a three-decade experiment

How a South African industrial site is providing a safe haven for wild cats

Discover Namibia’s Sperrgebiet

Travel News Namibia

The Sperrgebiet – Wiki

 

 

 

 

Wonderful Wisdom – World’s Oldest Known Wild Bird Hatches Her Latest Chick!

Proud mum yet again to a fluffy new chick, “Wisdom is rewriting history”

says Beth Flint of the USFWS

Have you met Wisdom? Let me introduce you. Wisdom, a Laysan albatross of Midway Atoll in the North Pacific, is a feathered celebrity. Much of her life (spanning 68 years and counting) is shrouded in mystery, but in recent years she has risen to fame as the world’s oldest known wild bird, and very possibly the world’s oldest mother.

Ornithologist Chandler Robbins first came face to beak with Wisdom in 1956, when Midway was still an active US Naval Air Station. He tagged her with a tiny band. As young Laysan albatrosses spend 5 years or so at sea before returning to their breeding ground for the first time since they fledged there, it’s a fair guess that Wisdom emerged from her egg into the light of day in about 1951, 5 years before Robbins’ encounter with her.

Then we have a nearly 50 year blank in Wisdom’s history, because it wasn’t until 2002 and quite by chance on a visit to Midway, that Robbins ran across her again. In 2006, exactly half a century after her first tag, the US Fish & Wildlife Service gave her a new band that would make tracking her easier. And track her they have ever since. Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai (nicknamed Mr Goo by the USFWS staff) have produced an egg and successfully raised a chick every year since, this breeding season no exception.

Why is this so remarkable?

After spending months alone at sea, Laysan albatrosses fly thousands of miles to be reunited with their mates on Midway Atoll. Laysans are the monogamous kind – they mate for life. For seven long months they take turns incubating their one precious egg and then guarding their chick while their partner forages for food. A process so demanding and energy-intensive that it’s more usual for these big birds to lay an egg only every other year.

Wisdom and her faithful partner Mr Goo have broken the mould!

Laysan albatross were slaughtered in their millions in the early 1900s, for no better reason than that albatross feathers were the latest fashion in hats. Fortunately, the birds are no longer hunted, but now they face other dangers. Ingestion of plastic and entanglement in fishing nets are serious ones, and having their eggs eaten by an invasive non-native species of mice another.

So every chick counts – which makes Wisdom and Mr Goo’s reproductive achievements all the more consequential. Super-mum Wisdom is reckoned to have successfully reared at least 36 chicks – not a bad legacy for a bird in her 7th decade of life!

“Midway Atoll’s habitat doesn’t just contain millions of birds, it contains countless generations and families of albatrosses” said Kelly Goodale, USFWS Refuge Biologist. “If you can imagine when Wisdom returns home she is likely surrounded by what were once her chicks and potentially their chicks. What a family reunion!”

Long may you flourish Wisdom and Mr Goo, and continue gracing the world with your beautiful offspring.


Help Wisdom, Mr Goo and their chicks – and all ocean animals by signing these petitions – thank you.

Ditch throwaway plastic packaging

Fight agains plastics pollution 

Stop choking our oceans

Stop the plastic tide

End plastic pollution

Ban throwaway plastics in South Africa

Ban single use plastics in Singapore

 

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Wisdom, world’s oldest known wild bird, is a mother again at 68

Cover pic courtesy of USFWS Pacific Region

Valentine Love Animal-Style

Want to pull out all the stops for your Valentine today? Looking for tips to impress? Well, you may want to think more than twice before emulating any of these strange critters.
‘Dead’ Special

American burying beetles, for example, have a freaky take on romance. The male beetle’s way of getting ready for love is unique. No bunches of red roses for his beloved. What he likes to sniff out for her is a nicely rotting corpse. And why not. It seems he can smell a carcass (small mammal or bird) from miles away – well, at least two miles, which is still pretty impressive. And by the way, isn’t he a handsome guy? Who could resist him.

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American burying beetle courtesy South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

He uses the ‘scent’ to lure the female to the spot and together they go to town ripping fur (or feathers) from the cadaver. Then they roll what’s left into a ball, ‘seasoning’ it with their oral and anal secretions. Eek.

The next step is equally macabre. They bury the carcass ‘ball’ in a grave lined with its own fur or feathers. Once the task is completed, it’s ‘down to business’. Finally, the now fertilised eggs are deposited in a tunnel right next to the grave. When the baby burying beetles hatch there’s a tasty ‘well-seasoned’ corpse right there for them to feast on. Go beetles!

Love Among the Ratites (nothing to do with rats)

The biggest birds in the world and flightless to boot, they make for “stellar dads and unusual lovers”. Ratites are the emus, ostriches, cassowaries, kiwis and rheas.

All male ratites (with the exception of the ostriches) are super-dads. They both incubate the eggs and take care of the chicks after they are hatched.

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Emu super-dad with his super-cute chicks

But what comes before the egg? What about the big birds’ love life? Very unusually in birds, ratites have penises, “really dense, collagenous penises” that they push out of their body cavity to mate. Truly. What can I say.

Really?

For dodgy doings and trickery we enter the world of the arachnid. A certain S. American spider gift-wraps in his silk the tasty prey he’s captured, before offering it to his beloved. But who knows what’s really inside that silk parcel? This gent is prone to giving in to his greed and presenting his sweetheart with an offering that is, yes indeed, beautifully wrapped. But when she tears off the layers in excitement, she discovers she’s been conned. All that’s inside are the inedible bits, worthless remains – damning evidence of his gluttony and lack of self-control. What a cheapskate.

You’ll Want for Nothing, Darling
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Great Grey Shrike

No such scamming for this pretty little songbird. His modus operandi is 100% above board. Everything he has to offer he puts on conspicuous display to catch the eye of passing females. But don’t be deceived by those cute looks, this little avian has a startlingly macabre side. His love gift is a well-stocked ‘larder’… of corpses. If you’re ever in Scandinavia and stumble across  a spiky bush gruesomely adorned with the carcasses of insects, frogs, toads, fish, lizards, mice, voles, stoats, bats or maybe even other birds , all brutally skewered on its thorns, you’ll know ‘the butcher bird’ is not far away.

I Made it Myself

How about a delicious ball of spit? And not just any old ball of spit. The male scorpion fly (so called because his tail-end, actually his genitalia, resembles a scorpion’s sting) offers his girl a ball a whole tenth of his body-weight in spit. That’s an impressive amount of spit. If the protein-rich saliva wins her over, she eats it, and the deal is sealed.

Still, a ball of spit is one up on the ball of something else the dung beetle has to offer. I think I’ll pass, thanks.

dung-beetle-54489__340

Better Alone?

Though we all long to feel the warm glow of basking in our Valentine’s love, there are times one might be better off alone. Watch the peacock spider pulling his best moves to woo his very irritable-looking beloved.

Oh dear. Well that didn’t quite go to plan, did it? Looks like she’s not the romantic kind.

Happily Not All Animal Courtships End That Way

Though some might seem like a fate worse than death! Take the Golden Shower of the male porcupine for example. The Golden Shower is not as it sounds, some priceless treasure Mr P bestows upon his princess. Or may be it is. You be the judge. The ‘Golden Shower’, a vital part of porcupine courtship, is an explosive jet of urine with which he drenches his lady. Apparently it encourages her to ovulate. There have to be kinder ways!

Hippos go one better. To attract a mate a male will pee and defecate at the same time. Ever wondered why hippos have those funny little tails?

hippos-277432_960_720

Well, in case the lassie didn’t quite get the message, the male with his mind on mating uses his to waft the smelly concoction around, and even spray it in the female’s face. Smooth moves.

Only a handful of animals will mate for life

And some on the list are quite a surprise. Would you believe – termites, vultures and skink? Of all the faithful-for-life animal kind, prairie voles must surely win the prize for cuteness.

Prairie_voles

Want to get to know some of our furry and feathery friends a little better? Rainforest Action Network have a fun new ‘chat’ app called OKCritters. What better time to try it out.
And now brace yourself for Valentine cuteness overload ❤️

HAVE A HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY

 

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Sources

5 romantic animals that mate for life

Strange Love: 10 Animals with Truly Weird Courtship Rituals

American Burying Beetles: A Love Story

World’s Biggest Birds Are Stellar Dads & Unusual Lovers

 

Eat a Steak, Kill a Lemur – Eat a Chicken, Kill a Parrot

“Humanity’s lust for meat is killing off Earth’s large animals”

“We are living on the planet of the chickens. The broiler (meat) chicken now outweighs all wild birds put together by three to one. It is the most numerous vertebrate (not just bird) species on land, with 23 billion alive at any one time. Across the world, chicken is the most commonly eaten meat.”
The tragic life of the broiler hen has become the symbol of the Anthropocene. And the world’s taste for its flesh and for the flesh of other animals is set to cause the in-our-lifetime extinction of at least 150 megafauna species – if we persist in eating so much meat.
But hang on a minute – can that even be true? Isn’t meat-eating in decline? Don’t we keep on hearing how veganism is skyrocketing?
According to a 2018 survey, 3.5 million UK citizens identified as vegan. That’s a 700% increase from 2016. There’s a similar 600% increase in the USA. And, “As of 2016, Asia Pacific holds the largest share of vegan consumers globally, with approximately nine percent of people following a vegan diet in this area.”
Google Trends concurs: in recent years there’s also been a huge growth of interest in veganism in Israel, Australia, Canada, Austria and New Zealand.
It all sounds like great news! So where’s the problem?
The problem is, the worldwide consumption of meat is winning the race by a long mile.
It has escalated by an alarming 500% since 1961. Of course some of that 500% can be accounted for by the exponential growth in the world’s population. But much is down to globalisation and people’s increasing prosperity. Populations that were traditionally plant-based eaters started to crave a less healthy Western diet, heavy in meat.
“Overall, we eat an excessive 300 million tons of meat every year, which translates to 1.4 billion pigs, 300 million cattle, and a whopping 62 billion chickens.” Which all amounts to an infinity of suffering for each and everyone of those sentient beings, creatures with lives of their own we seem to value so little.
Humans do though appear to care a great deal more about the megafauna. So, which are the megafauna being put in danger by humans’ rapacious appetite for meat? Many of them are those animals on which we humans seem to place the highest value, the most iconic, the most popular. The infographic illustrates the results of a poll into our favourite wild animals.
popular-animals
Image credits: Celine Albert / PLoS.
Just look at those species: every one of them is endangered or critically endangered.

wildlife collage leopard musk ox rhino elephant lion africa

But why is our eating meat threatening their survival? After all, we don’t go round eating tiger burgers or hippo steaks do we?

Well yes, in effect we do. By ‘we’ I mean of course our kind, humankind. Direct harvest for human consumption of meat or body parts is the biggest danger to nearly all of the large speciesthat are under threatsays William Ripple, researcher at Oregon State University. So, “minimizing the direct killing of these animals is an important conservation tactic that might save many of these iconic species” and “the contributions they make to their ecosystems.”

There are two major issues here: the first is, as we know, the illegal trade in rhino horn, tiger bones, bear bile, pangolin scales and other endangered animal body parts, much of which is consumed in the mistaken belief it is medicinal. The second is bush meat – indigenous people hunting to survive. Both these hugely problematic issues merit far more space than I can give them here right now.

The meat doesn’t have to come from a tiger or a hippo for our carnivorous ways to put iconic species at risk.

To satisfy the growing demand for meat, livestock farming is rapidly devouring land that is crucial species-rich habitat, and turning it over to grazing pasture and monoculture crops for livestock feed. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation “Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with pasture and land dedicated to the production of feed representing almost 80% of the total agricultural land.”

In that hotspot of biodiversity, the Amazonian rainforest, cattle ranching accounts for 65 to 70 percent of all deforestation, and production of soya beans another 25 to 35 percent. Soya beans are the world’s second most exported agricultural commodity.” After chickens presumably.

 

Rapidly losing habitat and under threat – the Amazonian jaguar, red macaw, & sloth

But before we start pointing the finger at the vegans making lattes with their soya milk, let’s note that 98 percent of soya bean production is fed to poultry, pigs and cattle, especially poultry, and only 1 percent is turned into people-food.

The 2017 World Wildlife Fund report, Appetite for Destruction identified crops grown to feed livestock as the “driving force behind wide-scale biodiversity loss.”

“By 2050, given current trends, 15 ‘mega-diverse’ countries will likely increase the lands used for livestock production by 30% to 50%. The habitat loss is so great that it will cause more extinctions than any other factor.” Our lust for meat is laying waste the habitats of the very wild animals we love the most. Habitats that are theirs by right.

We have to ask ourselves what kind of bleak and desolate wasteland, stripped bare of the most majestic of all Earth’s wondrous creatures, will be our legacy to our children, and their children. Such a stark future will be the price we’re forcing them to pay for our addiction to that meat on our fork.

If there is one thing each of us can do to give these iconic threatened species the best possible chance of survival, it has to be making changes to what we put on our dinner plates. It’s as simple as that.

“You eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot.” 

*******

You can #EatForThePlanet starting today. Just follow the three simple steps below.

1. Replace: Try to swap animal-based products in your daily diet with vegan alternatives (milk, butter, mayo, cheese, grilled chicken, beef crumbles, sausages, cold cuts, etc. For practically everything you can think of, there is a vegan version.)
2. Embrace: Add plant-based whole foods (local and organic when possible) to your diet like greens, fresh fruits, and vegetables, whole grains, plant proteins like lentils, nuts/seeds, beans, tofu, etc.
3. Moderate: Limit consumption of your favourite meats like beef, lamb, pork, etc.

and Take Extinction Off Your Plate – why we need to rewild our plates today

Free up more land for wildlife – Info @

Forks Over Knives   Vegan Society   Vegan Outreach    PETA    Viva!

It’s soooo easy!

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If everyone on Earth ate a Western diet, we would need two Planet Earths to feed us. We’ve only got one and she’s dying

The Living Planet Report: Our Dinner Plates are Destroying Life on Earth

Are Meat & Dairy Really Bad for the Planet?

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy

Sources

Humanity’s lust for meat is killing off Earth’s large animals

Meat-eaters may speed worldwide species extinction, study warns

What Man Scars, Nature Heals

Cover pic. Apollo butterfly, European Green Belt

It cannot be denied that the human world is often a place of nightmare, rife with hatred and war: nation against nation, race against race, tribe against tribe, sect against sect, political systems pitted one against the other, hostile factions splintering their own countries to the point of destruction. In the many wars of the last century 108 million humans died at the hands of other humans.

But human conflict doesn’t just kill humans. Bombs and bullets rain down on human and nonhuman animals alike.
And wars cause famine. Animals starve, and animals are eaten by starving humans. Animals are forced to suffer everything we like to inflict on our own kind, and more.
Animals are even slaughtered simply so they don’t have to be fed. On the outbreak of World War II, the British government persuaded the population it was their patriotic duty to have their beloved pets put down. The first week of the war witnessed a mass euthanasia of three quarters of a million “non-essential animals”. Cat owners were  prosecuted for giving their pet a saucer of milk.
At London Zoo, fruit bats, crocodiles, alligators, snakes, spiders, and lion cubs were also euthanised..
And then there were those animals we forced into the thick of it, conscripted into a war that wasn’t theirs: “elephants, dogs, cats and pigeons, even chickens, were all recruited to help in the war effort, and many of them died.” 

Turning to a different arena of war, in the 80 years since WWII, “70 percent of Africa’s protected nature reserves have been turned into battlegrounds” taking down animal populations with them. In one decade, in Mozambique alone, 90% of hippos, zebras, elephants, antelope, and other herbivores perished. Happily, the wildlife has since bounced back, almost to its pre-conflict levels.

Ironically, this very belligerence that in our kind seems so deeply rooted, sometimes has the opposite, unexpectedly happy effect not of destroying animals and Nature, but creating space for her and respite for wildlife.
How does this happen?

Mostly, all that is needed is for us to be removed from the scene. Healing Nature does the rest. This happens by chance when we create a No Man’s Land between the territories of two hostile parties. In No Man’s Land there are no humans to hunt, trap or poison the animals (human hunters kill 4 times as many smaller carnivores as do the large wild predators). No farming to plough up and fence off potential habitat, or blitz the land with pesticides. And just as importantly, there is silence.

Because even when we are not fighting each other, or persecuting the animals, not doing anything at all directly harmful, our mere presence, the mere sound of the human voice – this may come as a surprise – terrifies the creatures and drastically inhibits the natural behaviours they need for survival such as foraging or hunting. Researchers from Western University found that we humans are far scarier to badgers, for instance, than are any of the apex predators like wolves and big cats. In fact, simply the sound of people talking filled badgers with a paralysing terror

They concluded that we could be messing up wild animals’ lives even more than previously imagined” not by doing anything in particular, just by being around.

And it gets worse. If we are doing more than just being there, there are at least four ways we could actually be causing wildlife to develop cancer. We humans are it seems an oncogenic species. (‘Oncogenic’: tending to cause tumours) Some accolade!

So, time to remove the humans
The No Man’s Lands

1. The Iron Curtain

The Communist Soviet Bloc’s Iron Curtain stretching from “the Barents Sea at the Russian-Norwegian border, along the Baltic Coast, through Central Europe and the Balkans to the Black and the Adriatic Seas,” all 12,500 kilometres of it, holds the record as the longest ever No Man’s Land in the world. This several hundred metres-wide scar of barbed wire, land mines, watchtowers and Kalashnikov-bearing border guards, dividing the whole of Europe and splitting Germany into two opposing camps, forcibly confined its citizens, and kept them from the ‘contamination’ of Western democracy.

image-1
An abandoned DDR watch tower in Germany (photograph by Niteshift/Wikimedia)

The Curtain remained in place for forty years until it finally came down in 1989. And in that time Nature turned what was a fearful zone of death for humans, into a line of life for wild animals, an ecological corridor for wolves, bears, lynx and eagles. Along the 1,400 km strip dividing Germany alone, more than 600 threatened animal and plant species flourished.

Fortunately, conservationists in both the East and the West of the reunited Germany, were themselves united in their desire to keep that space for Nature, to protect this wildlife paradise from the inevitable human tendency to appropriate the land for human ends.

From what had been a symbol of human hostilities was born the European Green Belt, stretching along the borders of 24 states, and proudly owning a sweeter record, the record of being the longest and largest ecological network of its kind in the world.

2. The Korean DMZ

The present day DMZ, the de-militarised zone forcibly separating the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the Republic of Korea in the south, is pint-size in comparison. Stretching 250 kilometres from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan, and 4 kilometres wide, it can be seen from space as a green ribbon dividing the Korean peninsula roughly in half.

In all other respects though, with all its layers of razor wire, thousands of land mines and military guards, it bears a grisly resemblance to the former Iron Curtain. And yet, in spite of the DMZ being “steeped in violence” and “one of the most dangerous places on earth”, Nature has reclaimed this symbol of enmity too, and transformed its 1000 sq kilometres into a haven buzzing with biodiversity, with thousands of species, many of which are either already extinct or endangered in both countries.

The beautiful red-crowned crane Korea Japan
The beautiful red-crowned crane

There are “Manchurian or red crowned cranes and white naped cranes, nearly 100 species of fish, perhaps 45 types of amphibians and reptiles and over 1,000 different insect species. Scientists estimate that over 1,600 types of vascular plants, and more than 300 species of mushroom, fungi and lichen are thriving in the DMZ. Mammals such as the rare Amur goral, Asiatic black bear, musk deer and spotted seal inhabit the DMZ’s land and marine ecosystems. There are even reports of tigers, believed extinct on the peninsula since before Japanese occupation, roaming the DMZ’s mountains.

Right now, North and South are making reconciliatory noises. If the two Koreas decide to reunify, there would be no more need for the deadly DMZ. But the DMZ has become the “ecological treasury” of the two Koreas. And even more completely priceless, since over the last 100 years of almost ceaseless conflict, industrial scale mining, deforestation, and soil pollution, ecosystems are in dire straits on both sides of the divide.

Luckily, as with the former Iron Curtain, scientists and citizens in both the ROK and the DPRK, and elsewhere in the world, recognise the richness of Nature in the DMZ, and have been for some time working hard to safeguard the future of its unique ecology. Moves are afoot to get the DMZ recognised by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site. Various NGOs are involved, foremost the DMZ Forum whose mission is “To support conservation of the unique biological and cultural resources of Korea’s Demilitarized Zone,

“Transforming it from a symbol of war and separation to a place of peace among humans and between humans and nature.”

What better mission could there be.

No Man’s Lands aren’t always borders

1. Take the compound of brutal dictator Idi Amin

The “Butcher of Uganda” was responsible for murdering some 300,000 of his own people. His failed invasion of Tanzania proved to be the last throw of the dice for this unspeakable man, and in 1979 he was forced to flee the country. In the video below we can see for the first time how 40 years of Nature’s handiwork has turned the place where this monster plotted his atrocities into a peaceful wildlife paradise.

And this is not the only place once scarred by his dreadful presence. The beautiful island of Mukusu, a spectacular 23-acre paradise in Lake Victoria was the despot’s combined holiday home and torture camp.

“Henry Kabwgo, a fisherman living in a wooden shack on the island’s main beach, recalled how during fishing trips he would often see bodies bobbing in the lake, dumped from the shore by Amin’s henchmen. Then the crocodiles would eat them.” Unsurprisingly he described Amin as “a terrible man, a savage”.

Fisherman fishing boats Lake Victoria Uganda
Fishermen Lake Victoria

I have not been able to discover how the island looks in 2019, but photos dated 2005 show Nature’s living cloak of greenery softening the ruins that were once the site of bloody horror.

2. No solid borders divide the ocean

While humans are busy killing each other at sea, they can’t be troubling the fish. Back to WWII once again. Fishing boats were requisitioned and fishermen drafted. And any that were not, would have been foolhardy in the extreme to risk venturing out on to the menacing waters of war. The fish got left in peace. Nature is never slow to seize an opportunity, and fish populations burgeoned.

fish-1240740_960_720

Not only that, but when warships sank, as many did, they made perfect artificial reefs, rapidly colonised by an abundance of marine life. 52 German warships abandoned on the seabed off the north coast of Scotland for example, “are now thriving marine habitats”. Nature once again creating life from the detritus human hostilities leave behind them.

But to every rule, there has to be an exception. Sometimes Nature can prevail even when there are too many  humans

In 1945, a certain school of hungry oceanic whitetips, known to be the most aggressive of all sharks, found themselves a new and plentiful supply of food. No encounter with these animals could be worse surely, than the feeding frenzy that followed the Japanese sinking of the USS Indianapolis near the Philippines. In the 12 minutes it took the warship to founder, 900 sailors made it into the Pacific ocean, but the blood from injured men and the thrashing in the water soon attracted the whitetips.

To begin with they satisfied their hunger only with the dead. But when rescue finally arrived, the survivors had been in the water four whole days, and only 317 remained alive. No-one knows exactly how many men the whitetips devoured, but estimates reckon at least 150. If you have an appetite for reading the gruesome story in full, you can do so here

The event, though undeniably horrific for those seamen, was spawned by humans’ own enmities, one people against another. But Nature finds a way to transcend the deadly worst we can do to each other, and to her.

“Even out of the trail of destruction we leave behind, Nature – which is so much bigger than the human race – takes over, nurturing life.” 

She always does.


Update

11th May 2019  Rare Asian black bear spotted in Korean DMZ

Related posts

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear 2

The Wildlife Haven that’s the UK’s Best Kept Secret

Sources

Rewilding war zones can help heal the wounds of conflict

In Germany, a symbol of division is reborn as sprawling nature reserve

The Iron Curtain

The Cold War had an unintended side effect

How wildlife is thriving in the Korean peninsula’s demilitarised zone

Idi Amin’s island of slaughter for sale

The Worst Shark Attack in History

Animal victims – It’s not just humans that die in wars

 

 

 

The Astounding Beauty of Life under the Ocean

Take an underwater journey with these 15 award-winning images

From a large humpback whale to a tiny nudibranch, this year’s winners in the Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition reveal marine life in a dazzling display of colors and details.

Spinetail devil rays, (Mobula japanica)

‘Devil Ray Ballet’ (Photo: Duncan Murrell/Ocean Art)
Duncan Murrell’s photograph of three giant devil rays took home Best in Show. Murrell captured the photograph of “spinetail devil rays, (Mobula japanica) engaged in rarely observed or photographed courtship behaviour with two males pursuing one female.” The shot was taken in Honda Bay on the Province of Palawan in the Philippines.

Encounter with humpback whale (Photo François Baelen)

“This unique encounter happened in September 2018 in Reunion Island (Western Indian Ocean) where the humpback whales come here to breed and give birth. The mother was resting 15 meters down, while her calf was enjoying his new human friends.
“Trust : this is what came to my mind, when this close to 30 ton-animal, still hunted today by mankind, allowed me to freedive behind her and take that shot.
“From down there, everything seemed unreal: that huge tail centimeters away from me, the calf, my friend free diving symmetrically. I knew I would not get a shot like this one again.” — François Baelen

Enope squid (Photo: Jeff Milisen/Ocean Art)

“At around 3 inches in length, it was easily the largest and prettiest sharp-eared enope squid I recall finding.
“Soon the animal fled down, so I followed. We descended past forty feet, fifty feet, sixty feet while I continued watching, studying, and shooting. At eighty feet the kraken’s dancing and squirming still entranced me. Finally, at ninety feet deep, it was time to leave my new little friend at peace.” — Jeff Milisen

‘Inside the Eggs’ (Photo: Flavio Vailati/Ocean Art)
“During a dive in Anilao, Philippines I found this nudibranch and I waited for the best time to make this shot.” — Flavio Vailati

‘So Hairy Flames’ (Photo: Edison So/Ocean Art)
“Hairy shrimp have always been one of my favourite subjects, due to the variety of colors and types of similar species of shrimps. Shooting a hairy shrimp is also a challenging task due to its tiny size and nature. They like to hop from one place to another while photographers try to photograph it. Great patience is needed to wait for the perfect moment to press the shutter, the environment, the background, the composition, and of course, the focus on the subject.” — Edison So

Giant manta (Photo: Alvin Cheung/Ocean Art)

“Another diver, Marissa, was a few meters away from me and behind her was the landmark pinnacle of El Boiler. Visibility was crystal. I thought Marissa, together with the structure of the pinnacle, might be able to create an interesting background showing both the location of the dive site and the scale of the giant manta. With luck, the manta approached Marissa for an investigation. Hence this photo.” — Alvin Cheung

Pod (Photo: Eugene Kitsios/Ocean Art)

“Before you enter the water with a pod of dolphins, you never know what the interaction will be like. Sometimes you may have a great encounter, where the dolphins will curiously swim around you or show you some kind of playful behaviour. Other times they may leave you without interest. The best way to interact with them is to let them decide. Times where you are accepted by the pod are truly a magical experience. These intelligent creatures display so much interesting behaviour and in this case they playfully and curiously swimmed by me.” — Eugene Kitsios

‘3 Baby Seahorses’ (Photo: Steven Walsh/Ocean Art)
“I started diving in March 2017. I instantly fell in love with the underwater world and I started taking a camera on dives in December 2017. I had no photography experience above or below water (smart phone aside), but the many challenges and creative opportunities involved make the steep learning curve enjoyable.
“Each spring a unique event occurs at Blairgowrie Pier, in Victoria, Australia. In the cool 15°C water, Big-belly seahorse fry appear in large numbers. They cling to loose sea grass and weeds near the water’s surface, where they hunt in the shelter of the pier. This particular photo is the outcome of 4 hours of diving between night shifts as a firefighter.” – Steven Walsh

‘My Babies’ (Photo: Fabrice Dudenhofer/Ocean Art)
“I have been fortunate enough to have a Japanese guide who showed me a couple of clownfishes with their baby eggs. I never had the chance to shoot this type of interaction before so it was a big challenge for me. The adults swam endlessly around the eggs in order to oxygen them. Because of their endless movements it was difficult to get the perfect moment. To achieve the perfect shot I needed patience and a big part of luck. The guide and I stayed more than half an hour and I took more than 50 photos. I really wanted to show how some parent fishes cared for their babies. In this regard these clown fishes are not so different from us.” — Fabrice Dudenhofer

‘Cannibal Crab’ (Photo: PT Hirschfield/Ocean Art)
“Each year I eagerly await the return of the spider crabs en masse as they gather to shed their old shells, presumably finding ‘safety in numbers’ from predators such as stingrays, angel sharks and octopuses as they all moult in close proximity together. In reality, the most fierce predator of spider crabs is other spider crabs. I have occasionally seen them ‘on the march’ prior to settling to moult the old brown shells they have outgrown, snacking on another crab’s leg as they wander with thousands of others in massive circles around and beneath the pier. Once the crabs have moulted, they become extremely vulnerable as it takes approximately three days for their new, orange shell to harden. Often they climb the pylons of the pier, hoping the height will keep them out of predators’ reach. Some survive the ordeal of the moult only to become an instant soft-shelled meal for another hungry animal. I stumbled across this harrowing sight which I both filmed and photographed a ravenous unmoulted spider crab, fiercely feasting upon a freshly moulted crab. It dug its claws deeply into its victim’s back, pinning it down before transferring the fresh threads of still living crab meat into its merciless mouth. Between bites, the Cannibal Crab and its hapless victim stared back into my lens — one seeming defiant but justified by its need to feed, the other in all the resigned pathos of the final miserable moments of its life. The survival rate of crabs after they moult is quite low as the hundreds of thousands who have gathered steadily reduce to those lucky hundreds who will live long enough for their shells to harden before heading back out into the depths of the bay before the cycle continues the following year.” — PT Hirschfield

“Dancing Jellyfish” (Photo: Melody Chuang/Ocean Art)
“This is my first time to meet jellyfish in Taiwan NorthEast Coast for shore dive! When I did night dive in 2018 summer time, I saw this beautiful jellyfish dancing in the dark! I followed her for a while and took many shots when she transformed into different shape. Suddenly, my diving buddy who is also my husband, Stan Chen, was so creative and used his torch to make the backlight for this unique jellyfish. In order to make good shots, we followed her over 1 mile and against the current. When we finished the dive, it’s already sunrise time at 5:30 am but we made it! We got the beautiful pose for the dancing jellyfish with an unique spotlight!” — Melody Chuang

‘Disco Nudi’ (Photo: Bruno Van Saen/Ocean Art)
“I was trying to create an image right out of the camera using special own-made backgrounds. But at the end, it was the photoshop filter ‘swirl’ which helped me a lot to end up with this creative image.” — Bruno Van Saen

‘Hairy Shrimp’ (Photo: Sejung Jang/Ocean Art)
“Before this trip, hairy shrimp were on my wish list. Fortunately my dive guide found it for me and my friends. It was my first time to see red hairy shrimp. It’s not easy to take photos of it, because it jumps a lot. After this photo, my camera didn’t work at all. I’m so lucky at least this nice shot came out of it!!!” — Sejung Jang

‘Chimaera’ (Photo: Claudio Zori/Ocean Art)
“The spotted rat fish, a resident of the northeastern part of the Pacific Ocean, usually lives between 50 and 400 meters and prefers temperatures no higher than 9 degrees. However, it tends to approach in shallow water during the spring and fall. While swimming, it can perform rotations and twists as if it were flying. The photo was taken in a night dive in front of God’s Pocket dive resort.” — Claudio Zori

‘Mangrove’ (Photo: Yen-Yi Lee/Ocean Art)
“A beautiful soft coral anchors and grows on mangrove roots. Two remote strobes were used to highlight the details of mangrove roots in the background, which also provided water surface reflection.” — Yen-Yi Lee

‘Grey Seal Face’ (Photo: Greg Lecoeur/Ocean Art)
Can’t you just feel the photographers’ excitement at managing to capture these awesome images! These are a reminder of what we look to lose if we don’t act in time to save them.
If you haven’t already, take Conservation International’s pledge to be a #VoiceForThePlanet  #NewDealForNature

Predicting what’s in store for Nature in 2019

Cover photo: Endangered Steller Sea Lions VLADIMIR BURKANOV / NOAA

If the 6th Age of Mass Extinctions we have now entered as a result of our own activities, sees off the human race along with all the other species on the planet, our epitaph might read (should there be a handy alien around to carve it in stone) “They thought theirs were good ideas at the time ….”

In The Magnificent Seven, this was the answer Vin (Steve McQueen) memorably gave to Calvera (Eli Wallach) when the bandit was so puzzled why a man like Vin decided to take the job of protecting the lowly villagers from his pillaging gang: “It seemed to be a good idea at the time ….”
In that instance, things turned out well – mostly. But so many of humankind’s bright ideas that did seem good at the time, have in the longer term proved to be runaway nightmares.
Thanks to modern science and technology we can now design babies to our own requirements; engineer mosquitoes to make themselves extinct; make drones used by conservationists and poachers alike; construct slaughterhouse equipment that make it possible to slaughter 175 hens per minute;
choose custom-made dogs in different patterns and colourways; and grow human organs in pigs. We can move mountains, and I mean literally. There is no end to our inventiveness.
Is there anything we can’t do?
For all our cleverness, when it comes to gazing into the crystal ball to foresee where our handiwork might be leading, our talent is zero. Our remarkable human ability to turn every bright idea into concrete reality is matched by our singular inability to predict where those bright ideas might take us. Perhaps we are just eternal optimists, blind to any possible downsides.
Whatever, that blindness has sadly brought us to a point where 26,500 endangered and critically endangered species of plant and animal find themselves on IUCN’s Red List, thanks entirely to us.

Endangered: the California Condor, the Great Frigate bird & the Whooping Crane

Take that once-bright idea very much in the environmental spotlight recently. That material without which life as we know it is unimaginable. Plastic. Invented 1907. I know, I couldn’t believe it either. So useful it’s insinuated its way into every nook and cranny of our lives: from swimsuits to spaceships; cars to clingfilm; windows to wipes; aircraft to astroturf.

Plastic certainly has always seemed not just like a good idea, but a brilliant one. This ultra-handy substance managed to sneak well passed its centenary before we woke up to precisely what we’d let loose on the planet. How were we to know?

Futurology – the science of anticipation

Enter the futurists, those whose task it is to gaze at that crystal ball for us and forecast what kind of world new developments are propelling us towards. More than two dozen of these horizon scanners have got together with environmental scientists – William Sutherland, professor of conservation biology at Cambridge University at the helm – to put their collective finger on which emerging trends are likely to make an impact on Nature and biodiversity in 2019. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that they are hedging their bets on the outcomes of the trends they’ve identified, conscious that any one of them that seems like a good idea right now, may have unintended, unwanted, or even unforeseeable repercussions.

Emerging Trend for 2019 No. 1

And heyho we’re back to plastic

Remember when yellow plastic ducks first started washing up on beaches across the globe?¹ The thought of these tiny bath ducks ‘escaping’ and navigating the vastness of the oceans seemed no more than an amusing story at the time. There were actually 28,000 of them out there, a whole container load, lost overboard in the North Pacific in 1992. “That flotilla of escaped plastic ducks joins millions of Lego pieces, sneakers, styrofoam insulation, plastic crates and a plethora of other items lost at sea.  It’s reckoned that containers lost overboard every year number in the thousands, and many of them filled with items made of plastic. Items that never even get to be used. A single container can carry 5 million plastic shopping bags.

Add that to the colossal amount of plastic we humans continue to actually use and throw away, and we have one enormous problem. We use 300 million tons of plastic each year, and at least 100 million marine mammals, a truly horrifying figure, are killed each year from plastic pollution.

safety-net-3289548_960_720-1

After all this time, we’ve finally woken up to the environmental devastation our love of plastic has wreaked, and the trend the futurists identify is: people coming up with solutions.

An obvious one is to re-use plastic trash to produce something else we need. An ingenious professor of engineering in India has come up with a highly original use of plastic waste: turning it into hard-wearing, long-lasting roads.

jusco plastic road IndiaTo date, thousands of kilometers of highways in India have been paved using the process he invented.” 

Another approach is to make plastic plant-based and biodegradable, and NatureWorks based in Minnesota, is doing just that. Their eco plastic ‘Ingeo’ is already in use in everything from 3D printing, through building construction and landscaping, to food packaging. Here’s how they do it.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is proposing a more fundamental shift – an economy based on better design, manufacture and recycling. At present we run on a linear economy – buy something, use it, throw it away. Some of our plastic trash does get recycled, but each time it is recycled, it becomes less and less usable. The Foundation would like to see a circular no-waste economy where items such as cellphones are designed and made so that at the end of their useful life they can be easily broken down into their component parts (glass, plastic, metal) ready to be recycled into equally high quality goods.

“Yay!” we say. All these ideas are impressive, aren’t they? But our futurists are cautious, unwilling to come down off the fence on one side or the other. Because how can they be sure that years down the line, we will not be repeating that refrain, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

As the futurists say,From changes in recycling approaches, to the use of biological agents to degrade materials, to the manufacture of substitutes for conventional plastics from plants, [which as of now only makes up half a percent of all plastic produced] all alternatives will have ramifications of their own for food security, water use, ecosystem integrity and more. Not only that, but the promise they offer — whether it’s realized or not — could defuse other efforts to reduce rather than shift plastic consumption.” 

NatureWorks though is in the early stages of a process to make biodegradable plastic straight from greenhouse gases without even using plants. Can this be anything but good?

And surely the futurists will applaud this brilliant idea from TerraCycle. It’s called Loop, for obvious reasons, and it’s based on the manufacturers of goods retaining ownership of containers and packaging. The consumer buys the products inside and then returns for free the packaging to be refilled. Zero waste!

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If we can make drastic improvements in our plastic use, on an individual as well as corporate and international level, there may still remain sea turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks, sea birds et al, to thank us. They have precious little to thank us for right now.

No. 2  Sunscreen

In 1938 a Swiss chemistry student Franz Greiter got a touch of sunburn while climbing Mount Piz Buin in the Alps. So guess what he did – yes, he went home and invented the first sunscreen. And for decades since, sunscreen’s been protecting us from turning an uncomfortable shade of pink, as well as more serious health issues.

Then in 2016, sunscreen joined the ranks of those brainwaves that seemed so good at the time, but might actually have been a huge environmentally-costly mistake. In that year a scientific study was conducted to ascertain if oxybenzone, an active ingredient of the stuff, was damaging coral reefs. The researchers concluded that it was. And several islands and states in the world have already banned it.

fish-288988_960_720Oh, if only there were something ‘greener’ we could use to block those harmful UV rays!

Well, there is. We can harvest it in small quantities straight from nature, from algae to be precise, and it goes by the appealing name of Shinorine. As of now scientists have proved they can synthesise it. The next step is to scale up production.

Once again, our futurists are reluctant to come down on one side or the other. Is Shinorine going to be good for the environment, or prove as harmful as oxybenzone? All they will tell us is, “Widespread adoption of shinorine without sufficient research could expose corals or other aquatic and marine organisms to a new substance with unknown impacts.”

They are undoubtedly right to err on the side of caution. If only we had been so wise before we unleashed all our agrochemicals, our agro-waste, and yes, our plastic, our fossil fuel gases, our nuclear power, and indeed a superabundance of ourselves on to suffering Nature.

No. 3  Making rain

Last week, the Department of Royal Rainmaking and Agricultural Aviation said it was preparing to deploy two planes for cloud seeding between Tuesday and Friday, if conditions are suitable.”  Right now Bangkok is shrouded in a pall of smog, and Thailand’s Department of Royal Rainmaking hopes a downpour of the wet stuff will clear the air. (On the website there is a tab called “The King and the Royal Rain”)

Meanwhile in Tibet, China is poised to send up a battery of rockets to release silver-iodide particles in the clouds, with the aim of making it rain over 1.6 million square kilometres of land, a vast area almost the size of Mexico. In 2017, northern China suffered its worst drought on record, With their rockets they hope to ensure water security for their own people, especially farmers, downstream.

Cloud-seeding has been around since the 1940s, but nothing on this kind of scale has ever been attempted before. Unsurprisingly, this is worrying our futurists. They fear such a dramatic alteration to the weather will damage Tibet’s rare alpine steppe and meadow ecosystems, in turn threatening its rare endemic species.

Photos from Wild Animals on the Tibetan Plateau²

Tibet is already the one of the largest sources of freshwater in the world, in third place after the North and South Poles. 46% of the world’s population rely on water originating in that country. Tibet, the Roof of the World, high in the Himalayas, lies three miles above sea level, its water feeding 10 major rivers across 11 countries of South-East Asia.

There are no simple certainties about the Chinese plan. It could all go horribly wrong, and have who knows what consequences, not just on the Tibetan plateau, but across a vast expanse of the globe. It certainly has the perturbing potential to be yet another bright idea that seemed like a good idea at the time…

No. 4  Fishy oilseed crops

The possibilities of genetic engineering are endless. So advanced are we as a species, we now have the knowhow to redesign almost every living thing to our own requirements. So why not modify oil-producing crops to produce the omega-3 fatty acids that are normally found in fish and prized for their health-promoting capabilities.” Fantastic, especially for vegetarians and vegans. And the wild fish populations.

But… Why does there always have to be a but! The modification will displace some of the plants’ natural oils. How will this affect the insects that feed on them? If one study showing caterpillars metamorphosing into butterflies with deformed wings is anything to go by, the answer is “badly”.

It’s a zero-sum game. Benefitting one side of the equation (us) automatically means disadvantaging the other. This is true of so many of our bright ideas from the past. Yet we still don’t seen to have grasped that disadvantaging other animals, the environment, Nature, in pursuit of our own ends is only a short-term fix that is certain to boomerang back on us. And time is running out.

Other trends the futurists identified

that will make themselves felt one way or another in the environment this year include:

  • microbial protein for livestock
  • deeper sea fishing
  • modification of plant microbiomes
  • the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s decision not to regulate the use of gene editing in plants
  • the development of salt-tolerant strains of rice
  • and China’s creation of a whole new river

Read more here

A couple of biggies they didn’t spot

a. The expanding market for whole-roasted cricket

Insect mass-rearing, though in its infancy is apparently a fast-growing industry. The unfortunate cricket can be fed on nothing but weeds and agricultural by-products, making it a source of protein far more sustainable than the animals we more usually associate with farming.

“Reared insects are increasingly seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to meat, even by the United Nations. The future food for a growing world population.” And a readily available source of protein for malnourished children.“Even very poor people would be able to rear crickets.”³

b. Biodiversity offsets

We’ve grown familiar with the idea of carbon offsets. If you need to take a flight somewhere, you can buy yourself enough carbon credit to offset your own portion of the plane’s emissions. Then the money is used in climate protection projects.

Biodiversity offsets work on a similar principle. Setting aside protected areas for Nature to compensate for and minimise the impact of large-scale industrial projects like new mines or dams, or at the other end of the scale, new housing. Recent research discovered 12,983 of these set-aside habitat projects across 73 countries occupying an area larger than Greece. “153,000 square kilometres is a big chunk of land.” And in spite of its being a relatively new idea, it’s catching on fast.

“This is the start of something major,” says researcher Dr Bull, “‘Biodiversity offsets – ‘No Net Loss’ policies, seeking to protect our natural environment, are being implemented very quickly.”

Could this be a promising step towards Half Earth for Nature?

One final trend the futurists have hope for – Insurance for Nature

The futurists picked up on a joint project involving the Mexican government, the Mexican tourist industry, The Nature Conservancy, and – of all things – the insurance industry. Between them they have set up a trust fund to protect the Mesoamerican Reef in the Caribbean. The fund can be called upon for restoration projects in the case of damage to the reef. In effect, the reef is insured.

The futurists think schemes like this have potential for the insurance industry to “play a role in protecting natural areas and helping damaged habitat recover from disasters.” The model could be replicated worldwide to preserve and restore Nature.

Are they right? Where will it all end? Can our clever innovations save the planet and us with it? Or will they just turn out to be more of our brainwaves that seemed like a good idea at the time? Any crystal ball gazers out there?

Take the Conservation International pledge to be a Voice for the Planet  #newdealfornature


¹“Many of these toys inadvertently became part of a massive scientific study: beachcombers have been finding them ever since, helping oceanographers refine their models of ocean surface currents.” The Science Museum

² Clockwise – the Tibetan antelope, the pika, the Tibetan blue bear, the Tibetan wild ass, the snow leopard and the Tibetan wolf

³ This one is not for me as a vegan. But then, I’m fortunate enough not to have to live in poverty with malnourished children

Recycle your plastic bottle tops with Lush here’s how

Updates

6th February 2019  There’s insufficient evidence your sunscreen harms coral reefs

6th February 2019  Could Spider Silk Become a Natural Replacement for Plastic?

7th February 2019  Millions of tons of plastic waste could be turned into clean fuels, other products

27th March 2019  Plastic Pollution: Could We Have Solved the Problem Nearly 50 Years Ago?

Further reading

Fixing the environment: when solutions become problems

5 unexpected solutions to the plastic crisis

Founders of plastic waste alliance investing billions in new plants to make more plastic

Our love affair with single-use plastics is over

‘We Can’t Recycle Our Way Out of This Problem’: Ben & Jerry’s Bans Single-Use Plastics

Related posts

Futurology Offers More Hope than Fears for the Animals & the Planet

Hope for the Animals & the Planet?

There is Always Hope for the Animals & the Planet

Ten Fascinating Ways Technology is Saving Animals

How Drones Might Just Save Our Endangered Animals & the Planet

‘WILD’ Needs Us to Save Half for Nature

Sources

15 trends with big implications for conservation in 2019 | Ensia

Sunscreen: a history

 

 

 

 

Betsy the Brave Joins the #MooToo Movement

“Betsy the rogue rodeo cow has been hiding in the woods for months. Not even the real-life cowboys can get Betsy out of Anchorage’s 4,000 acre park.”

The stories keep on coming of these spunky cows who’ve had the smarts – and found the courage –  to make their bid for freedom. Betsy took the slimmest of chances to slip away from Anchorage’s annual rodeo last June and is still on the lam.

Last year there was Swoboda (Freedom)the runaway cow wild wintering with bison near the Bialowieza Forest in Poland. We have yet to discover how her fortune will unfold. (If anyone has more recent news, I’d love to hear it.)

Closely following on her hoofs was Hermien, the Dutch cow who broke free when she was being loaded on to a truck headed for the slaughterhouse. She spent weeks hiding out in the woods and became a media sensation. A crowdfunding campaign raised money to guarantee her right to live out her natural lifespan in a the peace and safety of a sanctuary.

Here is Hermien, roaming free

Then back in Poland, the story of another remarkable bovine. A story that ended in undeserved tragedy. I chose to call her Duch, Polish for ‘Spirit’

“When workers opened her pen to transport her to the slaughterhouse, the animal made a daring and spectacular break for it.

According to Polish news station Wiadomosci, she broke free from her handlers and repeatedly rammed a metal fence until it burst open.” Cornered by farmers she plunged into the icy water of Lake Nysa and swam to an island. After there had been several failed attempts to capture her, Polish politician and former singer Paweł Kukiz, impressed by her spirit, offered to buy the determined cow and let her live out her years in peace.

But sad to say, she never made it. She died of stress on the truck bringing her back. This is proud Duch below

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Duch (pic from politician and former singer Paweł Kukiz’s Facebook page)

Read more about her here

Then there is Betsy, enjoying her freedom now for 7 whole months in Far North Bicentennial Park. Her owner Frank Koloski is “just totally exhausted from looking day in and day out.” He has “received dozens of tips from park users who have seen her calmly meandering down the park’s snow-covered trails.” But she still eludes capture. Don’t worry, in spite of the freezing Alaskan winter, Betsy is fine. Alaskan cattle are “tough and accustomed to the area’s harsh winters.” She will be lonely though. Cows, like us, need their friends. 

How good it would be to see the next chapter of Betsy’s life panning out like Brianna’s happy-ever-after.

Earlier this month, Brianna, another of these remarkable clever and courageous cows, was herded on to a cattle truck in New Jersey. Destination slaughterhouse. With less than 10 minutes left of the journey to her death, she leapt from the second storey of the truck down on to the highway, a drop of 8 feet.

Luckily Brianna was rewarded for her pluck. She was taken in by Skylands Animal Sanctuary where the vet checked her over and pronounced her surprisingly unharmed from her ordeal. And only two days later Brianna gave birth to a beautiful calf. Her act of courage had saved the life of her unborn too. Now mother and babe will live out their days together in peace and safety.

Finn the calf is the most recent of the runaways. He spent weeks hiding away in snowy woods to save his life. Like Brianna’s, Finn’s story has a happy-ever-after ending – he is now safe at Farm Sanctuary’s Watkin’s Glen. Read more of his adventure here

You may draw your own conclusions from these true life stories. These are mine:-

These six fascinate us, and the others who made a break for it before them, precisely because they stand out from the herd. They have made themselves known to us as individuals. We see real personalities – that they are persons.

We identify with their fear and desire to escape a violent death, and cheer them on.

We identify with their desire to live, and to be free from tyranny, free from having their fate determined for them by others – a life in subjection, and a life then taken from them prematurely.

These bold and brave creatures make for great stories. But the truth is, while we are applauding their exploits, we forget all the others in the herds from which they come. And each and every cow in every herd everywhere also has its own personality – maybe not all as determined and spirited as our five heroines, but smart, gentle, loving, shy, patient, loyal… Each and everyone different, a person in her own right.

These are three of the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, rights we have claimed for ourselves:-

Article 3.  Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.  No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.   No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

If we see in Swoboda, Hermien and Duch, Brianna and Betsy the same qualities, desires, instincts, emotions we can see in ourselves, do they and all the rest not merit at least those 3 rights, which surely every living being on the planet deserves?

I mourn for Duch who deserved so much better, and fervently hope that Swoboda and Hermien have been, and Betsy will be, taken to a place of safety where they can relish the sun on their backs and the grass under their feet with no more fear for their lives.

Most of all, I hope that their stories will challenge us to see the nameless, numberless creatures we force into our service as the individuals they truly are, and give them the respect and the right to a life free from harm they surely deserve.

If you think so too, or even if you don’t, please take a look at some animals already happy, contented, safe in sanctuary – and others who know they are destined to die.

And what better way to honour the memory of poor Duch, whose amazing spirit for life and freedom in the end, and through no fault of her own, failed to save her, than by checking out simple steps to transitioning your diet.

Then her courageous life and sad death will not have been in vain.


This photo of a bull shot by police in Germany after he’d escaped from a slaughter truck gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “the meat aisle”

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Related posts

A Cow Named ‘Spirit’

The Runaway Cow Wild Wintering With Bison

In the Eyes of a Cow

Why Cows Need Their Friends

Favourite Food for Cows?

No Green Meadows for the ‘Ubercow’ of Today

Sources

Betsy the rogue rodeo cow has been hiding in the woods for months

A cow’s incredible bid for freedom ends in tragedy

Heroic cow escapes trip to slaughterhouse, hides in Dutch forest for weeks

Cow who fled Queens slaughterhouse saved by animal activist

Cattle run loose in St. Louis after breaking free from slaughterhouse

These Videos May Prove Animals Know When They’re Next in Line to Die

Pregnant cow escapes truck heading to a slaughterhouse — and becomes a ‘proud mother’

 

Love at Last for Lonesome Romeo

“For 10 long years, a bachelor lived out his days alone, calling out for a mate, but hearing only the clicks of cameras and clacks of human shoes at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Bolivia.”

Credit: Matias Careaga, Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny

But two years ago, the forlorn fellow gave up all hope of finding his perfect match and fell silent. This is Romeo pictured above (sorry, cover photo is not him – it’s a cheat!) He’s a very special guy, a sehuencas water frog, and like George the Hawaiian snail who sadly crossed the rainbow bridge this week, the last of his kind.

That is until now. Last year, with a little help from his friends, Romeo posted his profile on Match.com in search of a mate.  He describes himself’ as “a pretty simple guy. I tend to keep to myself and love spending nights at home. I also love eating. Then again, who doesn’t?” Scientists with the Global Wildlife Conservation and the museum where our hero resides used his alluring profile to generate funds for a new expedition into the Bolivian cloud forest in search of that special someone for this solitary little guy. They scoured an area suggested by locals, searching in the water and under rocks, and very nearly gave up.

Finally, their persistence paid off, and they found Romeo not one, but five new buddies, including two females, and one of those just the right age for our Romeo.

But the lonesome bachelor has yet to be introduced to his date, and must wait a little longer. Juliet and the other sehuencas are in quarantine for a while. His profile claims he’s “not picky”, but who knows, there’s still a chance he may not fall for her.

Just in case there’s no chemistry between the pair, the scientists have contingency plans. One way or another, the hope is to breed enough sehuencas babies to reintroduce them to the wild.

Watch this space for the next episode in the life and times of Romeo, the Bolivian sehuencas water frog.

 

Source Romeo the Water Frog Has Finally Found His Juliet

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No Valentine for Nigel & Other Tales of Animal Love

The Internet’s Favourite Baby Beaver Finally Finds Love

Jeremy – The Bitter Sweet Tale of the ‘Shellebrity’ Snail

Teddy Bear the Porcupine’s Valentine Treats

67 Year Old Mum-in-a-Million Does It Again!

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