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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

What Will Brexit Mean for UK Animals & Nature?

“The government’s wish for the UK to become a global leader in free trade is not necessarily compatible with its desire to maintain high animal welfare standards,” The House of Lords subcommittee on EU Energy and Environment

“A coalition of leading environmental groups says there is a ‘significant risk’ that British environmental protections will be reduced after Brexit, despite the government’s positive rhetoric.”

Well, somehow she (and by ‘she’ I mean the woman who wrote into the 2017 Tory manifesto her intention to repeal the ban on fox hunting. Yes, that ‘she’) She somehow got her Brexit through the Cabinet, and the 27 EU states have ceremonially signed it off. The next step is a Parliamentary vote. Who knows what will happen there? And as for after the vote, it’s anyone’s guess.
As the Brexit juggernaut rolls inexorably towards the edge of the cliff, what will it mean for our UK animals and nature?
Here are some disturbing reasons why all animal – and nature-lovers will want to do their damnedest to stop the juggernaut in its tracks, because Brexit is bad news for UK nature and its animals, wherever they are: in labs, in the wild or on farms.
What the EU meant for animal welfare before Brexit

The EU is renowned in the world for its pro-animal stance and high standards of animal welfare. Article 13 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty recognises nonhuman animals as ‘sentient beings’ for whom suffering and distress should be diminished as much as possible. Last year the UK Tory government rejected Article 13 – a foretaste of things to come?

Check this link for a comprehensive list of the EU’s achievements for animals The European Parliament’s Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals

Of our current legislation regulating animal welfare and the environment, 80% comes from our membership of the EU.

After Brexit?

Under the Repeal Bill, “All existing EU legislation will be copied across into domestic UK law to ensure a smooth transition on the day after Brexit. The UK Parliament can then ‘amend, repeal and improve’ individual laws as necessary.”

It’s increasingly unlikely that all these laws can be adequately translated into UK law without the access we previously had to EU organisations, and against the ticking Brexit clock. “Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Andrea Leadsom admitted that about a third of environmental laws … could not initially be brought into UK legislation.”

And “MPs fear ministers may use the process of adapting those laws to chip away environmental protections.” This is a government that favours deregulation to give greater freedom to business. In this respect Theresa May and Donald Trump do indeed hold hands. Nature and animals will be the losers.

Additionally, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee fears EU legislation that does get adopted into UK law could become ‘zombie legislation’, no longer subject to EU updates and with no regulatory bodies to see it enforced.

The Birds and Habitats Directives which protect wild birds and Britain’s most important wildlife and plant habitats will not be adopted into UK law, even if the UK remains in the Single Market. A report on the directives “warns that this could have potentially far-reaching negative consequences for the UK’s biodiversity.”

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Bowing under pressure from farmers, the Tories have already expressed opposition to the EU’s strict regulation of GM crops, chemicals and neonicotinoid pesticides – all of which can devastate insect life and the animals that feed on them. At present the European courts and the European Commission enforce these laws. After Brexit there will be nothing to stop deregulation.

The Common Agricultural Policy

No-one denies the CAP needs reforming. Farmers hate it and its complex regulations. But, the CAP provides 60% of farmers’ income. And under the 2013 EU “Greening” initiative, farmers are financially incentivised to use their land sustainably, and care for natural resources.

“Under the new [2013 Greening] rules, farmers receiving payments help conserve the environment and contribute to addressing greenhouse emissions by:

  • making soil & ecosystems more resilient by growing a greater variety of crops
  • conserving soil carbon & grassland habitats associated with permanent grassland
  • protecting water & habitats by establishing ecological focus areas.”

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MPs are calling for a new UK Environmental Protection Act as part of Brexit. The Tory manifesto last year promised to make the UK environment greener after Brexit than EU regulations left it. But it’s hard to see that happening. In view of this government’s continual capitulation to pressure from the farming community, most notably by rolling out again this year (the 6th) an horrendous cull of a much-loved and protected species, the badger, in 32 areas across 10 counties, ignoring the science, the data, much expert advice, and public opinion … Well, I can’t even finish the sentence.

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“When a government dares to call its concrete-grey Autumn Budget environmentally “green” because of its initiative to plant a few trees alongside its billion pounds worth of road infrastructures, and when that government can barely agree on whether the cruel practice of fox hunting should be allowed, all hope is lost for the safety and welfare of animals.”

Our new trading partners

Failing a decent trade agreement with Brussels, the UK is looking to the USA as a major trading partner. The US his already dictated its terms – no trade unless we eliminate our “unjustified sanitary restrictions”.

Not wanting to jeopardise our chances of a deal with America, a possible future lifeline in the event of a bad Brexit, the Home Office have failed to write-up any legally binding commitments that uphold food hygiene and humane animal treatment post-Brexit. Horror stories of chlorine washed chicken, ractopamine riddled pigs and hormone enhanced beef hitting British shores may be closer than we think.”

The infographic below reveals some of the barbarity of the treatment of animals on American factory farms

17 Farm Inhumane Practices

If you’re not already acquainted with US farming methods, let me tell you I doubt you can imagine a worse hell. Check for yourself here.

The Pound

From the Brexit referendum’s results day, the pound declined in value. If we get as far as actual Brexit Day, March 29th 2019, we will see the pound plummet, sucking into the country a flood of products from unethically, inhumanely-reared animals . (Not that I will ever concede there is such a thing as humane farming of animals. Apart from anything that happens to them in the short time they are allowed to live, those lives all end in the bloody horror of the slaughterhouse. There are though, degrees of suffering.)

UK farmers will be unable to compete without a significant lowering of their own animal welfare standards, the standards at present required of them by the EU.

Farms in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire – PETA

If this is what it’s like now, how much lower can they go?

In addition, in the face of ever-decreasing profit margins farmers will strongly resist legislative attempts to protect the welfare of farmed animals post-Brexit. The animals will be “collateral damage”.

The economy

Levels of poverty in the UK are already “staggering” according to UN rapporteur Philip Alston. He found 1.5 million of our citizens destitute and 14 million living in poverty. Food bank use reached its highest rate on record this year. Our own Treasury has predicted that under all possible Brexit scenarios we will be worse off in 15 years time. All of which means that people will be looking for the cheapest possible food, however dodgily produced. Concerns for animal welfare will be a luxury many can no longer afford.

EU Immigrants

On many farms between 40 – 58% of the workforce are EU nationals. The labour shortage created by their disappearance will push agricultural workers’ wages up, putting further financial pressure on farmers. They will look for any way possible to cut costs, and may well resort to cutting welfare corners to the detriment of the animals.

A staggering 90% of vets working in the UK are EU nationals. The British Veterinary Association warns of a severe shortage of qualified vets post-Brexit. That is not good news for any UK animal.

After Brexit, because of the change in regulations for trading with Europe, more not fewer Official Vets will be needed to supervise imports and exports and sign health certificates for live animals. Doesn’t this acute shortage of properly qualified personnel mean that whatever animal protections there are supposedly in place, are going to pass by unchecked and unenforced?

“Deregulating trade while curbing immigration would lead to a sharp decline in animal welfare. When immigration is curbed and access to dedicated workers is stifled, the situation for the UK’s voiceless and defenceless creatures is bleak.”

Live exports

Last year Michael Gove claimed that the EU was holding us back from banning live exports.

live export sheep EU cruelty abuse

Would a Tory government fly in the face of its supporters in the farming community to enforce such a ban? Even if they did, which seems highly unlikely, now ‘free’ of EU regulations the UK would be subject to World Trade Organisation rules instead. And they do not allow for such a ban. If you voted for Brexit hoping to see an end to this cruel trade, I’m sorry to disappoint.

Animal testing

Cruelty Free International are worried that “a no-deal Brexit could mean that the UK would need to carry out the same animal tests for chemical registration as the EU. This would mean twice as many animals would suffer. If existing EU animal-test data is not shared with the UK, then the same animal tests would have to be carried out again by the UK for the same information.”

lab animal rat mouse

At a time when without Brexit the number of laboratory procedures continues to rise, that just does not bear thinking about. NatureWatch echoes CFI’s concerns and urges the government “to ensure that re-testing does not take place and that existing testing data can be used in the UK.”

Companion animals

The present EU pet passport system is being extensively abused by criminal gangs smuggling puppies with fake passports into the UK and other countries. The government has pledged to stamp out this cruel trade. Perhaps the only good news to come out of Brexit. Although…

In all the years we have been an EU member state, the government could have eliminated this problem anyway with better UK border checks. Plus, it’s hard to imagine this will be a high priority for the Tories in a post-Brexit Britain.

One final reason to reject May’s Brexit on behalf of our animals

Many animal advocacy organisations are either already working on a Europe-wide basis, or are starting to join forces with their european counterparts.

Surely we are stronger together for the animals?

Look at these EU-wide groups: EurobadgerEurogroup for Animalsthe European Enforcement Network of Animal Welfare Lawyers and Commissioners and the vitally important aforementioned European Parliament’s Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals

All in all, if the animals had a voice and were given a vote, I feel certain the result would be – Remain.

Further reading from the Ecologist and the UK Centre for Animal Law’s Brexit Manifesto

Related posts

We Encourage Everyone who Cares about Animals to Vote Remain

Eurobarometer 2016 Proves EU Citizens Overwhelming Support for Animal Welfare

The Fight to Protect Badgers Moves to Europe

Poll: Would Brexit be the best thing for Europe’s wildlife?

EU Animals Face Torture & Abuse During Live Exports

Sources 

Brexit and the future of animal welfare

Post-Brexit trade deals ‘threaten UK’s animal welfare standards’

What are the key issues for the Brexit negotiations?

New Environmental Act needed after Brexit

European Commission Agriculture and Rural Development

Could no-deal Brexit mean more UK animal tests?

Brexit: Does the EU stop the UK improving animal welfare?

Britain risks losing green protections after Brexit

Wildlife Tourism: Good or Bad for the Animals?

If anyone knew a thing or two about mountain gorillas it was the remarkable Dian Fossey. Ms Fossey, the first to study gorillas at close quarters, loved these animals with a passion. Humans – not so much. Her every breath, her every ounce of energy, her life’s blood, was spent protecting the gorillas by keeping humans at bay.

In the Rwanda national park where she established her research station, she had 4 of her own staff destroy 987 poachers’ snares in 4 months. (In the same period, Rwandan park rangers destroyed none. A desperately poor local community makes its livelihood where it can, and if that means poaching gorillas, so be it, was their thinking.)
Apart from fighting a war against one kind of humans, the poachers, Ms Fossey was fierce in her hostility to another kind – wildlife tourists. She had three seemingly incontrovertible reasons for her opposition to ecotourism. Firstly, humans would damage the habitat. Secondly, humans could infect the great apes with anthroponotic diseases (diseases which could jump the species barrier from us to them) such as TB, flu, the common cold, chicken pox, measles and herpes. With no natural immunity to these infections, gorillas could, and did die. And thirdly, the very presence of humans would affect the great apes’ natural wild behaviour.

I wonder how she would react today if she knew that the International Gorilla Conservation Programme now actively promotes tourism to her precious primates’ habitat. The charity’s rationale is simple: tourism provides a living for the impoverished locals living around the national parks and gives them a vested interest in protecting rather than poaching the animals. And the Rwandan government runs a scheme ploughing back 5% of income from gorilla tourism into local development projects like road construction, clean water supplies, sanitation, and health centres accessible for all. What better incentive could the local population have to see that the gorilla tribes thrive?

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Mountain gorillas in Rwanda
Good news story

This policy does indeed appear to be working. Kirsten Gilardi, director of Gorilla Doctors is adamant, “Gorilla tourism revenue has absolutely saved them from extinction.” (Her team of medics attending the gorillas with hands-on health care for four decades is also a beneficiary of ecotourism cash.) From the desperate level of only 240 remaining in 1978, and Ms Fossey fearing they would be extinct by the year 2000, the apes now number 1000 – still on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Endangered list, but no longer Critically Endangered. It’s a reason for “cautious optimism”, says the IUCN, a good news story of ecotourism directly benefitting wildlife.

And there are others:

  • Money from tourism was used to expand the habitats of cheetahs and African wild dogs, slowing population decline
  • Ecotourism funded the restoration of hoolock gibbons’ and golden lion tamarins’ habitat, reversing human-inflicted environmental degradation, and boosting growth in their respective populations
  • Wildlife management staff are safeguarding the future for African penguins and the great green macaw by using ecotourism money to control the birds’ predators –  natural animal predators and human poachers

Find more ecotourism good news stories here.

Ecotourism is huge

Around the world, national parks and nature preserves receive 8 billion visitors a year at a conservative estimate, in all probability many more. Ecotourism generates in excess of $600 billion, so researchers discovered in a first-of-it–kind study.

“Global ecotourism pays for 84% of national parks funding and 99% of funding for the habitats of threatened mammals, birds, and frogs—funding that’s vital for protecting many threatened species.”

So far so good then. Did Dian Fossey get it wrong?

As with most things in life, there are no easy answers, and the jury remains out.

Of those billions of dollars generated by tourism to national parks and preserves, how much is actually spent on conservation of these amazing habitats and their wildlife? A small fraction. Less than $10 billion – and nothing like enough.

“These pieces of the world provide us with untold benefits: from stabilising the global climate and regulating water flows to protecting untold numbers of species. Now we’ve shown that through tourism nature reserves contribute in a big way to the global economy – yet many are being degraded through encroachment and illegal harvesting, and some are being lost altogether. It’s time that governments invested properly in protected areas.” -Andrew Bainford Professor of Zoology at Cambridge University.

So what about the rest of the money from ecotourism? If governments aren’t investing it in protected areas, where is it going? According to USA Today Corrupt governments frequently take a large cut of the profits from ecotourism, leaving little or none for local communities that are directly affected by the influx of visitors.”

And as we’ve already seen, benefit to local communities, giving them a stake in protecting their local wildlife, is a vitally important desired outcome of ecotourism. Without it, poaching will continue. But all too often corrupt governments allow “international corporations and developers from outside the area  into popular destinations. Their hotels and stores take money away from the local economy. In addition, the original residents have to pay the same inflated prices for food and water as tourists do, putting a greater financial burden on them.”

And Ms Fossey was 100% right about some of the other downsides of ecotourism
  • Noise
  • Litter
  • Pollution
  • Habitat degradation
  • Land gobbled up for visitor centres, cafes, tourist lodges, and toilet blocks for the growing numbers of visitors, and the roads to reach them
  • Wildlife accidentally killed by cars
  • Wildlife deliberately killed by hunters and fishers
  • Tourists passing on disease

As for that last point, it seems tourists are far more concerned about contracting a disease from contact with wildlife than they are about themselves passing infection to the animals. Anthropologist Dr Michael Muehlenbein found that though as many as 86% of tourists knew they could pass disease to wildlife, they clearly didn’t care too much because two thirds said they would still touch or feed wild primates if they got the chance.

“Imagine you’ve spent $2,000 to go to Malaysia to see the orangutans and you’ve got a cold. Are you going to stay away? It becomes a complex moral question: How much do you respect the life of other animals over your vacation experience?”

Personally I don’t see it as that ‘complex’. A tough decision naturally, but not a complex one. Though it’s ‘only a cold’ for us, it could kill that animal we would so like to see up close and personal. When we are watching wildlife, let’s be the responsible ones and follow the advice here.

What if we travel on foot to see the wildlife and keep ourselves to ourselves?

What could be less harmful to wildlife than rambling quietly along a woodland trail, soaking up the forest scents and listening to the birdsong? Sad to say, even this most gentle activity is not as innocuous as it seems. Just the fact our being there has an effect. A recent study found that the longer a forest trail is used, and the bigger the number of people walking it, the greater the adverse effect on forest birds. “We show that forest birds are distinctly affected by people and that this avoidance behaviour did not disappear even after years of use by humans.” The birds simply never get used to our being there.

“This is important to show because pressure on natural habitats and nature protection areas is getting stronger and access bans are often ignored,” says Dr Yves Botsch of the Swiss Ornithological Institute.

And an earlier study found that the mere presence of humans is more terrifying to smaller prey animals like badgers, foxes and raccoons – who we may have thought were habituated to us – than the presence of apex predators like bears and wolves. And that we “may be distorting ecosystem processes even more than previously imagined.” 

When you consider that at least 83 percent of the Earth’s land surface is directly affected by the presence of humans and human activity in one way or another, this particular piece of research is not good news.

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Guided tour by snowmobile Yellowstone National Park
Overall, human disturbance detrimentally affecting animals’ survival and mating behaviours can lead straight down the path to extinction

Take the New Zealand sea lion for example. The habitat disturbance and fishing brought by ecotourism is killing young sea lion pups. This animal is predicted to be extinct by 2050, a direct victim of ecotourism.

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On land, nature preserves can have well-defined boundaries, theoretically easier to protect. Yes, we do have marine conservation areas, but the thing about water is that it flows. No oceanic conservation area’s boundaries can keep out pollution or stop rising sea temperatures. Marine animals are also disproportionately affected by humans’ plastic waste. The dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Sulawesi this week had 1000 pieces of plastic in its stomach: 115 plastic cups, plastic bags, bottles and even flipflops. On top of that animals such as whales and dolphins are badly affected by underwater noise from shipping.

All of these problems are far more likely to be exacerbated than mitigated by ecotourism.

In the Arctic, for example, 53% of 80 populations of Arctic animals in the ‘open-water’ period of September when the ice is at its minimum are adversely affected by ship traffic, by collisions, by noise disturbance, by the changes these trigger in the animals’ behaviour. Most of these animals are found nowhere else on Earth.

And Arctic ice is shrinking.Summer sea ice cover has shrunk by over 30 percent since satellites started regular monitoring in 1979.” And less ice means more ships.

“More than a century ago, due to the short Arctic summer, it took Roald Amundsen’s wooden sailing ship three years to make the journey” through the Northwest Passage. Amundsen could only sail in the brief  ‘open water’ time and was iced up all the rest.

Fast-forward to summer 2016. A cruise ship carrying more than 1,000 passengers negotiated the Northwest Passage in 32 days. The summer “open-water” period in the Arctic has now increased by more than two months in some regions. 

Less ice, more ships. More ships, more harm to the animals.

It’s as simple as that. Whales and walrus are among the most vulnerable, and narwhals most vulnerable of all. So you may want to rethink your Arctic cruise. And, as if the harm shipping does to Arctic wildlife were not bad enough, cruise ships also take the trophy when it comes to being the most environmentally-unfriendly way to view wildlife – one cruise ship releasing fuel emissions equivalent to a million cars, in one day.

The last thing we want is to harm the very wildlife we love going to see. So how can we nature-lovers see nature without destroying it?

In spite of all the negatives, there can be no doubt that ecotourism makes animals more valuable in money terms alive than dead. That gives it huge potential to protect nature and save endangered species. But the responsibility of making that happen lies with each of us individually. Planning a trip? Do some thorough research. For potted advice check out The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel .

But for in depth information go to Responsible Travel which the Guardian rates The first place to look for environmentally friendly holidays.” The  Responsible Travel website is packed to the brim with information on how to be a wildlife-friendly ecotourist. Find out Responsible Travel’s stance on wildlife, and wildlife tourism issues here.

You may also want to check out the Rainforest Alliance Certified hotels and tour operators, and Green Global Travel. And take WAP’s pledge here: “I stand with World Animal Protection and will not take part in any holiday activities that involve touching or taking selfies with wild animals. Wildlife. Not entertainers.”

In the end it’s all down to us as individuals, our choices. Just as we shape the kind of world we want to live in with our eating, shopping and everyday living choices, so with our travel. Our choices are making the difference between life and death for the animals.

Updates

14th December 2015 Tourists may be making Antarctica’s penguins sick

18th December 2018 The impacts of whale shark mass tourism on the coral reefs in the Philippines

4th January 2019 ‘Conservation never ends’: 40 years in the kingdom of gorillas – the story of how ecotourism saved the mountain gorillas of Rwanda

10th January 2019  Singapore eco-tourism plan sparks squawks of protest

18th January 2019  You Can Visit This Australian Island, but Only if You Pledge to Skip the Wombat Selfie

13th March 2019 On Kangaroo Island and elsewhere, beware the lure of the luxury ecotourist The thin-end-of-the-wedge dangers of allowing ‘limited’ tourism opportunities in reserves and national parks, and giving only the wealthy access.

8th March 2019  Can jaguar tourism save Bolivia’s fast dwindling forests?

21st March 2019  Safari tourism may make elephants more aggressive – but it’s still the best tool for conservation

Related posts

Three Years in Heaven After Sixty Years in Hell – RIP Sweet Lakhi

Shooting Goats on the Rooftop of the World

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Half for Us Half for the Animals

Who is the Real Hallowe’en Monster Lurking in the Woods

Sources

Dian Fossey

Problems with Ecotourism

Learning from gorillas to save killer whales

Mountain gorilla population rebounds

Ecotourism saving mountain gorillas in Africa

Why Ecotourism is Dangerous for Wildlife

Arctic Ship Traffic Threatens Narwhals and Other Extraordinary Animals

It’s not trails that disturb birds, but the people on them

Ecotourism: Funding Conservation or Forcing Extinction?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snorting, Barking Trains in Japan Save Animal Lives!

If you never had the Japanese down as a nation of animal-lovers, get this – on the Japanese rail network Animals Rule. 

Monkeys, dogs, goats, lobsters (lobsters?!) and a tortoise proudly hold the official title of stationmaster at rail depots around the country. The most famous to occupy the post in recent years was a cat called Tama, who died in 2015 at the good old age of 16. Her funeral was attended by thousands of local commuters and admirers hailing from near and far. Following a period of mourning, the newly minted Honorable Eternal Stationmaster was replaced by Nitama, a former apprentice of Tama who beat out other candidates for the job partially based on her “willingness to wear a hat.”‘

The only thing vaguely similar of which we can boast here in the UK, is the day last April when a large herd of cows took it upon themselves to congregate on Hever station platform in Kent. Strangely, in spite of having a wealth of applicants to choose from, Network Rail declined to appoint any of them to their staff.

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Cows spotted on Hever station platform CREDIT: LUKE RYAN

But Network Rail does have one heartening animal trick up its sleeve. Paradoxical, startling, but nonetheless true – the rail network and surrounding land managed by NR is possibly the most biodiverse wildlife haven in the UK. An unseen Shangri-la for rare and endangered species such as the large blue butterfly, the dormouse, the osprey, the natterjack toad and the great crested newt. If we were permitted access, which of course we are not, we might also find an abundance of lizards, grass snakes, slow worms, water voles, deer, foxes, badgers, and bats.

But – and it’s a very big but – the network is both haven and hazard. Between 2003/4 and 2013/14 the number of animals struck by trains tripled, and the unfortunate animals logging up the highest death count are deer.

“Deer have excellent peripheral vision, but most deer incidents take place while the beasts are traversing the railway as part of their natural movement pattern between habitats at dawn/dusk – a time when more trains are running as part of the morning and evening peaks.”¹

What is Network Rail doing to prevent animals getting on the tracks?

Not an awful lot it seems. They “educate land owners about the dangers and disruption caused by animal incursions, emphasising the need to keep gates securely closed and encouraging them to use additional measures such as electric fencing.” 

And that’s it. Good as far as it goes, and fine for domestic animals: horses, sheep and cattle – but if we look for NR’s ideas on keeping deer and other wildlife off the tracks, we draw a blank. This in spite of their desire to minimise collisions and costly disruptions to the rail timetable.

Over in Japan, they do things differently

Yes, certainly there is the same imperative not to let collisions with animals mess up the schedule. (Magnify that sixty-fold. The Japanese don’t have a name for super-efficiency for nothing, and Japanese trains are precise to the second. Last November a rail company felt compelled to issue a public apology for one of its trains departing 20 seconds early, at 9.44.20, instead of 9.44.40 – can you imagine it!)

And yes, as in the UK, the most frequent victims of death by train are deer. The deer are “reportedly attracted to the lines due to a need for iron in their diets, licking up small iron filings left behind by the grinding of train wheels on the tracks.”

But in Japan it’s not just about the timetable. As their unlikely choice of stationmasters/mistresses attest, in the world of the locomotive the Japanese have a care for animals. And that extends to the wild kind, whose interaction with trains is too often fatal.

turtles-106999_960_720

Creatures as small as turtles can come a cropper, as well as cause delays, so one rail company has worked with wildlife experts to create safe crossings in the form of special turtle trenches running underneath the tracks. Rail workers even carry out regular inspections to see if the little guys need an extra helping hand.

For the bigger animals the usual ropes, fences, and flashing lights have all been tried – without success. Now, displaying a creativity sadly lacking in Network Rail, the Japanese are coming up with all kinds of imaginative ways to prevent costly timetable disruptions and animal deaths.

The ideas

One of the most out there was someone’s brainwave of mixing water with lion dung garnered from a safari park, and spraying the solution along the track. Hey presto, it worked! Not one deer was run over. Even though Japanese deer have never seen a lion, it seems they recognise the smell of an apex predator when they come across it.

The dung spray though 100% effective, did have several drawbacks:

  1. The spraying was very labour-intensive, impractical on a larger scale
  2. It got washed away in the rain
  3. And finally, it REEKED! Railway staff, passengers, and folk living near the line alike, all complained

Based on the observation that the deer are drawn to the iron from the lines, one company developed another effective method to divert the deer – definitely less off-the-wall and decidedly less offensive than the lion poop  – ‘yukuru’, simple salt-lick blocks containing the vital ingredient iron.

When it really hit home

One night in 2015 a family of deer were crossing the tracks when a young fawn at the rear of the group was struck by a train and killed. Yuji Hikita, an employee of Kintetsu Railway Co. saw it happening. And continued to watch while a parent deer stood motionless, staring down at the fallen fawn for a full 40 minutes. After witnessing the whole heart-wrenching scene, he determined to find a way to stop such a sorrowful event happening again.

Hikita’s focus was on finding a way to help the deer cross the tracks in safety, rather than simply blocking them out.

He made an on-the-ground study of the deers’ movements. Finding hoof prints and dung (deer droppings, not lion!) helped him establish which spots the animals used as crossing points. The line was enclosed with 2 metre-high netting, but crossing places were left open. In the crossing gaps, ultrasonic waves formed temporary barriers at the riskiest times, dawn and dusk, but were switched off overnight when the trains stopped running.

The ultrasonic waves, inaudible to us, have the advantage of not being a terrible assault on human senses like the lion poop.

Hikita’s ingenious plan won him a 2017 Good Design Award.“This is an excellent example of how railway companies can tackle the deer-train collision problem from the deer’s perspective,” a judge for the Good Design Award said in 2017, “and it owes to the countless number sacrificed in the accidents.”

Meanwhile researchers at the RTRI (Railway Technical Research Institute) have been testing trains that snort like a deer and bark like a dog. With the usual Japanese precision and attention to detail, the formula is thus: a three-second burst of deer-snort noises, followed by 20 seconds of dog-barking.

The deer-snorting noises replicate deer’s alarm warnings to each other, which would alert any real deer getting too close to the tracks. The dogs’ barking finishes the job by scaring them away. And the snort-bark formula works. In fact, it’s proving so successful the Institute is considering setting up stationary snort-bark devices along the tracks near crossing places favoured by the deer.

Network Rail, are you listening?

 

Sources

¹Analysis of the risk from animals on the line

In Japan, custom trenches help turtles cross railroad tracks with ease

Japanese trains save deer with sound effects

Read also

Wildlife transport kills on the rise in India

With 100s of reindeer already being killed by freight trains, Norway decides in favour of wild reindeer over a wind farm

Related posts

Tiggywinkles, Tigers & Tunnels

The Wildlife Haven That’s the UK’s Best-Kept Secret

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

What happens? Nature fights back!

We’ve done our best to trash the planet. We’ve plundered the earth of precious stones, covered it in concrete to sell people things they don’t need, contaminated it with deadly radiation, declared a piece of it a DMZ to keep apart the heavily armed guards of two nations that hate each other, covered it in land mines, built factories on it for poison gas and chemical weapons so we can better kill each other, and even managed to dry out the 4th largest lake in the world by exploiting its water for our own questionable ends.

For me, two telling themes emerge from the wildlife stories below: the ruthless devil-take-the-hindmost greed of the capitalist system we humans have created; and our unbridled propensity for violence and war.

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

Given less than half a chance, just look what Nature does.

(Thanks to One Green Planet for the article below)


Haven for horses in the desert

kolmanskophorses
upload.wikimedia.org

Abandoned in 1954, Kolmanskop, Namibia was once a flourishing diamond mining town until the mines were eventually exhausted of their riches. The human inhabitants of the town moved on and left what had been their homes, schools and shops to be taken back by the desert and the rare Namib Horse.

abandondednamibia
shazandfrank.wordpress.com

Their origin is unknown as these horses are not indigenous to the region but by limiting human intervention, only offering water support during extreme drought, these horses have been able to adapt incredibly well to the unforgiving terrain and grow in numbers over the years in the ruins of this forgotten town.

Abercrombie and Fish?

abandonedkoi
boredpanda.com

Arson and safety issues plagued the New World Shopping Mall in Bangkok, Thailand until it was shuttered in 1997. The roofless structure sat empty, collecting rainwater in it’s basement until a 1600 square foot pond formed. Mosquitos began to take up residence, annoying locals around the forgotten structure so much that they introduced some koi and catfish into the pond to combat the problem.

Awesome Abandoned Places Around the World Occupied by Animals.

Left to breed uninhibited, the fish flourished  in their new environment and turned the mall into their own private aquarium. The future of the fish is unclear as there are questions about the stability of the building, but for now locals visit the fish to throw them food.

abandonedsquirrel
nhbs.com

While walking around the woods surrounding his summer home in Salo, Finland, photographer Kai Fagerström came upon a derelict house. Not one to miss a chance to snap some unique shots, Fagerström ventured inside to see that the house may have been derelict but it was far from empty.

abandoned-badgers
ngm.nationalgeographic.com

The house was teeming with animal tenants like badgers, mice, foxes and birds to name just a few. In fact, 12 different species of animals were all living together in harmony under the same roof, becoming the subjects to his photo book The House in the Woods.

Life finds a way in the shadow of disaster

01-chernobyl-animals-adapt_-1190-1
Very rare Przewalski horses

In 1986 the residents of Pripyat, Ukraine were forced to abandon their homes as the nearby Chernobyl Power Complex experienced what is considered the worst nuclear meltdown in history. The area has been deemed uninhabitable for the next 20,000 years as radiation levels in the area continue to measure off of the charts, but that hasn’t stopped a large variety of wildlife and insect species from moving in.

abandonedchernobyl
sullydish.files.wordpress.com

In fact, the native animal populations like wild boar, dogs and horses have thrived in the exclusion zone, making the area around Chernobyl a natural refuge in the absence of human occupants. Scientists have only recently been allowed access to study the area and its inhabitants, with the results providing an unsure glimpse at how the thriving populations will be effected by the radiation for generations to come. Only time will tell, but for now the city of Pripyat is populated with a diverse selection of life.

Wildlife can’t read the ‘Keep Out’ signs

dmz-birds
news.discovery.com

In place since the Korean War Armistice in 1953, a 250 km long and 4 km wide swath of land known as the Demilitarized Zone separates North and South Korea from coast to coast. With people only being allowed to enter through special permit over the last 60 years, the area has become the perfect place for a large variety of indigenous and critically endangered wildlife to live undisturbed.

abandoneddmz2
news.nationalgeographic.com

Animals like the endangered white necked crane, vulnerable Amur gorals, the asiatic black bear, Siberian musk dear and the nearly extinct Amur leopard are among the 2,716 different species thought to inhabit the area.

After the dust settled in the Falkland Islands War in 1982, the waters surrounding the area became so overfished that local penguin populations began to decrease dramatically.  Ironically, it was this very overfishing and the ravages of the war that preceded it that ended up creating a unique natural habitat for the penguins to start rebuilding their numbers and living freely.

abandonedpenguins
wondermando.com

As a deterrent to the British, the Argentinian army laid 20,000 land mines along the coast and pasture lands surrounding the capital that remain to this day. Too light to set them off, the penguin population lives happily and totally undisturbed in this unlikely sanctuary.

This subway car is going nowhere

abandonedsubway
fineprintnyc.com

Since 2001 the Mass Transit Authority of New York has been participating in a program that retires old subway cars and dumps them along the eastern seaboard to create artificial reefs. Known as Redbird Reef, the cars are stripped of floating materials and then cleaned before they’re dropped into the ocean from barges.

abandonedseaturtle
eventbrite.com

By 2010 the program had placed over 2500 cars into the water in the hopes of giving marine life in the area a home to breed and thrive, including black sea bass, flounder, turtles and barnacles.

Don’t forget to take your carrots!

abandonedrabbits
s1.dmcdn.net

The tiny island known as Okunoshima Island in Takehara, Japan is also colloquially known as Usagi Jima, or “Rabbit Island.” Abandoned after World War II, the island had been home to a poison gas facility.

abandonedusagijima
montrealgazette.com

How the rabbits came to be on the island is a source of debate but with larger animals like cats and dogs being banned from its shores, the bunnies of Usagi Jima are free to roam wild and multiply while taking the occasional carrot from an adoring tourist.

This island gets an (elephant) seal of approval

abandonedanonuevo
cdn.c.photoshelter.com

Formerly a Coast Guard light station until it was abandoned in 1948,  Año Nuevo Island in California is teeming with wildlife. Now part of a nature preserve operated by the California State Parks, the island boasts one of the largest northern elephant seal mainland breeding colonies in the world.

abandonedanonuevo2
apt.ap1.netdna-cdn.com

It also plays host to cormorants, terns, otters, California sea lions as well as the rare and endangered San Francisco Garter Snake.

Just surreal

abandonedaraldesert
i.imgur.com

What was once the fourth largest lake in the world at 26,300 sq mi – that’s bigger than all the Great Lakes of North America with the exception of Lake Superior, the Aral Sea in Central Asia is now on the verge of being completely dry due to rivers and dams diverting its water elsewhere. The effects of this were devastating and the area is being monitored so environmental improvements can be made. Leaving behind a sandy desert and stranded fishing boats, the dry lake bed now sees local camels roaming freely amongst wasted hulls to take a rest from the sun.

abandoned-camels
worldofmatter.net

Revitalization efforts are underway and showing real promise for the area and the wildlife that has moved in, including not only camels but asiatic foxes, wolves and boars.

A place dedicated to taking life becomes a place that preserves it

abandonedbison
cdn.colorado.com

Once a chemical munitions plant, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Commerce City, Colorado last saw production in 1982. Clean up and decontamination of the site kept humans from entering the area, which left a perfect opening for animals to move in and create an involuntary refuge.

abandonedarsanal
fws.gov

In 1986, much to the surprise of the U.S. Wildlife and Fish Service, it was discovered that not only was there a communal roost of bald eagles taking up residence but also 330 additional species of wildlife had moved in. Today the site is a National Wildlife Refuge and boasts deer, bison, coyotes and owls.


These good news wildlife stories leave a bitter aftertaste – in most cases (thankfully not all) the animals are making their lives in spite of the wreckage wrought by human hand.

The DMZ seems an apt metaphor for the present state of the planet: hostile peoples pointing killing machines at each other, and in the little space left between, Nature.

Nature generating and nurturing transformative life – in abundance.

Creating, not destroying.


Sources

Cover pic i.imgur.com

Awesome Abandoned Places Around the World Occupied by Animals | One Green Planet

Related posts

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

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

Who is the Real Hallowe’en Monster Lurking in the Woods?

Forget spiders, black cats and bats. The scariest thing in nature?

We are.

Fear is natural. Fear is good. In the wild, fear keeps animals alive. It sounds strange, but it’s actually fear that keeps ecosystems in balance.

It’s the ‘trophic cascade effect’. Take an apex predator like the wolf, at the top of the food chain. The wolf’s presence keeps deer ‘on their toes’. Instead of standing in one spot grazing vegetation down to the ground, they are wary, stopping only briefly, constantly on the move. So plant life proliferates and in doing so provides habitat and food for the smaller animals.

To find out how astounding this is in bringing about an explosion of life, both plant and animal, watch this beautiful short video about wolves in Yellowstone. It will gladden your heart.

So that’s the good news. The bad news is that a horrifying 75% of apex predators, the large carnivores such as wolves, bears and big cats, are in decline. And as the Living Planet Report tells us, it is all down to us humans. We are driving plants and animals extinct at 1,000 times the natural background rate.

But take away the apex predators, and biodiversity rapidly declines.

Western University decided to test whether we humans could take the place of the missing big beasts as ‘the monster-in-the-woods’, and provide that vital fear factor to keep ecosystems healthy.

Their findings were not good. For a start, human hunters kill four times as many smaller carnivores as do the nonhuman predators. That in itself throws the ecosystem out of kilter.

And, it turned out that we are just too darn scary. So frightening, in fact, as to induce “paralysing terror” in the badgers tested on in the research. Having the sounds of large carnivores played to them naturally did put the badgers on their guard, and they made fewer trips to their usual foraging spots. But when the sound of people talking was played, only a handful of the bravest ventured out at all, and the time they spent feeding was dramatically reduced. Most of the badgers decided the safest option was to keep their heads down, stay at home and not go out to feed at all.

So to the smaller animals, we are more to be feared than wolves and bears. Some kudos!  We humans, the scariest creature on the planet.

We are not just messing up ecosystems by causing the decline in apex predator populations. It seems we are directly affecting the behaviour of the remaining animals in those habitats. The researchers concluded that “Humans may be distorting ecosystem processes even more than previously imagined.”

When you consider that at least 83 percent of the Earth’s land surface is directly affected by the presence of humans and human activity in one way or another, this research is incredibly bad news for the remaining 17% that’s left for the animals.

Controlling the growth of the human population is going to be vital in reducing our impact, it goes without saying. But if we as individuals want to help give our fellow earth-dwellers, the nonhumans, a bit more space to live than that pitiful 17%, if we want them to survive at all, we can make a difference by taking animal products off our plate, and out of our lives. We must.

Wishing you a ton of fun this Hallowe’en – dress up, spook your neighbours!

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And then November 1st – time for us to make Planet Earth a whole lot less scary for the animals. November is World Vegan Month, the perfect time for us humans to start reducing our heavy footprint on the planet.

To make space for the animals.

Cute & Creepy Animal-Friendly Hallowe’en Recipes here

Help to Go Vegan here

Source

The Real Monster in the Woods – The Medium

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UK one of “least natural countries in the world”

“The UK is now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world with more than one in seven species facing extinction and more than half in decline, according to the State of Nature 2016 report.”

“Farming takes responsibility for the iconic British countryside,”  – Guy Smith for the NFU. Yes Guy, and not in a good way.

It’s no surprise to me that the report lays most of the blame for this disturbing state of affairs squarely at the door of those who claim to be the true guardians of our countryside – the farmers.

Four decades of intensive farming has had an “overwhelmingly negative” effect on wildlife. So say the 50 different organisations contributing to the report, which include the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust, the Marine Conservation Society and the Natural History Museum.

The NFU is faced yet again with scientifically-researched, properly accredited expert evidence that spells out in capital letters the damaging results of farmers’ bad practice.

How do they respond? As they always do – with denial. They simply dismiss the report. Just like that.

Each time science slaps them with unwelcome news, the farmers typically respond with hands over ears and heads in the sand. But the trouble is, when the NFU says “Jump!” the Tory government says, “How high”.

And so our nature suffers. Wildlife suffers. We’ve seen it so many times before. Take bee-killing pesticides and the culling of badgers as just two devastating instances.

Urbanisation, wetland drainage and climate change have also played their part in bringing our nature to this sorry state, though to a far lesser degree.

“The natural world is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before” – David Attenborough

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Some facts from the State of Nature report covering the years 1970 – 2013

    • A massive 75% of the UK landmass is now under agricultural use
    • Use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides has greatly increased, including the deadly neonics which are killing our bees
    • Marginal habitats like ponds and hedgerows have been taken out
    • There’s been a 20% decline in farmland species
    • 54% decline in farmland birds
    • 41% decline in farmland butterflies
    • 56% decline in total UK species
    • Of 8,000 species, 15% are critically endangered

The UK has lost significantly more nature than the world average. It’s dangerously close to the same nature-deplete level as Hong Kong.

Some of our most iconic animals are at risk of extinction –

  • the kingfisher
  • the water vole
  • the curlew
  • the hedgehog
  • the turtle dove
  • the willow tit

kingfisher-1557650_960_720

The much revered naturalist David Attenborough is still optimistic that all may not be lost:

“Millions of people in the UK care very passionately about nature and the environment and I believe that we can work together to turn around the fortunes of wildlife.”

Country Landowner’s Association Tim Breitmayer calls for farmers and conservationists to work together:

“The report makes sobering reading and paints a clear picture of significant decline over 40 years. It reminds us how much there is to do to reintroduce habitats and species into our natural environment and protect them.”

Glyn Davies of WWF-UK too sees a possible way forward: “Nature can recover with the right incentives to help restore species, reduce habitat loss, prevent pollution and develop green energy and infrastructure,” he says.

But those fine fellows at the NFU, speaking through their vice president, still believe there needs to be sustainable intensification of agriculture”  – surely a contradiction in terms – to ensure “domestic and global food security”.

We who treasure our wildlife and nature in the UK have a fight on our hands. We must ensure that the NFU and their champions in the government can’t derail the 25-year Plan for Nature. The government made a manifesto commitment “to leave the natural environment for the next generation to enjoy in a better condition than it is in now.”

The Tories delayed publication of the plan after Brexit. It’s now due to be published this autumn. Looking to a future no longer under European environmental constraints, the government may well try to water down the plan’s provisions. But it’s not too late for us to put pressure on the government to keep its pledge.

Please sign petitions to UK government here and here

Please send the Grow Green Report to your MP here

And please also send a quick email to your MP asking him/her to become a Species Champion by joining the Species Champion Project

All those above are for UK citizens only.

Here’s one for bees that everyone can sign

And for anyone who cares about the planet’s biodiversity, read this excellent piece from Care2 10 Reasons Why the Meat & Dairy Industry is Unsustainable

Find help here to Go Vegan

Updates

15th August 2017 Another study just published reveals neonicotinoids have drastic effect on queen bees’ ability to lay eggs

23rd March 2019  UK will miss almost all its 2020 nature targets, says official report

Sources

UK government must deliver on 25-year environmental pledge – The Guardian

UK one of “least natural countries in the world” – The Independent

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The RSPCA Buckles under Establishment Pressure

The animals know that when the Countryside Alliance and the National Farmers’ Union give a backslap of approval to an animal charity appointment, it’s time to duck back down behind the barricades because they are in deep trouble.

And Jeremy (Jez) Cooper’s appointment as new CEO for the RSPCA has been warmly welcomed by both. Here’s what Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner has to say:

“Jeremy Cooper has a huge job ahead of him and we wish him every success in refocussing the organisation on its core roles of improving animal welfare and rescuing those animals that are suffering. It will not be easy to rebuild confidence in the charity after the damage the extreme agenda of his predecessors has done to its reputation but if he can keep the RSPCA focussed on real animal welfare issues he will have everyone’s full support.”

And spokesman for the NFU, Gary Ford chipped in:

“We have met Jeremy and his team on several occasions in his capacity as CEO of Freedom Food and have developed a close working relationship over that time based on mutual trust and honesty. We wish Jeremy well and look forward to continuing that relationship in his new role as CEO of the RSPCA.” My underlining, of course.

Mr Cooper appears to have the right track record to please the CA & NFU, having been CEO of the RSPCA’s infamous Freedom Food scheme for the past three years. The NFU and Cooper hand in glove? No, surely not! If you can bear it (I can’t) take a look at this video made during an Animal Aid investigation into an FF-approved farm – another catastrophic failure for this ‘welfare assurance’ label.

Could Mr Cooper’s rebranding of Freedom Food to “RSPCA Assured” in 2014 have anything to do with the disrepute FF had fallen into, I wonder?

Mr Cooper’s fans – the CA (in the shape of the hunt) and the farmers – have both formerly found themselves on the end of criminal charges brought by the RSPCA. Their chief gripes with the charity recently have been what they consider its overzealous pursuance of law-breaking fox hunts, and its opposition to the badger cull.

Only last year the RSPCA was urging the government to call off the cull, and encouraging supporters to sign its own stop-the-cull petition to the Environment Secretary Liz Truss.

In a spectacular backtrack, Mr Cooper now says the charity had alienated farmers in its “aggressive campaign” against the Government’s badger cull which he dubbed “political”, and promises no further intervention by the charity in the contentious cull programme.

Everyone remembers when the RSPCA hit the headlines with its controversial prosecution of members of the Prime Minister’s own local hunt, the Heythrop, three years back. The offenders pleaded guilty to four charges of hunting foxes with hounds. The judge fined them the paltry sum of £6,800, and then publicly slated the charity for spending £330,000 on bringing the case to court.

“Members of the public may feel that RSPCA funds can be more usefully employed,” District Judge Tim Pattison told Oxford Magistrates’ Court. The Tory press had a field day (pardon the pun).

MPs not only fell over each other to join in the criticism, but reported the RSPCA to the Charity Commission for breaching a ‘duty of prudence’. Huh??? Which led to the Wooler Inquiry and subsequent Report.

But you needn’t worry any more, hunting fraternity. The new CEO is very busy pouring gallons of oil over troubled waters. Mr Cooper said it’s “very unlikely” they will ever bring a similar prosecution again, and all future prosecutions will be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.

If that’s all that needs to be done, why did the CPS stand back in the Heythrop case and, with 500 hours of video evidence available to them, not bring the prosecution themselves? Is there any significance do you think, in the fact that when the Master of this same hunt was charged with illegal hunting in 2008, David Cameron lobbied the Attorney General to get the case dropped? “The letter was eventually passed on to the Bristol-based senior CPS prosecutor Kerry Barker. The case – which was one of several charges brought against Julian Barnfield and the Heythrop Hunt in the years after the ban came into force – was later discontinued.” Western Daily Mail

The RSPCA would never have needed to bring these cases to court if the police and CPS had shown a little more alacrity in the performance of their duties.

So that’s the CA’s and the farmers’ two major bones of contention with the charity (hunting and the badger cull) firmly buried in the backyard by Mr Cooper, and looking like they won’t be dug up again any time soon.

The Countryside Alliance, farmers, politicians and the Tory press though, are not the only pillars of the Establishment to lay into the unfortunate charity. It’s fallen foul of royalty too. Prince Charles also found issue with the prosecution of Heythrop Hunt members. And he was at loggerheads with the charity’s former CEO, Gavin Grant, over the badger cull. HRH was reportedly not amused when Grant said, “Those who care will not want to visit areas or buy milk from farms soaked in badgers’ blood.” Truth hurts, Charles.

And earlier this year it was reported that “the RSPCA could lose its royal patronage when Prince Charles becomes King, over concerns it is becoming too involved in the campaign against countryside sports.” HRH as we all know, like the rest of his bloodline, is a keen supporter of and participator in these ‘sports’. Though I see nothing sporting about the pursuit and killing of defenceless animals.

Do we care about the royal patronage? I guess that if the RSPCA loses its ‘R’, it may adversely affect donations from the old stalwarts, and possibly diminish the organisation’s ability to protect animals from cruelty and neglect. Otherwise, why would we?

So back to Mr Jeremy (Jez) Cooper, CEO.

jeremy cooper rspca dogs

To the outrage of the animal advocacy community, and under pressure from the crushing combined weight of the CA, NFU, the political elite, the Tory press and the heir to the throne, Mr Cooper has publicly apologised for the charity’s “past mistakes”, and distanced the organisation from its previous actions.

“Of course we have made mistakes in the past, and we are very sorry. We have to be honest and admit the mistakes and acknowledge them.”

He said the charity had become too focused on animal rights rather than animal welfare, and that in the future it would return to its traditional role, the prevention of cruelty, rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming.

Last September I wrote ‘The RSPCA – between a rock and a hard place, and concluded:

“This could be a stormy era for the historic charity as it attempts to steer a course through the towering waves of the Tory government, the Countryside Alliance and the Tory Press; its own traditional stalwart supporters; and those who would like to see it go much further in preventing cruelty to, and alleviating the suffering of ALL animals in this country.”

Now with Mr Cooper’s opening pronouncements as CEO, it’s plain for all to see in which ‘port in a storm’ the RSPCA has chosen to dock.

And how exactly do you draw the line between animal rights and animal welfare, Mr Cooper? A pack of hounds tearing a terrified fox to pieces is NOT about animal rights. Let’s have some “prevention of cruelty” please Mr Cooper. The badger cull is NOT about animal rights. The cull has already been assessed as inhumane. Can we have some “prevention of cruelty” here please Mr Cooper?

It’s starting to look like the RSPCA’s new remit will be the welfare of canine companions, pussycats, and bunny rabbits (wild ones excluded – the farmers want to keep shooting those). The charity via its new mouthpiece has pledged to stop its unforgivable meddling in the plight of farmed animals, badgers, foxes or any other animals that are the rightful preserve of the farmers, and the country sportsmen and women.

God help the animals!

Oh, I almost forgot, if you’d like to see Mr Cooper sacked from his post asap, sign the petition here.

The Countryside Alliance on the new CEO

The Independent on Mr Cooper’s public apology

Royal Central on Prince Charles & the RSPCA

Update May 17th 2016

It seems like Mr Cooper’s PR skills are not too hot.

The RSPCA  have done a rapid bit of regrouping after the fiasco of his first interview in the job and have issued a statement:

Our policy on foxes and badgers remains unchanged. Like all animals, they deserve our compassion and respect.  We will always strongly oppose fox hunting and the culling of badgers. 

Maybe they need to check that they and Mr Cooper are on the same page now. Because why did Mr Cooper decide to give that first interview to the Telegraph, Tory apologist newspaper for the Establishment?

Full statement from the RSPCA here

Update August 16th 2016

On eve of roll out of badger cull, Dominic Dyer asks in i News why the wildlife charities are not speaking out for the badgers, with particular reference to RSPCA: How the once-formidable wildlife charities were tamed

 

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The Fight to Protect Badgers Moves to Europe

 

eurobadger logo the fight to protect badgers moves to europe

EUROBADGER; the newly formed Federation of European Badger Protection Organisations, today calls upon the European Parliament, MEPS, the European Commission and EU Member States, to combine forces and to outlaw the needless and cruel mass-killing of badgers across Europe.

With tens of thousands of badgers being killed across Europe as a result of Government sanctioned culling programmes, illegal persecution, hunting, building developments and death on the roads, the species is under greater threat than ever before.

Eurobadger calls upon the European Institutions and Member States to particularly focus on effective cattle-based disease reduction strategies to reduce bovine TB, a serious cattle disease that is once again on the increase This is rather than to allow EU funds or resources potentially to be used, or to support large scale, scientifically ineffective and cruel badger culls in England, Ireland and other countries where the disease may now spread.

Presenting a new Eurobadger report focusing on one of the many threats to the survival of badgers across Europe to MEP’s meeting at the European Parliament Intergroup on Animal Welfare and Conservation in Strasbourg, the Chief Executive of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor to the Born Free Foundation, Dominic Dyer said:

“The badger has lived in the landscape of Europe for over half a million years but its future today is under ever increasing threat. The crisis in the European dairy industry is directly linked to the fate of the badger. With falling milk prices, dairy farmers are already having to increase the size of their herds, keep more cattle indoors for longer periods of time, and move and sell more cattle to remain profitable.

All of these developments are increasing the risk of the spread of bovine TB. To make matters worse, any steps to introduce a TB cattle vaccine are being put on hold in view of the danger of losing key export markets for meat and dairy products in the EU or countries such as China. We cannot allow the local extinction of badgers from certain parts of EU Members States, to enable increasingly desperate dairy farmers to produce powdered milk for the China market.

We must develop food and farming systems that encourage nature and landscapes to thrive as well as supporting livelihoods and local communities. Public health, animal welfare and wildlife protection must be at the heart of good policy. To do this we must recognise that bovine TB is primarily a cattle- based disease and that limitations within TB testing regimes combined with inadequate biosecurity and movement controls are all leading to continued spread of the disease and not badgers”

Team Broc (Ireland) Meles (France) Das & Boom (The Netherlands) The Badger Trust (England & Wales)

Team Broc (Ireland), Meles (France), Das & Boom (The Netherlands), The Badger Trust (England & Wales)

Source: Badger Trust 14th April 2016

Badgers to Cull Britain’s Tories

A Saturday special – enjoy!

A systematic cull of Britain’s Tory population looks set to go ahead after senior badgers brushed aside objections from scientists and conservationists. Badgers have been arguing for years that the cull is necessary to protect Britain’s dairy farms from diseases like xenophobia and a poor grasp of basic science. Having rejected as inhumane a plan involving copies of the Daily Telegraph laced with strychnine, the badgers instead will use specially trained badger marksmen and intend to reduce the Tory population by one third over two years.

“We understand that the public have a nostalgic affection for Tories,” said the spokesbadger for the Department of Rural Affairs, “so we promise not to shoot that scruffy blonde one in London that everybody likes.”

The prospect of gun-toting badgers roaming the House of Commons worries some, but farmers are delighted. “I had a Tory on my farm last week,” said one frustrated landowner, “and since then the cows have been jeering at the sheep and telling them to go back home to where they came from. I had to have the whole herd destroyed.”

“All my cows keep going off and protesting about windfarms,” said another. “Our milk production has almost stopped!”

One farmer was more directly affected. “Eric Pickles sneaked onto my farm last week and ate half my cows,” he said.

However, the badgers’ plan is not backed by scientific evidence.  “Culling Tories won’t reduce xenophobia among cows.” said one scientist. “We believe the increase in Bovine Xenophobia and scientific ignorance is caused by the new practice of feeding cattle pulped copies of the Daily Mail.”

Some bloke off Springwatch agreed. “Tories are a vital part of the political ecosystem. If you kill too many, then more dangerous animals will move in to fill the vacuum, like Ukippers. Last time the Tory population dwindled too far, we got ten years of Tony Blair. I think the badgers need to think a bit more about this policy.”

 

Happy acknowledgements to Edinburgh flip side