The Cat Man of Aleppo Returns

“Children and animals are the big losers in the Syrian war. It’s the adults who so often behave badly.”

The cat man of Aleppo, Mohammad Aljaleel, touched the hearts of millions when his sanctuary featured in a BBC video in 2016. He had to leave the city when it fell to Syrian government forces, but he’s now back – in an area nearby – and helping children as well as animals, reports Diana Darke.

(There is nothing I can possibly add to this amazing story, except to say that if you want to see what true humanity looks like, look no further than Diana’s account below of this exceptional man.) 

Just weeks after the video was filmed, Mohammad Aljaleel (known to everyone as Alaa) watched helplessly as his cat sanctuary was first bombed, then chlorine-gassed, during the intense final stages of the siege of Aleppo.

Most of his 180 cats were lost or killed. Like thousands of other civilians he was trapped in the eastern half of the city under continuous bombardment from Russian and Syrian fighter jets.

As the siege tightened, he was forced from one Aleppo district to another, witnessing unimaginable scenes of devastation. Yet throughout, he continued to look after the few surviving cats and to rescue people injured in the bombing, driving them to underground hospitals.

When the city fell in December 2016, he left in a convoy, his van crammed full of injured people and the last six cats from the sanctuary.

“I’ve always felt it’s my duty and my pleasure to help people and animals whenever they need help,” Alaa says. “I believe that whoever does this will be the happiest person in the world, besides being lucky in his life.”

After a brief recuperation in Turkey, he smuggled himself back into Syria – bringing a Turkish cat with him for company – and established a new cat sanctuary, bigger and better than the first one, in Kafr Naha, a village in opposition-held countryside west of Aleppo.

Alaa and Ernesto
Alaa and a cat called Ernesto

Using the same crowdfunding model employed successfully in east Aleppo, funds were sent in by cat-lovers from all over the world via Facebook and Twitter.

But Alaa has always worked for the benefit of the community, as well as the cats themselves.

In Aleppo, he and his team of helpers bought generators, dug wells and stockpiled food. Even at the height of the bombing, they ran animal welfare courses for children, to develop their empathy. They also set up a playground next to the sanctuary where children could briefly escape from the apocalyptic events taking place all around them.

The new sanctuary has expanded to include an orphanage, a kindergarten and a veterinary clinic. Alaa and his team resemble a small development agency, providing services that government and international charities cannot or will not. He strongly believes that helping children to look after vulnerable animals teaches them the importance of kindness to all living creatures, and helps to heal their own war traumas.

“Children and animals are the big losers in the Syrian war,” he says. “It’s the adults who so often behave badly.”

As a boy growing up in Aleppo, Alaa had always looked after cats, spurring his friends to do likewise, even though keeping cats and dogs as pets is not customary in Syria or the rest of the Arab world.

He started working aged 13, as an electrician, but also turned his hand to many other jobs – painter, decorator, IT expert, satellite-dish installer… he even traded toys between Lebanon and Syria.

He worked hard and he learned how to get things done. “May the dust turn to gold in your hands, Alaa,” his mother used to say.

His dream was to become a fireman like his father and work in search and rescue, but such jobs were handed out only to those with connections, and the connection through his father was not enough. So for years his applications were rejected.

The sanctuary's vet, Dr Youssef
The sanctuary’s vet, Dr Youssef

“Of course I would never have wished for a war in order to make my dream come true. I wish I could have achieved these things without the suffering I have seen,” he says.

“God blessed me by putting me in a position where I could help people by being a rescue man, but in my worst nightmares I never imagined a war like this for my people or for my country, or even for a single animal.”

During the siege in Aleppo he used to visit both Christian and Muslim old people’s homes, distributing food. Extremist groups such as al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra regularly chided him, calling him a kaafir, an unbeliever, but he continued regardless.

“Our Prophet Muhammad was good to everybody. He spoke with all Christians and Jews. I believe in Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, because all of them had a noble aim. I’m a Muslim, but I am not a fanatic. I just take from religion everything that’s good and that I can learn things from,” Alaa says.

Despite the difficulties he has endured, Alaa has always maintained a wicked sense of humour. At the new sanctuary, a tabby called Maxi the Marketing King is chief fundraiser, soliciting “green kisses” in the form of dollar bills via social media accounts.

Maxi, aka King Maxi
Maxi, chief fundraiser

Alaa wears a T-shirt with “Maxi’s Slave” written on it, and gets ticked off for smoking too much or for not cooking gourmet meals. He admits his shortcomings. “We submit to Maxi’s authority as the ruler of his kingdom. But even with Maxi’s leadership it wasn’t easy to launch the new sanctuary,” he says.

Maxi's "slave"

This is an understatement. The rebel-held area where Alaa now lives is semi-lawless and when powerful gangs realised he was receiving funds for the sanctuary, they attempted to kidnap him. He was no longer being bombed, but his life was still at risk.

As well as cats, the new sanctuary has dogs, monkeys, rabbits, a chicken that thinks it’s a cat, and an Arabian thoroughbred horse.

“There are so few thoroughbred horses left inside Syria now that I worry about finding him a mare to breed with. I plan to perform the role of a traditional Syrian mother and try to find him a wife, so that he can have children and start building up the population of thoroughbred horses in Syria again,” Alaa says.

Fox at the sanctuary
Injured fox, rescued by the sanctuary

All the animals have names, generally awarded by Alaa. An aggressive black-and-white cat who came to the sanctuary, stole food and terrified all the other cats was nicknamed al-Baghdadi, after the Iraqi leader of Islamic State (IS).

“Of course, this cat was a million times better than that evil murderer al-Baghdadi, but this name came to mind because his presence in the sanctuary coincided with the arrival of IS gangs in Aleppo,” Alaa says.

Cat and cockerel
A cockerel that behaves like a cat… 

A large ginger tomcat was given a Trump hairstyle and christened The Orange President of the Sanctuary. A pair of speedy acrobatic cats were called Sukhoi 25 and Sukhoi 26, after Russian fighter jets.

“They’re old planes, but effective enough for the job required of them in Syria. We always knew when the Russians were coming to bomb us because of their very loud engine noise. We’d shout: ‘Watch out! A Sukhoi is coming!'”

Alaa’s reputation inside Syria has travelled far and wide, and the government is well aware of his activities.

A hawk
And a resident bird of prey

In 2017 he was called by the Magic World Zoo, south of Aleppo, which asked desperately for his help to feed the neglected lions, tigers and bears – which he did, despite the dangers of the journey which involved passing through Jabhat al-Nusra checkpoints. While there, he discovered he had been recommended by the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture.

“It was funny that the ministry knew about us and was handing over responsibility for the zoo animals to us,” he says. “The Magic World Zoo gave me a lot of headaches.”

Alaa was eventually able to negotiate a solution for the animals with a charity called Four Paws, which arranged for the animals that hadn’t died to be transported out of Syria to new homes in Belgium, the Netherlands and Jordan.

In the new sanctuary he looks after 105 children, of whom 85 are “orphans” (in Syria the word covers children who have lost a breadwinner, as well as those who have lost both parents). Only 11 children actually sleep in the orphanage at present, because it isn’t finished, but all receive education, food and clothes, for which Alaa pays 25 euros per month.

The biggest risk is the instability in the region. Clashes break out periodically, as it’s close to the border with Idlib province, which is controlled by rebel groups who often fight each other. No-one knows what will happen next to that part of Syria and who will end up in charge.

“I blame all fighting parties equally – no matter who they are or why they say they’re fighting – for the killing of civilians,” Alaa says.

“We are rebuilding our communities and my role in that is to rebuild my sanctuary for cats. Friendship between animals is a great thing and we should learn from them. I’ll stay with them no matter what happens.

_105920908_feedingfb2_976.jpg

“It seems the world cannot solve wars and conflicts these days. That’s why there are now so many refugees around the world, but especially here in the Middle East.

“I do not want to be a refugee. I want to stay in my country, in Syria. I want to help people in any way I can.”

Diana Darke is the author, with Alaa Aljaleel, of The Last Sanctuary in Aleppo.

All pics from BBC

A page full of videos about Alaa and his work

Source Return of the cat man of Aleppo – BBC News

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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!

ed106e2c488b6a8fe231e9307c1cb1b1
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!

howasouthafr
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.

800px-Jwaneng_Mine_Buildings
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.”

springbok namibia scrubland
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

 

 

 

 

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

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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

 

 

 

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Cast your vote for People’s Choice!

Curious Encounter (Photo: Cristobal Serrano/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

 

Article below written by Jacqueline Gulledge

“Any close encounter with an animal in the vast wilderness of Antarctica happens by chance, so Cristobal was thrilled by this spontaneous meeting with a crabeater seal off of Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. These curious creatures are protected and, with few predators, thrive,” Serrano wrote in his submission for his photo seen above.

This year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition held by the Natural History Museum in London selected a group of images for its annual LUMIX People’s Choice Award. More than 45,000 entries were submitted from professional and amateur photographers from 95 countries, and the selections have been narrowed down to 25 entries.

“The images showcase wildlife photography as an art form, whilst challenging us to consider our place in the natural world, and our responsibility to protect”

the museum’s organisers wrote in a press release.

Last year’s People’s Choice Award winner captured a particularly poignant and compelling moment when a female lowland gorilla lovingly embraced a man who had rescued her from poachers who wanted to sell her for bushmeat.

In its 54th year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the oldest competition of its kind. “Inspiring audiences to connect with the natural world is at the heart of what we do as a Museum, and that’s why we’re so proud to run this competition. The LUMIX People’s Choice Award is special to us because it gives the public the chance to choose the winner, and I’m looking forward to seeing which of these beautiful photographs emerges as the favourite,” wrote Ian Owens, director of science at the Natural History Museum and member of the judging panel.

To help you choose your favourite, we present all 25 entries, with information about how each photographer captured the image.

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Family Portrait (Photo: Connor Stefanison,/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“A great grey owl and her chicks sit in their nest in the broken top of a Douglas fir tree in Kamloops, Canada. They looked towards Connor only twice as he watched them during the nesting season from a tree hide 50 feet (15 meters) up.” — Connor Stefanison, Canada

Bond of Brothers (Photo: David Lloyd/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“These two adult males, probably brothers, greeted and rubbed faces for 30 seconds before settling down. Most people never have the opportunity to witness such animal sentience, and David was honored to have experienced and captured such a moment.” — David Lloyd, New Zealand/United Kingdom

Painted Waterfall (Photo: Eduardo Blanco Mendizabal/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“When the sun beams through a hole in the rock at the foot of the La Foradada waterfall, Catalonia, Spain, it creates a beautiful pool of light. The rays appear to paint the spray of the waterfall and create a truly magical picture.” — Eduardo Blanco Mendizabal, Spain

Under the Snow (Photo: Audren Morel/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Unafraid of the snowy blizzard, this squirrel came to visit Audren as he was taking photographs of birds in the small Jura village of Les Fourgs, France. Impressed by the squirrel’s endurance, he made it the subject of the shoot.” — Audren Morel, France

One Toy, Three Dogs (Photo: Bence Mate/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“While adult African wild dogs are merciless killers, their pups are extremely cute and play all day long. Bence photographed these brothers in Mkuze, South Africa – they all wanted to play with the leg of an impala and were trying to drag it in three different directions!” — Bence Mate, Hungary

Sound Asleep (Photo: Tony Wu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“This adult humpback whale balanced in mid-water, headon and sound asleep was photographed in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga. The faint stream of bubbles, visible at the top, is coming from the whale’s two blowholes and was, in this instance, indicative of an extremely relaxed state.” — Tony Wu, United States

Three Kings (Photo: Wim Van Den Heever/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Wim came across these king penguins on a beach in the Falkland Islands just as the sun was rising. They were caught up in a fascinating mating behaviour – the two males were constantly moving around the female using their flippers to fend the other off.” — Wim Van Den Heever, South Africa

Teenager (Photo: Franco Banfi/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Franco was free diving off Dominica in the Caribbean Sea when he witnessed this young male sperm whale trying to copulate with a female. Unfortunately for him her calf was always in the way and the frisky male had to continually chase off the troublesome calf.” — Franco Banfi, Switzerland

Red, Silver and Black (Photo: Tin Man Lee/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Tin was fortunate enough to be told about a fox den in Washington State, North America, which was home to a family of red, black and silver foxes. After days of waiting for good weather he was finally rewarded with this touching moment.” — Tin Man Lee, United States

The Extraction (Photo: Konstantin Shatenev/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Every winter, hundreds of Steller’s sea eagles migrate from Russia, to the relatively ice-free northeastern coast of Hokkaido, Japan. They hunt for fish among the ices floes and also scavenge, following the fishing boats to feed on any discards. Konstantin took his

Otherwordly (Photo: Franco Banfi/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“A school of Munk’s devil ray were feeding on plankton at night off the coast of Isla Espíritu Santo in Baja California, Mexico. Franco used the underwater lights from his boat and a long exposure to create this otherworldly image.” — Franco Banfi, Switzerland

The Orphaned Beaver (Photo: Suzi Eszterhas/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“A one-month-old orphaned North American beaver kit is held by a caretaker at the Sarvey Wildlife Care Center in Arlington, Washington. Luckily it was paired with a female beaver who took on the role of mother and they were later released into the wild.” — Suzi Eszterhas, United States

The Bat’s Wake (Photo: Antonio Leiva Sanchez/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“After several months of field research into a little colony of greater mouse-eared bats in Sucs, Lleida, Spain, Antonio managed to capture this bat mid-flight. He used a technique of high speed photography with flashes combined with continuous light to create the ‘wake’.” — Antonio Leiva Sanchez, Spain

Unique Bill (Photo: Rob Blanken/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“The pied avocet has a unique and delicate bill, which it sweeps like a scythe, as it sifts for food in shallow brackish water. This stunning portrait was taken from a hide in the northern province of Friesland in The Netherlands.” — Rob Blanken, The Netherlands

Gliding (Photo: Christian Viz/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“With conditions of perfect visibility and beautiful sunlight, Christian took this portrait of a nurse shark gliding through the ocean off the coast of Bimini in the Bahamas. Typically these sharks are found near sandy bottoms where they rest, so it’s rare to see them swimming.” — Christian Vizl, Mexico

A Polar Bear’s Struggle (Photo: Justin Hofman/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Justin’s whole body pained as he watched this starving polar bear at an abandoned hunter’s camp, in the Canadian Arctic, slowly heave itself up to standing. With little, and thinning, ice to move around on, the bear is unable to search for food.” — Justin Hofman, United States

Shy (Photo: Pedro Carrillo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“The mesmerizing pattern of a beaded sand anemone beautifully frames a juvenile Clarkii clownfish in Lembeh strait, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Known as a ‘nursery’ anemone, it is often a temporary home for young clownfish until they find a more suitable host anemone for adulthood.” — Pedro Carrillo

Fox Meets Fox (Photo: Matthew Maran/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Matthew has been photographing foxes close to his home in north London for over a year and ever since spotting this street art had dreamt of capturing this image. After countless hours and many failed attempts, his persistence paid off.” — Matthew Maran, United Kingdom

Resting Mountain Gorilla (Photo: David Lloyd/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“The baby gorilla clung to its mother whilst keeping a curious eye on David. He had been trekking in South Bwindi, Uganda, when he came across the whole family. [As he was] following them, they then stopped in a small clearing to relax and groom each other.” — David Lloyd, New Zealand/United Kingdom

Clam Close-up (Photo: David Barrio/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“This macro-shot of an iridescent clam was taken in the Southern Red Sea, Marsa Alam, Egypt. These clams spend their lives embedded amongst stony corals, where they nest and grow. It took David some time to approach the clam, fearing it would sense his movements and snap shut!” — David Barrio, Spain

Isolated (Photo: Anna Henly/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Snapped from a helicopter, this isolated tree stands in a cultivated field on the edge of a tropical forest on Kauai, Hawaii. The manmade straight lines of the ploughed furrows are interrupted beautifully by nature’s more unruly wild pattern of tree branches.” — Anna Henly, United Kingdom

All That Remains (Photo: Phil Jones/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“A male orca had beached itself about a week before Phil’s visit to Sea Lion Island, Falkland Islands. Despite its huge size the shifting sands had almost covered the whole carcass and scavengers, such as this striated caracara, had started to move in.” — Phil Jones, United Kingdom

Ambush (Photo: Federico Veronesi/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“On a hot morning at the Chitake Springs, in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe, Federico watched as an old lioness descended from the top of the riverbank. She’d been lying in wait to ambush any passing animals visiting a nearby waterhole further along the riverbed.” – Federico Veronesi, Kenya

Ice and Water (Photo: Audun Lie Dahl/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“The Bråsvellbreen glacier moves southwards from one of the ice caps covering the Svalbard Archipelago, Norway. Where it meets the sea, the glacier wall is so high that only the waterfalls are visible, so Audun used a drone to capture this unique perspective.” — Audun Lie Dahl, Norway

These are the 25 images from the Natural History Museum of London contest showcasing animals and landscapes in the running for the People’s Choice Award. To cast your vote, click here, and then on an individual image, and follow the prompts there. Voting is open until Feb. 5, and all images are currently on display at the Natural History Museum of London.

Update 14th February 2019 The winner of the People’s Choice Award is David Lloyd with his ‘Bond of Brothers’, the lions. (Coincidentally, the one I voted for!)

And clink on this link for the heart-melting pic that was People’s Choice last year:

Rescued gorilla and her caretaker win Wildlife Photographer of the Year award

Related posts

LOL – Comedy Wildlife Awards 2018

Comedy Wildlife Awards 2016

 

Voices for the Voiceless – A Year of Victories for the Animals

Victories won for animals by just a few of the many voices raised for the voiceless in 2018
In the UK,
Animal Aid 

Infographic-1

Since the graphic above was prepared, “more developments have taken place. For example, more than 30 organisations have now taken the decision to cancel live reindeer events. While it has been an excellent year, there is still so much work to be done.

“With your help, we can achieve even more for animals in 2019. Why not get involved straight away by visiting our Take Action page?”

PETA UK 2018 highlights
The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Awards for inspiring animal advocates
This year’s full list of winners:
  • Christine (Chris) and George Rockingham, from Norfolk, for a lifetime’s dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating animals at their PACT sanctuary for nearly 25 years.
  • Michel Birkenwald, from London, for drilling more than 100 ‘hedgehog highways’ in South West London to help hedgehogs navigate to new areas to forage.
  • Ralph the Golden Retriever, from Hertfordshire, for changing the life of his companion Paul who was left paralysed after a car crash six years ago.
  • Debbie Bailey, from Derbyshire, for her work to protect badgers from culling through vaccinations.
  • Michelle Clark, from London, for starting her voluntary run, not-for-profit organisation Dogs on the Streets (DOTS) that cares for and helps homeless people and their dogs.
  • Nigel and Sara Hicks, from Cornwall, for their dedication to treating injured and orphaned orangutans in Borneo for six months every year, for nearly 10 years.
  • Chloe Hennegan, from the West Midlands, for running her rabbit rescue and rehabilitation centre Fat Fluffs since 2008.
  • Trisha Shaw, from Warwickshire, for her many years volunteering and raising thousands of pounds for her local dog charity Pawprints.
  • Natalia Doran, from London, for setting up Urban Squirrels, a licensed squirrel rescue in her own home.
World Animal Protection 2018 proudest moments

Too much to mention – these are just a few of our proudest moments: 

  • 29 travel companies committed to stop promoting elephant entertainment venues, making a total of 226 
  • 10 bears used for baiting and dancing were given new lives in our partner sanctuary in Pakistan 
  • We reached more than 500,000 KFC petition signatures, and are in talks with the fast food chain to improve their animal welfare standards
  • 83,000 dogs in Sierra Leone and Kenya were vaccinated against rabies  
  • We helped 454,774 animals recover from 12 disasters around the world  
  • The disaster preparedness work we did with governments and NGOs this year will help protect 52,000,000 animals in future
  • Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Lidl and Tesco have all joined the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) which we helped set up in 2015 to tackle the problem of Ghost Gear (marine pollution from abandoned or lost fishing nets and lines)

In Australia,

Animal Australia Year in Review 2018

In the US,

Click on the link below to see a wide range and a long list of achievements won for wildlife by the Humane Society of the US:-

Wildlife gains for 2018 range from bans on wild animal circus acts to major fur-free announcements

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is winning victories for animals in the US courts of law

“As 2019 approaches, we’re looking back at our biggest legal victories for animals over the last 12 months. These are just a few highlights – watch the video from Executive Director Stephen Wells to learn about all the legal advances we made for animals.”

 

Previous posts related to voices for animals in the legal system:-

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 4

Animals Can Legally Be Considered ‘Victims’ – Oregon Supreme Court

Will Today Be the Day Chimpanzees Become Legal Persons?

Good News in a Bad Week

Persons Not Property – Could the Tide be Turning?

Cecilia Blazes the Trail – Or Does She?

Naruto & the Selfie – The Case is Settled

LOL – Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018!

Cover photo: Overall winner Mary McGowan ‘Caught in the Act’ (Photo: Mary McGowan/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards) Mary also won the Affinity Photo People’s Choice Award and Alex Walker’s Serian Creatures of the Land Award.

What can I say – enjoy!

‘While these images are downright humorous, the competition highlights the serious issue of conservation and partners with Born Free Foundation, a wildlife charity that works to help wild animals living in captivity.

‘The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards encourages its followers to follow their mantra. “We want you to take up our banner of wildlife conservation, bang the drum, beat the cymbal and make some noise, we need to spread the word – wildlife, as we know it, is in danger, all over the world and we need to do something to help save it.”‘ – from MNN

Spectrum Photo Creatures of the Air Award

‘Peekaboo’ (Photo: Shane Keena/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)
Think Tank Under the Sea Category Award

‘Smiling shark’ (Photo: Tanya Houppermans/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)
Junior Category

‘Nature Calls…’ (Photo: Arshdeep Singh/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)
Amazing Internet Portfolio Award

‘Mother home early from school parents meeting’ (Photo: Valterri Mulkahainen/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)
Highly Commended Winners

‘So There’ (Photo: Barney Koszalka/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)

‘Bear with a sore head’ (Photo: Danielle D’Ermo/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)

‘Splits’ (Photo: Geert Weggen/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)

‘Drive Safe!’ (Photo: Jonathan Irish/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)

‘Rhinopeacock’ (Photo: Kallol Mukherjee/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)

‘Tango’ (Photo: Michael Watts/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)

‘PhotograBear’ (Photo: Roie Galitz/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)

‘Martian Tango’ (Photo: Sergey Savvi/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)

‘This is Sparta’ (Photo: Sergey Savvi/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards)

‘Mother home early from school parents meeting’ (Photo: Valterri Mulkahainen/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards
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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.

snowmobiles-2108769_960_720
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.

sea-lions-1534914_960_720

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, and Five ways to be a responsible wildlife tourist.

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

24th May 2019  Social media data reveal benefits or threats to biodiversity by visitors to nature locations

10th July 2019  Nine deer have died after swallowing plastic bags in Japan’s Nara Park, a wildlife group said on Wednesday, warning that a surge in tourism may be to blame

Related posts

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

Shooting Goats on the Rooftop of the World

Shooting lions (and other things that move)

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

High Schools Across China Are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses!

“In a long due yet still impressive act of growth, the Chinese Ministry of Education has added an animal welfare course for high schools and students.”

This is MAJOR good news, so welcome after everything anti-animal and anti-nature emanating from the other side of the Pacific in the USA, a country which is travelling back into the dark ages under the present administration.

What makes the news even more exciting is that China has a population of 1.411 billion¹, the largest of any country in the world. And approximately 30% of them are aged between 0 – 24 years². That is a lot of young people, and they will be the ones to shape the country’s future.

Can we hope this is a turning point in Chinese attitudes towards animals and Nature? There have been some exciting trends in the last couple of years –

  • Just last week at a media event in Beijing, China announced it will host the 11th World Wilderness Congress (Wild11) in 2019
  • In 2016 the Chinese government formulated a vision to become the ecological civilization of the 21st century
  • Also in 2016, this vast country – which accompanying its growing affluence had seen an off-the-scale increase in demand for meat and diary in the last couple of decades – announced its plan to cut meat consumption by 50% – a move warmly welcomed by environmentalists and animal-lovers alike
  • And in 2017, then the market for 70% of ivory, China announced its ban on the ivory trade
  • Now “China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) earlier this month announced it will dramatically curb commercial development of coastal wetlands. “I’ve never heard of anything quite so monumental,” says Nicola Crockford of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds U.K., which has worked to protect habitat of migratory birds in China and elsewhere.”

Does China need to keep making changes? It so does. In spite of there being a growing animal advocacy movement in recent years, the country and its people at large still have a reputation for horrific cruelty to animals.

Bear bile farming 

Bears are kept in cages sometimes so small they cannot stand up or turn around in them. Bile is extracted from the living bear’s gallbladder as an ingredient for traditional Chinese medicine. Most of the bears are starved and dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that end up killing them.

Dogs and cats

Are cruelly slaughtered for their meat. Often they are stolen pets. They suffer broken limbs being transported vast differences without food or water to meat markets.

Animal in Zoos

Kept in small barren cages. Some such as elephants in chains. Live (and terrified) hens, cows, donkeys and pigs are dropped into the enclosure of lions and tigers for the entertainment of the crowds. The animals are often cruelly broken by trainers to force them to perform. Tigers and lions have their teeth ripped and claws ripped out. Babies are removed from their mothers for lucrative photo ops.

Donkeys for Ejaio

Donkeys hit with sledgehammers before having their throats slit. Then skinned. Their skins are rendered down into ejaio, a gelatin considered to be a cure for all ills in traditional Chinese medicine.

Illegal imports of endangered animal parts in huge quantities from around the world

Animals Used in Science

Even now Chinese scientists have announced their breakthrough cloning of 2 macaques. They and further cloned monkeys will be used for animal testing. Scientists have also perfected the technology for creating the human/pig hybrid – ‘incubating’ human hearts in pigs. The intention is to use pigs to produce a regular supply for human heart transplants.

At this point China has no kind of animal welfare laws in place. There is much that needs to change if we are to credit the country with any sense of humanity towards nonhuman animals. So, if these Animal Welfare classes can open up Chinese youth to a newfound empathy with and compassion for their fellow creatures, we can hope for some big changes in the not-too-distant-future. For once, some animal news to get excited about!


(The cover photo is there simply because I couldn’t resist its absolute gorgeousness. Hopefully the endangered red panda will eventually be a beneficiary of this step forward in the education of Chinese children.)


Postscript

China, of course is scarcely the only culprit treating animals with scant regard for their welfare. It has to be said that even in countries like the UK and the US with long established animal protection laws, there are still so many ways both domesticated animals and wildlife experience cruelty at human hands.


Updates

8th March 2018 Massive new panda national park in China will try to save the iconic species

¹Demographics of China

².Indexmundi

Sources

High Schools Across China Are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses! – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet

Facts about Cruelty to Animals in Asia

China moves to protect coastal wetlands used by migratory birds

Related posts

World First – China’s Bird Airport

Hands Clasped Across the River for Two Big Cats

The Next Extinction – Donkeys??

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy

 

Adorable Baby Hippo’s 1st Birthday Wipes CZ’s Slate Clean of the Killing of Harambe

“Some days, it’s more like being a Hollywood star’s agent than a communications official for the zoo. That’s what happens when your prematurely born hippopotamus becomes a global celebrity.”

– Dan Sewell, spokesperson for Cincinnati Zoo.

Remember the furore in 2016 when Harambe the gorilla, after rescuing from the water a 3 year old boy who had climbed a fence and fallen into his enclosure, was shot dead at Cincinnati Zoo? Harambe was born in a zoo and died in a zoo – his life was ended for him just one day after his 17th birthday. He could have lived until he was 40.

But now Harambe is yesterday’s news, and Cincinnati Zoo has been celebrating a different birthday, and I mean celebrating. All that adverse publicity has become no more than a bad dream. Fiona the baby hippo, who has showered the zoo with her golden stardust since the moment of her birth, has just turned 1. And Cincinnati Zoo decided to throw a big party open to all. The human party-goers received gifts: hippo bathmats, Fiona-themed postcards stamped with her footprint (yes, really), cake and ice cream. The zoo’s animals were not left out. They got “party favours” of special enrichment toys.

As Harambe before her, Fiona is a global celebrity – but not like him for what many believe was an avoidable death, but for the tenacity with which she clung on to her little life. The little hippo was born prematurely in the zoo and needed the same kind of special care from the humans as a human baby. After 2 weeks, she took her first steps. 2 days later she took her first dip in a tub. Her cuteness cannot be denied.

By this time, she had captured the imagination of thousands, if not millions, and the zoo was receiving cards, drawings and donations for the little one. They followed her day-by-day progress as she grew and got steadily stronger. By April she was weighing in at a healthy 150 lbs. Needless to say, visitors are flocking to see her. (Numbers for CZ are up from 1.63 million in 2016 to 1.87 million last year.} When Fiona’s little head peeks out, the roar of delight from visitors can be heard all over the zoo.

 

“Zoo director Thane Maynard’s own “Saving Fiona” will later this year join the growing library of books about her. The Cincinnati Reds baseball team will feature a Fiona bobblehead, and the minor-league Florence, Kentucky, Freedom plans a Fiona snow globe this summer. There will be a “Fiona’s Cove” exhibit at next month’s annual Cincinnati Home & Garden Show.”

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Add to that list the Fiona calendar, Fiona-themed T-shirts, cookies, ornaments, and beer. There will even be special edition Fiona ice cream. So as well as the extra visitor revenue, the zoo has made almost $500,000 in licensing agreements with the local businesses cashing in on her fame, and no doubt much more to come.

Animal babies are good news for zoos, and never more so than when the zoo’s reputation has been tarnished by the scandal surrounding an untimely death – RIP Harambe. With Fiona’s birth, especially as the poor babe was premature (will she/won’t she pull through – the tug on the heart strings) CZ hit the jackpot.

And while the tlc given to Fiona to help her survive her premature birth was assuredly admirable, zoos are easily tempted to favour their balance sheets over a zoo baby’s welfare. Ueno Zoo in Japan is a case in point. Its panda cub Xiang Xiang is being “put on overtime.”

Ueno Zoo’s first  since 1988 will be on display for an extra two hours every day until the end of January and working a full seven-hour day from February to cater to the thousands of fans of the cuddly celebrity.”  Note “working”. A captive animal has no say.

On the other side of the Pacific, zookeepers at LA Zoo have coaxed a mother okapi and her baby out of their enclosure so the zoo can put the little one on display. Since the natural habitat for this reclusive species is deep in the dense rainforests of central Africa, it is hard to see how this could possibly be in the best interests of mum or baby. The zoo claims, “the mother and father were paired under a species survival plan by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to increase the okapi population. The numbers of okapis in the wild has declined to between 10,000 and 50,000.”

Is it cynical to wonder if this is a nice piece of greenwashing? While exposure to noisy crowds of gawking humans will surely be extremely stressful to a reclusive animal like the okapi, I doubt okapi junior is doing much harm to the zoo’s gate receipts.

Who doesn’t love to see babies? Unregulated roadside zoos and so-called ‘sanctuaries’  deliberately breed from their animals to please the punters. But as Ueno and LA zoos make clear, ‘reputable’ affiliated zoos engage in the same activity. It is after all a surefire way to draw in the crowds and keep gate receipts buoyant. So, what when zoos get more babies than they bargained for? Or those erstwhile babies have outgrown their adorable babyhood?.

If a zoo baby is unlikely to be a mega money spinner like little Fiona, theirs is a very different fate. Remember Marius the baby giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo? Marius was killed with a bolt gun, and cut up and fed to lions before a crowd of schoolchildren. His crime? He was ‘surplus to requirements’ – too genetically similar to the other giraffes in the zoo.

Just this month a Swedish zoo admitted “putting down” – such a nice gentle euphemism – 9 healthy lion cubs in the last 5 years. They too were simply ‘surplus to requirements’.

“Helena Pederson, a researcher in animal studies at Gothenburg University, said the euthanisation of animals in zoos raised the question of whether such institutions should be open.” Indeed!

These examples have hit the headlines, but killing unwanted animals is a commonplace in zoos. Look beyond the stardom of the Fionas and the Xiang Xiangs and zoos are more often places of death than of new life.

The sad truth is, the interests of humans, especially their monetary interests, will always prevail over the best interests of the nonhuman living beings and their right to their lives.


A pioneering project in China

“The Landmark Entertainment company, known for its work on “Jurassic Park: The Ride,” “Kongfrontation” and “The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman 5D” at Universal Studios, is building a new project in China that will feature a virtual zoo, a virtual aquarium, an interactive museum and a digital art gallery — and the group is doing it all with no live animals. It’s called the L.I.V.E. Centre (Landmark Interactive Virtual Experience), and the project started in 2014 with funding from a group of investors from China. It’s slated to open between 2017 and 2018.” Read more

What a wonderful way this will be to get up close and personal with wildlife and be immersed in the animals’ natural habitats! I hope this cage-free concept will finally draw a line under the thousand-years-and-more history of the captive animal menagerie that is the zoo.

If you’re not yet convinced, take a quick look at 14 Reasons Not to Visit Zoos – in Pictures

Further reading

Animal Equality: Zoos

10 Facts About Zoos

Zoos: Pitiful Prisons

Sources

Photos and videos from CZ’s Facebook page

Hippo-y birthday to Fiona! The popular preemie is turning 1

Everyone’s favourite hippo is turning 1

Japan’s latest overtime example? Xiang Xiang the panda

Los Angeles Zoo puts baby okapi on display

Related posts

14 Reasons Not to Visit Zoos – in Pictures

 

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