Think wildlife, what instantly leaps to my mind are elephants, tigers, lions. The big and spectacular. And this year the theme for World Wildlife Day is indeed the majestic big cats.
But wildlife also means of course, garden birds, mice, foxes, badgers, stoats and weasels, and here in the UK, the endangered hedgehog, to name a few. They may be less exotic and rare, but their lives are just as important to them – as they should be to us. We’re not all able to actively help our native animals today – heartfelt thanks to those who do, the rescuers, badger patrols, hunt monitors, all the wonderful folk who give up their time to protect wildlife and help it thrive. For those of us who can’t, at the very least there are ways we can take care not to cause harm.
Life as a wild animal is challenging: you have to run after your own dinner, find your own shelter from the elements, and learn to avoid any predators that might be interested in making a meal out of you. And then, of course, there’s us. Sometime we make life easier for our furred and feathery neighbours by providing them with food (whether deliberately or not).
And sometimes we cause them a lot of suffering: usually unintentionally, by carelessly discarding hazardous objects in their environment. In other words, by littering.
Every day the RSPCA receives an average of 14 calls about unfortunate encounters between wildlife and items of litter. Summer is the worst time and birds are especially vulnerable.
A great deal of pain and suffering could be avoided if we all at least remembered to put out discarded items into the nearest bin. Even better would be taking our litter home with us and recycling it responsibly.
Examples of the items which most routinely ensure vulnerable wildlife include:
Discarded and empty cans may still be filled with enticing aromas, leading hungry wildlife to get stuck in the empty cans or injure themselves on the sharp edges. Clean your used cans and dispose fo them properly in recycling facilities.
This is made to be sharp and potentially lethal so it should come as no surprise to hear that discarded tackle injures thousands of birds every year. They become ensnared or impale themselves on the hooks. If you are a fisherman, dispose of your tackle sensibly.
What goes up must come down. Once balloons have finished soaring through the clouds they pop and fall to earth, where luckless creatures may find, swallow and choke on them.
This notorious urban nuisance can suffocate or choke wild animals, so please dispose of your used plastic bags sensibly and responsibly.
Broken glass is another frequent source of serious injury to our wild neighbours – and unbroken glass jars can entomb smaller animals. Please dispose of your jars properly and recycle your glass.
Discarded plastic bands are both a choking and strangulation hazard for birds. Cut them before throwing them away: or better still recycle them.
These increasingly popular paper and bamboo halloween entertainments can travel for miles on the wind after being released, before like balloons, falling to the ground and trapping, entangling or choking passing birds or other wildlife. Think twice before choosing Chinese lanterns for your party.
I would add another one to the list – those plastic ties from 4- and 6-packs of beer, cider and soft drinks. Cut them up before throwing them in the recycle bin.
Want to go one small step further?
Keep a paper bag in your pocket and pick up potential hazards others have discarded as you’re walking along. (Important – obviously it goes without saying, but I’ll say it nevertheless, NEVER pick up needles, or any other thing that might endanger your own health. )
Surprisingly, our neighbourhood posties pose a special danger to our local beasties. Some drop the rubber bands that bind together the bundles of mail, leaving a trail all along the footpaths of their delivery routes. I’ve seen a blackbird trying to eat one. I’ve also seen distressing photos of a hedgehog’s injuries after getting entangled in a rubber band. If it is a hoglet, as he or she grows, the band gets embedded in its flesh. Rubber bands can and do even kill them.
You will not have far to look to find the bands – they’re strewn on pavements everywhere, and probably on your front path from time to time. Why not phone your local sorting office and ask them if they have a policy for instructing their posties to save not drop the rubber bands. And if not, why not!
Discarded fishing tackle is one of the worst dangers to wildlife. You will be saving lives if you remove and dispose of any you come across – and any other stringy stuff.
Once you become aware, you will be surprised at how much potentially harmful stuff there is around.
So if you can, do the beasties one more little favour, and pick up and recycle discarded cans and carrier bags.
Focusing on Wildlife says:
What’s the biggest single thing you can you do to help? Recycle and reuse. Keep your discarded items(and I would add, other people’s whenever possible) out of the ecosystem altogether. The birds and the butterflies will thank you for it. As will other wild and native critters.
PS Discarded crisp packets and plastic bags can be hazardous for dogs and cats too.
Last week my heart broke. It was the story of poor Nigel the New Zealand gannet that did it. Nigel arrived on the remote island of Mana in 2013, and there he lived entirely alone for 4 long years. Years he spent earnestly courting an unresponsive concrete replica gannet and making her a nest.
“Nigel was observed caring for the concrete replica. He would groom the statue and chat with it; Nigel even constructed a nest made of twigs, seaweed and mud for it.
2 weeks ago he died, his love and faithfulness never requited.
How did this happen? A concrete replica gannet?
New Zealand has a major conservation problem with invasive species. Rats and possums, not native to the country, kill 26 million of the nation’s birds every year. NZ is pulling out all the stops to eradicate the invasive predators, and the easiest places to start are the many small islands dotted around the mainland coast – like Nigel’s Mana Island.
Well-meaning conservationists in their wisdom went one step further. What better way to lure gannets to the now predator-free island than by duping them into think other gannets had already discovered it as a great place to nest. For Nigel, the well-intentioned ruse tragically backfired.
Fate threw one last cruel twist into Nigel’s sad story. Weeks before he passed away, 3 new gannets did arrive on the island. There was hope. But Nigel showed no interest in them or they in him. Is it too fanciful to suggest the lonely gannet died of a broken heart?
Romeo – a super-rare Sehuencas water frog – was discovered in the depths of Bolivia 10 years ago, and consequently found himself transported to what I sincerely hope is a deluxe frog tank at Cochabamba Natural History Museum, as befits an amphibian of his importance. Ever since the move, he’s been calling plaintively for a mate. But although all that time conservationists have been scouring streams and rivers far and wide, not so much as a tadpole of his species have they found.
Sehuencas frogs are reckoned to live about 15 years – Romeo could well be reaching the end of his days. The matter is urgent. Arturo Munoz, a scientist with Global Wildlife Conservation says, “We don’t want him to lose hope.”
So they came up with the genius idea of creating a profile for him on the dating site Match. He has an unusually musical mating call, and ‘describes himself’ as “a pretty simple guy. I tend to keep to myself and love spending nights at home. I also love eating. Then again, who doesn’t?”
Of course, it’s unlikely Romeo will find his Valentine on Match, but GWC hope the profile will generate funds on the lonely frog’s behalf, to expedite the search for that special one – any one – in the waters of his native land. Read more about the charismatic amphibian here and help find him his perfect Valentine here.
Yes, It’s Hard to Find a Mate When You’re One-of-a-Kind
Then there is Jeremy the ‘Shellebrity’ Snail – another lonely heart. Though just a humble garden snail, he had a certain something that set him apart from the rest. He became a super-star with his own Twitter account, but failed (almost) entirely to find love.
Discover what made Jeremy so special, and read about his life and loves here
Though we all long to feel the warm glow of basking in our Valentine’s love, there are times one might be better off alone! Watch the peacock spider pulling his best moves to woo his very irritable-looking beloved.
Oh dear. Well that didn’t quite go to plan, did it? Looks like she’s not the romantic kind.
Happily Not All Animal Courtships End in a Fatality
But some can seem pretty bizarre from a human perspective. Take the Golden Shower of the male porcupine for example. The Golden Shower is not as it sounds, some priceless treasure Mr P bestows upon his porc-y princess. Or may be it is. You be the judge. The ‘Golden Shower’, a vital part of porcupine courtship, is an explosive jet of urine with which he drenches his lady. Apparently it encourages her to ovulate. There have to be kinder ways!
Hippos go one better. To attract a mate a male will pee and defecate at the same time. Ever wondered why hippos have those funny little tails? Well, in case the lassie didn’t quite get the message, the male with his mind on mating uses his to waft the smelly concoction around, and even spray it in the female’s face. Smooth moves.
“Over 90 percent of mammals have multiple mates and even those who form socially monogamous partnerships are often observed “cheating” on their partners.”
Of those, bonobos are universally considered the most promiscuous in terms of both frequency and number of partners. And they are not fussy. Hetero, homo, mothers with sons – it’s all the same to them.
Walruses are not far behind. Like many other animals, the male walrus likes to keep a harem of females. One by one they join him underwater for mating. The male walrus has the distinction of being equipped with a penis bone called a baculum up to 30″ long – the longest of any living mammal.
Gorillas, dolphins, deer, tigers, lions, lizards, chimps, baboons, hyenas, elk and so many more are multiple maters.
True Valentine Love Is Rare among the Animals
But there are animal couples who do weather the trials of courtship and the storms of life, remaining together till death do them part.
Some of the faithful ones are perhaps a little unexpected –
Termites, black vultures, skink, and French angelfish
And Others Are Not Quite What They Seem
Who’d have thought of shrimp as an image of fidelity, yet a pair will live out their entire wedded life alone together inside a Venus’ flower-basket – a hollow glass sponge.
In Japan, it is common to give one of these sponges – complete with two dead shrimp inside – as a wedding present, a symbol of lifelong devotion. Let’s hope the bride and groom don’t rumble the true reason for the shrimpy couple’s seemingly virtuous fidelity. The sponge cavity is so tiny there is only room for two shrimp inside, and once in they can’t get out. Like it or lump it, they are effectively imprisoned together, their ‘faithfulness’ physically enforced on them. Maybe not the most felicitous symbol of perfect married bliss!
Probably the most famous and endearing of monogamous mates
Wisdom the Laysan albatross – at 67 years the oldest known wild bird on the planet – and her life partner Akeakamai, otherwise known as Mr Goo. Together this devoted couple have successfully raised 30 chicks, and are still going strong.
Faithful-for-life prairie voles merit a mention too, just for their downright adorableness
Testyour knowledge of animal love with this fun quiz –
For Valentine’s Day this year, Brits will spend £200 MILLION on gifts for their pets. And 50% of pet owners polled admitted they would rather –
“splash their cash on their furry friends than on their lovers.”
Nothing wrong with that, say I. Much much preferable to spending our money on a ticket for two to the Valentine Day’s event-with-a-difference at the plush Malmaison Hotel in the Scottish city of Dundee. In Dundee, it seems romance is dead. The Valentine tickets entitle loved-up couples to watch… a live dissection of an animal’s heart.
Who the heart belongs to, and how it will be obtained are not specified. Strangely, this event is advertised as part of a nationwide series of ‘Anatomy Nights’, intended to give members of the public a chance to “learn all about the human body.” Am I missing something here?
(It doesn’t make the night any more appealing to see that all proceeds will be donated to the British Heart Foundation, a charity that funds testing on animals.)
But let’s not end our animal Valentine celebration on such a disturbing note
Here are animal hearts as we would much rather see them, warm and beating with life. I hope you enjoy these sweet snapshots of animal love as much as I did.
“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
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
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.
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.)
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.
“Donkeys may soon go extinct if they continue to be killed.”
Abubakar Ya’u, Nigerian sand-digger
China is on a quest to buy up the global supply of donkeys.
With a population of a whopping 1.4 billion – the largest of any country in the world and bigger than the populations of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and all of Western Europe combined – the country of China is one gigantic gaping mouth sucking up commodities from every corner of the planet. And in no arena of global trade is this more true than with the trade in wildlife ‘products’, legal and illegal.
Traditional Chinese medicine is the villain of this story, not only for horribly cruel practices like extracting bile from captive bears, condemning the poor animals to a life of utter misery, but also for the tiger bones, pangolin scales, dried seahorse, antelope, buffalo and rhino horn, deer antlers, penises from all kinds of animal (tiger penis being the most sought after though illegal), dog testicles, and snake bile it swallows up in enormous and ever-increasing quantities.
In spite of the exaggerated claims, there is little evidence of the medical efficacy of these ‘products’. Rhino and other animal horn as well as pangolin scales for example, are made entirely of keratin, like our own fingernails. The makers of the ‘medicine’ might just as well use their own nail clippings.
In point of fact, we shouldn’t tar all TCM with the same brush. “Reputable TCM practitioners have explicitly distanced themselves from animal-based remedies. Animal penises, for one, do not help male performance, says TCM expert Chen Shilin, of the Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing. ‘It is merely a folk therapy,’ he says.”
But charlatans continue to cash in on the fortunes to be made from China’s folk superstitions.
And the effect on the world’s wildlife is devastating:-
Tigers An estimated 1,000 killed for their body parts in the past 10 years to meet demands in Asia. Considering there are only 3,200 left in the world, this is desperately worrying. The illegal killing of the big cats places them high on IUCN’s Red List – status Endangered
Pangolins have the unfortunate distinction of being the most illegally trafficked creature in the world, with over 1 million estimated to have been taken from the wild in the last 10 years. They too rank high on the Red List – Endangered
Seahorses It’s estimated that 150 million are traded and sold every year. This is not sustainable – Red Listed as Vulnerable
Rhinos 3 a day killed in 2016 in S. Africa alone. The Western Black rhino already extinct in the wild. White rhino on IUCN Red List – status Near Threatened
And now Donkeys???
Who would ever have considered donkeys at risk? But around the world they are in exponential decline. It’s simple economics, a question of supply and demand. With the increasing prosperity of the Chinese middle classes, demand keeps growing. As the supply of animal parts diminishes, the price for them rises. The poachers and illegal traffickers get better and better returns on their ‘goods’ and the incentive to supply intensifies – an upward spiral. For the animals though, the spiral is all down. We’ve seen it with tigers, rhino and pangolin. Now donkeys.
With the donkeys, it’s all about a substance called Ejiao, a highly-prized gelatin produced by rendering donkey hides. The industry in China is enormous. The Guardian describes it as “a global megabusiness. What was once a humble blood tonic for conditions like anemia – a claim supported by no clinical evidence – has been rebranded as a wellness product for China’s ascendant middle class, and now features in face creams, sweets and liqueurs, as well as a wide variety of medicinal preparations. There are claims it will help with anemia and acne, boost your energy, improve your sleep, nourish your yin, prevent cancer, make you look better and even improve your libido. It is billed, in short, as a miracle elixir.”
China produces 5,000 tons of ejiao a year, requiring a horrific 4 million donkey hides.
Such is the demand that China’s own donkey population has dropped 50% in 20 years, creating a vacuum that is sucking in donkeys from all over the world. “The explosion in demand had led to a surge in donkey thefts in Africa, Asia and South America.”
Donkeys in the continent of Africa are particularly hard hit. Countries in the south of the continent, unlike the north, have long had a culture of eating donkey flesh. That means the trading of donkeys from northern countries to the south is already well-established. Despite Niger, Botswana, Senegal, Mali, Burkino Faso and Gambia imposing restrictions on the donkey trade, and Zimbabwe and Ethiopia closing donkey abattoirs, these gentle creatures are still being covertly transported south. There they are slaughtered, the flesh taken and their hides shipped to China. There is simply too much money to be made for the illicit north-south trade to stop,
For those who rely upon their donkeys for their subsistence, like the sand-diggers of Nigeria, the temptation to sell their beasts of burden is powerful. Where 2 years ago you could buy a good strong donkey for 15,000-18,000 naira ($42-50), now such an animal fetches 70,000-75,000, a 5-fold increase. In 2 years. And one sand-digger by the name of Garba says he was offered 95,000 naira for his biggest donkey. He resisted the tantalising proposition, aware that his gain would only be short-term. If he did sell, it would be too expensive for him to get a replacement – it would cost him his living.
Others though, have sold, or had their donkeys stolen: “At a market in Ughelli, Delta State—the centre of the Nigerian donkey trade—hundreds of donkeys are crammed into pens under the burning sun as they await their fate. Some are skeletally thin, all are quiet.
“New animal pens are being made every month as the demand for donkey hides and meat is met with an steadily growing supply from the north.”
The only remotely good thing that can be said is that these unfortunate creatures are killed before being exported to China. This is what PETA has to say about what happens to live donkeys in that country.
“Our campaign against the live export of animals garnered new international media attention after a PETA exposé revealed the horrors of the Chinese donkey-gelatine industry. Right now, donkeys are being abused and killed so their skins can be boiled down to make gelatine for ejiao, a traditional Chinese “medicine”. The demand for ejiao is so high that the Australian government is considering facilitating the live export of donkeys to China! The gentle, sensitive animals would have to endure a harrowing journey to a Chinese facility where donkeys are hit with sledgehammers, their throats are slit, and they are skinned. PETA and our affiliates are working to prevent the live export of all animals and urging compassionate consumers never to buy products containing ejiao or other cruelly obtained ingredients.”
“Stunning limestone cliffs, lagoons with turquoise waters and long stretches of untouched beaches.” Palawan, one of the world’s most beautiful islands, home to the Philippines’ last remaining forests and an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot.
But this seeming paradise is also the setting for greed, corruption, even murder – and jaw-dropping heroism. Meet the PNNI, the Palawan NGO Network Inc, a strangely grand title for a small band of ragged flipflop-wearing underfunded environmental crusaders, many ‘baptised’ with scars from sharp-toothed chainsaws at the hands of illegal loggers .
50 year old ‘Tata’ Balladares has already led his small band of six environmental para-enforcers up and down the steep mountain slopes of Palawan for 15 hours, searching for signs of illegal logging, only stopping once for 30 minutes sleep on a mountain path. Reporter Kari Malakunas stands by as they stealthily close in on what the whine of a chainsaw gives away as a crime scene – a site of illegal logging.
Completely unarmed, their only weapon in these dangerous situations is surprise. This time luckily, caught in the act of felling a giant apitong tree, are only two young men. Tata asks if they have a permit for the timber, and if the chainsaw is registered. They don’t, and it isn’t. His little band confiscate the men’s chainsaw and machetes, and search the area for possible concealed homemade pistols and rifles.
Tata, though ‘only’ a civilian para-enforcer, wraps up the brief skirmish with calm unflappable authority. But afterwards, during a short break for a meal of rice and dried fish, he breaks down in despair at the enormity of the task the PNNI is facing.
“This should be the work of the government but they are not doing their job. Who else is going to stop this if we’re not here,” he says.
Traditional campaigning has failed to prevent corrupt businessmen, politicians and even the security forces from pillaging the rich resources of this beautiful island. So the PNNI goes for direct action – confiscation and citizen’s arrest – against illegal loggers, miners and cyanide fishers, however many and whoever they may be.
On display at their small HQ in Puerto Princesa is a ‘Christmas tree’ standing two storeys high, made entirely of chainsaws. The organisation has confiscated more than 700 in its 20 years of life, along with a boat used for transporting illegally-logged timber, two drills used for illegal gold mining, and a number of firearms.
Tata and his men may be unarmed themselves – besides being overworked and underfunded – but they have the support of local communities, as anxious as they to stop the despoliation of their island home. Nevertheless, they are ill-matched against their greedy and powerful opponents. It’s an unequal contest.
And though many small and not so small victories are won, as witnessed by the chainsaw ‘tree’ at HQ, there is no end in sight to the war being waged over the paradise of Palawan. It would be demoralising for the best of us. Add to that these men, passionate about preserving their environment though they are, live daily with the inescapable knowledge that the supremely taxing task they have taken upon themselves also puts their lives on the line.
Twelve of their courageous fellow-enforcers have been murdered since 2001. In 2004, PNNI’s founder and leader, environmental lawyer Bobby Chan was out with his team when they discovered the body of Roger Majim, one of their own, on a beach. “The loggers put his flip flops on the mound where they buried him. When we unearthed him he had, I think, 16 stab wounds. His eyes were gouged out. His tongue was cut off. His testicles were cut off and placed in his mouth,” says Chan.
“The government does little to stop the violence and rarely holds anyone to account for the killings,” says Global Witness‘s environmental and land defender campaign leader, Billy Kyte.
The most recent murder was last September. 49-year-old father-of-five, Ruben Arzaga was shot in the head as he was approaching an illegal logging site. Earlier in the year Arzaga, during another mission to confiscate chainsaws from illegal loggers, had told AFP“If this illegal activity is not stopped, I think before my youngest daughter becomes a young adult and has a family of her own, all the big trees here will be gone.”
On their way to Ruben’s funeral, Tata’s team stopped to confiscate another chainsaw. For them it’s simple: forest lost equals their priceless paradise lost. That also means inevitably, extinctions.
These are some of the animals the PNNI are fighting to protect –
Frank Passamonte hatched on Sept. 5, 2011. Turtle was less than a month old at the time of this picture.
Some of the most endangered species of the Philippines. L to R, Top to Bottom: the Philippine eagle (critically endangered), Palawan forest turtle (critically endangered), the rufous-headed hornbill (critically endangered), the Philippine tarsier (near threatened), the bleeding heart mindoro (critically endangered), the Nicobar pigeon (near threatened)
philippines palawan island crocodile endangered species animal
The Palawan purple crab, only discovered in 2012 and already critically endangered by mining, and the Philippine crocodile also critically endangered
The hawksbill turtle (critically endangered), the lionfish, and the flamboyant cuttle fish
Those are just a few of the treasures for whom these heroes are risking their lives on a daily basis. “It’s a selfless, courageous task that should be celebrated,”says Billy Kyte, Global Witness.
The country of the Philippines is not just a biodiversity hotspot, but an environmental murderhotspot, one of the most dangerous in the world. Last year in this country, environmental activists were killed at a rate of one every 12 days.
But such egregious violence is not unique to Palawan, or to the Philippines. The problem is worldwide. This is Global Witness’s record of environmental activists, men and women, murdered in 2016, “some shot by police during protests, others gunned down by hired assassins.”
Brazil 49 men and women
The Philippines 28
DR Congo 10
Tanzania, Mexico & Peru 3 each
South Africa, Myanmar, Peru 2 each
Ireland (!), Cameroon, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Iran and Pakistan 1 each
“Far from the corridors of power ordinary people defending their rights to a healthy environment are being killed in record numbers. If governments are serious about stopping climate change, the very least they can do is to protect the people who are personally taking a stand.”
These are not just statistics. These are flesh and blood, men and women often from indigenous communities, with families of their own. People with a level of courage I can barely imagine, and know I would never be able to emulate, defending their land not just against illegal loggers and miners, but against legal but environmentally destructive industries like mining, agribusiness, logging and hydropower.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” — Rachel Carson
Let us hope and pray that the lives of these protectors of our planet, deserving of our admiration and gratitude in equal measure, do indeed find reserves of strength and last long. And that in 2018 they notch up many more successes protecting paradise and its animals – and above all, stay safe.
Like and follow PNNI’s Facebook page, and send them a few words of encouragement. And if you are ever lucky enough to get to travel to beautiful Palawan, be sure to support them with a visit to PNNI’s HQ in Puerto Princesa.
Take a look at the Rainforest Alliance supporting indigenous peoples, their lands and their wildlife, all around the world. On their website you can sign petitions for the environment until your fingers ache! You can also help protect the planet by donating
“Even though the science is out there, until we feel it in our hearts and minds we are not moved to take action.” PhotographerTim Flach
Tim’s aim in his new book ‘Endangered’ is to demolish the barrier of ‘otherness’ that prevents us seeing the fellow creatures we are in danger of losing forever, as the persons they really are.
With the wildlife crisis we find ourselves in today – with 30%, or even as many as 50% of all species heading towards extinction by the end of the century¹ – “there is an increasing acceptance that highlighting the emotional connection between humans and animals can help reverse this destructive trend.” The Telegraph
And that is exactly what this remarkable photographer does with superlative skill – he shows us the person behind the species label – not just a pangolin but this particular unique pangolin person. And look – she, like us, has a mother.
“Now here we are in this mechanistic world where for most of us our only contact is with a dog, or a cat, and we are more likely to encounter a chicken in the supermarket than one with its feathers on. How do we engage with animals? We have somehow been separated. We know animals in a virtual sense better than ever before through the films of David Attenborough and such. Yet in actuality, we have never been more separated.”
We are in danger of losing everyone of these beings with whom we share the planet. If Tim’s portraits don’t bring the tragedy os such a loss home to us, nothing will.
We may never have the chance to encounter these amazing beings in the flesh, but the next best thing is Tim’s exhibition at London’s Osborne Samuel Gallery.
If you can’t make it to the exhibition, I urge you to check out the entire Endangered collection here. It will blow your mind.
The most famous of all reindeer ever, the dude with the shiny red nose (how did he come by that schnoz, I wonder) is NOT WHO HE SEEMS. There’ve been rumours – confirmed just this week – that Rudolph has been masquerading all these years under a false identity. For Rudolph is not Rudolph.
I’ll whisper the dreadful truth: –
Shh, don’t tell the kids, but Rudolph… is… really… Rudolpha!
Kids aside, the hard facts must be faced – none of Santa’s dancing, prancing sleigh team are boys – it’s a physical impossibility.
This little video explains all.
By the time of the autumn rut, the male reindeer have grown magnificent antlers in preparation for the battle to bag themselves mating rights. But after they’ve clashed antlers, and done all the rest that’s required of them, they’re left flagging, energy low, having burned up nearly all of their body fat. Certainly not up to the challenge of pulling a gift-heavy sleigh from the North Pole all the way around the world and back again.
Not only that, but by the early days of December those impressive antlers will already have been shed into the snow. So by the time Christmas Eve comes round male strength is sapped, and heads are bare. How is that going to look on the Christmas cards.
Step up the girls: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Unlike the boys, and still sporting their headgear – because yes, out of the entire deer family, reindeer females alone have antler equality with the males – they are Christmas-ready, fit and raring to go.
The first sighting of the girls in the night sky was celebrated in verse almost 200 years ago, in 1823
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
with a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer, and Vixen!
“On Comet! On Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!”
(A Visit from St Nicholas by Clement C. Moore)
Rudolph(a) on the other hand, is a bit of a johnny/jeannie-come-lately. For more than a century Santa successfully negotiated the chimneys of the world with his regular team of eight. But in the thick pea-souper that blanketed the earth on the Christmas Eve of 1939, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and the rest refused to come out of their stalls. They said to embark on the flight in such conditions would be madness. There were muttering about Health and Safety regulations, and even, unthinkably, about cancelling Christmas altogether.
But for that fateful fog, Rudolph(a) may never have got her big break. Suddenly, the luminous red snooter that all her life had brought her nothing but ridicule, now became a uniquely invaluable asset, indispensable to light Santa on his worldwide way.
Why exactly she adopted the alter ego of Rudolph is anyone’s guess. But the rest as they say, is history. It will take more than some smarty-pants biologist telling us male reindeer shed their antlers well before Christmas to dislodge Rudolph – the hero celebrated in song, the saviour of the Christmas stocking, Santa’s main ‘man’, from his/her unassailable place in children’s dreams of Christmas.
But now might be a good time to tweak the traditions a little. Real life reindeer (known as caribou in N. America) are remarkable animals, and have their own complex lives in the wild which definitely don’t involve pulling sleighs for us, or even for Santa. And the ‘rein’ in reindeer doesn’t mean, as we might have supposed, that that is their purpose in life. It actually has nothing to do with reins, but comes from Old Norse hreinn meaning ‘horned’. More reindeer/caribou facts:-
They are smaller than you think, standing at only 1.2m at the shoulder
They have clowns’ feet – wide spreading hooves that make perfect snowshoes, shovels to shift snow (to get at the food beneath) and paddles for swimming
It’s true they do have unusual noses – not normally red! – because they are furry. In fact their special insulating hollow fur covers every bit of a reindeer’s body from furry nose to furry feet, except of course their eyes
They talk to each other with their feet. When the herd is moving, “they make a delicate clicking or popping sound. Being surrounded by a small herd sounds a bit like being in a bowl of puffed rice as the milk is poured on to it”
They are long distance runners, travelling the furthest of any land mammal in the world, up to 5,000 km a year
They can run at up to 80 kmh
Surprisingly there are two herds numbering several thousand at the South Pole – well, almost. The animals were introduced to South Georgia a century ago and are still flourishing
But, once widespread in the northern states of the US, they are now the country’s most endangered mammal with barely a dozen remaining
In Canada, caribou populations have fallen by as much as 90%
Reindeer are also found in Scandinavia and Russia where their populations are estimated to have fallen by 60% in the last three decades
Main threats to these beautiful creatures are the usual suspects: human-caused habitat loss and disturbance by industrial development. And now, human-caused climate change.
And considering how wonderfully adapted are these gentle, quiet and sensitive animals to conditions in the Arctic, it is heartless and inhumane to bring them into hot, noisy crowded shopping malls and festive fairs for Christmas ‘entertainment’. So much better left in kids’ imagination at the North Pole with Santa.*
Hmm, it looks like Santa may have been hiding a secret too. Nowadays, he sails through the night sky on a Tesla electric sleigh. Don’t worry, Rudolph(a), Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen are still there alongside the man in red as he chimney-hops around the world on Christmas Eve. But for reindeer heavy sleigh-pulling is so last century. In 2017 the famous nine will be dancing across the wild blue yonder – just because they want to, just for fun.
PS Santa wants it to be known that he still loves his mince pies. Just make sure you leave him vegan ones
These were the words naturalist Joseph Banks wrote in his journal, his response to the exuberant rhapsody of birdsong filling the air as Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour dropped anchor in the paradise that was Discovery Bay in 1770.
If Banks and Cook were to make that same landing in 2017, they would hear – silence. Little did either realise that their own expedition, the first to map the coastline of New Zealand and study its wildlife, bears in large part the blame for today’s uncanny hush. For the Endeavour was carrying more than its crew. It also brought stowaways, in the shape of Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat. And it’s rats that have brought that music to a stop.
New Zealand’s native birds were/are endemic, ie. unique to that country, occurring nowhere else in the world. And, having no natural ground predators and therefore no need to take to the sky, they’d evolved over millennia flightless. So, easy pickings for the voracious invaders inadvertently brought to their shores.
Since that time, more than 70 species of birds native to NZ have been lost to the world, with more likely headed in the same direction, including the world’s heaviest parrot, the kakapo, and possibly the cheekiest, the alpine kea.
A shocking 26 million of the nation’s birds are killed by invasive predators every year.
Of course this is not a problem exclusive to New Zealand. The pattern is repeated all over. On Hawaii for example, the most isolated land mass in the world, native plants and animals evolved, as in New Zealand, without aggressively competitive or predatory species. The native species, not having had to compete themselves, are “more gentle than others, leaving them vulnerable to the ‘meaner’ species … being introduced to the islands.”
This is one of the ‘meanies’, who indiscriminately demolishes Hawaiian birds, insects, plants and flowers. He doesn’t belong there, but he sure has made himself at home.
Islands that once were regular Gardens of Eden where all lived in harmony, are today red in tooth and claw. And most often, the teeth and claws belong to Rattus norvegicus, or Rattus rattus, the black rat. Rats have found their way, courtesy of humans, on to more than 90% of the world’s archipelagoes, and embody everything that characterises an invasive species:
High dispersal ability
Ability to live off a wide range of foods
Ability to adapt to different environments
Association with humans
Mammals like the rat are not native to oceanic islands, which are predominantly the domain of birds. Two-thirds of extinctions over the last 500 years have occurred on islands, largely at the paws of invasive mammals. Islands make up only 5.5% of the Earth’s land mass, but are home to 15% of all land species. They are hotspots of biodiversity. And that makes islands in particular, critically important for conservation.
So, how to stem the alarming losses in biodiversity?
Money for conservation is always at a premium. So much to be done, and never enough funding to do it. $21.5 billion is being spent annually, yet in places it’s hard to see much impact on biodiversity. It’s vital to direct funds to projects that will yield good results. And conservationists have found, especially on islands, the only effective method of stemming biodiversity loss is eradication of the invasive species that are pushing the natives to extinction. When the invaders are removed, the beneficial effect on native species is dramatic.
Different lands, different species demand different eradication methods. What works in one locale, fails in another. Our own ‘meanie’ here on the island of Britain is the American mink brought across the Atlantic to be farmed for its fur. Now escaped into the wild, these invaders have eaten their way through the water vole population, pushing the little rodents to the cliff edge of extinction. Mink are being trapped with the help of volunteers, and then shot in the head.
“It’s not something I get any satisfaction out of, but I am trained to do this, and we dispatch them as quickly and humanely as possible to cause minimal distress to the animal,” says river biologist Jamie Urquhart.
( I once saw a mink in the river at a National Trust property. I began an email to notify the Trust, but then couldn’t bear the thought of being responsible for the animal’s death, and deleted the email.)
In the Galapagos Islands, feral goats spread like wildfire, munching their way through forests and native fauna until nothing was left but bare grass. Native birds, invertebrates and the famous Galapagos tortoise were all endangered. Rangers hunted the goats down on land and by air, and shot them, 55,000 of them just on one island. The now goat-less islands reforested and recovered with gratifying rapidity.
In the Seychelles, where the invading Indian red-whiskered bulbul was ousting its native cousin, nets were used, and “rifles to get the last remaining few.”
In New Zealand, lethal traps and poisoned bait have been ‘successful’ on small islands, but as they are labour-intensive (requiring constant checking and resetting) they’re not practical over larger areas. Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) is developing more effective ‘tools’, from “more attractive lures to electronically monitored traps.”The traps being used kill the rats instantly. “You don’t get those kills where it just breaks the back; we don’t want prolonged suffering,” says Aitken, one of the government-employed eradicators.
This is ZIP’s latest prototype: “Nailed to the tree a few feet off the ground is a shiny orange-and-black contraption called the GoodNature A24. Powered by a gas-fired piston, it delivers a quick, fatal blow to an animal’s head as it tries to snatch the bait inside. The device can kill 24 rats or stoats with a single canister of gas, requiring fewer of these strenuous, time-consuming trap line tromps, thereby saving on labor costs.”
Whatever method is used, eradication means no more nor less than the killing of every possible individual animal of the unwanted species in that territory. ” Most critics point to the ethics of the matter. Killing animals whether they are invasive or not is wrong, they argue, and uncompassionate.Killing wildlife for conservation seems counterintuitive. Isn’t conservation supposed to be about conserving wildlife?”
Some critics even see eradication as another manifestation of racism – prejudice against the non-native. “Certainly the Nazi drive to eliminate non-indigenous plants was related to the campaign to eliminate non-Aryan people.”
But an argument for eradication is that often, the native wildlife needing protection is found nowhere else on the planet, whereas the invaders such as the rats, are generally very widespread. Reading that sentence back and substituting the word ‘Aryans’ for ‘native wildlife’, and ‘Jews’ for ‘rats’, it does sound horribly like the Nazi justification for the Holocaust, doesn’t it? And labelling a group (Jews or rats) ‘vermin’, makes them so much easier to eliminate – it transforms eradication from a murderous crime into a public good.
Even if we accept that the uniqueness-of-the-endangered-native-wildlife argument makes sense at species level, does it justify killing thousands of sentient animals who are just getting on with their lives best they can?
Suppose eradication is a necessity, aren’t there non-lethal methods that could be used?
Yes, there are. Some are not always a practical option, some are just bizarre, and some pose unknown risks.
The obvious solution would be to trap the invaders and transport them back to where they came from. And on occasions this has been done. But imagine the politics, the logistics, and of course the cost involved of say, catching, keeping alive and shipping every veiled chameleon from Hawaii back to Yemen. And where on earth would you take the tens of thousands of feral goats from the Galapagos? Multiply that by thousands of conservation projects and it’s clear that can rarely be an answer.
Researchers in Australia have a novel approach. Remember the native species are invariably ‘gentler’ than the invading ‘meanies’ whose successful proliferation at the expense of the natives is down to their adaptability and aggressive competitiveness? Since there is little to no hope of ridding the whole of Australia of its mercilessly predatory feral cats, researchers there are trying to “force natural selection’s hand”.
They’ve placed hundreds of small endangered endemic marsupials in a pen with a couple of the cats. The hope is that the smartest marsupials will learn to survive, and pass on their cleverness genes to their offspring. But such human-contrived evolution of the marsupial could take 100 years or more. And if it seems like a big gamble, that’s because it is. No need for me to list possible objections, practical and ethical. They are all too obvious.
Genetic technology already available to us would be by far the most effective nonlethal tool for dealing with invasive species. Scientists have now found a way to not only alter the genes of a species – in this case a gene for producing male offspring only – but make that alteration inheritable. It’s called a “self-propagating gene drive system [which] promotes the inheritance of a particular genetic variant to increase its frequency in a population.” This would obviously require “fewer invasive organisms to be released in order to spread infertility and ultimately eliminate the pest population.” The animal basically would be programmed to (re)produce its own extinction.
New Zealand is one country taking a good hard look at this technology as a much easier, and definitely more humane way to rid the land of the invasive rats, mice, stoats and possums that are so destructive of its native wildlife. There is no question the gene technology would work. The invaders would die out, allowing the native species to flourish once more.
But, and it’s a big but, what it would also do, is create in effect a new species still retaining all the characteristics that made it such a successful invader in the first place. In other words, it would be impossible to contain these modified animals in the target location. Invasion is what they do best – they would spread far and wide with unknowable, and most likely catastrophic results.
The self-propagating gene drive is the perfect example of technology moving ahead at such a pace, it is way in advance of any ethical agreements surrounding its use. The international community needs to catch up fast, formulate, and sign up to a binding accord. New Zealand is by no mean the only country looking at the self-propagating gene drive as a conservation tool. And if something can be done, you can guarantee it willsooner or later.
To kill to save, or not?
“Not doing anything to prevent these extinctions is, in and of itself, an action—which is not compassionate to native species. We can sit there and watch animals go extinct, or we can do something about it,” says conservation biologist Holly Jones. “Killing things sucks. But when you realize the gravity of not acting, which in many cases equates to watching extinction happen in front of your eyes, I think there is no other choice,”
“We do have the ability to fix our damages. Which is why many conservationists believe we have an obligation to right the wrong when it comes to invasives since humans are, more often than not, solely responsible for introducing species into places they shouldn’t be.” Peter Haverson, another conservation biologist.“No other species has this capability, unfortunately.”
We’ve carried invasive species to every corner of the world, either deliberately – sheep, goats, dogs, cats and so on, then escaped and gone feral – or inadvertently, as with the rats. The cats, who are particularly pernicious predators of endangered wildlife, fall into both categories.
As we have caused the problem, should we be taking action to fix it? We can refrain from eradicating invasive species. That means standing by, letting individual endangered animals be killed by invaders, and allowing entire species to go extinct. Or, we can opt to kill the invaders – bearing in mind that rats, stoats and possums are people too. In conservation there is no fence to sit on. By not doing one, we are of necessity doing the other.
This is a cowardly cop out I know, but I’m so glad it’s not me having to make the decisions. What is your take on this most troubling of questions?
The most invasive species of all
We don’t just transport invaders around the globe. We ourselves are by far the worst invaders of the lot:
“From Africa, we’ve spread out onto every continent on Earth settling into jungles, plains, forests, deserts, mountains and more. All environments we touch experience extinctions and suffer from varying degrees of degradation. Many scientists even believe we are currently causing a mass extinction event of global wildlife, like the one that ultimately claimed the dinosaurs.”
“Believe”? The 6th mass extinction is no more a matter of belief than climate change. Strangely, I don’t hear anyone suggesting as a solution to the catastrophic loss of the planet’s precious biodiversity, the eradication of this, the most deadly of invasive species, Homo sapiens. Why is that?
Don’t panic. No-one is suggesting when we die our bodies should be scooped up and fed to hungry polar bears. Nothing quite that ghoulish. Though come to think of it, it’s not actually such a bad idea. I’d happily donate mine, if mama bear and her cubs could find enough meat on my skinny bones. But we’ll come to the what-to-do–with-our-dead-body bit shortly.
First the good news. Last week Professor Chris Thomas told us we should be cool about climate change and every other way humans are messing up the planet. Kick back and go with the flow. It’s just evolution taking its natural course. He also suggested we could be wasting good money trying to save endangered species that with the best will in the world, are headed inexorably for extinction. Well Prof Chris, maybe you should cast your eye over this –
“This paper sends a clear, positive message: Conservation fundingworks!”
So says John Gittleman, senior author of a new report about the effects on biodiversity of funding put into conservation projects around the world since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The results from the global study are in, and it’s looking good:
The $14.4 billion spent on conservation 1992-2003 reduced expected declines in global biodiversity by 29%
109 countries signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity saw a significantly reduced biodiversity loss
7 countries – Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Poland and Ukraine saw their biodiversity improve between 1992-2008
7 other countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, China, India, Australia, and Hawaii in the US are the locations where 60% of the world’s loss of biodiversity occurs
That last statistic doesn’t sound like good news, but it sort of is. If there are only 7 countries where most biodiversity loss is concentrated, then a little money in the right places goes a long way. Or, asProf Gittleman puts it, “The good news is that a lot of biodiversity would be protected for relatively little cost by investments in countries with high numbers of species.”
“From this study, we know approximately how much a conservation dollar buys and where in the world it is best spent.”
Now, the study’s method of data analysis will provide policy-makers in every country of the world a fantastic new tool for setting accurate conservation budgets. And that in turn will help them achieve internationally-agreed conservation goals.
Study’, ‘findings’, ‘statistics’, ‘report’ – those words have a pretty dull and clunky sound to them. But in fact, it would be hard to overplay the importance of this research work – it’s a godsend for the entire international community in our attempts “to balance human development with maintaining biodiversity….[and achieving] true sustainability.” All of whichequals more animals saved.
Now that’s what I call good news – and who’d have thought data analysis could be so exciting!
Where to put to rest our mortal remains
Now we have the proof that conservation funding delivers results, where to find those funds?
We don’t like to think too much about the end of our days, but wouldn’t it be brilliant if there was a way to continue helping animals from beyond the grave? Well now there is, with Dr Matthew Holden’s genius idea. We could call it ‘Green Burial Plus‘.
Green burials are gaining in popularity, I’m glad to say. No pollutants like the formaldehyde and non-biodegradable materials used in traditional burials. And no trees cut down to create the traditional coffin – no waste of Earth’s precious resources reduced to ashes and releasing greenhouse gases. Instead we get to help provide a natural habitat for wildlife, with the satisfaction of knowing all the stardust in our bodies is returning to the earth. For once, a human life and death can nourish the planet rather than deplete it. This has to be the be-all and end-all, literally, of recycling.
So what could be better than a green burial?
Dr Holden’s idea, that’s what: Use burial fees to buy and manage new land specifically for wildlife habitat. Is that it? Yes, that’s it. It’s that simple. “The nature reserve [where our bodies would be buried]could be placed in an area that specifically maximises benefits for endangered wildlife.”
Isn’t that the best?
How would this work? Well, take the US as an example. With 2.7 million folk reaching the end of their days each year, roughly $19 billion is being spent annually on funerals. Compare that huge sum with the mere $3-$5 billion the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) reckons are required to protect every threatened species on their lists.
And in the US conservation burial reserves are already a thing. There aren’t enough though. We need many many more in the US, in the UK – in every country if this way of conserving wildlife is to have any impact.
If we could get the powers that be to actually care enough about conservation, national registers on the model of organ donor registers could be set up for those of us who wish to donate our bodies and our funeral expenses to wildlife reserves. What a difference it would make. If we could…
Sadly, nothing is ever that plain sailing, is it? These are black times and conservation has serious opposition.
The Backlash – the Deadly Rise of Populism
“The recent trend toward populist politics has occurred, in part, as a result of a cultural backlash, where select segments of society have rallied against progressive social changes of the later 20th and early 21st centuries. This trend includes the Brexit vote in England, [and the] election of Donald Trump as U.S. President.”
Q. What has this got to do with conservation and wildlife? A. Everything.
Are you a populist? More likely a mutualist, I imagine. Mutualists see wildlife as “fellow beings in a common social community”– as opposed to populists who still cling to traditional ideas of human dominion over nonhuman animals, and view wildlife as either vermin to be exterminated, or quarry for their so-called sport.
Millennials swept forward on a tide of progressive ideas, mutualism for one. Just look at the incredible rise of veganism over the last couple of decades, matched by an ever-expanding interest in conservation and green issues. A survey in the millennial year 2000, found that 20 million Americans were registered members of the top 30 environmental organisations.²
But – and there’s always a but, isn’t there – Newton’s 3rd Law, “For every action force there is an equal and opposite reaction force”, is as true in society as it is in physics. Backlash was inevitable. In the US, the explosion between 2000 and 2016 of ballot initiatives to protect hunting rights is one sign of the pushback. This War on Wolves infographic exemplifies America’s populist backlash against conservation.
‘America First’ puts wildlife last
Donald Trump, the epitome of populism. To say he is an enemy of wildlife is an understatement. More like the grim reaper.
“With President Trump at the helm of our nation’s wildlife ark, we are setting an irreversible collision course toward an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions.”¹
Here are some of his proposals for the 2018 federal budget:-
Funding for the agencies involved in combating wildlife poaching and trafficking, cut by more than half from $90.7 million to $40.9 million
Funding for USAID’s biodiversity program which in 2017 aided conservation projects in 50 countries, cut from $265 million to $69.9 million
USFWS’s International Species program for African and Asian elephants, great apes, migratory birds, tigers, rhinos and sea turtles, cut from $9.15 million to zero
Funding to protect new species under the Endangered Species Act cut by 17%
Funding for the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, cut $34 million, a 64% reduction
Funding for the State Department’s International Conservation Program giving financial support to the most important wildlife organisations including the IUCN, cut to zero
The savings made are less than a flea bite in a total federal budget of $1.15 trillion, but will spell the death sentence to thousands of animals all over the world.
Who will benefit?
Poachers and criminal trafficking cartels
Who will suffer?
Poor communities in Africa and Asia. Elephants, pangolins, lions, giraffes, snow leopards, great apes, migratory birds, tigers, rhinos, sea turtles and many many more.
That’s just abroad. At home, the Environmental Protection Agency has become the Environmental Pulverisation Agency under Trump’s appointee Scott Pruitt.
And as for That Wall at a cost of $1.6 billion – what a long way $1.6 billion would go protecting wildlife! Trump’s border wall will imperil at least 93 endangered and threatened species, including jaguars and ocelots, and cut its malignant swathe through several important wildlife refuges.
The POTUS’s war on wildlife will decimate many of America’s iconic species, and could see wolves for just one, after 20 years of tireless conservation efforts to save them from the brink, pushed once again to the cliff edge of extinction.
Wonderful as Matthew Holden’s vision is of reserves paid for by our burial fees, the clock is ticking for precious wildlife. The animals can’t wait for our demise. They need us now.
Congress has yet to sign off on Trump’s life-butchering budget. So if you are a US citizen, now is the time to let Congress hear your voice for wildlife.
Join the Center for Biological Diversity Join Defenders of Wildlife
Animal rights and art have not always been easy bedfellows. Belgian artist Jan Fabre got into hot water for a performance in which he threw several cats up a flight of stairs, who let out pained meows in response. Damien Hirst, meanwhile, is famed for works featuring a formaldehyde-soaked shark, a pig’s head, and even a piece that required the killing of 9000 butterflies. The most recent example, however, was at Colorado’s Aspen Art Museum, where – as part of the show – turtles were made to amble around an art exhibit with iPads attached to their shells.
But there are also plenty of examples of animal rights being championed by the arts. Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney are well-known for their anti-fur and anti-leather stances, whereas Morrissey is outspokenly meat-free, once writing the memorable lyrics: “It’s not “natural”, “normal” or kind/ the flesh you so fancifully fry/ the meat in your mouth/ as you savour the flavour, of murder”. Then, of course, Rembrandt, one of the greatest painters of all time, was a pioneering vegetarian. Here, we look at some of the most compelling animal rights artivists.
Performance artist Jacqueline Traide, sickened by cosmetics testing on animals, wanted to convey the cruelty of it to the public by having the procedure done to herself. She was tortured for 10 hours in the performance, which was done in a vitrine in the Oxford Circus branch of Lush, as shocked pedestrians looked on. Amongst a number of activities, Traide had her mouth held open with a vice, was force-fed, had a strip of her hair shaved off, and was given two injections.
(Further info about the EU ban on animal testing for cosmetics here
Email your MP to support global fight against cruel cosmetics here)
Portuguese artist Zoe Birrell once made an art installation consisting of 420 dairy cows, each made from vegan fair-trade chocolate, and each equalling her body weight of 53kg. The life of a modern dairy cow is marked by the emotional stress of the loss of her baby calf, combined with the hormonal effect of being kept perpetually pregnant. It inspired Birrell to respond to these psychological and physiological issues, considering the ethical alternatives, as well as, how it related to her own femininity.
Jonathan Horowitz stopped eating meat at the age of 12, after his parents took him to a bullfight when on holiday in Mexico. The artist’s heavyweight Go Vegan! exhibition at a former New York meat-packing plant, LaFrieda Meats, aimed to normalise the idea of meat-free living. Horowitz compiled a portrait gallery of more than 200 celebrity vegetarians, as well as a video installation featuring Paul and Linda McCartney, arguing for veganism through the medium of modern living: commodity culture.
Banksy, the king of street art, made a return to the road with his puntastic project Sirens of the Lambs. Making appearances around the world, such as New York City and Glastonbury, the piece was a “moving sculpture”, in which a truck full of shrieking cuddly animals being taken to slaughter, drove around. The work is designed to highlight the issue of animals being farmed for their meat, but without the usual, depressing consequences.
Sue Coe grew up hearing the rattling of chains and screaming from the local abattoir at her home in Hersham, England. The normalisation of mass slaughter, which she also saw at abattoirs from Liverpool to Los Angeles, became the inspiration for her graphic paintings and drawings. These works are imbued with a mind-warping darkness and death, that the viewer can hardly ignore.
Artist and animal rights activists Alice Newstead once painted herself silver and suspended herself from hooks to protest the fishing of sharks, who are threatened with extinction (around 100 million sharks are caught in commercial and sports fishing every year. Piercing the skin of her shoulder blades, she was hung for 15 minutes, as blood streamed down her back.
Asher Jay uses her digital graphic skills innovatively to inform the world about animal abuse. In Africa, Jay made screensavers of a poached rhino horn dripping with blood. In China, she integrated elephant tusks into Chinese language characters to encourage a halt in ivory buying while her enormous images of elephants killed for their tusks were projected in New York’s Times Square. “I wanted to visualize the scale and brutality of the crisis and use art to tell the blood ivory story,” she says. “Each year, 35,000 elephants are slaughtered; that’s one every 15 minutes.”
Rocky Lewycky’s project Is It Necessary? addressed the problem of factory farming in a violent new way. The work was comprised of hundreds of ceramic animals – pigs, cows, turkeys, fish – neatly positioned together. Each day Lewycky would enter the gallery space, elect an animal, and brutally smash it to pieces, leaving the white sculptures to reveal their blood-red interiors.
New York artist Dan Witz came over to east London to create his project Empty The Cages. For it, he placed chicken claws and pigs heads in 30 different locations around the streets of Shoreditch, in order to subtly raise the issue of animal consumption, and its dire consequences. Witz explained: “Climate change, deforestation, wildlife extinction, water waste, air pollution and ocean dead zones (among other things) are all directly attributable to meat, dairy and egg production.”
(I urge you to check out what Dan has to say about some other work he did with PETA, and how it made him feel)
Different societies and cultures always tend to draw the line of what sort of animal is okay to eat differently. Elephants, dogs, and silk worms are all consumed in places around the globe. Sacramento-based multimedia artist Gale Hart tackled this issue with her project Why Not Eat Your Pet? It juxtaposed images of devastating animal cruelty with pets that have sinister, child-like innocence.