“For 10 long years, a bachelor lived out his days alone, calling out for a mate, but hearing only the clicks of cameras and clacks of human shoes at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Bolivia.”
Credit: Matias Careaga, Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny
But two years ago, the forlorn fellow gave up all hope of finding his perfect match and fell silent. This is Romeo pictured above (sorry, cover photo is not him – it’s a cheat!) He’s a very special guy, a sehuencas water frog, and like George the Hawaiian snail who sadly crossed the rainbow bridge this week, the last of his kind.
That is until now. Last year, with a little help from his friends, Romeo posted his profile on Match.com in search of a mate. He describes himself’ as “a pretty simple guy. I tend to keep to myself and love spending nights at home. I also love eating. Then again, who doesn’t?” Scientists with the Global Wildlife Conservation and the museum where our hero resides used his alluring profile to generate funds for a new expedition into the Bolivian cloud forest in search of that special someone for this solitary little guy. They scoured an area suggested by locals, searching in the water and under rocks, and very nearly gave up.
Finally, their persistence paid off, and they found Romeo not one, but five new buddies, including two females, and one of those just the right age for our Romeo.
But the lonesome bachelor has yet to be introduced to his date, and must wait a little longer. Juliet and the other sehuencas are in quarantine for a while. His profile claims he’s “not picky”, but who knows, there’s still a chance he may not fall for her.
Just in case there’s no chemistry between the pair, the scientists have contingency plans. One way or another, the hope is to breed enough sehuencas babies to reintroduce them to the wild.
Watch this space for the next episode in the life and times of Romeo, the Bolivian sehuencas water frog.
If you are anything like me, you will find yourself hiding your head in your hands under the daily barrage of dismal news about the state of the planet. If it’s making you feel depressed, helpless and hopeless, please don’t switch off just yet. We have the antidote – a big dollop of good news from the WILD Foundation to re-invigorate and re-empower us. And a challenge.
Passionate people and conservation organisations are changing the world. All they need is for us to play our parts in “the biodiversity revolution” they are creating. There is good news. There is hope. But burying our heads in our hands is not an option. We need the courage to stare in the face the destination we are headed towards if we fail to take action now.
What we stand to lose
Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson writes in his 2016 book “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life” of “the complexity, beauty and majesty of Nature” in which “each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.”These myriad marvels – from axolotl to armadillo, humming bird to hippo, parrot to pangolin, tawny owl to tiger, walrus to wolf, not to mention plant life – are what we stand to lose in this age of the Anthropocene, the 6th age of mass extinction caused entirely by the activities of Man.
Yet our species recklessly continues to suffocate the earth under a toxic blanket of new farms, dams, factories and housing that obliterate vital habitat, polluting land, sea and air in the process. And simulta
neously persists in giving free rein to our own population growth, and the callous annihilation of non-human animals.
Wilson asks,“What kind of a species are we that we treat the rest of life so cheaply?”
We are, he says, “a danger to ourselves and the rest of life…. the most destructive but unrepentant species in Earth’s history.”
Who can argue with that?
The Age of Loneliness
If we continue on this catastrophic course, the only wild animals left on the sublime planet thronging with life we inherited, will be rats, pigeons and jellyfish. We may of course still have our domesticated plants and animals, but what small comfort for the 4 million dazzling species we look to lose in the next 30 years if we carry on as we are.
We will have entered the Eremocine, the Age of Loneliness. A conquered planet almost devoid of natural life. What a terrifying prospect.
“Our relationship with this planet is badly broken. We need a new story about how we live here. We need a new relationship with the Earth that is thoughtful and balanced.”
– James Brundige, conservationist and wildlife film-maker.
Nature Needs Half
Thoughtful, balanced yes, and bold. Professor Wilson wants to steer us off the road that leads inexorably towards that unthinkable Age of Loneliness, and take a new direction – nothing less than giving over entirely to Nature free from the injurious activity of humans, half the planet. A full 50% of land and sea. And to prove his bold vision is not simply words on a page, ink on paper, he set up the Half-Earth Project: “With science at its core and our transcendent moral obligation to the rest of life at its heart, the Half-Earth Project is working to conserve half the land and sea to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity, including ourselves.”
So, an entire half the planet for Nature – great idea, but is it translatable into real life? Or is it just a comforting fantasy?
“When it was first launched, this idea didn’t go over so well… Although many conservation leaders admitted to personally supporting the half goal, they believed that publicly aligning themselves with half would ruin their credibility.”
If Nature Needs Half was first mooted a whole 9 years ago, what’s been happening since?
Though his widely read book, “Half Earth” came some years after NNH, what Harvard naturalist E.O.Wilson did achieve through his legendary status, was to lend the Half Earth proposal real credibility and clout. Now “the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Cristiana Pasca Palmer, is calling for ambitious actions in advance of the 2020 CBD in Beijing, China. At the same time, many of the world’s most prestigious conservation organizations are in the process of creating a groundbreaking ‘Global Deal for Nature’“, to go hand in hand with the Paris Climate Agreement.
But hasn’t the last decade seen more loss of vital biodiverse habitat? Aren’t we already too late?
There are currently across the world 161,000 protected reserves and parks making up somewhere in the region of 15% of Earth’s land area. 15% is still a shortfall from 17%, the unduly modest target the Convention on Biological Diversity originally agreed back in 1992. And of that 15%, a third is inadequately protected and under intense pressure from human activity, leaving a mere 10% properly set aside for Nature.
10%, 15%, 17% – still a long way short of WILD’s and Wilson’s ambitious vision for half the planet. 50%, isn’t more than that gone already?
Well, here comes even better news –
No, we still have half left! We can do this.
There still remains enough wilderness as yet untouched by human blight. And if we can send spacecraft to distant planets, surely we can save our own. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished when we pull together. The trick is to get people on board, and that is exactly what Nature Needs Half is doing. Year on year NNH brings more people and organisations under its umbrella, creating an ever-growing world wide web of conservation partners which include Wilderness Foundation Global, Rewilding Earth, Rewilding Europe, National Geographic, London Zoological Society, Sanctuary Asia, Coalition WILD, Wild Wonders of China, Google Earth Outreach, the Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation, and more.
And now hopefully, us.
Here are just a few of Nature Needs Half network’s achievements in 2018 –
1. Digital Earth
This year, National Geographic’s chief scientist, Jonathan Baillie co-authored “Space for Naturewhich argues the case for achieving 30% of land and ocean protected by 2030, 50% by 2050.
Under the auspices of NNH, that revered institution National Geographic has joined forces with another colossus on the world stage, Google, to devise a failsafe way of getting world leaders on board with those literally life-saving objectives. With NatGeo’s unsurpassable knowledge on the ground and Google’s tech expertise, together they are creating a public-access four-dimensional digital Earth.
“This living rendition of the globe will allow users to monitor the world’s species and ecosystems over time, understand threats to the natural world and realize solutions to help achieve a planet in balance.” – Partners’ press release.
It’s hoped that imaging change across the planet in real time will have a much greater impact on national governments and their citizens than pages of dry statistics. Seeing is believing.
Under the NNH umbrella, NatGeo is also working with the Nature Conservancy,and the Wyss Foundation which has pledged a staggering $1 billion to help meet the 2030 targets. Good news indeed!
China, that world super-power we most often associate with rapid industrialisation, pollution and environmental degradation, recently made a massively significant u-turn, pronouncing itself in 2015 the ecological civilization of the 21st century¹
Why is this so important? Because:-
China is home to 20% of the world’s population
China is the world’s second largest economy
China’s current and future ecological footprint is enormous
China is in the top 3 most biodiverse countries
China has committed to the most ambitious goals and environmental policiesof all the major nations on earth
This year, Nature Needs Half partners collaborated in a peer-reviewed article introducing the half-Earth vision to this country of 1.3 billion people. And again, we’re not just talking academic ink on paper. The article details the practical steps China can take to reach the goal of 50% for Nature in the next 30 year. The message reached more than 50,000 Chinese movers-and-shakers, academics, land managers, and land management professionals.
WILD and the Wilderness Specialist Group of the IUCN have also joined forces with Professor Yang Rui, expert in wilderness protection. “There are few if any professionals in China whose resumé commands the recognition and respect his does, with literally dozens of major planning, policy, and research projects to protect wild nature.” This hugely influential man, both in and outside China, is the recently appointed president of Tsinghua University’s brand new Institute for National Parks, and has wasted no time in putting forward six major suggestions to put wilderness at the heart of the chain of national parks China has in the making.
3. Securing last strongholds of critically endangered species
“Nature Needs Half partner, the Quick Response Biodiversity Fund, with the help of a major grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation², secured 13 sites around the world for rare and critically endangered species. Many of these sites are the last stronghold for some of Earth’s most unique and vulnerable lifeforms.”
The Half Earth movement is gathering momentum. There is good news. There is hope.
Now, at the turning of the year, NNH partner and conservationist James Brundige throws down this challenge before us –
“The time is now. Nature Needs Half. And Nature needs you!“
What better way to start 2019 than by committing to Saving Half for Nature. Nature will richly reward us.
1 You can be part of this amazing work for the planet by becoming a WILD member here
6 Send your political representatives the Grow Green report, or if in the UK contact your MP here about the Grow Green campaign to transition unsustainable livestock farming to plant protein farming. And share with your friends
¹ In 2015 “The [Chinese] Congress clearly stated that China must incorporate the idea of ecological civilization into all aspects of economic, political, cultural, and social progress. Actions and activities relating to China’s geographical space, industrial structures, modes of production and people’s living should all be conducive to conserving resources and protecting the environment so as to create a sound working and living environment for the Chinese people and make contributions to global ecological safety.” UN Environment Our Planet
² “With contributions from scientists and partners around the world, One Earth, an initiative of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF), has developed a bold, new plan to avert a climate crisis and protect our biosphere. Justin Winters, LDF’s Executive Director, explains the three goals humanity needs to achieve by 2050: our energy systems to 100% clean, renewable energy; , connect and restore 50% of our lands and seas; and to regenerative, carbon-negative agriculture globally. At the heart of this effort is a new map of the world called the Global Safety Net, which shows what the world could look like if we achieve these three goals.”
Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation Executive Director Justin Winters on One Earth below
James Brundige”s TedEx talk on Nature Needs Half in this video
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Less ice, more ships. More ships, more harm to the animals.
It’s as simple as that. Whales and walrus are among the most vulnerable, and narwhals most vulnerable of all. So you may want to rethink your Arctic cruise. And, as if the harm shipping does to Arctic wildlife were not bad enough, cruise ships also take the trophy when it comes to being the most environmentally-unfriendly way to view wildlife – one cruise ship releasing fuel emissions equivalent to a million cars, in one day.
The last thing we want is to harm the very wildlife we love going to see. So how can we nature-lovers see nature without destroying it?
In spite of all the negatives, there can be no doubt that ecotourism makes animals more valuable in money terms alive than dead. That gives it huge potential to protect nature and save endangered species. But the responsibility of making that happen lies with each of us individually. Planning a trip? Do some thorough research. For potted advice check out The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel .
But for in depth information go to Responsible Travel which the Guardian rates “The first place to look for environmentally friendly holidays.”The Responsible Travel website is packed to the brim with information on how to be a wildlife-friendly ecotourist. Find out Responsible Travel’s stance on wildlife, and wildlife tourism issues here.
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.
No-one knew that orangutans are unique among great apes, possibly unique among animals altogether with the exception of the human animal, in having the ability to talk about the past.
But now we do. Recently a researcher was surprised to find that the apes’ response to, say, a tiger’s presence is to gather their young to them and climb higher up the tree – in silence. You would expect the evasive action to be accompanied by an alarm call. Theirs is an endearing kind of “kiss-squeak” sound. Strangely though, they wait sometime until after the predator has entirely disappeared before they emit their kiss-squeak of alarm.
What on earth is the use of that, we ask. Isn’t that a bit late? Well, it seems the orangutan mums are transmitting a message to their infants, “THAT WAS DANGER! Remember for next time.”
Zoologists have a name for ‘talking about something that is in the past or the future, not present at the time’: it’s called ‘displaced reference’, and as well as being extremely rare among living creatures, is reckoned to be a sign of high-level cognition. These furry orange tree-dwellers may even surpass in brain power their other smart relations in the great ape family.
Another thing I didn’t know before today
Orangutans come in two varieties: the Bornean and the Sumatran. Both species are critically endangered. The Bornean orangutan has declined by a shocking 60% in the last 60 odd years, and between 1999 – 2015 alone we lost over 100,000. I say “we” because it’s a tragic loss for us all. It’s a similar story for the Sumatran ape. Orangutans rightly fear tigers, but there is another animal that is a much greater threat. As is almost invariably the case when species slide towards extinction, the menace is (the so-called) homo sapiens.
In this case it’s our insatiable appetite for palm oil. “More than half the packaged products on sale in the supermarket are made with palm oil,” according to the European Palm Oil Alliance. It’s palm oil production that is decimating these precious animals.
And it’s not just the injurious effect on the hapless apes, as if that were not enough in itself. The burning and deforestation of Malaysian and Indonesian rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations is a big contributor to GHGs in the atmosphere. In the light of the UN’s recent report that we have only 12 years left to get a grip of climate change, this destruction is a supremely urgent environmental issue which affects the entire planet.
If there was anyone who wasn’t aware of what is causing the frightening decline in orangutan numbers before, they certainly are now thanks to the furore created by the banning of Iceland’s Christmas ad. In case you’ve only just returned to Planet Earth from a trip to Mars and not yet seen the ‘offending’ ad, here it is:
The ad was banned on ‘political’ grounds. If you’re like me, you’ll struggle to find anything political in the ad.
So why ban the ad?
Greenpeace has unearthed some revealing correspondence between various UK government departments. The communications expressed fears that supporting an EU-wide ban on the import of palm oil biofuel might very well provoke Malaysia to change its mind about buying our British-built Eurofighter Typhoon jets, and look elsewhere for its military hardware. So yes, no doubt in governmental eyes the ad is political, though we wouldn’t be so cynical as to suggest Clearcast, the adjudicator of TV advertising that imposed the infamous ban, has been sat upon, would we??
The other reason given for the ban was that it had nothing to do with Christmas. It’s certainly not what you think of when ‘Christmas’ is mentioned. I think Greenpeace supporter and Iceland’s CEO Richard Walker knew exactly what he was doing when he sought permission from Greenpeace to adapt their telling animation for his company’s Christmas promotion. It was always unlikely to pass the scrutiny of Clearcast.
But thanks to the notorious ban, the ad hit the headlines. EVERYONE wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I know I did. And as of Wednesday just gone, the ad notched up 12 million views on Facebook, a further 3.8 million on YouTube, 30 million in total across all social media, with endorsements from celebrities including Anna Friel, Paloma Faith and James Corden. What better way of getting Greenpeace’s important message across, and at the same time promoting Iceland as a leader in business environmental- friendliness.
Managing director Richard Walker said at the time: “Certified sustainable palm oil does not currently limit deforestation and it does not currently limit the growth of palm oil plantations.
“So until such a time as there is genuinely sustainable palm oil that contains zero deforestation, we are saying no to palm oil.”
Well done Mr Walker!
And just in case the publicity was not enough
It’s been ramped up even further by sightings of an orangutan wandering the streets and parks of London, even at one stage hanging from a Christmas tree on Coin Street.
The ape on the loose is Iceland’s genius response to the ban of their Christmas ad. But we don’t have to worry, no orangutans were harmed etc etc – the creature is of course animatronic.
All perfect timing on Iceland’s part, for this week saw Greenpeace publish a report accusing the makers of the world’s most famous cookie the Oreo amongst many other products, of sourcing their palm oil from “rainforest destroyers.”
But why the huge demand for palm oil in the first place?
It has two huge advantages over other forms of fat
It has an unusually high melting point, so is semi-solid at room temperature
Both flesh and stone contain oil which makes it 10 times more productive than say, rapeseed, and therefore much cheaper to produce
If you’re interested in why palm oil makes up 38% of all vegetable oil produced, from only 5% of oil-producing farmland this is an excellent article.
What is palm oil used in?
Half the stuff in supermarkets, as mentioned earlier. That is biscuits, cereals, breads, gravies, sauces, margarines, ice cream, crisps, ‘healthy’ snack foods like muesli bars, pet food, cosmetics, toothpastes, toiletries, cleaning products, even ink. Sad to say, it also pops up in vegan goodies where it is used to provide the creaminess otherwise obtained from dairy.
And then there is the biofuel.
We haven’t spotted it on labels, though. How is it hiding in our products?
Palmitate – Vitamin A or Asorbyl Palmitate (NOTE: Vitamin A Palmitate is a very common ingredient in breakfast cereals and we have confirmed 100% of the samples we’ve investigated to be derived from palm oil)
Sodium Laureth Sulphate (Can also be from coconut)
Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (can also be from ricinus oil)
Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
Chemicals which contain palm oil
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (coconut and/or palm)
Hydrated palm glycerides
Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye (derived from vegetable stearic acid)
Cetyl palmitate and octyl palmitate (names with palmitate at the end are usually derived from palm oil, but as in the case of Vitamin A Palmitate, very rarely a company will use a different vegetable oil)
Even the most passionate environmentalists are not suggesting we avoid palm oil altogether. We just need it to be orangutan- and rainforest-friendly. Sustainable.
Just look for these logos
Meanwhile, ICYMT some petitions to sign and share. Thank you.
‘How come the most intellectual creature to ever walk Earth is destroying its only home?”
Who better to open the Guardian’s new series The Age of Extinction, than the renowned primatologist Jane Goodall? Her lifespan of 84 years has seen a horrifying loss of wild animals of all kinds, along with their habitats.
And yet she believes if we come together and play our part in our own lives, we can “heal some of the harm we have inflicted.” This is her message to us all:
During my years studying chimpanzees in Gombe national park in Tanzania I experienced the magic of the rainforest. I learned how all life is interconnected, how each species, no matter how insignificant it may seem, has a role to play in the rich tapestry of life – known today as biodiversity. Even the loss of one thread can have a ripple effect and result in major damage to the whole.
I left Gombe in 1986 when I realised how fast chimpanzee habitat was being destroyed and how their numbers were declining. I visited six chimpanzee range states and learned a great deal about the rate of deforestation as a result of foreign corporations (timber, oil and mining)and population growth in communities in and around chimpanzee habitat, so that more land was needed for expanding villages, agriculture and grazing livestock.
Chimpanzees were affected by the bushmeat trade – the commercial hunting of wild animals for food. I saw traumatised infants, whose mothers had been killed – either for the same bushmeat or the illegal animal trade, for sale in the markets, or in inappropriate zoos where they had been placed after confiscation by local authorities.
But I also learned about the problems faced by so many African communities in and around chimpanzee habitat. When I arrived in Gombe in 1960 it was part of what was called the equatorial forest belt, stretching from East Africa through the Congo Basin to the West African coast. By 1980 it was a tiny island of forest surrounded by bare hills, with more people living there than the land could support, over-farmed soil, trees cut down on all but the steepest slopes by people desperate to grow food for their families or make money from charcoal. I realised that unless we could improve their lives we could not even try to protect chimpanzees.
But chimpanzees, and many other species are still highly endangered. Over the last 100 years chimpanzee numbers have dropped from perhaps two million to a maximum of 340,000, many living in fragmented patches of forest. Several thousand apes are killed or taken captive for the illegal wildlife trade. Orangutans and gibbons are losing their habitats due to the proliferation of non-sustainable oil palm plantations. We are experiencing the sixth great extinction. The most recent report from WWF describes the situation as critical – in the last 49 years, we have lost 60% of all animal and plant species on Earth.
We are poisoning the soil through large-scale industrial agriculture. Invasive species are choking out native animal and plant life in many places. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by our reliance on fossil fuels, destruction of the rain forests and pollution of the ocean. Increase of demand for meat not only involves horrible cruelty to billions of animals in factory farms, but huge areas of wild habitats destroyed to grow crops for animal feed.
So much fossil fuel is required to take grain to animals, animals to slaughter, meat to table – and during digestion these animals are producing methane – an even more virulent gas than carbon dioxide. And their waste along with other industrial agriculture runoff is polluting soil and rivers sometimes causing toxic algae blooms over large areas of ocean.
Climate change is a very real threat as spelled out in the latest UN report*, as these greenhouse gases, trapping the heat of the sun, are causing the melting of polar ice, rising sea levels, more frequent and more intense storms. In some places agricultural yields are decreasing, fuelling human displacement and conflict. How come the most intellectual creature to ever walk the Earth is destroying its only home?
Because many policymakers and corporations – and we as individuals – tend to make decisions based on “How will this affect me now, affect the shareholders’ meeting, the next political campaign?” rather than “How will this affect future generations?” Mother Nature is being destroyed at an ever faster rate for the sake of short term gain. This, along with our horrifying population growth, poverty – causing people to destroy the environment simply to try to make a living – and the unsustainable lifestyles of the rest of us who have way more than we need, is the root cause of all the planet’s woes.
It is depressing to realise how much change I have witnessed during my 84 years. I have seen the ice melting in Greenland, the glaciers vanishing on Mount Kilimanjaro and around the world. When I arrived in Gombe the chimpanzee population stretched for miles along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Buffalo, common then, are locally extinct and only a few leopards remain.
The water of the Lake was crystal clear, fish and water cobras were abundant, and there were crocodiles. But with soil washed into the lake and over-fishing, that changed. When I spent time in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro in the 60s and early 70s, rhino and elephants were plentiful. I grew up in the south of England. The dawn chorus of the birds was magical – so many of them have gone, along with the hedgehogs that used to rustle through the vegetation at night. In May and June we had to draw the curtains at night to keep out the hundreds of cockchafers – May bugs, attracted to the light – today it is rare to see even one, and the clouds of mosquitos and midges are almost gone.
Yet I believe we have a small window of opportunity when, if we get together, we can start to heal some of the harm we have inflicted. Everywhere, where young people understand the problems and are empowered to take action – when we listen to their voices, they are making a difference. With our superior intellect we are coming up with technological solutions to help us live in greater harmony with nature and reduce our own ecological footprints. We have a choice each day as to what we buy, eat and wear. And nature is amazingly resilient – there are no more bare hills around Gombe, as an example. Species on the brink of extinction have been given a second chance. We can reach out to the world through social media in a way never before possible. And there is the indomitable human spirit, the people who tackle the impossible and won’t give up. My job is to give people hope, for without it we fall into apathy and do nothing.
How we fight back against biodiversity loss
In 1994, the Jane Goodall Institute launched the Tacare program, working in collaboration with the villagers themselves. A holistic program including restoring fertility to the farm land (no chemicals used), improved health and education facilities, water management programs, microcredit opportunities (particularly for women), family planning information, and scholarships to keep girls in school. Today this operates in 72 villages throughout the range of Tanzania’s remaining chimpanzees, most of whom live in unprotected village forest reserves. Village volunteers learn to use smart phones, patrol their forests, and note any illegal activities as well as signs or sightings of animals. This information is uploaded onto a platform in the cloud, including Global Forest Watch.
Tacare now operates similar programs in six other African countries. “The villagers have become our partners in conservation,” says Goodall. “They know that protecting the environment benefits them as well as wildlife.”
*Jane’s call to action is urgent. According to the UN report she mentions, we have only 12 years left to get control of climate change. “It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now. This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.” – Debra Roberts for UN IPCC
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.
“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.
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?