A Tale of Two Parrots

In the US, “Wild parrots are here to stay”

parrot study finds

The Parrot Who Brings Good Luck

Pictured above, the quirky, cute and clever monk parrot, native of Chicago.

Did I say native of Chicago? Chicago the Windy City where winter temperatures can plummet to -26°C, and annual average snowfall is 91cm? No way.

Ok, I hold up my hands. That was a lie, or anyway a half lie. The monk is commonly found in South America, and like most parrot species is native to the tropics. On the other hand, several decent-size colonies of monk parrots have called Chicago home for the last 50 plus years, so it’s fair to say they are well and truly naturalised.

But what are they doing right up there on the 42nd parallel, nearly 5,000 km north of their ancestral homelands around the Equator?

According to American legend, as cargo was being unloaded at JFK airport one day in 1968, or maybe 1969, two thousand of the colourful creatures, or was it two dozen (details of the legend are a little hazy) burst forth from their damaged crate and took to the air. And who could blame them? Far better flying the skies of a strange land than looking out on the world through the bars of a pet shop cage – their intended destination.

But that was New York. So Chicago? These lively mischievous birds are a handful, as folk who’ve acquired them as pets will testify. They are “notoriously loud and noisy birds, the rock star of the bird scene, little Houdinis who like to find their way out of a cage and chase your rottweiler around the house …. They are fearless, intelligent and vociferous.” 

Some likely escaped from captivity into the city. Or were released by freaked-out owners who got a bit more than they bargained for!

Whatever, this exotic creature of the tropics, which just happens to be the most adaptable of all parrot species, is thriving in the Windy City, snow or no snow. Most of the year they forage in parks and open grassy areas, but bird-lovers’ garden feeders are their salvation in the winter months.

Wouldn’t you think yourself immensely lucky to find some of these little treasures in your neighbourhood? Chicago’s first ever African American mayor, Harold Washington certainly did. Living just across the street from one of the city’s best-known monk parrot colonies, he called them his “good luck talisman”. He was clearly good luck for them too, because once he was no longer around to protect them (he died in 1987), the USDA tried to remove the birds. But the locals, who loved them as much as Harold did, threatened the USDA with a lawsuit. People power at its best!

Names

The monk parrot’s behaviour, it has to be said, is not exactly serious and quiet, as you’d expect from its name. It has another name that’s a much better fit with its lively personality – ‘the quaker parrot’. And this little guy quaking and shaking to ‘Happy’ will show you why –

What do you think of those moves!

Friends & family

As well as being the most adaptable parrot, the monk/quaker is unique in another respect. It’s the only one of all the parrot species that makes a nest. The nest is a fairly messy affair as you can see, and can get quite a lot bigger than you might expect: “In the wild, the colonies can become large, with pairs occupying separate “apartments” in nests that can reach the size of a small automobile.”  And even in cities you will find the monks hunkering down with their siblings, cousins, mum, dad, aunts and uncles – they’re all there. Doesn’t that sound a good way to live?

nest-1699356_960_720

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. The nests can get so cumbersome that it’s said they can bring down power lines, and damage other infrastructure. Hence the USDA’s attempt to remove them.

Monk/quaker parrots in the UK

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, unlike the USDA in Chicago, were deaf to protests about their own program to eradicate this country’s wild monk parrot population, tiny in comparison with those in the US city. “Monk parakeets can pose a threat to national infrastructure, such as pylons and substations, crops and native British wildlife. That is why work is being carried out to remove them in the most humane method appropriate,” they pronounced.

Over 4 years and at a cost of £259K, 62 birds were trapped, of which roughly 40 were safely re-homed. The remainder “could not be re-homed”, whatever that means, and were put down. 212 eggs were taken and disposed of, and 21 nests were destroyed.

62 birds. A “threat to national infrastructure”. Really?

The monk parrot at home

Sadly the monk is not much favoured in South America, its original home range either. If not deterred in some way, large flocks can munch their way right through a farmer’s precious crop. They are, after all, not to know the humans have different intentions for that food.

And now, ‘charismatic, beautiful, exotic’, the parrot we love

If the monk parrots here in the UK are few, what we do have in abundance are these green-feathered beauties –

bird-2053039_960_720
A pair of ring-necked parakeets

There are even more mysteries surrounding the Afro/Asian ring-necks’ appearance here, than there are about the monk parrots’ arrival in the US. Take your pick from these wild theories:

  • An unknown number escaped in 1951 from Shepperton Studios while they were filming The African Queen with stars Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart
  • Jimi Hendrix released a pair he named Adam and Eve in trendy Carnaby Street, London in the 60s
  • Something fell off a plane and landed on an aviary. All the birds broke free through the hole it made
  • A furious wife released her husband’s aviary birds in revenge for his errant ways

But whether all or none of the stories is true (for me, the Adam and Eve one most appeals) this colourful bird has spread all over Britain, and has become “the most northerly, wild breeding parrot species on Earth”. (Further north than Chicago, but of course, much more temperate.) Now numbering at best guesstimate 50,000, over the many decades since they first made their home with us, they’ve become “as British as curry”.  

Not welcome at home

These little creatures are no more welcome in their homes of origin (west Africa stretching over India to the Himalayas) than their South American cousins the monk parrots are in theirs. “In its native areas, the parakeet has been a severe agricultural pest for decades. In India, [it is] one of the most destructive birds. They have been known to reduce yields of sorghum and maize in India by 80 per cent.”

UK status

Research already shows the ring-necked parrot adversely affecting our native birds, by frightening them from food, commandeering the best nesting spots, and even on occasion attacking them. In December 2017, the bird found itself at no. 67 on the list of Europe’s top 100 most invasive species.

Research hub ParrotNet has made these recommendations to UK’s Defra:

  • Stricter legislation on the possession, transportation and commercial trafficking of invasive parakeets, which has already happened in Spain
  • A new system for relinquishing unwanted pet parakeets
  • Removal of legal and financial constraints on rapid-response eradication of new populations, especially in areas where they are currently not present
  • Raising public awareness of the parakeet population and potential problems

They have to raise our awareness, because apparently, we the uninformed masses, all love them. “Many people say they bring an enormous sense of wellbeing. They say they are charismatic, beautiful, exotic. They absolutely love having them around.” The authorities know better, naturally.

Champions for the parakeets

These birds we so love have one expert champion in York University’s professor of ecology, Chris D Thomas. He favours leaving the parakeets free to move about and breed. And in his book, Inheritors of the Earth, argues against “irrational persecution” of non-native speciesThomas says, “We do not try to control species because they moved in the past, so why should we now try to police the distributions of species that are thriving in the human epoch? It makes no sense.”  Rabbits and hares were invasive species here once.

And Thomas is not entirely alone. Biologist Roelant Jonker is the self-appointed protector of the ring-necked parakeet in the Netherlands. “The next generation [of people] will see the parakeets as ordinary birds… and they will be as ordinary as all the different colours of people and birds in Europe,” he says.

Back to the parrots of the USA

When ecologist Stephen Pruett-Jones left Australia for Chicago University in 1988, it was the presence of “a unique piece of the city’s history”, the monk parakeets in Hyde Park, right there on the university campus where he was taking up his new post, that ignited his quest to discover whether other colonies of parrots might be thriving in equally unlikely settings across the USA.

Teaming up with Jennifer Uehling, Cornell University, and Jason Tallant, University of Michigan, he researched all available parrot data in the States from 2002 to 2016. He found:  

  • 56 different non-native parrot species spotted in the wild, in 43 states
  • 25 of the species fully naturalised and breeding, in 23 different states
  • Monk parakeets, the Red-crowned Amazon, and the Nanday Parakeet the most common species
  • More Red-crowned Amazons living in California than in their original habitats in Mexico

And concluded:

“Because of human activity, transporting these birds for our own pleasure, we have inadvertently created populations elsewhere. Many of these species are perfectly happy living here and they’ve established populations. Wild parrots are here to stay.”

As of now, the colonies of ex-pat parrots are a welcome exotic addition to America’s native fauna. But as is our experience with wild parrot populations in the UK, it’s a fine line between being ‘welcome and exotic’ and becoming ‘an invasive pest‘.

Species reservoirs

It’s entirely fortuitous, by luck, by chance, that the dark cloud of animals originally snatched from the wild and taken to places where they don’t belong, may just have one silver lining. Stephen Pruett-Jones believes, for parrots endangered in their native habitat, the colonies dotted across the States may become important, even “critical”, species reservoirs for the survival of species being decimated in their home range.

In an ideal world of course, species reservoirs in alien lands would never have to be the fall-back.

The exotic pet trade causing extinctions

The trade in animals taken from the wild to sell as pets is causing extinctions.  “92% of the 500,000 live animal shipments between 2000-2006 to the United States (1,480,000,000 animals) were for the pet trade.”

“Many bird species are under severe extinction threat because of the pet trade. They include thousands of birds in South America, and an estimated 3.33 million annually from Southeast Asia.

Captivating as they are, and delighted as we are to have them living wild and free among us, we should never buy these gorgeous birds as pets. The exotic pet trade is lining the pockets of criminals while driving animals in their natural habitats to extinction.

Sign World Animal Protection‘s pledge never to buy wild animals for pets here

Ask Tasmania to save critically endangered swift parrot here

Indonesia: ban the trade in wild birds! Sign here

Stop endangered birds from being drugged, shoved into water bottles, and illegally traded. Sign here

And if you love, love, love birds of all kinds, here’s another way to help them –

 

Featured image by Snowmanradio, under the Creative CommonsAttribution 2.0 Generic license

Updates

11th June 2016  Forest fire pushes imperilled parrot closer to the brink

15th July 2019  Invasive parrots have varying impacts on European biodiversity, citizens and economy

Sources

Escaped pet parrots are now naturalized in 23 US states, study finds

Monk parakeet 

Quaker parrot facts

Eradication efforts bring UK’s monk parakeet numbers down to last 50

Should we cull the squawking parakeets? 50,000 of them are threatening British birds, gobbling crops – and they are breeding like crazy

Ring-necked parakeets in the UK

Pretty polly or pests? Dutch in a flap over parakeets

eBird

ParrotNet, a European network of scientists, practitioners and policy-makers dedicated to research on invasive parrots.

Related posts

The Parrot Who Cried, “Don’t Shoot”, & Other feathery Feats

On Long John Silver’s Shoulder

Should We Look on the Bright Side of the 6th Mass Extinction?

 

Isn’t it Time to Stop the Killing in the Name of Conservation?

“Compassion for animals should be fundamental for conservation”

– Marc Bekoff, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

“What gives us the right to be the gods…, to say who lives and who dies? [Invasive species] aren’t our children that we can control. They aren’t our pets or our livestock. They have their own agency. Conservation is ultimately a chauvinist method that treats animals as automatons”

– conservationist Arian Wallach

Filling in the background

Let me jump you back 350 years. We are in the Antipodes, in the land of Arustaralalaya¹, a land of wondrous creatures with wondrous names: the Rufous Bristle Bird, the Kangaroo Island Emu, the Rope River Scrub Robin, the Sharp-Snouted Torrent Frog, the Burrowing Bettong, the Pig-Footed Bandicoot, the Big-Eared Hopping-Mouse, the Western Barred Bandicoot, the famous Tasmanian Tiger, and many many more.

Thylacinus
Thylacines (Tasmanian tigers) in the National Zoo, Washington taken in 1902 (Wiki)

Here too are the aboriginal peoples. In ‘the Dreaming’, a ‘time beyond time’, ancestral spirits created the land and all life on it, the sky and water and all life in them. Nature is not something separate from the people. They, like all the other animals, are a part of Nature. And from it all their needs, physical, artistic and spiritual, are being met. A life with animals and plants, land, water and sky in perfect harmony. A life unchanged for thousands of years.

That is until ….

The British First Fleet, with orders to establish a penal colony where Britain could conveniently offload its felons, sailed into Botany Bay. And nothing was ever the same again.

As the anchors splashed into the water that day in 1788, no-one there could have imagined the magnitude of the moment, marking as it did the beginning of the end for so many species in Australia’s glorious panoply of life. Native animals and plants found themselves defenceless against the predations of the new colonists and the alien species they brought with them. Together, and in record time, these intruders drove the native animals over the cliff edge of extinction. Irrevocably lost. Gone forever.

The first wave of the British brought ashore pathogens till then unknown Down Under: tuberculosis, smallpox and measles, smallpox in particular wiping out huge swathes of the indigenous population. Next followed two centuries of systematic crushing of aboriginal culture, and unspeakable violations of  human rights.

Horses and pigs were the first invasive (non-human) animals to disembark from the ships. A decade later sheep arrived. In the 1850s, foxes and rabbits were the unwilling travellers to a land that had never before seen such creatures. They were shipped there just so they could be hunted, for no better reason than that the thrill of the hunt was an indulgence the settlers were simply not prepared to leave behind them in the old country.

And so it went on, one after another. With the colonists, the alien species kept arriving.

Animals and plants in the wrong places are bad news for native flora and fauna conservation across the planet

And nowhere more so than in Australia, where they are “the No. 1 threat to Australia’s most at-risk species” – more deadly even than climate change and land clearance. As we speak, the invaders – plants, animals and pathogens – are putting well over a thousand native Australian plants and animals at risk.

Already a major conservation disaster. But what makes it even more critical is that 80% of the country’s flora and fauna is endemic, unique, found nowhere else in the world. “These species have existed for tens of thousands, in some cases millions of years, and many have been successful in responding to everything thrown at them for that time.” Right now though, in the Rate-of-Species-Loss world league, Australia unenviably holds poll position, right at the top of the table. Invasive species are eating away Australia’s precious biodiversity.

So, how to stop invasive species wiping out more endangered plants and animals in Australia and elsewhere?

The customary answer to this entirely human-created crisis is large-scale culling of the species that have fallen down ‘the status ladder’ as viewed from the human perspective. Humans brought in horses, donkeys and camels to serve as beasts of burden. When technology made the animals’ services redundant, they were abandoned. Now they are a pest. That is the paradigm. The animals go from ‘useful’ > abandoned as ‘no  longer useful’ > a positive ‘pest’, the enemy. Once an animal reaches the bottom rung and gets labelled ‘PEST’, it loses the simple right to exist. In fact in human eyes, it’s a virtue to eradicate it, no need for remorse. There are no ethical issues, only practical ones.

And so, the deaths

Accurate figures of feral animals killed in Australia are difficult to obtain. Few records are kept by federal, state, or territory governments. But if this statistic from the state of Victoria is anything to go by numbers are huge: Victoria admits to paying out almost a million dollars for fox scalps – every year. The going rate is 10 dollars per scalp – that’s 100 thousand foxes killed yearly, in one state.

Here’s another chilling stat, this time reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: in the name of conservation 6,000 wild buffalo, horses, donkeys and pigs were ‘culled’ in Kakadu National Park in 24 days.

And another: the Australian government is implementing a cull of feral cats, with a target of 2 million to be eradicated by 2020.

These are researcher Persis Eskander‘s conservative estimates of some of the invasive species culled in the country annually:

  • Wild boar/feral pigs 3,450,000
  • Red fox 310,000
  • European rabbit 200,000,000
  • House mice 25,000,000

Eradication. Elimination. Cull. Bland innocuous words behind which to hide the true picture – millions of living, breathing individuals made to endure the most inhumanely-inflicted suffering. Animals who feel pain, animals who grieve, sentient beings who want to live.

Foxes and feral cats, which kill millions of Australia’s native animals nightly “are typically killed with cage traps—in which the animals wait for hours until death arrives on two legs—or with 1080 poison, which causes vomiting; auditory hallucinations; irregular heartbeat; rapid, uncontrolled eye movements; convulsions; and liver and kidney damage.”

And we’ve already made acquaintance with the longest fence in the world intended to protect sheep ranches as well as native wildlife from predating dingoes. The fence, “a rickety-looking five-or-so feet of chicken wire that any decently sized mutt could easily dig under or vault over…. isn’t really meant to stop dingoes; it is more valuable as a landmark for the pilots who drop thousands of baits, laced with 1080, in a swath of poison up to four kilometers wide.” 

If any of the unfortunate creatures escape the traps and poison, they will be shot at from the air.

The land of Australia runs red with the blood of the slaughtered, whose only crime is to have been born. And all in the name of conservation.

Unhappily, this kind of massacre is far from unique to Australia. Take the slaughter of 250,000 goats, pigs and donkeys in the Galapagos islands for example. The goats in particular were said to have grazed the island mercilessly, causing erosion, threatening the survival of rare plants and trees and competing with native fauna, such as giant tortoises,” until Project Isabela unleashed on them “one of the best hunting and eradication teams worldwide”. 

This unimaginable carnage was applauded as a landmark conservation success.

‘Merciless’: dictionary definition? ‘Callous’, ‘heartless’, ‘inhumane’. Who in this nightmare scene were the merciless?

A better way – compassionate conservation

Travelling the remote highway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, it’s a relief to come across a bloodshed-free zone, Evelyn Downs ranch. This 888 sq. mile ranch is one of the very few places in Australia where wild donkeys, camels, wild horses, foxes, cats – invasive species all introduced by settlers – and dingoes, aren’t being routinely killed. There we will also find Arian Wallach, “one of the most prominent voices in an emerging movement called ‘compassionate conservation’.”

Arian, after persuading the owners of the ranch to implement a no-kill policy for the non-native animals living there, has made it the site for her field research. Her team have set up cameras around the ranch so they can study the natural interaction between the invasive species, the native species and the farmed cattle. She believes they will discover Nature restoring balance to the ecosystem if left to its own devices. It is, after all, and as always, Man that’s thrown it out of kilter.

Arian’s life and research partner can vouch for this in an unusual way. Australian Adam O’Neill was himself responsible for thousands of animal deaths in his former career as a commercial hunter and professional “conservation eradicator” – the irony in that title! Drawing on his many years of experience at the sharp end of invasive species control, he published a book in 2002 with this unequivocal message:

“If humans simply stopped killing dingoes … Australia’s top predator could keep cat and fox numbers down all by itself, allowing native animals to thrive and humans to retire from shedding so much blood.”

The donkey expert in Arian’s team, Eric Lundgren, also knows where to lay the blame, this time for the degradation of pastureland, and it isn’t at the donkeys’ door as the ranchers would want us to believe. The donkeys are being scapegoated. No studies have found donkeys to be responsible.

donkey-3722403_960_720

Lundgren says: “It seems very evident to me that the only herbivores to be substantially affecting plant communities there are the cattle—that are maintained at such ludicrously high densities.”

Man has introduced one invasive species, the non-native cattle, every one of which is destined for the slaughterhouse. Meanwhile, he’s busily despatching to equally premature deaths ‘pests’ he deems inimical to his business venture.

And mainstream conservationism happily goes along with this – it’s obvious, the donkeys must be culled. But Wallach instead sees a puzzle to be solved. Step one: Stop overstocking cattle. Step two: Stop killing dingoes that might prey on the donkeys and keep their numbers down. Do this and the ecosystem will sort itself out—no killing required.”

The birth of compassionate conservation

The concept and phrase “compassionate conservation” emerged from a symposium hosted by the Born Free Foundation in Oxford in 2010. The movement was still in its infancy when the Centre for Compassionate Conservation (where Arian Wallach works) was set up at the University of Technology, Sydney in 2013.

“The core mission of compassionate conservationists is to find win-win approaches where  [endangered] species are saved but no blood is shed. Where elephants in Kenya are being killed because they destroy farmers’ fields, the compassionate conservationist promotes a fence that incorporates beehives, since elephants hate bees. (As a bonus, the farmers can collect honey.) Where foxes are being killed on a small Australian island because they are eating rare little penguins, the compassionate conservationist installs guard dogs to look after the penguins and scare away the foxes. Often, advocates say, a solution can be found by examining what all the species in the area want, what they are thinking, and how best to tweak their behavior.” 

What is it that makes compassionate conservation different from the mainstream? The Born Free Foundation wraps it up in a nutshell: 

“Compassionate Conservation puts the welfare of individual animals at the heart of effective conservation actions.” 

‘Invasive species’ are so much more than statistics. They are individuals whose needs must be respected and welfare safeguarded. Individuals, as much as you and me.


¹ The aboriginal name for Australia, “where ‘Arus‘ (अरुस्) means the ‘Sun’, ‘Taral’ (तरल) means ‘Water’ (route they took to travel from Asia 50,000 years ago) and ‘Alaya’ (आलय) means ‘home‘ or a ‘retreat‘. So, Arustaralalaya or Australia is home of Sun-praying, Water-travelled people.”


Please sign: Stop Government-Approved Cat Killing in Australia, Now!

Born Free’s Take Action page here

Updates 

15th May 2019  Fear the cats! Bold project teaches endangered Australian animals to avoid deadly predator Promising research but not in the short term compassionate

17th May 2019  Selective application of contraceptives may be most effective pest control

9th July 2019  Cats kill more than 1.5 billion native Australian animals per year

Sources

Is Wildlife Conservation Too Cruel? – The Atlantic

Centre for Compassionate Conservation, University of Technology, Sydney

An Analysis of Lethal Methods of Wild Animal Population Control: Vertebrates

Scientists sound alarm over invasive species

Queensland feral pest initiative

Traditional aboriginal lifestyle prior to British colonisation

Indigenous Australians – Wiki

List of extinct animals in Australia – Wiki

What is the Dreamtime and Dreaming?

Related posts

A Troubling Dilemma – Should We Kill to Save?

Should We Wipe Mosquitoes off the Face of the Earth

A Dingo is a Dingo Not a Dog – & Why That Really Matters

There is little doubt that the dingo is the most reviled of all Australian mammals 

Aussies, as we all know, have a multitude of colourful expressions, some printable and others less so. But if someone calls you a dingo, there can be no doubt – your reputation is shot. ‘Dingo’ is “a term of extreme contempt… because of the animal’s reputation for cowardice and treachery.” The poor dingo has always had a terrible press.

How did the unfortunate dingo come by such notoriety?

Right from the time British settlers first brought sheep to Australia in the 18th century, the carnivorous dingo has been considered No. 1 pest by ranchers, a pest best met with a shotgun. Bounty hunters were hired to track and kill them. The bounty hunter in colonial writings of the 19th century was cast in the role of the quintessential Australian, canny and heroic, ridding the land of the thieving marauding dingo that was “ripping the heart out of sheep grazing country.” In these tales, dingoes were the outlaws and criminals.

“280,000 bounties were paid for dingoes between 1883 and 1930, by which time dingoes had become scarce in all but the north-eastern corner of the State [New South Wales], where sheep numbers were lowest” – a grievous slaughter, practically an annihilation.

As recently as 2011, an Aussie MP was still proposing a bounty be put on the animal’s head.

The villainous persona the unfortunate dingo has acquired is deeply imbedded in Australian culture. As a former dingo trapper Sid Wright says in his 1968 book ‘The Way of the Dingo’: “In the outback it is accepted without question that the dingo is a slinking, cowardly animal” 

There is little doubt that the dingo is the most reviled of all Australian mammals. It is the only native mammal not protected in NSW by the State’s fauna legislation. [Indeed] the dingo, along with other wild dogs, is covered by a Pest Animal Control Order.”

The longest fence in the world

In the 1940s, the gaggle of higgledy piggledy fences erected to keep dingoes (and rabbits) out of sheep-grazed land was joined up to make one giant fence stretching 8614 km. Since shortened to 5614 km, it encloses the south east quarter of Australia, of which New South Wales is the heart. It’s the longest fence in the world, and its upkeep costs 10 million Australian dollars a year – “a truly epic testament to how much Australians can hate the dingo.”

800px-Sturt_National_Park3_-_Dingo_Fence_-_CameronsCorner
Dingo fence Sturt National Park (Wikimedia Commons)

(Eat your heart out Donald Trump – if your horrible wall happens, as all lovers of wildlife, biodiversity and commonsense sincerely hope it won’t, it would be little more than half the size of this one.)

So, a loathed and despised predatory pest – such is the view of the dingo from the rancher’s side of the fence.

From the dingo’s side of the fence the picture looks very different

Dingoes ranged the bush thousands of years before the first sheep set foot on Australian soil, and while some co-existed with the indigenous peoples, none were ever domesticated. Quick-witted, pragmatic, and resourceful, these are wild animals perfectly adapted to their environment. According to a study undertaken at the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre near Melbourne, the dingo is, “the most intelligent animal in Australia apart from man.”

Sid Wright’s personal opinion of the dingo did not accord with what he knew to be the ranchers’ view. For him the animal was a “wild, magnificent creature” that should be conserved in Australia’s national parks and reserves.

dingo-285516_960_720.jpg

These two opposing stances represent Australia’s ‘dingo schizophrenia’

So what to do about the dingo? Is it villain or hero? Should it be killed to protect sheep, or should it be protected as native fauna? This is the dilemma legislators and conservationists have to grapple with, of which the four most important elements are these:

1. Is the dingo a distinct species of its own, or is it simply a feral dog?

2. If it is a distinct species, is it a genuine native one, and why does this matter?

3. If it is a distinct and native species, is it threatened?

4. As the apex predator in Australia, what is the value of the ‘ecosystem services’ it provides?

Answer to Q.1

The dingo is indeed a dingo not a dog. It is a distinct species, as distinct and different from a domestic dog as the wolf is.

According to Dr. Laura Wilson, UNSW’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, “Pure dingoes have been shown to have cranial growth patterns more similar to wolves than domesticated dogs, larger brains and a more discrete breeding season producing fewer pups than domestic dogs.

“Dingoes are also notably less sociable with humans than domesticated dogs, characterised by a weaker ability to interpret gestures and a shorter time maintaining eye contact.”

The most recent research into the animal found further evidence of specific characteristics that differentiate dingoes from domestic dogs, feral dogs, and other wild canids such as wolves. And were there still any doubt, the clincher is of course the genetic data.

Answer to Q.2

“Dingoes have been living wild and independently of humans for a very long time — they have a distinct and unique evolutionary past that diverged some 5 to 10 thousand years ago from other canids. This is more than enough time for the dingo to have evolved into a naturalised predator now integral to maintaining the health of many Australian ecosystems.” The dingo is a true-blue native species.

Co-author of a new study, Professor Corey Bradshaw agrees:“We show that dingoes have survived in Australia for thousands of years, subject to the rigours of natural selection, thriving in all terrestrial habitats, and largely in the absence of human intervention or aid.”

“The  is without doubt a native Australian species,” the Prof concludes.

Why does it matter?

It matters because conservationists’ ability to protect the dingo hinges entirely on establishing and upholding its status as a distinct and genuinely native Australian species.

It matters because the Western Australian government for example, in order to evade its conservation obligations to the dingo, recently made a politically-motivated and controversial attempt to classify it as non-native fauna.

Bizarrely – though maybe it’s not so bizarre considering New South Wales’ land area falls almost in its entirety on ‘the ranch side’ of the Dingo Fence, and is therefore no doubt under constant pressure from the ranching lobby – NSW is trying its darnedest to square the circle. It simultaneously acknowledges the dingo as a native species and excludes it from the protection afforded by the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 to all the rest of its native fauna. “All native birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals (except the dingo) are protected in NSW. It is an offence to harm, kill or remove native animals unless you hold a licence.” But not if you’re harming, killing or removing dingoes. That’s ok. And dingoes continue to be routinely shot and poisoned in huge numbers.

It matters because Australia holds an unenviable record: Half the world’s mammal extinctions over the last two hundred years have occurred in Australia, and we are on track for an acceleration of that loss” – Dr Thomas Newsome, School of Biological Sciences University of Sydney. “Predation by feral cats and foxes is the main reason that Australia has the worst mammal extinction record of modern time” – Prof. Sarah Legge, Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Answer to Q.3

It matters because the dingo is on the IUCN’s Red List as a “vulnerable species”, and could also be heading for extinction.

Islands

Even without finding itself in the ranchers’ crosshairs, the dingo may lope down another disquieting path to extinction: interbreeding with domestic dogs settlers brought with them to Australia. Unless positive steps are taken to segregate the dingo, its genes will be diluted until the true species ceases to exist.

As with all other antipodean native fauna, the simplest way to conserve them is on an island. On islands it’s easier to control who or what arrives and who or what leaves. World Heritage site Fraser Island is “home to the most pure strain of dingoes remaining in eastern Australia.” Fraser Island boasts a wealth of native wildlife and operates an eco-code for visitors.

Dingoes on the beaches of Fraser Island

Yet even here dingoes live under a cloud of controversy. “110 dingoes have been humanely euthanised for unacceptable or dangerous behaviour on Fraser Island between January 2001 and September 2013, with between 1 and 32 dingoes killed in any given year.”

In 2011, one Jennifer Parkhurst was fined and given a suspended sentence for feeding the dingoes on the island, which she claimed were starving. Others supported her claim: “If things go on the way they’re going, the whole dingo population on that Fraser Island will become extinct,” said veterinarian Dr Ian Gunn, from Monash University’s National Dingo Recovery and Preservation Program. Yet other sources claim many of the dingoes on the island are overweight, verging on the obese!

And as you can imagine, the news media are ever ready to fall into a feeding frenzy and stoke dingo controversy whenever there’s a dingo attack on people. Wiki lists 10 such on the island since 1980, the worst in 2001 resulting in the tragic death of 9 year old Clinton Gage.

31 Fraser Island dingoes were culled in response. “It was a meaningless cull, but in terms of the genetics, it was terribly significant because it was a high proportion of the population” – Dr Ernest Healy, of Australia’s National Dingo Preservation and Recovery Program. Such a drastic cull diminished the gene pool, and just where the animals should live free from the dangers surrounding their mainland cousins, this raised the spectre of extinction for the pure breed dingo of the island. “Kingaroy dingo handler and breeder Simon Stretton says purebred Fraser Island dingoes will be gone in 10 years.”

Answer to Q.4

Besides sheep and cattle, invasive species camels, horses, donkeys, deer, rabbits, goats, hares, foxes, cats, rats and house mice also arrived in Australia courtesy of 19th and 20th century settlers. (Foxes were introduced in 1855 simply so the new human arrivals need not forgo the ‘sport’ of hunting them they enjoyed so much at home. The foxes have since multiplied to more than 7 million, and the threat level they pose to native fauna is ‘Extreme’.) After humans, these invasive species are next most responsible for the decimation of Australia’s unique flora and fauna. The carnivores take out the fauna (the foxes and cats alone take out millions of native animals nightly, and are almost solely responsible for the loss of 20 native animal species) and the herbivores “graze the desert to dust and turn wetlands to mud barrens.” 

What has this to do with the dingo? A lot! As Australia’s apex predator, the ‘ecosystem services’ the animal provides are, researchers are discovering, invaluable. “Dingoes play a vital ecological role in Australia by outcompeting and displacing noxious introduced predators like feral cats and foxes. When dingoes are left alone, there are fewer feral predators eating native marsupials, birds and lizards” – Prof Bradshaw.

Dingoes may be enemy No. 1 in the eyes of sheep farmers, but cattle farmers (as well as the native fauna) should thank their lucky stars to have them around. “Dingoes can also increase profits for cattle graziers, because they target and eat kangaroos that otherwise compete with cattle for grass in semi-arid pasture lands”  -Prof B once more.

And according to Dr. Mike Letnic, Centre for Ecosystem Science UNSW, “the dingo, as Australia’s top predator, has an important role in maintaining the balance of nature and that reintroduced or existing dingo populations could increase biodiversity across more than 2 million square kilometres of Australia.” Where dingoes had been exterminated, Dr. Letnic found far greater numbers of red foxes and invasive herbivores, with small native mammals and grasses being lost.

As the re-introduction of grey wolves to Yellowstone National Park famously proved, from the presence of an apex predator flows a trophic cascade of ecological benefits. In the dingo’s case, the trophic cascade emanating from this particular apex predator flows all the way down and into the soil itself. And for the research that uncovered this surprising benefit, the infamous Dingo Fence for once worked in the animal’s favour:

“The fence provides a unique opportunity to test the effects of the removal of an apex predator on herbivore abundance, vegetation and nutrients in the soil,” says researcher Timothy Morris.

From comparing the conditions in the outback on either side of the fence came forth the revelation that exterminating dingoes not only has an adverse effect on the abundance of other native animals and plants, but also degrades the quality of the soil.

Far from supporting a continued assault on this much maligned creature, all the evidence supports “allowing dingo populations to increase”. More dingoes, not less are Australia’s prerequisite to “enhancing the productivity of ecosystems across vast areas of the country.”

Oh Aussie legislators and ranchers, you are getting it so wrong. Stop demonising and destroying this ‘wild, magnificent creature’, and let us see Canis dingo running free for millennia to come.

*********

If you are of the same mind, please sign and share these petitions:

Petition to remove dingoes from the Pest List

Petition to save dingoes from extinction – re-classify as an endangered species

Petition (Australian citizens only) to stop the promotion of a new export market — Australian dingoes for Asian diners –

Petition to stop the use of toxin 1080 to poison dingoes


If the dingo teaches us anything as human beings, surely it’s this:

“As they have demonstrated time and again, large carnivores will not stay within human defined safe zones. We need to learn to share the land and its bounty with them, to live with them, or we will lose them—and with them a considerable part of what makes us human.” 

Mark Derr, Saving The Large Carnivores, Psychology Today


Sources

Dingoes should remain a distinct species in Australia

11 Wild Facts About Dingoes

Dingo – Wiki

Dingo Fence – Wiki

Dingo dualisms: Exploring the ambiguous identity of Australian dingoes

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf: is the dingo friend or foe?

Last howl of the dingo: the legislative, ecological and practical issues arising from the kill-or-conserve dilemma

Thirteen mammal extinctions prevented by havens

Dingoes, like wolves, are smarter than pet dogs

Time for a bold dingo experiment in NSW national park

Careful using that f-word to describe dingoes

Invasive Species in Australia – Wiki

Culling is no danger to the future of dingoes on Fraser Island

Fraser Island ‘pure bred’ dingoes could be extinct in 10 years

Dingo fence study shows dingo extermination leads to poorer soil

Related posts

Tsá Tué – Where People & Animals Are Equal

Walking Hand in Hand with Nature

Through Artist’s Eyes – The Wondrous Web of Life & Death

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

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

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

wildlife collage leopard musk ox rhino elephant lion africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

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

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

Free up more land for wildlife – Info @

Forks Over Knives   Vegan Society   Vegan Outreach    PETA    Viva!

It’s soooo easy!

Related posts

Are You Really Helping the Planet Eating Plant-Based? Yes! And This Awesome App Shows You Just How Much

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

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

Are Meat & Dairy Really Bad for the Planet?

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy

Sources

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

Meat-eaters may speed worldwide species extinction, study warns

What Man Scars, Nature Heals

Cover pic. Apollo butterfly, European Green Belt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Iron Curtain

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Korean DMZ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What better mission could there be.

No Man’s Lands aren’t always borders

1. Take the compound of brutal dictator Idi Amin

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

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

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

Fisherman fishing boats Lake Victoria Uganda
Fishermen Lake Victoria

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

2. No solid borders divide the ocean

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

fish-1240740_960_720

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

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

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

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

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

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

She always does.


Update

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

Related posts

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear 2

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

Sources

Rewilding war zones can help heal the wounds of conflict

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

The Iron Curtain

The Cold War had an unintended side effect

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

Idi Amin’s island of slaughter for sale

The Worst Shark Attack in History

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

 

 

 

Predicting what’s in store for Nature in 2019

Cover photo: Endangered Steller Sea Lions VLADIMIR BURKANOV / NOAA

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

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

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

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

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

Futurology – the science of anticipation

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

Emerging Trend for 2019 No. 1

And heyho we’re back to plastic

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

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

safety-net-3289548_960_720-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

infographic_square_blue.jpg.838x0_q80

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

No. 2  Sunscreen

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 3  Making rain

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

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

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

Photos from Wild Animals on the Tibetan Plateau²

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

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

No. 4  Fishy oilseed crops

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

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

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

Other trends the futurists identified

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

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

Read more here

A couple of biggies they didn’t spot

a. The expanding market for whole-roasted cricket

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

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

b. Biodiversity offsets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Recycle your plastic bottle tops with Lush here’s how

Updates

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

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

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

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

Further reading

Fixing the environment: when solutions become problems

5 unexpected solutions to the plastic crisis

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

Our love affair with single-use plastics is over

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

Related posts

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

Hope for the Animals & the Planet?

There is Always Hope for the Animals & the Planet

Ten Fascinating Ways Technology is Saving Animals

How Drones Might Just Save Our Endangered Animals & the Planet

‘WILD’ Needs Us to Save Half for Nature

Sources

15 trends with big implications for conservation in 2019 | Ensia

Sunscreen: a history

 

 

 

 

Love at Last for Lonesome Romeo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Source Romeo the Water Frog Has Finally Found His Juliet

Related posts

No Valentine for Nigel & Other Tales of Animal Love

The Internet’s Favourite Baby Beaver Finally Finds Love

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

Teddy Bear the Porcupine’s Valentine Treats

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

‘WILD’ Needs Us to Save Half for Nature

 

“Our goal is nothing short of a healthy, vibrant, life-sustaining planet. And we’re going to need your help to achieve it.”

– Nature Needs Half 

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 simultaneously 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.”

A bold and radical vision but actually, not a new one. Same idea, different name. Nature Needs Half, the brainchild of the WILD Foundation, first saw the light of day at the 9th World Wilderness Congress held in Mexico in 2009.

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.

Great news.

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-authoredSpace for Nature which 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!

2. China

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

Eco-Civilization-Stages

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 policies of 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.”

wild-2500100_960_720

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

2 Take the Half-Earth pledge here

3 Sign the Nature Needs Half Declaration here

4 Sign petition for Half for the Animals here

5 Free up more land for wildlife by moving towards a plant-based diet and reducing your ecological footprint. Info @

Forks Over Knives   Vegan Society   Vegan Outreach   PETA UK   PETA    Viva!

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: Transform our energy systems to 100% clean, renewable energy; Protect, connect and restore 50% of our lands and seas; and Shift 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


Updates  

5th February 2019 Conservation groups press world leaders to protect 30% of the planet

4th March 2019 The view from the bottleneck: Is nature poised for a big comeback?

Related posts

World Wildlife Day – Time to Save Half for the Animals

There Is Always Hope for the Animals & the Planet

Hands Clasped Across the River for Two Big Cats’s

World First – China’s Bird Airport

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

Tiggywinkles, Tigers & Tunnels

Sources

Most Important Conversation for Nature | WILD Foundation

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life – review

How Are We Going To Save The Planet? By Dreaming Crazy

Rats and pigeons ‘replace iconic species’

One-Third of the World’s Protected Areas Are Threatened by ‘Intense’ Human Pressure

Edward O. Wilson’s New Take on Human Nature

Google and NatGeo team up to combat climate change

Wildlife Tourism: Good or Bad for the Animals?

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

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

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

silverback-529576_960_720
Mountain gorillas in Rwanda
Good news story

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

And there are others:

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

Find more ecotourism good news stories here.

Ecotourism is huge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

snowmobiles-2108769_960_720
Guided tour by snowmobile Yellowstone National Park
Overall, human disturbance detrimentally affecting animals’ survival and mating behaviours can lead straight down the path to extinction

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

sea-lions-1534914_960_720

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related posts

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

Shooting Goats on the Rooftop of the World

Shooting lions (and other things that move)

Half for Us Half for the Animals

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

Sources

Dian Fossey

Problems with Ecotourism

Learning from gorillas to save killer whales

Mountain gorilla population rebounds

Ecotourism saving mountain gorillas in Africa

Why Ecotourism is Dangerous for Wildlife

Arctic Ship Traffic Threatens Narwhals and Other Extraordinary Animals

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

Ecotourism: Funding Conservation or Forcing Extinction?

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Remarkable Ape is Hitting ALL the Headlines – And Not Before Time

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.”

cake-2201853_960_720But 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?

Until 2014 there was no legal obligation to identify palm oil on a label as anything more than ‘vegetable oil’. But even now it might be hiding behind any one of these aliases:

  • PKO – Palm Kernel Oil
  • PKO fractionations: Palm Kernel Stearin (PKs); Palm Kernel Olein (PKOo)
  • PHPKO – Partially hydrogenated Palm Oil
  • FP(K)O – Fractionated Palm Oil
  • OPKO – Organic Palm Kernel Oil
  • 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)
  • Palmate
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate (Can also be from coconut)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (can also be from ricinus oil)
  • Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • Chemicals which contain palm oil
  • Steareth -2
  • Steareth -20
  • 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)
Don’t despair

Even the most passionate environmentalists are not suggesting we avoid palm oil altogether. We just need it to be orangutan- and rainforest-friendly. Sustainable.

rspo-principles-and-criteria

Just look for these logos

 

 

 

Meanwhile, ICYMT some petitions to sign and share. Thank you. 

EU: Stop destroying rainforest for biofuels

Stop a billion-dollar gift to the palm oil industry!

Save Rang-tan. End dirty palm oil

Tell big companies to drop dirty palm oil

Ban the sale of products containing unsustainably sourced palm oil in the UK petition now closed. Parliament will debate the petition on 10th December.

EU Commission: No palm oil in our tanks. Stop subsidising palm oil biodiesel!

Tell the RSPO to censure criminal behavior by kicking GAR off its board

Oreo: Stop rainforest destruction

And take the 28 day challenge to live deforestation-free

To find out about hopeful research into palm oil sustainability click here

UK government’s response to petition

Further reading Palm oil is unavoidable. Can it be sustainable?

Updates

15th November 2018 RSPO adopts total ban on deforestation under sweeping new standards

26th November 2018 France Looks to Curb Palm Oil and Beef Imports to Halt Deforestation

28th December 2018 Christmas ad conundrum: Is a palm oil boycott the way to save apes?

4th January 2019 Sustainable choices on palm oil must be easier for consumers, says new study Also, An expanding frontier: Top 10 global palm oil stories of 2018

24th January 2019 The double-edged sword of palm oil “Contrary to a widely publicized narrative of deforestation driven by industrial-scale expansion, the researchers found most oil palm expansion and associated deforestation occurred outside large, company-owned concessions, and that expansion and forest clearing by small-scale, non-industrial producers was more likely near low-yielding informal mills.”

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-01-double-edged-sword-palm-oil.html#jCp

Sources

Palm oil’s dirty secret

10 surprising products containing palm oil

Iceland’s Christmas ad banned

Animatronic orangutan spotted wondering London

Certified sustainable palm oil

Related posts

Are Meat & Dairy Really Bad for Sustainability & the Planet? UN Scientist Says Not

Are You Really Helping the Planet Eating Plant-Based? Yes! & This Awesome App Shows You Just How Much

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