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

One man thinks we should. Stop worrying about what is happening to the planet – just kick back and enjoy the ride. That is the message of ecologist Chris Thomas’s new book ‘Inheritors of the Earth, How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction”. It is time” he writes, “for the ecological, conservation and environmental movement to throw off the shackles of a pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world.”

We’ve now become all too unhappily familiar with the ‘Anthropocene’, the word coined by Dutch Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen to describe this new age, the age in which Man has played havoc with the entire functioning of the planet. We’ve altered the make-up of the atmosphere, the chemistry of the oceans, changed the climate itself. Glaciers are melting, sea levels rising. We’ve depleted biodiversity, plants and animals, and messed up their distribution. We’ve rerouted rivers, drained lakes, razed forests and covered the Earth in highways and cities. And all the while our own population has exploded, 7.4 billion today and an expected 9.7 billion by 2050.
What is there not to be alarmed about?

Anthropocenists (by that I mean the vast majority of ecologists who are concerned about the repercussions of human activity) propose that if we have the technology to so damage the planet, why can’t we turn technology to its healing? Hi-tech geo-engineering such as air cleaning plants, altering ocean chemistry to absorb more carbon, or capturing carbon emissions from power stations and factories. Maybe we could even modify the weather. A luxury travel company that promises perfect wedding weather for the big day thinks we can. Expert opinion says otherwise: “The scale of the Earth’s atmosphere is far too great to tamper with—at least for now.” according to meteorologist Bruce Broe.

But Professor Chris Thomas’s thinking runs on altogether different lines, and he’s nothing if not a glass-half-full man. In this age of mass extinction, he says, nature will do what it always does – fight back.
A quick summary of his thinking –
  • Man is an animal and just as much a part of Nature as a bird or a fish
  • Contrary to what we are constantly being told, Nature is thriving. There are biodiversity gains as well as losses, and “the number of species is increasing in most regions of the world”
  • The essence of life is eternal change  – everything lives, evolves, dies. There is no stasis in Nature. We need to embrace the change and forget about trying to hold back the hands of the clock

Taking each of those points in turn:-

Man is part of, not outside Nature

All life forms on Earth including humans, Chris says, are the result of natural physical, chemical and then biological processes. “I take it as a given that humans have evolved and everything we do is directly or indirectly a product of human evolution. We are part of nature, and in that sense we are part of the force of nature, rather than altering it.” 

The Earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old, with Homo sapiens a relative newcomer emerging approximately 200,000 years ago. But our planet has never known another species like ours in terms of our exponentially developing technological abilities, which have enabled us to colonise all corners of the globe, and make momentous changes to the environment.

The biggest dead zone ever in the Gulf of Mexico courtesy of toxic waste from America’s industrial meat production, pesticides and herbicides poisoning the land, plastics polluting the oceans, failed nuclear power plants irradiating entire continents* – I see all these as the unforeseen and unwelcome backwash from acclaimed-at-the-time ‘advances’ intended to improve our efficiency, and make our lives easier and better. Yet for Prof Chris all the damage and pollution is ‘natural’, because all result from innovations emanating from the evolved human brain. And evolution is the law of Nature.

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Furthermore, the Prof argues, “most of the ways we are changing the world are not completely unprecedented.” They are already present in some form, apart from human activity. To back up his point, he cites background radiation; beavers building houses; and leaf-cutter ants farming fungi. “Most of the things we are doing are kind of comparable to normal ecological processes.”

At first glance this idea seems preposterous. How can you compare Fukushima and Chernobyl with natural background radiation, a few beavers’ lodges with our megacities, or ants’ fungi with factory farms? But a new article in Chemical & Engineering News gives a measure of credence to Chris’s point. Apparently certain living organisms can and do make their own versions of as many as 6,000 chemical pollutants, some the exact equivalent of man-made chemicals now banned because of their toxicity. “You could call them naturally produced persistent organic pollutants,” says Reddy, a marine chemist at WHOI. There’s a public perception that humans have produced more halogenated compounds than nature has, he says. “That’s not necessarily true.”

Nature is thriving

It takes a brave man to make a statement like that when the world is on track to lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020But the Prof maintains that while it cannot be denied the overall number of species is declining, there are actually a greater number of species in many parts of the world. Take the UK for instance, he says. In addition to our native species, we are host to nearly 2,000 non-natives, like the house sparrow and the poppy.

(I’m not sure how wisely he’s picked his examples, since the house sparrow, with a population declining since the 1970s – by 50% in the country and by 60% in towns and cities – is on the red list of ‘species of high conservation concern’. The poppy isn’t threatened, but we’ve yet to see fields of golden wheat lavishly stippled with the poppy’s vivid red as we once did pre 1950s and the advent of industrial farming)

But, in support of the Prof’s ‘Nature thriving’ contention, there is the so-called ‘cocaine hippo effect’. By that is meant the flourishing colonies of animals in unexpected places – animals that may well be endangered or even extinct in their native habitats. Why ‘cocaine hippos’? Because there’s a small population of wild hippos in South America, offspring of animals who escaped the abandoned hacienda of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Every cloud has a silver hippo lining.

“In fact, thanks to introduced populations, regional megafauna species richness is substantially higher today than at any other time during the past 10,000 years’, according to a new study.

“Worldwide introductions have increased the number of megafauna by 11% in Africa and Asia, by 33% in Europe, by 57% in North America, by 62% in South America, and by 100% in Australia.

“Australia lost all of its native megafauna tens of thousands of years ago, but today has eight introduced megafauna species, including the world’s only wild population of dromedary camels.”

And in their new environments, these translocated species are often creating new beneficial trophic cascades. Take burros for example:

“In North America, we have found that introduced wild donkeys, locally known as “burros”, dig wells more than a metre deep to reach groundwater. At least 31 species use these wells, and in certain conditions they become nurseries for germinating trees”, say the lead authors of the study.

“Everywhere you look, there are species that are doing very well in the human-modified world. That is what I mean by nature is thriving,” says the Prof.

But though every cloud has a silver lining, every silver lining also brings with it its cloud. The cocaine hippos, though thriving thousands of miles from their native habitat, are creating a little havoc of their own. With the damage to the environs they have decided to call home, and disturbance to native wildlife, they’re giving Colombian conservationists a few nasty headaches. Not to mention the threat to people – the hippos seem quite at home in town, as you will see from the video.

The thriving colony may thrive for this generation only, if Cornare‘s neutering program is successful.

The moral of the tale is surely, that though pockets of threatened species may flourish far from their native habitat, will we be able to say the same in 50 or 100 years time? We’d better not be relying on the cocaine hippos for the survival of their species. And there’s a reason why megafauna fit so well in their native habitats.

The essence of Nature is change. Embrace the change. We can’t hold back the tide

I can’t put the Prof’s point better than he does himself:

“We must become accustomed to thinking that the world will continue to change, rather than hankering after some rose-tinted past that it is no longer possible to return to.

“The idea that we are somehow keeping the world in a pristine natural state is a kind of mirage because the entire planet has already been transformed by humans. The reality is that the world is dynamic and the distributions of species are changing. You can try to intervene and keep things as they are, but this is not how the biological world works. With climate change set in motion, it will be impossible to keep things just as they are. What I’m saying is, go with the flow a bit more and choose carefully which fights you are going to fight because otherwise you are going to throw good money at losing battles.

“The rate at which we are moving other animals and plants around the world is the greatest it has been for at least the half-billion years. It’s like we have reunited all the continents into a new version of Pangea. We are connecting up the world. This is an unprecedented experiment. But the outcome will be that the most successful animals, plants, fungi and microbes will rise to the top. And with more robust species, you can expect future ecological systems to end up being more robust as well.”

It’s certainly true that many species are adapting themselves to a human-dominated world. Foxes, raccoons, coyotes and Canada geese are among the many species moving into cities. Coyotes too – one has even made a Chicago graveyard his home. There are wild boar in Berlin, peregrine falcons in the centre of London. Many of these animals are seeking refuge from hunting and persecution. Cities have become a safer place for them. And they are adapting to city life fast. Pavement ants appear to be thriving on discarded junk food. And in Britain, birds’ beaks have lengthened noticeably in the last 40 years, a true genetic, evolutionary adaptation to the prevalence of urban and suburban garden bird feeders. “That’s a really short time period in which to see this sort of difference emerging,” says Professor Jon Slate.

Wrapping up

Professor Chris’s message is beguiling – he’s like a kind uncle patting us on the head and telling us not to worry, everything is going to be just fine. But I’m not ready to be that easily placated. I have profound misgivings. He may have hit the nail on the head with his prognostications for the future of the planet, but is that the planet we want to see? Three thoughts:

1  Am I wrong to think there’s a danger the professor’s contentions could do a lot of harm? If the message we’re receiving is you can’t hold back the tide, why should we bother doing anything? Let Nature and Fate take their course. After all, Nature is thriving, Nature will keep adapting and Nature will survive. So why trouble trying to check carbon emissions, why trouble banning plastic bags, why bother saving the tiger? Let’s just kick back and “go with the flow.” Life would be so much easier, wouldn’t it?

2  The Prof dubs life on Earth “an unprecedented experiment”, which he watches unfolding before him as if from on high. But it is an experiment in which animals, human and nonhuman, are getting hurt. Is sitting back and watching with fascinated scientific detachment an appropriate response to the sight of a slaughtered elephant with flies crawling over the congealing pools of blood where his tusks should be? Or a polar bear on shrinking ice, starving and unable to feed her cubs. Or the terror in the eyes of an orangutan infant, orphaned by human cruelty and greed. Creatures are suffering – now, today, and will keep on suffering if we don’t make every effort to put the brakes on this cruel ‘experiment’.

I’ve said this before, and no doubt I’ll be saying it again because I believe it to be true: “The mysteries and marvels of Nature we will never fully fathom. Nature is an irreplaceable treasure, and to lose even the smallest scrap of it is tragic beyond measure.”

So I’m afraid I cannot echo the Professor’s optimism. The future of the Earth he foresees where only the toughest few survive is a planet desperately diminished in richness and complexity. Species at threat right now have their own unique and vital roles within the complex web of life. We do not know all the ways their loss will impair our own survival. But we do know we will lose our delight, our constant surprise at their dazzling beauty, their awesome abilities, from the humblest woodlouse to the blue whale, king of the oceans. Every day we discover more wondrous beings we never knew shared our planet with us. And we’ve barely even begun to uncover the complexity of their thoughts and feelings, the secrets of their lives.

Above all, they too have a right to their life and a place to live it, untrammelled and free.

The good Prof says, “Appreciate the world for what it is, rather than spending time being sad that the world isn’t how you think it was supposed to be…”
But I’m with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh: “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the Earth crying.”  

How about you?


Further reading

How do you stop the next mass extinction? Look to the past

The Geoengineering Fallacy 

Artificially cooling planet ‘risky strategy,’ new research shows

Sources

*Radioactive contamination from Chernobyl detected all over the world – Global Radiation Patterns

Why we should accept our ecological state for what it is, not what we want it to be – MNN

From feral camels to ‘cocaine hippos’, large animals are rewilding the world

The Anthropocene: Has human impact changed Earth forever?

How Wild Animals Are Hacking Life in the City

Related posts

Half for Us Half for the Animals

When Everyone Is Telling You Meat Is The bad Guy

Hope for the Animals & the Planet

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

Extinction Is Forever – Why We Need To Change To Save Animals

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

What happens? Nature fights back!

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

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

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

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

(Thanks to One Green Planet for the article below)


Haven for horses in the desert

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

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

Abercrombie and Fish?

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

Awesome Abandoned Places Around the World Occupied by Animals.

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

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

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

Life finds a way in the shadow of disaster

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Very rare Przewalski horses

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

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

Wildlife can’t read the ‘Keep Out’ signs

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

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

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

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

This subway car is going nowhere

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

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

Don’t forget to take your carrots!

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

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montrealgazette.com

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

This island gets an (elephant) seal of approval

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

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

Just surreal

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

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worldofmatter.net

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

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

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

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


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

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

Nature generating and nurturing transformative life – in abundance.

Creating, not destroying.


Sources

Cover pic i.imgur.com

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

Related posts

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

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

Get Your Pet Fox Here

If you want to know where to join the queue, and I hope you don’t, visit Novosibirsk in Russia, where fifty years ago one man started breeding the wild out of foxes. What took thousands of years to turn the wild dog into our most loved companion, geneticist Dmitry Belyaev managed for Vulpes vulpes in just five decades. His farm can now boast the fully domesticated fox that loves nothing better than a cuddle and a belly rub. And when I say ‘fox’, I don’t mean one particular individual. I’m talking about a whole breed.

Foxes are harder than most animals to tame. They are said by those who’ve tried to be “highly-wired” and possessing “a stubborn wildness that is impossible to get rid of.”

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But there is nothing complex about Belyaev’s method. Or high-tech. We’re not talking about CRISPR or ‘gene drive’ here. He has simply done what Man began all those millennia ago with cats, dogs, sheep, goats and cattle, and has carried on with ever since  – selective breeding. He embarked on his mission in the 1950s, visiting fur farms around Russia, picking out foxes that seemed to him the friendliest. Those that hid in corners and made aggressive noises were ruled out.

Back on his farm with his starter foxes – 100 vixens and 30 males – once the vixens gave birth to their first cubs, Belyaev selected the tamest and most docile cubs from each litter, the ones that interacted with people best. It was as simple as that. The chosen 10% were not trained to become tame. They lived in cages and had minimal contact with humans, because the aim was to see how tameness could be bred, not how it could be taught.

Belyaev was trying to discover, for the Institute of Cytology and Genetics at the Russian Academy of Sciences, just how our distant ancestors had tamed the animals we now live with at home or on farms. How these evolutionary changes came about. There is some archaeological evidence that humans did attempt to ‘break in’ the fox in the distant past, but cats appear to have replaced them as better candidates for domestication. After Belyaev’s death in 1985, his intern Lyudmila Trut took over.

And so the process continues, litter after litter, generation after generation. By the early 2000s, the foxes were showing none of the fear or aggression of a wild animal. They seemed to have turned into (very pretty) dogs, greeting visitors with a lick and a wagging tail. By 2005-2006 the foxes had become playful, friendly and responsive to people’s gestures or glances. Their vocalisations were now different from those of wild foxes – more like dogs’.

And that wasn’t all. Surprising shifts in the foxes’ physical appearance started to emerge: there were changes in coat colour, legs got shorter, so did snout and tail, the skull widened and the ears got floppier. A fox with floppy ears?! They started to look more tame, more delicate, in a word ‘cute’. Even their natural behaviours changed. Now they’re able to mate out of season, and they produce on average one more cub per litter.

By 2009 Ms Trut discovered a change in brain chemistry compared with the wild Vulpes vulpes population. The people-loving foxes have higher levels of serotonin – the ‘happiness hormone’, which also inhibits aggression. And less active adrenal glands, adrenalin being of course, the ‘flight or fight’ hormone, so vital for an animal in the wild. It makes sense then that foxes bred specifically for their tameness would have less adrenalin pumping round their systems. And less adrenalin means droopier ears!

“The proudest moment for us was creating a unique population of genetically tame foxes, the only one in the world,” said Ms Trut. She makes no mention of the other 90%, rejected from the experiment as still too wild, and killed for their fur.

The experiment continues.”The main current goals are focused on molecular-genetic mechanisms of domestic behaviour”, she says. But maintaining the work is expensive. Despite the sale of pelts, the institute struggles to finance itself. So, in the 1990s it began selling the foxes as house pets. You can have one imported into the USA for $8,900 if you want one. But, as I said, I sincerely hope you don’t.

Does the world need pet foxes? I think not, no more than we need their fur. What price the fox’s legendary cunning, cleverness, boldness, trickery and elusiveness? It appears that what the Russians have done is reduce this magical animal into not much more than a docile furry footwarmer.

Doesn’t the very beauty, allure, mystique of the fox lie in its unbroken wildness?

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There have to be better ways to make scientific discoveries than this.

Source

A Soviet scientist created the only tame foxes in the world – BBC Earth

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Russian Miner Takes Stunning Photos of Foxes in the Wild | One Green Planet

If you were to venture up to the north-eastern Chukotka region of Russia, you would find yourself in the middle of an arctic tundra. Firstly, it would be absolutely freezing. Secondly, you would be hard pressed to find any semblance of life apart from yourself. So, why would Ivan Kislov venture off into this frozen wasteland during his breaks working as a mining engineer?

Well … turns out there is more than snow in the Chukotka. This snow covered region is the native hunting grounds of wild foxes. Thanks to their thick coats, these foxes are able to withstand the cold and thrive in this otherwise unideal habitat. Foxes are majestic, wonderful animals in their own right, but seeing their bright fur juxtaposed against a snow-white backdrop is absolutely fantastic. Noting their beauty, Kislov has taken to photographing the foxes in Chukotka.

 

Kislov works long shifts at a mining facility in Chukotka. When he gets a break, he sets out with his camera to photograph the local foxes.

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Foxes are naturally very curious animals, so Kislov is able to get close without disturbing their everyday routines.

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Kislov sees photography as a relaxing break from his usual workday. 

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While photography might be a relaxing hobby for Kislov, his photos show angles and a depth typically found in lifelong professional photographers.

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These foxes are a very common predator in Chukotka, but they are listed as an endangered animal.

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While the fox is the main subject of Kislov’s work, he also photographs other wildlife including elk, bears and birds.

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Kislov explains that the fox is the most willing of his subjects, however. Just look at this happy fox – what a ham!

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These photos capture the wild lives these animals lead completely separate from humans … save for the occasional photographer who crosses through.

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If you ask us, it seems that maybe Kislov should quit his day job and pursue photography full time. 

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There is an incredible ease in the foxes. This one looks as if he’s about to drift off into a snow-filled dream.

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When the winter months subside, the foxes really come to life.

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You can see the vivid curiosity in this fox’s eyes. “Hmm a camera … to eat, or not to eat?” 

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And of course, warmer weather means fox cubs! 

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It’s incredible how these photos make you feel as if you know these animals and understand the difficulty as well as the joy that comes with their lives. 

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To see more of Ivan Kislov’s photography, check out his website and 500px page.

All image source: Ivan Kislov

The RSPCA Buckles under Establishment Pressure

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

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

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

And spokesman for the NFU, Gary Ford chipped in:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jeremy cooper rspca dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God help the animals!

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

The Countryside Alliance on the new CEO

The Independent on Mr Cooper’s public apology

Royal Central on Prince Charles & the RSPCA

Update May 17th 2016

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

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

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

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

Full statement from the RSPCA here

Update August 16th 2016

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

 

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Hedgehog Highways

Article by Katie Dickinson Feb 18th 2016

A Cumbrian firm is getting behind hedgehog conservation by becoming the first homebuilder in the country to create hedgehog highways.

Russell Armer Homes is working with Hedgehog Street – a partnership between the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) – by supporting its campaign for hedgehog conservation.

All of the company’s new homes have a 125mm x 125mm gap in their fencing, which allows hedgehogs to move from garden to garden.

Hedgehog Street says that more secure fences and walls are one of the main reasons why the hedgehog population is declining in Britain.

Creating corridors in fences will establish ‘habitat corridors’ for the hedgehogs, which will be too small for most pets to use but will allow safe passage for a little hedgehog.

The first homes to become part of a Hedgehog Highway, will be Russell Armer’s new homes at OverSands View, Grange-over-Sands and the Sheiling, Arkholme.

There will be 42 properties with hedgehog gaps at Grange-over-Sands and 14 properties on a Hedgehog Highway at Arkholme.

Russell Armer Homes’ managing director, Martyn Nicholson, says: “We are delighted to become Hedgehog Champions by creating what we believe to be Cumbria and Lancashire’s first Hedgehog Highways.

Lovely news. It’s a small start, but hopefully other builders and developers will follow Russell Armer Homes’ enlightened lead. Because our beloved hedgehog is in sad decline. Not mentioned in the article is gardeners’ profligate use of slug pellets. The pellets not only kill off the hedgie’s staple food, but can kill the poor hedgie himself if he eats enough poisoned slugs. And they have the potential to harm other wildlife – frogs, toads, cats, dogs, foxes and badgers can also fall victim if there is enough build up of the toxins in their systems.

If you’re looking for a wildlife-friendly way of protecting your precious plants from the predations of the slimy beasties, click here for some hot tips. Just ignore no.2 on the list though –  I don’t like that one!

 

Tory Government ‘Committed’ to Vote on Repealing Fox Hunting Ban

I’m outraged by this government’s blatant disdain for the opinion of the majority of voters in this country, and their pandering to their cronies in the Countryside Alliance.

A YouGov Poll taken on January 9th 2016 showed that 51% are in favour of retaining the Hunting Ban and only 33% in favour of repeal.

Outraged but not surprised. Mr Cameron seems to take little notice of anyone he doesn’t care to listen to, including the House of Commons. In March 2014 MPs voted overwhelmingly to halt the badger cull – 219 votes to 1. The motion had been brought by a Tory MP Anne Main. Not only was the cull not halted, the government has plans to roll it out in several more counties this year, in spite of massive public opposition including from scientific and wildlife experts.

Democracy or autocracy?

Huffington Post article by Graeme Demianyk below

The Government will give MPs the chance to vote to scrap the ban on hunting, a minister has confirmed, after an attempt last year failed.

Cabinet Office Minister, Matthew Hancock, renewed the Tory manifesto pledge that could see the Labour Hunting Act repealed, saying the party was “committed” to it.

Attempts to table a vote last year to lift the two-hound limit on hunting foxes for vermin control purposes was blocked due to opposition from the SNP and some Conservative MPs.

fox hunting

Animal rights campaigners protesting against government plans to bring back fox hunting in July

However, a vote is more likely now new rules banning Scottish MPs from voting on matters which only affect England have come into force.

A similar “commitment” in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition failed to materialise over the five year Parliament.

Mr Hancock, who is in charge of implementing his party’s manifesto, was quizzed by the BBC’s Sunday Politics as it launched its Manifesto Tracker. The ‘Tracker’ will charts the progress of promises made by the Conservatives as they unexpectedly win the election.

Presenter Andrew Neil asked: “Hunting. When will you give parliament the chance to repeal the Hunting Act?”

Hancock: “We’re committed to doing that.”

Neil: “But when?”

Hancock: “Well, we’re committed to doing it in this parliament. So we looked at doing it early on, as everybody told us, we decided not to do it then, but that’s something that we’re committed to.”

 The SNP had said it would not vote on English-only matters, and specifically cited fox hunting as an example, but changed its mind after “overwhelming demand from people in England”.