wildlife

Scottish Birds Of Prey Being Mass-Poisoned

A disturbing story from the website Focusing On Wildlife

Red-kite-in-flight-007Bird experts believe that one of the UK’s most valued bird of prey colonies is being targeted after 16 raptors were found dead from poisoning in a small area of the Highlands. The bodies of 12 red kites and four buzzards have been recovered over the past two weeks within a two-square-mile area on the Black Isle, north of Inverness, in what ornithologists suspect is the largest mass poisoning of birds recorded.

It is already the largest number of red kites killed in a single cluster in the UK in modern times, and the largest number of raptors suspected of being poisoned in the same area in Scotland, after decades of systematic persecution by gamekeepers and farmers.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) announced it was doubling its reward for a successful prosecution in the case to £10,000.

….

The attacks appear to be deliberately targeting the core breeding area, which has been one of the two main reintroduction sites for the species in the UK along with the Chilterns, west of London, for the past 25 years. It is a significant setback to a successful campaign led by Scottish government ministers to combat bird of prey persecution, which is illegal under wildlife conservation laws: after a record number of incidents five years ago, the number of poisoning incidents fell to three in 2012, and then six last year.

The RSPB is certain the bird’s numbers are being suppressed by deliberate persecution by grouse shooting estates, or as a result of attacks by gamekeepers on birds of prey generally. One recent study found that between 1999 and 2006, an estimated 166 red kites from the Black Isle were poisoned.

The full story is here.

Siberian Tiger Shot Dead

Xinhua are reporting that a highly endangered Siberian tiger had to be shot dead a couple of days ago…

A female Siberian tiger escaped from a zoo and entered a public park in an east China city late Monday, but she was immediately put down by police on safety concerns, local officials said Tuesday.

The nine-year-old animal made her way out of the zoo after a zookeeper came to feed her but forgot to properly lock the cage. After the escape, the tiger roamed a public park in downtown Wuhu, a city in Anhui province, and occasionally met with frightened residents.

More than a dozen armed police came and shot the giant cat before she could attack humans.

A tragedy, especially given that…

Siberian tigers are among the world’s rarest species. The population of wild Siberian tigers is estimated at around 500, most of which live in eastern Russia and northeastern China.

In the light of this, I just wanted to refer you back to a recent article I wrote…

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If you want to get me angry then here is an easy way to do it. Watch an animal documentary and then describe one of the animals in it as “evil”.   They aren’t evil, by calling them that people are ascribing human characteristics to animals, which is called anthropomorphisation.   People do this all the time, for example believing that they can tell when their dogs are feeling guilty and it is an illusion, or better put, a delusion.

I also once watched a documentary about people who keep tigers as pets. A fair few of them ended up getting mauled or worse. I don’t think it is too controversial to paraphrase Douglas Adams and say that the only genuinely evil thing that happened in these situations was the people taking the tigers as pets in the first place. I’m sorry for them but although I know it’s harsh I can only think what the hell were they expecting? You cannot blame the tigers for doing their jobs as tigers.

(Cartoon from the Pleb)

I started thinking about all this again when I saw the following story on BBC today (the italics are mine)

Exotic animals on loose in Ohio

Dozens of exotic animals have escaped from a private zoo in Zanesville, Ohio, and are roaming the area, say police.

Police have been receiving sightings of cheetahs, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, tigers and lions. Twenty-five animals have reportedly been shot dead.

The animals’ owner, Terry Thompson, was found dead at the zoo, Muskingum County Animal Farm, but police have not said how he died.

We don’t know the circumstances of Thompson’s death and I am not going to speculate. I’m sorry he is dead as I would be when anyone dies but again, the first and probably only genuinely evil thing that happened here, which has subsequently led to the rest of the problems, was the removal of the animals from wherever they were and putting them in a private zoo in the first place. If these animals were taken from rescue centres or similar then you only need to move the removal I am talking about back a generation or two and the point still stands.

Now, the police are shooting these animals to kill. Even if you don’t agree with that it is easy to see why. These are bears, tigers, lions and so on. I said before that they are not evil or malign but neither are they cuddly toys – and the police department is charged with protecting the people in the area. If someone who was not involved with the zoo is killed or attacked then it is a real tragedy. Indeed, reports say that locals have been uneasy about having the private zoo in their area for some time, with previous escapes being mentioned too.

Other reports say that zookeepers from the local zoo, probably at risk to themselves, are also out trying to capture rather than kill the animals. This looks like a better option but you can still see why the police don’t want to take any chances.

My point, again, is that this terrible situation could have been avoided if the animals had not been removed from their habitat in the first place.

Now, I think the case for zoos is pretty weak in general. Whilst conditions in most of them have markedly improved over the years, it is still not the same thing as having the animals in their natural habitat. Captive-breeding is a mixed bag. There may be a case to be made for it in terms of critically endangered animals and many programs have been successful. However, there is no reason why a captive breeding program cannot be conducted in private instead of in the public eye for all to see and in fact many captive breeding programs are done away from the public. The quick retort to this is that sometimes there isn’t enough money to conduct the programs without the money that the public brings in, which in itself shows how much of a priority is really given to the problem of extinction.

To conclude, as far as I know, this private zoo was not conducting a breeding program and the owner of the zoo, Mr Thompson, must have known the risks associated with having these animals in his care. If he didn’t know the risks then he shouldn’t have been anywhere near them. These animals are now being shot for no other reason than that they (or their parents or grandparents) were unfortunate enough to have been kidnapped earlier.

Altogether now… none of these tragedies would be happening now IF THE ANIMALS HAD NOT…

Rafflesia The Gentleman Thug – A Short Review of David Attenborough’s Life On Air

I have just finished reading David Attenborough’s Life on Air. It is not the kind of thing I normally read because I don’t like reading green room stories or memoirs about a life in TV. In fact, I don’t much like TV so as I said, it was an unusual choice for me but I felt David Attenborough is something of an exception so I determined to give it a go.

Before I get to the content, I should just say I bought the book in a shop in South England where I had a temporary job last summer. It was a charity shop and it had no price on it. I asked the woman how much it was and she replied, slightly surprised, “Oh, you’re very Scottish”.

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this. These possibilities leapt to mind…

  1. Yes, can I help you?
  2. And?
  3. Do you go around just naming things? Do you say “oh, that’s a shelf, and that’s a floor” every time you see one?

Anyway, I have to say the book was an excellent read. Some of it seemed familiar because the documentary of the same name covers a lot of the material but most of the things in the documentary are covered in more depth in the book.

There is a bit of internal BBC politics but  mostly from a bygone era and not enough to make you stop reading it. Everyone knows the wildlife documentaries but less people know about his spell as controller of BBC 2 and also Director of Programming for BBC television. The angle about these things in the book is that although in part interesting jobs, thse things eventually became distractions from his real desire to make wildlife programmes.

Although, having said that, the word wildlife doesn’t really cover it all because there have been plenty of Attenborough written/produced/narrated/commissioned programmes about  geology, paleontology and anthropology too. He also mixes in some telling words about the worsening environmental crisis that threatens to destroy a large number of the species he has been filming.

Also, for a man with a fair number of royal titles to his name he seems to have a rather healthy disdain for the whole ridiculous merry-go-round. This is revealed in a couple of places, the first was how he tried to get out of being the man responsible for the Queen’s speech and the second I will come to.

With all these things in mind the book never really gets bogged down in one particular area. At the beginning there is a lot of in the pioneering days of nature filming stuff and it makes interesting reading when you consider who it is coming from. It seems that in the early days part of the point of the programs was to capture some of the animals for London Zoo although this practice seemed to die out fairly quickly.

When we move past that we get into landmark series such as Kenneth Baker’s Civilisation and others and then onto some of the more remarkable modern series that have been made.

The only thing that disappointed me in the book was that he didn’t directly address the issue of  certain stations buying his documentaries and then editing out the references to evolution. I would have enjoyed reading his take on that.

So why this title about Rafflesia then? Well, Raffles the Gentlemen Thug was a very funny character in Viz Magazine. This character was basically a modern hooligan using victorian era language and the juxtaposition made it funny. Sentences like “My scarves are fashioned of the finest silk sir. Any man who suggests differently is a c*nt” are pretty memorable.

While I doubt that Attenborough is a reader of that magazine Attenborough wrote about the plant Rafflesia which produces the “largest unbranched inflorescence” (not the largest flower) in the world. The plant is a parasite which lives inside a host vine and the only visible part of it is the flower. Attenborough had this to say about it…

I am not one of those, like Aesop or Robert the Bruce, who readily derive moral precepts from the behaviour of animals, and I thought I would be even less likely to find them in the cycle of the life of plants, but Rafflesis did seem to me to provide a parable. One has to ask why this particular plant should produce the most extravangt and flamboyant of all flowers. It occured to me that Rafflesia does not work for its living. The vine itself has to build leaves and stems to produce its food and ultimately construct its flowers. But Rafflesia does not concern itself with such practical matters. It simply absorbs all the food it needs from its host. Indeed there is virtually no limit on how much it can take and no curb to its extravagance. So it can build the most grandiose of flowers. It is the aristocrat of the tropical forest plant community.

Out of Self-Interest

Between a quarter and a third of the world’s wildlife has been lost since 1970, according to data compiled by the Zoological Society of London. 

– Quote from well-known anarchist group, The Royal Zoological Society

Now this is a major major crisis, what is causing all of this?

Populations of land-based species fell by 25%, marine by 28% and freshwater by 29%, it says.

Humans are wiping out about 1% of all other species every year, and one of the “great extinction episodes” in the Earth’s history is under way, it says.

Pollution, farming and urban expansion, over-fishing and hunting are blamed.

Even if the pleas of scientists, environmentalists and a large part of the public have still not convinced people that the extinction crisis is real and will be catastrophic, maybe an appeal to self-interest could work.

For example, these two stories have recently been on BBC…

Dogfish shark chemical squalamine ‘stops human viruses’

A chemical found in the dogfish shark could be a safe and potent weapon against human viruses, say scientists.

Noting how powerful the shark’s natural immunity to viral infections is, the researchers set about finding out why.

They already knew that the fish makes a compound called squalamine that it uses to fight off bacteria.

Lab tests revealed squalamine is also a good antiviral candidate, killing a broad spectrum of human and animal viruses, PNAS journal reports.

Synthetic squalamine has already been given to patients in clinical trials to stop blood vessel growth in cancers, with no major side effects.

The second…

Coral could hold key to sunscreen pill

“What we have found is that the algae living within the coral makes a compound that we think is transported to the coral, which then modifies it into a sunscreen for the benefit of both the coral and the algae.

“Not only does this protect them both from UV damage, but we have seen that fish that feed on the coral also benefit from this sunscreen protection, so it is clearly passed up the food chain.”

This could ultimately mean that people might be able to get inbuilt sun protection for their skin and eyes by taking a tablet containing the compounds. But for now, Dr Long’s team are focusing their efforts on a lotion.

These are of course only 2 small examples. There are 100s more, possibly the most famous being that aspirin comes from the bark of a tree.

This is not an exortation that we all start using herbal medicines, I am talking about real stuff here.

It’s a very simple situation. If you wipe everything out, you won’t have as many medicines to help recover from diseases that may be in part caused by the fact you have wiped everything out.

IT’S WILLIAM MacGILLIVRAY’S BIRTHDAY TOO

Whilst there are people all around the world celebrating Burns Night, it is worth mentioning that today is the birthday of another Scot of note.

William MacGillivray was the illegitimate son of a soldier. He was brought up by his uncle in Harris and said “the solitude of Nature was my school”.

He was enrolled in Aberdeen university at only the age of 12 and used to walk home to Harris every summer. Furthermore, he wished to see the natural history collections in the British Museum and walked all the way to London to see them. He said of the trip…

‘I felt my love of natural history very much increased by the inspection of the museum. At the same time I felt convinced that to study Nature I must have recourse to Nature alone, pure and free from human interference. . . I am afraid that my vanity will be too much increased by this visit.’

This trip may have informed much of his later work as the Natural History museum in London state on their site that one of the reasons that he is not more famous may be because

Although adored by his students, MacGillivray did not endear himself to everybody. With an absolute conviction in his own abilities, he tended to be provocative and outspoken. He often condemned scientists who examined specimens without ever seeing the creature in its natural habitat.

They also quote a letter to a colleague…

‘To those really desirous of information respecting our native species, I would say, let us betake ourselves to the fields and woods; let us traverse the hills and valleys together; let us there study our favourites, pursue them from brake to bush.’

MacGillivray later became the curator at the museum of Natural History in Edinburgh and the Royal College of Surgeons. He later left this post to take up the post of Professor of Natural History at Aberdeen University. During this post he introduced the practice of taking students on field trips and according to one student he

‘he could walk the most active of us into limp helplessness’.In amongst all this he had been writing prodigiously as well as becoming a renowned natural artist.

There is definitely more than one notable Scot with a birthday today.

 

AH, SO NOW IT’S IMPORTANT?

The style of reporting in these stories tells you a lot about why we have some of the problems we do.

Today on the BBC there is this headline…. Nature loss ‘to damage economies’

This is followed by…

The Earth’s ongoing nature losses may soon begin to hit national economies, a major UN report is to say .

The third Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3) warns that some ecosystems may soon reach “tipping points” where they rapidly become less useful to humanity.

While the rest of the article gives some solid information, putting it all in these terms shows a mistake in thought that goes back to biblical ideas about the natural world being something that is simply there for the purposes of human exploitation. There is no suggestion that it might be a good idea to preserve the ecosystem for its own sake.

It is possible to extrapolate from the above statement the idea that as long as economies are fine then quite frankly flora and fauna can go and get f*cked.

Please have a look at this article I wrote for opednews in particular and my other site exit stage right if you want to see how dire things are really getting and why this is all way beyond economics.

Picture from http://www.schnews.org.uk

EARTH DAY

Whilst I am all in favour of the aims of Earth Day, I can’t help thinking it is another one of these things we have got back to front. You might as well have “oxygen day”.

It is like Christmas when people decide to all be nice for a day and then treat other badly the other 364 days. Turn the day allocation around and you have a better idea.

In this spirit, given our inability to live anywhere else for the moment, every day should be earth day.

Have another pleb cartoon

And here is a link to the film I made about the extinction crisis.

2 FOR THE PRICE OF ONE

Two subjects that I feel strongly about are internet freedom and the current extinction crisis.

So there was a bit of an internal clash when I saw the headline…

Internet threatens rare species, conservationists warn

Conservationists say the internet has emerged as one of the biggest threats to endangered species.

Campaigners say it is easier than ever before to buy and sell anything from live baby lions to polar bear pelts on online auction sites and chatrooms.

What the person (Paul Todd) is quoted as saying on the BBC report is that “The internet is becoming the dominant factor overall in the global trade in protected species”. However, the internet is becoming the dominant factor in most other things too. Also the Toronto Sun newspaper carried some rather different quotes from the same conference… such as …

John Sellar, CITES’ chief law enforcement officer, argued the impact of the Web was overblown and that many species that appear illegal may in fact may be legal. He also said many big traders were reluctant to use the Internet, since payments can be traced and they can be ensnared in undercover operations.

“There seems to be little evidence that there are commercial operations using the Internet,” Sellar said. “Although the risks may be small depending on which country you are living in, you can be identified when using the Internet. So there are clearly risks there.”

or

“The Internet itself isn’t the threat, but it’s another way to market the product,” said Ernie Cooper, who spearhead the investigation into the newt for TRAFFIC Canada. “Most people are not willing to pay $300 for a salamander. But through the power of the Internet, tapping into the global market, you can find buyers.”

Taking this into account, the problem does not seem to be simply the (semi) new-fangled internet (boo hiss boo hiss) but rather the age-old predilection among some people for boneheaded brutality. The internet has neither enhanced nor diminished this.

I obviously don’t deny that the internet may facilitate easier transactions for some things but the problem at root remains the same – us.

The BBC story however  read very like the old style articles from mainstream media 10 years ago denouncing the internet and hoping it was a passing fad. In that spirit then I would like to print an excerpt from an old article defending the internet.

I don’t think anybody would argue now that the Internet isn’t becoming a major factor in our lives. However, it’s very new to us. Newsreaders still feel it is worth a special and rather worrying mention if, for instance, a crime was planned by people ‘over the Internet.’ They don’t bother to mention when criminals use the telephone or the M4, or discuss their dastardly plans ‘over a cup of tea,’ though each of these was new and controversial in their day.

NATURE SPOTTING – ONE

I have to go about 10 miles on the bus to work every day through a little bit of country.

Yesterday I thought for a change instead of reading my book, I would just try to catalogue as many varieties of plant and animal life I could see and what they were up to, if anything. It turned out very interesting. It is amazing how much you miss every day that is right in front of your eyes.

However, after deciding to do this I then realised that I didn’t have a pen and decided to try and memorise as many things as I could see. Then I realised I am a complete ignorant when it comes to naming different kinds of plants and just settled on doing the animals.

So here is that article.

The first thing I saw was a horse on top of small hillock that stuck up from on top of a larger hill if you get what I mean. The horse was standing completely motionless and as it was steep-sided I wondered how it got up there. The scene reminded me a lot of the bit at the start of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency…

“High on a rocky promontory sat an Electric Monk on a bored horse.”

only without the electric monk*, of course.

A bit further along the road and I am sure I saw two pigeons in an amorous embrace which is a thing, despite the numbers of them you find anywhere in the world, I can’t remember seeing before.

200 metres later there was some kind of bird of prey circling up high and looking for something to catch. Was straining my neck to see back as we went around the corner but I didn’t see it dive.

In the middle was a field of cows. Eating and sh*tting at the same time was about the most I could see with them.

About two-thirds of the way along the road there was a field with 4 horses in it. They were plodding around without much purpose. However, I looked on the other side of the road and there was another (male) horse with a very clear purpose in mind and in a state of (very) obvious “excitement”.

Unfortunately for him and the female who was the object of his desires they were separated by a fence. Inspired by an old joke I imagined that there was a very obvious danger in a horse with an erection jumping a fence and assumed that was why he wasn’t trying it.

As we approached the other town there were birds of an indeterminate (to me) small black type (yellow beaks) fluttering around in a group of about 20.

That was what I saw in just a few minutes. It is amazing the little dramas you can miss.

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*The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.

…the Monks were built with an eye for originality of design and also for practical horse-riding ability. This was important. People, and indeed things, looked more sincere on a horse. So two legs were held to be both more suitable and cheaper than the more normal primes of seventeen, nineteen or twenty-three; the skin the Monks were given was pinkish-looking instead of purple, smooth and soft instead of crenellated. They were also restricted to just the one mouth and nose, but were given instead an additional eye, making for a grand total of two. A strange-looking creature indeed. But truly excellent at believing the most preposterous things.”

UK ACHIEVES MORE THAN 10% GROWTH

UK Ministers were delighted at the recent news that the UK has achieved 10% growth in one year.

“We have always talked about the importance of growth for our country. Growth is the ultimate good and must override all other concerns” said government spokesman Donald Harebrain. Opposition spokesman Theobald Quixotic responded by saying “it was our idea first and we thought of it 20 years ago and what is more, it is a new idea that we just invented last week”.

They were of course referring to the fact that in just one year the UK managed growth of more than 10% in the number of endangered species within its borders.

Harebrain continued…“We have completely outstripped our rivals and have shown the world again what British ingenuity means. Look at the statistics. Bermuda achieved no growth whatsoever whereas Brunei and Eritrea actually show negative growth.”

Harebrain also expressed his glee that this had all been achieved without letting in any foreign asylum seeking endangered species.