At one with nature…

Some recent photos from May and June…starting to feel like one of the animals at this stage. Any photography feedback is hugely welcomed!

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Bryan Orangutan

Original Artwork ©Bryan Hogan – ‘Haeckel’

A lot has happened over the past month so please forgive the absence of posts. I managed to land a position as an Education Guide with the National Parks and Wildlife Service at Glenveagh National Park in Co. Donegal, Ireland. I’m now just over a month in and absolutely loving the job so far! I’m involved with educating primary and secondary school children from 4-18 on conservation and ecology and bringing them out on field trips in the park. It took over 90 applications to get me here, so if you’re trying to crack the hard shell of conservation employment, be persistent!

In other news, I was kindly asked to write a blog piece for a new Irish website that concentrates on all things environment, wildlife and research based – BioWeb.ie . I decided to write up an article on my experience working as an Orangutan Intern with the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project in Borneo; while discussing both the internship and the issues Borneo faces with expansion of palm oil plantations. It brought back tonnes of incredible memories and also reminded me of the monumental amount of work NGOs are carrying out to save tropical forest biodiversity. Read it here!

So…there’s loads in the pipeline. I’m back with ammunition for more posts and some interesting collaborations. The orangutan print accompanying this post (which I found so relevant!) is a piece by a talented Irish artist, Bryan Hogan. A Fine Art graduate producing detailed etches, whose Etsy shop can be found at BryanHoganEtchings. This piece entitled ‘Haeckel’ is inspired by the work of the German biologist, naturalist and professor turned artist of the same name. Yet another brilliant example of how art has its place in the land of conservation and wildlife!

Rhinos in Crisis…again

Sudan

WARNING: Graphic images in some links

As if they weren’t in enough of a plight already, there’s even more bad news for Rhinos this week! After crunching numbers, the IUCN has found yet another increase in the numbers of Rhino murdered for their horns (over the last 6 years trade in Rhino horn has exploded exponentially). At least 1,338 poached in 2015! This follows huge efforts in heightening law enforcement and increased investment in anti-poaching strategies and now leads the conservation world to question whether current methods are actually working at all.

So, what exactly are we dealing with here? Chinese medicine has used Rhino horn as a remedy for multiple ailments (anything from fever to toxin elimination) for thousands of years and illegal trade in Rhino horn is one of the most lucrative practises in the world! On the black market, horn can earn up to $65,000/kg (that’s more than double the price of gold and can even rise above the price of cocaine) and currently Vietnam  show the highest demand for the product according to TRAFFIC.

The story so far…

CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) ensures that trade in animal and plant species is regulated so as not to threaten their existence. Currently all species of Asian Rhinos (Sumatran, Javan and Indian) and Black Rhinos are protected under Appendix I which means trade may only be permitted under exceptional circumstances as these species are under threat of extinction.These species along with the Northern White Rhino are classed as critically endangered on the IUCN Redlist. Southern White Rhinos are covered under Appendix I and II, the II appendix being solely for South Africa and Swaziland where trade in live animals to appropriate destinations and hunting trophies are permitted. However, we are now at a stage where even Rhinos in the most secure, protected parks are being killed, with poachers breaching boundaries and most acting under cover of darkness to claim their prize (Many poaching events occur on cloudless nights where the moon is bright). This is not only an illegal crime but brutal torture for the chosen ones – poachers have used everything from AK-47s and compound bows to darting and snares. In 2012 National Geographic carried out a chilling interview with van Deventer, a poacher who has claimed to have killed upwards of 22 Rhinos:

“The brothers traveled the breadth of South Africa, taking rhinos from national parks and private reserves. Due to successful breeding programs, rhinos were plentiful, and security was lax or easy to evade. After a kill, they would pass the horns to others to sell. “But I only made small money,” he says, noting that he, Andre, and a couple others would split about $11,000 for a pair of horns weighing 13 pounds.” – National Geographic

Continue reading “Rhinos in Crisis…again”

Beautiful mutations

Colour mutation

Here is an image of a Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) I captured whilst trundling along in a pop-up van in Kenya last year. Having previously studied modules in genetics, I find mutations fascinating!

Numerous colour mutations have previously been observed in Zebra (black with white spots, reverse stripes & melanism) and on researching this I found that U.C.L.A. have a project running on the ‘Evolution of Stripe Variation in the Plains Zebra‘. This is one I will definitely be keeping my eye on to see the final results.

Update:  U.C.L.A. published a paper last year on the evolutionary reasons behind Zebra stripes for anyone interested ‘How the zebra got it’s stripes: a problem with too many solutions

Baby steps: Thailand and Tigers

Tiger in Ukutula

What started as a Buddhist temple with a penchant for big cats (apparently rescued), Thailand’s Tiger Temple has evolved into a mega-commercial, hardcore breeding centre which rakes in about $3 million dollars every year from the tourism industry. Let’s not beat around the bush – tigers here are bred continuously, tossed around like teddy bears as cubs, chained to the ground as adults and left sedated, without sufficient exercise on a diet akin to a fast-food junkie. This is the unfortunate life of these tigers no matter what stories may have originally been told.

One conservation success was brought to light this week when Tiger Temple was refused its request to be recognised as a zoo as well as a ruling to confiscate the tigers present (147 in total). This will happen at a rate of 5 tigers per month until the facility has been cleared with the process currently coming into its third week. This is on the back of two investigations of this attraction carried out by National Geographic. The temple has been linked to supplying animals to the black market (where adult males mysteriously disappeared), tiger farming and animal abuse.

With the backpacker lifestyle exploding, it is important to remember that even as tourists we have a responsibility to read up on where we’re going. You wouldn’t book a hostel without reading the reviews so why would you not check out the attractions…oh wait, that’s it! While scrolling through TripAdvisor at this exact moment in time, the rating for Tiger Temple currently stands at 3.5 stars with 3/4 of the ratings falling in the average to excellent categories. The sad side of this is that amongst the average ratings comments include (I’m going to paraphrase these so as not to directly target any person) things like: ‘it was a nice experience but I was traumatised to see immobile tigers….try to get there closer to the closing times when it is less busy’ and ‘if you want to get a pic with a tiger it’s good fun but the chains made me feel sad’. There is something fundamentally wrong here. You wouldn’t rate a hostel with nasty toilets and a guy in your room that made you feel uncomfortable at 3 stars so, does the fact that you get to take a Facebook selfie with this guy while a needle is sticking out of his arm increase your rating?

All of these posts have something in common, they are all misinformed! Looking at the temple’s own website, they describe themselves as infamous yet they still hold a TripAdvisor 2015 Travellers’ choice award and a licence from the Tourism Authority of Thailand. There is a lot of mixed messages and with even more mixed messages from the media (Animal Planet originally brought Tiger Temple to fame in 2004), it can be difficult to see through the haze and realize that there are very few reasons for a wild animal not to be enjoying life in the wild.

One TripAdvisor post really hit me hard – ‘worth the money if you are a fan of tigers and wildlife’. This is where I must bring up my own experience of wildlife used wrongly in the tourism industry all for financial gain – this was a very hard pill to swallow! As a Zoology student with the view to undertake a volunteer stint for my course, I came across a project in South Africa working with lions (these are undoubtedly my spirit animal and I am fascinated by them). This project described its aim to conserve lions, white lions in particular along with the University of Pretoria with whom they were carrying out a genetics project. I spent four weeks there, caring for cubs, maintaining enclosures, meeting some incredible volunteers and had an amazing time. Little did I know that this was all masking for another industry – that of canned hunting. I was under the impression that once the adults were mature, they were heading to wildlife reserves eventually to be released but in reality, they were being sold off as prizes for hunters who pay large sums to shoot adult males in confined spaces just to put a head on the wall of their mansion. This still makes me shudder!

All I want to get across (after my extremely long rant, apologies) is that we are the ones responsible for change even on an individual level. If you ever feel uncomfortable with how animals are being kept, question it. If you find out that something is going wrong, publicise it. And finally, this is very cliché – If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Elephant treks, monkeys to hold, big cats to cuddle and slow loris’ to tickle. Remember what you see is only a front, the trauma they went through to get there is endless.

 

Photo: Copyright of Marina, Tiger in Ukutula

 

Just a little ‘Hi’

Hi! Just thought I’d start this off with little introduction…I’m new to the blogging world so please forgive any awkwardness. I’m Marina, a zoologist and conservation biologist from Ireland. My interest and love of wildlife started from a very young age (I think I was about 4 when I originally decided I wanted to be a vet when I grew up, which quickly changed to ‘animal behaviourist’) and has since blossomed, hopefully to become my lifelong career.

After four years studying Zoology at University College Cork, a two year thinking/internship gap and a further year spent doing an MSc in Conservation & Biodiversity at Uni. of Exeter, I have been involved in numerous wildlife volunteer programmes and research projects in Africa, Asia and Europe. I’ve worked with some amazing researchers and have seen their passion for conservation shine through even on the toughest, longest days in the field.

Alongside this I thoroughly enjoy photography (I am in no way a professional but I enjoy the learning curve), hiking and a little bit of surfing and rock-climbing – in short, I like to dabble in anything to do with being in the outdoors. After lots of thinking and even more procrastinating, I’ve finally decided to get this blog up and running. The more I’ve learnt about conservation, the more I find myself getting annoyed that it never seems to get as much attention in the public domain as it deserves (I’m sure there are others who know this feeling all too well). With climate change happening, species numbers declining and plastic seeming to literally be everywhere, I’ve started this with an aim to open more eyes to the problems facing wildlife and biodiversity. It won’t all be doom and gloom though, I want to include the successes, track the baby steps and hopefully inspire others to wake up and be aware of what’s happening around us i.e. I will litter my blog with photos to remind us what nature has given to us and what our responsibility is in terms of protecting it from ourselves.

As I am new to this, I welcome all suggestions content-wise as well as constructive criticism on what I can improve. Let the adventure begin…

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