Deodorants purchased at the supermarket are usually either roll-ons packaged in plastic or aerosols, which are recyclable – but not always easily! According to LUSH UK, 79% of people include deodorant as part of the weekly shop, and so, as part of my ongoing plastic reducing campaign – I decided the next plastic product to cut out my beauty routine would be just that.
As those who follow me on Instagram will already know, on Sunday 16th September, I took part in my first (official) charity organised beach clean – the 2018 “Great British Beach Clean”, and it was awesome! For the last 25 years, thousands of volunteers have gathered at locations around the country for a weekend event of litter picking, which the charity Marine Conservation Society credits as being the biggest in the whole of the UK.
It was my first time taking part in an official event, and I have to say the day was extremely well organised. The team of 30 or so volunteers was made up of an entirely different group of people: Some old, some parents with young children, students, and quite a few fans of Blue Planet (Proving the power of mainstream TV). Ultimately whatever reason they had for being there, our goal was all the same: To rid our 100m stretch of beach, in a lively Somerset seaside town, of as much litter as possible. Turns out that’s a lot easier said than done!
Kicking off the first “10 Fact Friday” is a cute, but not overly cuddly, Australian native – the Koala.
From the early 1800’s to the 1920’s Australia’s population of koalas took a massive blow, millions were hunted and killed for their fur. Since then over 80% of their habitat has been destroyed. The Australia Koala Foundation believes there are now between 43,000 to 100,000 individual animals left in the wild.
There more I researched these unusual creatures for this article, the more I realised what awesome animals they are! Some of the facts below are really interesting and I learnt a lot from them. Hopefully, you’ll find them as intriguing as I did?
Moving on from my last post regarding Tahlequah, the orca who carried her deceased newborn calf through the waters of the Pacific Northwest coast for 17 days, I wanted to keep my next post relevant but a bit more on the positive side.
Killer whales are known to be great mums. After a 17 month gestation period, they give birth to a calf that is about 8.5 ft long and weighs around 120 to 160kg. Calves are typically weaned at around 1 or 2 years old and rely on their family pod to teach them vital communication, hunting, and survival skills. Resident killer whale calves will stay with their pod permanently, meaning mother and child stay together for life.
But what other creatures go above and beyond to care for their young?
Here are six other incredible animal mothers, who prove that the mother-baby bond isn’t strictly human.
Orangutans have the longest infant development period of all great apes. For the first two years of their life, they are completely dependent on mum. At this stage, they make the transition from hanging onto mum’s chest to riding on her back and dabble in eating soft foods – pre-chewed by mum. Of course.
At around 3 to 7 years of age orangutan infants begin to gain their independence, in this space of time they will be fully weaned, begin to climb, and search for their own food. They may also start experimenting with nest building, choosing to no longer share with mum but often staying in the same tree.
Despite this new found self-sufficiency, orangutan infants will remain close to their mothers for many more years to come – they will eat, sleep and travel together until the infant is around 10 years old. Female orangutans are known to visit their mothers until they are around 15 or 16 years of age.
The bond between mother and baby orangutans is one of the strongest and most beautiful in the animal kingdom.
After a gestation period of around just 34 days, baby kangaroos are born extremely underdeveloped. At birth, the young joey is only about 2cm long and weighs less than a gram! It immediately crawls through its mother’s fur and into the safety of her pouch, where it will suckle solidly for 2 months. At around 6 months of age, the joey will leave the pouch for the first time, returning regularly to feed.
Red kangaroos will leave the comfort of mums pouch at around 8 months but will continue to suckle until around 11 or 12 months of age. Grey kangaroos, on the other hand, don’t leave until they are 11 months and can continue to suckle until they are 18 months old. That’s one patient mum!
Did you know? Female kangaroos are able to suckle two young at the same time – one in the pouch and one outside, as well as having another egg ready for implantation.
Mother alligators usually lay between 35 – 50 eggs in a nest of vegetation. During incubation, the mother alligator will actively stay near the nest and protect it from predators – that includes humans. After a 65 day incubation, the baby alligators will start calling to mum from inside the eggs, these high pitched squeaks let her know it is time to remove the nesting material. After all the hatchlings have emerged from the nest, their mother will carry them gently in her mouth to the safety of the water. The young will rest on her back as she swims and call to her when they feel threatened.
Although these reptiles have a ferocious reputation, they are in fact very attentive. The young will stay close to mum for around a year, but they can remain together as a pod for up to three years.
Great hornbills are one of the largest members of the hornbill family. Despite having a 60inch wingspan and a weight of 2.15kg to 4kg, they choose to build their nests inside a large, hollow tree trunk. The breeding pair will work together to seal the opening of the hole shut – with a plaster made from faeces, chewed wood, mud and bark, and the female will remain trapped inside while she lays the eggs, incubates them, and cares for them once they hatch. The male will bring food to the female through a small slit left in the mud “door” that is just half an inch wide, large enough to pass food to mum and chicks, but narrow enough to prevent predators getting in the nest.
A clutch usually consists of one or two eggs that the mother will incubate for around 40 days. After the chicks have hatched the male may make up to 70 feeding trips a day, bringing everything from geckos, insects and berries to frogs and slugs.
For the different species of hornbill confinement for the chicks ranges from 50 to 90 days, by that time the mother has already broken out and resealed the door, in turn keeping the chicks safer for longer.
Elephants are the largest living and biggest-brained mammal on the planet, so it’s no surprise they have the longest gestation period of any mammal too – 18 to 22 months to be precise.
For the first 3 to 5 years of an elephant calves life, they are totally reliant on their mother. In this time they will be taught many life lessons, such as how to use their trunk properly for feeding, drinking and bathing. This “baby stage” lasts from birth to around 5 to 10 years of age, once the calf has been weaned off mum’s milk completely.
Like us, adulthood for elephants starts at around 18 years old. Most male elephants will now leave the main herd, while the females will remain and assist each other with nursing and caring for the new calves.
And an honourable mention goes to the…
Strawberry poison dart frog
At only one inch long the strawberry poison dart frog is an alluring creature. Not only are they smart – their bright red and black/blue colouration acts as a warning to predators that they are extremely toxic, but they are also incredibly hardworking.
Strawberry poison dart frogs mate during any time of the year, with the females laying between 3 and 5 eggs on a leaf. The breeding pair returns every day and the male will moisten the eggs by transporting water from his cloaca (effectively urinating on them). After 10 days the eggs hatch the mother frog will transport them on her back to the axil of the Bromeliad plant – depositing one tadpole per plant. Afterwards, the mother will come to each tadpole every few days and lay up to 5 unfertilized eggs for them to eat.
After 43 – 52 days the tadpoles will begin to undergo metamorphosis. Pretty amazing, huh?
What’s your favourite animal mum? Let me know in the comments below!
It’s not unusual for certain species to display signs of grief – giraffes, chimps, dolphins, gorillas, crows. Elephants, for example, return to the body of a dead companion multiple times over. Time and time again, research has shown that they are able to demonstrate a level of empathy that many only thought possible in humans.
Females have been shown to comfort calves by touching and cradling them with their trunks. When an individual has fallen over or becomes stuck, other elephants have been known to assist so they can continue moving as one. Amazingly some have even been known to remove foreign objects, such as spears and veterinary darts from others bodies.
Like elephants, killer whales are emotionally complex beings. Their brains are extremely developed – the second biggest among all ocean mammals, and their capability of understanding means they are able to learn local dialects, teach each other specialised methods of hunting, and pass down unique behaviours through generations.
– A GREAT LOSS –
The story J-35, or Tahlequah, has triggered a ripple of grief that has been felt around the world. Since July 24th and as of August 3rd, the 20 year old orca has been carrying her dead calf through the water of the Pacific Northwest coast. Tahlequah is a member of an endangered pod of Southern resident killer whales, her calf who died just 30 minutes after birth, was born near the San Juan islands. While it is not uncommon for orcas and dolphins to grieve the loss of a family member for sometimes as long as a week, experts believe this is the longest period of mourning on record for an orca.
The grieving mother who has been refusing to let go of the calf has been carrying the infant by pushing it with her snout, even diving under to retrieve it should it slide off, or by carrying it with one fin. When Tahlequah has grown tired, other members of the pod have come forward to carry the calf for her.
Rightly so, experts are growing concerned for Tahlequah’s wellbeing.
Combined with their extended family K and L pods, they inhabit a huge territory that includes Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. With only 75 members of the Southern resident orca clan, every birth matters and time is rapidly running out. The J-pod has not had a successful birth in three years. Ken Balcomb of Center for Whale Research believes it may be as soon as five years: “We’ve got at most 5 more years of reproductive life in this population to make it happen” He continues by warning “If we don’t do it in those 5 years it isn’t going to happen.”
– NOT ENOUGH TO GO AROUND –
Ken also blames the lack of food source for the doomed pregnancies – wild salmon, particularly Chinook, found throughout Washington state and British Columbia acts as a primary food supply for the endangered population of orca. Unfortunately, but hardly surprising, Chinook salmon are also endangered.
The lack of regular and healthy (these fish have been found with prozac, nicotine and cocaine in their system) could explain the demise of another unfortunate member of the J-pod. J-50 or Scarlet, a 4 year old orca female is literally starving to death. A white patch has been spotted on the back of her head, near her blowhole, and experts are panicking it could be an infection. The poor whale is so emaciated, the back of her cranium is visible.
The federal government is hatching a plan in an attempt to save Scarlet, this will include feeding live Chinook dosed with medicine, while biologists are planning a health assessment for her, which will gauge her activity and breathing levels. Brad Hanson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle said Scarlet has lost as much as 20% of her bodyweight: “There are a lot of ifs, whether or not she will even take the fish.” He then added “Her survival could only be a few days. She has continued to decline.”
– MORE HUMAN THAN HUMANS –
Some have been questioning if Tahlequah is really mourning, but I ask what else could she possibly be doing? Most wouldn’t doubt if a dog felt pain or grief, or happiness and joy, so why doubt something as intelligent, sensitive, curious and amazingly complex as a killer whale.
The fate of Tahlequah and Scarlet at the moment remains unclear. From a conservation point of view, it’s disastrous that an endangered pod has lost another calf and potentially another orca or two. At 20, Tahlequah is of breeding age and her ability to reproduce again is critical.
From my point of view, I hope Tahlequah’s heartbreak hasn’t been for nothing. I hope that we are able to turn our empathy into actions and our grief into solutions. Ultimately, I pray that through her suffering, she is able to eventually find peace.
Please consider adopting one of the Southern resident orcas – proceeds from orca adoptions support ongoing education, research, and public outreach on behalf of the Southern Resident clan: https://whalemuseum.org/collections/adopt-an-orca
Alternatively, a one-off donation that will greatly benefit the Southern Resident community can be made here: https://whalemuseum.org/products/make-a-donation or here: https://www.whaleresearch.com/supportcwr
I want to hear your opinions on this story, let me know your thoughts in the comments:
Today is international tiger day! And I thought it would be a great opportunity to share some interesting facts on one of the world’s most recognisable and loved animals.
Sadly every one of the living six tiger subspecies: Bengal, South China, Indochinese, Sumatran, Malayan and Amur are classified as at least “endangered” on the IUCN red list. Three subspecies are already extinct, the Java, Bali and Caspian – driven to extinction through habitat destruction, hunting and an increase in human population. But thankfully after a century of decline, tiger numbers are slowly but surely increasing. In 8 years Bhutan’s Royal Manas National Park have seen their tiger numbers rise from 10 to 22 individuals, a small number maybe but successful none the less, with just 3,890 tigers reported living in the wild, every population increase is a step in the right direction!
Intrigued to find out more about the world’s biggest cat? Don’t miss my 10 facts below:
1) A typical tiger diet consists of various deer and wild boar, as well as monkeys, civets, buffalo and even fish, lizards and snakes. When favoured prey is difficult to find they may resort to eating rodents, small birds and insects – berries and grass also aid digestion.
2) Tigers’ hind legs are longer than their front, allowing them to jump powerfully. The muscles and ligaments in the hind legs are so well developed that they can jump 10 metres in one leap – that’s more than 32 feet!
3) The oldest discovered tiger species was unearthed in northwestern China and believed to be approximately 2.16 to 2.55 million years old – predating other known species by up to half a million years! The informal name of this jaguar sized species is Longdon tiger (Panthera Zdanskyi) and despite two million years of separation, scientists were surprised how similar the skull was to our modern day tigers – robust, well-developed upper canine fangs and a relatively long nose.
4) A tigress has a gestation period of 16 weeks (3.5 months) usually, they give birth to 3 or 4 cubs.
5) The Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger, is the largest of all wild cats in the world. Currently, they are listed as “endangered” on the IUCN list, with an estimated population of 400-500 individuals.
6) Tigers are the only bigs cats to have stripes – their skin is even striped too. Each and every animal can be identified by their own pattern of stripes, which is as unique to them as our own fingerprints are too us.
7) Tigers have night vision that is six times better than that of humans!
8) A tiger can run as fast as 35 mph (56km/h) but only for short distances, subsequently, most of their prey can outrun them, so that is why they’re ambush predators. For every 20 attempts at a kill, a tiger is only successful for one.
9) The main threat to tigers is poaching – their bones are used in traditional Chinese medicines, their pelts and other body parts like teeth, skin and claws as decorative items. Habitat loss and human-tiger conflict also seriously threaten the species.
10) Human beings have around 9,000 tastebuds in their mouths, meaning we have the luxury of being able to distinguish between sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Cats (domestic and wild) on the other hand only have 500 and this is one of the major reasons why tigers are able to dine on a meal of rotting flesh. They can not taste the decaying meat as you or I would, so it doesn’t deter them.
According to Wildscreen Arkive, the tiger is 2nd in the World’s Favourite Species list – an unsurprising but worthy vote. I was shocked however to see who grabbed the number 1 slot, head over and check it out for yourself, it’s quite amusing!
Are tigers one of your favourite animals, let me know in the comments below?
I saw an argument erupt on Twitter the other day where a man claimed it wasn’t his country polluting the world with plastic so it “wasn’t his problem”. He was right, technically it isn’t his problem, he’s just one individual living in a country not in the top 5 for plastic consumption or waste. So when (or how) did we get to the point as human beings where something affecting our planet, our eco-system, our animals, our environment, even ourselves, is no longer our problem?
I agree living a plastic-free life isn’t easy. I myself do not lead a 100% plastic-free life. Currently, it’s more of a “plastic-reducing” one.
I also think it’s difficult for people to feel they’re helping, myself included when they have others telling them that they’re not doing enough. Don’t give up on trying to be environmentally friendly if you have to use a straw for medical reasons, don’t give up if you can’t afford biodegradable wipes. Reduce harm as much as you can and just do your best. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing! We have the power to make a difference.
So, with it being #plasticfreejuly I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to share 5 super easy plastic alternative swaps* I’ve recently made, and ones I really recommend to others looking to reduce their plastic consumption. I hope you all enjoy my photos – I’m pretty confident nobody saw me snapping a photo of a toothbrush in the grass!
1. Bamboo Toothbrush
Probably the most reluctant of my changes and I have no idea why! I’d been debating whether to take the bamboo plunge for a while but the idea of a wooden toothbrush just seemed weird, I finally made the swap when the facts could no longer be ignored.
In the United States alone it is estimated that between 850 million to over a billion of the plastic pests are dumped in landfill every single year. That represents more than 24 million kilograms of waste! Traditional brushes (which account for 99% of the market) are made from a combination of plastic and rubber, nylon for the bristles and plastic/cardboard for the packaging.
My bamboo toothbrush was purchased from https://www.zero-waste-club.com/ and retails for £6.99 (+ £1.99 UK shipping) it is slightly more expensive because the head is replaceable, but they have non-replaceable ones too, I chose replaceable because there’s less to throw away, it uses less bamboo and you save money in the long run!
The brushes from Zero Waste Club are 100% biodegradable and made from sustainable bamboo.
Needless to say, I definitely recommend making the switch to a bamboo toothbrush. It can feel strange to begin with, but I got used to the feeling quickly. I will never go back to using a plastic one again!
2. Tote bags
Perhaps the easiest of all plastic swaps! I’ve been using reusable canvas tote bags for years now. They’re pretty self-explanatory so I won’t go into tons of detail, but you can literally buy these anywhere and in all sorts of cool designs. I picked this one up from my recent trip to Monkey World in Dorset.
Of the 160,000 plastic bags used globally every second – that’s 5 trillion a year and enough to fit around the whole world 7 times every hour, only 1 to 3% are recycled. Plastic items can take up to 1000 years to decompose, meaning the 10% of bags in our oceans will be floating around for a long time.
3. Reusable cotton pads
My newest plastic free purchase was these reusable organic cotton pads, perfect for removing makeup or applying facial toner, these ones come with a super cute drawstring cotton wash bag too!
Unlike the cotton pads I had been purchasing from the supermarket, these are 100% plastic free – a super simple but effective swap for anyone looking to decrease their plastic consumption.
These retail at £8.50 for regular or £10.00 for organic cotton (+ £2.00 shipping to the UK), have 12 pads in a bag and measure 8cm round. I brought them here https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/576187431/reusable-cotton-pads-12-makeup-remover?ref=shop_home_active_3
4. Reusable coffee cup
Another super easy change! Most people can barely get through the day without regular caffeine intake, myself included. Humans love coffee – it’s a survival tool. Except for me, I hate coffee. Tea or hot chocolate for me, please!
Anywho… Did you know the UK throws away around 7 million disposable coffee cups a day, totalling 2.5 billion a year? Every day half a million of these cups end up as litter along our roadsides, in our parks and on our beaches. Less than 1% are recycled. The cups that do make it to the bin, are either incinerated, exported or sent to landfill.
Half a trillion disposable cups are manufactured annually around the world, that’s over 70 cups for every person on the planet.
In the UK some coffee shops are offering customers discounts when they bring their own reusable cup into a store. Pret A Manger offers a 50p discount, while Starbucks and Costa are offering 25p.
I brought my cup from https://ecoffeecup.eco/ for a price of £8.95 for 340ml ( + £3.95 or £5.95 UK shipping) I think this is a super reasonable price considering how expensive some alternatives are on the market!
Ecoffee cups are made with natural bamboo fibre, and they are BPA and phthalate free. They’re light, comfortable to hold, sturdy and look stylish but can get very hot! So be aware… Regardless I would still recommend grabbing yourself one.
5. Bamboo straws
Plastic straws end up in our oceans for a few reasons, usually they are either 1) littered, 2) disposed of incorrectly or 3) blown out of bins or away from landfill sites because they are so lightweight. It is estimated that 71% of seabirds have consumed plastic products – by 2050 the figure is expected to rise to 99%. Plastic found inside birds include everything from bags and bottle caps to synthetic fibres from clothing and lighters. Albatross chicks, a pilot whale and a turtle with a straw stuck up its nostril, all these animals have been victims of plastic pollution in some way.
The UK throws away 8.5 billion straws every year, enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall a thousand times over. I’ve been there. It’s a big building. The Americans use 500 million every single day! Compared to the plastic bags, that’s enough straws to circle around the planet 2.5 times daily.
There a few alternatives to plastic straws already on the market including glass, metal, silicone and paper, but I chose to purchase a pair of bamboo ones because they are reusable and biodegradable.
Recently I read an article regarding plastic straw bans negatively affecting people with disabilities, and while people might be quick to recommend alternatives such as metal or paper, they can be seriously problematic. It was an educational read and I can 100% understand why people rely on them, why alternatives might not work and why some may consider a plastic-free life a “luxury lifestyle”. Forcing people to chose between the environment and their health is no doubt incredibly selfish, so more work needs to be done here to find a solution that works for everybody.
For those interested, my straws were purchased from https://www.zero-waste-club.com/plasticfreeshop/reusablebamboostraw for the price of £2.99 a pair (+ £1.99 UK shipping)
* Everyone of these products was purchased by myself, with my own money. All opinions are genuine and my own!
So, have my plastic swaps inspired you to make the change?
What single-use plastic products are you skipping this Plastic Free July?
Have you already made a swap and can recommend another product for me to try?
Do you consider a plastic-free or plastic-reducing life as “luxury”?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
The ivory trade – every year it’s estimated to be worth £17bn and responsible for the slaughter of 20,000 elephants. It’s an epidemic never far from my mind or any other animal rights campaigner for that matter.
In April 2018 the UK government announced the trade of items made from ivory to be banned, in what the environment secretary Michael Gove claimed to be “one of the toughest in the world.”
The ban, which is still to be signed into law, comes after 85% of the public supported the proposed act. I’m concerned why the other 15% said otherwise. Many charities praised the move, WWF chief executive Tanya Steel even claimed the UK stance made it a ”global leader in tackling this bloody trade”.
Media attention, charity demands and public outcry brought forwards the act to further protect elephants from poaching, but as of yet, there is no UK wide ban that protects the other victims of this cruel industry, just talk between the government to extend the proposed ban to all other ivory-bearing creatures.
So, what exactly is ivory and who are the other animals affected by this despicable business?
– TOOTH AND BONE –
To put it simply, ivory is the teeth or tusks of animals – most commonly canine teeth, but in elephants, they are actually elongated incisors. Ivory is hard, dense, and made of dentine – a bony tissue, and wrapped in enamel. Depending on the animal, tusks serve many purposes such as digging, gathering food, defence and combat, giving the animals that have them an evolutionary advantage.
Elephant ivory is the most common form but ivory from other species has also been used for centuries to make a huge range of items, everything from false teeth, piano keys, and religious objects, to buttons and art.
– NARWHAL –
Dubbed for centuries as the “unicorn of the sea”, the unmistakable, spiralled tusk of the mysterious narwhal caused quite the stir among the Europeans, particularly monarchs, while the Arctic was still mostly unexplored.
Queen Elizabeth I is said to have spent £10,000 on one – equivalent roughly to £1.5m in today’s money. Now the average price for a tusk can vary drastically from between £3,000 to £12,000, while rare double tusks can fetch as much as £25,000.
The tusk, no longer considered that of a unicorn, is actually a protruding canine tooth – most commonly found on males. The tusk which has a sensory capability and up to 10 million nerve endings inside, can grow up to 10 feet long!
The IUCN does not consider the narwhal, a relative of the white beluga whale, to be at immediate risk; therefore they are currently listed as “least concern”. However, the impact of hunting and changes in their natural environment means thing could go south. And quickly.
Native Inuit permitted under a Canadian and Greenland permit, have hunted these whales as a source of food and income for centuries. A Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) study found that shops in Japan were selling narwhal tusks as a tonic to treat fever, measles and other diseases, with shop prices varying from £421 – £724 for 100g.
Ultimately the WWF and TRAFFIC concluded from a 2015 survey, that the effects of climate change mean the hunting of narwhal needs to be monitored and regulated more precisely, but they didn’t consider the current international trade to be a threat to the survival of the species today.
– WARTHOG –
Unlike elephants, the tusks of a warthog are less sought after. The common warthog is identifiable by two pairs of tusks or canine teeth, that protrude from the mouth and curve upwards. The lower pair, far smaller than the upper, become razor sharp because they rub against the upper pair every time the mouth opens or closes.
The tusks that grow constantly throughout the animals lives are used for digging, for combat with other hogs and in defence against predators.
The upper set of tusks are the most common form of warthog ivory, typically being carved and sold to tourists in and around east and southern Africa.
– WALRUS –
With tusks that can grow as long as 39 inches in males, walrus ivory comes from two modified canine teeth located in the upper jaw, just like the warthog.
The killing of these animals is illegal under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act – except for Alaskan natives, who hunt to eat them and use their tusks, bones and hides for traditional purposes, within restrictions by countries with territories in the Arctic. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) believes an average of 5,406 animals were hunted from 2006 – 07 to 2010 – 11, which “equates to less than 3% and 4% of the estimated global populations of each subspecies”.
The Pacific walrus is currently listed as “data deficient” on the IUCN red list, whereas the Atlantic walrus is listed as “near threatened”.
Hippopotamus teeth ivory is the second most common type of ivory. It is cheaper than that of elephants, easier to smuggle and extremely durable. The huge canines grow throughout their lives and can reach 60cm in length, their teeth also don’t yellow with age, unlike other ivories, meaning they are often valued higher on the market.
Unregulated hunting of not only their teeth but bones and skin too, coupled with habitat loss and increased human-hippo conflict have lead to a decline in hippo numbers in Africa. At current rates, of just 115,000 – 130,000 across 29 African states, these animals could disappear within a century. While researching I found out this number represents little more than a quarter of Africa’s 400,000 elephant population, quite shocking when you think about it!
The hippotamus is currently listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN red list.
– SPERM WHALE –
The sperm whale is the largest of toothed whales and the largest of all toothed predators. Mature males average 52ft in length but some can reach as much as 67ft, with the head accounting for one–third of the animal’s whole length. Their sheer size means they have few natural predators, although calves and weakened individual can succumb to orca attacks.
Over the years orcas have also been a source of ivory – although nowadays it is rare for both species to be hunted in this way. Instead, sperm whales are typically hunted as food and they are now considered as “vulnerable” on the red list. In the days of the ”whaling era” (which occurred between the 17th and 20th centuries) it is believed as many as 1,000,000 of these whales were killed, poached for their blubber, oil and meat.
Orca, on the other hand, have not been massively hunted, however, they are still killed for the meat, skin, and internal organs. Capture for entertainment and habitat pollution is considered to be two big threats that endanger this species. As of 2017, they are listed as “data deficient” by the IUCN, something I was surprised to read.
On Wednesday evening I attended an interesting lecture about ape conservation at Bristol Zoo. The hour-long talk was hosted by Dr Gráinne McCabe, a Biological Anthropologist specialising in primate behaviour and ecology, and the Head of Conservation Science at the zoo.
It was only the second time I had attended such a sit-down discussion, the first being the wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan ‘Animal Families and me’ tour back in October of last year. I try not too, but I often feel a little bewildered by the other people who attend these talks – they’ve all been on such marvellous adventures! I overheard one woman sitting a couple of seats away from me talking about a recent weekend away bird watching in Finland, and another woman behind me was planning a trip to Tanzania in the coming months.
Dr McCabe spent most of the hour talking about the zoo’s newest conservation project: Protecting the western lowland gorillas for Rio Muni in the African country of Equatorial Guinea. The zoo has fourteen conservation projects running at the moment, most focused in Africa, a couple in the UK, one in the Philippines and one in Costa Rica. The projects are chosen either because that is where the zoo’s conservation team have the most expertise, it is a species the staff are particularly passionate about, or the certain animal is already kept at the zoo as part of a breeding program; like the western lowland gorilla.
Traditionally the gorilla project was focused in Cameroon, but the zoo has recently been looking for a new site to expand their project, and it was the national park of Monte Alén that caught their eye.
– WESTERN LOWLAND GORILLA: SOME FACTS –
The western lowland gorilla is critically endangered, one of two subspecies of western gorilla and the most numerous/widespread of all gorilla species. Populations can be found in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea as well as in large areas in Gabon and the Republic of Congo. The exact number of them is unknown due to their habitats being some of the densest and remote forests in Africa, but it is believed to be around 362,000 instead of 150,000 as previously thought. Shockingly 80% of the population are thought to live outside of protected areas.
They are of slightly smaller size than the other subspecies of gorilla and can be identified by the grey-brown coats and auburn chests. They also have smaller ears but wider skulls and more pronounced brow ridges.
– THE BUSH MEAT AND PET TRADE –
Equatorial Guinea is made up of two islands and a mainland portion, Monte Alén national park is in the mainland. The park is known for its beautiful forests and rich biodiversity but the population of species is drastically declining because of bushmeat hunting. The primary threat to wildlife in the country! Bushmeat, especially that of apes, sells at a higher price than standard meat available in supermarkets. Dr McCabe claimed that it is not an alternative protein source because of a lack of protein, but rather because it’s considered a luxury item and status symbol.
Smaller species such as monkeys, rats, porcupines, pythons and dwarf crocodiles are readily available and are more common because the poachers have already out hunted the larger animals. This meat isn’t being sold for much either, a python, for example, may only be worth £6 or £7.
Another huge problem is the pet trade. Gorillas and chimpanzees are taken from the wild as juveniles and sold in markets or along the side of the road, they are also kept in hotels and used as photographic props.
Other threats include Ebola and other diseases, habitat loss and particularly for the gorillas of Equatorial Guinea – persecution from crop raiding.
– NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE –
Dr McCabe noted there are plenty of areas that are perfect habits for species like crocodiles and gorillas but right now, they’re all empty. She referred to this as ‘empty forest syndrome‘ which is essentially somewhere which is beautiful and intact – wildlife should be in abundance, but instead, there’s a breakdown in the ecosystem and all the apex predators have gone. The forests are now devoid of all life and sound. It’s depressing for me to imagine, let alone for these scientists to witness.
The areas around Monte Alén national park are now all villages and within those villages are farms. Equatorial Guinea was known for its healthy oil trade but when it collapsed, many workers in the cities had to return back to the country, farming was the only way they could make a decent wage.
Now because these farms are right at the edge of the national park, gorillas have been coming from the forest and taking the crops, as a result, the farmers have been shooting them. Dr McCabe pointed out that it is actually illegal to own guns or hunt primates in Equatorial Guinea but it’s rarely enforced.
Dr McCabe and her team have established a research base camp at the national park, setting up camera traps and bioacoustics to track the gorillas, as well as any illegal activity. These cameras will also allow them to identify if it’s just the gorilla’s crop raiding, or something else because, at the minute, it is just speculation from the villagers that it’s gorillas solely causing the problem.
– SO WHAT ARE THEY PROPOSING? –
Despite how doom and gloom the presentation was, Dr McCabe remained optimistic about the future of Equatorial Guinea and the creatures that live within it. She listed a set of recommendations to the Equatorial government that the zoo has proposed, as well as some objectives for themselves:
- Encourage larger eco-guard force in the national park
- Offer better support for alternative livelihoods
- Have legitimate enforcement of existing legislation
- Continue to participate in the gorilla EEP with breeding at Bristol Zoo Gardens
- Publicise more arrests and prosecutions
- Establish standardised great ape (and other large mammal) monitoring programmes
- Continue to support Ape Action Africa in Cameroon
If you’re local to Bristol Zoo I definitely recommend checking out their lectures. They are free to attend, no need to book and are held monthly. For more information have a quick look here: https://www.bristolzoo.org.uk/save-wildlife/conservation-lectures
It was difficult not to notice the story that made national news recently. I literally saw it everywhere. Daily Mail, Sky News, BBC, all reporting with alarming headlines such as: ‘One in five mammals facing extinction’ or ‘Many of Britain’s favourite animals could be wiped out in a decade’.
Each article referred to a survey conducted by The Mammal Society and Natural England researchers, who examined more than 1.5 million individual biological records of 58 species of terrestrial mammals. From this information, they concluded that one in five UK mammals are at risk of extinction, and compiled a “red list” of 12 species we should be worried about. Not only is this “red list” the first of its kind for wild mammals in Britain, but the first major review of these species in over 20 years!
– NATIONS FAVOURITE –
Since the previous estimate carried out in 1995, hedgehog and water vole numbers have declined by a massive 66%! Hedgehogs are one of my favourite species of British wildlife and I have seen with my own eyes the dramatic decline in numbers where I live. The decrease is caused by a combination of factors: road deaths, loss of habitat, the use of pesticides and animal attacks. Climate change has been blamed for disrupting natural hibernation times too.
– THE RED LIST –
The “red list” is split into three categories and every species on the list is currently classified as “threatened”, meaning each and every one faces the possibility of extinction in the next decade.
The highest of the categories “critically endangered” includes 3 species: The Scottish wildcat, the greater mouse-eared bat, and the black rat. Only 200 wildcats are believed to exist in the wild, and there is a possibility that the black rat may already be extinct, as few volunteers track them. A single, male greater mouse-eared bat remains in West Sussex; but sadly no females have been found since 2001.
Red squirrels, beavers, water voles and grey long-eared bats are second in the list, being classified as “endangered”.
Lastly, there is the “vulnerable category” where: Hedgehogs, hazel dormice, Orkney voles, serotine bats and barbastelle bats are placed.
– SOME GOOD NEWS –
The report does also highlight that some British mammal populations have increased! Five species in number and eighteen in geographical range, including otters, beavers, polecats, badgers, and wild boar. However, they do note that many of these species are non-native such as muntjac deer and grey squirrels.