Month: March 2016

Wild West Coast

This past weekend I left the comfort of the city (and my patch) and journeyed west to the beautiful town of Tofino. This gem on the west coast of Vancouver Island is about a 4 hour drive (with stops, and you should definitely stop) from Victoria, a scenic drive through snow-capped mountains, on winding roads,  ending with a descent into the coastal rainforest.

It is a place I have visited many times, its remote and wild location keeps me coming back. It is known for its expansive beaches, lush rainforest, wildlife and extreme weather. As the name suggests it rains a lot in the rainforest, and rain gear is a must for anyone visiting. However this weekend it felt like spring, the rain held off and the sun shone. At this time of year some of the areas most famous species are beginning to appear after winter; grey whales are returning from their long migration from Mexico, and the bears are becoming increasingly active. Unfortunately for me, none of these species co-operated, I did however get some lovely views of some of the first swallows back from their migration. Eagles scoured the beaches, whilst being relentlessly mobbed by crows. Ravens could be heard throughout the rainforest, their haunting calls echoing through the trees, only to be interrupted by more mobbing crows. Despite the beauty and wildness of the area, it was not my weekend for seeing wildlife, even the Tofino mudflats (an ecological hotspot) were surprisingly quiet. This site is something I had only recently found out about, and it had been described as a birders’ paradise (I am sure it is on other occasions), so with high hopes I ventured to the mudflats at sunrise to soak up some of the abundant bird species that rely on the area. I found however only mallards, and the odd Canada goose.

The highlight was the rainforest trail, a boardwalk built above the forest floor. The forest floor is covered in mosses, ferns, bushes and the base of the giant trees covered in lichen. It is like a prehistoric, like stepping back in time. Some overnight rain had brought the forest to life and the colour green shone through, 50 shades of green comes to mind! The giant trunks rise up to the impressive canopy above. The forest was bathed in sunlight with a backing soundtrack of the Pacific Ocean and a cool coastal breeze causing the trees to creak and move as it passed through.

Even though the wildlife did not completely co-operate, the landscape certainly made up for it. I managed to try some recording, making a short video from my time in beautiful Tofino.

 

Why I Love Wildlife

I decided to do a small video discussing some of the reasons I love wildlife. It is something that actually you do not hear people talk about very much, and to be honest something I had not thought about in great detail. So I made this video, and hope to have some more from various people about why they love wildlife. If you want to get involved then please let me know!

 

Seaworld announces an end to Orca breeding program

This week Seaworld announced some excellent news, they will be ending their breeding program for their orcas. This news means that this will be the final generation of captive orcas at Seaworld and hopefully other marine parks will soon follow.

I have seen many misunderstandings about what Seaworld is breeding the orcas for, many people are very worried that in light of this decision wild orcas will now become endangered and extinct. This is not true. The concern people have for orcas and the fear of them becoming extinct is certainly not a bad thing, but do not confuse Seaworld or any other parks breeding orcas, with a conservation captive breeding program. Captive breeding is a crucial conservation tool, and is used to boost highly endangered animals in a controlled setting with the goal of returning the animal into the wild with minimal human contact. This is not what Seaworld is, or has ever been, orcas are bred for no other reason than entertainment and money. They will not be returned or released to the wild and thus the end of this program will have no implications on the wild population. Whilst some populations of orcas are endangered, something that captivity has played a part in when capturing orcas, their survival is not based on Seaworld or other marine parks.

The orcas at Seaworld and other parks that were taken from the wild will undoubtedly still remember the wild, they will remember their home, their family and the day they were taken. There is a heartbreaking video from 1993 of the Northern Resident Killer Whale Corky who is held at Seaworld, who was taken from Vancouver Island in 1969, when she hears calls from her pod, she shudders and shakes. This is an intelligent family orientated species that in no way thrives in captivity. Many people who visit Seaworld love these animals and do care about them, but we must remember that whilst you visit and show them you love them and learn about them, you then get to go home to your families, they do not. They are there everyday for their entire lives.

There have been many arguments about this from supporters, some have said that by losing orcas and their marine shows, Seaworld will lose a vital education tool that has inspired millions. Whilst I have no doubt that seeing orcas in captivity without understanding their behaviours, may inspire some children. It is a little insulting to suggest that the only way that young people can possibly learn and be inspired about animals is by seeing them up close in captivity. From my experiences in wildlife education, children are just as inspired from learning interactively about wild orcas in the field or even in the classroom. The arguments surrounding Seaworld also seem to suggest that the only way you could possibly see orcas is at a marine park, which is definitely not the case. Orcas live from Iceland to Antarctica, there are many opportunities to see them in the wild, and the cost is very similar to a trip to Seaworld. I would argue that children (and adults) gain a much more valuable lesson about marine life from been taken to see orcas in the wild.

Wanting to see orcas is understandable, and the experience of seeing wildlife and animals is certainly an excellent educational tool, but this is not the place to do it, we must have boundaries. Would you rather watch them swimming in large family groups, hunting, interacting and playing or floating lifeless at the bottom of a tank, bruised and bored, begging for food and displaying countless stress related behaviours. Yes, they do play and yes, they do interact with their keepers in captivity occasionally, but what other choice do they have? I have worked with orcas in the wild, seeing them is my greatest wildlife experience so far, it does not get old. The behaviour seen in captivity does not have any resemblance to that of wild orcas. I simply wish to educate and show that there are alternatives to seeing orcas at marine parks, seeing them in the wild will be an experience you will never forget. I urge you to go and see these magnificent animals wild and free, you will not regret it!

Pictures taken of orcas living wild and free off Vancouver Island, Canada!

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IFAW Youth Forum 2016

I realised that I have mentioned my involvement in this forum seemingly everywhere but here on the blog. So I thought I would share some exciting news I got a few weeks back, and was only officially announced recently. In September myself and 33 other delegates will travel to Johannesburg, South Africa for Youth Forum for People and Wildlife where we will engage in skill building workshops, and explore conservation and wildlife welfare issues, including the impact of wildlife trade. It will take place a few days before the 17th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Now having never been to Africa before to say I am excited by this opportunity would be an understatement and I will definitely be working hard to make the most of this opportunity! The other delegates look amazing and are from all over world. I cannot wait to share my opinions and views and share my experience and outlook on wildlife from growing up watching nature in my local Charnwood Forest, across the UK and on Vancouver Island, Canada.

This forum is not just for delegates, using the link below there are many opportunities for people to get involved online! I will be blogging more about the forum here as we get closer to the event, and I hope that many people will join us online and talk about the issues facing wildlife globally.

http://www.ifaw.org/united-states/news/youth-forum-people-and-wildlife-announces?ms=UONDC160001075&cid=701F0000000SyAf

http://youthforum.ifaw.org/ifaw/Page/Campus

 

New Video! Animal Geography- Snow Leopards of Afghanistan!

I have started a new series that will run on the channel, looking at the national animals and the world’s countries! Combining my love for animals and geography. We start with the beautiful and fascinating snow leopards of Afghanistan!

Winter to Spring

My local patch like so many others, is starting to change. A shift is taking place, we are transitioning from winter to spring, and this is one of my favourite times of the year. The arrival of the snowdrops was the first real sign, shortly followed by crocuses. I love their scattered and often sporadic positions. The snowdrops and crocuses are always lovely to see, but they are the warm up act before the main show; the cherry blossoms. The cherry blossoms line the streets blooming each year, truly brightening up the area and adding some much-needed colour to my patch. Plant wise cherry blossoms are the headline acts at this time of year. There is a certain smugness in Victoria as the cherry blossom blooms, whilst the rest of Canada is still buried in snow, ice and below freezing temperatures . We are the first to see Spring, and often like to remind our fellow Canadians of that.

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There is a change in the birds too, the ducks, that spend the winter on my patch are far less numerous than just a few weeks ago. Many move inland to breed on local lakes, and others move north to their breeding grounds. We are just at the beginning of the breeding season, but some birds are already getting prepared. The trees are filled with displaying Anna’s hummingbirds. The display is quite a spectacle, the tiny males drop quickly from the sky, and just before hitting the ground they loop back upwards, making a loud squeak sound, almost like squeaky brakes. They then propel themselves up and up and up higher than the tallest trees and out of sight, before plummeting again. They have a bright pink bib that they flash whilst flying in this way. I watched one male for a good 10 minutes fly up and down, in front of a female that half the time did not bother to look. I personally thought she could do a lot worse, but it’s her choice and she chose to move on!

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One species that is already nesting is the great horned owl. Now admittedly it was a little bit away from my local patch, but still in Victoria, I heard my first ever great horned owl calling! They make a very typical owl hoot, although it is a little deeper than other owl species I have heard. They are a large owl species, similar to a long-eared owl, the calls were from some distance so I could not see them, but I shall definitely be trying to find them in the coming weeks.

As we go on through March and April, I am hoping to start seeing butterflies, bees and even the return of some summer migrants! It seems for now, that winter may be over. Although the unpredictability of the west coast weather means I will not be counting my chickens just yet!

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Extinction, the new normal?

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Extinction, we hear about it very early on when first discovering dinosaurs and from then it is mentioned by many groups and organisations all fighting to save a seemingly endless list of species. Stop the Giant Panda from becoming extinct, save the Tiger from extinction, in 10 years we will lose the Rhino, this could go on and on. It seems as though within my lifetime at least, extinction has been talked about in so many different contexts, that the word itself is beginning to lose all meaning. The word extinction is rather common nowadays, a household word that we might encounter every day. The reality of extinction and the current scenario we find ourselves in seems to be lost. Extinction itself, in our minds is not a rare occurrence, in fact it is being used so much that we now have counter arguments ‘it is nature, animals become extinct naturally, we cannot save everything’. Extinction is the new normal, but how normal is it really?

History has shown that mass extinction is not a new phenomena, but it is a rare one, in life’s 3 and a half billion year history there have been just 5 mass extinctions, and we are currently entering the 6th. Using something called the background extinction rate, this is the standard rate of extinction in Earth’s geological and biological history before humans, and at times between other mass extinctions. It has been calculated that at a normal extinction rate for birds, one species becomes extinct every 400 years. Yet in the last 500 years over 190 known bird species have been declared extinct and  currently there are 1200 species listed as endangered, threatened or vulnerable, and that is just those we know about. For mammals it is roughly estimated to be one species every 700 years, but currently we are seeing at least one known mammal being declared extinct every year or two and around 1500 listed as endangered or threatened. The numbers of extinct species would be far greater if not for last-ditch efforts from many conservation groups. During normal times with normal extinction rates, the chances of you ever seeing a species become extinct in your lifetime should effectively be zero, yet this is not the case in modern times. We are living in an extraordinary age, one that has rarely been seen on Earth. Animals and plants across the world are dying for a whole host of reasons, most of them human induced.

When encountering so many species either becoming extinct or at least endangered, it is quite easy to see how we can take extinction for granted. The point of this blog is not for us to marvel at extinction, but in a sense to understand that what is happening is simply unprecedented; that extinction itself is a natural process, but what we are seeing today, has never been seen before. Never has one species shaped life on Earth so much. We must not become blasé over extinction, although it is certainly natural it is definitely not normal.

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