Month: November 2016

Youth for Wildlife Conservation launch

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http://www.youthforwildlife.org/

Oh my word, it has been a bit of a busy couple of weeks with presentations and various other side projects, and blogging seems to have been at the bottom of the list, which needs to change. However I am so excited that one of the side projects Youth for Wildlife Conservation officially launched today. Youth for Wildlife Conservation is a new organisation set up by 34 youth environmental leaders from 25 countries, in order to create a network that supports youth conservationists and encourages youth participation with the goal of conserving wildlife and helping our communities. This is a follow up to the Youth Forum for People and Wildlife that took place at CITES 2016 in South Africa. The organisation is of course very new, but there are some amazing things coming up and I am incredibly proud and excited to be a part of such an amazing group. The website is above, check us out and you can follow us on various platforms!

Canada now has a national bird, meet the Gray Jay

Gray jay in flight

Canada has an incredible diversity of birds, with over 450 different species calling it home. With so much bird life across the country, birds make up an important part of Canadian life and culture. Birds are deemed so important that every Province has a provincial bird, we also have our noisy neighbours to the south being so proud of their bald eagle (which could have easily been our bird, given their population in Canada), it seemed slightly odd that it has taken so long to officially choose a national bird. For over a year Canadian Geographic has been running a poll to finally decide which bird Canadians wanted to represent them, the shortlist was then whittled down to five, with the winner being announced tonight, the gray jay. It had some tough competition, it was up against the iconic loon, the fierce snowy owl, the well known Canada goose and the adorable black-capped chickadee.

Whilst the loon or the snowy owl may have been the more obvious choices, I am pleased that the gray jay was chosen in the end. This highly intelligent and hardy bird is found across every Province and Territory, given Canada’s scale there are not many species like that, they are also sparsely found in the USA, and are much more common north of the border, they are a true Canadian bird. They are renowned for not just being smart, but being good natured, fearless and determined, ask any mountain hiker what bird is most likely to steal your lunch, I bet they will say the gray jay, or as it is also known, whiskey jack.

They are not intimidated by our winters, sticking it out and getting on with it. They are even known to start nesting in the winter and have been seen incubating eggs in -30. They may not be the most flashy or colourful bird, but they are understated and a perfect fit in their habitat.

I won’t lie my vote was for the snowy owl, I deemed it to be a fitting species for Canada, but when looking at the arguments I saw the flaws, why choose a national bird that many Canadians may never see, yes they are a gorgeous species, perfectly adapted to the north, but do they have a clear connection with people right across Canada? Also they are the provincial bird of Quebec, and being a provincial and national bird seems greedy.

To some, choosing a national bird seemed pointless, but it is important for us to start talking more about our own wildlife, to have over 50,000 people vote, and widespread media coverage, it was refreshing to see a large number of people in Canada come together to talk and learn about our incredible birds. Well done to all involved, and what happens now? Well I say, national mammal, fish, insect, tree, flower? Let’s complete the set!

Killer Whales in crisis, as another endangered Orca dies in Salish Sea

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The Salish Sea around southern Vancouver Island and Washington State have been home to a unique type of orca for hundreds of years, however this could soon end as the southern resident orca faces a population crisis that will lead to extinction unless immediate action is taken.

In the past week it was announced that J28 an adult female has died somewhere off Vancouver Island, her death also means her young calf J54 will subsequently die as it is still reliant on it’s mother for food. After a baby boom last year sparked some hope for the species, 2016 has seen the number of southern resident orca drop from 85 to 80. It is estimated that their population could have exceeded 200 prior to human disturbance. During my time working with these animals I saw first hand how highly intelligent and complex they are, with tight bonds and strong traditions. They are unlike any other orca in the world, they are truly unique to this area. It is hard to fathom that we could soon be losing a species that is not only vital for the ecosystem, but also holds a strong place in First Nation’s culture, not to mention the huge economic boost they give to the area through tourism. I fear that what is needed to save the southern residents will not happen in anywhere near the time-frame necessary, despite being listed as an endangered species in both Canada and the USA.

So what is needed? As with any endangered species the issues are complicated and often argued from many sides, however it is clear that the orcas are struggling for food. They are reliant almost exclusively on Chinook salmon and this species has seen huge declines in the area as a result of pollution, climate change and human disturbance to their breeding sites. Campaigns in the USA are focused on the removal of dams, which are believed to be blocking key salmon spawning grounds and in Canada the focus has been on overfishing and restoring key salmon habitat on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.

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Another issue is disturbance and noise, the orcas rely on sound to communicate, hunt and navigate. Their habitat has become noisier over time: the Salish Sea is the main gateway from western Canada and the USA to Asia via the Pacific, and this means that a large number of shipping vessels use the sea everyday, including ferries, fishing boats, whale watching, pleasure boaters and the Navy. The true impact is unknown, but it is believed to affect their feeding efficiency and behaviour.

It is difficult to know exactly what we can do to save this species, however a starting point would be government action in order to protect them. This endangered species that is so important to the area must become a priority for our politicians. What we can do is send a message to our local politicians telling them that we care about the protection of these animals and that the government must take stronger action to save them before it is too late.

Here are two links one from Canada and the other from the USA with some ideas of how to help save the Southern Resident Orcas:

http://www.raincoast.org/projects/marine-mammals/killer-whale/

http://www.whaleresearch.com/about-salmon

 

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