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Beware of the Gonzo Nature-TV Presenter
Sept. 4 is the fifth anniversary of the death of Steve Irwin, the Australian wildlife presenter fatally speared by a stingray's barb while filming on the Great Barrier Reef. His death was a shock, but its manner surprised nobody. There was no dangerous animal Irwin wouldn't provoke and manhandle for TV.
Five years on, the pet-and-pester approach he pioneered has become the standard way for nature programs to produce cheap dramatic footage — reality TV with claws. Turn on any channel and you'll see Irwin lookalikes hassling animals. They declaim their love of nature, while unwittingly recording our dysfunctional relationship with it, teaching our children to both fear and subjugate creatures already pushed to the brink of extinction.
Irwin's boyhood inspiration was the British broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough. Often whispering so as not to disturb his subjects, Attenborough reverentially reveals the wonders of the natural world and our place in it. He doesn't set out to demonstrate his mastery over animals.
Today's presenters are different. Animal Planet's slogan is "Surprisingly Human." It should be "Depressingly Human," since it chronicles our species' conflict with almost every other. A South African herpetologist called Donald Schultz, who fronts Wild Recon, is a self-styled adrenaline junkie on a pseudo-scientific mission. He collects snake venom and other animal fluids "that could yield life-altering scientific discoveries." In Sri Lanka, he draws blood from a tranquilized young rogue elephant "so that researchers can study his hormones." But what discoveries those unnamed researchers make — or what qualifies a snake expert to draw blood from the world's largest land mammal — is never explained. What we learn is this: animals are vicious, so humans are justified in using any means to subdue them. Schultz describes the drugged and terrified elephant as "five tons of aggression." (See TIME's top 10 heroic animals.)
This message is driven home by more recent shows, such as Man-Eating Super Snake ("No one is safe in South Florida") and Nature's Deadliest ("Sizedoesn't matter to the world's most dangerous creatures"). I've given up on finding a show that teaches us how to live in harmony with animals. Instead, we invade their habitats and, when they defend themselves, we brand them violent.
This is the apparent strategy of Animal Planet's Into the Pride. A pride of lions known for "aggression toward people" must learn to grow accustomed to ecotourists at a Namibian reserve — or else. "If they don't calm down," we're told, "they will be destroyed." Calm down? They're wild animals. They're calm enough when you leave them alone. But try telling that to the show's frat-boy host, a Canadian animal trainer called Dave Salmoni. He approaches on an all-terrain vehicle and sets about acclimatizing the lions to humans — by repeatedly aggravating them. "Right now, they're problem cats," Salmoni explains, "because of their perception of what humans are." In this case, a whooping doofus on a quad bike.
Even National Geographic ("Inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888") can't leave animals be. An episode of its Monster Fish shows American biologist Zeb Hogan wrestling giant South American arapaima into a man-made pond where anglers pay to catch them. This is conservation? (See the top 12 unlikely animal friendships.)
All this poses a dilemma for parents. Where do children form an appreciation of nature? My father took me to zoos, which Iloved. But today even the best zoos discomfit many parents, this one included. So children must turn to TV, where they find the bloody dramatized attacks of Discovery Channel's recent Shark Week, or a show like Swamp Brothers, in which Florida reptile trader Robbie Keszey restrains wild animals under the guise of (he says) teaching people to respect "their rights to this place we call earth." My son won't be watching him.
Is there a connection between TV's obsession with subjugating animals and our capacity to destroy them and their habitats? Possibly. We demonized sharks and were soon slaughtering millions for theirfins every year. Through nature TV, we're now demonizing all wild creatures to make us feel better about precipitating
Thought you might be willing to pass along that Vultures Rock, a web site dedicated to education about the rapidly declining vulture populations around the world, is holding a vulture themed poetry contest for 8 to 12 year olds with a deadline of October 10 with details at http://vulturesrock.com/contest/ . This effort is an outgrowth of the research of Corinne Kendall, a PhD candidate at Princeton (currently working in Kenya - see her blog at http://www.fieldfoto.com/ and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org .) Thanks for any help you can give us in promoting it. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to get in touch. A good project for the lead up to Halloween! Please let us know if you have any resources you would like to link to the site as well!
Diane S. Kendall
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1000th Kiwi Chick Now Even Closer
The 1000th kiwi chick to hatch at Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park is now even closer with the second chick of the season hatching.
Kiwi Encounter - the park's hatching facility - began the season with only one dozen hatches to go before reaching its 1000th milestone chick as part of the BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust programme. The first chick emerged from its egg last week and the second followed in quick succession at the weekend.
As part of BNZ Operation Nest Egg™ (O.N.E) eggs are gathered from nests to save them from predators and are incubated and cared for at Kiwi Encounter. The kiwis are then returned to the wild when they weigh around a healthy 1 kg.
“The newest arrival is little, but he is cute and strong,” says Emma Bean, Assistant Kiwi Husbandry Manager, Kiwi Encounter.
The 1000th kiwi is expected to hatch during the height of the Rugby World Cup and Rainbow Springs has created a giant kiwi nest filled with 12 rugby balls to celebrate. Each time an egg hatches it is replaced with a toy kiwi signifying the new arrival.
Rainbow Springs has been involved in O.N.E. since 1995 and their involvement began with the arrival of a kiwi egg that had been abandoned. Over the last
Eagles and small child claims 'alarmist' RSPB says
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has raised concerns about whether sea eagles could differentiate between children and their natural prey.
The comment follows an incident where a senior clergyman was injured by a young eagle as he tried to scare it away after it attacked one of his geese.
The SGA has called for a public inquiry into the impact of the reintroduction of the birds on the east coast.
RSPB Scotland has described the small child claim as "alarmist nonsense".
The Scottish government said it was not aware of any attacks by sea eagles on children in other countries and did not think a public inquiry was necessary.
In a letter to the Scottish government, the
25 dolphins bound for China
ABOUT 25 bottlenose dolphins worth millions of dollars will be exported out of the country destined for China, Tuesday next week.
This was revealed to the Solomon Star yesterday by Earth Island Institute regional director and dolphin activist Lawrence Makili.
Mr Makili said he has received reports that Dr Badley Anita who operates a dolphin business on Mbugana Island, Central Province was planning the export.
It was understood the Ministry of Environment issued an export license to Dr Anita on Thursday
Como Zoo ape expert's much more than a keeper
Megan Elder grew up visiting Como Zoo as a child, never thinking she'd return one day to care for its endangered orangutans and emerge onto the international stage as a leader in their survival.
And now, at 35, Elder has achieved a status held by only three other people in history: international orangutan studbook keeper for the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Studbook keepers track captive animal populations and their genetics, playing a key role in improving the living conditions and understanding species and their survival. They maintain databases that can stretch back generations, often finding themselves in the role of foreign diplomat as they collect data from far-flung locals where political tensions can run high. (There are also regional studbooks for populations within a certain country.)
Elder's position places her square in the battle to keep the great apes alive in captivity as their numbers dwindle dangerously low in the wild, all the while bringing worldwide attention to a small family zoo in St. Paul that was founded in 1897 with three deer fenced in a pasture.
"I'm completely hooked into it," Elder said. "It's pretty much my life now."
Elder's work this summer took her to Borneo and Malaysia, where she collected data and
Lion cubs loss mystery still unsolved
Officials investigating the loss of four lion cubs are yet to come up with a conclusive evidence to explain the tragedy that struck the zoo over a fortnight ago.
The Karachi Zoological Gardens had witnessed the birth of four lion cubs after 30 years. Three of them were found dead and one went missing hardly a week later.
Sources said that laboratory reports regarding the samples taken from the animal bodies formed an important part of the investigation, which the officials had not yet received.
While no clue has been found to the missing cub, the delay in making the results of the inquiry public is raising suspicion about the incident that took place on Aug 12 in highly mysterious circumstances.
It’s worth noting that the government constituted two inquiry teams to investigate the case. One was led by Revenue Executive District Officer Ghanwar Leghari while special secretary Shazia Rizvi was appointed inquiry officer of another team by the local government minister.
The city government team collected samples from the animals’ bodies on Aug 13 and from their pen on Aug 15 and sent them to the chemical examiner and a laboratory of Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS).
According to sources, the chemical examiner’s report has been received while the DUHS lab’s report related to any possible viral or bacterial infection is still pending.
“We were earlier told that the report would be released within 10 to 15 days. However, the lab staff is now contending that the report would be released after Eid as relevant persons have not been able to do the job due to a breakdown of law and order in the city,” a city government official said, adding that nothing could be said about the incident with certainty unless all reports were received.
The official declined to reveal the findings of the chemical examiner’s report.
But, in reply to another question, he said that if nothing conclusive came out of the reports, it would be concluded that the cubs died of starvation and the zoo management would be held directly responsible for negligence and mismanagement.
Zoo officials’ claim unexamined
The officials investigating the incident failed to carry out any examination of the lioness’ faeces the following day of the incident that could easily help determine the zoo officials’ claim that one cub had been eaten up by its mother.
According to experts, hair couldn’t be digested and is released into the faeces and is visible to the naked eye in the animal’s excreta.
Also, a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test has not been included in the investigation to quash rumours that the cubs were taken away and replaced with others that reportedly died at a private facility.
A DNA test, the experts said, would also be helpful if some evidence, for instance stains of blood, was picked up from the pen that could determine the veracity of zoo officials that a cub was eaten up by the lioness.
This contention, however, is strongly disputed by wildlife experts who argue that though it’s very common for male species to eat its own offspring, it’s very rare for the lioness to eat its own cubs.
This also came to light during investigation that none of the zoo staff was responsible for seeing to it that the babies were sufficiently nursed by their mother. This was the lioness’ first birth and, according to experts, it is common among female
species to stop feeding after the first birth.
Also, the size of the cage was found to be too small for a big cat. A large box, placed inside perhaps for the mother to keep
Federal officials to weigh new protections for captive chimpanzees
The federal government will examine whether captive chimpanzees should be reclassified as “endangered,” officials said Wednesday, a move that could eventually prevent the animals from being used in medical experiments or for entertainment.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — responding to a petition filed by groups including the Humane Society of the United States and the Jane Goodall Institute — announced it had found enough information to justify a review of whether captive chimpanzees need a more protective
Fears grow for Asia's endangered anteaters
Tiger poaching gets the press but wildlife groups in Asia are increasingly fearful for the future of a smaller, scalier and "less sexy" creature: the pangolin.
So prized are the meat and supposed medicinal properties of this reclusive anteater that it is now thought to be the most heavily trafficked mammal in the region, rapidly being driven towards extinction.
"The volumes we are seeing in seizures are mind-boggling. No species can survive this level of extraction for long," said Kanitha Krishnasamy from the wildlife trade watchdog Traffic.
"Unfortunately, this scaly animal does not invoke as much attention from the public, and by extension from the authorities, as pangolins are considered to be less sexy than their larger mammalian counterparts," she added.
Tigers are also killed for their body parts, mostly for use in traditional Asian medicines, and major international campaigns have been launched to save them from extinction.
Trading in pangolins is banned under international law, yet Traffic's Asian surveys show they are frequently poached from the wild, mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, exacerbating the threat from rapid deforestation.
They are transported through Southeast Asia, mostly ending up in China and Vietnam, where pangolin flesh is a delicacy and its scales - it is the only mammal known to have them - are ground into a powder for medicinal purposes.
Historically, this ingredient was used in Chinese medicine to try to cure a range of ills, from children's hysterical crying to eyelashes curling inwards, according to researcher and pangolin expert Dan Challender.
Today, reports suggest the scales are used in an attempt to reduce swellings, cure asthma and even in some cases cancer, but a lack of solid analysis means "all uses seem unfounded to date", he said.
Challender, at Britain's University of Kent, added that the supposed health benefits of eating the meat include nourishing the kidneys, but these are also probably unfounded.
"Unless efforts are taken to address both the demand for, and supply of pangolins, they will go extinct in Asia in the short term future," he told AFP.
Of four species found in Asia, two are "endangered" and two "near threatened", according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which says it is unknown how many of the secretive, nocturnal animals are left.
Two of four species found in Africa are also "near threatened", and all have decreasing populations, while Challender said seizures of scales bound for Asia from Africa suggested a developing trade.
Likened in appearance to a globe artichoke, the pangolin curls up hedgehog-like into a ball when under threat, making them easy for humans to catch.
Steve Galster, director of the anti-trafficking Freeland foundation, said the shy creatures were the "unknown problem" of Asia's illegal wildlife trade, sometimes fetching more than 1,000 US dollars each on the black market.
"The price of pangolins is just going through the roof," he told AFP. "We're surprised there are any left."
Already this year, seizures have been reported along trading routes in Thailand, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia - but these are probably just the tip of the iceberg, according to Traffic.
In one of the biggest hauls, the group said customs officials at a Jakarta port found 7.5 tonnes of pangolin meat in May, stashed in crates and covered up with frozen fish, bound for Vietnam.
"The most outrageous thing here is
PANGOLINS IN PERIL
which I wrote back in July 2009
First Stem Cells from Endangered Species
Starting with normal skin cells, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have produced the first stem cells from endangered species. Such cells could eventually make it possible to improve reproduction and genetic diversity for some species, possibly saving them from extinction, or to bolster the health of endangered animals in captivity.
Roger Moroney: No wonder emperor got cold feet
As the zoo people and scientists watched on, the big penguin was given a gentle nudge on to the slippery slope and off he went.
Ungracefully into the cold seas where he briefly surfaced, got his bearings, then dived out of sight ... almost certainly heading north instead of south because he's an oddball who prefers the attention of humans over the attention of orcas.
Did you see that glimpse of hesitation?
He looked around, looked back at his minders, glanced at the ice-filled little house he had spent the last three or four days in, recalled all the delicious fish he had had served up to him ... and then he took in the sight of the great and ferocious southern seas.
Happy Feet appeared to have cold feet, and I wasn't surprised.
For he had stumbled into a colourful world of attention and kindness and safety.
He had become a star ... even relegating
The Newest Recruit In the Fight on TB
Yashica isn't your typical laboratory technician. For one thing, there's the tail. For another, he'll literally work for peanuts.
Yashica is an African giant pouched rat, Cricetomys gambianus, that on a recent afternoon at the zoo here demonstrated his preternatural sense of smell by scuttling along a metal bench and sniffing out splotches of grenadine syrup.
This trick that amuses zoo visitors in Europe holds promise for diagnosing tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa. A team of scientists reported last month in the online Pan African Medical Journal that the rodents are better than human lab techs at identifying TB
Three new bat species discovered in Indochina
Nocturnal and secretive, bats are often overlooked components of tropical diversity. The study, commissioned to address this lack of knowledge, has turned up three new bat species. Among these is the aptly named Beelzebub’s tube-nosed bat, a diminutive but demonic-looking creature known only from Vietnam.
The etymology of the species is explained in the Journal of Mammalogy, in which the citation appears: “Beelzebub commonly appears as a high ranking personality of the underworld in Christian texts, in both Old and New testaments, although one of the presumed original meanings of the name is ‘Lord of the Flies’.” Dr. Gabor Csorba of the HNHM further clarifies, “We chose the name Beelzebub to reflect the dark ‘diabolic’ colouration of the new species and its fierce protective behaviour in the field.”
“As with Beelzebub’s, the other two new species belong to a distinctive group known as tube-nosed bats”, said Dr. Neil Furey of FFI. “These species are highly adapted to forest environments, a fact which renders them especially vulnerable to ongoing deforestation in the region.” Surrounded by myth and facing a litany of threats, scientists are currently racing to document the poorly known bat fauna of the region. “Though bats already represent nearly a third of SE Asian mammals, recent genetic research suggests that th
Conservationists concerned for future of White-shouldered Ibis
The 2011 Cambodian census of White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni has found a larger number of birds than ever before, but celebrations are muted, as this species’ survival is imminently threatened by serious habitat loss.
The total of 543 birds, counted concurrently in four key sites, was a record exceeding the 428 individuals at the same time last year. Nevertheless, the larger number provides little extra long-term security for this species, as up to 85% of these birds are at risk of losing their habitat from change in land use in the near future.
White-shouldered Ibis is classified as Critically Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of IUCN, of which Cambodia is a member. This means there is a high probability that the species will go extinct in the near future – a route already trod
21-foot crocodile caught in Agusan del Sur town
A 21-foot saltwater crocodile suspected of having attacked several people was caught in Barangay Nueva Era in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur, a television report said on Monday.
A report on GMA News TV's "News To Go" said the crocodile weighs 600 kilos and is the largest crocodile caught in the country to date, according to the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center.
The Bunawan local government, together with the Protected Areas and Wildlife Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, set up traps to catch the crocodile after residents reported incidents of
Flamingos breed at British zoo for the first time ever... After staff put up mirrors to help get them in the mood
A zoo is celebrating the birth of its first ever flamingo chick - conceived after keepers got the birds in the mood to breed by putting up mirrors for them.
Staff at Marwell Wildlife Park have been willing the exotic birds to produce offspring since 1972.
Now, almost four decades later, they've finally got their wish - after employing the ingenious tactics to get the creatures in the mood.
Greater flamingos are more likely to breed in larger colonies where they feel secure.
So keepers tricked them by installing mirrors and piping in the sound of flamingo calls from speakers. They also put up fake nests with dummy eggs.
To their delight, their first chick was born and, with eight eggs left to hatch, it is hoped there will be more arrivals before the end of the year.
Keepers say their latest
The lion-tailed macaque faces habitat destruction
Nelliampathy, the second biggest abode of the most endangered lion-tailed macaque after the famous Silent Valley National Park, is facing destruction of its habitat due to “unregulated plantation activities, fragmentation and conversion of forest land.”
A recent study on “ecology and behaviour of the arboreal mammals of Nelliampathy” found a total of 13 lion-tailed macaque troops with 200 individuals in the area.
Thus it is the second biggest population of one of the most endangered primates. The Silent Valley has 250 members
Distribution, abundance and conservation of primates in the Highwavy Mountains of Western Ghats, Tamil Nadu, India and conservation prospects for lion-tailed macaques