Monday, 25 June 2012

Wildlife News.

  In the first of my monthly wildlife news stories, which have caught my attention, there really is only one place to start. The sad news has very recently broken that Lonesome George, the last of the Pinata giant tortoises has died aged 100 making the species now officially extinct. Famous for his lack of interest in breeding despite repeated efforts to encourage him to do so, George was discovered by a park ranger on Sunday morning where it became clear his life cycle had run full circle. George was a huge attraction for tourists and became a symbol of the Ecuadorian Galapagos islands, which it was estimated had 180,000 visitors last year. After a post mortem to discover a cause of death, there are possible talks about embalming George's body to display in the Galapagos National Park for future generations to view. Surely a fitting tribute to an iconic and charismatic animal.
Visit the Telegraph online for the full story.


Image taken from http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2009/7/22/1248256019842/Lonesome-George-001.jpg.

I was recently pleased to read that a young Kenyan herder, Richard Turere, has devised a
possible solution that could well benefit both wildlife and people. By flashing LED lights around his livestock, he has for the past two years successfully deterred Lions from  predating on his cattle and other domesticated animals. Such is the success that he on  a personal level has had  that the idea is now being investigated on a greater scale to see if it has an impact on the number of clashes between people and wildlife. As it seems Lions associate lights around the cattle with activity and people, it would seem that not only do the lights restrict the Lions activity through fear of people, the lights also affect their night vision and so avoid lights whenever possible. There is a fear of Lions becoming habituated to this however with 100 of the country’s 2000 Lions being killed each year in acts of retribution by farmers because of lost live stock. It would seem this new deterrent could well become vital in the long run for both humans and Lions.




Image taken by author



And the third story that grabbed my attention today is a story which allows room for speculation. Costa Rica's Jaguars it has been discovered are rapidly changing prey preference to Green Turtles. Between the years of 2005 and 2010 it has been recorded that Jaguars killed 672 Green Turtles. At present it is unclear why this prey switch has happened.


Source BBC Wildlife July Edition.


                            Available at http://www.sciencephoto.com/image/387627/530wm/Z9340252-Jaguar-SPL.jpg

                            A brief thought from myself.

For the first time in a number of years I saw a Jay in the back garden of our home.  It is a strikingly beautiful bird which is becoming an all too rare sight. It really brought a smile to my face as it foraged for an estimated 20 minutes before moving off perhaps in search of a tastier meal. Perhaps a predator I had not seen had come into view, either way it was fantastic to see such a charismatic bird again after such a long absence.



Available at http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2743/4391407857_a09c437046_z.jpg?zz=1.

Bye for now George.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

You will not see Wild Dogs.

Sitting in a makeshift classroom our guide is smiling almost sympathetically at our optimism. The question has just been asked about the possibility of seeing African Wild Dogs during our time in  the Thanda and Intibane game reserves South Africa. "Yes they are here, but you won't see them" he laughed and deep down I knew he was correct in saying how minimal our chances were of seeing one of the most endangered carnivores on the planet. In fact I had barely allowed the thought of seeing them to cross my mind at all on the eleven-hour plane journey from Heathrow, nor on the following eight hour bus journey from Johannesburg to camp.

 A week of our stay had passed and as expected we had  not seen any Wild Dogs. Not that this concerned us too much if at all, every day in our beautiful surroundings was a privilege. The novelty of walking round camp and startling Warthogs, Wilderbeest and Impala never wore off while cheeky Vervet Monkeys watched on from the trees, only venturing down to risk a raid on the store room should it be left unguarded. The huge abundance of wildlife viewed on game drives including a glimpse of the critically endangered Black Rhino was staggering and it felt like things could not get any better. They could.

 The start of week two signalled the start of our surveying duties. After having  had a week to settle into camp we were assured the hard work would really start now. As our vehicle set off at the crack of dawn it hit us  just how icy cold early mornings in South Africa could be, our breath being taken away as the wind whipped through our vehicle. The journey to the first survey site continued and as the sun started to rise I bent down to take my camera out my bag and then it happened, the excited talking from the group, the usually cool guides as well meant only one thing. Something special had just come into view.

  I quickly grabbed the camera and looked up. I probably had one of the biggest grins my face has ever produced  because right in front of us crossing the road was an African Wild Dog and not just one either. This was the full pack. Their strikingly beautiful colours were the first and most obvious feature that grabbed the attention of the group. A mix of yellows, brown and white it was easy to see why they are otherwise known as the painted dog. Their overall size was not huge, approximately just over a meter in height, and seeing them up close demonstrated their slender, agile bodies perfectly adapted for long distance chases in all their fine detail.

  Their curiosity towards the group in this strange contraption was fascinating to watch. Far from being intimidated, they kept the their distance and observed us allowing us precious extra time to make the most of this incredible experience. Witnessing them at such close quarters also allowed us to observe group behaviour as they trotted away regularly checking to make sure each member of the pack was present. Keeping a strong bond is essential for a pack hunting animal and it was obvious this was clearly an efficient but also highly intelligent pack of animals in front of us.

   Eventually  they caught the scent of an unwary Impala on the wind .Maybe they felt we had seen enough of their world  and they melted back into cover. That experience remains one of the most incredible sights I have been privileged enough to see and  I will be always be grateful for those few minutes spent in the company of these truly remarkable animals.

              Take it easy
               George.
        
               
            



     

Sunday, 17 June 2012

A surprising advantage of trains.

Being a student living away from home means when the time comes to go home public transport is the only option specifically trains. Apart from occasional comfort, the main joy of this mode of transport is the wildlife spotting opportunities they provide.
 The first hour of my journey takes me through beautiful countryside and this is where wildlife sightings peak. Stunning Buzzards glide searching for potential prey, of which there is plenty. Rabbits it would seem are as common as grass on this particular route however the enjoyment of watching them particularly their white tail bobbing away into the distance never fades. Foxes are often seen as well and always provide a thrill whenever I spot these cunning and intelligent predators. By far the sighting that prompts the most excitable reaction from myself and strange looks from other passengers in my direction is when a secretive Roe Deer breaks cover and appears on the edge of a field. Unfortunately on my most recent sighting of a Roe Deer the ticket inspector did not share my obvious enthusiasm and by the time I had handed him my ticket the deer had long disappeared. A far from common sight it shows what people can miss seeing simply by not looking out the window.
Personally I will take the strange looks from fellow passengers when my excitement gets the better of me because in my mind that one glimpse of a slinking fox or cautious roe deer is so worth it.

                       Take it easy
                        George.
Picture taken by Harry Wykes
 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Living the Dream

Living the Dream

Everyone has dreams. There are sleep dreams and day dreams, hopes, desires and nonsense all wrapped together. No matter how unusual they may be everyone has them. On grey English winters mine has been visiting the beautiful country of South Africa. The wildlife of this country has always fascinated me, but one creature in particular captured my imagination more than any other. Watching documentaries it always seemed to me that the Cheetah had the most uncanny ability to disappear from view as quickly as it appeared slinking silently back into the undergrowth , only for it to come into view minutes later, at a full speed assault on some unwary victim. This time the antelope got away, and the Cheetah melted back into cover, leaving no evidence it was ever there just like a ghost. It was these elusive cats I continued to dream about as I nodded sleepily in my seat during the long flight to Johannesburg Airport.
On arriving in the African bush the point that you aren’t in every day normality any more is hammered home by wondering Impala Wildebeest while walking around every corner comes with the real possibility of starting some bewildered looking Warthogs seeking easy sources of food and sanctuary from the more nervy predators unwilling to follow the herbivores through the gap in the fence and come into contact with these strange two legged animals no matter how tempting the plump pigs are. Despite the best efforts to protect camp food, the cheeky Vervet monkeys will always find an open door to the food store. So with giraffes next door on the opposite side of the fence and Vervets in the trees we settled into our home for the next month. And by teatime it was quite apparent that falling under the magical spell of Africa was as natural as breathing, sleeping … and dreaming.
Anywhere else in the world a half past five start would frankly be unpleasant , however when the alarm went off and we leave for another days’ of survey work there is not a single complaint.
Over the course of the month the cold, still journeys to the early morning survey filled with sightings giraffe, elephant, rhino ( black and white), wild dog and lion to name just a few highlights. I always felt hugely grateful and privileged to see all these animals,t here was slight disappointment at no cheetah sightings.
Lie-ins were not regular, and by lie in we still were up by seven at the latest keen to take advantage of the amazing sights around us. It was on one such morning that the rest our larger group came back into camp restricted by unforeseen bad weather but surprisingly cheery for a group of people who had just experienced the not so fun elements of nature.I.  “We’ve seen cheetahs” we were told excitedly, “two brothers patrolling the reserve fence line”. Honestly I was delighted for the group , however secretly I was desperately envious of the guys lucky enough to see them . I knew my own mini group were scheduled back out into the bush in the next couple of days along that exact route my spirits lifted once more.
Back out into the bush and this particular morning there was something different in the air hard to explain. Maybe it was the light taking just that little bit longer to break through the darkness of night, still offering cover for animals of all sizes. A kudu a huge antelope, went almost unspotted by the side of the road camouflaged in its stillness, only movement brought the silhouette of the magnificent animal to us . Birds called, monkeys chattered it was another beautiful morning that could not fail to put a smile on faces, as a group of startled impala darted for cover. 
As we drove on towards our destination suddenly, silently a shape slunk about 50 meters from the car out of the cover of vegetation.  Strolling purposefully towards us my heart jumped as the stunning Cheetah came closer ever closer.  Its spots dappled in the early morning light, it appeared more than happy to put up with these excited strange observers. Better still the brother appeared again silently again majestically their agile bodies showing just how graceful they are, but also how vulnerable they are.

The cats continued to sit confidently in full view of us as we admired everything about them.  Every detail of their bodies I tried to take it, fascinated in their ability to have appeared without a sound almost ghostly. Their boldness was startling coming very close to the car so confident were they we were of no threat, despite this few words in the car were spoken, not through fear but through shear awe of the beautiful animals in front of us. Finally they decided we had seen enough and again slinked away soundlessly maybe it was time to hunt, maybe they were just bored of us. We were lucky enough to see the brothers on two more occasions but the thought I had when I first saw them will always stay with me, dreams are not for dreaming they are for living.
Take it easy
George. 









Friday, 8 June 2012

Black and White assassins- The Facts

Killer Whale Orcinus orca
The Killer Whale, Orcinus orca, is a top predator found in all oceans, however not as frequently seen in tropical waters.  O. orca can be split into three sub groups as a result of factors including prey choice, location and family size and structure. Transient Killer Whales are primarily smaller groups and target mammalian prey such as seals, dolphins and whales. Typically coastal in territory their movements are far less predictable as prey learns the location of pods and moves to new territories. To communicate cryptic echolocation is used to try and disguise their location and intentions from prey.
Killer Whales which fall under the category of Resident, in contrast to the terrestrial sub-group, live in larger groups and their primary food source is fish, specifically salmon. Loud burst of echo location are used to try and locate fish. They are also coastal living species living in deep water, however they are far more predictable due to a reliable source of prey.
Very little is known about the offshore species of Killer Whale except, again, they are fish eaters and live in the deep sea. Being sexually dimorphic, males will have larger dorsal fins up to 9.8 metres in height.
There are different ways to follow and study the whales, one used is the “following technique” where dogs are specifically trained to follow whale faeces while they are photographed and recorded to give an idea on group size, how often they feed and other behaviour.  Other techniques include satellite tracking where a tag is put onto the dorsal fin in order to follow the whales and collect behavioural and biological knowledge.
In Patagonia transient Killer Whales have shown examples of cultural behaviour, this is behaviour not inherited but learnt. They will beach themselves in an attempt to catch seals off guard. Typically the dominant and oldest female will take the pod in search of food as she has the greatest knowledge of where prey is and how to hunt it.
PCBS have effected populations of resident Killer Whales, because these pollutants are now having a knock on effect to Salmon populations which means with a severe decline in population, Orca numbers also suffer. PCBs also have a direct effect on Orcas and their health they are known to lower immune systems, cause reproductive failure, no calf has been seen partly as a result of this in the Shetland Isles for 20 years. Ecotourism is also having an effect on population numbers, as increased tourism is putting the whales under stress and affecting their behaviours, therefore reducing population numbers. Being an apex predator the killer whales have been able to adapt to their surroundings through, group cooperation, opportunistic behaviour and high intelligence.

Hello everybody

Hello everyone, ever since I was a young boy wildlife has always been one of my greatest passions. Big, small, weird and wonderful I have been fascinated by them all. Over the course of these blogs I hope this comes across to all of you.
Take it easy
George.