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

 

Happy Halloween! Creepiest Creatures In The World

 

Global wildlife populations fall 58% in 40 years

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Wildlife populations across the globe have fallen by 58% in just over 40 years, according to the Living Planet assessment. The assessment is published every two years with the goal of assessing the state of wildlife across the world.

The report highlights large decreases for freshwater species, as a result of human activity, as well as larger species that are prone to over-exploitation and poaching. The world is currently experiencing a mass extinction event, only the 6th in the history of life, and the endangered species list is consistently growing. Current trends show that two-thirds of wild animals will be lost by 2020. There are a number of factors that cause wildlife populations to decline, including major habitat loss and development of wild areas, pollution, overfishing, poaching, wildlife trade and climate change.

The method for collecting this data is not perfect and has been criticised, however given the complexity of determining wildlife populations, this is as close as we can get to assessing the overall situation.

The statistics and predictions are shocking, but the continued decline of wildlife is not inevitable, and with swift and direct conservation action, species can recover. This study must be seen as a wake up call to all of us to assess how we interact with wildlife and to demand better environmental practices from our governments and businesses. Humans are directly causing the extinction of thousands of species, but we also have the power and the opportunity to turn the tide. We need more people to fight for wildlife protection and conservation before it is too late.

New Video!! Bird migration!

As we get into Autumn in the northern hemisphere, one of nature’s greatest spectacles is taking place, birds are migrating south in large numbers, with many leaving us and some arriving from the north!

Don’t give up on the Great Barrier Reef, it is not dead, yet

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The Great Barrier Reef has passed away in 2016 at just 25 million years old, this startling news came in an obituary written by Rowan Jacobsen for Outside Magazine, the frankly brilliant article has gone viral, leading many to begin mourning the death the largest living entity on the planet. However, people of the world, you can stop your mourning, wipe away those tears, take off the black clothes and cancel the flights to Australia for the wake, because the reef is not dead, yet.

The reef is certainly not well and could die off in our lifetime. Reefs around the world are threatened by rising ocean temperatures as a result of climate change, this causes coral bleaching. Recent coral bleaching events have taken a huge toll on the system, bleaching occurs when the coral is subjected to high temperatures for an extended period of time. Coral is a living being and interestingly relies on a type of algae to produce food for it, in return the algae lives in the coral, which is protected. However when the water temperature is too high the algae becomes destructive to the coral, so as a reaction to this it effectively spits out the algae, without the algae the coral has nothing to feed on and it can starve to death. When the algae is spat out the coral is left with just the skeleton and appears white, which is what we describe as bleached. However, just because coral has become bleached does not mean it is automatically dead, some can recover if the temperature falls. In some cases scientists have found examples of coral surviving large bleaching events, and not all of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached. To pronounce the reef dead at this stage would be like declaring your 75-year-old grandmother as dead after she had a rough few months, it’s not great, but she isn’t a completely lost cause.

It is dangerous to preach such doom and gloom, because whilst it may open some eyes to the issues facing the natural world, many will believe that there is nothing that can be done to save the planet and thus won’t do anything. Nature is being pushed to the limit and the Barrier Reef is a prime example, however never write it off until it is actually gone, the death of our wildlife and our large ecosystems is not inevitable if we start to actually demand change from our governments whilst making small changes to our own lives. The response to the obituary has shown that no one wants the reef to die, it is now time to hear the warnings and make the changes needed to save the Great Barrier Reef and oceans as a whole.

‘The future of wildlife is in our hands.’ IFAW Youth Forum for People and Wildlife summary

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Well what a few weeks I have had, I am back after a bit of a whirlwind month.

I was in South Africa taking part in the IFAW Youth Forum for People and Wildlife, this event brought together 34 youth environmental leaders from 25 countries to learn, connect and tackle some the biggest issues facing wildlife today. The event coincided with CITES, the largest wildlife conference on Earth, which was also taking place in South Africa.

Youth in wildlife conservation often struggle to get a voice, the field can be a bit of a old mans club, and whilst this is changing, it was incredibly refreshing to meet with conservationists from all walks of life. Before the Forum I had expected it to be an amazing experience, however I did not know the real positive impact it would have both professionally and personally.

The first few days were designed to introduce us to each other, to learn about the work we are all doing and the country that was hosting us, South Africa. We visited the community of Kliptown within the township Soweto. Here I came face to face with poverty for the first time, I saw children that struggled to go to school, shared squat toilets and had limited access to drinking water. However what really sticks with me is that Kliptown is not a ‘poor African’ stereotype, but rather a vibrant, happy and hopeful community. All through Kliptown you are not faced with a pity party, instead there is music, dancing, laughter, play and life. People here are not sad poor people, they are just people living their lives like everyone else.

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We then learnt about the dark history of South Africa in the apartheid museum and finished positively by visiting Nelson Mandela’s house and the towers of Soweto. Johannesburg is not Vancouver, it has a reputation and caution is definitely advised, but don’t write it off, it is a city of surprises with so much culture and history.

We then left the hustle and bustle of the city for Pilanesberg National Park, where we stayed in one of the fanciest places I have ever been! The time in Pilanesberg National Park was a chance for us to continue getting to know each other and discuss how we can work together towards our goals and a successful Forum. We also heard from the rangers of the park on how they risk their lives everyday to try and save wildlife from poaching. Over the 2 days we got to go out on game drives, watching some of the most iconic African species in their natural habitat.  We saw a leopard trying to hunt impala and lions laying in the road just a short distance from where we would be eating dinner and a giant crocodile swimming right in front of the hide we were sat in. The list of wildlife is endless so here are some highlights- leopard, lion, elephants (and baby), rhino, wildebeest, giraffe, crocodile, zebra, impala, springbok, hoopoe, roller and African fish eagles.

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After leaving Pilanesberg, we returned to Johannesburg and began the Forum. This was 3 days of workshops, debates, discussions, expert panels and guest speakers. The topics ranged from CITES to effective communication and diversity in conservation, as well as learning about the brutal reality of wildlife trade. It was a privilege to hear from and openly speak to experts in the field.

My work in education covers an aspect on wildlife trade, but the Forum gave me a shocking insight on how big and devastating wildlife trade is throughout the world, it is a complex issue that is having a huge impact on wildlife populations. It is so important that we all educate ourselves and others about what wildlife trade looks like, it is not all rhino horn, tiger bone and elephant tusks, it can be as innocent looking as the parrot in the pet shop or the cute slow loris being tickled on Facebook. People in the trade prey on the naivety or apathy of the public and it is so important that we learn to spot the signs, because with no consumers or admirers, the trade becomes worthless.

As the Forum came to a close we had a VIP evening hosted in our honour, which was attended by the CITES Secretary General, government officials from across the world and conservationists from a variety of organisations.

On the final day we went to CITES for the opening ceremony. There I got to chat with a number of people about the upcoming convention, I heard about sharks, African grey parrots, whales, frogs and everything in between. Wildlife conservation is never as clear cut as sometimes it seems, this was definitely a lesson learnt.

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The week was intense, action packed and over way too fast. The highlight was of course meeting and getting to know the other 33 delegates and the amazing staff, who worked so hard to put it all together. We represented 25 countries and work in a variety of areas in conservation. The work that they do is unbelievable, It was a privilege, how often do you get the chance to learn first hand about conservation and wildlife in 25 different countries?! As well as this I got the chance to represent where I am from and where I live, talking to delegates and experts about the wildlife and conservation taking place on Vancouver Island, throughout Canada and the UK. The plan is not to stop here, the group will continue to work together with aims to expand and include more young people from around the world, to give youth a voice in wildlife conservation and to tackle the issues impacting wildlife and people.

Youth Forum for People and Wildlife in South Africa

So it is finally here, I am off to Johannesburg tomorrow to attend the Youth Forum for People and Wildlife,  the week will be filled with saving species, safaris and sun. The forum is being hosted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) as part of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). If you happen to be interested in following the event, which will include lots of wildlife related talks, discussions etc. then follow the link below. Exciting!

I shall be doing a proper write up on the event when I am back but for now I shall sign off, see you on the other side!

http://www.ifaw.org/canada/news/youth-forum-people-and-wildlife-opens-johannesburg?ms=CONDC170001073&cid=701F0000001Itl2

A win for the environment! UK will ban microbeads by 2017.

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Positive environmental news is hard to find, particularly in the UK at the minute, but the ban on microbeads is a positive step forward. Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic found in cosmetic products such as toothpaste, facial scrubs and make up. Most of the time they are so tiny you would not even notice they were there, and they are often not labeled.

To give you context over 680 tonnes of microbeads are used in the UK each year, this has a hugely detrimental impact on marine life. Due to their small size microbeads are often mistaken as food by fish and other marine life, and accumulate in the food chain. Over 280 marine species have been shown to ingest microbeads. After lobbying from environmental groups and the public, the government’s decision to ban microbeads deserves credit, the ban is not a solution the whole plastic pollution issue, but it is a start and is certainly a win for our marine environment.

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