Tag Archive | Wildlife

Zoos and wildlife parks are no way to treat an animal

The idea that a zoo is the sole or even best repository for learning is risible

Stop monkeying about: Damian Aspinall says the Foundation that bears his name is committed to changing the way people think about animals in captivity Photo: Eddie Mulholland, Source: Telegraph UK

By Damian Aspinall

Telegraph UK

Over the past century, thousands of species have disappeared from our planet, and many more are on the critically endangered list. Yet even as we wantonly destroy nature’s great habitats, and hunt species to extinction, we console ourselves with the thought that we are preserving many species in zoos and wildlife parks.

As the owner and operator of two such parks – Howletts and Port Lympne in Kent – you would expect the Aspinall Foundation, founded by my late father John, to argue that it is sometimes right to keep animals in captivity. Although we do agree that there are times when the interests of the species can be best served by animals being kept in captivity, we believe that it is scandalous that so many zoos around the world remain packed with often miserable animals, kept in unnatural conditions where they remain incapable of breeding, despite frequently being paired biblically, two by two.

In these zoos, lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos and other wonderful creatures exist in these conditions largely, if not solely, for humans to gawp at, on the pretext that they and their children are being educated about the wonders of the natural world. This view may have been partially justified up to the advent of the digital age, and the spread of information via television. Today, the idea that zoos provide the sole – or even the best – repository of learning is risible.

At the Aspinall Foundation, we believe that mankind owes it to nature to re-evaluate the role of zoological institutions in the 21st century and to change the way we think about animals in captivity. The ultimate aim should be to render zoos and wildlife parks obsolete – including our own.

The continuing presence of animals in captivity is, we believe, a sign of mankind’s failure. Of course, we are not anarchists or Luddites. There is certainly a role for such animal collections for at least the next two or three decades. But it can no longer be for the simple collection and display of animals.

Rather, the beating heart of any such institution, anywhere in the world, must be true conservation. This means that the rationale for maintaining collections of wild animals – always, preferably, in wildlife parks with large open spaces – has to be the protection of endangered species, coupled with sustainable breeding programmes and projects to reintroduce them to the wild. The ultimate aim should, wherever possible, be the return of the captive and captive-bred creatures with whom mankind is privileged to share the planet.

The Aspinall Foundation has worked tirelessly to become a world leader in the captive breeding of endangered species. Our animal parks have seen the births of 135 gorillas, 33 black rhinos, 123 clouded leopards, 33 Javan gibbons, 104 Javan langurs and 20 African elephants. Our charity manages conservation projects in Congo, Gabon, Indonesia and Madagascar, as well as providing financial support to partner projects around the world. We are dedicated to helping prevent some of the most endangered species on the planet from becoming extinct.

We do this through restoring, wherever possible, animals to their natural habitats and by protecting those habitats. Between 1996 and 2006, we released 51 gorillas in the Congo and Gabon – into an area of some million acres which had been the first large wilderness area to see gorillas hunted to extinction. In the coming year, the foundation is planning to release from its parks an entire family of 11 lowland gorillas, six Javan gibbons and eight Javan langurs. Three black rhinos have already been released this year, and are all doing well.

The work is not easy, and requires dedication and resources. But it offers a possible blueprint for the future of animal conservation, away from the confines of crowded zoos – which serve better to illustrate the arrogance of man than the glory of the animal world he has done so much to destroy. We believe in the right of animals to coexist on our planet, and that the wilderness is Earth’s greatest treasure. We must all act now to save it.

 

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Google Mapping Tool Exposes Illegal Logging

Map showing boundary of Leuser Ecosystem and wildlife distribution including Critically Endangered Sumatran Rhino, Sumatran Orangutan, Sumatran Elephant and Sumatran Tiger

Christine Dell’Amore | National Geographic News

Conservationists working to save forests and species on the ground are looking to the sky, thanks to mapping tools and satellites that capture Earth like never before.

One project, Eyes on the Forest, is lifting the veil on forest loss in Sumatra, Indonesia, where demand for pulp, palm oil, rubber, and coal has created a nearly ”unstoppable wave of [illegal] deforestation,” said Michael Stuewe, a WWF-US scientist I met for breakfast this morning at the World Conservation Congress.

Decades of data on species populations, forest cover, natural carbon stores, and more went into the easy-to-use mapping tool that’s accessible to anyone.

“We needed a system that would make data available immediately to any user,” said Stuewe.

Powered by Google Maps Engine, the mapping tool—a joint effort by WWF-Indonesia; the NGO coalition Eyes on the Forest, based in Riau, Sumatra; and Google Earth Outreach—allows you to choose certain data sets, such as Sumatran elephant populations, and create “layers” of data over a map of Sumatra.

Google Earth provides images taken by NASA’s Landsat satellite that are detailed enough to show canals or roads created during deforestation, Stuewe noted.

I’ve never used GIS, but I easily created the below map by focusing on two subjects: forest cover and Sumatran elephant populations. (Try your hand at Eyes on the Forest.)

The light green shows forest cover in Sumatra in 1985, while dark green shows forest cover in 2009. Government protected areas are shown in white circles. More tricky to discern are the two population estimates for elephants. If you look closely, the darker blue circles (elephant populations in 2007) sit on top of the lighter blue circles (elephant populations in 1985).

The map shows clearly that both trends—elephant populations and forest cover—are in decline.

Palm Plantations a “Cancerous Growth”

A main reason for deforestation and species loss in Indonesia is palm oil plantations—an “unregulated, wild cancerous growth” in national parks and government lands in Indonesia, Stuewe said. Plantation owners who set up their plantation in government forests get additional profit from selling the timber logged to clear the land, Stuewe said.

Palm oil, “the most successful oil in the world,” is widespread in everything from cosmetics to French fries to even chocolate bars (the oil prevents the chocolate from melting), he said.

Unfortunately, palm oil plants are like a “paradise of candy stores for elephants,” said Stuewe. The behemoths can destroy hundreds of young palm trees in a single night—prompting some plantation workers to poison elephants with fertilizer and organophosphate pesticides. That results in a “brutal death” for the animal, he said.

There are sustainable ways to produce palm oil, he noted, for example by planting on degraded lands, for which no biodiverse rain forest is destroyed.

The ultimate goal, said Stuewe, is to totally expose such activities, so that governments, large corporations, and everybody involved in palm oil knows where the oil in their products is coming from—and stops buying from illegal sources.

And as new cloud-penetrating radar satellites come aboard, people involved in illegal deforestation “can no longer run away,” he said.

“We can now approach full transparency.”

Satellites For Conservation

Next I stopped by NASA’s booth in the Exhibition Hall to chat with Michael Abrams, a geologist by training who develops new instruments for Earth-observing satellites such as Landsat, the same one that provides Stuewe and colleagues with their Sumatra data.

Surrounded by colorful satellite maps of subjects as diverse as shrimp farms and Las Vegas sprawl, Abrams gave me a brief primer on NASA’s Earth-observing satellites, which go back to 1972.

Every two weeks a NASA satellite images the entire Earth, providing valuable data of changes on Earth’s surface, including (you guessed it) deforestation.

For example, scientists can see where roads or farms have sprouted in parts of the rain forest, perhaps providing data for where to focus conservation efforts.

“Anything that changes we can map, and people try to assess the impact,” Abrams said.

Watch Abrams talk about Amazon deforestation here

New role for drones – wildlife, eco conservation

 

Denis D Gray | Sydney Morning Herald

They’re better known as stealthy killing machines to take out suspected terrorists with pinpoint accuracy. But drones are also being put to more benign use in skies across several continents to track endangered wildlife, spot poachers and chart forest loss.

Although it’s still the “dawn of drone ecology,” as one innovator calls it, these unmanned aerial vehicles are already skimming over Indonesia’s jungle canopy to photograph orangutans, protecting rhinos in Nepal and studying invasive aquatic plants in Florida.

Activists launched a long-range drone in December to locate and photograph a Japanese whaling ship as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society attempted to block Japan’s annual whale hunt in Antarctic waters.

Relatively cheap, portable and earth-hugging, they fill a gap between satellite and manned aircraft imagery and on-the-ground observations, says Percival Franklin at the University of Florida, which has been developing such drones for more than a decade.

“The potential uses are almost unlimited,” says Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, testing drones this year over Indonesia’s Tripa peat forest where fires set by palm oil growers are threatening the world’s highest density habitat of the great apes.

Conservation is one of the latest roles for these multi-taskers, either autonomously controlled by on-board computers or under remote guidance of a navigator. Ranging in size from less than half a kilogram (pound) to more than 18 metric tons (20 tons), drones have been used for firefighting, road patrols, hurricane tracking and other jobs too dull, dirty or dangerous for piloted craft.

Most prominently, they have been harnessed by the US military in recent years, often to detect and kill opponents in America’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.

A conservation drone pioneer, Lian Pin Koh of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, says the idea came to him after another sweaty, jungle slog in Sabah, Malaysia, hauling heavy equipment for his field work.

“I told my assistant, who happened to be my wife, `How wonderful it would be if we could fly over that area rather than walk there again tomorrow,'” recalled the Singaporean expert on tropical deforestation, and a model plane hobbyist.

Unlike eco-drones in the United States, mostly custom-built or commercial models, Koh last year cobbled together a far cheaper, off-the-shelf version that poorer organizations and governments in the developing world can better afford.

He and partner Serge Wich bought a model plane _ some are available in China for as little as $100 _ added an autopilot system, open source software to program missions, and still and video cameras. All for less than $2,000, or ten times cheaper than some commercial vehicles with similar capabilities.

This year, they have flown more than 200 mostly test runs in Asia using an improved version with a 2-meter (6.5 foot) wing span, air time of 45 minutes and a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) range.

The drones were flown over rough terrain in Malaysia where GPS-collared elephants are difficult to monitor from the ground. In Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Nepal Army conducted trials on detecting rhino and elephant poachers. The duo also assisted the Ugalla Primate Project to head count chimpanzees in western Tanzania.

“Counting orangutan nests is the main way of surveying orangutan populations,” says Graham Usher of the Sumatran project, which captured one of the apes atop a palm tree feeding on palm heart in a sharp photograph. From higher altitudes the drones, he said, also provide high-resolution, real-time images showing where forests are being cleared and set ablaze.

By contrast ground expeditions are time-consuming, logistically cumbersome and expensive. A conventional orangutan census in Sumatra, which may also involve helicopters and aircraft, costs some $250,000. Surveying land use by satellite is likewise costly and hampered by frequent cloud cover over tropical areas.

But there are drawbacks with drones, including landing them in often thickly vegetated areas since they need clear touch-down zones of about 100 by 100 meters (yards). Koh said he was working to rig the vehicle with a parachute to allow landing in confined space.

Franklin says the hardware and image interpretation are still being developed as more missions are planned in the United States, ranging from counting pygmy rabbit burrows in Idaho to monitoring salmon-eating seabirds off the Oregon coast.

The University of Florida is testing another “war on terror” weapon, thermal imaging, to hunt for Burmese pythons invading the state’s Everglades, having found the snakes regulate temperatures of their nests in a way that makes them visible through such technology.

Other eyes-in-the-sky increasingly used for conservation tasks are ultralights, birdlike craft with a major advantage over drones _ the human touch.

“It’s the closest thing we have come to flying like birds 30,000 years after coming out of caves,” says Mark Silverberg, preparing to take a reporter up in a para-motor ultralight, one earlier hired by conservation groups to photograph and video Mekong River dolphins, tiger habitat in Myanmar and denuded hills in northern Thailand.

Taking off from a fallow rice field in Pranburi district, south of the Thai capital Bangkok, we nearly brush branches as our two-seater ultralight craft needles through stands of trees, follows a flock of water fowl just below us, then soars to 300 meters (980 feet) for an all-horizons view. Where humanity intersects with nature is clearly evident, and beyond loom limestone cliffs of a national park invaded by polluting shrimp farms.

“I can really craft a shoot, a sequence, show scenes better than drones because there is a human being who can take in and react to the whole environment more immediately and make adjustments,” says Silverberg, an American who runs Paramotor Thailand.

The ultralight, he explains, has other advantages over most eco-drones: it can remain airborne for up to three hours, cover 70 kilometers and carry heavier payloads. But ultralights are rather noisy and pilots are reluctant to fly over water or thick vegetation in event of an emergency landing.

“All in all, there’s really no competition with drones,” says Silverberg after the flight over south of Bangkok. “Both are really great tools for conservation.”

AP Digital