China lifts ban on rhino and tiger products

In a move that has shocked conservationists across the World, China announced in October that it was reversing the ban on rhino and tiger products. This ban has been in place since 1993, but after 25 years it will now be legal in China to use products from these animals for traditional medicine and scientific research. 

Rhino © Catherine Leatherland

China insists that this will not cause a rise in illegal trade in the products, as they must come from captive animals only and trade will be highly controlled by a quota system (setting maximum amounts) . However conservationists have expressed concern that any kind of change to the ban will make enforcement of the law more difficult, as it will be easy for people to confuse illegal and legal products. This confusion will also be exploited by those who can make money from selling the products, leading to more illegally sourced products from wild animals entering the market. This increase in the market (more chances to sell the products) will lead to more killing.

The illegal trade in wildlife is a big threat to many iconic species, including elephants, rhinos, tigers, pangolins and many more. The problem is a global one – the countries in which the animals live and are killed are supplying the products to countries where there is a demand. The illegal killing of wild animals this way is known as poaching, and it is a dangerous crime that has led to the deaths of rangers who try to protect the wildlife, as well as poachers. As there is a lot of money to be made from illegal wildlife trade, it is often also linked to groups involved in other kinds of serious crime. 

The problem is difficult to solve and has many layers. Until recently China looked to be making good progress towards preventing the illegal trade in wildlife, implementing a complete ban on ivory at the start of 2018. This move to reverse the ban on rhino and tiger parts, is seen by conservationists as a step in the wrong direction.

To find out more about illegal wildlife trade and its impacts, head to the WWF website.  

Waves Of Tears – July 2018

There was some sad news to end July with, as the story of a grieving orca hit the headlines. The female orca, which is part of a pod that lives in the Pacific Ocean (around the West coast of North America), was mourning the loss of her baby.

Scientists know this, because when the calf (baby) had died, the orca carried it with her. She would keep the baby afloat, mostly using her head to keep it at the surface. This behaviour is grief – the orca can’t let go. It has been observed before, but not usually for such a length of time as this, which at the time of writing, is four days.

Orcas are incredibly intelligent and emotional animals and have strong social bonds. They communicate through the water using sounds that they make, sounds that are different for different pods and for populations in different parts of the World. This grieving behaviour is yet another example of this emotional intelligence and communication, and can be observed in other social, intelligent animals, such as elephants and primates.

Different populations of orca around the World are at risk and are suffering due to human and environmental threats. The population to which this orca belongs, is the Southern Resident Killer Whales. This is a famous population that lives along the West coast of North America (Canada and the USA). This population is listed as endangered and is protected. In the 60’s and 70’s individuals were taken from this population to supply the captive trade (seaparks and aquariums). Taking animals like this has since stopped for this population, but it now faces other serious threats.

The population is in decline, and it is thought that one of the main reasons for this is a decline in their main prey species – Chinook salmon. Different populations of orca eat different things, and the Southern Residents are fish eaters; they particularly like the Chinook salmon because it is large and fatty, so provides them with lots of energy. Unfortunately the salmon has been in decline, and so the orca have less to eat. Other factors impacting on the health of this population include noise pollution, water pollution from chemicals, and inbreeding.

The sadness of this story is twofold: it is upsetting that an orca has lost its baby; it is devastating that this has been caused, at least in part, by our actions on the environment that they rely on. The cause of the decline in salmon is unknown but could be due to overfishing and climate change, both of which have been influenced by humans. The constant threats to the quality of their environment is entirely our fault, and the decrease of their population in earlier decades was caused by selfish actions simply to provide us with entertainment.

When we see a mother grieve our heart goes out to her. The question is, will we respond to this display of grief – will we try to change things for the better? If your answer is yes, and you would like to know more about whales and dolphins and how you can help, head the WDC website for loads of facts and conservation information.

A Pick Me Up For The Penguins – July 2018

This month marks a huge step for ensuring that penguins will have enough of one of their favourite snacks, krill, to eat, as the fishing industry agreed to stop taking krill from the areas in the Antarctic peninsula around the penguin colonies.
Krill are tiny marine crustaceans, a bit like shrimp. They form the base of the food chain meaning lots of animals ultimately rely on them for food. These animals include different fish, seals, whales, and penguin species. When there is less krill, this has a knock on consequence on these species.
One species that has been particularly badly affected is the Adelie penguin, which has had poor breeding success in recent years. Other species that are affected are the gentoo and chinstrap penguins.

    The new agreement has been made by companies from different countries across the World, and accounts for 85% of the Antarctic krill fishing industry. It is hoped that this is the first step towards protecting these waters and therefore the penguin colonies, with plans in place to encourage the creation of marine protected areas to better protect all of the wildlife in the region.
Find out more about penguins and how you can help, on the WWF website.

The Blood Moon – July 2018

People across the Word looked to the skies this week, as the longest lunar eclipse in a century took place. The eclipse caused the moon to have a red appearance, giving it the name “the Blood Moon”.
The lunar eclipse happens when the moon is behind the Earth, essentially in its shadow. This means that any light hitting the moon is not coming from the sun (as it usually would, that’s how we can see it). Instead, the light that hits the moon has come through (refracted through) the Earth’s atmosphere. As the light passes through the atmoshpere, it breaks up and the bluer ends of the spectrum are scattered, with the red colours of light continuing through and reaching the moon – causing the moon to appear red.
While many people in the UK were disappointed in their efforts to see the spectacle, due to clouds and thunder storms blocking the view, plenty of others across the World were not so unfortunate. Head to google now to see some of the amazing photographs of the bright red moon!