An interesting experiment with a mirror in the Gabon forest shows two leopards investigating. The cub far more curious than the mother but their behaviour makes me ponder the intelligence of animals. How do we guage that ?
From Sunday 31st December 2017 it will be by law illegal in China to trade in or buy ivory. What a momentous and wonderful thing for elephants and such a happy start to 2018. China has been one of the biggest dealers and markets for elephant ivory so this step is hopefully one that will make a difference. It can only be a good thing for elephants.
Moyo wa Kiburi (Swahili for Heart of the Pride) African lioness
acrylic & mixed media on canvas Diptych 120cm x 60cm
Just finished this diptych close to my deadline of end of December but only just ! It has been one of the most challenging paintings I have attempted. It's a work I wanted to show as a portrait of the fierce nature of the lioness as protector and provider of the cubs. Her life is not an easy one often fraught with danger from the large prey such as buffalo that fight back, from marauding males intent on takeover that threaten the lives of the cubs as well as the lionesses. The larger the pride the more successful they are in providing for the young and themselves.
How is it that a species can be as few as 50 ? That is is the sad number of Asiatic cheetah estimated to be left in Iran. Conservation funding has been withdrawn leaving this extremely vulnerable animal at the mercy of human settlement with roads to cross that are certain suicide. Not very different from it's African cousin the Asiatic cheetah is a little smaller with a lighter coloured coat. It's the usual conflict story of farmers versus the wild animal that predates and kills livestock. Success has come in other countries where people have been educated about protecting their animals by keeping them safe at night and the revolutionary idea of keeping Maremma dogs that live with the herd. Why can't that be done for the Asiatic cheetah ? How much of a challenge will it be to save this amazing animal from extinction if the powers that be in Iran or elsewhere aren't motivated enough to help this animal survive. Inevitably it comes down to economics but once the cheetah has gone it's gone.
Bringing back the extinct Thylacine to the Australian mainland is a possibility now that scientists have managed to sequence the genetic material of these strange animals. Just because we can should we ? How would the animal survive anyway in the very different landscape and environment it disappeared from in the 1930's ? I'm not convinced it's a good idea any more than bringing back to life the woolly mammoth. If we can't keep the animals alive and in healthy numbers that already exist what would be the point of bringing one back long dead ?
It would be difficult to imagine a more heart warming encounter with a wild animal. This is just so touching and shows how extraordinary animals are when we respect them.
Do elephants mourn their dead ? It's a fascinating topic that we humans cannot even begin to understand because we can only view the behaviour through our own prism of emotions and understanding. Clearly elephants have a concept of death when we see them go quiet and nuzzle the bones of one of their own. Recenly I saw a doco that showed giraffe doing very much the same thing, arriving silently at the bones of one that lions had killed, sniffing and touching the pieces left with their noses and mouths then standing quietly looking down at what was left, just a huge leg bone with the hoof still attached. It was clearly some recognition but of what ? death or the familiar scent left of a giraffe they knew ? There is so much about the emotional lives of animals we simply cannot know.
At a time when wild animals need our greatest protection and care the news that US president Donald Trump is lifting a ban on the import of trophies. It shouldn't be any surprise to any one who has watched with horror the disregard this president has shown for the environment. His own sons have been photographed with leopard trophies so it's clear they weren't raised with any appreciation of nature or the animals in it. Elephants already facing their greatest battle to survive, lions at the mercy of psychopaths like Palmer the dentist, along with many other species targeted as trophy animals will be affected by the ruling. It is truly shameful and regressive at a time when the animals deserve and need our protection to help them survive against increasingly overwhelming odds that this president would condemn so many to ultimate slaughter and all within the law. Shame shame shame on you Trump and may your reign as president be short. A few days later and Trump has had a change of heart it seems but I wonder for how long.
Looks like New Zealand is getting serious about dealing with their cat problem. Even a cat lover like me can't disagree that something has to be done about domestic cats roaming at will that inevitably leads to hunting of indigenous animals and birds. Australia has one of the worst feral cat problems in the world and it's out of control so I applaud any government prepared to do what should be done before it's too late. Surely it's not too much to expect that people who have a cat get it microchipped to identify it. Clearly asking people to take responsibility isn't enough to safeguard the wildlife from their cats, it has to be made into law for it to be effective. New Zealand policy means that any cat found roaming free that is not microchipped will be euthanised. Hash but necessary especially when the statistics deliver the shocking numbers on how cats impact on wildlife.
Recent statistics have shown a downward trend in the poaching of elephants for their ivory which is absolutely the best news. However it's too soon to celebrate success as the war is far from over with elephant populations severely declined in many parts of Africa. It is positive news though and shows how sustained effort and wonderful brave people on the ground in the hot spots really are making a difference to what at one time seemed and insurmountable problem to overcome. Many elements have combined to create this downward trend which include asian governments imposing bans on the trade of ivory along with other countries willing to do what it takes to stop the demand for ivory that always means the senseless slaughter of these magnificent giants of the African continent.
Nature and wildlife always has the capacity to surprise us. That in our observations of animal behaviour something is revealed to challenge what we have previously understood about a species. Mountain lions are just one of those animals proving we have underestimated them by assuming they are solitary as so many of the big cats are. However the recent amazing filming of their interactions with each other seen through camera traps show us they are far from loner animals, that they in fact form 'friendships' with each other and share their food. I wonder what other animals we think we know all about are ready to show us surprising behaviour yet to be understood. Animals have complex intriguing lives that continue to open up a world of previously unknown behaviour that we can learn so much from.
Some of the most beautiful wild cats are also so elusive and secretive little is known about them. Living in dense jungle they live out their lives without the benefit of protection like some of their higher profile larger cousins. Cats such as the asian golden cat, marbled cats, asian fishing cats, clouded leopards are all strikingly beautiful with extraordinary markings almost as if they'd been painted. So many are vulnerable to human encroachment and exploitation yet they somehow survive but just how many are there ? It's hard to do the numbers without conservation efforts to support the studies which help bring about greater knowledge that helps to protect them. Fortunately more is being done to bring these stunning animals to our consciousness.
There is nothing so good as a good news story so the reports of an undisputed rise in tiger and leopard populations is certainly the best. With technology comes new ways to monitor animal behaviour and track their movements thereby providing valuable information that enables greater protection and conservation of habitats and prey species.Not that long ago it all seems hopeless for these magnificent animals but thankfully the sustained efforts and greater awareness of their struggle to survive has led to a very positive comeback. Of course there is the ever present threats of this growth in populations being attractive to those who exploit and plunder, the very reason for their decline in the first place so policing is an essential part of the process. Conflicts will undoubtedly occur too between villages and the animals which also has to be managed in an intelligent way but on the whole this news is something to celebrate.
The latest news on snow leopards is a mixture of good and bad after the ICUN red list has downgraded the animals to a vulnerable status from endangered. With the total population being somewhere around 4000 animals it seems a bad idea to lower the risk of extinction status of these beautiful animals. But it's good news if in fact the reasoning is sound, that the decline in their numbers has slowed justifying the change of status. They are still facing enormous pressures to survive with habitat loss, persecution and the illegal wildlife trade, but there have also been major efforts to help them survive in the bleak environment they inhabit. To see the reversal in their status from endangered is very heartening and shows that with sustained effort a species can be saved from the brink.
What a sad story out of Botswana that a group of around 9 elephant bulls have been electrocuted after knocking down power cabling in their effort to reach water. It's such a graphic example of the conflicts that occur between our interests and those of the animals. To lose so many bulls in one episode is truly tragic especially when we know what a devastating impact poaching is having on their populations. It's a very very sad loss.
It must be one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken to save a species. Rhinos Without Borders aims to move 100 rhinos from unsafe areas of South Africa to safe havens in Botswana, by helicopter. The cost is a staggering $4.5m but what price to save such vulnerable animals from the grip of a poaching epidemic where these titans of the bush are killed for their horns.That it has come to this drastic measure is a shocking reality of the crisis facing these great big ancient animals that have been on the planet for millions of years. Airlifting is apparently the most effective and least stressful way to move them requiring less sedation and time in transit.
David Shepherd OBE 1931 - 2017
Sad news that David Shepherd has died after a lengthy fight with Parkinsons Disease. I had the immense pleasure of being at the Wildlife Artist of the Year awards this year which was the 10 year anniversary of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation. As an artist he achieved a great deal for important conservation and fund raising programs raising awareness of the plight of endangered animals. His foundation contributed a lot of desperately needed money to fight wildlife crime and fund educational programs in Africa and Asia. I salute you David Shepherd for your unwavering convictions and care for the beautiful animals that you loved and painted.
Good news from the Snow Leopard trust that two cubs a male and a female have been discovered in a remote den site in Mongolia. They are an important find for researchers striving to better understand this rare and endangered big cat. So much is unknown about their breeding habits that to find cubs that can be studied and filmed gives valuable insight into the way they live and breed. The more information obtained the better chance conservationists have of protecting this beautiful animal that is so at risk.
Hippos must rank as one of the most formidable animals in Africa and yet a lot of people don't recognise them as a dangerous animal. Huge and unpredictable, tourists often become a victim of the wrath of a territorial hippo and probably didn't realise that the body language was a sure sign the animal was angry. It's not uncommon that a hippo will attack other animals that stray too close to the water edge and even eat parts of the flesh even though they are primarily vegetation eaters. What a strange animal it is, very fast on land and an expert swimmer underwater. I for one would not like to be on the receiving end of this massive beast. Best to show good healthy respect and give them distance !
Sometimes it seems like all we hear is the bad news and feel powerless to do anything ourselves but there are many ways we can make a difference to what happens to our planet and the wonderful animals in it. Lots of small changes add up to big changes. Just like the saying 'from small things big things grow' and they do. I'm sure most people would stop and think if they knew some of the facts around the exploitation of animals which involves anything from the circus to the soap we use for a shower. I guess a circus is an obvious exploitation but some of the other ways the animal world is plundered aren't so clear to us. Jewellery made from ivory the shells of turtles and the fur from animals are all things you can refuse to buy. Encounters with wild animals such as elephant rides and big cat petting only lead to mistreatment and often death from an industry only intent on making money. Most of the cub petting in Africa leads to the deaths of these animals when they grow up by the canned hunting industry, an awful practice where these beautiful animals are shot in an enclosure by some rich tourist from overseas. Would you pet a cub if you knew that small animal only had a future like that ? That by paying money to pet a cub you support and help grow an industry that only threatens the survival of these incredible animals. Refuse to buy soaps shampoos and household cleaners and detergents if they contain palm oil. Why ? because pristine rain forests are being burnt down and destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations where some of the most endangered animals live such as orangutans, sumatran tigers, clouded leopards, asian rhinocerous to name but a few. Just by stopping reading labels and thinking about your choices you can make a difference.
Good news when it comes to wildlife matters, seems to be rare these days in the face of diminishing habitat, human population growth and poaching. However there is something to celebrate in Africa, and that is the huge project being undertaken to create a wildlife area spanning around 100,000 square klms extending into several countries. It's called The Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) which is a long-term project to drop fences between various game reserves in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, to create a wilderness area populated with a huge diversity of wild animals. Much of Mozambique's wildlife disappeared during the civil war but the ambitious plan to repopulate the area is already underway. It gives me heart that there is hope for the survival of Africa's beautiful animals.
The dreadful news that a zoo keeper in the UK has died after being mauled by a captive tiger is tragic especially when you consider that the woman loved her animals and obviously cared deeply about them. It's always going to be a risk working with large predatory animals that can be unpredictable but these animals were never meant to live captive. They should be roaming free living as all animals should. So many are captive bred however but I think their wild instincts are still very strong and the fact that they can't follow those instincts can lead to frustration and bursts of explosive animal rage. If you realise that some tigers need a territory that could be hundreds of kilometres how can we honestly expect them to be happy held captive for our entertainment in comparably small spaces being fed what we decide to give them. Just as orcas have demonstrated a psychosis from being held captive that results in aggression towards their human handlers tigers do too. It makes me sad to hear about this poor girl who probably lived for her job with the animals in her care but it's also a wake up call that perhaps we need to rethink the way we keep top predators in captivity.
It's shocking that here in Australia there are no bans in place to prevent the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn at auction houses. We might be a small country in terms of contribution to the ghastly trade in ivory and horn but it all adds up to a crisis for these animals. A lot of people probably think it just goes on in Asia but a recent survey has revealed an unchecked trade going on right here in our own backyard. As these giants of the African bush fight for their existence we can all make a difference by saying NO to ivory products. Old ivory trinkets that may be very valuable should also be taken out of circulation and auction houses required by law to refuse to auction them. If they aren't available then they can't be traded. I wish there was some way all the items made of ivory could be collected and destroyed to help end the trade but failing that we can all do something to help elephants and rhinos just by being aware first.