Why am I not surprised to read that giraffe now join the ever growing of list of species in decline in Africa. For so many of the same reasons that other species such as the Cape Hunting dog, lions, elephants, rhino and leopards are in dramatic decline, and it's human impact. From loss of habitat to our activities to straight forward plunder for profit or food the iconic animals of Africa are suffering on a grand scale. Despite the best efforts of conservationists the trend towards extinction seems relentless. Can anything be done to stop what seems inevitable ? and what kind of world will ours be without these amazing creatures in it.
Imagine discovering that an animal previously thought to be extinct is not. That's a possibility that is about to be explored in Far North Qld Australia after reported sightings of an animal thought to be the long extinct Tasmanian Tiger. The last animal died in a zoo in 1936 but excitement is mounting that there just could be a population still in existence after some very detailed and accurate descriptions of a sighting. That the demise of this unique animal was entirely down to the arrival of Europeans to this continent is a sad and increasingly repetitive story that continues to the current day. The unequal struggle of animals to survive in the face of human population. Wouldn't it be amazing if the sighting reported is in fact the Tasmanian Tiger and it could be. Only this week there are excited reports of sightings of the Night Parrot in Western Australia where they haven't been seen in 100 years. I hope this new sighting is just as positive.
Nature is truly extraordinary. In recent surveys of elephant populations data has shown that African elephants are undergoing change that is in direct response to the heavy poaching they have endured in the last several decades. The data shows that more and more baby elephants are being born without tusks which is a remarkable natural selection process. That these amazing animals are adapting and evolving without tusks because of human persecution is both astounding and terribly sad because elephants need their tusks for tearing bark from trees defending themselves and their young from predators such as lions and males use them in battle with other males. In Mozambique during the civil war when 90% of the elephant population was decimated it has been found that 30% of the female calves born to the mothers that survived that dreadful time during the 90's are tuskless. This trend is being seen in other areas of Africa where heavy poaching has had a huge impact on elephant populations. What does being tuskless mean for elephants ? Will they be safe from poaching if they have no tusks ? and how will it impact on their diet if they no longer have tusks to forage for certain foods ? will their diet also undergo change ? so many questions but not enough answers to end the trade in ivory end the senseless slaughter and let elephants be elephants with tusks.
It must be an incredibly exciting experience to see a creature listed as endangered or thought to actually be extinct. That is what happened though when a keen group of bird watchers in Western Australia stumbled across the elusive and thought to be extinct night parrot. Previously thought to only be present in two areas of Queensland Australia a group of 4 twitchers saw and photographed the gorgeous green and yellow parrot flying out of spinifex after hearing it's calls. It's been 100 years since they were seen there so this sighting is terribly significant. Thought to be extinct the discovery in 2013 of this critically endangered parrot in south west Qld was very exciting but to have firm evidence of the bird living in another state is wonderful news in a world where such events are very rare.
If we ever needed a reminder about how dire the situation is with rhinos the recent shocking attack on a captive rhino in a French zoo surely shows us. It was a new low in the ongoing rhino poaching crisis that Vince a 5 year old rhino was shot and his horns cruelly removed. It is hardly surprising to learn that a zoo in the Czech Republic has taken the drastic step of dehorning their rhino population to thwart would be poachers from doing the same thing there. Can it get any more tragic for rhino that even the captive ones are not safe from the greed that would tempt poachers to enter a zoo to kill an animal for profit. Perhaps the penalties for attacking a defenceless animal in such a callous way needs to be upgraded in line with the penalties given if a human being was the victim assuming every effort was made to catch the crimminals.
If you have ever been to a wildlife park or a zoo and wondered like I have whether it's ok to interact with the animals then this blog is worth reading. I've done the having my photo with a cheetah, and a petting of a tiger cub both at Australia Zoo. I want to believe that the zoo has the best interests of these animals at heart and that their conservation efforts really do help animals in the wild. After the last encounter with a tiger cub I started to feel uncomfortable about it even though it was a gift for my birthday. Wild animals almost certainly shouldn't be touched by the public for entertainment, even the ones in captivity. But it raises a lot of questions about what is ok. There are so many ways that animals are kept by humans mostly for our gratification we find acceptable or tell ourselves it is when the truth of it is that it's about some organisation making money. But how do you engage people to care about these animals unless they have the opportunity to see them up close. Honestly no animal in captivity belongs there anymore than we would want to be jailed so what is the difference ? Personally I am horrified by cub petting in Africa because I know those cubs are then sent off to feed the canned hunting industry when they are too old to be handled by the public. Is it ok to swim with dolphins and whale sharks ? probably not but they can swim away from us and avoid interaction if they want to but a captive animals doesn't get to choose. Perhaps we all need to think a bit more about what we engage in when encounters with wild animals are on offer. I know I will be.