A Wild Lockdown: March

I am back !

It’s longer than I would like to think since my last article, but life is like that and the older you get the quicker time passes. I am back on the grid because during these strange times, like many others, I have a lot more time on my hands, and have the bug for writing again. My inspiration has come from getting out into the wonderful English countryside everyday throughout lockdown exploring, and getting a bit closer to nature. I would like to take this time to share with you a few of the wonderful things I have seen throughout lockdown, and how nature and wildlife has helped me to maintain a healthy mind throughout these difficult times.

I am very lucky to have moved in with my partner in England just before lockdown, who already lived in the perfect place for social isolation. A countryside village surrounded by rolling hills, forests, parks, lakes and large sweeping fields. Distancing paradise for a couple of outdoor lovers like us. While a curse for many, being told to stay home was actually a welcome relief to us, finally a reason to fill our time with books and wandering rather than crowds and schedules. We took our “Daily exercise” allowance very seriously and made sure to get out everyday for long walks.

It was still a little chilly in March, but Spring colours were blossoming all around us. The fields surrounding us were awash with yellow thanks to the Rapeseed crop, and the soothing sounds of bird song could be heard for miles. On our very first walk I was very excited to spot my first ever Red Kite! One in particular patrols our garden every morning and evening, but they can be seen all over, soaring across the skies hunting, a truly magical sight. A programme to reintroduce the Red Kite (Milvus milvus) to England and Scotland began in 1989 and according to the RSPB there are now an estimated 4,600 breeding pairs in the UK. You can find out more about this beautiful creature on the RSPB Website and be sure to donate if you can.

Unfortunately I have yet to get a decent photograph of the Red Kite myself so you will have to take my word for it, but I did manage to find some Spring Lambs and a Snail that were more then happy to be photographed.

March was a mixed bag of moving madness, some rainy days and the first glimpse of Spring but I promise you for April, May and June the colours get more vibrant, the days brighter and we met some more wonderful wildlife along the way. I look forward to writing about them and sharing my photographs.

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Meet Ramsey – Rats as pets :)

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Ramsey says hello !

Ramsey is the latest addition to the family, my beautiful pet rat! No doubt some of you just cringed; well let me assure you he is disease free and just as good (if not better) a companion then a dog or a cat. I got Ramsey just before Christmas 2013 from a friend who works in a local pet shop. He was the last of a litter and getting old and he knew I was on the lookout for a new furry friend so asked if I was on for giving him a home. I couldn’t leave the poor boy on his own so didn’t hesitate to say yes!

Rats should always be housed in pairs or groups as they are very social animals and can get lonely. I give Ramsey lots of attention every day and whenever I am home he gets free run of my bedroom and sometimes gets the chance to explore the other rooms as well. He will usually spend half an hour at a time running around, climbing, playing and trouble making before retreating back to his bed for one of several naps a day.

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Up to no good, looking for the sweets I had in my handbag 😛

Rats are extremely intelligent animals and they form strong bonds with their companions be it other rats or humans. With pet rats you have to really earn their trust. When I first got Ramsey he was very shy, he would hide in his bed whenever I approached and when the cage was open he would look out for a while before going back into hiding. With time and patience he began to get more curious and brave. Now I can’t open his cage quick enough, he is already waiting to be let out to play. He is still a little shy when it comes to handling, but he knows who his mammy is and is starting to trust me more each day.

Enrichment is very important when keeping rats as they get bored easily. Ramsey isn’t too interested in toys but he does love to climb and explore. I hide treats for him around the room and even in a shallow tub of water, he doesn’t mind getting wet. Most rats love to swim but need to be introduced slowly to water as they will be cautious of new experiences. Gradually I am filling the tub with more water and will get him a larger tub soon. You can also teach rats a whole range of fun tricks, which can be as fun for them as it is for you. Just make sure that trust is established first and be patient with them.

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Cleaning his face 🙂

Rats get a lot of bad press, but trust me they make great companions and are very clean animals, much more so then dogs. I wouldn’t trade my little guy in for the world. Remember as with all pets make 100% sure you can offer them a forever home, no excuses later on down the line.

 

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Spotlight: The Giant Panda

Pyrenean ibex, Baiji Dolphin, Western Black Rhinoceros and the Japanese River Otter have all recently been declared extinct. How long until the Giant Panda(Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is to join this list? With less than 2000 recorded in the wild and only a handful more in captivity, the Giant Pandas time, sadly, may come sooner rather than later if conservation efforts do not prove successful.

The Panda used to found in both lowland and mountainous areas across China; however deforestation and farming has restricted their natural habitat to the mountains in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu. The broadleaf/coniferous forest areas in which the Pandas reside are often found so high up the mountains they are surrounded by clouds. As solitary animals, Pandas spend most of their lives alone, coming together only to mate, and communicating through scents and calls.

Tian Tian (Sweetie) at Edinburgh Zoo - Photo by Milca G photography (check out her facebook page link at bottom article)
Tian Tian (Sweetie) at Edinburgh Zoo – Photo by Milca G photography (check out her facebook page link at bottom article)

While their digestive system is designed for a carnivorous diet, they feed almost entirely of bamboo. Given the poor nutritional value of bamboo they have to eat very large quantities each day, up to a third of their own weight. This specialist diet is also a player in their endangerment due to the damage of bamboo forests limiting their habitat further. Occasionally they will eat small rodents and eggs, but this makes up only about 1% of their diet. The Panda is active both night and day and spends most of its time eating, finding food and sleeping.

A female Panda is only fertile for 2-3 days, once a year, and the duration of a pregnancy is varied. This leaves very little margin for error and if that window is missed, there is another years wait. A Panda will usually give birth to two young, however in the wild it is very common for only one to survive. There are reintroduction programs in place; however they have not seen much success over the years and Pandas numbers in the wild continue to decline.

Yang Guang (Sunshine), the male Panda at Edinburgh Zoo - Authors own
Yang Guang (Sunshine), the male Panda at Edinburgh Zoo – Authors own

These majestic creatures are currently listed as endangered and it looks to remain so for a very long time. One can only hope their situation does not get worse and we can sustain the wild population that is present with hopes of an increase over the years. The WWF, Chengdu Research Base, Pandas International etc are all organisations which work for Panda conservation worldwide. Zoo’s across the world are also involved in Panda conservation by means of raising money for research, sanctuaries and breeding programs, as well as being involved in breeding programs themselves.

The photos featured in this article were taken in Edinburgh Zoo this year. Edinburgh Zoo are one such zoo which aid in Giant Panda conservation by means of putting money back into conservation and educating their visitors about the Giant Panda. They are currently home to two beautiful Pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, with whom they are hoping to successfully breed from over the coming years while they are on loan. I one day hope to see Giant Pandas in the wild, but for now seeing them in Edinburgh was truly inspiring.

 

PS: Please like the Pawsforamoment Facebook Page and for some stunning photography check out Milca G Photography at this link . Thank you for all your support 😀

Animal friendly European Election Candidates (Update)

4 days until voting starts in my home country Ireland.

The number of Irish candidates who have signed the Animal Welfare pledge is now at 5. All four candidates are from the Dublin constituency so my followers from that area are now spoiled for choice 😉

Paul Murphy MEP (Socialist Party):

Paul was the first Irish candidate to sign the Animal Welfare Pledge back in February. He is also strongly against the cruel “sport” of hare coursing and has been a strong voice for animal welfare throughout his time in the European Parliament.

Visit his Facebook and Webpage for more information.

Paul Murphy with the Animal Welfare Pledge
Paul Murphy with the Animal Welfare Pledge

 

Nessa Childers (Independent):

Nessa shortly followed Paul in signing the Animal Welfare pledge. I didn’t deal directly with Nessa but her office was very quick to respond and she signed as promised within days of my request. She is also strongly opposed to Hare Coursing.

Visit her Facebook and Webpage for more information.

Nessa signing the pledge.
Nessa signing the pledge.

 

Mary Fitzpatrick (Alliance of Liberals & Democrats in Europe/Fianna Fail):

Mary Fitzpatrick showed her support for the Animal Welfare pledge earlier this week. If elected this will be her first time in European Parliament and I hope she will stay true to the pledge and give animals a voice 🙂

Visit her Facebook and Webpage for more information.

Eamon Ryan (Green Party)

Eamon is the latest to sign the pledge from Ireland and given he is the current leader of the Irish Green Party , his signing came as no surprise. Eamon is strongly opposed to Fox Hunting and Hare coursing in Ireland and in 2012 he attended an anti-coursing protest outside Dublin Castle.

Visit his Facebook and Webpage for more information.

 Damon Matthew Wise (Fís Nua)

Damon is no stranger to the Animal Welfare scene having volunteered for Second chance Animal Rescue and was a member of Brighton Animal Rights campaign in England when at college. As soon as I had informed him of the pledge he replied promptly, with interest and has now signed and showed his support.

 

You can find more information about the pledge on the Vote for Animals webpage. Eurogroup have released a new feature which now makes it very easy to check out the Animal Welfare Friendly candidates in your country. Simply click on on the drop down box, choose your country and a list of candidates from that country who support Animal Welfare will appear. Check it frequently to stay up to date 🙂

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Give animals a voice 🙂

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https://www.facebook.com/pawsforamo

Election Day – 19 Days to go

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It has been over 2 weeks since I started my individual campaign to get as many Irish candidates on board the “Animal Welfare pledge” laid out by the Eurogroup for animals. The response (or lack thereof) is worrying …

Still struggling on making a decision? Love animals? Want to see a Europe wide change in attitudes to Animal Welfare? Well then keep an eye on this:

http://www.voteforanimals.eu/site/

So far only 2 Irish candidates have signed: Paul Murphy and Nessa Childers. Existing MEPS who are looking to get re-elected have no excuses. The Eurogroup campaign has been ongoing for several weeks now and there has been ample opportunity to sign the pledge and it has been well advertised.

I am only beginning to directly contact candidates outside my own constituency as I wanted to put the focus on my area first so I could make an informed voting decision. I have been disappointed so far. Here is a table outlining who I have contacted in the Midlands-North-West:

The Candidate: Date of first contact: Their response so far (up to 2nd May): Signed:
Jim Higgins 22/04 “Thank you for contacting the office . . . . . . . We will pass on your message”. No
Mairead McGuinness 17/04 No reply. No
Lorraine Higgins 22/04 No reply. No
Pat The Cope Gallagher 14/04 “Will pass on the message” No
Thomas Byrne 22/04 No reply. No
Mark Dearey 22/04 Apologised for the oversight, is opposed to Bloodsports, will take a look ASAP. No
Matt Carthy 30/04 No reply. No
Marian Harkin 17/04 No reply. No
Rónán Mullen 29/04 No reply. No
Mark Fitzsimmons 02/05 No reply. No
Luke “Ming” Flanaghan 22/04 & 27/04 No reply. No

 

In addition to the pledge, on a local level I have been keeping an eye on the the Ban Bloodsports. facebook page. They post candidate views on Bloodsports as they receive them and a list of politicians and information with regards to Animal Welfare and Bloodsports can be found here: Views

I will update the table in this post as and when I get responses, or when someone signs !

Spotlight: Bactrian Camel

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Did you know that there are less than 1000 Bactrian Camels left in the wild? The number is currently estimated to be around 500-600. This is a startling number, considering how popular these two-humped ungulates are in zoos and circuses across the world, not to mention thousands of Bactrian camel herds which have been bred domestically over the years living in large herds (app 2million).

The wild Bactrian Camel is currently found only in Northwest China and in Southwest Mongolia (Gobi Desert).In order to survive the harsh conditions of their main habitat the Bactrian Camel features a double set of eyelashes, a hair lined inner ear and thin nostrils to protect against dust and sandstorms. After the harsh winters they can quickly shed their thick shaggy coats to adjust effectively to the changing seasons.

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Batrian Camel shedding lumps of fur for the warmer weather.

Food and water are not always readily available and the Camel has a great coping mechanism for this as well , being able to last sometimes for months on end without water. They do this by converting the fat stored in their two large humps into water when resources are scarce. It also helps that they can feed on dry and sometimes thorny plants that most herbivores avoid as well as drink salt water when fresh food and water are hard to find.

The Bactrian Camels demise is entirely down to human interference. The main reasons for their endangerment being: Habitat loss due to industrial development, and increasing human population forcing the mixing of wild populations and domestic herds. While they are masters of survival in their harsh habitats the battle against humans and extinction is proving one battle they may not win unless conservation efforts see a huge turn around in the future.

For more information on the conservation of the wonderful Bactrian Camel check out :

http://www.wildcamels.com/

http://www.edgeofexistence.org/mammals/species_info.php?id=8

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Python Challenge 2013: How not to take care of an invasive species

Photo by Milca Gabb
Photo by Milca Gabb

The Burmese Python, native to South-East Asia, has established a healthy breeding population where they are not welcome, in Florida. This is thanks to the exotic pet trade which led to several of these giant constrictors escaping or being released into the wild over the course of the 20th century. It is now estimated that between 30,000 and 150,000 Burmese Pythons call the Everglades National Park their home meaning all sorts of trouble for the native inhabitants.

Photo by Milca Gabb
Photo by Milca Gabb

While Burmese Python populations continue to grow in Florida, declines have been recorded in potential prey species such as racoons, rabbits and opossums, a clear indication that this invasive species means trouble. They also eat birds, fish, amphibians, other reptiles and the older and larger Burms have been known to feast on deer. In response to identifying the Burmese Python as an invasive species it is now illegal to release exotic animals into the wild in the State of Florida and special hunting permits can be obtained to hunt listed invasive species and sell them for their skin and meat.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have recently initiated a new “plan” to control the number of Burmese Pythons: The Python Challenge. After registering, paying a $25 entrance fee and completing a 30 minute online training session anyone over the age of 18 can participate. Over 1000 people have signed up and are now equipped with a special hunting permit which allows them to hunt Burmese Pythons between the 12th January and the 12th February and submit their catch to be measured as part of the competition. The FWC figured this would make a great dent in Python numbers and increase awareness of the problem. So how are they doing so far?

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Photo by Milca Gabb

One week in and so far 21 Burmese Pythons have been killed. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the problem, never mind the probability that the majority of people doing the killing are just “regular Joes” out for a bit of fun. It is not hard to imagine that most of the Pythons killed will not go, for lack of a better word, “peacefully”. While I am all for species control and conservation, and recognise the seriousness of the problem in Florida, in my opinion, this was a terrible idea. As well as raising awareness to the problem of invasive species in Florida, this campaign is also increasing the popularity for hunting. Will all 1,000 + of these participants adhere to the rules and only kill Burmese Pythons in the requested way? I doubt it. The Python Challenge provides a lovely disguise for avid hunters to bag themselves some additional animals in the strict “no hunting zone” that is the Everglades.

The FWC need to sit down and come up with some better ideas, as it would appear that this one is already proving itself as a failure.

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Rhinoceros’s in South Africa: A grim 2012

(Nearly 2 months since my last post SORRY , I am going to blame it on Christmas 😉 )

Authors Own : Arnhem Zoo
Authors Own : Arnhem Zoo

South Africa is very well known for its Rhinoceros populations and it is no wonder given it is home to over ¾ of the worlds Rhinoceros. The five main species alive today are the White, Black, Javan, Sumatran and Indian Rhinoceros, with 3 of these 5 on the critically endangered list. As if the outlook wasn’t bad enough, poaching in South Africa is on a scary rise, putting the pressure on the already fragile White and Black species of rhinoceros.

2008: 83
2009: 112
2010: 333
2011: 448
2012: 668

The figures above represent the number of Rhino’s killed in South Africa over the last 5 years. In the short space of time between 2010 and 2012 the number of killings doubled. Frightening to think what 2013 could bring if poaching is not dealt with once and for all.

Authors Own : Blijdorp Zoo
Authors Own : Blijdorp Zoo

So why are so many Rhinos being killed every year? These strong and beautiful animals are being killed simply for their horns, which are in high demand in Asia (mainly China and Vietnam) for use in “medicine”. They believe they have great healing powers and most recently has become a popular hangover remedy in Vietnam. A Rhino horn consists mainly of keratin which has no medicinal value and is found in human hair, skin and nails. In other words, there is no reason for so much killing, you could eat some hair and it would be much the same effect as a Rhino horn.

 

Unfortunately it is difficult to educate when people are so bent on cultural traditions and the demand will be there for Rhino horns for some time, so the problem of poaching will ever increase alongside demand. How can we stop this? ? Provide better education for people living along side Rhinos and areas with a demand for Rhino horns, better security against poachers in high risk areas, stricter laws on the trading of Rhino horns and other body parts. These are all areas which need to be looked at, however for all this money will always be an issue.

2013s figure could easily hit 1000 if killing continue to increase like they have over the last couple of years , scary when you put it like that isn’t it ?

Authors Own: Chester Zoo
Authors Own: Chester Zoo

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Food for thought : Happy Thanksgiving

…. Just not for the Turkey.

Did you know that every year in America up to 40 million Turkeys are slaughtered for the celebrations? Never mind the huge influx in poultry deaths, but what about all the cruelty surrounds the mass production of Turkeys. The same cruelty, unfortunately is common in any type of mass animal breeding production however given the time of year, my focus is currently on Turkeys. Right from the day they are born Turkeys bred for meat in battery farms are exposed to a world of stress and pain, for what short, rushed lives they have. Some of the following content will be a little disturbing to some, especially the video, so viewer discretion is advised.

Turkeys as you might imagine them

In order to prevent aggressive behaviour between the groups of Turkeys in intensive farming utilities, the tops of their beaks and toes are often cut off (without anesthetic) in order to prevent major injuries. This practice can cause infection in the beaks and discomfort thus leading to the Turkeys refusing to eat. They can also refuse food due to the stress of close living and general factory life. In this case the Turkeys are often force fed using a pipe, in a similar fashion to the Fois gras Geese highlighted in a previous article. This all seems pretty “Dark Ages” but unfortunately it is very 2012.

The Turkey you see on wildlife documentaries or on Thanksgiving posters are nowhere near the Turkey on your plate, due to genetic engineering. Turkeys have been bred out to grow twice as fast, twice as fat and have huge breasts in order to satisfy customer needs and demands. This abnormal growth can be very harmful and lead to a number of health issues including heart trouble, lung collapse and deformed legs due to the carrying of extra weight.

Factory farmed Turkeys [Image 1: Vegans peace home]

Butterball is a name which is pretty familiar to Americans around this time of year. They are one of America’s largest producers of Turkeys, and repeatedly being uncovered as one of the cruelest producers of turkey. Animal welfare organisations time and time again have exposed cases of abuse towards the animals kept on intense Turkey farms and a video was this year released by Mercy for Animals outlining some of the disgusting practices happening on Butterball farms today. The video shows keepers, kicking and injuring the already stressed out animals and one farmer even admits that the wounds these Turkeys carry are often infested with maggots. Imagine, a live animal being feasted on by maggots?

I would rather not, but it is happening every day , and I cannot highlight enough how important it is for you to be careful in choosing where you get your meat from, or better still, try a veggie option.

Image rights : Image One was taken from http://www.veganpeace.com/animal_cruelty/turkey.htm , no copyright infringements intended.

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Proposed Seal cull in Canada

(Sorry for the MASSIVE delay between posts, got a new job, big changes, no time :p )

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So the badgers are safe for another year. With the lack of research and evidence to support such an operation it is a relief to see they are going to give it a bit more thought. Fingers crossed they see sense by 2013!

If only the good news could continue, but this time, it is the Grey Seals in Canada that are taking the hit. In October, the Senate Committee in Fisheries announced they would endorse a four year plan for the culling of thousands (if not over a 100,000) Grey Seals in the Golf of St Lawrence in a bid to increase Cod stock. The fishing industry wants something done about the depletion in cod stocks and under the pressure, the seal cull, is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, “bright idea”. Getting to be a bit of a running theme this year, numbers in one species fall or money is threatened, cull down the unfortunate species that is being blamed.

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There is off course, as with the proposed badger cull in the UK, little evidence to support that a cut in seal numbers will lead to an increase in Cod numbers so how they can merit spending millions of dollars in the murder of the shy and un-deserving Grey seal, is a subject which angers me deeply. Am I alone on this? I would hardly think so. In fact better fishery management and sustainable fishing measurements in the first place would have prevented this and evidence would sway more towards over fishing then the seals being the main cause of a fall in Cod stocks.

As well as over fishing, the changes in the climates and the pollution of the earth’s waters would also play a big part in the drop in Cod numbers. With the use of common sense one cannot simply say that to cull a large number of the seal population in the Golf would boost the Cod stock and make for happy fishing once again. The Fisheries department and politicians need to take a serious look into the situation and carry out appropriate research before taking any action. In the UK, farmers called for answers to the TB situation and under pressure the badger cull solution was thrown out. This is turning out to be a very similar case and hopefully things will be researched properly in order to prevent the outrage and confusion that occurred in the summer with the badger cull proposal.

Early days on this, but hopefully there will be more information soon ( positive information). I will try and do a better job of keeping you all updated this time 😉

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