‘Rewilding’ Project Could Return Lynx To The UK After 1300 years

Ambitious plans, formulated by the Lynx UK Trust, could see a return of the wild lynx, not seen in Britain for over 1300 years, to certain areas selected for the five-year trial programme. It is hoped that the once native lynx will curb deer populations and restore balance to the British countryside.

Lynx UK Trust assures us that lynx have never been known to attack humans, nor do they attack sheep or cattle, as they prefer the protection of remote woodlands, and would not naturally venture onto open pasture or farms. Farmers remain concerned for their livestock, but they will be rewarded with a compensation package. The threat posed to livestock is low, as lynx in Romania and Poland rarely prey on farm animals.

Once the Trust has gauged public opinion on the return of these extinct cats to the wild, they will launch an application to Natural England. The plan will see four to six lynx, each wearing GPS tracking collars, released into open, unfenced private areas of woodland in Norfolk, Northumberland and Scotland.

There are over 1.5 million wild deer in Britain, and they currently have no predators, so controlling their populations has been extremely difficult. The Deer Initiative believe the reintroduction of the lynx will help to solve the problem of the overpopulation of deer, which eat birds’ eggs nesting in low bushes, and they also damage woodland by overgrazing.

There have been fourteen previous reintroductions of the Eurasian lynx into the wild, which have proven to be hugely successful:

In Germany, 14 lynx were reintroduced to a site in the Harz mountains in 2000 and have since bred and colonised other areas. Another reintroduction, in Switzerland in the 1990s, has also seen animals breed and spread.

The lynx is the third most prolific predator in Europe, beaten only by the wolf and the brown bear. It hunts at night and is notoriously shy, so hopeful ramblers would be lucky to spot one if they are reintroduced. The lynx is thought to have been hunted to extinction for their fur during between 500 and 700 AD.

A representative of Defenders of Wildlife suggests that concerned farmers could take precautions to protect their livestock by getting a dog, as “Lynx have an instinctual fear of canines.” She points out that after the reintroduction of wolves to Idaho, only 30 of the 18,000 sheep in Northern Idaho have been lost to wolves in the seven years the predators have been roaming there.

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Small New Zealand Island Set To Become New Ecosystem

Rotoroa island is a small island off New Zealand’s west coast and was, from 1908 to 2005, home to a Salvation Army’s drug and rehabilitation unit. The facility treated male alcoholics, whilst females in recovery were housed on nearby Pakatoa island. More recently, the kiwi bird is set to be introduced onto the island, as the first of many endangered species given a new lease of life there.

The Rotoroa Island Trust has a radical approach to conservation: they’re not interested in whether the kiwi would have survived on the island, or whether it would manage without human intervention. The Trust aims to build a new ecosystem rather than replicate a damaged one, and the idea could enable a new family of kiwi birds to thrive. They aim to populate the island with endangered species, regardless of whether those animals would have been part of an ecosystem. Jonathan Wilcken, director of Auckland Zoo, insisted:

We are deliberately aiming not to recreate an ecosystem, but to create an ecosystem anew… We don’t frankly care very much whether those species existed on Rotoroa Island.

Rotoroa is not the only island sanctuary, and the idea of a safe haven separated by water from pest and human invasion has often been successful in protecting biodiversity. On the mainland, brown kiwi chicks have only a 3-4% chance of survival, due to the prevalence of invasive mammals. The Rotoroa chicks will be able to use the island as a protective nest, before being released onto the mainland when they have reached maturity and a better chance of defending themselves.

So what kind of wildlife will call Rotoroa island home?

The Kiwi – small flightless bird, native to New Zealand, it lays the largest egg in relation to its body size. The are five species of kiwi, all of varying levels of vulnerability. They are a shy bird, apparently nocturnal to avoid predators. They have an usually well-developed sense of smell and nostrils can be found at the end of their beaks. They form monogamous couples that can last up to 20 years.

Kiwi chick

Takahē – looks a bit like a blue chicken. Thought to be extinct in 1898, it was later rediscovered in 1948 after a sustained search effort in the Murchison mountains.

Takahe-family

The Saddleback – otherwise known as the tieke, this bird is black with a chestnut saddle. They sing at dawn to mark their territory, but can be antagonistic when threatened, causing the birds to fan their tails, bobbed their heads, and even attack their enemies’ wattles. The Maori believed the saddleback’s cry, when coming from the right, was a good omen, whereas when the bird came from the left, it was a bad omen.

Saddleback

Chimps (Nearly) Awarded Human Rights

In a landmark ruling, two chimpanzees, imprisoned and abused for research, were temporarily granted legal ‘personhood’ status for the first time. The Nonhuman Rights Project launched a lawsuit against Stony Brook University in New York requesting the transfer of two research chimps, Hercules and Leo, to the Save the Chimps Florida animal sanctuary in Florida.

The activists are focused on securing the freedom of the two chimps, but their case has massive implications for exploited animals everywhere – it could potentially pave the way for other animals to gain legal status.

The Nonhuman Rights Project campaigns for primates to be granted human rights because of their intelligence and complex emotional and social lives. The activists’ mission statement demonstrates a commitment to the attainment of legal rights for some nonhuman species, which would liberate them from cruel, human exploitation, such as animal testing and circus performances.

Our mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.

To be clear, the judge has not yet definitively declared the chimpanzees to have legal rights, as she later amended the order to strike the words ‘writ of habeas corpus,‘ as this would imply they are legal persons. The Nonhuman Rights Project do, however, remain positive, as this is a good opportunity to argue their case for basic human rights to be conferred on apes.

These are not the first primates to come close to gaining enough legal rights to free them from exploitation. The Great Ape Project sought to order the release of Jimmy from a zoo near Rio de Janeiro, but was unsuccessful.

The Great Ape Project was founded in 1993 and includes amongst its ranks Jane Goodall, Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins. It advocates that the great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans) should be granted a UN declaration protecting their right to life, their individual liberty, and prohibiting torture.

You can support the great apes’ right to liberty, life and the freedom from torture, by signing the petition for a world declaration on great apes rights here.

Mad Hunter Claims To Be Conservationist

Animal lover and activist Ricky Gervais recently tweeted a photo of huntress Rebecca Francis posing next to the bull giraffe she shot and killed. Gervais accompanied the tweet with this comment:

What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?

Francis won the reality TV Show Extreme Huntress five years ago, and has since been hosting NBC show ‘Eye of the Hunter’, but she has received a backlash of abuse since Gervais challenged her.

Francis stands by the photo, which was taken five years ago, claiming that in posing with this dead giraffe she was honouring its life. Facebook page HuntingLife.com, which shares macabre photos of proud hunters posing next to the bodies of animals they have shot and killed for fun, supported her actions and shared the following statement from Francis:

When I was in Africa five years ago I was of the mindset that I would never shoot a giraffe. I was approached toward the end of my hunt with a unique circumstance. They showed me this beautiful old bull giraffe that was wandering all alone. He had been kicked out of the herd by a younger and stronger bull. He was past his breeding years and very close to death. They asked me if I would preserve this giraffe by providing all the locals with food and other means of survival. He was inevitably going to die soon and he could either be wasted or utilized by the local people. I chose to honor his life by providing others with his uses and I do not regret it for one second. Once he was down there were people waiting to take his meat. They also took his tail to make jewelry, his bones to make other things, and did not waste a single part of him. I am grateful to be a part of something so good.

Francis has since suggested that the abuse stems from a dislike of female hunters, prompting Gervais to sarcastically tweet:

“I kill lions, giraffes & bears with guns & bows and arrows then pose grinning. Why don’t people like me? Must be because they’re sexist”
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) April 17, 2015

Trophy hunters have often tried to convince us that they are, in fact, conservationists and they kill endangered game species in order to preserve them. If this argument seems counter-intuitive, that’s because it is.

Firstly, you don’t kill what you claim to protect. Secondly, the money big game hunters pay to shoot animals on organised, canned hunts goes towards farming more animals for the slaughter, rather than  protecting endangered species. Thirdly, if hunting were ever to be labelled ‘conservation’, hunts would need to be closely monitored by state bodies and scientific organisations.

Read this post by One Green Planet for a more detailed explanation of how trophy hunting is not motivated by conservation aims.

Secret Gibbon Whispers Translated By Scientists

Since the 1940s, we have known that gibbons use a secret language to communicate, but only now, with ultra sensitive equipment, have scientists been able to decipher their unusual calls. This research could give us clues to the evolution of human language.

Lar gibbons, or the white-handed gibbon, are an endangered primate, usually found in Thailand, Laos or Malaysia. Every morning, the gibbon family gathers at the edge of its territory, and sings out a ‘great call’, a duet between the breeding pair, each pair exhibiting a unique variation of the family song.

Lar gibbons can produce sounds so soft that they can’t be easily heard by the human ear. Scientists from Durham University have managed to record these calls by spending four months following them through the forests of North-eastern Thailand, and they have published their analysis in the BMC Evolutionary Biology journal.

The team found that there were different calls or ‘words’ for a range of predators, including leopards, tigers, pythons and eagles. The whispers even distinguished between different types of birds even when they were physically quite similar, such as eagle owls and serpent eagles.

The gibbons use over 450 ‘hoo’ sounds, and each ‘word’ or ‘call’ serves a different purpose in a specific context. This new research suggests that, according to the lead scientist, Dr Esther Clark:

…lar gibbons are able to generate significant, context-dependent acoustic variation within their main social call, which potentially allows recipients to make inferences about the external events experienced by the caller.

You can listen to the lar gibbons’ call here:

What’s Wrong With Animal-Friendly Animal Products?

The ethical consumer cannot simply trust a brand claiming to be animal or environmentally friendly; we all have a responsibility to do a bit of research to make sure a product is as ethical as it claims.

If the ethical exploitation of animals is at all possible, then it must meet certain welfare standards. The RSPCA ‘Freedom Food’ label is one brand which claims to raise and slaughter animals in better conditions than the rest of the meat and dairy industry, and it distances itself from the evils of factory farming.

Hillside is an animal sanctuary located in Norfolk, which has conducted several investigations into Freedom Farms, and has uncovered evidence of animals suffering conditions as bad as, and sometimes worse than traditional farms.

The idea behind RSPCA monitored farms is a noble one, though it has been repeatedly shown to be a failed model. Freedom Food is a charity set up over 20 years ago to ensure that every aspect of those animals’ lives meet the high welfare standards of the RSPCA.

Freedom Food is thee only UK assurance and food labelling scheme dedicated solely to improving farm animal welfare.

However, Hillside has filmed the treatment of animals on various Freedom Food farms in the UK and found that those standards of animal welfare are simply not being met. Recent footage shows chickens living in desperate conditions, crammed into tiny containers, and left to suffer with untreated wounds. According to this report in The Mirror:

Many of the birds had lost half their feathers and clearly had painful leg deformities. The filthy shed floor was littered with corpses, some in an advanced state of decomposition.

The problem with failing Freedom Food farms is widespread, as this report into pig farming demonstrates. However, this is a brand that is not doing too badly compared with other so-called ‘ethical’ brands. A report in the Independent rated Freedom Food as second, with Soil Association scoring 9/10 in ensuring the highest welfare standards were met on its certified farms.

What you should about ‘High-welfare’ animal products

 The Freedom Food label does not mean ‘free range’. The RSPCA does not feel it necessary that broiler chickens ever experience the outside.

– Freedom Food birds reach slaughter weight within just 49 days; in the wild, it takes chickens around three months to reach adult size. Leg and hip injuries are common place on intensive farms, and they have also been seen on Freedom Food farms.

– Sows are still forced to give birth and suckle their young for around 4 weeks in farrowing crates, which are so small that they cannot move.

– Some ‘free-range’ labels claim that piglets are either ‘outdoor-bred’ or outdoor-reared.’ In both cases, piglets might be bred or reared outdoors for several months but they are moved indoors into fattening units, which are cramped and overcrowded, and provide no stimulation.

– ‘Organic’ means that the use of chemicals in animal feed is prohibited. Arguably, animals lead slightly better lives on organic farms, but male chicks are still gassed at birth and male calves are still shot because they are of no use in the dairy industry.

Animal Aid claims:

There is no humane meat. Animals’ lives are as
important to them as ours are to us and none go to
the knife willingly. Choosing organic, free-range or
Freedom Food over standard meat, milk or eggs,
continues to cause pain and suffering, and wastes
natural resources.

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