Little terns brave tides, dogs and falcons in Norfolk

By Tracy Brighten

The second rarest seabird in the UK, little terns face a bleak future without our help

EULife Little Tern Recovery Project

At a colony along Norfolk’s east coast where I’ve been helping as a volunteer, RSPB wardens are providing dedicated round-the-clock protection for endangered beach-nesting birds. The RSPB’s conservation work is part of the EU Life + Nature Little Tern Recovery Project involving eleven partner organisations, including the RSPB, Natural England, The National Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. The recovery project has been crucial in monitoring, protecting, and increasing little tern populations across the UK. Continue reading

World’s rarest penguin suffers disease, starvation and selfies

By Tracy Brighten
Since human settlers stripped its land-based habitat, New Zealand’s yellow-eyed penguin has been fighting for survival

Yellow-eyed penguin and chick

The Emperor penguin is arguably the most familiar penguin in the world, the poster penguin for climate change as global warming melts Antarctic ice. Films such as March with the Penguins document this magnificent penguin’s survival in such an inhospitable environment.

But not all penguins live in sub-zero temperatures. Some endure challenging environments higher up the temperature scale, but their battle for survival goes almost unnoticed despite being an ‘Endangered’ IUCN Red List Threatened Species. Continue reading

Malta set to slaughter 5000 turtle doves in spring hunt

By Tracy Brighten

Migrating turtle doves will be shot down as they fly over Malta.

European turtle dove

The Maltese government has sanctioned the slaughter of 5,000 European turtle doves as they fly over Malta in the last stages of their 5,600 km journey from wintering grounds in West Africa to breeding grounds in Europe.

No other European country allows spring hunting of turtle doves. Continue reading

Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary to protect unique marine habitat

By Tracy Brighten

New Zealand initiative to protect a region of unique fauna diversity shows world leadership in sustainable marine environment management

white-capped albatross

At the United Nations General Assembly in New York, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced the creation of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary that will protect a vast area of pristine ocean habitat covering 620,000 km² within New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Continue reading

Kiwi-killing dogs euthanised after rampage

By Tracy Brighten

New Zealand’s endangered national bird suffered another blow in Northland where dog owners thwart conservation efforts

Kiwis for kiwi

The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) recovered eight kiwi killed in a conservation area in North Island’s Northland region over a ten week period from May to August. Post mortem examinations revealed they were mauled to death by dogs. Continue reading

Spotlight on trophy hunting puts poaching in shadows

By Tracy Brighten

Lions may be king, but let’s not forget the elephants with five dead from poaching in Kenya last week. 

Elephant family in Kenya by Benh Lieu Song

The American dentist who lured Cecil from the protection of a national park in Zimbabwe, is reported to have asked for a massive elephant after shooting the GPS-collared lion. Fortunately, the professional hunter who arranged Walter Palmer’s trophy hunt, wasn’t able to find one large enough, so the dentist promptly left Zimbabwe.

While trophy hunting is an abhorrent sport, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that poaching is a much greater problem, and that elephants rather than lions are in the firing line. Continue reading

Trophy hunting: ‘A way of honouring that animal for all time’

By Tracy Brighten

Big game hunters have a perspective on wildlife slaughter that is difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend.

Louis the lion med by Tambako“Of course, it is a personal achievement to harvest any big-game animal with a bow and arrow,” said Glen Hisley of the Pope and Young bow hunting organisation in The Telegraph. “It is a way of honouring that animal for all time.”

This is an interesting perspective and one reserved for the animal kingdom. After all, the desire to honour a person by murdering them, posing beside the body, and keeping the head as a trophy would surely be considered psychopathic. And deriving pleasure just makes matters worse.

If it’s the chase and the thrill of danger that drove Palmer, then killing might have been replaced by capturing living images of “the magnificent, mature lion,” described by his accomplice. But there isn’t the same sense of mastery that must come with a deadly weapon. Continue reading

Kiwi genome reveals nocturnal bird’s colour blindness

By Tracy Brighten

The genetic blueprint for New Zealand’s national bird reveals the kiwi’s adaptation to a nocturnal, ground-dwelling lifestyle around 35 million years ago has meant poorer eyesight, but superior smelling powers

TeTuatahianui North Island brown kiwi

Published online in Genome Biology, the study by researchers in Germany identified genetic mutations that have deactivated genes related to colour vision, as well as other mutations that have enhanced the kiwi’s sense of smell compared to other birds.

The kiwi is an evolutionary phenomenon, and an endemic species to New Zealand, a land that was geographically isolated after its separation from Godwana 80 million years ago. This isolation makes New Zealand ideal for studying evolutionary processes. Continue reading

Sirocco kakapo’s rise to stardom

By Tracy Brighten

Stephen Fry and social media launched this rare parrot to stardom, and now this tech-savvy bird is putting fame to good use.

Sirocco by Chris Birmingham (DoC)

Back in 2009, Stephen Fry visited New Zealand’s Codfish Island with zoologist Mark Carwardine to film BBC2’s Last Chance to See, a documentary about animals on the edge of extinction.

Now, with almost 6.5 million views of ‘Shagged by a rare parrot’ on YouTube, their encounter with Sirocco, the flightless parrot, has achieved phenomenal worldwide coverage. Not bad for a species that previously wasn’t well-known even in New Zealand, despite its international critically endangered status.

Today, Sirocco features on the NZ Department of Conservation blog, he has his own Facebook page with 155,000 likes and a Twitter account, as you might expect of a bird. Continue reading

Bat fossil reveals supersize walking bat 16 million years ago

By Tracy Brighten

Scientists in New Zealand unearth an ancient bat fossil, revealing a new bat species that once scurried the forest like its much smaller modern relative, the short-tailed bat

The News Hub - Short-tailed bat by David Mudge Nga Manu TrustIn the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers reveal a new species of bat, Mystacina miocenalis, and its close association with Mystacina tuberculata, the lesser short-tailed bat that still inhabits New Zealand’s temperate old-growth evergreen forests.

The fossilised remains were excavated in Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island, from sediment left over from Lake Manuherikia that existed in the Miocene era, around 16 million years ago. Continue reading

Endangered porpoise thrown lifeline as dolphins drown

By Tracy Brighten

The Mexican government makes a late bid to save the world’s smallest marine mammal, while New Zealand lets the world’s rarest dolphin drown 

Vaquita porpoise Natural History Magazine

The vaquita porpoise population has declined as a result of drownings when porpoises are unable to reach the surface to breathe after entanglement in gillnets used in shrimp fishing. More recently, the gillnet threat has increased with the illegal fishing of the endangered totoaba fish, whose swim bladder is a Chinese delicacy fetching up to $10,000 a kilogram, smuggled to China via California. Continue reading

World’s rarest dolphin faces extinction

By Tracy Brighten

Will the New Zealand government protect the last 50 Maui dolphins from fishing and oil industry threats?

Science Nutshell Single Maui dolphin by Will Rayment

Experts presented new research on the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin that sends a clear message to the New Zealand government: act now or be responsible for following in China’s footsteps after the extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin in 2006.

In May, the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee held its annual meeting in San Diego, U.S, where 200 of the world’s leading scientists presented their latest cetacean research.

In 2014, Otago University professors Dr Liz Slooten and Dr Steve Dawson, the world’s leading New Zealand dolphin experts, estimated the Maui’s dolphin population at 55 adults over one year old. Continue reading