Free Range to End of Range

By Tracy Brighten

A poem written in the style of restaurant discourse to voice the plight of  New Zealand’s native birds

Tui in Kowhai tree

Although native birds aren’t normally eaten, I am appealing to the reader’s sense of taste, while simultaneously repulsing them with how wild birds are being killed.

Native birds are facing increasing threats from non-native predators such as possums, rats, stoats, cats and dogs, and also from human behavior such as irresponsible pet ownership, beach and car use, hunting, longline fishing, overfishing and oil spills.   Continue reading

Chinese ‘ivory queen’ arrested in Tanzania for ivory trafficking

By Tracy Brighten

The alleged notorious leader of an ivory trafficking syndicate operating between East Africa and China has been arrested in Tanzania

Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) had been surveilling Yang Feng Glan for over a year, before arresting the 66-year-old for her 14 year involvement in ivory trafficking Continue reading

Tasmanian devil on mainland could control feral cats

Scientists suggest reintroducing the Tasmanian devil to mainland forests could restore ecological systems and save native species from extinction

Tasmanian devil

Rewilding is being hailed in Europe and the U.S as a potential solution to restore ecological systems that have become unbalanced, often from human impacts including habitat loss, animal culling or hunting, and introduced predators.

Australian researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Tasmania have conducted the first study to look at the feasibility of reintroducing the Tasmanian devil to mainland Australia. Continue reading

Cull of 2 million feral cats by 2020 to save native animals

By Tracy Brighten

Australia has pledged to tackle the soaring feral cat population that threatens more native animals with extinction 
Numbat by Martin Pot

Australian numbat

With 1800 nationally listed threatened species, the Australian Government has set targets for conserving 30 priority plant species, 20 mammals and 20 birds.

“That means humane culling of one of our wildlife’s worst enemies – feral cats,” said Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt in a statement. Continue reading

Could a legal ivory trade save the African elephant from extinction?

By Tracy Brighten

Legal trade of “conservation ivory” could end black market trade in “blood ivory”, but opponents say stigmatisation and a trade ban is the only solution

Carved elephants by William Warby

African elephants are in crisis, threatened by extinction like the woolly mammoth wiped out by man in the Arctic. Farmers attack when they roam on land that was once elephant habitat; zoos remove them to an unnatural life as exhibits; and trophy hunters take pride in slaying this ‘big five’ giant.

But most of all, elephants are at risk from poachers who hack off their face for tusks. 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

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

Owners in denial over cat predation on wildlife

By Tracy Brighten

Research suggests owners are reluctant to accept the cat predation risk to wildlife and a cat welfare approach may be needed 

Wildlife killer cat

Domestic cats have been introduced by humans across the world and growing cat populations are placing local wildlife under greater pressure. Cat predation compounds the survival problem by adding to habitat loss and food scarcity for some species.

Free-roaming cats on islands have contributed to the extinction of native bird, mammal, and reptile species unable to fend off this introduced predator. In mainland environments, cats are impacting local bird and mammal populations, with large numbers killed each year. 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

Malta referendum fails to ban hunters shooting migrating birds

By Tracy Brighten

Fewer turtle doves will now survive their epic 3,000 mile migration from Africa to European breeding grounds, leaving conservationists stunned 

The News Hub - Turtle dove hunted

Hunters have won a Malta referendum allowing them to continue the tradition of shooting turtle doves and quail in spring, from April 14 until April 30. The margin of victory was slim, reflecting widespread Maltese opposition to this tradition. Hunting of these birds is banned elsewhere in the European Union. 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