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If it’s the chase and the thrill of danger that drove Palmer, then killing might have been replaced by capturing living images of “the magnificent, mature lion,” described by his accomplice.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

Faroe Islands pilot whale massacre ‘a natural way of life’

By Tracy Brighten      Contains graphic images

Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd estimates 250 pilot whales were killed last week. Is it time tradition was buried with whale bones littering the seabed?

Pilot whale slaughter 2 by Sea Shepherd Peter Hammarstedt

Sea Shepherd protestors have been arrested trying to stop the pilot whale hunts in the Faroe Islands, but video footage and photographs by other group members captured the horrors of the mass slaughter.

The whale hunt known as the grindadráp, or “grind”, is a centuries old tradition with recorded history dating back to 1584, according to whaling proponents Whaling.fo. The whale meat and blubber once provided an important food source for the Faroese people, and whale oil was used for cooking and export. 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 stardom helps save his species

By Tracy Brighten

Stephen Fry and social media launched this rare parrot to stardom, and now this tech-savvy kakapo 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

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

Scientists develop alternative to antibiotics for farm animals

By Tracy Brighten

England’s Chief Medical Officer calls antibiotic-resistant bacteria a “ticking time-bomb” for both animals and humans
Antibiotic alternative for farm animals

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria

Drug-resistant infection in humans and animals is causing increasing public concern. Microbes adapt to create “superbugs” when repeatedly exposed to antimicrobial medicines, particularly bacteria when exposed to antibiotics. Weak bacteria are killed and resistant bacteria thrive and multiply.

The Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, places this “ticking time-bomb” on the level of the threat from terrorism and pandemic flu. 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