Pet trade spurs poaching of African grey parrot

By Tracy Brighten

Our fascination with intelligent parrots has a catastrophic impact on wild populations

African grey parrot head    

When we’re looking for an animal to keep as a pet, we think about food, exercise and affordability. But how much thought do we give to where the animal comes from? When we buy exotic birds through online ads or breeders, we may unknowingly support the plunder of wild species. The African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) is one such species. Continue reading

Blind love for cats is killing our songbirds

By Tracy Brighten

As cat ownership soars, we need a radical change in attitude to save mammals and songbirds from cats’ claws

Cat whiskers

Despite evidence from camera traps and Cat Tracker devices showing predatory behaviour, cat owners tend to describe their pets as too slow or too gentle to harm wildlife.

But Kitty is equally at home stalking wildlife as she is sleeping on our lap.

As human populations and domestic cat ownership explode, especially in urban areas, more small mammals and birds fall prey. When breeding can’t keep pace with predation, species numbers decline. Well-fed domestic cats might even be compared to trophy hunters in the sense they aren’t hunting for food. Continue reading

Catios and collars cool for cats and wildlife

By Tracy Brighten

Cat predation is wreaking havoc on wildlife, but an open-air safe haven for domestic cats and a collar that warns birds could be the purr-fect solution

Cat wearing Birdsbesafe collar

I’ve written in the past about the threat to wildlife from domestic cats and owners’ reluctance to accept their cat might be involved. While exact prey numbers are difficult to determine, camera traps show that small mammal and bird populations are threatened in areas with high-density cat populations.  Continue reading

When dietary changes make you a social outcast

By Tracy Brighten

Vegetarian sandwich

Make a decision to lose weight, change career, or have children, and friends and family generally meet the change with excitement and words of encouragement. But tell them you no longer eat meat, fish, or dairy, or even that you’re just thinking about it, and you find yourself being interrogated!

If your reasons for dietary changes are health based, you risk the usual ill-informed response that you can’t be healthy without meat. But if your reasons are ethics based, be prepared for an even rougher ride. Continue reading

Dairy free Christmas brings comfort and joy

By Tracy Brighten

December wasn’t an easy month to be dairy free, but thinking of calves taken from their mothers kept me on track 

I was already considering the next stage of my journey in eating more ethically, but the exposure of dairy industry cruelty was the motivation I needed. After witnessing the abuse of bobby calves, it was time for change. Continue reading

Spreading the word on New Zealand’s birds

Sylvia Durrant

A profile of volunteer Sylvia Durrant who has been caring for sick and injured birds on Auckland’s North Shore for over twenty years

Sylvia Durrant found her calling when she replied to an advert for an SPCA bird rescue volunteer. Sylvia’s previous career as a nurse had prepared her for this life-saving work with birds and educating the community. She is an inspiration, as I found out when I had the pleasure of meeting her. Continue reading

Should we care about future generations?

Future generations

The agreement by 195 countries at the Paris Climate Change Conference is a landmark consensus that climate change is a global problem requiring global commitment. Some people believe spiralling populations and associated development in India and China is the biggest issue. Others believe greenhouse gas emission control will be ineffective with the growing trend of factory farming. Not only do farm animals produce methane, but forests are felled to plant crops for animal feed.

Another question often asked when considering climate change and the depletion of non-renewable resources is why should we care about future generations? Don’t we just live the life we want and leave future generations to deal with the fallout?    Continue reading

Let’s put the pure back in New Zealand

New Zealand owl

Imagine British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been invited to give a speech at a university conference on sustainability. Imagine her topic was the discrepancy between the clean, green image created by the ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign and the environmental reality. Imagine she wanted to inform the audience of this discrepancy; to persuade them it is economically damaging as well as morally unacceptable; and to motivate them to take action. As a scientist and politician, she knew the importance of commerce, government and environmental groups working together, and as an effective public speaker, she knew the power of words. Imagine this was her speech. Continue reading

New Zealand dairy cruelty divides opinion and loyalties

By Tracy Brighten

Dark side of the dairy industry could see consumers making ethical choices

Dairy calf

Animal welfare group Save Animals from Exploitation (SAFE) has released shocking footage of dairy cruelty filmed by Farmwatch in an undercover investigation of dairy industry practices in New Zealand.

Video footage from hidden cameras shows cruelty to cows and bobby calves involved in producing milk products. A byproduct of dairy production, bobby calves are calves under 30 days old taken from their mothers to stop them drinking milk that will be used for human consumption. While female calves are usually reared as replacement dairy cows, male calves have no use and most are killed at only a few days old.

Farmwatch’s evidence of dairy cruelty was broadcast on New Zealand’s TV ONE Sunday program. Continue reading

Free Range to End of Range

By Tracy Brighten

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

Tui in Kowhai tree

Although native birds are no longer (officially) eaten in New Zealand, I appeal to the reader’s sense of taste, while simultaneously stirring repulsion of how wild birds are killed.

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

Local nature puts a spring in our step

It’s easy to overlook the local nature in our gardens and neighbourhood, but regular contact helps us tap into our roots 

Yellow Flower

Unless we’re lucky enough to live in the countryside, if we want to spend time in nature, we might wait for a day when we can head to a nature reserve, a wildlife sanctuary, or the coast. But in our busy life, days can turn to weeks, and weeks to months while we miss out on local nature.

Truth is that for many of us, the benefits of time in nature can be enjoyed much closer to home. Continue reading

Respite in Nature

By Tracy Brighten

A story of the stresses of urban life and the need for respite in nature 

Autumn tree for respite in nature

FICTION 

The car won’t start. Flat battery. It looks like I’ll have to catch the bus. But I’ve not been on a bus for years. Anxiety charges through me.

I’ve psyched myself up and I’m ready to go, but it’s pouring with rain. The windows will be steamed up and I won’t see a thing. I’ll have to rub a circle to see out and hope that my breath doesn’t fill the space faster than I can take in the view of the hills. Then there’s the smell of damp raincoats. I loathe the smell of damp raincoats. Continue reading

Joy in fostering an African elephant orphan

I’ve never seen an elephant in the wild, yet these majestic, intelligent, social mammals stir strong emotion. Fostering an orphan is a way of helping 

elephant orphans sharing water

I’ve long known the African elephant is endangered. But until I started writing about wildlife conservation and animal welfare, I wasn’t aware of the complexity of their survival problem. Continue reading

‘Fast Food Nation’: how a destructive culture takes over

By Tracy Brighten

Eric Schlosser’s investigative journalism in Fast Food Nation uncovers a greedy, corrupt meat industry that threatens people and animals worldwide

Fast Food Nation

I was first introduced to Eric Schlosser by John Pilger in his book Tell Me No Lies, a “celebration of the very best investigative journalism.” Continue reading

Taiji fishermen dump Risso’s dolphins at sea

By Tracy Brighten

Marine conservationists claim that dolphin hunters may be dumping slaughtered calves and juveniles at sea to avoid quota counts
Risso's dolphin on rocks

Young Risso’s dolphin washed up on rocks in Taiji

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Cove Guardians are on the ground in Taiji, documenting the dolphin hunt season from September through March. Operation Henkaku is reporting the drive hunts to the world through live stream, press releases and social media.

This season, Cove Guardians have documented small boats covered by tarpaulin leaving Taiji cove after the slaughter of Risso’s dolphin pods. Continue reading

Spending time in nature is good for our soul

Walk in nature

Spending time in nature has many health benefits, yet we find ourselves more removed from the natural world

In economically developed countries, we enjoy medical and technological advances that improve our health and lifespan. We have education, transport, energy, and communication systems that give us greater opportunities for careers, business and travel, as well as a more comfortable lifestyle.

You might expect people to be happier than ever. Continue reading

Nature prevents disease and boosts wellbeing

By Tracy Brighten

Scientific research backs up what conservation groups and nature enthusiasts know: spending time in nature is good for us

Research is increasingly showing the importance of a public health focus on disease prevention, with nature gaining ground as a natural approach to tackle a range of health problems. 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

Should there be equal consideration for people and animals?

Animals feel pain and suffering, so why do we deny them equal consideration, placing human preferences above compassion? 
veal calf

Calf in a veal crate

Philosopher Peter Singer criticises philosophy for failing to challenge accepted beliefs. He argues for a change in traditional Western ethics, which is human-centred or anthropocentric and which denies any direct moral obligation to the natural environment. In his book All Animals are Equal (1986), Singer calls for a change in attitude that gives animals equality of consideration regardless of any differences in their capabilities compared to humans. He makes a strong case for a shake-up in our cultural thinking. Continue reading

Elephant orphans find comfort in wool blankets

By Tracy Brighten

When baby elephants lose their mother, soft blankets give comfort and protect them from wind, rain and sun at an elephant nursery in Nairobi

DSWT elephant orphan

When elephants become victims of habitat destruction, human-elephant conflict and ivory poaching, their young calves can’t survive without help. Fortunately, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, in collaboration with the Kenyan Wildlife Service, provides a lifeline for elephant and rhino orphans.

Set up in 1977, the Trust is an anti-poaching, rescue and rehabilitation charity. With decades of experience on the front line, the Trust warns of the devastating consequences of elephant poaching. Continue reading

Offshore wind farms threaten northern gannets at Bass Rock

By Tracy Brighten

Northern gannets around the UK are at much greater risk from wind turbine blades than previously thought, according to new scientific research  

northern gannet

Several wind farms are due to be built in the next five years at locations within 50 kilometres of Bass Rock, the world’s largest gannet colony, located in the Firth of Forth off the east coast of Scotland.

The northern gannet is amber listed according to a UK national assessment of Birds of Conservation Concern. This new study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, highlights the urgent need for further research to inform wind turbine specifications and locations.  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

Operation Henkaku exposes Japan’s dolphin slave trade

By Tracy Brighten

Hunters chase profit as they drive bottlenose pod into Taiji Cove; dolphins sold from this single dolphin hunt could bag over US$7 million

Taiji dolphins trapped 

Each year from September through March, hundreds of dolphins are caught in one small cove along Japan’s Pacific coast and either traded as a live commodity, or slaughtered and sold as meat. Continue reading

Beehive fence protects crops from African elephant raids

By Tracy Brighten

An innovative project is using the elephant’s innate fear of honey bees to protect subsistence farmers and elephants from injury and death

Beehive fence

Whether elephants are afraid of mice, or simply surprised by their movement, has long been debated, but there is science-based evidence that elephants are afraid of honey bees.

Oxford University researcher Dr Lucy King started a project in 2007 born out of local knowledge that suggested African elephants are scared of honey bees. Dr King carried out scientific studies using playback experiments where honey bee recordings are played to unsuspecting elephants.  Continue reading

‘Searching for Ruru’: a native owl

By Tracy Brighten

An extract from my short memoir on searching for New Zealand’s owl

Perico 2 (800x566)

The memoir tells the story of a trip I made with my daughter to a small island in the Hauraki Gulf during her study on vocalisations of morepork, or ruru in Maori. I felt privileged to follow and watch this beautiful owl and my daughter in their natural habitat. Continue reading

Interpol listed ship escapes Thailand with 182 tons toothfish

By Tracy Brighten

The poaching vessel Taishan, detained in Phuket since March, has fled the port with its illegal Patagonia toothfish, or ‘Chilean sea bass’, cargo.

Toothfish

The Thai Royal Navy (TRN) has launched an air and sea search for the illegal fishing vessel Taishan, or Kunlun as it was formerly known, reports AEC News Today. The search involves TRN aircraft and patrol boats, as well as the Department of Fisheries and the Thai police marine division.

Following a joint investigation between Interpol, Sea Shepherd and authorities in Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, the ship has been detained in Phuket since March when the crew attempted to offload 182 tons of illegally caught Patagonian toothfish as grouper fish. Continue reading

Blue whale drags fishing line from Los Angeles to Mexico

By Tracy Brighten

The blue whale entangled in fishing line off the Californian coast has moved south towards Mexican waters and could die if not found

Blue_whale_tail by Michael Baird

On Friday, whale response teams attached a buoy to the whale, found between Santa Catalina Island and the coast, to make it more visible before high seas thwarted rescue efforts, reported the Guardian.

Federal government officials assisted by boats, aeroplanes and helicopters searched the West coast on Saturday and Sunday, but were unable to locate the whale. Continue reading

Disturbing truth behind Australia’s shark nets

By Tracy Brighten

Shark nets and baited drum lines in Australia have killed thousands of marine animals in the bid to protect ocean users from shark attacks
whale in shark net

Whale entangled in shark net

Since 1962, a staggering 84,800 marine animals have been caught in Queensland’s shark control program alone, including vulnerable and endangered species such as turtles and whales, as well as shark species that do not threaten human life. Over 9,000 unborn pups have been lost. Continue reading

Deer hunter blunder kills rare takahe

New Zealand deer hunters culling pukeko on an island sanctuary have killed rare flightless birds in another case of mistaken identity

Takahe

The pūkeko is probably one of the most recognised native birds in New Zealand,” says the Department of Conservation website.

It seems not when deerstalkers are killing critically endangered takahe instead of common pukeko in a case of mistaken identity. Continue reading

Rising tension between Faroe Islands and anti-whaling Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker vessel, with 21 activists on board, has been refused entry to the Faroe Islands by Danish authorities protecting whaling. 

A Faroese government statement said the decision was to protect “the legal and regulated activity of driving and killing pilot whales for food,” reported The Guardian. Sea Shepherd believes the action by Danish Customs at the port of Sund is unlawful.

Although Denmark is a member of the European Union that bans whaling, Denmark supports whaling in its Faroe Islands self-governing territory. Continue reading

‘No man is an island’: we are interconnected

By Tracy Brighten

No man is an island

I’ll admit to not having a great memory for quotations, but a line from one of poet John Donne’s meditations has stood the test of time for me: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself’.

What resonates is the idea that no-one is self-sufficient—we need each other to thrive in a world that’s far greater than one individual. Continue reading

Nature’s song thrush inspires hope in gloomy times

The winter carolings of Hardy’s frail thrush send a poignant message

Winter landscape

My favourite poem, The Darkling Thrush highlights Hardy’s despair at the changes he witnessed as England’s agricultural based society was impacted by the industrial revolution. The narrator describes a bleak landscape that reflects this despair. He sees a “frail, gaunt, and small” thrush, suggesting that nature is also affected by the changes. 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

REM sleep is critical to brain development in children

REM Sleep
Researchers identify that rapid eye movement or REM sleep, usually associated with dreaming, is critical to converting daytime experiences into memories required for normal brain function

Researchers say their findings help to explain how children’s learning is affected by inadequate REM sleep, and how medication commonly prescribed for hyperactivity or depression interferes with this sleep.

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

Potato head misnomer: starchy carbs made our brains bigger

Assortment of potatoes, which are starchy carbs
Carbohydrates have been left off the menu by dietary fads favouring protein, but a study on human brain evolution suggests a key role for starchy carbs

Paleolithic diets are increasing in popularity in the belief that a return to our ancestor’s diet can curb the upward trend in obesity and diet-related health issues.

Scientists agree there are health gains when our diet aligns with our evolutionary past because our physiology is optimised for that diet. Yet there is little agreement about what makes up a healthy diet and what comprises the Paleolithic diet of Old Stone Age man.

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