Saturday, 27 October 2012

Where it all began and the plight of the Amur Leopard.

Hello everyone and welcome to my latest blog. I hope you all had a good week and are enjoying the weekend even if the temperatures have noticeably dropped! This week I look back on where my fascination of the natural world began as well as taking a look at the struggles of a species of particular fondness to myself, the Amur Leopard, as always I hope you enjoy reading about it.

In the Beginning.
It's hard looking back to remember exactly what triggered my fascination with the beauty of the natural world, all I know is from a very young age if it walked, crawled, flew or swam I was fascinated by it. On top of this I had an obsession for fossils in particular those of Dinosaurs (an interest which has yet to leave me and doubt it ever will). However as finding real fossils was a highly unrealistic aim for a child of my age, I instead took great delight in trips to the Natural History Museum and other scientific establishments, which gave me an opportunity to get up close to some quite unbelievable sights. These trips often ended in a trip to the gift shop and this would be another highlight of my day as I could often be seen clutching proudly a new model dinosaur.
Birds played the biggest part however in engaging me in the natural world and, at the age of six one Christmas I was presented with a bird table which provided years of happiness as various species ranging from the ever reliable robins, starlings and various members of the finch such as the green and tit family’s such as the blue came to visit. Occasionally rarer species such as the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker or Goldcrest would come to visit the garden and if we were lucky land and feed on the bird table prompting scenes of excitement in the house as everyone strained for a better view. Sadly however frequent battering from the weather and the less than subtle Rooks and other larger bird species which persisted on landing on the bird table to feed despite their struggles to balance properly meant that eventually my bird table needed to be replaced, but I will always remember those early days and forever be thankful for that bird table and the happiness it brought to all.
As I have grown older I have continued to grow though phases of being almost obsessive in my fascination for particular groups of species. As previously mentioned dinosaurs and birds in general (later specifically becoming birds of prey) were the early stages of my appreciation and understanding of the species we share the planet with. Later just some of the groups of animals, which particulary caught my imagination, included: snakes (in particular venomous), sharks, big cats and large herbivores. Of course my appreciation for the entire natural world would never diminish and as I did then I still get as much enjoyment reading about or watching any animal however big or small they may be.
Of course world famous and hugely inspirational figures also played a huge role in  my education and understanding of what surrounds us. Sir David Attenborough doubtless an inspiration to everyone involved in working in the natural world and even those who are not was and still is a regular on the television screen in our household as were other figures such as Jonathan Scott and Simon King two of the main presenters to one of my favourite programmes growing up Big Cat Diary. Steve Irwin was another who despite his sometimes controversial methods behaviour did a huge amount in educating people about animals they may other wise not get to see and as a result never get to properly understand. He also did marvellous work in educating the public and helping ease their fears about potentially dangerous animals and as a result his programmes were always looked forward to.
It was television, which provided my brother and myself with a brief moment in the media spotlight. We took part in a starling survey organised by Blue Peter and sent out results in thinking nothing more of it apart from playing a small part in some important research. A couple of weeks later a message left on our answer phone asked for a picture of each of us to be sent in. We were then sent a Blue Peter badge and a signed photo of the presenters while our picture briefly aired on screen to millions of people as reward for taking part in the survey!
As I have grown older I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to become more and more involved in conservation as well as being given the chance to study something I love. I have been fortunate enough to visit the beautiful country of South Africa (which I am returning to next year) as well as now studying a Bsc in Applied Zoology. When I look back I have a lot to be grateful for, the huge box of plastic animals may no longer take pride of place in my room, but they still remain in the house and serve as a reminder of the patience shown from my family, as I insisted on visiting the same places time and time again and picking up a collectible along the way! One thing I know for certain my love for the natural world will never leave me.

I always loved spending time here!,r:3,s:0,i:146&tx=71&ty=33

                                               The Struggle of the Amur Leopard.

The Amur Leopard is on the brink of extinction. I can't think of a way it can be put any differently that will make it's situation sound any less desperate. With an estimated 35 individuals left in the wild and most of these found in a 5,000 sq Kilometer area between the Vladivostok and the Chinese border with a few individuals living in the Jilin and Heiongjiang provinces of NE China with the possibility of a small number also living in North Korea. It makes me very sad to think how their situation has been allowed to get so bad. It is little wonder they are the most endangered big cat in the world.
The threats that face these beautiful cats are sadly similar threats, which threaten so many species all over the globe. Loss of habitat due to deforestation, forest fire and the increased demand in areas for agriculture mean their natural habitat has been seriously diminished.  Their natural prey species such as Sika Deer being over hunted forces them to turn to other prey sources, and if they are in short supply brings them into conflict with people in search of livestock, which inevitably, ends poorly for the Amur Leopard more often than not. The threat, which makes my blood boil the most, however is the persecution of these animals for their magnificent fur coats and their bones for tradiitonal Asian medicines.
Through WWF however efforts are being made to try and save this charismatic species before we lose them forever resigning yet another animal to the history books never to be seen by future generations.
   By working with groups of people such as regional authorities, the goverment and local communities in       the small area of remaining prime Amur Leopard habitat of the Amur - Heilong region, valauble work such as attempting to replenish numbers of suitable prey animals, increasing protected areas and clamping down harder on illegal logging. And this leads me to why these beautiful animals have such personal importance to myself. Over the last 18 months, I have had the priveledge of knowing that somewhere out there is an Amur Leopard I have adopted. I recieve regular updates about how "my " Leopard is doing as well as general news on the progress WWF are making in their conservation efforts. It feels great to know in some small way I am helping to contribute towards their plight improving. Let's just hope one day we can all look back and say what a fantastic success story! Here is the link if anyone would like to know more or is interested in adopting :)

Amur leopard
A truly beautiful animal. Image taken from WWF

That's it for this week everybody I hope you enjoyed it, enjoy what is left of the weekend and I will be back next week,
all the best George.

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