Thursday, 29 November 2012

A name like the weather and one of the rarest carnivores on the planet.

Hello everyone I hope you have had a good week even with the appalling weather we have been forced to suffer recently. This week’s blog sees the conclusion of Owl month, followed by my endangered species section, this time focusing on one of my favourite animals and one that I have been lucky enough to see in the wild, the African Wild Dog. As well as this I conclude my blog with a couple of light hearted clips of footage which have caught my attention over the past week. So I start off with my usual Owl section this time on the Snowy Owl, as always I hope you enjoy the blog and feel free to give feedback.


                                       Snowy Owl  Bubo scandiacus

The Snowy Owl is a rare visitor to Britain, and when it does visit is mainly is found in Northern Scotland, however there have been cases in recent years of Snowy Owls visiting Cornwall, Alderney and Guernsey (for full story see link below). The Snowy Owl has a wide distribution and can be more commonly found in the Arctic Tundra and open grassland and fields of North America. They are active from dawn till dusk and their size ranges with females usually larger than the male, the wingspan can be between 51 and 68.5cm, wingspan 137-164 cm and weight 1134-2000 g.  The diet of the Snowy Owl includes a wide variety of mammals and birds although through their Artic wintering range Lemmings and Voles make up a large percentage of their diet.  The breeding season occurs in May and clutch size depends on prey particularly Lemming abundance. Typically however they range from 5- 8 eggs however in years of high prey population, up to 14 can be laid at 2 day intervals, however if years when prey is scarce, some Snowy Owls may not nest at all.

                                   Five facts about Snowy Owls.

1) During hot weather Snowy Owls can thermo regulate by panting and spreading their wings.

2) As a result of Snowy Owls not hunting near their nests, birds such as Snow Geese take advantage of this by nesting near them and benefiting from the Owls chasing away predators such as Foxes.

3) Snowy Owls will defend their nests fiercely and may attack potential threats up to 1 kilometre away.

4) A nesting Owl requires 2 Lemmings a day and a family of Snowy Owls may consume as many as 1, 500 Lemmings before the young Owls fledge the nest.

5) The Snowy Owl has many alternative names including the Artic Owl, Great White Owl and Ghost Owl.

All information for this section was sourced from The Owl Pages.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) - Picture 2 in Bubo: scandiacus - Location: Quebec, Canada.

                    Endangered Species : African Wild Dog Lycaon pictus

I remember the first time I saw an African Wild Dog, it's a memory that I will never forget and unless we are careful memories of its beauty and charismatic behaviour are all that will be left of this magnificent species.

The African Wild Dog is classed as endangered by the IUCN and is second only to the Ethiopian Wolf as Africa’s rarest large carnivore. Weighing between 17 and 36 kg, the African Wild Dog preys on predominantly medium sized Antelope such as Impala and Thompson's Gazelle, however prey size can range from anything as small as a Cane Rat to much larger Antelope such as Eland and Kudu. Being an intelligent and cooperative pack hunter, means that success rate percentages for packs have been recorded at 70 %. The species is also special because of its social structure which differs sharply in contrast to other species which live in social groups. Rather than the males integrating into a pack and the females staying together from pups, the opposite applies with the males staying together from birth. As well as this not only are the males all related to each other, the females which join the pack are also all related to each other, leading to two separate hierarchies one for each sex.  Only the highest ranking male and female will breed in the pack. Sexual maturity is reached at between 12 and 18 months, with a gestation period lasting between 60-80 days after which up to 19 pups born.

 As a result of their diminished range, African Wild Dogs are now found mainly in short grass plains, bushy savannah, semi desert, upland forest and open woodland. African Wild Dogs have now almost completely disappeared in West Africa and their numbers have been severely depleted in Central and North East Africa, even in areas where Wild Dogs are considered common, the chances are still slim of actually seeing them. 

 So what are the reasons why this beautiful animal is so endangered? The African Wild Dog is at risk of infectious diseases such as Canine Distemper and Rabies which as a result of human encroachment into their habitat continues, increases their chances of catching the diseases through domestic dogs. These can prove to be devastating to the already fragile populations of this species due to the social nature of the African Wild Dog. If one comes into contact with the disease it is highly to pass it on to other members of its pack, and it is not for all members of a pack to be completely wiped out by one of these diseases. Of course as well the disease risk, human encroachment has been severely reducing the suitable habitat of the species and with more and more roads being built through their habitat, their vulnerability to vehicles becomes much greater. Human persecution is another reason why this species population has been in such decline. Maligned incorrectly for being a serial killer of livestock, means that the African Wild Dog has been shot and poisoned relentlessly increasing severely the decline of this special animal. 

What is being done to protect this most iconic animal? Efforts are being made to change the local people’s perception of these predators and ways that both can peacefully co-exist are being explored.  Including encouraging land use planning to maintain and expand the Wild Dog populations. The AWF (African Wildlife Foundation) are conducting vital scientific research in Northern Kenya to help the species and encourage the public to donate if they can towards their research. Other organisations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society are also doing similar fine work in trying to raise awareness of the species as well as trying to minimise the risk of predator and livestock conflict. Eco tourism programmes which create an incentive for local communities to get on board are also making good progress.

The future for the species is in the balance, and we can play a large part in deciding their future, our generation has been lucky enough to have the opportunity to see these animals whether it be in the wild, zoos or on television I just hope that future generations will have the same opportunity’s to appreciate these quite magnificent animals.


 Image taken by Author.

All information for this section was taken from the IUCN, Animal Info, the African Wildlife Foundation and the World Conservation Society.

For the full story on my African Wild Dog encounter, click on the label underneath the post saying “Wild Dogs".

                                Light hearted amusement.

This series always made me laugh! I hope you enjoy it.

That’s it  for this week, I hope you liked it,


Friday, 23 November 2012

Little by name, little by nature and the struggle of the Black Rhino.

Hello everyone and welcome to my latest blog. The weather really is closing in as we go deeper into the depths of winter! I am sitting writing this looking out the window at the large and numerous puddles and battered looking trees which serve as a reminder at the far from pleasant weather we have just been treated to, I hope you were not caught up in it. This week takes a look at Britain's smallest Owl appropriately named the Little Owl. My endangered species section looks at the problems facing the Black Rhino and a couple of other little nuggets of amusement and entertainment are included as well, as always I hope you enjoy it.


                                                          Little Owl Anthene noctura.

The Little Owl was first introduced to Britain in the nineteenth century, and is the smallest member of the Owl family to live in Britain. It is not unusual to see them in day light on top of telegraph poles and tree branches as they hunt during the day and night but can most be seen at dawn and in the night. The Little Owl can be most commonly found in the central, southern eastern regions of England as well as along the Welsh borders.

                                                          Five facts about Little Owls.

1)  Little Owls will often return to the same nest site year after year, one was even recorded using the same site for twenty five consecutive years.

2) Clutch size can be as many as six eggs at one given time which are laid in nests within hollow cavities.

3 Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the Little Owls diet is carnivorous of which small rodents and insects make up a substantial amount. What is more surprising however is they have been recorded to also feed on plant material and berries.

4) When the Little Owl is agitated it bobs and moves from side to side. Its flight pattern is made up of a series of fast wing beats and looping glides.

5) It is estimated there are between 5,800 and 11, 600 pairs of Little Owls in Britain however the population is declining.

All information has been sourced from the Hawk and Owl Trust, BBC Nature and the RSPB.

Endangered Species: The struggle of the Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis.

I remember my first encounter with a Black Rhino in the wild; it was short, sharp and magnificent. I had flown from England to be part of a conservation team in South Africa and we had been given a few days to acclimatise and learn about our surroundings before the conservation work started. It was on a game drive when out of nowhere a clearly startled power house of an animal burst from the bushes not far in front of us. The speed in which it covered the ground to find its way into deeper bushveld meant I believe I am correct in thinking no one from our group had time to take a clear photograph. Sometimes perhaps the best moments in wildlife can be better appreciated without looking through a lense. We were lucky to catch another glimpse of the amazing animal before we left and we were all in no doubt how fortunate we had been to see such a rare and special sighting. So this is why this week I look further into the plight of the Black Rhino and see what the future may hold for this magnificent animal.

The Black Rhino or as it can otherwise sometimes be known as the Hook -Lipped Rhinoceros, is currently ranked by the IUCN as Critically Endangered.  Persecuted for its magnificent horns by poachers for Chinese medicine and to be made into weapons known as Yemen, as well as the constant threat of habitat destruction means that no more than five thousand Black Rhinos now remain in the wild. The fact the population has recovered at all from is a small miracle having crashed to a total of just 2,400 individuals at its lowest point, any increase in number is vital for contributing towards the survival of the species. 

Conservation efforts have helped to increase the population of the species and increase awareness of the desperate plight the Black Rhino faces. Organisations such as WWF have been particularly effective making the date 22nd of September “World Rhino Day" a great way of raising awareness. On top of this the concerted conservation from WWF, has resulted in numerous changes benefiting the species including ; expanding and improving the management of their protected areas as well as creating new ones, improving the security  monitoring of Black Rhinos as well as improving the enforcement of laws both locally and internationally to stop the trade in Rhino horns and other illegal wildlife items finally through effective tourism which provides vital funds for conservation work to continue.

Through the work of WWF and other organisations like it, the future of the Black Rhino does not look as desperate as it once did, however the work going on now must continue for many years to come if we want to avoid an already vulnerable population becoming an even smaller one or worse.

                                                     Five Facts about the Black Rhino.

1) The alternative name for the Black Rhino the Hook-Lipped Rhinoceros, was given to it unsurprisingly because of its hooked upper lip which is perfect for grasping small branches.

2) The gestation period of a Black Rhino is just over 15 months.

3) Black Rhinos are smaller than the White Rhino with males weighing up to 1,350 kg and females 900 kg, and at their maximum height can stand up to 1.6 metres tall at the shoulder.

4 Black Rhinos can run at 55km per hour, that’s  15 km faster than an Olympic 100 metre sprinter!

5) 90% of the diet of the Black Rhino is made up of fewer than 20 species of vegetation despite consuming up to 100 different species in a year’s worth of foraging.

All facts in this section were sourced from: WWF and   Save the Rhino.

                                                    A little bit of amusement.

Recently having a browse on YouTube I came across this, a very disobedient Secretary Bird! I found it quite funny and I hope you do to.

That is it from myself for this week, I hope you enjoyed the blog, have a good weekend,

Friday, 16 November 2012

A sound of the night and a reptile on the brink.

Hello everyone and welcome to my latest blog. I hope you have had a good week and with the weekend approaching you are looking forward to a well-earned rest! This week I talk about a sound I have heard often but the bird responsible for it has always eluded me and the case of a very rare reptile which faces a uncertain future. As always I hope you enjoy and feel free to give feedback on what you enjoy and what you would like to see improved.

                                                                A sound of the night.

It's late, and the daylight has long been replaced with the black of night, diurnal birds  have sought the sanctuary of a safe roosts well covered by dense vegetation hoping this will be enough to ensure their survival for another night. Suddenly an unmistakable sound which has many times woken me from my sleep pierces the darkness a sharp "kewick" is just one of many variations of vocalisation from the bird in question. That bird is the Tawny Owl, and it's calling in the woodland not far from our house again and it sounds like there is more than one. The more familiar owl noise now accompany it and it really is enjoyable to be able to listen to the secretive private life of the owl as it goes about its nocturnal business, terrorising unfortunate rodents which chose the wrong moment to break cover exposing themselves to the owls lethal talons.

I would love to be able to tell you how gracefully they fly in the wild, but I can't. As often as I have been woken up and kept awake by this nocturnal choir I have not once been privileged enough to catch a glimpse of this mysterious bird of prey.  When I look at the woodland the next morning I imagine where they might be and my main feeling is not disappointment at not yet seeing one, I do feel very grateful however to of been allowed an small insight into their world as natures schedules to not allow for outsiders, so maybe one day if I'm lucky I may just be in the right place at the right time.

                                            Five facts about Tawny Owls Strix aluco.

1)  Female Tawny Owls are 20 -40 % heavier than males and have a wingspan ranging from 5-10 % percent longer.

2) The Tawny Owl is the most common and widespread Owl in Europe (and still I have not seen one).

3) The Tawny Owl feeds on a large amount of rodents, but will also take small birds, frogs, insects and worms.

4) There are an estimated 19, 400 breeding pairs of Tawny Owls in the UK.

5)  An adult Tawny Owl has at least 10 different vocalisations and young individuals 5 different vocalisations.

                            Facts courtesy of the World Owl Trust and RSPB.

                       Endangered Species : Orinoco Crocodile Crocodylus intermedius.

Powerful, prehistoric, intelligent and critically endangered are all words which describe the Orinoco Crocodile, and when crocodiles all over the world face various struggles to survive the knowledge that this species is ranked as one of the most endangered of all the crocodilian family is a stark indicator of the battle the species faces for survival.

Orinoco Crocodiles are found in Colombia and Venezuela inhabiting freshwater riverines in particular as the name suggests the Orinoco River. During the dry season as the water levels drop to very low levels, an example of the crocodiles ability to adapt and survive which has helped them to outlive the dinosaurs is demonstrated. By retreating into tunnels excavated in the river banks, they are able to find the small remaining areas of water enough to help them survive these tough times. Orinco Crocodiles diet varies in relation to size, for example juveniles feed mainly on small fish and invertebrates while adults take much larger prey including land mammals such as capybara as well as birds and larger fish.  During January and February which always coincides with the dry season,  holes are excavated for egg laying where anywhere between 15 and 70 eggs are laid. Such a large number of eggs may be at least partly because of the threat of Tegu Lizards and Vultures. The hatching of the eggs is timed perfectly with the arrival of the wet season and the inevitable rise of water levels.

So what threats face the Orinoco Crocodile? Yet again the recurring theme of human destruction is the main reason a species is in such trouble and this is the case for the Orinoco Crocodile. It's problems really started in the period of 1930-1960 where due to horrendous persecution for their skin which happened particularly in the driest parts of the year at their most vulnerable time due to the ease at finding them in their burrows. Their population has never really recovered from this and the threats which existed them still exist now adding to the already large number of problems facing the species. These include: illegal killing for meat, eggs being stolen, juveniles captured and sold on markets, teeth sold for medicine and of course habitat destruction which has reduced its range to a tiny proportion of what it formerly was. Competition for food and habitat with Caimans are now also causing more problems.

What is being done to help the species?  Currently preservation of suitable habitat is being undertaken in Venezuela, with reintroduction plans underway with further monitoring required. If the same could be done in Columbia to go alongside their experimental release programme these would be huge steps in the right direction. Stricter protection on the species itself against hunting needs to be undertaken however as with a population as restricted as the Orinoco Crocodiles is, every individual lost is a huge blow.

If we do not want to lose a species which belongs to a family of animals which have outlived the dinosaurs then dramatic, determined and prolonged measures need to be taken. If not then once again a species could be consigned to the history books, leaving us with the thoughts that we could have and should have done more to help.

Facts in this article were sourced from the Crocodilian Species List.           

That is all from myself for another week, I really hope you enjoyed it and have a good weekend!


Friday, 9 November 2012

Birds of Prey.

Hello everyone and welcome to my latest blog. I hope you are looking forward to a hopefully relaxing weekend. This focus of this week’s blog is on birds of prey. Starting with an introduction to a section which as the month progresses will go into more detail on Owls. Followed a little on the harsh reality of nature and finished off with the usual endangered section of the blog this time drawing attention to the Philippine Eagle.



I remember when I saw a Barn Owl in the wild for the first time. Its ghostly wide underbelly even more striking against the dark night sky as it flew effortlessly and silently over the field close to our car searching for rodents unaware of the approaching danger. It was an experience that has always stayed with me and still remains one of my all time wildlife spotting highlights. Over the course of this month I highlight an owl species native and in some cases unnative which inhabit Britain. As you will probably have assumed this week Barn Owls take centre stage, here are some facts you may or may not know about them.

1) The Barn Owl is also known by its other names of White Owl and the Screech Owl.

2) Barn Owls do not hoot they screech which is the reason they have been sometime referred to as the Screech Owl.

3) The diet of the Barn Owl consists of predominately rodents however they will also take young rabbits, moles, birds and frogs.

4) Other noises Barn Owls are capable of making include hissing, snapping and snoring.

5) Barn Owls in North Europe tend to be darker in colour than those in Britain.

Facts sourced from BBC Nature.

                                                     A harsh reminder of nature.

Looking through stories  about our birds of prey here in Britain I came across this from summer just passed,  reminder that nature can seem harsh.

Although the loss of a young individual of a species struggling to establish a large breeding population in Britain, is always sad this is the sort of occurrence that happens in nature on a regular basis. Anyone feeling anger towards the Buzzard over it’s act of predation, it's important to remember the Buzzard isn't doing it for fun, it's doing it to survive. This leads me to my main grumble about the article, although the pictures are fascinating, the phrase “the shocking moment” irritates me. It's not shocking it's a completely natural act of nature and a reminder that in the wild there are no rules or guidelines for animals to follow, and the sooner people accept that the better.

                                              Endangered Species : Philippine Eagle.

The Philippine Eagle is ranked by the IUCN as critically endangered. This is unsurprising as it has an incredibly small population as a result of a severe decline over the past three generations. Again unsurprisingly, one of the main reasons behind this decline are man made problems in this case severe deforestation. Is anyone noticing than man made problems seem to feature heavily in this section of the blog?

The Philippine Eagle is a huge bird, in fact the largest living Eagle in terms of length in the world. On top of this it has a wingspan of two meters and have a greater surface area than any other Eagle.

As the name suggests, the Philippine Eagle is endemic to the Philippine Islands with the largest part of the population of the species is thought to be in Mindanao where an estimated 82 -233 breeding pairs live. It is thought there is a maximum of 750 individuals left in the wild.

The Philippine Eagle has a habitat of choice is typically primary dipterocarp forest this is especially the case in terrain where the incline is steep. They can also less frequently be seen in secondary growth and gallery forest.

The  diet of this species is varied proving previous theories that it fed exclusively on monkeys incorrect. Such was the assumption it was even given the additional name of Monkey- eating Eagle. More recent research however has proven that prey preference differs from island to island for example the Eagles of Mindanao are Philippine Flying Lemurs, however on other islands where the species are less abundant other prey species including small mammals, reptiles and birds, such as snakes, monitor lizards, hornbills ,and owls. There have even been reports of dogs and young pigs being taken. The eagle does of course hunt monkeys as well and it has been documented to hunt cooperatively in pairs when attacking a troop.

The threats to the Philippine Eagle are unfortunately large, very prominent and once again largely thanks to the interference of man. As a result of one pair of breeding Eagles needing a range of twenty five to fifty square miles to successfully raise a chick, they are hugely at risk of deforestation. Of which there is plenty.

The forest they depend on is lost at an alarming rate, exposure to pesticides affect breeding success rates mining and of course the main example of how mans greed continues to destroy the natural world possibly forever poaching is a massive threat. The birds are also occasionally accidently caught in traps by local people intending to catch deer.

The future is not bright for this magnificent bird but efforts are being made to change this the Philippine Eagle Foundation see link below, are currently doing fantastic work trying to save a species  which desperately needs our help through successful captive breeding, and finding ways such as adoption to fund more research into saving the Philippine Eagle.  Protected lands such as the Cabuaya Forest have recently been established although sadly the large majority of the population still live on unprotected land. Killing a Philippine Eagle is now punishable by up to twelve years imprisonment under Philippine law a large deterrent which will hopefully prove successful.

That’s it for this week I hope you have a good weekend and I will check in again this time next week !


Sunday, 4 November 2012

The fight for survival of the Dhole and my book recomendations.

Hello and welcome everyone to my latest blog. I hope you have all had a good weekend and are suitably refreshed and ready for the start of a new week. This week I recommend some reading material which you may enjoy as well as highlighting the case of the Dhole the focus of my endangered species section. So as always I hope you enjoy reading it!
                                                      Book recommendations.
After recently re reading Peter Allison's How To Walk a Puma: And Other Things I Learned While Stumbling Through South America I felt suitably inspired. A fascinating and entertaining book on his adventures travelling through South America for 18 months, needless to say his experiences walking a half wild Puma are very entertaining! There is plenty more to the book than this however and I thoroughly recommend reading it for yourself.
Equally Brilliant are his other books Don't run, Whatever You Do: My Adventures as a Safari Guide and Don't Look Behind You: True Tales of a Safari Guide. These are based on his time working out in Africa as a guide and are equally worth a read.

Also well worth a read are the books from the sadly recently passed Lawrence Anthony. His work in conservation in his homeland of South Africa his brave and instrumental work in rescuing Baghdad zoo and again showing unbelievable bravery to face rebel leaders in the Congo to fight against the illegal trade of Rhino horns.

The titles for these books are as follows: The Last Rhinos: The Powerful Story of One Man's Battle to Save a Species.

The Elephant Whisperer: Learning About Life, Loyalty and Freedom From a Remarkable Herd of Elephants.
Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo.

                                            The fight for survival of the Dhole.

The Dhole may not be as well known and receive less publicity than other members of the canine family such as the African Hunting Dog but this does not mean the threat of extinction for this species is any less real, classified by the IUCN as endangered the species is in serious trouble. Living in the forest and mountainous areas habitats with its highest densities in population thought to be in central and southern India. The Dhole roughly the size of a Border Collie, hunts in packs of up to forty and is an efficient predator, taking prey up to the size of a Banteng a large bovid and have the courage to take on prey which could inflict serious injury such as Wild Boar. Reaching sexual maturity at a year old, litter size can be up to twelve pups with the breeding season lasting from November to April the gestation period lasting roughly sixty three days.

So what are the reasons this charismatic species is in such trouble? As you may already of guessed man has and continues to inflict serious trouble on an already declining species. Habitat destruction has been enormous and the range of the Dholes distribution has been reduced to just a tiny fraction of what it once was. Pressure for more land to develop agriculture as well as persistent logging, dam construction and the demand for firewood have all contributed towards the current predicament facing the Dhole. On top of this the large amount of poaching of prey species in the few remaining suitable areas of Dhole habitat continue to increase an already dire situation.
Human persecution is another reason why the populations are now so critically small. For a long time seen as vermin they were trapped, shot and poisoned and up until as recently as 1972 in India people were rewarded with money for every individual killed. This quote from a Pythian-Adams in 1949 who unbelievably called himself a naturalist shows an example of then attitudes towards the species "Except for his handsome appearance, the wild dog has not a single redeeming feature, and no effort, fair or foul, should be spared to destroy these pests of the jungle". Even today attitudes have not improved to dramatically as a result of continually encroaching agriculture of Dhole habitat, livestock is occasionally taken and inevitably this leads to a retaliation resulting poorly for the Dhole.
What is being done to help the species? In 1972 the Dhole was declared a protected species and there are now surveys people who have recently seen Dholes are asked to fill in answering questions on vital information with the aim of the results leading to a thorough conservation effort to protect the species.
These are steps in the right direction but serious help to the species needs to be given if we do not want to one day lose them forever.
You can read more about Dholes by following the link

Well, that's all from me for this week I hope you enjoyed it and have a good week!