animals

How collaboration is saving rhinos

Early last week I attended one of the most inspiring events that I’ve ever been to. It was the launch of Remembering Rhinos, a collaboration in book form of some of the world’s best wildlife photographers with the collective goal of raising much needed funds for rhino conservation. Not only is the book a stunning collection of breath-taking photos highlighting the five species of rhino in Africa and Asia, but it has so far to date raised £115,000 of which 100% is going directly into helping these prehistoric creatures in the areas where protection is needed the most.

The book

The book itself is the second in the series following last year’s Remembering Elephants. This ran on the same principle and has since raised £135,000 which has gone directly into elephant conservation in Kenya, Mali, Malawi, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

After seeing a poached elephant first hand, founder Margot Raggett decided to spring into action and really do something to help; not wanting to be someone who sees the destruction in the world and simply despairs about what to do before going back to her everyday life. After speaking out to photographer friends and getting in touch with some of the current leaders in the industry, she quickly found that everyone was willing to help when it came to an initiative to protect these creatures that are so terribly running out of time. All of the photos in the book were donated by the photographers, and the initial funding of the book printing was raised by a Kickstarter campaign back in February, meaning that 100% of the money spent on purchasing a copy of Remembering Rhinos goes straight into conserving them on the ground.

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Why do we need to protect rhinos?

Rhinos are in dire need of our help. We hear about their declining numbers but do we really know the full extent of the problem? There are currently five species of rhino left in the world, two in Africa and three in Asia, of which one of the species, the Javan rhino, have less than 60 individuals remaining.

The preposterous reason behind the slaughter of so many of these huge mammals is for their characteristic horn. Rhino horn is made out of keratin, which is the same substance that makes up our own human hair and nails. Yet there is a huge market for it in Asia, both for medicinal use, of which it has none, and for use as a status symbol.

There have been countless claims from these markets where there is demand that rhino horn can be used as a cure for everything from a hangover to cancer. Together with this, the rhino horn market has recently had a huge shift with the demand being more for use as a status symbol. Yes, people would gain a product that a precious animal has lost its life for to be used to brag to friends, in the form of carved bracelets and jewellery pieces, as well as ground down as an alternative to cocaine.

Poaching

Poaching has now got so bad that for one species, the northern white rhino, there are only three individuals left in the entire world, two females and a male, all of which are incapable of reproducing. Anti-poaching patrols work tirelessly to protect these animals, but it is simply not enough. There is not enough funding to sustain it, and purchase the technology needed to aid these heroes in protecting these wonderful animals. But that is where Remembering Rhinos is doing a terrific job.

Rhino horn trade

During the event, I was honoured to be in the presence of great conservationists who risk their lives to protect these precious creatures. But unfortunately, that also means learning about the horrendous rhino horn trade. I was absolutely astonished to learn about the prices that people in Asia would pay for something that is exactly the same as the nails on their own hands; $80,000/kg for a rhino horn bracelet, $50,000/kg for a slice of rhino horn, and $120,000/kg for a rhino horn wedding ring, to name just a few of the many preposterous items.

To legalise or not

There is currently debate occurring about whether to legalise the sale of rhino horn or not. The thinking behind this is that rhino horn, unlike ivory from elephant tusks, grows back. Rhino horn is not connected to a rhino’s skull, and if done properly, it does not cause much harm to the rhino to “trim” the horn just as we would do our nails and hair. So why not just legalise the sale of rhino horn to eliminate the illegal market and stop the killing of rhinos?

This is the argument of some people, but unfortunately it is highly flawed. In a perfect, imaginary world perhaps harvesting rhino horn would work, but sadly, not in our world. If rhino horn was sold legally for, $50,000/kg, poachers would sell it for $40,000. If rhino horn decreased to $40,000, the poachers would sell it for $25,000. At those prices, there is still an enormous profit to be made. We must also remember that the poachers on the ground are not the problem, and would do a lot of things to earn some money to feed their families; it is the heads of the poaching syndicates that are the cause of this market and the killing of the rhinos.

Together with this, well calculated figures have shown that “rhino farmers” who harvest rhino horn do not have nearly enough to sustain the market, meaning that poaching would still continue to fill the current demand. Added to this the fact that the same idea was thought about legalising the ivory market a while back, thinking that this will eliminate the killing of elephants as demand for ivory was met with stockpiles. They were incredibly wrong which had a disastrous effect on elephant populations.

I’ll never forget the time that I was working in South Africa with an anti-poaching unit and they told me that even if a rhino has had its horn safely removed by its owner, this will not deter the poachers and they will kill the animal anyway. It takes a lot of effort to poach a rhino, sometimes trekking for many days, cutting fences and risking their lives unseen, whilst tracking a rhino day and night. If the poachers then finally get to the animal to find that all they have is a small stump of a horn, they will kill it regardless and hack out that stump, knowing that that small part will still earn them more money than they would ordinarily make in years.

How can you help?

It’s simple. Spread awareness. Share articles, images and videos that highlight the plight of our rhinos, how crucial it is to protect them and how important it is to educate people about the non-existent medicinal uses of rhino horn.

Chew your nails. Save a rhino.

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Meet the cat rescue charity with big plans in Surrey

Founded in 2014 by a small number of devoted cat lovers, Here For Cats is a Surrey-based cat rescue and re-homing initiative. Earlier this year the group of volunteers achieved the landmark goal of becoming a registered charity, and are now setting their sights on bigger things.

The charity seeks to help cats in need in the Surrey area by providing shelter, warmth, food, veterinary care and love, and then finding suitable new homes. This is currently achieved using custom-built pens in volunteer back gardens, as well as relying upon foster-homes to help care for the cats. The big plan, however, is to open a purpose-built cat rescue centre in the near future.

Naturally the main focus of the new centre will be the rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of cats; but it will also act as an educational hub from which the charity can promote responsible pet ownership. Building on this premise, the charity also intend for the facility to provide a resource to be used by, and to benefit, the entire community; with educational facilities and space for a range of activities. In a bid to promote mutual well-being, understanding and respect between people and animals, Here For Cats plan to run activities with guests to the centre including a Book Buddies scheme, courses in animal first aid and communication, as well as talks and clinics by animal behaviourists.

As far as the rescue-centre itself goes, Here For Cats plan to create a space that meets the needs of every animal they take in. This will include rescue pens, feral chalets and safe havens, a nursery for mums and kittens, a hospital and isolation facility, a retirement village, enclosures, boarding facilities and much more. In addition, there are plans to include public facilities such as a charity shop, cafe and gardens.

These are certainly ambitious plans, and the team at Here For Cats know this only too well. However, these are plans that the people of Surrey are bound to get behind. The charity is run entirely by volunteers who self-fund much of what they do. With no support from government or council funding, the charity does rely upon the kindness and generosity of the public. Every penny currently donated goes directly to the animals but more help is needed if the Here For Cats big plan is to go ahead.

Here For Cats are now actively fundraising to secure an area of land on which to build their rescue centre. All donations are welcome, whether big or small. If you want to help Here For Cats realise this goal then please click here to donate. Alternatively you may wish to become a sponsor.

If you are unable to donate, then there are still a number of other ways you can help, whether it’s volunteering your time to help with fundraising, transporting cats or even providing a foster home. For more details, please click here to visit the Here For Cats website.


Here For Cats Surrey cat rescue charity


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Why we should all love vultures

When most people think of vultures, they envisage giant, feathered, dirty scavengers, the characters from the Lion King hanging around on the branch without really contributing much, and big scary birds to be afraid of. But vultures are in fact hugely important to a healthy ecosystem, and keep everything in balance in the natural world. Today is International Vulture Awareness Day, which is a day to understand and share the plight of these ancient creatures that frankly, the world would be a very different place without.

What actually are vultures?

Vultures are birds of prey that can actually be split up into a total of 23 different species, and each have their own unique role to play within an ecosystem, which they are specially adapted for. In fact, at least one type of vulture can be found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Primarily, they can be split into two types, the New World vultures, which include the Andean condors and are found in the Americas and Caribbean, and the Old World vultures, which are those that can be seen around carcasses in Africa. For this article, we are going to focus mainly on the Old World vultures.

Known as ‘nature’s garbage collectors’, these birds are classed as scavengers because they often eat the leftover parts of carcasses that have been discarded after the initial predators have eaten the main parts of meat, or the parts that other animals are unable to digest.

Why do they get a bad name?

Due to their scavenging nature, vultures have been given a bad name, both when seen by tourists in the wild, by the media and in fiction films. People have the perception of scavengers scrounging from others who have made huge efforts to get their kill, instead of finding their own food. But the truth is, vultures often indulge in the parts of the carcass that would otherwise be left to rot, meaning that diseases would be spread, and frankly, the wild would be a very messy place. According to the IVAD website, studies have shown that in areas that contain no vultures, carcasses can take up to four times longer to decompose, which means a much higher spread of diseases in wild and domestic animals, which can be further spread to humans.

Another reason why they get a bad name is because it has been commonly said that vultures circle above a dying animal, waiting to feed. This is a myth. Whilst it is true that vultures can be seen circling in the sky, what they are actually doing is catching thermals which helps them to stay in the air whilst they look for food using their incredible sense of sight or smell.

Why are they so important?

Although vultures prefer to eat fresh meat, they are still able to consume rotting carcasses due to their strong stomach acid which kills any bacteria from the carcass that would be toxic to other animals. In this way, they are crucial to an ecosystem because they prevent the spread of diseases to many other animals.

When you look at vultures, you will also notice that despite their huge feathers, their head and neck is completely clear of any feathers at all. This is a special adaptation which means that any bacteria or parasites from the rotting carcass cannot latch on to the vultures, which therefore stops any infections.

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How are they under threat?

Perhaps lesser known than the plight of rhinos, tigers and elephants, vultures are also severely under threat for many different reasons. Out of the 23 species of vulture, 14 of those are currently considered to be either threatened or endangered.

One of the factors that aid hugely in their decline is the act of poacher poisoning. This is done in a few different ways depending on the desired outcome. One way is not targeted directly to vultures at all, but can result in a huge number of bird deaths. This involves poachers poisoning an elephant with a dart, for example, which will eventually kill it. Not only is this devastating due to the loss of an elephant, but it also means the death of any other animal that feeds on that carcass, which is now poisoned throughout. Just one elephant that has been killed by dart poisoning could then unintentionally cause the death of a large number of lions, hyenas, leopards and vultures. Furthermore, as many species of vultures work on a single carcass together, this one elephant poisoning could cause the death of hundreds of vultures.

Another way that vultures are poisoned is one that is specifically targeted at killing them. Due to the huge illegal wildlife trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory, there are many carcasses for the vultures to feed on. However, as the vultures are seen locating the carcass in the sky before swooping down to have their meal, these sights of huge numbers of vultures above a carcass are a key signal for the authorities to find the carcass quickly, and be on the tracks of the poachers. As poachers do not want an increased chance of being caught, they purposely poison the carcasses, causing vulture populations to severely decline.

A further factor that causes the decline of vulture populations is ancient traditions in certain cultures that use various parts of a vulture for medicines, of which 29% of vulture deaths are attributed to. In some cases, individuals will use the eyes of a vulture, as they believe that this helps them see into the future due to the impeccable eyesight of the birds, whilst in other cases they will smoke the vulture brains, as they believe this will bring them good luck.

What can you do?

As always, the best thing that you can do is spread awareness on the issues surrounding the drastic declines in vulture populations around the world. The majority of people will not know about their decline, or about why it is so important for us to protect them. The main reason why the drastic decline of vultures is so devastating is because the loss of vultures will also lead to the loss of many other species.

In addition, you can support and donate to organisations that work to protect vultures in the wild, including monitoring their numbers and reducing their threats. These include VulPro, 4Vultures, Tusk, and BirdLife.

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From town to countryside, British hedgehogs need our help

Hedgehogs are a much loved species. Their distinctive and unique appearance makes them a favourite of many wildlife lovers across the country. Considered by many to be the British national animal, hedgehog numbers have declined rapidly in recent years. In the mid 1950’s it is believed that 36.5 million hedgehogs lived in Britain. The number today sits at just under a million. Most startling of all is that a third of this loss has occurred in the last ten years.

The biggest threat to hedgehogs is habitat loss, mostly brought on by the change from pastoral farming to arable crops over the last 30 years. Most arable farmland is unsuitable for hedgehogs, with limited availability of foraging or nesting sites. In addition, the increase in building developments in rural areas has led to a further reduction of habitat. These factors combined not only make it harder for hedgehogs to survive the long winters, but also force them to share limited space and resources with predatory badgers.

The harsh chemicals increasingly used in farming are also a threat as they kill the animals hedgehogs rely on for food, and in many instances can poison the hedgehogs themselves. An analysis by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species in 2015 showed that rural hedgehog populations had dropped by at least a half since 2000. Increased road traffic has also had a huge impact on hedgehog numbers, with an estimated 50,000 killed on our roads each year.

In urban areas there are many issues too. The “State of Britain’s Hedgehogs” survey found that urban hedgehog numbers dropped by a third from 2000 to 2015. An annual survey by BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine found that 51% of people did not see a hedgehog at all in 2016, up from 48% in 2015. Just 12% saw a hedgehog regularly. These numbers make for depressing reading when you consider that hedgehogs were once considered a common sight in British gardens.

The main threats to urban hedgehogs, other than roads, are mostly found within our own gardens. Chemicals found in pesticides and slug pellets can be fatal to hedgehogs, as well as other wildlife, and should be replaced by natural, humane alternatives. Wild gardens and messy areas can be havens for hedgehogs, but it is vital that gardeners check compost heaps before turning them over, and piles of logs, leaves and other similar materials before burning them. The same consideration should be given to strimming tall grass as hedgehogs often rest there during the day. If you have a pond in your garden then this could be a hazard too and will need to be made hedgehog friendly. This can be achieved by making it easy for a hedgehog to climb out of the water using stones, a climbing net or even a makeshift hedgehog ladder!

Another important and effective way of helping hedgehogs in built up areas is to create a “Hedgehog Highway“; a series of holes in garden fences to create easy access for hedgehogs across neighbouring properties. According to online campaigners Hedgehog Street, “we now know that one of the main reasons why hedgehogs are declining in Britain is because our fences and walls are becoming more and more secure, reducing the amount of land available to them…ensuring hedgehogs can pass freely through your garden is the most important thing you can do to help them“. Because hedgehogs are nocturnal and travel up to a mile each night looking for food, it’s important that you make it easy for them to make their nightly commutes. Even if you don’t have a hedgehog in your garden, working with your neighbours to create a clear access across several gardens is really important.

As well as making your garden generally safer for hedgehogs, you may wish to make it an inviting haven for them to stay in. Turning all or part of your garden into a suitable habitat for hedgehogs is easy, and is a great way to do your part for the survival of the species. Neat and tidy gardens do not make good hedgehog homes, so consider letting an area of your garden grow wild, or creating a log pile or overgrown area for them. You can also supplement their existing diet by leaving out a small amount of good quality dog or cat food for them each evening. This not only makes your garden a more inviting place to stay, but helps the hedgehog get the much needed calories it needs in order to hibernate. Make sure not to give them fish-based foods, bread or milk though, as these are not good for hedgehogs and can cause sickness. It’s also important to leave some drinking water for them too, especially during spells of hot weather.

If you are lucky enough to see a hedgehog in your garden then you shouldn’t pick it up unless you suspect it being sick or injured. Any hedgehog out in the open during the day is likely to be in poor health or injured, and should be taken to your nearest wildlife rescue centre. If a hedgehog looks particularly thin, especially in the months leading up to winter, then it may need to be treated by a professional. In any situation it is generally best to contact a wildlife rescue centre before handling the animal, in order to get professional advice.

If you don’t have a garden, or are unable to create a hedgehog haven, there are still several ways you can help. By supporting groups such as The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and Hedgehog Street you can help others make a difference. Hedgehogs are a much beloved species in Britain, and one that we can all do our bit to protect. By working together to educate, spread awareness and increase direct action we can do exactly that.

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Animal rights activists stage protest outside local abattoir

Animal rights activists gathered outside Newman’s Abbatoir in Farnborough this morning to hold a protest aimed at raising awareness of the plight of animals processed in this and other facilities nationwide.

The protest, organised by Farnborough Animal Vigils, saw activists from all over the country come together with a shared objective, and although police were in attendance the protest remained peaceful at all times.

As well as holding up placards conveying vegan messages, the group also intercepted the livestock transport vehicles arriving at the Sherborne Road facility and did what they could to comfort the animals before they were taken onto the property.

Over the course of the morning vehicles of various sizes brought pigs, cows, sheep and goats to the slaughterhouse; some from small holdings and others from larger commercial operations. At times when there were too many vehicles trying to enter the property, they were forced to wait in the small residential road where the slaughterhouse is located. This afforded the group time to view the animals inside the trucks and to speak with the farmers, some of whom were not even aware of the slaughter methods about to be used on their animals.

Whilst some farmers insisted that they do care about their livestock, others were remarkably indifferent, with one even laughing at a protester for pointing out that a cow under his care was in a poor physical condition.

Throughout the day a number of passing drivers showed their support for the protest. One passerby pulled over to ask for contact details so that she could join the movement in the future, having been inspired by what she had seen. This came as no surprise, since support for animal rights movements is growing at an exponential rate, and more people across the country are not only transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, but are adopting an active role at events such as these.

A protester holds a placard asking the drivers to stop for a few minutes.

This is no doubt positive news for the organisers of Farnborough Animal Vigils who explain on their Facebook page that their goal is to “inspire more people to be compassionate, go vegan and become more active in making the world a better place for animals.

A young pig looks out at the protesters.

Farnborough Animal Vigils are not alone in promoting their cause, as similar events are being organised across the country every week by a number of different groups. These vigils serve to show a part of the process that is usually hidden from the public and to expose the suffering caused to the animals involved. Even the smallest groups are gaining attention, and its becoming increasingly more difficult for the public to ignore the most inconvenient of truths: where their food is coming from, and the brutality involved in its production.

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Open Farm Sunday: How much do we really want to show our kids?

For the 12th year running, farms across Surrey and Hampshire will open their gates to the public in June as part of a national event organised by LEAF. Intended as an opportunity for people to witness the work required to produce food and manage the countryside, parents are encouraged to bring their children to meet the animals and enjoy an educational, fun day on a working farm.

Most children, however, will have no concept that the animals they are interacting with are destined for slaughter; and even those that do understand this will likely never have to witness the journey from farm to plate. If our society wishes to keep promoting animal products as part of the national diet, then should we not also be having open slaughterhouse days, with tours and demonstrations? I doubt very much that any parents would be happy to allow their children to watch a pig being slaughtered, and yet this is just as much a part of the process as rearing and feeding them on the farm.

The fact is, when it comes to producing animal products there are only certain stages of the process which are suitable to show to the public, especially to our children. We would happily show a video in a school of apples being picked and processed, or bread being made; yet showing the “processing” of animals for meat would more than likely traumatise any child who watched it.

For the vast majority of vegans and vegetarians, the decision to give up meat was sparked by watching a video of animals being slaughtered by one of the many “humane” methods used in slaughterhouses across the country. For vegans, that decision goes one step further, as the production of eggs and dairy also leads to animals being slaughtered. Although it may be inviting to think that not all slaughterhouses are the same, or that free-range, organic or RSPCA monitored animals are killed in a “kinder” slaughterhouse; the fact is despite how they are raised, all animals are transported to the same destination in the end; there are no free-range slaughterhouses.

As a nation of animal lovers, we raise our children to love and respect our furry friends, and to never be cruel to them. We teach them that animals are sentient beings with personalities, that they dream and enjoy certain activities. We love to walk through the countryside with our children when the lambs are bouncing around the fields, with not a care in the world. Yet behind closed doors we allow something to take place that we could never bear to tell our children about, much less show them.

Open farm days may be informative, but they only show a fraction of the true story; and the fact is, few of us could stomach seeing the rest of what happens. So the question is: should we really be feeding our children something that they would almost certainly object to eating if they saw how it was produced?

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