Environmental vandalism in Brighton

April 16th, 2010

When BBC’s Countryfile programme visited the English city of Brighton and Hove recently to cover the urban shepherd scheme, focusing on how sheep are being allowed to graze in the confines of the city’s parkland, they didn’t record the massive habitat damage taking place in another area of the city directly because of this programme.

Huge swathes of mature woodland which are home to a wide variety of species ranging from jays to pheasants, are being felled and burnt to create new sheep habitat. Yet this has never even been a sheep grazing area – at least for the past half century. If sheep habitat was required, there is a downland field just five minutes walk away, which has been left fallow, and so could have been used very easily.

It’s hard to understand how a Council where the Greens have a very significant influence, and hope to return a Green Member of Parliament for the first time in the forthcoming General Election could allow this wanton act of enviromental vandalism to occur. This is no different from clearing rainforest for agriculture. Furthermore, disturbing the habitat of breeding birds at this time of year is also a criminal offence, but in spite of being aware of this, the council workers have carried on regardless.

Some of the destroyed area of woodland.

Some of the destroyed area of woodland

Monstrous molluscs

April 11th, 2010

These are some numbers which may help to make you feel better about the scale of the recent world banking crisis, and definitely something to bear in mind if you’re thinking of acquiring African giant land snails (Achatina species) as pets!

Since these massive snails are hermaphrodite, with each having male and female sex organs in their bodies, so keeping two together will inevitably result in fertile eggs. Each snail may lay four batches of around 150 eggs through the year, which adds up to potentially 600 offspring each.

Biologists have calculated that theoretically, if all the descendants of just a single individual lived and bred, then by the time that the original snail died at five years old, the world would be over-run with more than 16 quadrillion of its descendants! You can find out more about these monstrous molluscs here.

Wolves Deserve Better

April 4th, 2010

It’s always struck me as amazing what bad press wolves get, and how little they’ve done to deserve it! The number of wolf attacks on people is miniscule, and these are usually linked with rabid individuals. It’s ironic that while we’ve sought to eliminate wolves from wherever they may come into contact with us, so we’ve taken their descendant, in the guise of the domestic dog, to all four corners of the globe. In some instances, people have then literally depended on dogs for their survival.

Anyone who has been to Rome will know the legend about two twins, called Romulus and Remus, who were the illegitimate twins of the god Mars and the vestal virgin Rhea. Unwanted, they were hurled into the River Tiber where it was presumed they would drown.

The current carried them ashore in a remote spot however, and their cries then attracted a female wolf. Rather than killing the babies, she carried them back to a cave which overlooked the locality of Rome, and suckled them. They stayed with her until rescued by a shepherd, and then founded the city here.

This tale is very easily dismissed as a myth, but in fact, there are over fifty recorded cases of both wolves and feral dogs caring for abandoned children. Some, especially from India are surprisingly well-documented.

Such reports include the case of two girls rescued in the 1920s by a Dr. Singh, who ran an orphanage in Mindapore and was alerted to their presence in the area by villagers who had observed the children with the wolves. The youngsters displayed distinctive wolf-like behaviour, which included walking on all fours and lapping up water. The natural world is not as ordered as people frequently believe to be the case ….

Stay Healthy With A Pet!

March 30th, 2010

Scientific studies are now revealing that those who keep pets tend to be healthier than the rest of the population. While keeping a dog is obviously likely to result in owners taking daily exercise when they walk their pet, there are other less obvious benefits as well.  Research at Cambridge University in the UK has revealed that people with pets also tend to suffer fewer minor ailments such as colds and headaches.

It is no coincidence that aquaria are often included in potentially stressful locations such as dentists’s waiting rooms. Watching tropical fish swimming in an aquarium is known to be relaxing, leading to a measurable reduction in both blood pressure and heart rate.  This may help to account for the fact that the survival rate for people recovering from heart attacks is also higher among pet-owners than those without pets.

Adoption campaign in New York.

Adoption campaign in New York.

© sayheypatrick

Elderly Benefit Particularly From Pets

March 5th, 2010

The news that legislation is being proposed in the UK which would give elderly people the right to take their pets with them when they move into residential care homes or sheltered accommodation  is long overdue. Separation from a pet which has been a constant companion over a number of years can be incredibly traumatic. Furthermore, the benefits of pet-ownership for the elderly are well-established.

Young barhead budgerigars

Several years ago, two groups of elderly people took an active part in a study investigating the impact of pets on people’s lives.  The members of one group were given a budgerigar each, while the others received a begonia pot plant. Those with budgerigars showed marked changes in their lifestyle as a result of their new pet. They insisted on taking responsibility, by going out to purchase seed and other essentials for their bird’s care, and clearly become very attached to their pet.

There was also another more subtle change which the researchers recorded as well.  Keeping a budgerigar made their owners more outgoing and less introspective than had formerly been the case, and gave them a more positive outlook on life, as well as a new topic for conversation.

A Spotted Dog Story

February 20th, 2010

It’s interesting how when you travel to the more remote parts of the world, you still see dogs. I remember being stuck in a raging sandstorm on the western fringes of the Sahara some years ago, and there was a recognisable family group of dogs there, whose coats were virtually the same colour as the sand. They were living on the fringes of human society, just as their ancestors would have done – scavenging for whatever food and leftovers they could find.

It’s easy to see how localised breeds would then have developed under these circumstances. There are somewhere around 400 breeds today – some ancient, others modern – and barely half of these are officially recognised for show purposes in the UK, Australia and North America. Many breeds in the world are still largely unknown therefore, outside their area of origin.

When you think about it, what sets dog breeds apart is their physique, rather than their coloration. While there are various breeds such as the Russian black terrier which can be defined by their coloration, there’s only one – the Dalmatian, which is distinguishable by its spotted patterning.

That’s what makes this particular pet dog, photographed on the streets of Kalimpong, a hill station in India’s famous tea-growing district of Darjeeling, West Bengal, so remarkable. It has a very distinctive and unique spotted patterning, but clearly isn’t of any particular breed type.

Spotted dog © Sukantho Debnath

Spotted dog © Sukantho Debnath

There’s no physical resemblance to a Dalmatian evident in its appearance, but perhaps surprisingly, I don’t think the possible influence of this breed can be ruled out entirely. Kalimpong was a town famous for its educational institutions established there during British rule, which began in the 1860s.

It became home to many expatriates, with a particularly strong Scottish representation amongst them. This unusual dog may represent an unexpected legacy from that era. A Dalmatian brought from Britain during colonial rule may well have ended up transferring its spotted patterning into the dog population of the region. This would then explain how such markings could emerge in litters of puppies today.

Deep Sea Fish

February 14th, 2010

Scientists said they are stunned by what was revealed by an expedition which filmed nearly five miles (8km) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

“It’s incredible. These videos vastly exceed all our expectations from this research. We thought the deepest fishes would be motionless, solitary, fragile individuals eking out an existence in a food-sparse environment,” said Professor Monty Priede, director of University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab. “But these fish aren’t loners. The images show groups that are sociable and active – possibly even families – yet living in one of the most extreme environments on Earth”.

“All we’ve seen before of life at this depth have been shriveled specimens in museums,” he added. “Now we have an impression of how they move and what they do. Having seen them moving so fast, the description of snailfish seems a complete misnomer.”

Snailfish as a group are very diverse in their habits, with some being found in rock pools, but the hadal snailfish does not occur above 6,000 meters (19,685 feet). It is actually named after this particular region of the ocean depths where it occurs. The water pressure here is tremendous, being roughly equivalent to 1,600 elephants piled up on top of the roof of a small car. It is also totally dark and very cold, but these snailfish are clearly thriving in this environment. They feed on the myriad of tiny shrimp-like creatures which scavenge on the carcasses of fish and other creatures that have sunk down to these depths.

“We got some absolutely amazing footage from 7,700 meters,” said project leader Dr. Alan Jamieson of the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab. “More fish than we or anyone in the world would ever have thought possible at these depths.

Video courtesy and copyright of the Natural Environment Research Council and University of Aberdeen.

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