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As Australia’s bushfire crisis continues to impact wildlife, aircrafts have been deployed to feed thousands of starving wild animals who have been stranded by the blazes.
The government of the hard-hit state of New South Wales (NSW) has begun a campaign of airdrops across scorched regions, delivering thousands of pounds of root veggies —like carrots and sweet potatoes —from choppers flying above in a bid to sate the appetites of hungry colonies of brush-trailed rock wallabies, reports Daily Mail.
Dubbed “Operation Rock Wallaby,” the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service’s campaign is meant to help save the threatened marsupials from the growing danger of mass starvation.
Over the past week, the agency has conducted the food drops for rock wallaby colonies in various regions across the state. Nearly 5,000 pounds (2,200 kg) of fresh vegetables have already been delivered to the hungry native creatures.
NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said that although the wallabies have escaped the threat of the monstrous fires, their food sources remain scarce—or simply non-existent. The official explained:
“The wallabies typically survive the fire itself, but are then left stranded with limited natural food as the fire takes out the vegetation around their rocky habitat.
The wallabies were already under stress from the ongoing drought, making survival challenging for the wallabies without assistance.”
Kean added that they plan to follow up on how the animals progress as they continue recovery efforts following the raging bushfires. He said:
“When we can, we are also setting up cameras to monitor the uptake of the food and the number and variety of animals there.”
Since the fire crisis broke out in September, at least 28 people have been killed and countless others forced to evacuate—often repeatedly—as the historic wave of bushfires ripped through 25.5 million acres (10.3 million hectares) of land, an area equal to the size of South Korea.
Ecologists at the University of Sydney estimate that over 1 billion animals have been killed in the bushfires. Because the fires have extended to wetlands, dry eucalyptus forests, and even rainforests, many animals have been unable to find refuge in neighbouring regions.
Even prior to the fires, rock wallabies had been deemed an at-risk species due to the destruction of their habitats.
Experts have warned that the massive loss of life due to the fires threatens to cross a tipping-point for entire species of animals and plants on an island continent where 87% of wildlife is endemic to the country, meaning it can only be found on Australia.
Conservationist group the World Wildlife Fund Australia estimates that 1.25 billion animals have died due to the bushfire crisis. In a statement Tuesday, WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said:
“This heart-breaking loss includes thousands of precious koalas on the mid-north coast of NSW, along with other iconic species such as kangaroos, wallabies, gliders, potoroos, cockatoos and honeyeaters.
Many forests will take decades to recover and some species may have tipped over the brink of extinction. Until the fires subside, the full extent of damage will remain unknown.”
First Baby Koala Born In Australian Wildlife Park Since Devastating Bushfires
The Australian Reptile Park has good reason to celebrate, welcoming the first koala joey born at the park since the devastation.
(TMU) – After the horrific Australian bush fires over the 2019/2020 fire season, the Australian Reptile Park has good reason to celebrate, welcoming the first koala joey born at the park since the devastation. The Park’s handlers named the new-born Ash, in remembrance of the Black Summer fire season.
The koala population were arguably the hardest hit during the fires, with their death toll estimated to be in the thousands. Northern New South Wales lost about 85% of their koala population while researchers are still working around other areas to determine the extent of the damage between November and February. No wonder little Ash’s birth is being celebrated, hopefully the first of many joeys born in the wake of the fires.
Australian Reptile Park Zookeeper, Dan Rumsey said: “Ash represents the start of what we’re hoping to be another successful breeding season.”
“It was such an incredible moment when we saw Ash poke her head out of her mom’s pouch for the first time!”
While female koalas generally have one joey a year, some may go two to three years without having any and the stress suffered during the fires could have a negative impact on their reproduction, especially now, when their population across the country desperately needs a boost.
According to the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, koalas could be listed as endangered because of the bushfire crisis. Earlier this year, the MP announced a $50 million funding package to help wildlife populations bounce back after the devastating bushfires.
Ms Ley told reporters: “It may be necessary… to see whether in certain parts of the country, koalas move from where they are, which is often vulnerable, up to endangered.”
Half the funds will go towards wildlife carers, hospitals and zoos, who have the people best equipped to lead the re-population and rehousing efforts.
Experts were shocked by the devastating loss of life during the 2019/2020 bush fire season – as was Cate Faehrmann – committee chair of the NSW upper house inquiry, when she saw the numbers from their investigation to determine how many koalas were lost over the period.
There is now a significant and immediate threat of extinction to koalas, according to a report published in March.
At least 5,000 koalas are estimated to have died, according to the report from the global conservation group International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
“That’s extremely shocking and really should be a wake-up call to the government to pause any threats to koala habitat including logging and development in key areas,” Cate Faehrmann told the Australian Associated Press (AAP).
“There are so many threats that if we are going to stop this wonderful animal from becoming extinct we have to really, really, prioritize securing and protecting their habitat now.”
For now, little Ash and her mom have set the ball rolling to rebuild their species. May they flourish and plenty of little joeys start popping their heads out of their mom’s pouches soon.
World’s Rarest Primate, The Critically Endangered Hainan Gibbon, Returns From Brink Of Extinction
Up until recently, the highly intelligent and charismatic Hainan Gibbon was standing at the brink of imminent extinction with only 10 members still existing.
Until very recently, the highly intelligent and charismatic Hainan Gibbon was standing at the brink of imminent extinction with only 10 members of the species existing in a tiny patch of land on a tropical island at China’s southernmost tip.
But thanks to the devoted work of a team of conservationists, the ultra-rare Hainan Gibbon appears to have a much brighter future, with their numbers swelling to 30 individuals as of this year.
The Hainan Gibbon is not only one of the world’s rarest apes and rarest primates, but it’s also one of the rarest animals on the face of the Earth, largely restricted to a small patch of rainforest at the Bawangling National Nature Reserve on Hainan Island in the South China Sea.
Gibbons can be found in forests across Southeast Asia. Like other gibbons, the Hainan gibbon swings rapidly from tree to tree and mostly rely on fruit such as lychee and figs for its diet. The males have jet-black fur with white patches on their cheeks, while mature females are a rich golden orange. Their faces are tender, and their eyes seem to reflect an intelligent curiosity about their surroundings.
“They are really intelligent animals. When they look at you, it feels like they are trying to communicate,” Philip Lo Yik-fui told South China Morning Post. Lo has been helping to lead conservation efforts through the Hong Kong-based NGO, Kadoorie Conservation China.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature – which has included the species on its Red List as “Critically Endangered” – the Hainan gibbon used to exist in high numbers, with researchers estimating that over two thousand individuals populated the island.
However, the species’ numbers fell precipitously in the second half of the 20th century thanks to climate factors as well as massive deforestation resulting from China’s push toward prosperity and industrialization. Hunters and poachers also targeted the highly intelligent and social gibbons, either for the illegal pet trade, food, or for traditional medicine.
By 2003, only 13 wild gibbons divided into two family groups remained – a result of not only the diminishing quality of their habitat but also their naturally slow birth rate.
Over the years, however, Kadoorie Conservation China has been monitoring the gibbons, working hard to discourage poachers, and also planting over 80,000 fig and lychee trees to link the populations of the famously shy gibbons and expand their habitat.
And with the gibbons now reproducing at a stable pace, Lo is hopeful that once they get the gibbons’ numbers above 50, their IUCN designation can change from being critically endangered to simply “endangered.”
“Our biggest goal now is to help expand the gibbons’ territory so the whole species won’t be wiped out if natural disasters occur,” Lo said.
Yet concerns remain about the genetic health of the Hainan Gibbons, who are mostly either half-siblings or full-siblings – meaning that their gene pool is far too narrow at present.
However, Lo is proud that his group’s efforts have stabilized things for the remaining Hainan Gibbons. His next goal is to continue expanding the creature’s territory so that if a typhoon or other natural disaster strikes, the whole species won’t be wiped out in one fell swoop.
The Kadoorie Conservation China team has also recruited ex-hunters from the community, who have a wealth of experience about local forests, to keep an eye on the gibbons and take part in conservation efforts.
Lo said: “We try and install a sense of pride in the locals, and the ex-hunters are really satisfied with their work now. That is the main point of conservation work; it’s just as much about the people. And now people who were on opposing sides are teammates working together to protect the gibbons.”
Baby Elephants In Southeast Asia Are Separated From Their Mothers And Tortured For The Sake Of Tourism
The process that’s required to train baby elephants to give rides to tourists is devastatingly cruel. Now, animal rights groups and travel agencies are taking a stand against this practice.
Baby elephants in Southeast Asia have become subjected to the practice of international trafficking. This trafficking is feeding Thailand’s booming tourism industry, where one of the most popular tourist activities is taking a ride atop an elephant through the jungle.
But once you understand the horrifying training process that’s necessary to make an elephant capable of giving these rides to humans, and the lengths that captors go to achieve this, chances are you won’t even think about wanting to ever experience an elephant ride in your life.
Elephant Calves Are Separated From Their Mothers
The first step in the elephant training process is for poachers to find baby elephants in the wild and separate them from their families. Baby elephants are highly sought after because they’re much easier to train, and thus will command higher prices on the black market.
Some poachers will go as far as to kill the calf’s entire family, namely the mother elephants that try to protect their young. This practice likely has contributed to the significant decline in the population of the Asian elephant over the last century.
According to Trafalgar CEO Gavin Tollman, a travel and lifestyle brand, at one point the Asian continent was populated with more than 3.5 million wild elephants. Today there are only an estimated 415,000 wild elephants left. Elephants aren’t only harmed for tourism, but are also hunted for their ivory tusks — both of which contribute to the significant decline in their population over the past 100 years.
“Phajaan” — The Soul-Crushing Process Baby Elephants Endure
After poachers capture baby elephants, they’re subjected to a barbaric practice called “phajaan,” which essentially translates to “breaking of the spirit.” The goal is to render the calf totally submissive to humans, and as you may have guessed, it’s an incredibly cruel process.
Baby elephants are isolated and tied down, usually confined to a small cage where they have little or no ability to move. They are then subjected to extensive torture, which typically involved stabbing their bodies repeatedly with sharp objects or hitting them with pieces of wood.
This is done to train baby elephants to be afraid of humans and submit to their disposal completely — which has physical as well as psychological effects on the animal.
Nora Livingstone, founder of Animal Experience International, says of the “phajaan” process, “Imagine being a 5,000-kilogram [1,100 pound] social animal and only being allowed to walk two steps in either direction because of a chain around your leg that digs into your sensitive skin and causes you to bleed. And now, imagine being completely alone from your family.”
These baby elephants exhibit symptoms once this “training” is complete that can only be described as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, explains the elephants that are used for riding in India “have been observed as displaying behavior indicating extreme mental distress and deterioration, such as head bobbing and swaying.”
An International Wildlife Crisis
The staggering rate at which the elephant population has declined in Asia has alarmed animal rights advocacy groups as well as travel agencies. Intrepid Travel co-founder Geoff Manchester, a travel agency based in England, has explicitly asked tourists traveling to Thailand to not seek out elephant rides during their stay
Manchester admittedly sold the elephant riding experience to his customers, but stopped doing so in 2014. “The evidence is so overwhelming that it had a big impact on all of us who’d taken elephant riding,” he said, stating that according to his own independent research, only 6 out of the 114 elephant riding locations treated the animals properly.
By 2016, about 160 travel companies have stopped offering elephant ride experience excursions, and Trip Advisor has stopped advertising such places entirely.
The torture of elephants isn’t specific to Southeast Asia — the senseless killing and battering of elephants for commercial purposes is rampant across the world. Of the approximately 2,000 elephants that are currently being used for entertainment, about 200 reside in Africa.
Poaching elephants in Africa is most commonly done for the purpose of obtaining their ivory tusks, but training baby elephants to give rides to tourists is a trend that on the rise on the continent.
According to the London-based advocacy group World Animal Protection, there are currently 39 sites that offer elephant rides in southern Africa.
Vetting Your Elephant Experience While Traveling
While riding elephants is certainly out of the question, there are definitely other ways to experience these majestic creatures while visiting countries with elephant populations. One way is to look into travel agencies that explicitly state that they do not support elephant experience sites that they’ve found to abuse and torture their animals.
True elephant sanctuaries will never offer rides, forced tricks, or anything that might humiliate the animal, according to Wildlife SOS’s Satyanarayan. “A reputable sanctuary will keep the interests and welfare of the elephants first and foremost. They’ll have veterinary staff on hand. And they’ll be known for truly rescuing elephants from abusive situations.”
This article (Baby Elephants In Southeast Asia Are Separated From Their Mothers And Tortured For The Sake Of Tourism) was originally created for All That Interesting and is published here under Creative Commons.
Australian Man Facing Fine After Rescuing Whale Trapped In Government Shark Nets
One would expect that saving an animal would hardly be a cause for punishment.
(TMU) – In a world where we’re told to be concerned about the environment and be mindful of the impact of our actions on wildlife, one would expect that saving an animal would hardly be a cause for punishment.
But for one Australian man who decided to do the right thing and save a whale that was caught in shark nets off the Gold Coast, he learned instead that the government frowns on individuals who act on their own initiative to rescue a helpless animal.
The man, who goes by the name of “Django,” is a recreational diver who was out free-diving on Tuesday morning before he saw the young humpback whale struggling in sea nets.
Local officials had received phone calls notifying them that a whale was in crisis. However, hours passed without authorities lifting a finger to take action,
Eventually, the diver’s “adrenaline just sort of kicked in” and he took his boat to the scene to rescue the creature, he told the ABC. The man said:
“Basically I just tried to untangle him. I had a knife, I didn’t really need to use the knife though. He just had his pectoral fin sort of wrapped up and he was about eight to nine meters deep.”
In the meantime, a crowd of spectators watched as he rescued the ocean mammal.
According to the BBC, spectator confirmed that hours had passed since authorities were notified before the man took action. He added:
“Luckily a good Samaritan came up and did fisheries’ [officials] jobs for them.”
When the whale was finally freed, Django returned to the shore. As he was about to leave the area, however, officials caught up with him and fined him, he told local media.
Django hasn’t explained how much the fine levied by fisheries inspectors was.
It also remains unclear what exactly his offense was, but Queensland state does have penalties meant to dissuade people from tampering with government property, or moving too close to whales. However, the fee has convinced the man that his selfless act of rescuing the whale may not have been worth the cost.
He told ABC:
“Yeah, I’m trouble, it was fair enough. I just saw it and thought, ‘What are you going to do?’ It was an expensive day, but whatever.”
State officials dispute Django’s claim that he had been fined. Queensland Fisheries Minister Mark Furner explained that while there is currently an investigation into the matter to determine whether a fine is justified, locals should still leave certain matters to the authorities.
“It is important that people allow the professionals to do their jobs in circumstances like this,” the minister said.
The use of shark nets around Australian beaches has come under criticism from conservationists due to their negative impact on coastal wildlife.
Just last year, five whales were found caught in the nets, leading to demands by advocates that other forms of shark deterrent be deployed in their place. The state government has committed $1 million to investigating alternatives to the nets.
In the meantime, however, people who tamper with council equipment such as shark nets face fines of up to $26,690.
Django, who professes to be a lifelong diver, described the nets as “a waste of time” because “sharks just swim around them.”
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