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These Guard Dogs Protect The World’s Smallest Penguins (Successfully)

When foxes discovered this small Australian island and its little penguin inhabitants, they nearly wiped the colony out. But a farmer came up with a novel way to protect the birds.

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These Guard Dogs Protect The World’s Smallest Penguins (Successfully)
Photo Credit: Nat Geo

The problem first became apparent in the year 2000 when the sea’s natural current led to increased sand build-up in the area. As a result, the local fox population on this island in Australia called Middle Island started to grow as there was an easy source of food around.

The penguins – the world’s smallest actually – faced being wiped out until a chicken farmer by the name Swampy Marsh (wow) came up with a plan. He suggested sending one of his Maremma dogs to protect the birds.

At low tide, and when sand builds up in the narrow channel, foxes can cross from the mainland barely getting their paws wet.

Red fox with a Little Penguin on Middle Island (photo courtesy of Middle Island Maremma Project) and Maremma sheepdog protecting a Gannet colony (seen in the background) (photo by L. van Bommel).

The dog, the first of several to be used on Middle Island, was called Oddball – and Oddball made quite an impact. Amazingly, since Oddball and his four-legged successors were introduced 10 years ago, there has not been a single penguin killed by a fox on Middle Island.

And there came the dogs. Image Credit: Middle Island Maremma Project
Also known as ‘blue penguins’, ‘little blue penguins’ and ‘fairy penguins’, they are found in Australia and New Zealand and are the smallest of all known penguin species. Image Credit: Global Screen

By now, the fairy penguin population has gone back up to almost 200.

The current dogs patrolling Middle Island are Eudy and Tula, named after the scientific term for the fairy penguin: Eudyptula.

The dogs operate in penguin breeding season, usually from October to March, when they spend five or six days a week on the island.

Here we go. Image Credit: Middle Island Maremma Project

The project has been such a success that a movie called Oddball has been made about it.

Sources: Middle Island Maremma ProjectBBC

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Scientists Confused By Hundreds Of Dead Elephants In Mysterious Mass Die-Off

Scientists are growing increasingly concerned about the mass deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana, but are still unsure about what is causing it.

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Botswana dead elephant
More than 350 elephant’s carcasses have been spotted in the Okavango Delta in recent weeks.

(TMU) – Scientists are growing increasingly concerned about the mass deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana, but are still unsure about what is causing the problem. According to the Guardian, at least 350 elephants have died in the African country in the past few months.

Researchers first realized that something was wrong in the Okavango Delta, where 169 elephants were reported in the month of May. By mid-June, that number had doubled to over 300.

Dr. Niall McCann, the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue, said that a mass die-off like this is highly unusual.

“This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant,” McCann said.

It is unclear exactly what is causing these animals to die, but there are a few clues. Local sources told reporters that about 70% of these animals have died around waterholes. Some researchers think that perhaps the water might be somehow poisoned or tainted, but the government of Botswana has not tested any samples from the water holes yet.

When we’ve got a mass die-off of elephants near human habitation at a time when wildlife disease is very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it seems extraordinary that the government has not sent the samples to a reputable lab,” McCann said.

McCann also said that the researchers were able to determine that many of the animals had to die very quickly, judging by how they had fallen straight down on their faces. However, a large number of the animals also appeared to die more slowly.

So it’s very difficult to say what this toxin is,” said McCann.

McCann said that Covid-19 has even been suggested as a possible cause, but most researchers find this possibility highly unlikely. Oddly, this seems to be somewhat localized, as neighbouring counties have not reported mass elephant deaths.

There are reportedly about 15,000 elephants in the delta, which is nearly 10% of the total population for the entire country. A large portion of the country’s GDP, an estimated 10-12%, is generated through eco-tourism. This is the second most lucrative industry in the country, surpassed only by the diamond industry.

Last year, the government of Botswana lifted its ban on hunting wildlife, and has since begun selling expensive hunting rights to international poachers.

Botswana has the largest elephant population in the world, with an estimated 130,000 elephants within its borders. The newly elected government says that the ban was revoked because the large elephant population was beginning to have an impact on people’s livelihoods as the animals increasingly came into contact with humans.

Despite their relatively high numbers in Botswana when compared with the rest of the world, Elephants are generally thought to be an endangered species, especially in places like Asia, where they are officially listed as such. In Africa, elephant populations are listed as vulnerable, but they have been on a rapid decline due to overhunting and loss of habitat.

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Hummingbirds Turn Into Rainbows In Amazing Photos By Christian Spencer

Who knew hummingbirds’ wings turn into rainbows when photographed against the sun?

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Hummingbirds
Photo Credit: Christian Spencer

Australian artist and photographer Christian Spencer made an amazing discovery while standing on his verandah in Rio de Janeiro. When he photographed the black Jacobin hummingbird flying in front of the sun, a beautiful prism effect occurred.

At that very moment, the hummingbird’s feathers turned into a perfect rainbow of colours.

WINGED PRISM © Christian Spencer

Spencer has been following hummingbirds with his camera for years, and his film recording of the phenomenon was included in his 2011 short film, The Dance of Time.

The movie received 10 international awards and three best film honours. But that wasn’t the end of his fascination with the rainbow hummingbirds. Years later, Spencer returned to the subject.

THE ECLIPSE © Christian Spencer

I decided to try and photograph the same phenomenon with my camera,” he told Collective Spark. The resulting series, Winged Prism, reveal “a secret of nature that cannot be seen with our eyes.”

“Nearly all of the photos were taken in 2014. I have tried many times unsuccessfully to take similar photos but I think it depends on the atmospheric conditions and how much magic is in the air,” he added.

Despite the fact that we live in an age of post-production and image manipulation, these photos were never manipulated digitally. The visual affects you see here occur naturally.

WINGS OF LIGHT © Christian Spencer
WINGS OF LIGHT © Christian Spencer
CLOUD ANGEL © Christian Spencer
VITRAL © Christian Spencer
VITRAL © Christian Spencer
COSMIC ANGEL © Christian Spencer
HUMMINGBIRD GEOMETRY © Christian Spencer
HUMMINGBIRD GEOMETRY © Christian Spencer

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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.

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First Baby Koala Born In Australian Wildlife Park Since Devastating Bushfires
Photo Credit: www.wsvn.com

(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.

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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.

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Photo Credit: www.asu.edu

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.

BBC 3 Modern China SE Hainan Gibbon 5d

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.

CGTN Nature: Bawangling Series | Episode 1: Hainan Black-crested Gibbon

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.”

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