Arxiu de la categoria: ENVIRONMENT

The problem of wild animals as pets

Although the first animals we think of as life partners are dogs or cats, the truth is that unfortunately many people decide to have a wild or exotic animal at home. Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, sugar gliders, fennec foxes, meerkats, raccoons, monkeys… Is it possible to have a wild animal in good condition at home? What are the issues we can find? What wild mammals do people have as pets? We invite you to continue reading to find out.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DOMESTIC ANIMAL AND A WILD ONE?

A domestic animal is an animal that has lived with humans for thousands of years. During the history of our species we have artificially selected these animals to obtain benefits, such as food, companionship or protection, like dogs, which have even co-evolved with us. Most domestic animals could not survive in the wild, as they would not know how to find food or would be easy prey for predators. Those who survive when abandoned, like some dogs or cats, cause serious problems to wildlife or even people.

 lobo perro dog wolf perro lobo
Some domestic animals, such as certain dog breeds (right), resemble their wild counterparts (wolf, left), which gives rise to the false idea that wild animals can be domesticated. Photo: unknown

And a wild animal? Many people confuse wild animal with ferocious or dangerous animal. A wild animal is an animal that has not been domesticated, that is, its species has not been in contact with people (at least not for thousands of years as the domestic ones). The fact that some wild animals are not dangerous (or not at all) for us, that they appear in series and movies, some celebrities own them and the desire to have a “special” animal at home, continues favoring the purchase-sale of these animals as pets.

monkey mono capuchino marcel ross friends
The character of Ross in the world-famous series ‘Friends’ had a capuchin monkey, which has to be donated when it reaches sexual maturity for aggressive behavior. Source

WHAT PROBLEMS DOES IMPLY TO HAVE A WILD ANIMAL AT HOME?

PROBLEMS FOR PEOPLE

The main reason why wild or exotic animals cause problems for humans is the lack of knowledge of the species: some have very specific diets that are practically impossible to reproduce in captivity. Others may live longer than the owner, be very noisy, occupy a lot of space, have nocturnal habits, transmit diseases or be poisonous. This results in maintenance difficulties and changes in  the behavior of the animal, until it becomes dangerous for its owner. The consequence is usually the abandonment of the animal, which will cause death, cause problems in nature or very high maintenance costs if they end up in a wildlife rescue center (according to Fundació Mona, keeping a chimpanzee costs 7,000 euros a year. Their life expectancy is 60 years: 420,000 euros in total for a single animal).

Raccoons undergo behavioral changes and may attack their owners. Source

Many species released in the wild end up being invasive, endangering the native ecosystems. If you want to know the difference between introduced and invasive species, read this post. To know the threats they pose to ecosystems, visit this post.

Do not forget that the purchase, sale and possession of many wild animals is totally illegal.

PROBLEMS FOR ANIMALS

Animals must live in an environment where their needs, both physical and mental, can be met. Although we put all our good intentions, give love and spend money keeping a wild animal, we  will never be able to reproduce their natural conditions. Lack of space, contact with other animals of their species, time searching for food, temperature conditions, humidity, light… the animal can not develop its normal behavior even if it is in the most optimal conditions of captivity.

The consequences that will suffer an animal that has not met their needs implies health problems (diseases, growth deficit…) and behavior (stereotypic-compulsive movements, self-injury, anxiety, aggression…).

A fennec fox, a carnivorous animal of the desert, in an evident state of illness. According to social networks, because he was being fed a vegan diet. According to its owner, Sonia Sae, because it is allergic to pollen despite following a vegan diet. Be that as it may, it is clear that the pollen amounts in Sahara have nothing to do with those of Europe. Source

Finally, the most serious consequence when we acquire a wild animal is that we are favoring the trafficking of animals, the death of thousands of them during transport to our house and even their extinction. Animal trafficking is the second cause of biodiversity loss on our planet, behind the destruction of habitats.

Slow loris are nocturnal and poisonous animals that are marketed as pets and, like mostof them, are transported under terrible conditions. Learn more about the calvary of slow lories visiting blognasua. Photo: Naturama

EXAMPLES OF WILD MAMMALS AS PETS

PRIMATES

Marmosets, slow loris, lar gibbons, chimpanzees, Barbary macaques… The list of primates that people have in captivity is almost infinite. One of the main mistakes people make when they want a primate as a pet is to believe that they have our same needs, especially in superior primates such as chimpanzees. Its expressions are also confused with ours: what the photo shows is not a smile of happiness and what the video shows is not tickling, but an attitude of defense (slow loris have poison in their elbows).

This chimpanzee is not smiling, he is scared. Photo: Photos.com

Many primates live in family groups and the offspring need to be with the mother the first years of life, so that just the simple fact of acquiring a little primate entails the death of all the adults of their family group and psychological problems for the animal. To know the extensive and serious problem of keeping primates in captivity, we strongly recommend reading this post.

SUGAR GLIDERS

Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) resemble a squirrel, but in fact they are marsupials. They have a very specific diet (insects and their depositions, eucalyptus sap, nectar …), they live in the canopy of trees in groups from 6 to 10 individuals and move between the trees jumping up to 50 meters with a membrane that let them hover. They are nocturnal so they yell and call at night. It is evident that it is impossible to reproduce these conditions in captivity, so the majority of sugar gliders die due to nutritional deficiencies.

Sugar glider caged. Photo: FAADA

VIETNAMESE POT-BELLIED PIGS

Although they are a variety of a domestic animal, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs (Sus scrofa domestica) are small when tey are young, but adults can weigh more than 100 kilos, so it is impossible to keep them in a flat. There have been so many abandonments and they have reproduced so much, that there are populations established in nature. They can reproduce with wild boars and it is unknown if the hybrids are fertile. There are no wildlife recovery centers or shelters for these pigs, so they continue to affect the native ecosystems.

Since actor George Clooney introduced a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig as a pet, the trend to own one quickly spread. Source

RACCOONS AND COATIS

Other mammals that, because of their pleasant appearance, some people try to have as pets. Raccoons (Procyon sp) develop aggressive behaviors when they do not having their needs covered, they are destructive to household objects and have a tendency to bite everything, including people. Currently in Spain and other countries it is illegal to acquire them and it is classified as an invasive species.

In addition to aggressiveness, one of the most common behaviors of raccoons is “theft”. Source

Coatis (Nasua sp) are related to raccoons and, like them, when they grow up they become aggressive if kept in captivity in a home. In Spain, their possession is also illegal.

coatí nasua
The coati, another friendly-looking mammal that can be dangerous. Source

MERKAATS

Merkaats (Suricata suricatta) are very social animals that live in colonies of up to 30 individuals underground in the South African savanna. They usually make holes in the ground to protect themselves and are very territorial. Therefore, having a meerkat at home or in a garden is totally unfeasible. In addition, the climatic conditions (high temperatures and low humidity) in which they are adapted are not the same as those of a private home.

As sugar gliders, their food is impossible to reproduce at home: snake meat, spiders, scorpions, insects, birds and small mammals… Like raccoons, they do not hesitate to bite and are very active animals.

Meerkat with a leash where you can see his fangs. Photo: FAADA

FENNEC FOX

This species of desert fox (Vulpes zerda) has also become trendy as a pet. Although its tenure is still legal, it has been proposed several times as an invasive species.

The main reason why you can not have a fennec at home are the desert climatic conditions to which it is adapted. Living in an apartment causes kidney problems and thermoregulation problems. Also, it is a nocturnal animal. Changes in their circadian rhythm cause them hormonal problems.

Fennec  fox in the desert. Photo: Cat Downie / Shutterstock

Like the previous two species, behavioral problems can turn up and become violent against the furniture or its owners.

ELEPHANTS, TIGERS …

Although it may seem incredible, there are people who have an elephant in the home garden and other people have felines, like tigers. At this point we do not think it is necessary to explain the reasons why these animals have not their needs met and the potential danger they pose to their owners and neighbors in case of escape.

Dumba, the elephant that lives in a home garden in Spain. Photo: FAADA

IN CONCLUSION

As we have seen, a wild animal in captivity will never have its needs covered to guarantee its welfare. Here we have presented the best known wild mammals that are kept as pets, but unfortunately the list does not stop expanding.

In order not to favor animal trafficking and cause unnecessary suffering during the life of the animal, avoid buying wild animals, inform yourself and inform the people around you, denounce irresponsible tenures and in case you already have one wild animal as a pet and you can no longer keep it, contact a recovery wildlife center and never abandon it into nature.

MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

 

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How can you help biodiversity of the cities?

Towns and cities have increasingly become hostile to biodiversity. Fortunately, a few years ago there is a growing interest to make cities more friendly to the native fauna and flora. Discover what you can do for urban biodiversity!

HOW CAN YOU HELP BIODIVERSITY OF THE CITIES?

According to SEO BirdLife, 10% of the bird species that live in Spain are housed in urban environments. In fact, some of them, like the sparrow, depend on human presence. In spite of that, these species are in decline.

They also assure that urban birds in Spain have suffered a decrease of over 18% in the last 20 years. For the case of the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), the loss amounts to 44% of its individuals.

promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, golondrina común, hirundo rustica, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades
The barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) has lost 44% of its urban population (Picture: Ferran Pestaña, Creative Commons).

BENEFITS OF URBAN BIODIVERSITY FOR PEOPLE

Biodiversity in cities is positive for human beings, beyond the ornamental function, since it offers a set of very important services that improve our quality of life. In fact, the WHO recommends that in cities there are between 10 and 15 m2 of green areas per inhabitant and that the inhabitants have a green area less than 300 m from their house.

In addition to the benefits that nature has for human health and well-being, green areas cushion the temperature (important to reduce the effect of heat islands), purify the air and fix CO2. It is also responsible for the pollination of crops and, in general, to increase the resilience of the environment.

health benefits of nature, promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, golondrina común, hirundo rustica, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades
Nature has a positive effect in the human health and wellness.

WHAT CAN WE DO FOR URBAN BIODIVERSITY?

Broadly speaking, to help the biodiversity of cities, we must:

  • Provide enough urban green areas in the cities and that they are distributed throughout the area.
  • Have urban green spaces connected between them and with the natural environment.
  • Generate diversity of habitats.
  • Do not plant invasive species.
  • Do not use chemical treatments.
  • If the green areas are illuminated, make sure it is not annoying for the fauna.

We must bear in mind that, if we have cats at home, we must consider if it is worth doing some of the actions we propose, since our feline friends are great predators and, rather than helping the fauna, we could be harming it.

PLANT TREES, BUSHES AND FLOWERS THAT PROMOTE BIODIVERSITY

Obviously, if we plant native trees or shrubs we will be favouring the biodiversity of our city. If we do not meet this first point and plant exotic invasives, we will be questioning the future of our area. In addition to this fact, we must add other considerations.

The trees or bushes that produce fleshy fruits, such as the olive tree (Olea europea), the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) or the lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), will be able to sustain a part of the diet of some animals. The olive tree also generates holes, which may serve as a nest for some birds. If we look for species that bear fruit in winter, when conditions are more difficult due to the reduction of food, it will also be of great help.

promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades, madroño, arbutus unedo
Trees with fleshy fruits promote the presence of food for many animals (Picture: Creative Commons).

Softwood trees, such as poplar (Populus), will allow some birds, such as the Iberian green woodpecker (Picus sharpei), to make holes in its trunk, which will cause that when leaving the nest other species can be installed. We can also leave dead trees standing for the Iberian green woodpecker to make its nest.

Combining deciduous and perennial trees will allow a refuge for wildlife throughout the year.

As for the plants, it is highly recommended to plant indigenous aromatic plants, which will attract a large number of pollinating insects. In the Mediterranean area, you can choose rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), lavender (Lavandula stoechas), savory (Satureja montana), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), sage (Salvia officinalis), basil (Ocimum basilicum)…

promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades, lavanda, lavandula stoechas, plantas aromáticas
Indigenous aromatic plants will favour the presence of pollinators (Picture: Kurt Stüber, Creative Commons).

INSTALL NEST BOXES

If there were old trees in the cities (and in the natural areas), it would not be necessary to install nest boxes. The reason is that the old trees have holes, in which the chickadees, the tits, the owls, etc. make a nest. But not only can you install nest boxes for birds, you can also do them for bats, which are effective mosquito eaters.

promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades, caja nido, herrerillo comun, Cyanistes caeruleus
Installing nest boxes will promote the presence of some birds, such as the Eurasian blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) (Picture: Creative Commons)

On the other hand, there are animals that use buildings to breed, such as the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the kestrels, the crow (Corvus corax), the common swift (Apus apus), the common gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), etc. .

In general, in the Iberian Peninsula there are about 40 species of birds and a dozen mammals that can use nest boxes to breed and rest.

In this Grup Ecologista Xoriguer and VOLCAM Voluntariado Ambiental‘s guide you will find information about how to build yourself a nest box and other tips.

BUILD A INSECT HOTEL OR OTHER STRUCTURES FOR FAUNA

An insect hotel is a construction with a wooden structure that is full of different materials, such as natural cane, stones, tiles, bricks, pineapples, perforated wood or straw, which serve as a hiding, resting and breeding place for various species of insects.

Although you can buy them, we recommend you do it yourself with a little imagination. Collect these materials and about 6-7 wooden pallets and start to build a new home for solitary bees (solitary bees are not aggressive, unlike colonial ones), ladybugs (they will eat the aphid you have in your garden), lacewing, syrphids…

promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades, hotel insectos, hotel insectos palets
Insect hotel with pallets (Picture: unknown author).

The construction of dry stone spirals with aromatic plants will also favour the presence of fauna, especially reptiles.

In a corner of your garden, you can leave a pile of trunks in the shape of a pyramid. You will see that in a while it will be colonised by mosses, fungi, xylophagous insects, lizards…

VEGETATION MAINTENANCE TASKS

All this is meaningless without sustainable maintenance of green infrastructure. What good is it to plant trees with fleshy fruits if we prune them in full fruition?

Here are some tips:

  • Do not prune in the time when the trees are in fruit, concentrate them during the winter.
  • Avoid pruning all trees and shrubs the same year.
  • Decrease the number of prunings and ask that they be less drastic. So there will be structures that can support large nests.
  • Do not remove all the leaves from the ground, since leaf litter allows the development of the invertebrate fauna and incorporates organic matter into the soil.
  • Do not use chemical pesticides or phytosanitary products. If you have a pest, use biological control systems against them.

ASK YOUR LOCAL ADMINISTRATION TO JOIN IN THE PROMOTION OF URBAN BIODIVERSITY

Some of these tips will be easy to implement, others will be less. In addition to applying it in your own home, ask your local administration to apply these principles. Together we will make towns and cities more sustainable in which biodiversity can also live!

In addition to the points already mentioned, local administrations can do some other tasks that are within their competence:

  • Naturalise artificial lakes. What if, instead of having ponds with crystal clear water, we took advantage of these points to favour the presence of amphibians, reptiles and aquatic vegetation?
  • Change lawns for natural meadows. What if instead of having large expanses of green grass, typical of northern Europe (where water is plentiful), we had spaces with different species of native flowers that attracted large numbers of pollinators and birds? Some birds, such as the zitting cisticola or streaked fantail warbler (Cisticola juncidis) or the European stonechat (Saxicola rubicola), make nests in the middle of meadows.
  • Reduce the mowing of the lawns (better done at the end of winter) and make differential mowing. What if instead of completely mowing the lawn we did it irregularly to allow the growth of spontaneous vegetation that attracted the invertebrates?
  • Plant in the tree clogs. What if instead of having tree clogs full of dog droppings we had them full of flowers that attract the insects that control the plagues of the tree that is planted in it?

Have we encouraged you to apply any of the measures we present? Tell us what you are doing to help urban biodiversity in the comments of this article.

(Cover picture: Kevin Cole, Creative Commons)

How many species live on Earth?

On May 22nd, the International Day of Biological Diversity is celebrated worldwide, or in other words, the day of biodiversity, to commemorate the approval of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Did you know that we only know 15% of all the biodiversity on the planet? Discover more! 

HOW MANY SPECIES LIVE ON EARTH?

Before answering this question, it is important to understand the concept of biodiversity or biological diversity.

WHAT IS BIODIVERSITY?

Biodiversity is the  living beings on Earth and the natural patterns that make up, that is, the set of existing plants, animals and microorganisms. This biodiversity must be understood within each species, between species and ecosystems.

biodiversidad, especies, animales, plantas, seres vivos

THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

The Convention on Biological Diversity, which was adopted in 1992 and has the ratification of 193 countries to date, has three main objectives: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable participation of the benefits that derive from the use of genetic resources, in order to promote measures for a sustainable future.

The governments of the acceding countries meet every two years to examine progress, set priorities and adopt work plans.

According to the Convention, species, genetic resources and ecosystems should be used for the benefit of the human being, but without this implying a reduction in biodiversity. It also applies the precautionary principle, that is, when there is not enough scientific evidence to demonstrate the reduction or loss of biodiversity, it should not be used as a reason to postpone taking measures to deal with it. Thus, it is an instrument that promotes sustainable development.

SPECIES OF THE EARTH

To date, a total of 1.3 million species have been identified and described, but the truth is that many more live on Earth. The most accurate census, conducted by the Hawaii’s University, estimates that a total of 8.7 million species live on the planet.

If we take this figure as good, it means that we have described only 15% of all the organisms that live on Earth. To be more precise, we still have 86% of the terrestrial species to be described and 91% of the marine species.

To give an example of how far we are from knowing all the species, last year we identified a new species of primate: the orangutan of Tapanuli (Pongo tapanuliensis), which lives on the island of Sumatra (Indonesia).

biodiversidad, diversidad biológica, tapanuli organgutan, orangutan sumatra, especies
We only know 15% of all species on Earth (Picture: National Geographic)

In spite of these figures, the dance of numbers is important and the different investigations carried out give different values, reaching the point that some point out that there would be 100 million species.

What is clear is that we have a long way to go until we have a complete catalog of species. Worst of all, many of these unidentified species are becoming extinct before we discover them.

CLASIFICATION AND DISTRIBUTION OF THE SPECIES

Here we do not want to talk about the way species are classified, as we already did in this article on classification and phylogeny. Here we want to see how species are distributed in the different groups of living beings.

If we take the classification system of Margulis and Schwartz of organization of living beings in five kingdoms, according to Llorente-Bousquets, J and S. Ocegueda (2008), this is the distribution of the known species of the planet:

especies conocidas planeta tierra, biodiversidad, especies, planeta tierra
Distribution of known species on Earth

The predominant group is that of animals, representing 76% of all known species. Within animals, arthropods are the group with the most species, with about 1.2 million species (1 million of which are insect species), representing 86% of all known animals. Our group, the chordates, is light years away from this figure, since it is made up of some 61,000 species (4% of the species), being surpassed by that of the molluscs, with some 85,000 species.

artropodos, insectos, animales, biodiversidad, especies, planeta tierra
Arthropods are the biggest group of animals, with more than one million species (Picture: Pixabay, Creative Commons).

Plants represent 17% of the species studied, with approximately 292,000 species. These include different large groups: angiosperms (87% of species), gymnosperms (0.3%), ferns (4.3%) and bryophytes (9%).

WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF SPECIES EXTINCTION?

Human activities cause a decline in species because the principles of sustainable development are not always applied. Among these activities, the following should be highlighted:

  • Alteration and destruction of ecosystems. The destruction of the rainforest is an example. In many tropical areas, such as Southeast Asia, it is devastated with large areas of forest to plant the palm, from which the famous palm oil is extracted. This endangers a high number of species, among which there are orangutans. Avoid products with palm oil to avoid this situation! Another example is the fragmentation of rivers due to the construction of large dams, which prevents fish such as salmon, eel or lamprey to move freely between rivers and the sea.
orangutan, aceite de palma, indonesia, sureste asiático, biodiversidad, amenazas biodiversidad
Orangutan (Pongo sp.) victim of deforestation for the oil palm industry (Picture: unknown author).
  • Agricultural practices The abusive use of pesticides is causing the massive death of bees, insects essential for pollination and, therefore, for the provision of food. As we have seen before, agriculture needs land and, when it is not available, large areas are destroyed.
  • Hunting and exploitation of animals. Until not many years ago, there was a hunt for animals that were thought to be harmful to livestock, hunting or man, as in the case of the Iberian wolf. Trade in exotic species, collecting or capturing animals with supposedly curative properties are also threatening biodiversity.
lobo ibérico, biodiversidad, amenazas biodiversidad
Wolf corpses appeared in Asturias, Spain (Several sources).
  • Introduction of exotic species. When a species is introduced, voluntarily or involuntarily, in an area where it is not native it is called an exotic species. These compete for space and resources with the natives, so that local species are harmed. If, in addition, these new species displace the locals then they have an invasive behavior. In Hawaii, human activity and the introduction of new species such as the rat has caused the disappearance of 90% of native bird species.
  • Climate change. Climate change is responsible for the alteration of habitats and the conditions in which the species live. It causes bleaching of corals, expansion of epidemics, causes changes in the migration of species such as whales, increases sea level... and a long etcetera.
blanqueamiento corales, biodiversidad, amenazas biodiversidad, cambio climático, cambio global
Bleaching in American Samoa. The first picture (before) was taken in December 2014 and the second (after) in February 2015 (Picture: XL Catlin Seaview Survey).
  • Tourism. When tourism is carried out in a non-respectful manner with biodiversity or exceeding the carrying capacity of the ecosystem, nature may be affected. The solution is sustainable tourism.
  • Ignorance. Ignorance is the worst enemy for conservation. For this reason this blog was born, to raise awareness among its readers of the importance of preserving nature.

Are you a lover of nature and biodiversity? Share with us what you do to prevent threatening nature!

How would it be a world without bees?

In recent years, the idea of a world without bees has transcended numerous social and political spheres. The scientific community has been warning about the disappearance of bees during years without any consequence. But now, it has become an issue of major concern, acquiring a media relevance like never before. At the end of 2017, the EU decided to take matters into its own hands to prevent this tragic ending for bees.

Why would it be a problem that bees disappear from Earth? And which measures has the UE take in order to address this problem?

The DDT and Rachel Carson

The use of pesticides has been a common agricultural practice from the very beginning of agriculture. At the beginning, the use of organic chemicals derived from naturals sources, as well as inorganic substances such as sulphur, mercury and arsenical compounds, was very common. However, they eventually stopped being used due to their toxicity (especially, phytotoxicity). The growth in synthetic pesticides accelerated in the mid-twentieth century, especially with the discovery of the effects of DDT, which became one of the most widely used pesticides of all time. DDT became famous due to its generalist insecticidal effects and low toxicity to mammals and plants, being used to eradicate household pests, fumigate gardens and control agricultural pests.

Picture above: cover of a March 1947 brochure on DDT from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (source). Picture below: kids being showered with DDT during a campaing against poliomyelitis, which was believed to be transmitted by a mosquito (source).

DDT resulted to be very effective against insect vectors of deadly diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and typhus, thus becoming even more popular.

However, the overuse of this and other pesticides eventually began to cause severe human and environmental health problems, because some of these products started to contaminate soils, plants and their seeds, and to bioaccumulate within the trophic nets, finally affecting mammals, birds and fishes, among others. The indiscriminate use of pesticides and their effects were denounced by Rachel Carson through her most famous publication, “Silent Spring”, which was distributed in 1962.

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson (source).

From Carson to the neonicotinoids

Since Carson denounced the abusive use of pesticides, the world has witnessed the birth of many new substances to fight crop pests. Since then, researches have focused on finding less toxic and more selective products in order to minimize their impact on both human and environmental health. Could we say it has been a success?

Yes… and no. Although their use stopped being so indiscriminate and famers started betting on the use of more selective products, there were still some open fronts. Fronts that would remain open until today.

Between 1980 and 1990, Shell and Bayer companies started working on the synthesis of a new assortment of pesticides to face the resistances that some insects have acquired to some of the most widely used substances those days: the neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine; they effect the insect nervous system with a high specificity, while having a very low toxicity to mammals and birds compared to their most famous predecessors (organochlorides, such as the DDT, and carbamates). The most widely used neonicotinoid nowadays (and also one of the most widely used pesticides worldwide) is the imidacloprid.

However, far from getting famous for their effectiveness, the use of neonicotinoids began to get controversial for their supposed relationship with the disappearance of bees.

How do these pesticides affect bees?

For some years now (2006 onwards) the neonicotinoids are in scientists’ spotlight as one of the main suspects of the disappearance of bees. However, it has not been until now that something that scientists had been denouncing for years has finally been assumed: that neonicotinoids cause a greater impact than it was thought.

Dead bees in front of a hive. Public domain.

Unlike other pesticides that remain on plant surfaces, some studies state that neonicotinoids are taken up throughout their tissues, thus being accumulated in their roots, leaves, flowers, pollen and nectar. Also, that nearby fields are polluted with the dust created when treated seeds are planted and that plants derived from these seeds will accumulate a major amount of pesticide than sprayed plants (as it is explained in this publication of Nature). This causes bees (as well as other pollinating insects) to be exposed to high levels of pesticides, both in the crops themselves and in the surrounding foraging areas. These same studies have revealed with less support that these products may persist and accumulate in soils, which may affect future generations of crops.

Some of the negative effects on bees that have been related to neonicotinoids are:

In addition to the effects of neonicotinoids, other important causes must be taken into account: climate change, less food sources and changes in soil uses.

What would happen if bees disappear?

Colonial bees (like honeybees) are the most famous among bees. However, they only represent a mere portion within the great diversity of known bees, most of which have solitary life habits and build their nests inside small cavities. The ecological importance of solitary bees is equal to or greater than that of honey bees, but effects that neonicotinoids have on them are still poorly studied. Together, bees are among the most efficient pollinating organisms.

Solitary bee entering in its nest. Public domain.

According to this study carried out in German territory and published in POLS One at the end of 2017, a large part of flying insect diversity (including numerous pollinators) and up to 75% of their biomass have decreased in the last three decades due to the interaction of several factors. And if that was not enough, the authors say that these numbers can probably be extrapolated to other parts of the world.

What would happen if both colonial and solitary bees disappear?

  • Disappearance of crops. The production of many crops, such as fruit trees, nuts, spices and some oils, depends entirely on pollinators, especially on bees.
  • Decrease in the diversity and biomass of wild plants. Up to 80% of wild plants depend on insect pollination to reproduce, as it happens with many aromatic plants. A decrease in the vegetal surface would lead to serious problems of erosion and desertification.
  • Less recycling of soil nutrients. With the disappearance of the plants, the washing and deposition of soil nutrients would go down.
  • Less biological pest control. Some solitary bees are parasitoids of other solitary bees and other groups of insects (natural enemies); their absence could trigger the recurrence of certain pests.
  • Negative effects on higher trophic levels. The disappearance of bees could cause a decrease in the diversity and biomass of some birds that feed on pollinators.
  • Disappearance of bee-derived products, such as honey or wax.

The UE bans the use of neonicotinoids

Facing this reality, several governments have tried to limit the use of pesticides as a part of the measures to stop the decline of bee populations and the resulting economic losses. To give some examples, since 2006 the biomass of honey bees has decreased by 40% in the US, 25% in Europe since 1985 and 45% in the United Kingdom since 2010, according to data published by Greenpeace.

To date, the more restrictive measures limited the use of neonicotinoids in certain situations or seasons. But at the beginning of 2018, the EU, after preparing a detailed report based on more than 1,500 scientific studies carried out by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), decided to definitively ban the use of the three most used neonicotinoids in a maximum period of 6 months in all its member states after demonstrating that they are harmful for bees: imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

Will the objectives of this report be accomplished? We will have to wait …

.           .           .

Although slowly, the fight against the abusive use of pesticides is paying off. However, we will have to see if the gap left by some products is filled with other substances or if governments commit to adopt more environment friendly agricultural models.

Main picture obtained from [link].

Responsible tourism: travelling respecting the animals

We all like to travel and many times we seek contact with nature. This happens especially when we travel to exotic countries and seek contact with wild animals. Travelling and respect for nature are two concepts that should go hand in hand. It is nothing other than responsible tourism. Discover what you can do to travel respecting animals! 

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM: TRAVELLING RESPECTING THE ANIMALS

Every time people are more disconnected from nature, which means that when we go to it we do not do it in the best way. How many times have we seen pictures of people with wild animals? If you really love animals, you will look for ways to approach them without endangering their lives or their natural habitat.

WHEN DO WE HAVE TO CONSIDER IRRESPONSIBLE AN ACTIVITY WITH ANIMALS?

A first indicator that we should reject an activity that will be harmful to animals is that they are not in their habitat, but above all because they perform sickly and inappropriate behaviors of their species. An encounter with animals should make us feel that we all are part of nature and that we all share the planet together. Remember: the animals are not for fun!

In accordance with the Amsterdam European Treaty of 1997, for animals to enjoy minimal animal welfare they must:

  • Do not suffer hunger or thirst.
  • Do not suffer discomfort.
  • Do not suffer pain, injury or illness.
  • Be free to express their natural behaviour.
  • Do not suffer fear or anguish.

For these reasons, when an activity calls into question any of these five points we must reject it.

3 ACTIVITIES THAT CAN ENDANGER ANIMALS (AND WE CAN AVOID)

ANIMAL SIGHTINGS AND SAFARIS

According to FAADA, every year 12 million trips are organised to observe wild animals in their natural habitat, whether they are cetaceans, birds, lions or any other animal.

turismo responsable, turismo animales, turismo sostenible, turismo, viaje sostenible, viaje animales, contacto naturaleza, turismo responsable animales, safari kenia, kenia, viaje kenia,
Safari in Kenia (Photo: DEMOSH, Creative Commons).

It is not difficult to imagine that all this amount of people occupying their natural habitats and interacting with animals have negative effects:

  • Behavioral and psychological changes, such as reducing the time they feed or rest or even seek refuge in other areas, where there could be less food and more predators.
  • Animals during breeding season are especially sensitive, so bothering them at this time can have negative effects for the conservation of the species.
  • Chemical changes in the blood by the increase of stress hormones or by being fed by tourists.
  • Transmission of diseases, whether from animals to humans or vice versa.
  • Their natural habitats are also compromised.

In spite of what we have just said, this type of activity can also have a positive impact on species, such as the protection of habitats, the financing of conservation projects, the creation of jobs for locals and education on wildlife and the need to preserve it. An example of this is the Galapagos Islands, which thanks to wildlife sightings, such as marine iguanas, can maintain the national park, or the whale sharks of the Seychelles, which can be studied thanks to the money collected.

TIPS FOR A RESPONSIBLE TOURISM IN ANIMAL SIGHTINGS AND SAFARIS

The tips that should be followed vary a lot depending on the species that we will observe, but in general we should take into account the following:

  • Do not take or introduce fauna or flora from the place we visit.
  • Do not use means of transport that move at high speed, that produce a lot of noise or that change direction abruptly.
  • Never touch the animals, because you could transmit diseases, infections or parasites (or vice versa).
  • Never feed the animals, because you could modify their behaviour patterns, create dependence or even suffer aggression.
  • Do not leave a trace of garbage, including organic remains.
  • Do not provoke animals or try to attract their attention.
  • Do not shout or make exaggerated noises or movements, because they could come to interpret it as a threat.
  • Do not maintain eye contact with animals, since some interpret it as a challenge.
  • Investigate when it is the time of reproduction or moult of the species that you want to see and avoid going in this period.
  • Never place yourself between two animals, especially between a mother and her offspring.
  • Try not to damage plants, mosses and lichens while walking or driving.
  • Respect the maximum time allowed for sighting.
  • Call the attention of the people in the group or the guide whenever these recommendations are not met and inform the organizers.

SOUVENIRS

In many touristic destinations, we can find some souvenirs made with animal parts or even with living animals.

turismo responsable, turismo animales, turismo sostenible, turismo, viaje sostenible, viaje animales, contacto naturaleza, turismo responsable animales, regalo, souvenir
Ivory comb (Photo: Andreas Praefcke, Creative Commons).

Reject gifts or products with shells, horns, furs, feathers, teeth, bones or other parts. Remember that selling ivory, such as of elephant, is totally illegal. In addition, some objects can be made with sea turtle shells, such as jewellery or sunglasses. And as a final example, rejects any product of traditional Asian medicine made with parts of tiger, leopard, musk, rhinoceros and bear, since they are also illegal.

As for live animals, as a traveller/tourist and consumer, you have the power to stop this industry that endangers wildlife. Just to give an example, it is known about 700 animal species that are in danger of extinction as a result of the capture of exotic species to be acquired as pets. In addition, for a single individual to arrive at the store, it is estimated that there are 9 other animals that have died along the way.

Buy them, besides being unethical and that could have involved a lot of cruelty towards animals, could cause many legal problems, since the fact that they are sold does not mean that they are allowed.

TIPS FOR A RESPONSIBLE TOURISM IN SOUVENIRS

  • Never buy this type of products. Tell the seller that you want another type of souvenir.
  • If you suspect the legality of a product, inform the police, your tour operator or the local tourism authority.
  • Alerts the rest of tourists of this problem.

LOCAL TRADITIONS

Many times animals are abused, even causing their death, with the excuse that it is a tradition of the country or the region. An example of this are bullfights. As it is impossible to talk about all of them, here we are going to focus on elephants in temples, snake charmers and gastronomy.

ELEPHANTS IN TEMPLES

In Hindu and Buddhist countries it is easy to find elephants in the temples, since they consider that they will bring fortune and good luck. Interestingly, they do bring fortune; the money they get from the locals who want to be blessed in exchange for a donation.

turismo responsable, turismo animales, turismo sostenible, turismo, viaje sostenible, viaje animales, contacto naturaleza, turismo responsable animales, abuso animal, abuso elefantes, elefantes templos
Elephants in temples are used for blessing visitors in exchange for a donation (Picture: unknown author, Creative Commons).

These elephants are victims of stress, boredom, loneliness, physical pain and psychological pain. Many times they remain chained for life in the same place, one front leg and one back so they cannot move. This usually causes psychological problems and can go crazy: it can be observed by a constant rolling of the head.

Obviously, they do not enjoy the necessary requirements: they spend 18 hours a day searching for food, they protect themselves from the sun with mud, they spend a lot of time in the water, they are highly sociable, they live in herds and a long etcetera.

Nor are they spared a long and suffered training time, in which they are deprived of water, food and social contact, they have limited movement, they are beaten when they rebel and to master them trainers use metal hooks to hit their heads and ears. We leave a video for you to see (notice: it’s hard).

SNAKE CHARMERS

In countries like India and Morocco it is not strange to find snake charmers. Let’s not trick ourselves: it’s not magic, it’s abuse.

turismo responsable, turismo animales, turismo sostenible, turismo, viaje sostenible, viaje animales, contacto naturaleza, turismo responsable animales, encantadores serpientes, serpientes
Snake charmers are not magicians, they are accomplices of animal abuse (Photo: Carlos Adampol Galindo, Creative Commons).

In the first place, we must be aware the poaching of these animals are a cause of their disappearance. In fact, each “charmer” uses about 7 snakes per year. The most commonly used species are the cobras and brooding vipers, horned and Maghreb, all very poisonous.

In addition, they are forced to live in wooden boxes of 15 x 40 x 60 cm, in which there are usually different species, so that predation, cannibalism or poisoning are not rare.

To avoid bites, their tusks are cut, their mouths are tied with plastic or even glue is used so that they can only stick their tongue out. The poison glands are also removed to prevent poisoning.

Why do they raise? The reason is that the “charmers” use flutes that look like snakes (in the eyes of snakes, of course) and perform undulating movements, so that they respond with intimidation.

GASTRONOMY

Travelling is a synonym of tasting other types of gastronomy, it is part of the grace of travelling. But when these dishes contain endangered animals or the preparation entails animal suffering, we must reject them.

turismo responsable, turismo animales, turismo sostenible, turismo, viaje sostenible, viaje animales, contacto naturaleza, turismo responsable animales, gastronomia respetuosa, sopa aleta tiburón, carne ballena, carne animales salvajes
Some Asiatic dishes are thought the have some magical properties, but it’s far from the truth (Photo: unknown author, Creative Commons).

Here we will only focus on some dishes to avoid, but the list is long:

  • Shark fin soup (Asian countries): only the fins of the sharks are used to cook it, so they are cut off while they are still alive and the rest of the body is returned alive to the sea, so that their destiny is suffering until get to the deepest.
  • Turtle eggs (Asia and the Caribbean): turtles reproduce very slowly, so taking their eggs endangers their survival.
  • Whale meat (Iceland, Japan and Korea): not only threatens its survival, but also endangers human health (contains many pollutants).
  • Meat of wild animals (Africa, Asia and Latin America): the trade of monkey, anteater or elephant trunk meat is the main reason for its disappearance.

What is your next trip? Will you have any contact with nature and animals activities? What will you do so that this interaction does not compromise the animal’s well-being and survival? Leave us your comments!

Cover picture: pixnio.com

What’s causing the massive death of the nobel pen shell?

The nobel pen shells are the most emblematic molluscs of the Mediterranean since they only live in this sea. Its drastic reduction due to a parasite has led scientists to declare it as endangered. Do not miss this post to know more about the nobel pen shell and what is leading them to extinction, as well as what is being done and what you can do to save the species! 

WHAT’S CAUSING THE MASSIVE DEATH OF THE NOBEL PEN SHELL?

THE NOBEL PEN SHELL, THE AFFECTED

The nobel pen shells (Pinna nobilis) are molluscs of the bivalve class. This means that they have a shell formed by two lateral shells, which are joined by a hinge.

The shell of the pen shells is shaped like an ear, hence its scientific name (Pinna), since it has a rounded upper part and the lower one ends in a tip. It is by the lower tip that they are buried in the substrate to hold onto the seabed. It can reach a meter long.

nacra, pinna nobilis, muerte masiva nacra, haplosporidium
The nobel pen shell (Pinna nobilis) is ear-shaped, hence its scientific name (Picture: Doruk Aygün, Creative Commons).

The nobel pen shells are the most characteristic mollusc of the Mediterranean, since it is in this sea the only place in the world where they live. It is, then, a species endemic to the Mediterranean. They are usually found associated with Posidonia meadows and their presence serves as an indicator of good water quality.

Among its threats are the capture by divers, pollution and anchoring of vessels in the Posidonia meadows. Now, anyway, we must add a new threat: a protozoan, which has led it to be in danger of extinction.

A PROTOZOAN, THE CULPRIT

A parasite that affects the digestive system of the pen shells is the culprit that they are in danger of extinction. Specifically, it is a protozoan of the genus Haplosporidium, which penetrates the digestive gland. How the pathogen has entered the mollusc is still a mystery.

In any case, it must be a very specific pathogen, since it has not affected its “sister” species, Pinna rudis, which lives in the same areas.

NOWADAYS SITUATION

At the beginning of autumn 2016, a massive death of pen shells of the species Pinna nobilis was detected in several points of the Spanish Mediterranean coast.

A study carried out by the Balearic Oceanographic Center of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography has concluded that in most of the Spanish Mediterranean coast there are high mortality rates, up to 100% in some points, especially in the populations of Andalusia, Murcia, Valencia Community and Balearic Islands. In fact, this is the massive mortality event that has most affected the species to date.

nacra, pinna nobilis, muerte masiva nacra, haplosporidium
Map about the situation of Pinna nobilis in different places of the Western Mediterranean coast (Source: Vázquez-Luis et al. 2017).

In this video, you can see a massive death case in Tangó de Xàbia (Valencia Community):

Fortunately, the populations of the Catalan coast still persist, especially those located in Cap de Creus and in the Ebre Delta.

In addition, the high propagation rate of the protozoan could lead to an even worse situation. It is for this reason that it has been declared as a critically endangered species.

HOW ARE SCIENTISTS SAVING THE NOBEL PEN SHELL?

A project of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and Environment of the Government of Spain, with a cost of 491,521 euros, aims to rescue 215 specimens of the species.

The project consists in its extraction, rescue and conservation in different centres, with the final goal of keeping the specimens healthy to avoid their infection, maintain the species, have a genetic reserve and, in the future, repopulate their habitats again and try reproduce the species in captivity.

WHAT CAN I DO?

According to a decalogue from the Spanish Malacology Society, this is what has to be done in case of finding a nobel pen shell.

In case the animal is alive: 

  1. Do not disturb, damage or tear the animal.
  2. Do not touch the animal under any circumstances, since the protozoan generates many spores and could contaminate it.
  3. Do not disturb the animal by putting us on it, lighting it with a flashlight or trying to open its shells.
  4. Try to identify the Pinna species. The young specimens of P. nobilis and P. rudis can be distinguished by the number and size of the ribs of the shells: in P. nobilis they are much smaller and numerous. In larger specimens it is more complicated.
  5. If the animal is covered with organisms, even if they are of invasive exotic species, the animal should be left untouched and untapped.
  6. If the mollusk is alive but lying on the bottom, do not touch so as not to damage it or infect it.
  7. If we see that there are divers or other people touching or bothering an animal, we should gently remove it from the animal.
  8. If we see that a diver or fisherman has captured a live animal and tries to get it out of the water or has done so, we must return it to the sea as soon as possible and call the 112 telephone so that the competent authorities take the appropriate measures.
nacra, pinna nobilis, muerte masiva nacra, haplosporidium, pinna rudis
Pinna rudis can be distinguished from Pinna nobilis by the presence of bigger and less numerous ribs (Picture: Creative Commons)

In case the animal is death: 

  1. If we find an empty shell, we should leave it in the water. It is a protected species.
  2. If we find a dead pen shell with remains of the organism, we should not touch it or move it so as not to expand the pathogen.

Other complementary measures: 

  1. If we are going to dive with a boat or sail, in no case will we drop the anchor if there is Posidonia in the seabed.
  2. If we have dived in areas with death pen shells, we must clean the equipment with diluted bleach or detergent to prevent the spread of the pathogen to other areas.
  3. If you see a live or recently dead specimen of Pinna nobilis, tell it to bzn-biomarina@mapama.es and to cob@ba.ieo.es with the subject “Nacra”.

REFERENCES

Cetaceans and fishing: a dangerous relationship

The cetaceans are creatures that live in the seas and oceans of the Earth. Like other animals, not only must they cope with natural threats to their environment, such as predation or disease, but they also interact with human activities, such as fishing. Here we will see how fishing threatens the populations of these marine mammals. 

CETACEANS AND FISHING: A DANGEROUS RELATIONSHIP

According to a recently report published by Ecologists in Action, the main threats of anthropic origin that cetaceans have to overcome are fishing, aquaculture, submarine noise, collisions with boats, marine litter, chemical pollution, sighting tourism , research, climate change and dolphinariums.

amenazas cetaceos
Cetaceans have to face several anthropic threats and they might beach at coast (Picture: Bahnfrend, Creative Commons)

WHALING

During the last century, whaling activity captured more than three million individuals worldwide, especially in the southern hemisphere, where according to the IWC, about 750,000 individuals of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) and 400,000 specimens of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) were captured, among others.

It is known that until the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of blue whales were captured, the largest animal that inhabits the Earth. Despite conservation efforts, currently only between 10,000 and 20,000 individuals survive, a small part compared to those that inhabited the Earth before the boom in the whaling industry.

industria ballenera, relacion cetáceos pesca
Picture showing whaling (Picture: Creative Commons)

In fact, according to a study by Tulloch et al. (2017), although there is currently an international moratorium and major conservation efforts are being made, in the year 2100 the populations of cetaceans that were the object of catches will reach, at most, by half of its original size.

Contrary to the prohibitions established in 1986, there are countries that continue to catch whales and dolphins. These countries are mainly Japan, Norway and Iceland. It is believed that they capture some 1,500 whales annually together, although the demand for meat from these marine mammals is low. In fact, since the ban, it is estimated that some 30,000 whales have been captured.

In Spain, the capture of cetaceans is also prohibited, although it is believed that there is a small illegal activity.

BYCATCH OF CETACEANS

We must bear in mind the impact of accidental catches, one of the main causes of mortality in cetaceans. It consists in the capture of species that are not the target of fishing.

Bycatch can cause a conservation problem when there are endangered species affected, such as the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), a critically endangered porpoise (there are only about 30 animals left around the world), according to the IUCN. mainly due to gillnets.

Bycatch is one of the main causes of mortality, although at European level some measures have been taken, such as Regulation 812/2004. Accidental capture with the use of driftnets was especially important, but this practice is currently prohibited throughout the Mediterranean. In any case, other fishing gears, such as gillnets, purse seines or trawls, are particularly harmful.

In the 1960s, the tuna purse seine fishery in the Eastern Pacific had a significant impact on dolphin populations. The reason is that the fishermen knew that under the groups of dolphins that swam on the surface there are schools of tuna that followed them to take directionality. Thus, knowing this relationship, they surrounded the cetaceans (and therefore the tuna) with the purse seines, killing the former. It is estimated that in 1986 alone, about 133,000 dolphins were captured. To stop this situation, the pressure of the society was fundamental to take the appropriate measures. In fact, currently less than 0.1% of individuals are captured.

relacion pesca cetáceos, pesca accidental delfines
Fishers related dolphins with tuna, so that purse seine affected them (Picture: Wally Gobetz, Creative Commons)

Now we will focus on a case of gillnets. Gillnets kill many different species of cetaceans, both dolphins and whales. Although whales often survive, they often have traces of fishing gear attached to the body, such as nets. Small cetaceans do not suffer the same fate and often die. We have already seen the case of the vaquita , but another porpoise, the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is the cetacean that suffers most deaths from gillnets.

Finally, we will see the relationship between cetaceans and trawling. Many species of cetaceans, both dolphins and small whales, feed on the target species of trawling, so they are caught while they are feeding on their prey. In fact, 16 cetacean species have been reported worldwide that feed in association with trawling. The catches are much greater when nets are left at a medium depth than when fishing is done on the seabed.

Despite all conservation efforts, according to an estimate by Read and collaborators, about 300,000 marine mammals are accidentally caught around the world each year due to fishing operations.

COMPETITION FOR FOOD

Finally, we cannot forget that cetaceans and fishermen compete for the same resources. Therefore, we must bear in mind that some cetaceans also interact with fishing to get food. Sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins and killer whales have learned to “steal” food from fishermen.

In fact, they take captures from longline, gillnets and trawl nets, running the risk of being trapped.

In any case, some measures have been taken, such as installing devices that emit annoying sounds for animals. Despite the attempts, they have adapted to it and, in fact, in some cases interpret them as an indication of the presence of fishermen in the area.

REFERENCES

  • López López, L (2017). Cetáceos: los mamíferos más salaos. Informe sobre las interacciones entre cetáceos y actividades humanas. Ecologistas en acción.
  • Hall, MA; Alverson, DL & Metuzals, KI (2000). Bycatch: Problems and solutions. Marine Pollution Bulletin Vol. 41, N 1-6, pp. 204-219.
  • Northridge, S (2009). Bycatch. In Perrin, WF; Würsig, B & Thewissen, JGM (Eds). Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (pp.167-169). Academic Press (2 ed).
  • Whale and Dolphin Conservation: Stop Whaling
  • World Wildlife Foundation: The Vaquita
  • Cover picture: Omar Vidal (source)