Showing posts from 2014

Wolf cull backfires as wild canines feast on farm animals

Latest article that I've published is now available on The Conversation.

Here is the article:

Wolf cull backfires as wild canines feast on farm animals
Lock up your sheep. USFWSmidwest, CC BY
Wolves, lions and other large carnivores rely on meat for sustenance and there are only so many wild animals to go round. Sometimes, dinner means cow or sheep.

Farmers can use guard dogs or protective fencing to deter predators and protect livestock. But lethal methods such as hunting and trapping are also used to control wild carnivore numbers.

As a livestock farmer in wolf country, it would be reasonable to assume that killing more predators would result in fewer attacks on your animals. However, a new study by Washington State University has turned this assumption on its head by discovering the opposite: the more wolves that are killed (up to a threshold of 25% of the population), the more the remainder preyed on local sheep and cows. Why is this?
Unpicking the pack

The researchers, Robert Wielgus…

World Vegan Day: how businesses can help more carnivores go vegan

Reposted from my article on The Guardian

The term vegan has been around for 70 years and its long list of health and environmental benefits has not been lost on some of the most influential people in the world: Ghandi, Al Gore and Bill Clinton, to name a few. Never one to pass on a growing trend, Hollywood has seen the number of celebrity vegans increase exponentially – even Mike Tyson has reportedly turned vegan to reap the health benefits.

The United Nations has urged more people to try out a plant-based diet to help reduce the burden that humans place upon the planet (and on our waistlines) but, despite all this, only 2% of Brits claim to be vegetarian and a mere 1% classify themselves as strict vegans. If we know we should be eating less meat, what steps can businesses take to help us transition to a meatless diet?
Make vegan wins clearer on packaging

Although some supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s are starting to include the golden phrase “suitable for vegans” on their products, not …

"Why are you vegan?" and other FAQs

Are you a vegetarian or vegan?  If so, do you get tired with incessantly having to answer the following questions?

- Why don't you eat meat?
- But where do you get your protein from?
- How do you cope abroad?
- But what do you eat?

Rather than continue to answer these questions to every single last person I meet, I thought I'd make an FAQ that I can direct people to (in the name of efficiency).

- Why don't you eat meat?

Let me answer this question with a question itself: why do you eat meat?  And further, why is it deemed socially inappropriate to ask people why they are religious, why they get married, why they have children, why they are obese, why they undertake many life-changing behaviours, but it is apparently OK to ask people about their own personal justification towards the types of food they consume?  Why am I vegan?  Why not.  Here's 101 reasons why I decided to become vegan.

- But where do you get your protein from?

Where do pandas and gorillas get their protein fro…

Why farmers who want to shoot lions and wolves can’t be bribed

This is an article I wrote for The Conversation on 26 August 2014:
Bribery won’t stop Sweden’s wolf hunters

Conservationists have recently become very excited about financial incentives. The idea is to pay people to do things that will help biodiversity, for example, where farmers are paid not to till crops that reduce soil erosion or where landowners are given money to plant trees to capture carbon in the atmosphere.

This technique, considered by some as bribery to do what you want, has actually changed environmental behaviour for the better in some significant instances.

“Great”, I hear conservationists say, “let’s pay everyone to do exactly what we want!” The possibilities are endless: we could give farmers money to set aside land for nature, we could make fishing more sustainable, or we could reward people to not kill threatened predators. There are, however, problems with the system behind paying people to do things that they wouldn’t normally do, not least because sometimes money ca…

Trophy hunting is not poaching and can help conserve wildlife

Taken from my article published on The Conversation

There has been a huge increase in attention recently to the problem of wildlife poaching, mostly from the stream of grisly stories from Africa about rhino and elephants illegally killed for their horn and ivory. At the same time there has been a growing awareness of trophy hunting, with pictures of hunters, sometimes minor celebrities, posing next to their kill prompting furious outcry. But these two forms of wildlife are being wrongly lumped together. Despite both resulting in an animal’s death, they are entirely different.

Poaching is the illegal killing of wildlife, undertaken for reasons that may include revenge, meat for food or sale, tradition or money. Poachers might be poor locals from the area to foreigners capitalising on the lucrative illegal wildlife trade. By contrast, trophy hunting is the entirely legal killing of wildlife, often carried out by rich foreigners for sport and enjoyment. Both result in one animal fewer in t…

Against trophy hunting but a meat-eater = hypocrite?

After a number of interesting conversations I've had recently with people on the topic of trophy hunting, it has made me question whether those that are against this sport but partake in another form of murder (meat eating) are in fact hypocrites.

Now let me get this straight: I appreciate that the opponents to trophy hunting have a valid point if (and only if) the sport is undertaken at such a level that it will cause a decline in the wildlife species that are being hunted.  On the grounds of conservation, I too agree that trophy hunting is not sustainable nor advisable if there are too many animals hunted out of the population that reproduction cannot replace.

However, much scientific research (e.g. here, here, here, here, and here) has focused on the sustainability of trophy hunting and concluded time and again that it can in fact benefit wildlife conservation, rather than hinder it.  This is because huge tracts of land are conserved to create habitat for the highly-valuable hu…

For World Population Day, what's the best thing we can do to celebrate?

Today, July 11, is World Population Day: a day to think about the human population and how we  can best ensure that our population is sustainable for the health and well-being of both humans and of the planet.

This day was started in 1987 by the United Nations as a way for awareness to be raised on the potential problems with an increasing population, as well as the impact that the current population has on the world.

Since 1987, our population has grown by 2 billion.

Let's put that into perspective:

We have seen unprecedented growth of human populations since the industrial revolution.  The keen-eyed of you may notice that the UN projections show that population growth may tail off in the future.  "Great", you say, "we don't have to worry about population growth from now on!".  I wish this were true.

Right now, we consume more resources than the earth is able to replenish:

This is based upon not just the number of humans on the planet, but our consumption …

Cats' best friend? A new role for guard dogs in South Africa

Article on my livestock guarding dog research on Mongabay

Dogs protect livestock from predators, predators from humans

The last couple centuries have seen the decline of many large predator species. While there has been a surge of recovery and reintroduction programs to combat this problem, human population growth and limited protected areas have led to increased rates of human-wildlife conflicts in many regions of the world. A study published recently in the Wildlife Society Bulletin tested the ability of trained guarding dogs to protect livestock in South Africa and found it to be highly effective, protecting humans and predators alike.

In South Africa, predators such as large cats often live in close proximity to farmlands and often times will prey on livestock. Predation of livestock can take a toll on farmers’ income, often costing more than $3,000 in annual losses. This, in turn, can lead farmers to hunt and kill cats as a means of protecting their livelihoods.

Leopards (Panthera …

Biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction - a win-win scenario?

The last few decades of conservation policy has focused on the links between biodiversity degradation and poverty.  Whilst commendable in terms of human welfare, I think this direction is misleading: it has the mistaken premise that once people are not "poor" any more (what is "poor"?) they will no longer damage the environment.  This couldn't be further from the truth.
Case in point: emerging markets, such as in China, are expected to have unprecedented demand for meat products as the poorer classes become more wealthy and demand these "luxury" items.  And we all know what an increase in meat production does to the environment.

Next point:  Carbon emissions.  Middle- to higher-income countries have far greater carbon emissions than those in low-income countries.  I don't even need to expand here about what increased carbon emissions will do to the earth.

As a country becomes wealthier, it's population consumes more items that are damaging to …

How many animals went in to making your burger?

This is a repost from my article that was just published in the Guardian newspaper:

The conflict between farmers and predators has wiped out the UK's large carnivores. More must be done to improve coexistence

When you take a bite from your beef burger, have you ever stopped to think about the other animals besides the cow that were killed in the making of your dinner?  It is a little known fact that the meat industry tends to be at odds with wildlife conservation.  But how can this be?
The UK used to be home to vast plethora of wonderful beasts; the grey wolf, the brown bear, and the Eurasian lynx, to name but a few.  However, farmers thought that these carnivores killed livestock and so were wiped out many centuries ago.  Now, our largest land predators (besides humans, of course) are badgers and foxes – and yet the meat industry is still waging waragainst these two species.
In other areas of Europe, carnivores are met with a similar fate: the few dozen brown bears remaining in north…

The failure to talk about failures

"Failure is not an option".  That phrase has turned into a dogma amongst conservation scientists and practitioners.  Thou shalt not fail.  Because if you fail, you're seen as a failure, and as such, your funding will be cut, your job will be on the line, you'll lose all your friends, your partner will leave you, and your life  will suck forever.  Or that's at least how it appears failure is seen in this industry.

But how do we ever learn how to do things?  We try, we fail, we try again, we fail again, we learn, we see how other people do it, they fail, we try again, and maybe we succeed, and we show other people how to do it.  But more importantly, we show other people how not to do it; how not to waste your time, money and valuable resources on doing what we already tried and realised didn't work.

Trial and error.  What a fabulous way of learning.

It would be strange for a child to automatically know how to build a Lego house, or tie a shoelace, or ride a b…

Does it matter if the tiger goes extinct?

The tiger: a symbol of spirituality, fear, dominance, beauty, death, wilderness, terror and awe.  Tigers have been present in human lives ever since early Hominids wandered into their territories many tens of thousands of years ago.  And since then, human-tiger conflict has occurred, where tigers ate people or their livestock and people killed tigers and their prey.

 Tigers have also been regarded as commodities: medicine, fashion, furniture and trophies (adorned on the wall either stuffed or in a photo).  Thus they appear to have great value to us, especially now they are rare.  Being rare, however, could mean their ultimate demise, as the law of economics states that the fewer items available (their supply) and their high demand raises the price, which spurs on further exploitation until extinction.
 But here's a question: does it even matter if the tiger goes extinct?  Indeed, the species has been extirpated (removed) from vast tracts of its previous range and the world hasn&#…

How many senior women conservationists are there?

I was reminded when reading a Guardian article today that it is International Women's Day soon (for those of you who don't know, it's 8th March).  The Guardian report was of interest to me, as it talked about how there is a shocking lack of entries for women scientists on Wikipedia.  It's been over 8 decades since women won the right to vote in the UK, and you'd think that by now we should be seen as equal citizens to our male counterparts.  In fact, many of us believe that we are now considered equal.

How wrong they are.

The Times published an average salary of full-time academic staff in 2011-2012, clearly stating that in all cases across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island, women consistently earned less than men.

I took it upon myself to see whether there was an equal number of men and women employed in my University School of Anthropology and Conservation.  Only 34% of women made up the academic staff list; of two departments, anthropology raised the …

Conservationists & environmentalists: you talk the talk, why not walk the walk?

Something that has been perplexing me of late has been the phenomenon where conservationists and environmentalists alike understand the threats to biodiversity (e.g. carbon emissions from travel, overconsumption in general, and meat consumption from intensive farms) and yet are less than keen to reflect these behavioural changes in their personal lives.  Last year, upon attending a group meeting with other conservation PhD students, our supervisor provided us with biscuits.  I asked whether they would be Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance certified, and he looked at me as if I were mad; "err, no, Niki, I'll buy whatever is cheapest or I find first".  A carnivore conservation organisation I know promotes the idea of predator-friendly beef, where cows are raised on farms where the farmers take proactive measures to protect them from predators so they do not have to resort to killing them.  However, they do not buy this meat themselves for their staff canteen.  Conservationis…