2014 Roundup: May – August
It’s time for us to roundup the next four months of 2014 in a nice bitesize article for you to easily digest. As we moved into the summer and away from the winter gales we started to see which stories would become big news and play out throughout the rest of the year.
We welcomed May with the results of Australia’s shark cull trial which ran from January 25th to April 30th. The policy was put in place after a spate of shark attacks on water users although it was widely unpopular with conservationists who argued that it went against international obligations to protect the great white shark. Under the policy any shark caught by the lines longer than 10 foot and deemed to be a threat could be destroyed, and the results of the trial showed 50 sharks out of the 172 they caught had been destroyed. 90 of the 172 were tagged then released.
On the same day that those results were released we also learnt that Australia’s marsupials were in a sharp decline. Although habitats looked like they should be capable of supporting populations of marsupials, they had been disappearing from areas in the North of the country. The culprit was firmly believed to be feral cats introduced in the 1700s by Europeans, as the localised extinctions were only occuring in areas populated by cats and to species of a small body size.
There was also mixed emotions to the unveiling of 14 new dancing frog species in the jungle mountains of India. Although scientists have been studying them for more than a decade, it was only in May this year that they were formally identified in the Ceylon Journal of Science. A beautiful discovery due to their unusual kicking displays used to attract mates, the discovery is marked with sadness as they are assumed to be soon extinct. As climate change causes their restricted habitat to change, their numbers are dropping. Their numbers have dropped by a fifth in the short time scientists have been monitoring them.
In June we all caught football fever, amidst allegations that neither Brazil nor Fifa were doing enough to protect the real life version of the World Cups mascot – Fuleco the Armadillo. It was also the month a 20kg Jellyfish was spotted off the coast of Cornwall and a Swiss zoo euthanised a young bear cub, then stuffed it to teach children “nature can be cruel”.
June also saw the start of the spider horror stories we are plagued by every year with the discovery that fish-eating spiders are more common than previously thought. 8 out of 109 spider species are able to catch and kill fish by ambushing them and injecting them with venom. For anyone who wants to feed their arachnophobia, check out a video here .
One of 2014’s ongoing sagas began in June, with DEFRA’s fears over Britain’s first wild beavers carrying a lethal parasite. The first wild beavers spotted in the country for over 800 years were confirmed to be living in the River Otter amidst worries that they might be culled. The government ruled out culling the animals, however decided that capturing them and relocating them could be the best decision for all involved. This was the start of the ongoing battle to keep the beavers in the river.
Finally my personal favourite image of the month, possibly even the year happened in June. The relocation of a four-tonne white rhino as part of an annual programme to help maintain breeding bloodlines, saw the animal suspended from a helicopter as it travelled to a secret location.
There was one major announcement in July and it made huge headlines. Edinburgh Zoos Giant Panda Tian Tian was pregnant! Using artificial insemination after attempts at a more organic conception had failed, she was expected to give birth in late August. Officials however warned us not to get to excited, and of course it was for good reason.
Of course 2014 was also the year of the selfie, and it was in July conservationists started warning us of the dangers of tiger selfies. Tiger temples and other places claiming to be sanctuaries often charge tourists money to take pictures with the animals. These animals will often be mistreated and drugged to make them calmer around people. Moreover many animals are often taken from the wild to fill these attractions. Whilst tourists believe they are funding conservation efforts they are just paying for needless animal cruelty.
The Big Butterfly Count got underway in July, as members of the public turned scientist in their back gardens. With immigration hot on the agenda this year, it looked like the heatwave we were basking in was set to cause an influx of invertebrate migrants onto our shores. A sighting of the yellow-legged tortoiseshell butterfly, who has only been seen once before in Britain in 1953 prompted experts to wonder what else might take advantage of our warm temperatures. Strange wind directions were also set to help carry continental insects into Britain.
The tensions between Ukraine and Russia was unmissable this year, and as the West started to place sanctions upon Russia their zoo animals unwittingly started to feel the strain. Many of the animals lived off of imported food which had now been banned by the government in response to sanctions from the West. Although the zoo stressed no animal would go hungry, it has made life that little bit harder as the zoo now has rising food prices to deal with.
Red Squirrels in Scotland were also having a tough time as they came under threat from a form of leprosy. The infection causes the rare animals to lose fur and die after suffering from painful swellings. Little is known about the disease and how it is transmitted between animals. It is particularly worrying as it has never been seen before in red squirrels and it is believed it is probably more widespread than the six confirmed cases.
As the year went on, it became clear that it was going to be a disastrous year in terms of the scale of rhino poaching. Thus in August the decision was made to evacuate hundreds of rhinos from South Africa’s Kruger Park. The plans were made in an effort to curb the poaching epidemic which South Africa had born the brunt of, especially Kruger Park with its high population of rhinos. The plan was to move the rhinos to other areas with lower poaching rates or even to neighbouring countries.
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