Friday, June 25, 2021

A Tall Story – A look at the world of giraffes

 

"The silent extinction"


I’m thinking about Giraffes today. In case you are wondering why, their International Day fell on the same day as I was writing about rainforests. In fact I’ve missed quite a few other commemorative days this month while obsessing about trees – Endangered Species Day, Biological Diversity Day, World Ocean Day, World Bee Day, Parrot Day, Turtle Day, Lynx Day, Cougar Day, Croc Day, Camel Day and quite a few before that, but these topics are not unrelated – destroy the habitat and you lose the species whether its orangutans, elephants, turtles, insects, birds or anything else. It’s only when we start losing big mammals that we seem start to taking notice of the damage being done, while countless minor species sink without trace. A friend and I were talking only the other day about how rarely we see Christmas beetles these days compared to how abundant they were when we were children. The special days are good in the sense that we come to understand some of the specific threats faced by individual species and what we might do about them. Giraffe Day also made me realise how little I actually knew about them so we’ll talk a bit about them today and then some of the others, especially the ones I haven’t written about before.

 Meet the Giraffe

Giraffes truly are a wonder of the world. At an average 5.49 metres (18 ft) for males and 4.27m (14 ft) for females they are the tallest land mammals and an amazing sight to see. Their offspring are around 2m tall at birth and reach their full height at two years of age. Many juveniles fall victim to predators. Committed vegetarians, their height enables them to browse elegantly on trees, yet as their necks do not reach the ground they must splay their legs in order to drink. Fortunately they don't do that often. The giraffe has one distant relative the Okapi, which is smaller, mostly black with stripes on its hindquarters and prefers a reclusive life in the deep jungle to strutting about on the savannah.

How to tell whether a Giraffe is a boy or a girl and other giraffe facts

 


Read more about these gentle giants here and here.

 

What does the future hold for giraffes? 

 There are now only about 97,562 giraffes left in the wild, a decline of around 40% over the last three decades. They are found primarily in East and Sub Saharan Africa. As usual their diminishing numbers are largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation, but also to poachers, illegal hunting, mining, agriculture, civil unrest, climate change and population growth which leads to clearing of new areas. 

It has only recently been discovered that there are in fact four different species of giraffe as well as several subspecies. While all are vulnerable to extinction according to the ICUN Red List, several subspecies are either endangered or critically endangered. The Kordofan, a subspecies of the South African Giraffe, falls into the latter category as does the Nubian. Northern Giraffe numbers have fallen by 90% to 6,000 in the last thirty -five years and the Masai Giraffe which lives between Kenya and Tanzania has declined by 50% to around 32,000. Giraffes are already extinct in seven African countries. What a shame that our knowledge base seems to grow in inverse proportion to the number of specimens which remain.

 Saving Giraffes

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation has programmes running in 16 different African nations and seeks  to ensure the survival of remnant populations. It has for example, relocated Nubian giraffes, a subspecies of the Northern Giraffe, to The Ugandan Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, the largest wildlife reserve in Uganda, where giraffes, along with most other species perished during the civil war. It also monitors and tracks giraffes in order to better protect them and publishes a number of educational resources.

How we can help

  •      Support conservation in situ and habitat conservation, rather than zoos but do both if you can. Much as I would prefer to see giraffes in the wild, zoos are our last line of defence against extinction when numbers become too low. They will be struggling too while tourist numbers are low

Monday, June 21, 2021

World Rainforest Day 22//6/2021

Rainforest, Vanuatu - rich in biodiversity, retains moisture, generates rainfall and oxygen and absorbs  four times more carbon dioxide than palm plantations

 


Just when you and I thought we’d finished talking about trees for a while, along comes World Rainforest Day. Because Rainforests are significant in a number of ways and at a tipping point, I will touch on this briefly, because it should concern us all. We have already mentioned their importance to maintaining biodiversity – they contain 50% of species known to man (sic) and possibly quite a few that aren’t known. Their density and moisture content also mean that rainforests are considerably cooler and retain more water than regions where they have been replaced by broad scale agriculture. They also store four times more carbon than say, palm oil plantations which are replacing them in places such as Indonesia and the Congo. Most importantly however, they also play a large role in regulating climate and rainfall, not just in situ, but in places far removed from their location. Clearing of the Amazon for example, is implicated in drought in the USA. In Africa it is more likely to affect Europe and in South East Asia it can extend as far as China and beyond. Without rainforests to absorb emissions, land clearing threatens to derail efforts to prevent temperatures rising above 1.5 C.

  

Yet, despite commitments by Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to halve land clearing by 2020 and end it by 2030, they seem to have had the opposite effect. Peru plans to increase land clearing by 70%  and the Republic of the Congo expects to double its own. Brazil, which was not a signatory to the New York Declaration on Forests, but made its own commitment,  cleared 13.7% more land between 2017 and 2018, representing a 41% shortfall in its commitment and marks the fourth consecutive year that that has been the case.  


 

Palm plantation, Vanuatu - even in this remote corner of the Pacific palm plantations and cattle ranches are becoming common

 

For details on specific locations and a more comprehensive discussion on this topic, see Mongabay.com. What I particularly like about Mongabay’s reasoned approach is that it goes beyond just saying, “Stop clearing.” It looks at the underlying causes which are often very complex. In Brazil for example, the main drivers are conversion to pasture, in the Congo it’s mainly driven by small scale and subsistence farmers, while Indonesia’s forests are being cleared for plantations.  While clearing for large agribusinesses and ranching declined in the Brazilian Amazon after 2004 it has pushed it into neighbouring regions such as the Cerrado and into other countries such as Paraguay, Columbia and Peru. Mongabay also considers things like the fact that that when 10% of the population owns 90% of the land, as is the case in Brazi, the poor are forced to clear more forests in order to eke out a living. In the Congo ballooning foreign debt means corporations can more easily pressure national governments into granting concessions for mining or logging. Population pressures and the demand for electricity have also driven deforestation. Different circumstances call for different solutions which Mongabay also offers such as the possibility of debt for equity swaps in favour of conservation.

 

Things we can do

 

While there are many things which our beyond our control, such as ending self -regulation by industry and voluntary agreements as recommended by the World Resources Institute and the Rainforest Foundation of Norway, there are things which individuals can do.  Firstly, we can avoid products containing palm oil, which is driving much of the deforestation in South East Asia. Palm oil under many different names is found in everything from cosmetics, to biofuels and a large number of foods in between. In 2014 it made up 33% of oils from food crops. It is also one of the worst drivers not only of deforestation but also of biodiversity loss. Read the labels carefully and remove the worst offenders from your shopping list. 

What's wrong with  palm oil?

 


 Eat less meat

Not only are parts of the Amazon still being cleared for broadscale cattle ranching for those burgers in the UK and the USA, but large swathes are also being cleared for soybean production to feed other livestock, despite promises to stop doing so by large soy importer Cargill.

 

Don't buy timber, furniture or paper and packaging made from tropical timbers without independent verification

 

Make sure that the furniture you buy comes from sustainable sources. For example many US furniture makers have admitted to using illegal mahogany from Brazil. There are often serious human rights violations involved as well.  Much of the timber used for decking and outdoor furniture in Australia comes from the rainforests of South East Asia. Although it may bear the Sustainable Forest Council label or FLEGT, the EU standard, corruption, self regulation by industry and poor monitoring and enforcement in many countries, may mean that it isn’t necessarily so. I have no doubt that any country prepared to forge our cherry labels in order to obtain higher prices would have no qualms about counterfeit timber labels either. Let the buyer beware, shop local where possible and be prepared to pay slightly more. Use recycled timber where possible. The same applies to paper goods and packaging. Reduce your need and if you must use them give preference to products made with recycled content. Click this link for more tips. Be prepared to pay a bit more and reward those who do the right thing with your business.

 

Support those working in the field

The Wildlife Alliance is an NGO, which employs rangers to monitor logging sites in Indonesia and prosecutes illegal loggers and wildlife poachers. See their video below.

 

 

 Another group working to protect rainforests (as well as those mentioned in previous posts) is the UK based World Land Trust which simply buys tracts of tropical rainforest in places such as Ecuador, India, and Mexico in order to reserve it for wildlife. I am sure there are many others who would also welcome your support.

 


Continue to reduce emissions in other ways since they also damage rainforests

 

Ironically one of the ways in which countries are seeking to decarbonise is by substituting biomass for fossil fuels and some of this also comes from tropical rainforests. This resulting in increased drying and further feedback loops. 

Beware the rush to substitute bionmass for fossil fuels

Of course all other efforts to reduce emissions and fossil fuel use must continue also to prevent further feedback loops. As countries rush to decarbonise, the latest assault on rainforests comes from the use of biomass in place of coal and fossil fuels.  Norway is the first country to ban biomass from palm oil sources which result in deforestation. Applauding the decision the Rainforest Foundation Norway* said,

It is highly positive that Norway has now followed up on last year’s pledge to ensure deforestation-free supply chains through the government’s public procurement policy with this strong commitment,” Hermann Ranum said. “It is now incumbent on other consumer countries to follow suit. In particular, the EU should take urgent steps to reduce the consumption of commodities, such as palm oil biodiesel, that are linked to rainforest destruction and accompanying greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and human rights violations.”

 Norway also plans to end sales of non -electric vehicles by 2025. Go Norway!

*The Rainforest Foundation Norway, is part of a larger umbrella organisation the Rainforest Foundation which also includes the Rainforest Foundation UK and the Rainforest Foundation USA.

Australian Rainforests

And let’s not forget Australia’s rainforests either. Rainforest Rescue is working to rescue and purchase properties in several parts of Australia including the Daintree – Australia’s largest area of tropical rainforest, Tasmania’s temperate rainforest in the North East  and Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland which is not yet protected.