Thursday, June 19, 2014

Barn Owl as Rodent Control

Barn Owl [M.Raeder-Photography]

Barn Owl as Rodent Control

In one of my recent Nature TidBits on April 24, 2014, I focused on the Monarch, a migratory butterfly, and how the extensive use of pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids [e.g. Roundup] has destroyed the monarch’s Milkweed habitat adjacent to mono-culture farms in the Midwest by 60%.  As a consequence, these beautiful butterflies have declined in numbers by 80%.  Butterflies and well as bees and other insects are pollinators and their decline directly effects the production of vegetable, fruits and nuts.  You might have heard of the devastating honey bee Colony Collapsing Disease that was identified in ~2004 and after much research and detective work, here too the neonicotinoids are the culprit.  Farmers say they need to use the pesticides to increase the yield of their crops, specifically those grown in monoculture.  Yet, 30% of our food needs to be pollinated by bees and insects to produce it.  So are we destroying the very mechanism that is necessary for food production?  There is an excellent documentary “Vanishing Bees” that tells the story of this honey bee crisis. 

Sometimes it feels there is no good news out there. 

But today I want to share two hopeful stories that show that there are ways to combat pests in a natural way:

One comes from Israel where the introduction of barn owls and kestrels has lead to the natural elimination of rodents that can destroy the harvest if unchecked.  The heavy use or rodendicites previously had almost eradicated the natural predators.  About 10 years ago, the barn owl was introduced again in Israel.  The excellent documentary “The Use of Barn Owls and Kestrels as Biological Control Agents” tells the remarkable journey to environmental-friendly farming and is very informative and worth watching.  These 2 voracious rodent predators work 24 hours a day:  the owls hunt at night and the kestrel by day and together they are eradicating thousands of crop destroying rodents!

The second story comes from the UK where 2014 turns out to be a highly successful year for the barn owls.  The British Trust for Ornithology estimates there are about 4,000 breeding pairs of barn owls in the UK helping to naturally reduce rodents in the farming areas.

The use of Barn Owls and Kestrels as Biological Control Agent

This film won first prize in the expert and instructive films category at the Agrofilm Festival held in 2011 at Nitra, Slovakia.
This award-winning film was produced by Yuval Dax.


Barn owl bumper brood in Cambridgeshire celebrated - UK

Conservationists are celebrating after barn owls nesting at a Cambridgeshire farm hatched twice as many chicks as this time last spring. Three pairs of birds at Lark Rise farm have produced 17 chicks in total and may have a second brood this summer. The UK barn owl population was hit badly last year after a late spring.
[left image: Photo Credit Amir Ezer]

Vince Lea, from The Countryside Restoration Trust which runs the farm, said the brood was “the biggest ever” in the 12 years since the owls arrived.
“We had no owls in this area for a long time, then eventually they started to nest and generally we’d have about three chicks per pair each year,” he said.
“These record-breaking numbers of barn owl chicks are a direct result of the trust’s wildlife-friendly farming methods.  "The increase was “astonishing evidence of a comeback”, he added.
Meadows, grass margins and hedgerows had “helped create an ideal barn owl habitat”, Mr Lea said, as well as encouraging other wildlife including water voles – “their favorite snack” to the area.
Dead voles had been found stored in one of the three nesting boxes on the 450-acre (182 hectares) arable farm near Cambridge, which Mr Lea said was proof of an abundance of that species on the farm.
Double the number of chicks have been born at the farm compared to 2013.  But Colin Shawyer, from the Barn Owl Conservation Network, which monitors the species, said 2013 had been “an exceptionally poor breeding year”.    "Lark Rise’s brood is most definitely a sign that 2014 is going to be a good one for barn owls.   Two of the females have not gone into molt yet, which is a good sign they will attempt a second brood,” he said.
The British Trust for Ornithology estimates there are about 4,000 breeding pairs of barn owls in the UK, and lists their conservation status as “amber” indicating the species is, or has recently been, in decline.
This article was first published by BBC News Cambridgeshire.

Til next time,

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Elephants-Keystone Species for Survival

I came across the below article by Lauren Shuttleworth of the Project Elephant and it is an excellent summary why we need to fight for the survival of the elephant, a keystone species.  Please read below how important the elephants are as ecosystems engineers:

 " In the African savannah, elephants push over and strip trees, making way for a plethora of grass species. The grass feeds the grazing herbivores such as zebra, antelope and buffalo, which in turn feed the carnivores, such as lions and leopards. Asian elephants and African Forest elephants are hugely important for seed dispersal, as they eat the fruit of various pant species and ‘deposit’ it across vast distances."

However the threats to their survival are numerous from habitat loss to poaching for ivory.

The excellent article below shows that the consequences of extinction of the elephants are wide ranging and impact our own survival.

Thank you to all of my readers for your interest and for helping making the planet a better world for all.

Til next time, 


Why Saving the Elephants Could Save the World

 by Lauren Shuttleworth;  Project Elephant

If the current rates of population decline continue, 
elephants will be lost from the wild within 12 years. 
A world without elephants is not one we want to live on!

I should probably begin this post by confessing that I am a huge animal lover (surprise!).
I care deeply about the welfare and conservation of all species, and believe that we should be invested in their protection simply because it is the right and just thing to do. Considering that human activity has contributed almost exclusively to endangerment, I think we have a moral responsibility to step up and take action. But outside of that, there are some key reasons as to why the preservation of particular species is seriously important. And in my somewhat biased opinion, one of the most significant of these animals is the elephant. The impact they have on the environment, national economies, international security and even the human spirit is so large that it has to be said; if we can save the elephants, we might just save the world. Here’s how:

Elephants are a Keystone Species, playing the role of Ecosystem Engineers.
To borrow the trusty Wikipedia definition, ‘a keystone species is a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance’. Basically, they play a critical role in the creation and survival of their ecosystem. And considering that elephants span across the African and Asian continents, we’re talking about a pretty large ecosystem indeed.

In the hierarchy of keystone species, elephants score the pretty cool job title of ‘Ecosystem Engineers’. In the African savannah, elephants push over and strip trees, making way for a plethora of grass species. The grass feeds the grazing herbivores such as zebra, antelope and buffalo, which in turn feed the carnivores, such as lions and leopards. Asian elephants and African Forest elephants are hugely important for seed dispersal, as they eat the fruit of various pant species and ‘deposit’ it across vast distances. In one study, it was found that elephants dispersed seeds over 57km, whereas most animals will just spread seeds a few hundred meters away from the source. This ensures the diversity and health of many of the world’s largest rainforests, which in turn are responsible for stabilising the climate of the ENTIRE WORLD. So elephants can pretty much add ‘Climate Change Superheros’ to their resume.

Eco-Tourism is a really, really big industry.
As outlined above, elephants are pretty essential to the health of their ecosystems. Without them, many other flora and fauna species would suffer – if not altogether perish. It’s easy to see the effect this would have on the eco-tourism industry, considering that millions of tourists travel to places in Africa and Asia each year, entirely for the purpose of viewing animals in the wild and experiencing the wonders of nature. In Africa, the eco-tourism industry is said to be worth some 50 billion dollars – hugely significant for many national economies and local communities. The Kenyan government has been particularly vocal about the economic impact of ivory poaching, claiming it threatens over 300,000 jobs alone.

Ivory poaching is funding terrorist organisations and international crime networks.
I’ve spoken before about the ties between ivory poaching and terrorist organizations and international criminal syndicates. The Somalia-based wing of Al-Qaeda raises $600,000 a month from poaching to fund its activities, as does Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army – the Ugandan rebel group notorious for abducting and enslaving children. Boko Haram – the group responsible for the recent kidnapping of 234 school girls in Nigeria – has also been explicitly identified as receiving funding from the ivory trade. A kilogram of ivory will sell for as much as $2,200 on the black market, and with a pair of bull tusks weighing around 120kg on average, that’s a hell of a lot of money. Chinese mafia organizations mostly do the buying and distributing of ivory once it has been obtained. If we can focus on putting an end to the demand of ivory through increased education and awareness in the Chinese market, as well as heighted protection in Africa, we would in turn dry up a significant portion of the funding for some of the world’s most notorious criminals.

Elephants hold a pretty special and powerful place in our hearts.
As our largest and perhaps most iconic land animal, elephants are revered across the world. Elephants are one of a handful of animals considered a flagship species, meaning they play an important role in promoting universal conservation awareness and engagement. By focusing on the protection of flagship species, organizations such as WWF are able conserve many other ‘umbrella’ species which share the same habitat or are vulnerable to similar threats. Additionally, it is the intelligence and human-like emotion of elephants that builds an important bridge of understanding for many people. Being able to relate to the social bonds and interactions of elephant brings an awareness that ALL animals are of importance, and that there right to live on this earth is as deserving and necessary as our own.

Published by Project Elephant

Sunday, June 8, 2014

World Ocean Day 2014

Celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8, 2014

World Oceans Day is June 8 — it’s a time to celebrate the oceans and take steps to protect ocean health. Why celebrate the oceans? Whether you live on the coast or inland, we are all intimately connected to the oceans. The organizers of this year’s event are asking people to help spread awareness by taking a Selfie for the Sea. If you live near a beach, take a photograph of yourself cleaning it. Even if you don’t, try a selfie with a written promise to engage in an ocean-friendly activity. Post your photo to social media with the hashtag #WorldOceansDay.

Not into selfies? Just wear blue to celebrate the day!

A sticky-note stop animation made by one of our young World Oceans Day fans! 
Please share this World Oceans Day 2012 Sticky Note Stop Motion video.

Why celebrate Earth’s oceans at all? Whether you live near a coast, or not, we are all intimately connected with the oceans. Here are some of the ways:
  • Oceans cover 71% of Earth’s surface, and they hold 97% of our planet’s water.
  • The oceans help feed us and provide most of the oxygen that we breathe.
  • Oceans also play a key role in regulating the weather and climate. Water evaporating from the oceans falls inland as rain, which we then use to drink and grow crops.
  • A variety of life saving medicinal compounds including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer drugs have been discovered in the oceans.
  • The oceans provide us with abundant opportunities for recreation and inspiration.

The theme for this year’s World Oceans Day is:
Together we have the power to protect the ocean.
Threats to the oceans include pollution, overfishing, invasive species, and rising ocean acidity due to the extensive use of fossil fuels. While these are indeed daunting problems, there are simple steps that you can to take to help protect the ocean.
For example, always recycle and use reusable water bottles and grocery bags to help reduce plastic pollution. You can reduce your carbon footprint by turning off lights and appliances when they are not in use and purchasing energy efficient products in the future. Making sustainable seafood choices is one of the most important things you can to do protect marine life, and there are now sustainable seafood guides available for many countries around the world.

Canada first proposed the concept for World Oceans Day in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In December 2008, a United Nations resolution designated June 8 of each year as World Oceans Day.

Visit: to learn more about this global day of celebration for our ocean!

[Ref: Also Published by EarthSky on Ocean Day, June 8, 2014 -]