12 December 2010

Asiatic Lion

This juvenile Asiatic Lion male is walking through the woodlands in the Gir National Park, Gujarat, India. The park is the only area in the world where lions still live in the wild outside of Africa and is a major success with over 700 animals now living in some nineteen prides.

9 December 2010


I don’t profess to know much about education let alone environmental education in Africa or the rest of the world. I do know that people have become more distanced from nature and that the knowledge of nature is decreasing.

I suppose the main reason is urbanisation and the lack of formal environmental education in schools. Moving to the city takes kids out of the rural environment away from nature and school learning is often just book learning and no attempt is made to link the learning to the environment. If you are poor and live in a township the chances are that you will never encounter anything wild or natural and you will hardly leave the township.

Serendipity made the last penguin release by the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC) a much bigger success than usual. A large group of kids had been bussed to the beach and were there at the same time the penguins were released. It was wonderful to watch how the kids followed the penguins as they swam along the beach. The teachers (or organisers) had to answer many questions about penguins, where they came from, why they came and where they were going.

A small victory for environmental education but none the less a sweet one!

6 December 2010

New Print Shop

Ecoscene is delighted to announce that their new Print Shop is open for business. Now you can buy prints, mousemats, fridge magnets of your favourite images. More images will be added in the coming months. Happy shopping! www.ecosceneprints.com

25 November 2010

Cool Elephants

No they were not wearing sunglasses but I really thought the African Elephants at Addo in South Africa were trying hard to be cool during the warm spell we had last week.

If you are their size it is difficult to hide from the sun and they do overheat. Their habit of flapping their ears to expose the blood in the ears to the air order to cool the blood is well known. It is something they do continually when feeding in hot weather. They do however love water and when it is hot they come down to drink several times a day. Something they do then is spray water and mud over their bodies to help the cooling process and they pay particular attention to their ears. It makes sense and the water and mud on the ears will promote the cooling they obtain from the ears. It was nice to see this happen on many occasions and they sprayed water on both the outside surface of the ear and the inside surface between the body and the ear. They also deliberately cover the rest of their bodies in mud and clay. This cools and also provides a layer on the skin which protects them from the sun and irritating insects.

Of course if you give an elephant half a chance most of them will end up in the water and get completely soaked. They were almost human in their playing in the water and in the picture above the elephants in the water seem to be trying to convince the one out of the water saying “come in, the water is great.” The youngsters have the most fun in the water while the larger elephants seem almost reluctant to enter the water. The reason for this is probably their greater bulk which is difficult to haul up the side of a slippery clay surfaced waterhole wall.

They were also so much into staying cool that they totally ignored the boiling photographer in the car (which is a good thing).

21 November 2010

Elephants Picking Daisies

Elephants are incongruous creatures, large and lumbering, they eat and amble around the veld in the Addo National Park in South Africa. The drought has not helped and the vegetation in the park always looks tired, there are no big trees left and most of the growth seems stunted. We tend to blame the mega-herbivores (lovely word!). Anything that gets walked on or eaten by a mega-herbivore is entitled to look jaded.

Then we had some rain over a period of a few weeks and the appearance of the park has suddenly changed. It seems to have been sprinkled from above with yellow flowers! I have been trying to photograph the flowers for years but this event is difficult to predict. The daisies can flower anytime from September to January but often their numbers are too low to be spectacular. The heat of the African sun can also curtail their flowering period.

The only elephant to cooperate was a mother and her calf and even so she was not the ideal model – she seemed more interested in the grazing than posing for the camera. Her calf was also more interested in her mother’s milk than the daisies. I wonder what elephant’s milk looks like – I can imagine that the milk coming from a cow that has grazed on daisies must be yellowish and rich. Think this elephant calf is going to grow big and strong! As I write this, there are clouds gathering, and there is the chance of more rain which should be followed by temperatures in the mid 30degrees. The flowers could be really spectacular this year and I can see myself spending a lot of time waiting for the elephants.

9 November 2010

Rio's Botanical Gardens

Directly below the right arm of the statue of Christ the Redeemer lies Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Gardens. Strolling among the 6,000 different species of tropical and subtropical plants and trees offers a complete change of pace from the throb of Brazil’s iconic first capital.

Founded by the Prince Regent of the United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil in 1808, the garden was initially used to cultivate spices from the West Indies, including cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. The 350-acre exotic garden was opened to the public in 1832.

The Botanical Gardens are best known for the avenues of Royal Palms photographed above. They line the paths near the entrance and originally, this area was only accessible to the royal family. It is believed that the palms were all grown from the seeds of a single tree known as the Palma Mater. There are over 900 other varieties of palm in the gardens.

Contrasting with the formal layout of the European and Japanese parts of the garden, it was the Amazonia section that interested me most. Wild and alive with a profusion of lush vegetation (and insects), the air was noticeably heavier and warmer than in other parts of the garden.

I was disappointed with the Victoria Regis lilies in the Frei Leandro pond. The pads were less than half the size of those I had first seen years ago in Brazil’s tiny northern neighbour, Guyana.

Birds abound in the Botanical Gardens. I was able to photograph Great Kiskadee and Dusky-legged Guan, but didn’t see any Channel-billed Toucan which also frequent the gardens.

Brazil’s largest Botanical library is at one end of the gardens, next to a well-stocked gift shop and agreeable outdoor cafĂ©.

19 October 2010

Harvest mouse - extinct in 25 years?

The farming conservation organization, Conservation Grade,  has threatened that some of the UK's farmland animals could become extinct within 25 years. They include the harvest mouse, the small agile rodent found along field margins near cereal crops. Its numbers have fallen drastically over the last few decades as farming has intensified with the loss of hedgerows, drainage of reed-sedge habitats, and increased use of pesticides, so it has been added the UK Red List. This sweetie makes its distinctive ball-like nest in hedgerows, so its is particularly vulnerable to hedge cutting and removal. Helping this mouse can be quite easy, simply making sure hedgerows are not cut before the fruits and nuts have been removed in autumn helps the animal survive winter, together with leaving grassy margins around fields.

Some conservation groups have been placing tennis ball nests in appropriate sites to encourage the harvest mouse to return. The tennis ball is the perfect size of the mouse and it's highly visible,  making monitoring easy.

8 October 2010

New photographers

Ecoscene is delighted to welcome some new contributing photographers. Dave Amis is busy documenting the managed retreat at Standford Marshes on the Greater Thames Estuary near Thurrock, Essex. The first part of the process is breaching the sea wall to allow the tides to cover the low lying marsh land again.

David Lygo is a wildlife photographer based in Northern Ireland. He has supplied a great selection of  birds and insects, mostly in flight and taken in the most gorgeous light.

Tom Leighton is London-based and has sent in some images of the new Cycle Super Highways in London. The roads along the route are marked with highly visible blue tracks and each is clearly marked with its own number so that cyclists can follow the routes easily.  Junctions have been redesigned to make them more cyclist-friendly. Route CS7 shown in this images  runs from Merton to Bank,  following the route of the Northern Line.

7 October 2010


I had a strange start to my work career and spent the first 5 years of my working life as a Committee Secretary in Parliament in South Africa. Because I have always had an interest in nature it was natural that I should have Environmental Affairs in my committee portfolio. I had to sit at the chairman’s left and do secretarial things like taking minutes and the like. I remember looking down at the chairman’s shoes and noticing that he liked ostrich and crocodile leather. From an early age my scepticism regarding politicians and the environment started growing.

The African Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini) is either Threatened, Near Threatened or Vulnerable depending on which website you look. They are down to between 5000 and 6000 birds which is not a lot and they are in trouble. I always felt sorry for the Oystercatchers as their nest is just a scrape in the sand somewhere above the high-water mark. They also have the most unfortunate breeding time of all – during the peak summer during the school holidays when the beaches are under most pressure. South Africa also had a severe problem with vehicles on beaches with joy riders and fishermen putting their car tracks on all beaches and in the process crushing eggs or just generally disturbing oystercatchers and scarring the beaches.

Then, with the new government in South Africa in 1994, came Minister Valli Moosa who, in his wisdom, (and to the credit of his department), powered legislation through Parliament effectively banning vehicles on beaches. Since then the African Black Oystercatcher is pulling itself out of trouble and the population has stabilised and is increasing! Shows what a bit of relevant and intelligent legislation can do.

Of course it doesn’t end there. The population of Oiks (as the birdwatchers call them) is still low and much research is being done. The research is very noticeable when you spot an Oystercatcher as most of them seem to have rings on their legs. This one you see above has so many rings I thought of calling it the “African Bling Oystercatcher.” I personally think that a lot of the disturbing of animals in the name of research is unnecessary. I also thought of suggesting they call the Oystercatcher after Minister Moosa but as a leopard was caught on a farm belonging to him in a gin trap I won't consider it. I am still sceptical about 99.9% of politicians but appreciate what was done for the African Black Oystercatcher.

20 September 2010

Cheetah Kingdom

Like millions of other TV viewers, I have been watching Cheetah Kingdom. I really enjoy this series, more so because I visited Okonjima in Namibia several years ago and wrote a feature on the work of the Africat Foundation. 

We knew the visit was going to be special as soon as the wheels of the light plane touched down on the Okonjima airstrip, for running alongside the plane were two cheetahs behind a fence. They were having fun, racing the plane as it sped along the strip.

For the next three days we learnt about the work of the Africat Foundation, including the rescue of cheetahs trapped, poisoned or shot by farmers, injured on the roads, and the rearing of kittens left to die when their mother had been shot. It was all very sad, but it was uplifting to see the cats enjoying their lives, albeit in huge enclosures. There was one character who only had three legs and until the guide pointed this fact out, I don't think any of us had noticed.

There is a big release programme too. First the animals considered suitable for release are prepared by being moved into huge pens where they have little human contact and then they are allowed into the reserve.  To-date Africat has released more than 1000 cats - cheetahs and leopards - a fantastic record.

Africat is keen to education the local people to the importance of protecting the cheetahs and leopards. Rather than simply tell farmers not to shoot the cats, they try to show farmers different ways of managing their cattle, so that the cattle are less vulnerable to cheetah attack. It was going to be an uphill struggle, especially with some of the 'die-hard' farmers who has always 'done it this way' but they were hopeful that once a few farms were converted the others would see the benefits.

It was a wonderful place to visit, not just because of the cheetahs and leopards, but because of the wealth of wildlife everywhere - the birds of prey on almost every post, caracals in the gardens, and yes the odd snake including one bushmaster that sprung up in front of us as we made our way by torchlight from our room to the main lodge. Now that really did get our hearts beating!

for more info visit their website http://www.africat.org/

13 September 2010

An Uneasy Spring

The first day of September is officially regarded as the first day of spring in South Africa. I was lucky and spent the night camping in my van in a National Park. The night was cold, the stars were bright and the bird calls in the morning almost ridiculously loud. In spring it seems that nature turns its thoughts and sounds to love, or at least courtship and the procreation of most of the species.

I managed to get into the reserve before the sun was up, an exciting bit of travel because the vehicle’s windows steamed up. My solution is to open all windows and travel in what becomes a chest freezer on wheels.It was dangerous because elephants are because of their size always assume they have right of way. Then of course my camera lenses decided to mist over and my breath caused condensation on the viewfinder and camera back – very frustrating sometimes.

Many animals give birth in spring and early summer. A surprise was to find two very young kudu with the remnants of their umbilical cords still attached. Quite what they were doing on their own was a mystery but there were no predators around and it was wonderful trying to capture them with the camera just as the sun started creeping over the hills. I wonder what the Black Backed Jackal was thinking when he sat near them – perhaps the foals were just passing through his turf as they would not tackle something so big. The jackals howled and all the other jackals around responded – a very Africa moment.

And then of course I discovered that spring is an illusion in Africa. Sure there is a season but the wildlife continues the cycle of life and death no matter what the season. There was a large and dead buffalo next to the road. The Black Backed Jackals were frantic in their efforts to remove scraps of meat from the carcass. I did not even know they were such scavengers and I had spent the previous day trying to photograph a jackal turning over elephant dung in its search for insects. The jackals scattered when a Spotted Hyena made its appearance. It is not an animal I am very familiar with and it made for interesting watching. They are as ugly as the cartoons make out and their table manners are absent. The crunching of bones was loud. Then a beautiful young male lion arrived and the Hyena scattered. The lion spent time extracting flesh from the carcass – most of the meat was gone. It was strange to see it pulling back the skin to give more access to the buffalo’s ribs. The lion only stopped eating to chase the Hyena away. There is really no love lost between the two species. To give other vehicles a chance of getting close I followed the Hyena.

It went to a waterhole where I noticed it was wearing a tracking collar, drank water and urinated in the water - don’t know why. It wandered around a while before it started rolling on the ground, not unlike a dog that has found something smelly and worthy of rolling on. It then got up and picked up the carcass of what could be either a young jackal or young hyena and carried it away.

On my way to the protected spot where one can get out of the car is a fairly steep incline and it is the one spot where I worry about elephants. The waterhole is at the bottom of the hill and elephants, being wise and sensible creatures, tend to walk down the road. Being big they pick up speed and gather momentum and it is a terrifying sight if you are parked at the bottom of the hill. This time I was able to watch someone in a fancy car reversing downhill at high speed to escape what he thought was a charging elephant. In any case elephants always have right of way and I am not sure if you will ever see a picture of one lumbering towards my car taken from that spot.

By then I had enough and needed time to think about the kill. The thinking went as follows. There was blood on the road and someone told me there had been 5 hyenas on the kill. It is possible that they made the kill although the text books don’t list buffalo as being regular prey. There was very little left of the buffalo and they are known for their tremendous ability to consume food quickly. They would easily have been able to drag the buffalo into the bushes as the single hyena was able to lift and turn the remains of the carcass. I think the lion had been opportunistic; the particular lion is well known and goes by the name of Nomad and is very much a loner. It is unlikely that he would tackle a buffalo on his own but there may have been other lions in the area – I realise that we will never know what animal made the kill. Hyenas have complicated social structure and I do not know why the lone hyena rolled on and carried away the small carcass. I do know that they like to litter bones and pieces of their prey about their dens.

I know that what I have written is unsatisfactory in that nothing I mention is conclusive and nor were my guidebooks when I got home. I just came away with the realization that I don’t know much about the fairly common wildlife and especially little about their behaviour. I also know that traditionally according to poetry and writing spring is about bird song and pretty flowers. In the wilds it is precarious and about survival and eating the weak and innocent. The flowers tend to get trampled. Your nerves will get shattered if you just park your car in the wrong place at the bottom of the hill.

9 September 2010

Towards a greener Cruise industry

Reducing your holiday carbon footprint by eco cruising is now being considered essential by more and more people. If cruising is the type of holiday you prefer, then there are ways and means of ensuring that your chosen company is doing its utmost to be green.

In one week the cruise industry creates millions of tons of wastewater, thousands of tons of sewage and some older vessels will have contaminated huge amounts of sea water from the oil seeping from their engines. Until fairly recently it was common practice for cruise liners to dump a large amount of untreated waste into the oceans, causing major destruction on the ecosystems and marine life.

The cruise companies have made tremendous strides forward in the past five years and have cut their waste in half. For example some are employing new gas turbines that drastically reduce nitrogen and sulphur emissions and others have installed seawater scrubbers to remove smokestack pollutants.

Many people now take smaller cruise ships  or even the sailing cruise lines as both are far smaller than the modern leviathans that sail the seas. If they don't do this then actively look for companies that are using the modern advances  from screw propulsion  technology to onboatd waste storing and recycling.
These advances however are not cheap and it’s going to get even more expensive as all vessels travelling within 200 nautical miles of the American and Canadian coasts will have to cut their fuel sulphur content by 98 percent. The rules approved by the International Maritime Organization will be phased in from 2012, and new ships will have to use advanced pollution-control technology beginning in 2016. The problem is that this fuel is twice as expensive so the knock on effects for the cruise industry are going to be huge.

27 August 2010

More Choices for Ordinary Chinese

As disposable income increases in the world’s most populous country, ordinary Chinese are getting far more choices than ever before. That includes what they eat.

Up to now, the Chinese have not been as concerned as people in the West about nutritional issues. But that’s largely because fast-food only arrived in China two decades ago. Although shopping daily for fresh food has always been essential for Chinese cuisine, choices for ordinary people were limited in Mao’s China. The days of mounds of cabbage stacked under quilts on the tiny balconies of soviet style apartment blocks are not totally over. But one is hard-pressed to find them in China’s gleaming new cities.

On early-morning walks in Beijing last year, I was struck by the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables that ordinary Chinese now have to choose from at bustling street markets: bananas, mangoes, and papaya from the south; apples, melon and grapes from the north-west. A far cry from the few curious looking vegetables that were on sale when I lived in Beijing 25 years ago. In those days, what a treat it was for the office staff when somebody came back from a field trip to a far-flung place like Hainan Island with a sack full of pineapples!

Longfu Temple market in Beijing, near the Forbidden City (photo above), operates every morning from 6 to 8 a.m. After that, everything is cleared away and the area cleaned. It’s not actually a farmers market; it’s run by a company that buys from farmers and wholesalers.

China’s love affair with McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried is by no means over. But with child obesity becoming the nation’s number one nutritional problem, fresh fruit and vegetables are making inroads

15 August 2010

A benchmark for benches

Small villages, wherever they are in the world, are perpetually embroiled in some or other controversy. Schoenmakerskop, on the shores of the Indian Ocean in South Africa, is not different. For a while benches were an issue. About 100 of us live in the pretty hamlet with cliffs that overlook the sea and people like to come here to look at the sunsets, whales or just laze in the sun. When someone who used to love coming here dies, their next of kin invariably think it would be wonderful to erect a bench in his or her memory.

That is all very nice but is becoming impractical as the village is, as far as I can remember, only one nautical mile in length. In a length of 150 feet of cliff near my house there are already 4 benches. If people carry on procreating and dying at the rate they do we would eventually become the bench capital of Africa and people would come here to see the benches. Also all benches are not created equal and there are ugly, big and impractical benches that have sprung up over the years. With wooden benches there is also the question of maintenance and the harshness of the African sun means that the wood has to be treated at least once a year. In some cases this happens, in others not. The old concrete benches crack and fall apart.

In any case it has become an irritation and a problem. I don’t know who it was but a decision was taken that all benches and their location had to be approved by an official of the local Parks and Recreation Department. Even better is that a standard bench was decided on and no-one is allowed to deviate from the basic bench. What is great is that the bench is made of recycled plastic and is supposed to last for at least 75 years. Initially I was sceptical but they have worn gracefully and are fading nicely in the sun – they are also not as nauseatingly green as they were when they were initially installed.

The next step is to allow people to attach a plaque in someone’s memory to an existing bench for a donation and to use that donation for other necessary tasks in the village like the maintenance of the paths down to the sea and the eradication of alien vegetation.

The only question I still have to check on is the provenance of the plastic. I no longer believe it when people tell me a car was only driven to church on a Sunday by a little old lady and I hope the plastic is recycled locally from empty cool drink bottles and the like. I have used an image of a plastic fantastic bench in a calendar and it looks great – both the picture and the bench - and it is great to see how the recycling has fitted seamlessly back into the environment.

3 August 2010

The African Penguin

It is always sad to report a re-classification of a bird species when things are getting worse for the bird. The African Penguin Spheniscus demersus has been upgraded (or should that be downgraded?) from being listed as Vulnerable to now being Endangered. The population has dropped to an estimated 25 000 pairs that still live along the shores of South Africa.

As a student I was lucky enough to work on one of the nesting islands in Algoa Bay called St Croix. The penguins were then called Jackass Penguins after their braying call. It took a while before I got used to it and was able to get any sleep. The population was healthy and the biggest dangers were oil spills and anglers who still fished off the island. The angler could lose his line and snag quite a few penguins with fishing line. They were banned from the island. In any case it was a special experience and I bore the scar on my finger from a penguin beak with pride – they are tough fighters!

So what went wrong? Well guano was removed from many of the nesting islands and the penguins used to burrow into this to create their nests. Removal of the thick layer has meant that the nests are flooded when it rains. With a recent cold spell we had some 600 penguin deaths on Bird Island which is not far from St Croix. They are looking at artificial nesting houses for the penguins. With increasing population there has been increase pressure on fish stocks which form the primary diet of the Penguin. Fewer fish equals less food for the penguins which means they have to swim further to get food for the nestlings which means they are under more pressure. Good news is a ban on netting and trawling fish around St Croix and despite the short length of the ban until now an improvement in fish stocks has been reported.

Other factors are oil spills. The construction of a new harbour in Algoa Bay might be good for the economy but it will lead to more ship movements and the danger of more spills. I don’t know what the effect the avian malaria which is found in many of the penguins will be in the long run but it is an additional worry.

One good thing is the increased concern for the plight of the penguins in a country which has many other problems. The South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC) in Port Elizabeth has new premises and this weekend I watched a few oiled penguins being treated. The process is far more scientific than in the old days, the centre is well designed and the people are caring.

The greatest moment was however the picture you see above – African Penguins being released into the wild after treatment!

Belugas - the white whales of the Arctic

One of our contributors, Andrey Nekrasov took a wonderful set of images of belugas while diving under the Arctic ice in the White Sea, Russia. Not surprisingly, a number of news desk editors agreed and Andrey's stunning images of belugas and Arctic diving  have appeared around the world.  Well done Andrey, it looks to have been a trip of a life time.Only wish I could dive.
This is just one of the set of 15, showing two belugas interacting with the photographer, each has taken a hand in their mouth and they are guiding him through the water. They are inquisitive whales by nature and this is probably them wanting to find out more.

Read the story and see the whole set on the Daily Telegraph website

17 July 2010

An Elephant Seal

There are many advantages to living in a small coastal hamlet like Schoenmakerskop near Port Elizabeth. The one is that people know me as a nature photographer and phone me if they see something interesting. Yesterday I got a call saying there is an Elephant Seal in the third bay past the monument on Sacramento Trail. I had my doubts because they are rare vagrants from the sub-Antarctic seas and expected it to be the common Cape Fur Seal.

A brisk walk and in about the 10th bay after the monument I found her (people and directions!), a beautiful young Elephant Seal about 3 meters long. She was lying on the rocks and was beautifully camouflaged. I took a few pictures and chased a few dog owners and their dogs away when Greg Hofmeyer, the marine mammologist from the local museum arrived. He had walked right past her - the fur blends in really well with the rocks. Who says there are no advantages in being a colour deficient photographer?

We sat there for about 3 hours watching the seal who, to be quite honest, was not doing much. If they come out of the water here it is normally because they are moulting and it was obvious she was. Apparently they cannot maintain their body temperature when in this state. The seal rolled a few times, yawned a lot, scratched with her flippers and borped at us once or twice (I don’t know how to describe the sound – borp works better than bark). It was great having Greg around, seals are his study speciality and I was able to learn much from him. When we moved behind the seal to try and sex the animal the seal rose up looking at us over her back – an interesting position. Greg related the story of a French researcher who approached a large male from behind, and was actually bitten on the head by the animal arching backwards over its back. The animal’s eyes seemed particularly large but given that it dives deep for its food which consists predominantly of fish and squid it is not surprising. The mouth is cavernous and again this has to do with the diet. The tongue is pink and the teeth are large and I am sure capable of causing much damage. We couldn’t get very close and were not able to determine its gender but guess it is female.

Sadly the seal did not stay long and it was probably the stream of walkers and their dogs passing the animal that made it leave. I am working on a protocol as to what should happen when an animal like a seal comes to shore. We have tried putting up signs asking people to stay away but this has the opposite effect. Dog owners claim that their little pooches would never harm a seal but the barking is not conducive to a restful recuperation on a beach. This time we kept the news of the seal off the newspapers and websites but I suppose human (and their pets) pressure is just too much for these beautiful animals.

16 July 2010

Rodeo: Should some events be banned?

With two days still to go, six horses have already been killed at the Calgary Stampede. The highest number of deaths has been immediately following the Chuckwagon Races. Rodeo animals meet sudden death at the Stampede every year, which since 1912 has been one of Canada’s top sporting attractions.

This year, the animal welfare lobby is better organized and has received support from some groups in the UK. The League Against Cruel Sports, which helped ban fox hunting in the UK in 2004, has persuaded more than 50 members of Britain’s Parliament to sign a motion condemning rodeo and calling on the Canadian government to take steps to stop the “immense cruelty” of events like the Calgary Stampede. Rodeo has been banned in Britain since 1934.

Although some would like to see rodeo banned altogether, it is calf roping and steer wrestling that come in for the most criticism. In both events, the animal’s neck is twisted and wrenched in unnatural ways, with cowboys competing against the clock. These events are now banned at the Cloverdale Rodeo in British Columbia, another of Canada’s top rodeos. But in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the prairie provinces, they are still very much alive. At the Raymond Stampede in Alberta, Canada’s oldest rodeo, steer wrestling (photograph above) and calf roping are two of the main events.

Rodeo authorities are not insensitive to animal welfare concerns and insist that safety is paramount for participants, including the animals, and spectators. And nobody loves and understands horses and cattle more than ranchers and farmers who supply many of the rodeo cowboys, cowgirls and animals. But the rural-urban divide is growing and the closest many city-folk have been to an animal is their pet cat, dog or budgerigar. Animal welfare groups will therefore have an increasingly important role to play as these issues receive national and international attention.

In North America, issues over rodeo go far beyond animal welfare and the urban-rural divide. The cultural heritage of the West is involved.

5 July 2010

Reservoirs - before and after

NW England has been warned that if substantial rain does not fall over the Lake District in the next week or so, much of the will be subject to hosepipe bans.  It seems odd that Cumbria, a county that was devastated by some of the worst floods in memory, should now be suffering from drought. Vey little rain has fallen over the last three months and temperatures have soared to the high 20s increasing demand.

Stuart Baines was about and about in the Lake District last autumn and now he has returned to supply a set of images showing the extreme low water levels that now exist. The pair of images below show Thirlmere in Autumn 2009 and from the same viewpoint in July 2010.

Thirlmere is  the main reservoir for Manchester and its looking very empty! Sadly the geography of the area means that the water runs off the land into lakes and rivers and flows quickly into the ocean rather than seeping down through the rocks to replenish the aquifers.

25 June 2010

Whaling - back on the agenda

As I write, the delegates of the IWC (International Whaling Commission ) are behind closed doors discussing the future of whaling; specifically whether Japan should be allowed to carry out small-scale commercial whaling. Not surprisingly, this has divided delegates and there have been numerous meetings prior to this annual meeting to thrash out the terms. Japan has offered the tempting concession of no whaling in the Southern Ocean which has put New Zealand in the firing line. New Zealand may opt for this concession in exchange for limited whaling, so has been accused of selling out.

One matter which has inflammed the meeting is the suggestion that the endangered fin whale (see above)  may be included in Japan's commercial quota.  These magnificant animals ~ the second largest animal  in the world ~ are often nicknmaed the greyhound of the sea because of their speed.  Their speed saved them from whaling during the 19th century but as whaling boats got faster, the whalers turned their attention to the fin whale, decimating the population by 70 % between 1904 and 1979. Despite protection from the moratorium on commercial whaling their numbers have been slow to recover and  in 1996 its status was moved from vulnerable to endangered.

Other matters have been discussed this week and the IWC received reports regarding the status of several whale populations. While some populations of humpback, southern right and blue whales in the Southern hemisphere were increasing, there was still concerns regarding the survival of the western North Pacific gray whale with just 130 individuals and the western North Atlantic right whale with 300 individuals.For these populations, anthropogenic mortality was the biggest killer, including collisions with shipping and entanglement in nets.

This entangled sperm whale was fortunate that there were divers nearby and it was successfully dis-entangled and swam away unharmed.

9 June 2010

World Oceans Day

With all the doom and gloom surrounding the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, I thought I'd celebrate World Oceans Day with some beautiful images of oceans and the animals and plants that live within them. Enjoy......

First one of my favourite images of a pair of clown anemone fish amongst the tentacles of its host anemone. Second, a shoal of pyramid butterfly fish on a coral reef.

An unusual view of a booby viewed from below, as it dives into the water to catch fish.                           

Next another of my favourite animals, the weird-looking nautilus. This is a cephalopod, a relative of the squid and octopus, with a spiral chambered shell. Usually seen in deep water.

Below is an 'in-your-face' view of a green turtle, photographed near Hawaii.

Another unusual viewpoint, this time a saltwater crocodile on the seabed off the coast of Australia.

This aerial shows Seventy Islands, Palua. These waters have been made into a conservation area where marine animals such as sharks are protected.

And to finish a sunset with an orca. OK, a bit of digital enhancement but an image popular with our clients.

Thank you to Reinhard Dirscherl and David Fleetham (sunset) for supplying the library with these fabulous images.

2 June 2010


I make a living from photography and writing for magazines but I must admit that the World Cup has not aroused any great images or inspired outbursts of writing. The start is only a few days away and people are either very excited or very cynical. I am still slowly discovering what it might mean and what it means.

We have in a city that has many people living under the breadline and in shacks a beautiful stadium. Last week someone described it as a giant lemon meringue and it is a clever and nice name if you know what a lemon meringue is (There is a picture of it a few blogs back if you are curious to see it). A lot could have been done with the money spent on building the giant meringue.

But it is mostly all good! Many of the road signs warning of pot holes have become redundant and we in Port Elizabeth have new roads, a bus rapid transport system and a new hotel or two. The greatest impact is however on the people; they are smiling and are excited. The national flag has appeared on many cars and it looks fascinating. They even have what the call football socks; little material socks in the colour of the national flag that fits over the rear-view mirrors of cars. It looks cool, and guess what, you cannot buy little national flags or national socks as they are sold out everywhere. The world cup has done something for the economy before it even got here and the Garments and Clothing Makers and Allied Workers Trade Union must have something to smile about for a change. The Taxi Drivers Union does not approve of the new bus transport system and there are a few strikes pending. I think the actual start of the World Cup will cause most strikes and pending strikes to disappear.

The World Cup got to me so much that I even went to photograph a football match, maybe just to ensure that I am in touch with the game, and that I can take the place of one of the many international photographers on the touchline should one suddenly become injured. I am very impressed with the dramatic way in which international football players become injured and am quite sure that international photographers have the same problems. I have just read in a newspaper that one of the teams insists on furniture with rounded edges in order to prevent possible injuries. If a photographer hurts his wrist on a too sharp unrounded door handle I am ready to take over his or her place on the touchline.

The game I went to wasn’t a top level match and I laughed a bit too much to take the photography seriously – one of the goalkeepers got red-carded for tackling an opposing player. I did however see something that made my green heart beat faster, behind the goals on the roof of a university residence was a solar powered water heater. At least the goalie could have a hot shower. What is great is that the residence belongs to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and they attract students from all corners of the country. It will teach someone from a rural area where this kind of thing is not found something about alternate energy and a different way of heating water. I wonder if the new stadiums have solar heated water.

If you are coming to South Africa enjoy the visit and if you need a solar heated shower feel free to contact me. I know where one is in Port Elizabeth. I am still looking forward to photographing and writing about anything about the World Cup that arouses my interest.

27 May 2010


When everything gets too much I escape to the Addo Elephant Park some 40 kilometres from Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Spending a night or two camping and listening to Hyenas and Jackal calling at night I soon forget everything that is irritating me.

The drought has been hard on the animals and vegetation but thankfully a cloudburst has filled the dams and the grass has turned green. The elephants have noticed this and I noticed a large matriarchal herd of elephants doing a strange foot shuffle. Using their feet they loosen the grass and then they pick it up and knock the tuft on their backs to get rid of the soil. This gives them a free complimentary dust bath and something to eat. To see the group interacting and feeding with many calves was wonderful. I must admit I have never had such a co-operative herd to photograph and I completely lost track of time.

They eventually moved to a nearby water hole and I went ahead to make sure I was in a good position to take photographs. Elephants do make me nervous but this herd was so in control that I had nothing to worry about. I had stupidly parked across the track that they follow but a large female stood some six inches from the car to conduct the herd past me, much like someone controlling the traffic for children crossing the street. I must admit the sudden shadow of the elephant over the car did cause an adrenaline rush.

When they moved off I read a book for a while waiting for the light to improve and it irritated me. I was an overlander’s guide to crossing Africa and it mentioned Addo and its elephants. Citrus fruits are banned from the park and they claim it is because elephants love them so much it might drive them to damaging cars in their frenzy to get at them. That is true but the writer has no sense of history. The real reason is because some 30 years ago when the park was fenced off and you were not allowed in the elephants’ area they were fed citrus fruit to attract them to the viewing area in front of the main rest camp. This was stopped many years ago because it was just a bad animal management practice. I remember the excitement as a child of the oranges and the herds of elephants coming to eat them. A good idea but a wrong practice. The elephants have of course not forgotten this and still react when they smell citrus. If all elephants loved oranges one would find signs banning citrus at all the places where elephants occur. Eating an orange at a zoo might lead to disaster if all elephants suffered from uncontrollable citrus lust!

I also remember my buffalo deprived childhood. The buffalo were nocturnal and I saw one buffalo in about 30 years. They had no natural enemies in the park and they multiplied. Then lions were introduced into the park in 2003 and they really enjoyed the buffalo, so much so that they almost fed exclusively on them. Cats see well in the dark and a nocturnal feeding buffalo is easily heard and stalked with unfortunate consequences for them. The buffalo however are not stupid and over a period of a few years they have changed their behaviour and now feed in daylight and spend the nights worrying in groups in the thick bush. This is obviously a better defensive lifestyle and they are recovering well after the initial impact of the lions and I get to see buffalo just about every time I go to the park.

So elephants remember and buffalo adapt andI must remember that I enjoy going to the reserve (I only went once last year) and I must adapt my lifestyle to allow more visits....

16 May 2010


To be quite honest I don’t know if a railway station can die of shame but in Port Elizabeth in South Africa we have one that seems to have done so.

It was a narrow gauge railway line known as the Apple Express and its primary task was to bring apples growing in an area called the Langkloof to the harbour city of Port Elizabeth. The apples are good and they are still being exported but road transport is cheaper and although the rail line continues to function it is mainly a tourist line. The little station was neglected and fell into disuse. It is a classic example of urban decay.

The buildings were broken into, graffiti appeared on the old locomotives, recyclable metal was looted, vagrants lived in railway carriages and the whole place became unsightly. There were protests by railway preservation groups and historical societies. The saddest were the old railway men who had worked in the old station and the workshops; they took pride in their work and the shining locomotives. Luckily a few locos and carriages were preserved and the line lives on for tourism. The rusted locomotives are like gravestones for a passed era.

The station is in a prime area on the road leading to the beachfront. It is on a hill and overlooks the harbour. It got dangerous but still attracted people who love locomotives, some tourists and the curious. A student, newly graduated with a degree in photography, was mugged and lost all his new photographic gear. A casino employee walking past the area late at night was raped and murdered.

Then South Africa won the right to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Urban renewal and gentrification is how we are going to present a clean face for the visitors. Bulldozers and work teams have moved in and there is not much left of the station. A few of the buildings have been bricked up and what is left of the locomotives and rolling stock is awaiting removal. There are warning signs for asbestos dust. There is a lot of work to be done before they can build another shopping mall or houses where the station stood (and I hope they don't).

The site overlooks the harbour and is right in front of some fuel storage tanks. The tanks apparently leak and fuel is finding its way into the sea in the harbour. Near the fuel tanks is a massive heap of iron ore that fed by trains coming from the interior. This is loaded onto ships and exported. While the iron ore stands awaiting shipping the wind blows the dust onto the beaches and nearby houses causing black stains. I don’t know what the health effects are.

The World Cup is doing a lot of good. The people of South Africa are excited, not only the rich and well off, but the workers who build the stadiums and the other inhabitants of a football loving country. We are even looking at the aesthetics of our cities which is great, but we need to do so much more….

14 May 2010

A Shark Story

Sometimes as a photographer you take a picture that you wish you did not have to take and then you don’t like it and you don’t do anything with it and it disappears onto a hard drive.

I took this picture in the harbour at Port Elizabeth in South Africa in 2004. They have been identified by a shark expert as Mako Sharks, not an easy identification as their jaws have been removed and they were lying upside down. They are apparently a legal form of by-catch of the trawl and long line fishing industry. They were apparently on their way to be processed and will appear in a fish and chip shop as fish or, more likely, in the form of fish cakes. It is a strange world where something as big as those two sharks are “accidentally” caught. It is quite sickening to think that the jaws were removed to make a wall decoration. According to a young fisherman the jaws with a light bulb stuck between them, looks cool as a light fitting. A bit of red paint apparently adds a bit of authenticity. I let this image gather cyber dust on a hard drive for the last 7 years.

Then in The Herald, a local newspaper last week was a headline “shock discovery of seal remains.” Seems harbour security found “the skulls and pelts of four seal were found in the bags in the boot with parts of 15 starfish, the jaws of two Mako Sharks, the head and feet of a Cape Gannet…”

About 20 years ago I took part in beach walks and our aim was to monitor the birds that washed up. I remember many bird wings without bodies and albatrosses without heads. I found an old recipe book that listed methods of cooking sea birds. There was a recipe for braised Gannet amongst others! I was angry and wrote about seabird slaughter for the cooking pot and it was published and like all these things nothing happened. After a while we also stopped the beach walks because our cars were broken in too often.

The people who were caught with the strange luggage they tried to smuggle past security appeared in court on Wednesday. They will be charged under the Seabird Seals Preservation Act and the Marine Living Resources Act and the contravention of the by-catch recording process. The animal parts were confiscated. According to the newspaper they were meant for the sangoma muti market. The traditional healers (sangomas) must find their medicines (muti) somewhere and it is logical that there would be a market for them.

I don’t know what conclusion to draw from what I have written. In an old book I have on fishing in South Africa there is a picture of a fisherman with a Cape Fur Seal that he caught using a fishing rod as though the seal were a fish and the caption reads “ex Africa simper aliquid Novi.”

I would just like to discover something new that is nice for a change. I am tired of the environment and its inhabitants being maimed and mutilated.

5 May 2010

life, death, taxes and recycling bins

Life in Africa and small places is very complex. The small coastal village of Schoenmakerkop, where I live, was recently thrown into turmoil as two bins for recycling glass suddenly landed in the village. I don’t know how they got here; they could have been dropped from a helicopter or just pushed off a passing truck.

There was unease in the village and the Ratepayers Association started circulating agendas, meetings were held and the planning started. The strange thing is we all agreed that recycling is a good thing. This is possibly the first time we had consensus on anything.

The main problem is that the bins were in the wrong place. The first one absolutely destroyed a pensioner’s sea view and was in the middle a scenic spot. It was solved at night and the bin was moved. Sadly the move was not a success. It had been placed near the house of an older female resident. The bins do attract vagrants and poor people. We still have bottles that you can hand back at the store and receive your deposit back - I am not sure what the situation is in the rest of the world but it was great as a kid as collecting bottles could supplement your pocket money. The bin unfortunately immediately attracted people who fished out bottles using bits of string and sticks. So for safety purposes and peace of mind we had to move it again, this time in front of a house that is only used by holidaymakers. I am sure that when they come down for a vacation we will have to move the bin again.

The second bin was quite well placed and there were no immediate complaints but after a week or two a strong and unpleasant smell was coming out of the bin. We are a coastal village and quite popular with anglers. Some idiot had thrown his unused bait into the bin and it was rotting. Of course the nearest resident complained and we had to move the bin. We found the perfect spot, on an open sidewalk on the road leading out of the village. Very convenient and it is easy to drop off the bottles and glass on the way to work or the shops.

Then some idiot drove into the bin. Had he been going faster it could really have been spectacular. It was cleaned up and the bin still stands proudly.

The sad thing is that the bins have probably not yet stopped moving around the village and that it is 2010 – very late to start something as basic as recycling glass. I don’t know what the next problem with the bins will be but I will let you know. By the way I really enjoy throwing bottles into the bins – they make a great sound!

International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY)

Congratulations to Chinch Gryniewicz on his Third Prize in the category Trees, with a gorgeous image of new spring leaves emerging on common lime. He will be at the Prize Giving Ceremony at Kew Gardens on Saturday. Well done Chinch.

The exhibition of 100 images from the competition can be seen at Kew until October and there is a book   featuring the images. Chinch has done well in this competition in the past, with his image of Marguerites in Rain winning its category in 2008. He will be entering again this year.

For more information on the competition visit http://www.igpoty.com/. The 2010 competition closes 30 November 2010.

25 April 2010

China's Urbanization

For frequent visitors to China, it will be no surprise that the country is now home to one quarter of the world’s largest cities. According to a new United Nations report, there are now 236 cities in China with a population of over half a million. Over 100 more are expected to be added by 2025. The report, 2009 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, issued last month, says that China’s urban population more than doubled between 1980 and 2010, rising from 19 to 47 percent. By 2025, it is expected that 59 percent of China’s population will live in cities.

China is transitioning from a centralized planned economy to a market economy, from egalitarianism to individualism and competition. Within one generation China is making the transition from a developing nation to a developed one.

Urbanization has led to staggering economic growth but it had also caused massive inequalities.

China has been able to lift half a billion people out of poverty in the last 30 years and improved the quality of life of hundreds of thousands, particularly in urban areas. But the disparities between urban and rural areas are stark with urban per capita incomes three times those of rural areas according to UN reports.

Although regional inequalities remain a major problem, it is not just in China’s megacities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing and Chongqing where the quality of life is improving for ordinary Chinese. On a visit last year to the coalmining city of Datong in China’s Shanxi Province, one could not but be impressed by the quality of housing going up all over the city at a phenomenal pace (photo above).

China’s transition is unprecedented. The consequences are still unfolding, both at home and abroad.

7 April 2010

The African World Cup

I am vaguely concerned about the World Cup that starts in South African shortly and I am not sure why. Maybe it is the disruption and incongruity of the fantastic stadiums that have risen in the larger cities?
We, by the way, call it soccer and play on fields that do not conform to world standards. Grass is nice as it hurts less when you fall but I really don't know the need for the cow dung that normally lies scattered on the informal fields. Perhaps the dung add excitement to falling, you know it is soft but you would rather not land in it?
Port Elizabeth has a new stadium and it is magnificent! It rose in the northern end of town in a tired area that has a few factories, a large polluted lake and some cheaper housing. The lake seems strange in its urban setting but it still has a few fish that people try to catch (although I would not eat them) and it is used for power boating and any other water activity where you don't have to spend too much time in the water. Let us called the lake interesting, there are a few birds and occassionally and otter will pop its head out of the reeds.
Then you have the stadium. There are a few aspects that I really enjoy like the fact that the rain which falls on the roof is collected and can be used to water the pitch. I hope it is a tough African grass like Kikuyu that does not need too much water and is not scared of soccer boots. I hope it is not too hard for international knees but I am sure that some committee has approved it.
The stadium made the local newspaper headlines a few weeks ago. We are in the throes of a drought (living memory stuff) and an antelope driven from the veld by the drought tried to break through the glass doors of the stadium. Maybe the view of the green grass was too much?
In any case it is great to feel as though the world is looking and coming to visit. Entrepreneurs are excited although the cooked sheep head (called "smileys") sellers are not allowed near the stadiums (too strange for you) and the beverages being sold are American (and not the one we are used to). I am sure vuvuzelas (loud trumpet-like things) are being tuned although the idea of tuning one is a paradox and you must see the traditional decorative soccer hats that are being made from safety helmets that you normally see on construction sites.
It is, despite all the committees and rules and change and cows and taxis (they don't like the mass transport systems) and grass and dung, going to be very exciting. I just hope that you can see the Africa beneath all the FIFA polish. Look for Africa if you come - the people, the nature and the way of life.

25 March 2010

Sharks fail to get CITES protection

The current round of talks between  Parties to the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species, better known as CITES, has failed to produce any protection for 4 shark species - the porbeagle, spiny dogfish, scalloped hammerhead and oceanic whitetip. All the proposals put forward by the EU and the USA to protect these at risk species were voted out.

Sadly, this lack of protection means that these sharks, along with many other species of shark  will continue to be overfished for their meat and fins. Unbelievably, the numbers of the once common spiny dogfish have fallen by a massive 90 per cent or more. Heavily overfished for its meat (sold as rock salmon), this fish is now critically endangered. It is the slowest growing of  the sharks and has the longest gestation period, factors which mean that its numbers take a long time to recover. The rising demand for shark fins is threatening the hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks.

Ecoscene has an excellent selection of shark images such as the image of the spiny dogfish above. Check out our website www.ecoscene.com

5 March 2010


A new report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature gives some hope that more wild bison may be roaming free on the North American plains. Five hundred years ago, 30 to 50 million bison roamed North America from Mexico to Alaska. But in the 1800s, as European settlers moved across the continent, bison were slaughtered to near-extinction. Thanks to conservation efforts that started in the 1930s, it is estimated that today there are about 430,000 bison on the continent. Most of these are in commercial herds according to the IUCN report. Only 20,000 Plains Bison and 11,000 Wood Bison are wild, all in carefully managed conservation herds.

While there is no doubt that a growingly conservation-minded public would like more free-ranging bison, the main problem is finding sufficiently large areas of land to accommodate the wandering species. As the herds of wild bison in Yellowstone National Park in the United States grew, they encroached on grazing land for cattle, and in 2008 over 1,000 had to be slaughtered.

In Canada, there’s a proposal to introduce a breeding herd on the eastern slopes of the Rockies between Banff and Jasper National Parks. However, the plan is under review and nobody is expecting this to happen anytime soon.

Further south, in Waterton Lakes National Park, the plan for roaming bison was scuttled last year as there is not enough grassland to feed a herd in addition to the resident Elk. The initial breeding stock of Plains Bison, of which the bull photographed here is one, had to be culled so that there was sufficient grass in the adjacent paddock to feed the remainder.

Because of the 10,000-year-old relationship between First Nations and bison, there is a proposal to consult the Blackfoot community to see if undeveloped reserve land could once again become a home for wild bison.

19 February 2010

Lions kill elephant calf

Over the last couple of years I have been lucky enough to spend time filming for various projects in Amboseli, Kenya. During a shoot for Animal Planet last year I was out with the women of the Amboseli Trust For Elephants (ATE) early one morning when a call came in from Lion Researchers working in the area. They had witnessed two young male lions chasing an elephant calf which had somehow become separated from it's mother.

We raced to the scene whilst discussing what exactly we would do once we got there. Would we try and intervene or let nature take it's course? By the time we arrived the decision was taken from us. The lions had already managed to bring the calf down.

As there was nothing we could do to help the calf, Soila, Noraha and Katito began to search he area for signs of the calf's family in order to try and identify the calf. The ATE is a charity established scientist Cynthia Moss in Amboseli in 1972 and has undertaken the longest study of elephant populations in the world. The women of the trust undertake daily census's of the elephants within the park and know by name almost all the 1,500 or so elephants in the Amboseli ecosystem.

Despite years of experience in the field this was the first time lions killing an elephant calf had been witnessed by the women and they were very keen to establish the reasons behind this unusual occurrence.

As we searched for signs of a distressed mother, I noticed a large bull elephant approaching the lions. Clearly agitated the bull advanced towards the lions, temples streaming and sniffing the air. When he was almost upon the carcass he let out a huge trumpet and the lions scattered.

From a distance the elephant could see the calf was lifeless and bloody and he slowly moved off and the lions returned to the kill. At this point there was no sign of other families in the area and the lions took the opportunity to drag the calf towards cover.

Soila then notice a family in the distance sniffing the air and looking very disturbed. They approached the area very carefully, crowding together with the young calf's being ushered into the middle of the herd. As they neared the area where the calf was killed they became increasingly agitated. Eventually they gathered around the area where the calf had lain and was now covered in blood. The elephants slowly combed the area with their trunks trying to pick up the scent of the calf

After some time the elephants moved on very cautiously scanning the bush for signs of Lions.
Although the family was known to the Soila, Norah and Katito they couldn't say with any certainty that the calf belonged to this family. The calf was around 18 months old and as such was very hard to identify outwith the family group and with so many families in the ecosystem it would take some time to work out who exactly the unfortunate calf belonged to.

Occurrences of Lions killing elephant calf's' appear to be quite rare in Amboseli and in conjunction with the lion researchers the women established that possibly due to the drought (the worst in living memory) the young male lions had been pushed out of the pride to fend for themselves the previous week. Mounting hunger must have lead to the lions looking for an easy target and presumably a mother and calf separated from the herd would have made a reasonable target.

Last year the ATE estimate that 80-90% of the Wildebeest population was lost along with 70% of the Zebra and around 200 elephants The good news is after 3 years the drought in Amboseli broke in January and the ecosystem is slowly returning to normal and large aggregations of elephants are returning to the park along with the big bulls in musth.