23 June 2011


In Africa the seasons can flow one into the next and sometimes the rain just does not fall. For about 4 years we have not had decent rain when suddenly, after a few heavy downpours, the dams rose from being about 30% full to some overflowing and the dams in Nelson Mandela Metropole in South Africa are in the region of 80% of capacity. Of course the water restrictions are still on – the wheels of municipal bureaucracy turn even slower than the drought cycle.

Luckily the floods were minor with no loss of life and just a lot of suffering, cold and inconvenience for the poor. Living in shacks means that your roof does leak and with the wind driving the rain into the sides of the shack the walls also leak. Large rocks are used to hold down sheets of zinc that are the preferred roofing material. After the rain everything has to be brought out into the open to dry and is a feature of life in the poorer parts of the world. In the picture above you see blankets, clothes and mats drying on the fence. On the roof rows of shoes dry in the sun. To me this is such a typical African picture – we love the colours of the clothes and blanket but do tend to forget the suffering that goes coupled with it. Above the house you see a satellite television dish, something very African too. Being poor or living in a shack does not mean you have to forego luxuries or dreams. Even better, behind the houses, you see the approaching rows of new houses that are slowly replacing the shacks. Sure the process is slow and everyone complains from those who have received the houses to those who are still waiting. The change is slow but still good.

16 June 2011

IUCN publishes the latest Red List

The IUCN has just published the latest version of its Red List of Threatened Species. Its depressing reading with just a few snippets of good news. There are a  staggering 19,265 species are currently threatened with extinction. Since the update in 2010, more than 900 new species have been added to the category of threatened, that's either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. So things are getting worse for biodiversity  around the world.

The IUCN have a few highlights of which one of the Arabian oryx. This magnificent animal was almost hunted to extinction  and it became extinct in the wild in 1972. Since then conservationists have worked hard with captive breeding programmes and animals have been reintroduced to the wild.  This has been successful and now there are more more than 1000 wild oryx. So successful, in fact, that the species has been downgraded from endangered to vulnerable and is the first species to have improved by three categories from extinct in the wild.

“To have brought the Arabian oryx back from the brink of extinction is a major feat and a true conservation success story, one which we hope will be repeated many times over for other threatened species,” says Ms Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Director General of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi. “It is a classic example of how data from the IUCN Red List can feed into on-the-ground conservation action to deliver tangible and successful results.”

However the rest of the report is not so encouraging. The 2011 Red List shows more than 40 per cent of amphibians being at risk of extinction. There are 19 new species on the list of which 8 are classes as critically endangered, and they include the colourful harlequin toad from Peru.   The IUCN has assessed the lobsters, all 248 species and concluded that 35% are data deficient.

Birds have not done well either.  Since 2010  another 13 species have been moved intot he threatened categories, bringing the total number of threatened bird species to 1253 - that's 13% of all bird species. The Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) has been uplisted to Critically Endangered as a result of hunting, disturbance, habitat loss and fragmentation.  hEstimates suggest there are fewer than 250 individuals left in the wild. Also upgraded to critically endangered is Bahama Oriole (Icterus northropi) of which there could be as few as 180 individuals.