Saturday

Farming Rhinos

This post will have a bit of a political note to it. I will not show the bloody pictures of what poachers do to rhinos, but if you would like to read further on this topic and see those graphic images the article can be found here.
There is a lot of talk right now about the idea of farming rhinos. Now, before you start protesting let me talk a little bit about the reasons behind this. For starters the overwhelmingly major reason rhinos are being killed is not for sport, but for their horns' supposed medicinal
properties. The use of rhino horn to cure everything from a sore throat to cancer is wide spread in south-east Asia, especially in Vietnam's growing economy. There has been little research done on the actual benefits of rhino horn, but most people in the debate agree that it has little to no effect on health.
In addition to this, the current laws in places like South Africa state that when sport hunting (in which a large fee is paid to the government) the rhino must be killed. This seems a little illogical as many hunters say they would be willing to simply dart the animal and remove its horn above the point where it will regrow.

This leads to another point about rhino horns- they will regrow it cut off 2-3 inches from the base in about 2 years. This means that the rhinos can be sedated and the horns removed without pain, other than the dart, and the animal can get a vet exam at the same time. To me, this seems much better than shooting them and sawing off the horn at the base then leaving the animal to die of blood loss and infection.
Some people say that the farming of rhinos will only increase the demand for their horn and that the animals will not be treated properly, that they will be kept in confined spaces and be unhappy. John Hume says that this will not be the case. He currently keeps 700 rhinos on a game farm in South Africa. His rhinos have a large range and because of the regular harvesting of their horns they get a vet exam every two years. He believes that if rhino farming can become more widespread it would employ people who now turn to poaching to earn money for their families.
In addition to supporting local people though job creation, rhino farming has many other benefits. One of which is local education about the animals. The money from their horns could also be used to educate people abroad about how the animals are poached and that their horns have no medicinal benefit. In addition, the farmed horn could be sold for less than those on the black market thus undermining the black market and hopefully causing it to collapse.

Bred from a Different Stock

Think of a dog, Canis lupus familiaris, just the name alone says that our pets are actually a sub species of wolf. This is true of every dog one can think of from Irish Wolf Hounds to Papillons, except a little known breed created in Russia by Klim Sulimov. This breed, known as Sulimov dogs, is descended from the Turkmen Golden Jackal (Canis aureus aureus). The breed was created in 1975 for sniffing out bombs and other dangerous materials for Russia's national airline Aeroflot.
So why use a jackal as the base for a breed rather than the wolf which has been used for thousands of years? According to Sulimov jackals have a better sense of smell than the wolf and have a natural desire to sniff things out, unlike the wolf-based breeds which have to be trained and bribed with treats to sniff out hazards. The first generation of the breed was pure jackal which was fostered by a Lapponion Herding Dog. This was done to increase the jackals' comfort with humans as well as their trainability. Even so, the first generation was hard to train and naturally wary of humans. Sulimov then bred in wolf-based breeds such as the Huskie, Reindeer Herding Hound, Spitzes, and Fox Terriers to in crease the dogs' size and genetic diversity. This mix eventually resulted in the modern Sulimov Dog. These dogs are not only easy to train and have a natural love of sniffing, they are also hardier than any other breed being able to withstand temperatures from negative 94-100 degrees Fahrenheit. This amazing tolerance is the result of crossing multiple arctic breeds with the heat-loving jackal.
As of this post the dogs are not available outside of Aeroflot's breeding program, but the airline plans to start selling them as a superior sniffer dog in the near future.

The best name ever

Meet the Hoopoe scientific name Upupa epops (oopoopa eepops) in the family Upupidae. Not only does this bird have possible the best common name ever its scientific name is equally wonderful. The name Upupa is an onomatopoeia for the call the bird makes.
The origin of the birds dates back to fossils from the Quarternary with their relatives, the woodhoopoes, dating back to the Miocene. There are currently 9 subspecies of the Hoopoe with ranges across Europe, Asia, and Africa. They need habitat with open ground on which
to forage and places with tall cliffs in which to nest.
In relation to humans the Hoopoe is mentioned in the Torah as not being Kosher and thus should not be eaten. It is mentioned in the Quran when it is absent from a meeting with Solomon. It is connected with death in Estonian culture. It is also the state bird of Israel and of the Punjab province in India. The Hoopoe eats many pests to humans such as a destructive moth.
The Hoopoe is known for its calls of which there are many. It has a characteristic love song as well as calls for scolding others of its species and for simply talking to one another. The common name derives from the breeding call.
The Hoopoe is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN as it is not hunted and can live in a fairly wide range of habitats and lives well with humans all over its range.

Friday

New Zealand Birds- Weka

This will begin a series on the birds of New Zealand.
The Weka(
Gallirallus australis) is a member of the rail family and native only to New Zealand (NZ). It has four subspecies all of which are considered vulnerable by the IUCN. Efforts to reintroduce the Weka to its original habitats have been moderately successful. Some subspecies have been successfully reintroduced while others have continued to decline in numbers. The total population is estimated at 120,000- 187,000 birds. The current threats to the Weka are feral cats and dogs which prey on the adults. The chicks face threats from stoats and rats which eat both eggs and chicks. Other threats include introduced plant species out competing their native food plants as well as pressure from introduces browsers eating their food resources.
In historic times before Europeans arrived on NZ the Weka were both revered and hunted by the Maori who saw them as curious and feisty, but these traits also made them easy to catch. They were used for their feathers, their fat was used to treat inflammation, and they were eaten for food.
The Weka, like many birds in NZ, is flightless. This loss of an evolutionary novelty most likely came about because for over 60 million years there were no mammals on NZ which would prey on these birds. Because of this their only predators were other birds which could be hidden from through the use of camouflage which the Weka accomplishes well with its brown feathers. Like all rails it has large un-webbed feet for walking across reeds in marshes. The Weka can be found in a wide range of habitats from sub-alpine to coastal wetlands to urban areas. They are omnivores with plants making up 70% of their diet and small invertebrates making up the other 30%. Their ability to live in many habitats and eat many things has probably served them well in their ever changing world. Other flightless birds on the island have not survived as well as the Weka.