Bears of South Kamchatka Sanctuary – part 2

We are back in Russia, where unfortunately massive wildfires are ongoing in several regions of Siberia, at a scale never seen before, covering million of hectares of pristine forest, sparked by unusually dry weather conditions. The coverage though gets so little attention in other parts of the world, where is business as usual, with everyone out for vacations in major cities, failing to grasp the meaning of this and other climate change effects, for all of us, regardless the location…Climate change can wait, vacations not!

In Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula however bears are just preparing for another feast, in anticipation for the yearly salmon run, which as of early July, didn’t yet start! Visibly skinnier after the long winter season, the bears still put safety before hunger, when a large boar makes his appearance on this beach, that is enough to send some even adult bears up in a tree (as heavy bulk is not an issue in early summer days)! Besides, this is an excellent spot for watching both neighbors and coming salmons!

Enjoy some of the great photos taken in July 2019 at Kuril Lake, South Kamchatka Sanctuary!

The Caucasian leopard

Leopards are usually associated with exotic places like African Savannah, but in reality, this master of survival, was once common in Eurasia as well.

Today, one of the subspecies, namely the Persian or Caucasian leopard (depends on the area where can be spotted, from Northern Iran to Russia Dagestan’s mountains), is fighting for its survival. According to Wikipiedia, as of 2008, of the estimated 871–1,290 mature leopards:

  • 550–850 live in Iran, which is the leopard’s stronghold in Southwest Asia
  • about 200–300 survive in Afghanistan, where their status is poorly known;
  • about 78–90 live in Turkmenistan;
  • fewer than 10–13 survive in Armenia;
  • fewer than 10–13 survive in Azerbaijan;
  • fewer than 10 survive in the Russian North Caucasus;
  • fewer than 5 survive in Turkey;
  • fewer than 5 survive in Georgia;
  • about 3–4 survive in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Some of these countries, together with WWF, have joined forces to make a priority the survival of this magnificent wild species! You can read more on Wilderness-Society blog or WWF Armenia website on the related monitoring, educating and conservation initiatives and the progress made and the beautiful pictures captured in the wild! During our trip to Georgia and Armenia we did enjoy beautiful nature and wonderful people as well as ancient history and culture, but we did not spot the leopard. We do share with you some of our pictures taken and hope for the best outcome from the Caucasian Leopard survival projects!

Chernobyl’s accidental Wildlife Sanctuary

According to Yuval Noah Harari‘s latest book “21 lessons for 21st century“, there are 3 main risks that humanity is facing today: nuclear, climate change and technology disruption.

The first one, the nuclear risk, is recently reclaiming people’s attention with “Chernobyl“, a recent HBO production, that tells the story of the 1986 nuclear accident in former Soviet Union, one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history, and the sacrifices made to save Europe from a greater unimaginable disaster.

But what is less known is that in 1988, two years after the Chernobyl disaster, a closed nature reserve, Palieski State Radioecological Reserve, was established in Belarus to isolate the most affected territory of the country. While the area will remains inappropriate for human habitation for hundreds more years, wildlife has since flourished there. The reserve hosts many rare and endangered species, which thrive here thanks to the mere absence of humans. A complete ecosystem, the reserve is now home to large predators as Brown Bears, Wolves (allegedly 7 times the number of wolves outside the  the reserve) or Lynx, as well as herbivores like Elk, Moose and prospering herds of European Bison and Wild Horses (Przewalski’s horses – released in the Zone after the accident), and rare birds as Greater Spotted Eagle and Eagle Owl and White-tailed Eagle.

More than 30 years later, the area is the nearest that Europe has to a wilderness and gives key lessons on how wildlife doesn’t need us, and how nature can recover from worst man-made disasters to its primeval state, if only allowed to do that!

Chernobyl, Nearly 30 Years Since Catastrophe

Costa Brava’s successful ecological project

Spain’s Costa Brava is one of the most visited touristic place in Europe, and yet somewhere on its Mediterranean shores, through the Pletera Life Project (2014 – 2018), nature activists and local authorities (as well as European Union through its generous funding), successfully worked together in returning to nature a large area of paramount importance for the local ecosystem and its wildlife.

The salt-marshes of la Pletera harbored a series of lagoons that were drained in 1987 in order to build an almost 1 km long promenade and six apartment blocs, of which only one was ever finished. The deconstruction and restoration of the site has regenerated the coastal salt-marshes and lagoons, which are now home to more than 80 species of birds as well as other small mammals. The place attracts also many tourists which love nature, here being able to enjoy fresh air, nature’s finest songs (those of the birds), long walks, excellent biking routes, and a long list of water sports, from swimming to diving and canoe, all in a nature-friendly way!

For me this is a great example that nature still has a place in today’s social and economic reality, and through understanding and willingness we can contribute into restoring nature and wildlife to their lost habitats! Others places and its people and authorities should follow the example! Kudos to all that made this happen!

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Debate over the future of Wildlife

Dear Readers and Wildlife lovers,

I would like to launch a debate over the future of Wildlife, by the means of this blog, and I encourage all of you to express a personal opinion by commenting on this article! The topic is:

In the light of today’s reality, should humans use the latest advances in bio-technology and genetics to “resurrect” some extinct species?

When I say “today reality” I make reference to IPBES‘s latest 2019 report: “Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’ Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating” and when I say “using technology to resurrect extinct species”, I can recommend reading Torill Kornfeldt‘s (science journalist and author) findings on the topic, described in her “The re-Origin of Species” book, which I would encourage reading in detail.

But to summarize, IPBES’s report is of utmost concern, “from 8 million species of plant and animal species on Earth, up to 1 million are threaten with extinction within decades, at the current accelerated rate of extinction, which is tens to hundreds of times higher compared to average over the last 10 million years”!

Then, shall humans use science and technology to bail us out, and “resurrect” most important species to the environment? Using Torri’s example, mammoths were useful in maintaining the Siberian permafrost, by removing trees or snow in large areas of land when searching for food, which would be very useful today in combating global warming, and saving this way many present marine species! But scientists may never be able to re-create a 100% genetically identical mammoth, but could be within reach of creating a whole new species of elephant, resistant to cold weather, which could be relocated to Siberia, and perform the natural role that the mammoth was performing 10.000 years ago?

The re-Origin of Species

What is your view on this? Let’s kick-start the conversation!

The Islands

Islands are ecological ecosystems. Isolated from the rest of the world, the species here may have followed their own evolution path. It is the wildlife in islands that the famous naturalist Charles Darwin studied and made subject of his famous book on evolution: The Origin of Species, considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology!

The volcanic islands of Canary (Spain, Atlantic Ocean) may not seem much today in terms of terrestrial wildlife, since they practice mass tourism or intensive agriculture (bananas and grape-wines are main mono-cultures). But visiting the islands outside summer season, and ignoring the mass of hungry feral cats in wait for the next wave of tourists, the Ocean rewards you with many wildlife encounters (marine birds, crabs, various species of dolphins and even whales), if only you take a walk along its shores or a boat tour around the islands!

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Other interesting activities may be stars and galaxies watching, since light pollution in some places is really reduced, thanks to astrological friendly policies of local administration.

Palma star-watch

Have fun, if you get the chance to visit!

MEGAFAUNA

The global climate during Pleistocene, from 1.8 million years ago until 10.000 years ago, alternated repeatedly between hot periods and cold phases when ice covered much of the world’s land masses. An adaptation frequently found among fauna during these glacial periods is an increase in size – when a living being becomes bigger, its volume which is where the body generates heat, grows more quickly than its surface through which this heat is dissipated – this is the age of Megafauna, time of an incredibly diverse and fascinating set of large mammals species, which are now extinct! Among most iconic species are the mammoth and woolly rhino (Eurasia), the dire-wolf , the saber-toothed cat Smilodon and the Americal lion (North America), the cave bear and the short-faced bear, giant marsupials (Australia), the giant deer, etc. This was precisely the world that Homo Sapiens stepped into as we spread beyond Africa, all the way to America. Had we never appeared, would those now-missing mammals still be here? And will they ever be back?

Except Africa, where humans and Megafauna evolved together, and African animals had the chance to adjust as our presence increased, learning how to be wary of us and evolving in ways to elude us, the Megafauna on the other continents was totally taken by surprise by the new invasive species, hunting in groups, mastering the fire and the tools to hunt them from a safety distance!

Today we can only see remnants of this lost world in natural science museums. But will one day some of these species be resurrected with the help of modern gene technology and biotechnology, which are progressing so incredibly fast? And where would they fit on a planet populated by almost 7.7 bn people today? The idea of a Jurassic kind of Park, but with mammoths instead of dinosaurs, appeals to many scientists (and businessmen), even if for curiosity, to push the limits of creation and see how far they can get (or for fame or profit)…Let’s see (I recommend an excellent book for who wants to learn more: Torill Kornfeldt‘s The re-Origin of Species)!

In the meantime, we can learn from history and make sure we won’t drive into extinction other species or the entire ecosystem we rely upon, to be wise enough to stop the Holocene 6th mass species extinction (also known as Anthropocene extinction or Quaternary extinction event), that we humans started with Megafauna, and continues with today Wildlife species at accelerated speed!

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