The Pyrennes in the south west of France, and the corresponding area across the border, are a wonderful area of wilderness. There are currently about 64 bears living in this area. So where are we on the road to recovery?
Were the the entire Pyrennes mountains wild, it is thought that these mountains could support 600 bears. However, this area is not an area that is set aside for wilderness – there is a whole population of humans living in these mountains (almost 700,000 people live here).
It is thought that the bear population of the Pyrennes could potentially get to 250 in its current form.
I wrote back in March about a Walrus that was seen around Ireland for some time.
There were 2 walrus in British waters last year, a male and a female. The last male walrus and his harem of 3 females were killed back in 1847. Both walrus are thought to be young.
2 Walrus in a country of ours is not many. Indeed, 2 walrus in the waters of the British Isles is very few. However, if the same 2 walrus were to return next year and meet, it is not impossible that young walrus result. This could become the start of a new walrus colony.
We do not think of the UK as an Arctic country, but we are a natural part of the Walrus range so the natural return of these animals would be very positive.
Could Walrus return, and thrive here? could we have a population of hundreds of walrus in a few decades? The advantage of sea-faring mammals, is that they can return on their own. Walrus can be dangerous if humans get too close, never-the-less the risk of harm to humans is incredibly low, indeed far different to that of wolves and bears (and the risks of injury from these species are already very low). The return of walrus can only be good. They are essential for a healthy sea ecosystem, in the same way that land based carnivores are also needed.
Were a male and a female walrus to meet somewhere remote on the coast of Scotland, I could well imagine it being the start of a Walrus colony in the UK once again. The last dominant male and his 3 sows were killed about 150 years ago, it is about time that this animal would return. Walrus have significant impacts on ecosystems that they live in. Indeed, they do so much, that they are known are keystone species. so their permanent return would be highly positive. Importantly, as they prefer feeding at the bottom of shallow waters, eating clams, molluscs, worms, snail, soft shell crabs, shrimps and sea cucumbers, they are not generally competing with any of the species that humans harvest.
I hope to be able to report on more similar visits in the near future.
Beavers are a native part of British fauna. I have written many times on different advantages that their return is likely to generate. These run from reduced flooding of rivers, created wetland areas which keep flow of water constant, increased biodiversity helping water mammals recover (and the advantage that comes with this is the likely eradication of American mink which cannot compete with otters), filtering out pollutants as well as many more.
Unfortunately, in America, beavers are causing problems that they would not have been able to (in the past). Up until recently, much of places like Alaska were permanently locked in permafrost. Indeed, there are now areas, where, 50 years ago no beavers live – now the land has as many beavers as it can support. Using satellite images, scientists counted 12,000 beaver ponds, a number twice that of 20 years ago.
The first concern, is that indigenous people are loosing roads and places that they need to grow enough food to survive.
However, a bigger issue is that it is thought that these beavers could accelerate climate change. As beavers do not hibernate, they store food in their ponds, keeping it fresh for longer meaning that they can continue to have enough food to stay awake through the heart of winter.
The beaver pools that are created when beavers dam rivers, create localized unfrozen hotspots which in turn melts the permafrost in the area. This is the dangerous bit, as the permafrost, that is found throughout all the arctic nations, stores vast amounts of carbon. If the permafrost melts, this will be released and there is enough quantity to pass all problem points that scientists are worried about.
If all the permafrost carbon is released, the world is likely to suffer temperature rises, that may well dwarf the current estimates. This in turn is likely to require billions of people to move as their home country falls below sea level.
Across the world many governments make money by allowing hunters to take a certain percentage of their population each year. In most countries this percentage is worked out carefully, so as to not damage the population in the long run.
At the current time, there is only one home for the Asiatic lion. this is despite many millions spent to change this situation. For a decade Gir forest has been meant to transfer a handful of lions to Kuno reserve, in order to give them a second home.
Why is this important? We need multiple homes for Asiatic lions. There was recently a huge storm over their one home. It is not unthinkable for the Gir forest to be devastated by something similar.
The government of this part of India has declared exclusive rights to the lions – an absurd claim given these lions once roamed across Asia, north Africa and southern parts of Europe.
It would appear that lions are taking matters into their own hands (or paws). Gir forest has a lion density way too high, which is leading to high mortality from fights between males and infanticide to bring females back into oestrus
Lions are now regularly seen as far away as Madhavpur an area which would take hours to drive to (from Gir national park). They have also created new populations in Girnar, paniya Mitiyala reserves as well as in a whole host of unprotected zones.
One of the areas that the lions have been moving into is Jasdan-Chotila. Lions disappeared from this area about 150 years ago, but the area is still well suited to them. There are various species of prey, and leopards have survived in the area. There are various mitigations that locals would have to make to live comfortably alongside lions. There are also many wells in the area, which will have to have walls built around them, to stop the lions falling in. Lions falling to their deaths have been a significant reason that the Gir lion population has not grown bigger in recent years.
Still this is exciting, though it should force local politicians to look at the health of the lion population as well as their own bottom line as the only place to see Asiatic lions.
Yesterday, I was writing about a new wolf pack that had established itself in northern California – this is exciting, because wolves have only started recolonising California in the last couple of years and they seem to be thriving (as one would expect). Indeed, wolf recovery in America is highly likely (assuming policies like Trumps delisting of all wolves, is never taken up).
Wolves appear to have successfully recolonised the Czech republic!
A small new wolf pack has formed in northern California. This pack, known as the Beckworth pack has established itself in Pumas county. The pack consists of a 2 year old female wolf born in California and two others.
This is only the third wolf pack to establish itself in California in the last century. California and their authorities have been heavily supportive of the recovery of wolves in the west of the USA and have publicly decried decisions made by its neighbours – moves which make wolves returning to the endangered list a significant possibility.
DNA analysis has shown that a grey whale first seen off the South West African coast, originated in a population off the eastern coast of Asia.
This grey whale in question was spotted off the coast of Namibia by scientists. Given where they are usually found, they wanted to check what was going on so took a DNA sample.
The sighting is exciting, as it suggests that grey whales collectively have memory of long unused breeding grounds, or are merely exploring beyond their current range.
Even more exciting, this male was found to likely come from the North pacific population, a highly endangered population with only 200 members.
Now while from this populations point of view, a female migrating the other way would have been more useful, it suggests that there is far more mixing across huge distances than was previously known.
Perhaps as the pressures of whaling fade into history, these animals will return. It is true that whaling is not yet being left in the past. Norway Iceland and Japan all still have small whaling industries. However, provided whaling is kept at this level, or reduces over time the vast majority of whales will be unaffected. It is important that whaling (even in these limited numbers) stays clear of certain species; for instance northern right whales still only number around 200 in the wild, so even hunting at the levels we will have could push this species to extinction.
Any decision on which species can be hunted must come down to science. It is irrelevant if a people have hunted a specific whale for centuries, if they would exterminate the rest of its species.
Whales should be allowed to recover to previous levels. They are also capable of sequestering carbon in large quantities, both from their dead bodies and waste. We need them to thrive – both for their benefit and for ours.
A herd of elephants left their home in March of 2020, and have been roaming free for the last 15 months. In that time they have travelled 500 km (300 miles) roughly the equivalent of the distance from the most eastern to most western point in the UK.