Apr 27

In this guest blog, wildlife photographer and Wildscreen Exchange contributor Avijan Saha discusses his experience with human-animal conflict in West Bengal, India, where an ancient Asian elephant migratory route has been blocked by a 20-kilometre-long fence, and the implications it has caused for both wildlife and human communities.

My name is Avijan Saha, I am from Siliguri, West Bengal, India. By profession, I am a photographer and since 2008 I have been working in West Bengal on human-elephant conflict issues with forest officials, NGO’s and nature activists. I try to raise awareness with my photographs. I believe that photography is one of the most creative tools to tell a story – one frame at a time.

 

Avijan Saha

The foothills of the Himalayan Mountains are an ancient migratory route for Asian elephants. In this landscape there is plentiful water due to the meeting of various different rivers and their tributaries, providing the elephants with the hydration they need to continue their lengthy journey.

Herd of Asian elephants at Mechi River bed, Indo-Nepal border

Human-elephant conflict in the Darjeeling Terai has a century-old history and was first recorded in 1907 when a herd of at least 30 elephants migrated into Nepal after crossing the rivers Teesta, Mahananda, Balason and Mechi.

The area from the Mechi River to the Sankosh River is divided into two elephant distribution zones extending across 1,659 square kilometres of forest, comprising five protected areas – Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara and Gorumara National Parks and Chapramari and Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuaries. A large part of this area lies between the Torsa River in West Bengal and the Sankosh  River and is referred to as the Eastern Dooars Elephant Reserve (EDER).

Herd of Asian elephants in Kolaveri Forest, India

Crop raiding by elephants turned into a serious issue in the Kurseong forest division in 1980 after a herd of around 60 elephants were chased away from agricultural land into the nearby Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. In 2005, the Forest Department reported that around 70 elephants from Mahananda were causing extensive damage on the outskirts of the sanctuary and in bordering Nepalese villages, which was affecting more than 50,000 people.

Human-elephant interaction at Kolaveri Forest, Indo-Nepal border

Kolaveri, a small patch of forest on the banks of the Mechi River, is now the last refuge for the elephants on the Indian side of the border. An 18 kilometre stretch of very fertile agricultural land in the Jhapa and Bahundangi districts of Nepal draws around 100 elephants from the Sanctuary each year, especially during the maize (May-July) and rice (October-December) cultivating seasons. Elephants are continually disturbed and tortured by humans as a consequence of new agricultural activities in their former habitat and face further pressures from farming as land is altered for grazing livestock and the collection of firewood. As a result, there has been an increase in both elephant and human casualties.

Cattle grazing also become a threat for these giants

In 2016, the Nepalese government erected a 20-kilometre-long fence, called tarbar, from upper to lower Nepal to protect their cultivated land, resulting in the Kolaveri elephants being forced to scatter into neighbouring Indian villages. Though the herd was not able to cross the tarbar, one tusker tore down a part of the fencing, causing further animosity. In this bid to stop elephants from entering their territory, the Nepalese government blocked a century-old migration route, which has altered natural behaviour and has increased, rather than decreased, incidences of human-elephant conflict.

This is a trans-boundary conflict situation that needs immediate resolution between India and Nepal. A joint action plan must be formulated, implemented and maintained at both national and local levels to prevent further damage from occurring to humans or wildlife.

Find out more about Asian elephants on Arkive

See more of Avijan Saha’s amazing photographs on the Wildscreen Exchange

Apr 26

You might not have it scheduled in your calendar, but today in in fact Alien Day! That’s right, a celebration of the films in which Sigourney Weaver, aka Ripley, battles some frankly terrifying extra-terrestrial creatures.

So we at Arkive had to jump at the chance to share with you our five favourite alien-like critters! These out-of-this-world species live right here among us, so there’s no need to blast off into space and cryo-freeze yourself for an encounter!

 Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica)

These bizarre-looking antelope look like they’ve fallen straight off the set of Star Wars, but in actual fact can be found in the steppe grasslands of central Asia.

Despite their common name, these ungulates are actually thought to be intermediates between antelope and sheep. They prefer open areas free from dense vegetation where they run quickly (up to 80 miles per hour) to avoid predators such as wolves and humans

Large groups of saiga migrate southwards in winter, covering up to 72 miles in a day. The rut begins in late November and males gather groups of around 30 females in ‘harems’, which they aggressively defend.

During the rut, males’ noses swell up and the hair tufts below the eyes are covered in a sticky secretion. Males do not feed much during the rutting season, when they take part in violent fights that often end in death. The male mortality rate can reach 90 percent during this time, due to exhaustion.

Tail-less whip scorpion (Phrynichus jayakari)

The tail-less whip scorpion is spider-like in appearance and, as its common name suggests, it lacks a tail.

Tail-less whip scorpions differ from other arachnids (a group containing spiders and scorpions) in that they use only six of their limbs to walk, rather than eight, as the front pair are adapted to act as very long sensory organs. They may look like a bit creepy, but they are actually completely harmless and do not possess venom glands or a sting.

Tail-less whip scorpions are primarily nocturnal and emerge at night in search of food or a mate. They generally occur in tropical and sub-tropical regions, where they live under stones, leaves, bark or in rock crevices and caves.

Hairy angler (Caulophryne polynema)

The hairy angler is a deep-sea predator that looks like it is could have had a starring role in the nightmares of many pretty little reef fish whose parents warned them of the dangers of straying from the safety of their coral home.

The female is about the size of a football and its body is covered in long antennae, used to detect the movements of any nearby prey. The male is about a tenth of the size of the female, roughly the size of a ping pong ball. When a male encounters a female, it latches on and, over time, begins sharing the female’s blood supply, providing her with unlimited semen in response.

While we noted at the start that no spaceship was required for these sightseeing trips, the hairy angler lives at depths of over 1,000 metres, in the dark zone (we think it chose this for added dramatic effect), so you would probably need a very expensive submarine to pay it a visit.

Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)

The axolotl is an unusual species of salamander which retains its larval features, such as gills, and remains aquatic throughout its life. They definitely look like a slightly more friendly alien creature who’d be more likely to sit down and play a board game with you than our previous guest creature, phew.

This real-life Pokémon mostly fails to undergo metamorphosis, but if its habitat dries up then this species can metamorphose into its adult form – magic!

Another out-of-this-world power the axolotl has is regeneration – X-men style! Instead of forming scar tissue when wounded, the axolotl can regenerate tissue at the wound site and even re-grow missing limbs.

The axolotl is native to the ancient water channel system of Mexico City, preferring deep brackish water with plenty of vegetation, but has been lost from most of its range and is currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Coral

The tiny organisms that live inside corals, polyps, can live on their own but are mostly associated with the spectacularly diverse limestone communities, or reefs, they construct.

Coral polyps are tiny, translucent animals. These soft-bodied organisms are related to sea anemones and jellyfish. At their base is a hard, protective limestone skeleton called a calicle, which forms the structure of coral reefs.

They have to be on this list as they are so bizarre and unlike any other creature on the planet, many people don’t know they’re even an animal, or even sentient, mistaking the reefs they build for rock.

Corals eat by catching tiny floating animals called zooplankton. At night, coral polyps come out of their elaborate exoskeletons to feed, stretching their long, stinging tentacles to capture critters that are floating by. Prey are pulled into the polyps’ mouths and digested in their stomachs.

The majority of a polyp’s energy actually comes from tiny algae called zooxanthellae. The algae live within the coral polyps, using sunlight to make sugar for energy. This energy is transferred to the polyp, providing much-needed nourishment. In turn, coral polyps provide the algae with carbon dioxide and a protective home.

Don’t get us started on how they breed, or wage war on one another, as we could go on for hours on their otherworldly behaviour! But if you want to learn more about these amazing and highly endangered species, please check out our coral conservation topic page.

 

HAPPY ALIEN DAY!

Apr 19

Yesterday Google introduced a brand-new version of Google Earth—on the web and Android. Joining up with some of the world’s leading storytellers, scientists and non-profits and after two years in the making, planet earth has been brought to life with Voyager, a showcase of interactive guided tours.

Wildscreen is thrilled to announce that it too is part of the journey, sharing stories of hundreds of endangered animals both on land and in our oceans, through a new breathtaking Arkive layer.

Arkive layer on Google Earth

Through Voyager, Arkive – the world’s leading online encyclopaedia about the natural world – is brought to life. Each placemark contains an amazing photo of the species, along with key information about its biology, where it is found and what threats it faces.

Lucie Muir, Wildscreen CEO said: “At Wildscreen we believe that visual storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have to share the beauty, but most importantly, the fragility of our natural world. Through our partnership with Google Earth we are now able to share the stories of hundreds of species with millions of people around the world, immersing them in nature and inspiring them to do something to help.

Not only can explorers discover hundreds of weird and wonderful species and where they live but they can also dive in deeper by continuing their journey on the Arkive website itself. Arkive (www.arkive.org) is packed full with over 16,000 in-depth species fact files, illustrated with over 100,000 of the best wildlife films and photos, contributed by more than 7,500 of the world’s leading filmmakers, photographers and scientists. There’s also curriculum-linked education resources, activities and topic pages exploring some of the key conservation issues facing the world’s wild things and wild places.

Go explore the wild here.

 

Apr 14

This week Arkive has been celebrating the US premiere of the environmental documentary Tomorrow, (Demain le Film). We’ve been featuring a guest blogs throughout the week, with documentary contributors discussing the global issues featured in Tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s US premier is in San Francisco TODAY! 14th April 2017. Find the Tomorrow Facebook or visit the website for a full run-down and trailer.

“Without question, this is absolutely the best and most creative film on the future of humanity and the environment.” – Paul Hawken, leading environmentalist

Tomorrow trailer

Tomorrow trailer

Who are you?

Cyril Dion. Almost 39. French. Married with two kids. I’m a filmmaker, writer, poet and ecological activist.

I also wrote and co-directed Tomorrow, it is my baby! It took me five years to make this project a reality, and I never thought it would take me to 17 countries and more than 120 cities.

I have always tried to find ways to express myself artistically and to be as useful as possible to people and the planet. First, I was an actor, then I studied and practiced natural medicine. I organised Israeli-Palestinian congresses including the very first two world congress of Imams and Rabbis for peace. I co-founded and directed an ecological NGO for seven years, created and ran a magazine, wrote three books, and now directed a movie.

Problems facing your field of expertise from an environmental/sustainability perspective?

Basically, a part of humanity could disappear by the end of the century if we keep on living as we do, especially in the western world. A few years ago, a study conducted by one of NASA’s lab showed that civilisations usually collapse when two factors combine: when we destroy natural resources faster than they can restore themselves, and when social inequality become unbearable.

We currently experience both problems. Unfortunately, this study is not the only one. Hundreds of them have been published all around the world warning us of the dangers of climate change, mass extinction of species, pollution, exploitation of people and nature.

Climate change effects include sea levels getting higher, ice melting at the poles, and extreme weather events like hurricanes and droughts becoming more common. Many animals are also struggling to survive as their habitats change.

If the current rate of deforestation continues, it is thought that the world’s forests will be gone in just 100 years.

Do you have any suggested solutions to the problems Tomorrow confronts?

I can build on what I have learned while travelling the world for the film. We need to shift from a material-oriented society where making money, buying stuff and creating economic growth is the main goal, to a world where we are living meaningful lives; being in harmony with nature and with each other is our priority. The good news, is that we have the know-how to gather everything we need: food, shelter, healthcare, money, great job, and community we can rely on.

One particularly interesting way could be to replicate what nature does and adapt it to our human organisations: circular processes, efficiency in networks, creating no waste, restoration abilities, nurture a very high level of diversity. Diversity is the key, if you have a forest with only one type of tree, when disease strikes, the whole forest is gone. But if you have different type of trees, some variety will resist more than others and the ecosystem has much better chances of surviving. It is what we call resilience.

Concretely, this means that we must not encourage monocultures, whether it is in agriculture (growing only one kind of crop on huge fields), in economy (having just a few big businesses trusting the all world with their food, clothes, furniture and so on), in energy (relying on fossil fuels), etc. It is too fragile.

We need to develop greater autonomy and diversity everywhere: organic food systems, local renewable energy, strong local economies with a lot of diverse independent businesses and to link all these territories to each other to have millions of local, ecological, economies interconnected.

Cyril has presented Tomorrow across the globe, including screenings at screened at the UN in NYC and at the European Parliament, during the COP21 in Paris.

Please describe your personal feelings on the importance of conveying Tomorrows message, and what impact you hope for it to have upon its audience?

We may face the biggest challenge human race has ever experienced. So, to me, nothing could be more important than empowering people to fix our ecological, social and economic problems! To do so, we tried to do something different from scary, depressing, and catastrophic documentaries pointing fingers at culprits.

I think Tomorrow is the first 100% solution-oriented documentary about ecology, economy, education, democracy… It carries another vision for the future. It is also trying to tell a story, our story: young parents preoccupied by the future of their children, trying to find new ways to make the world a better place. We wanted the movie to be pedagogical but as the same time moving and pleasant to watch with a lot of music, nice photography.

It has been released in more than 20 countries already and had a lot of impact in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada where it has been seen by almost two million people… It’s been screened at the UN in NYC, at the European Parliament, during the COP21 in Paris.

We continuously receive hundreds of messages of women and men telling us what they’ve been doing after seeing the movie. We even opened a section on the French website called « the day after tomorrow » to collect these stories and actions. People start permaculture gardens, change their electricity supplier, move their money to local or ethical banks, start new jobs to be useful to their community or to the planet, some businesses are being launched, some local governments are taking actions… It would take a book to tell everything! So I hope it will happen in the US also.

 Final words to convey to the audience?

Just that we have the power to change the world if we want to.

You can follow Cyril and his work on Twitter, Facebook or on his website. All that’s left now is to say thank you to Cyril and the many other who worked tirelessly on Tomorrow to share with us a message which many would consider the most urgent problems facing our planet to date. We hope you all go out and watch it!

Apr 13

This week Arkive is celebrating the US premiere of the environmental documentary Tomorrow, (Demain le Film). We’ll be featuring a guest blog each day this week, with documentary contributors discussing the global issues featured in Tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s US premiere is in San Francisco this Friday, 14th April 2017. Find the Tomorrow Facebook or visit the website for a full run-down and trailer.

“Without question, this is absolutely the best and most creative film on the future of humanity and the environment.” – Paul Hawken, leading environmentalist

Tomorrow trailer

Tomorrow trailer

Who are you?

My name is Robert Reed. I am a spokesman for Recology, San Francisco’s recycling and kerb side composting collection company. I am a writer and an advocate for zero waste, and former journalist. I am very enthusiastic about recycling and particularly about urban compost collection programs.

What is your field of research?

I do a lot of research. Much of my focus centres on urban compost collection programmes. That means collecting food scraps and plant cuttings separately from other trash, turning this organic matter into finished compost, and using it to feed microbial colonies in topsoil to grow cover crops that fix carbon and nitrogen in the soil. I believe this is our best chance to slow down climate change.

Robert and part of his team at Recology

Please could you describe your connection with Tomorrow?

The filmmakers contacted me and asked me to tour them through our recycling and compost programs. They decided to feature me as one of the citizens in the film who are engaged in programmes that help achieve environmental/social benefits.

The film Tomorrow is a great achievement because, unlike other documentaries, it focuses almost exclusively on solutions. The world is hungry for positive narratives and this film is central to a new movement to highlight solutions. For these reasons and more I am very enthusiastic about Tomorrow.

Problems facing your field of expertise from a sustainability perspective?

First problem: More than half of the trash in the world is incinerated. Another big portion is buried in landfills. This destroys resources. The U.S. is home to 3,000 active landfills, but less than 300 facilities that are permitted to compost food scraps. So we have in infrastructure problem. Many cities and universities want to replicate San Francisco’s urban compost collection programme but they can’t because we don’t have enough compost facilities.

Many wildlife species are forced to move from their habitats due to the increase of human impact, many try to adjust to but often die in the process, where it is more and more common for birds to be found having ingested plastic bags, bottle caps, synthetic clothing fibres.

Second problem: We need collectively to shine a bright light on the compost solution – cities sending food scraps to farms in the form of compost and farms using that compost to grow cover crops. This combination turns farms into carbon sinks. I believe doing so is our best chance to try to slow down climate change. I have very experienced and skilled friends and acquaintances who believe this solution is so effective that if implemented widely it could reverse climate change.

Do you have any suggested solutions to the problems Tomorrow confronts?

I try to live by example. When Trump was elected I made a personal commitment to do an additional 12 days a year of community service. The solutions almost never come from large governments or corporations. They are making money off they current structure and, therefore, resist change. I, and countless others support the approach of local solutions. A city makes a zero waste goal. A nearby city also makes a zero waste goal, and many others do they same. Then they form a union. They link. That is how you build a movement. That is how you achieve positive change that benefits all.

Tomorrow shows many examples of how this can happen, of how we can create a healthier world.

It is not a question of ‘can we do it?’ it’s an ‘I’m-paying-attention, eyes-wide-open’ perspective. If you are open and honest you know this – we have to do right by the planet and society. It is the only choice.

Please describe your personal feelings on the importance of conveying Tomorrow’s message, and what impact you hope for it to have upon its audience?

The larger message of this documentary – that solutions exist, that we can create a healthier world is tremendously important. Please take a friend to see this film.

The people who made this film worked extraordinarily hard. They had a small budget and impossibly tight schedule. On the morning I met them they were exhausted. But when asked to get up and do more they did exactly that. They suffered so we could have the opportunity to watch this film. Watch it!

 Thank you, Robert, for speaking to us. We’d like to heed his words and say, go watch it!

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