We're now at the end of another month, which means it's time for a round-up of news stories that you may have missed throughout March!
(Image courtesy of the BBC and Terra Mater Factual Studios)
Looking all the way back to the beginning of the month, one of the world's most infamous elephant poachers has finally been arrested...after years of killing innocent elephants.
Matthew Maliango, also known as 'Shenti' (or 'The Devil') in his native Tanzania, was arrested in late 2015 for his crimes, which largely involved the slaying of thousands of elephants. Maliango was so notorious, in fact, that he found himself as the main subject of Leonardo Di Caprio's documentary, 'The Ivory Game.' At the time of his arrest, Maliango (and two accomplices) were fined more than £700,000, but the full extent of their sentencing has now been revealed, and the three will remain behind bars for the next 12 years. Nothing can be done to give back the many lives so tragically stolen, but it is becoming increasingly clear that poaching will be withstood no more, and that the consequences for those committing such crimes will be severe. We hope that this trend will put a stop to all similar poaching activities around the world.
Tilting the scales in the complete opposite direction of the last story, it has been announced that China will be opening a huge national park in the northeast area of the country. The announcement comes as part of China's recent 'green revolution', which also seeks to reduce emissions in the country, as well as adjusting its industrial and economic model to better the world. Long considered to be rather a dangerous environmental offender, it does seem that China is on the reform – and the introduction of this new national park has certainly had people talking. Not only is it planned for the park to be larger than America's Yellowstone (this new park aims to span some 5,600 square miles, making it 60% larger than Yellowstone itself), but the animals intended for refuge at the park's sanctuary are, in fact, incredibly rare. It has been reported that both the Amur leopard and the Siberian tiger are to be the main residents of the park and, since both of these animals are extremely endangered, environmentalists around the world are certainly celebrating the news that a comprehensive plan for the park is expected by 2020. This is a huge step forward for China, for some of the earth's most endangered species, and for conservation efforts around the globe.
(Picture courtesy of Patrick Mwalua)
A particularly uplifting story this month comes courtesy of Patrick Mwalua, a 41-year-old pea farmer from Kenya. Currently a volunteer at Tsavo West National Park, Mwalua has experienced the horrors of an ongoing drought throughout Kenya, during which the government had declared a national emergency. The drought has reportedly been the worst for 60 years and, noticing how severely the animals in his country had been affected, Mwalua decided that he had to do something to help.
As a result of seeing so many animals suffering in the drought, Mwalua decided that he would take his truck and a handful of volunteers to the animals that needed water, carrying 3000 litres of fresh water to any dried-up waterholes that they could find. This journey would be made up to three times a day, on a grueling 44-hour road trip. But as arduous as the journey could be, the urgency of the situation would always be paramount to Mwalua.
The impact of the drought has been severe: the amount of people facing severe food shortages in rural Kenya has doubled to 2.7 million; cattle farmers are losing their livestock; and thirsty elephants have rampages local villages looking for water, sometimes with fatal results. Mwalua remembers similar instances of droughts in the area; namely, the drought in 2009 which resulted in a loss of 40% of animals in Tsavo West National Park. 'We lost a lot of animals because of drought and nobody did anything. Last year again, there was a very big drought and we lost animals again,' recalls Mwalua.
Distressed by the impact of the drought and haunted by the knowledge that help wouldn't simply materialise, it is no wonder that Mwalua felt compelled to take matters into his own hands. Each time he returns to the park, it is reported that the elephants, buffalo, antelope and zebras come running to the waterholes, even surrounding Mwalua's truck as soon as they see him arriving. 'They don't harm me because they know I'm here to help them,' states Mwalua, whose selfless deeds have earned him such local nicknames as 'The Water Man,' 'The Elephant Man,' and 'The Baboons' Godfather.' And, despite the fact that rainfall has started to return to the area, Mwalua is adamant that any future droughts should not be able to affect Kenya as they have before. Since Kenya and other countries in the Horn of Africa remain at risk of similar droughts, Mwalua has taken it upon himself to build more watering troughs to aid the animals. If you would like to help Mwalua on his mission to help the animals of Tsavo, please head to his GoFundMe page to leave a donation.
It’s not often that we’re able to catch a glimpse of nature’s unknown, but for the first time ever the True’s beaked whale has been caught on camera. The historic first actually took place back in 2013, but the incredible footage of the elusive mammal species has only just surfaced after being released as part of a new paper called ‘PeerJ’, designed to shed light on this mysterious marine creature through use of detailed studies, data and, of course, concreate evidence of their existence.
The species has only ever been spotted by a handful of people across the globe, and they are thought to spend over 90% of their lives deep under the ocean surface. Previous sightings have been recorded in Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, but since the animals tend to preside some 3,000ft under water, they are near-impossible to track and their populations are unknown. It was quite a miracle, then, that a group of students managed to record any footage of the animal at all…let alone being able capture the image of three whales during an educational trip to the Azores.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until the students were back on land that they had realised the magnitude of what they’d seen. Natacha Aguilar de Soto, who lead the trip, recalls the instance of that day: ‘A small inflatable boat stopped in blue calm deep waters near the coast of the Azores. Suddenly, four beaked whales appear from nowhere and swim slowly around the boat, with deep blows, allowing the teacher to film them from the boat with a small underwater camera. Nobody on board recognized which species of beaked whales they were watching at just 5m (16.4 feet) from the boat, and nobody knew that they were filming an historical first: underwater video of True's beaked whales!’
When reviewing the footage, de Soto and her team were able to identify the species from a couple of characteristics; namely, a distinctive white patch on the whale’s head, covering the region between the blowhole and the snout. Previous identifications of the True’s beaked whale have only been able to be made via DNA samples of dead whales found in the Azores, and de Soto hopes that this new sighting (alongside the ‘PeerJ’ paper) will aid researchers in their quest to understand the animal better than ever before. ‘These are animals the size of elephants that we just can’t find,’ says de Soto, who has studied the whales for over 15 years. ‘They’re a mystery.’
While the sighting was undoubtedly a very rare instance, it’s hard not to feel both inspired by nature and compelled to do more to protect our oceans – especially since the bodies of whales washed up on beaches have been found to contain large amounts of plastics and other detrimental, discarded materials. ‘The oceans are immense and full of life,’ remarks de Soto. ‘They still hold mysteries like the True's beaked whale, waiting to be discovered. What we do on land affects what happens in the deep waters where beaked whales live.’
(Picture courtesy of Luvable Dog Rescue)
It’s no secret that animal lovers despise backyard breeders. Just last month , we were happy to report that San Francisco has recently passed a new law to prevent the sale of non-rescue cats and dogs from pet stores (therefore giving a better chance to animals in desperate need of a forever-home, and aiming to extinguish inhumane puppy-breeding activities); that said, other similar operations still take place throughout the USA, and today’s story – despite its happy ending – just proves how detrimental puppy mills can be.
Pablo and Picasso are two adorable puppy brothers with a tragic backstory. After being born to a backyard breeder, each puppy from the litter was sold off to a different family – except Picasso, who struggled to find a home due to a noticeable facial abnormality. Unable to sell Picasso, the breeder abandoned the poor pup at the high-kill Porterville Animal Shelter in California, and it wasn’t long before Picasso found himself on the euthanasia list. His brother Pablo also wound up at the same shelter and on the list, too, since the family who bought him suddenly decided they didn’t want him anymore. Fortunately, an Oregon-based rescue centre named Luvable Dog Rescue soon learned about the brothers: since they often take in dogs from Porterville, staffers at the centre were due to receive a number of rescue dogs including ‘unusual-looking or special needs’ dogs, and found themselves welcoming both Pablo and Picasso with open arms.
Since arriving at Luvable Dog Rescue, the two dogs have stolen the hearts of everybody that they’ve met. Lisel Wilhardt, the executive director of the centre, is quick to confirm the nature of both boys: they’re both incredibly sweet and gentle, with an immense love for each other too. ‘Picasso and Pablo seem to be the best of friends and are really upset when separated from each other,’ says Wilhardt. ‘After watching them together for a couple of weeks now at Luvable, we think it's in their best interest to be adopted to a home together.’
Recently, Picasso has had surgery to remove some of his more problematic teeth (although his jaw is not aligned, the only pain he suffered came from some teeth pushing on the roof of his mouth.) As soon as he has recovered, the two boys will be up for adoption – and there is no doubt that they will find their forever home. Thanks to the Luvable Dog Rescue’s social media pages, Picasso has become an overnight sensation, with thousands of people fawning over the unusual pup via Instagram every single day. The centre has also been inundated with requests to adopt both Pablo and Picasso, and it’s just a matter of time before the perfect family is selected to take in the two dogs. We can’t wait to hear more about Pablo and Picasso’s story, and we wish them luck in finding their new home!
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