Category Archives: Uncategorized

Climate change affecting land in Africa.

You would think that Africa does not have a problem of good land, but it does. It is a problem now compounded by climate change as well as other factors such as more people, erosion, poaching and soil degradation.

In various parts of Africa people are on the move, desperate to find usable land as good farmland is diminishing. The problem is that the population is rising and the quality of land is going down. This in turn means competition for that good land and usually those with the guns get that land.

As most people in Africa live off the land, having too many people for that land that is getting rarer and rarer is a recipe for turmoil and war. The sizes of farms now are going down as the typical family is now larger. The slices of farmland are now smaller and it is harder to live off them. If one adds to the mix climate change and the fact that drought and desertification are on the rise one can see that the future is grim. Violence is in the cards. More and more countries in Africa will suffer from famines. This year three countries will suffer from this while in the past only one would suffer in a bad year.

In many areas the soil has dried up and is exhausted. Even with rain the quality of the soil is impacted. This means that many countries will have to rely on imports from abroad. If one adds the protection of wildlife to the mix it is clear that climate change is a problem not in the future but right now for most African countries. And private companies and investors are not helping as they are buying good farmland now knowing that it is diminishing rapidly and the price of that commodity will simply rise in the future, thereby increasing the difficulties for the average African farmer who has little money.

 

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On the trail of the hummingbird moth.

Those of you who read this blog know that I like to take pictures and have been doing so for the last twenty years. I like to take pictures of all sorts of animals and insects but one insect in particular that gives me a thrill to photograph is the hummingbird moth, also known as Hemaris diffinis in Latin. It is an insect despite the name and this is because it mimics the flight and behaviour of a hummingbird.

I remember quite well the first time that I observed it, not knowing what it was. At first I thought that it was a bumble-bee as it has yellow and black segments. A quick look at it seems to confirm this until one see the differences; the body of the insect is longer and the shape of the wings are larger and different. Most importantly they are clear.

I had great success last year in capturing several pictures of them in flight, but this year was another story. I simply could not find them and yet, some photographers had reported seeing them and had taken great pictures of them. My luck was to change last week.

These insects like to feed the nectar of purple and pink cone flowers with their long tongue. They tend to hover around the plants and never really stop, moving from one to another in quick succession. Taking a picture of them is a challenge for me, with a camera that is 7 years old and a lens found in lens kit sold ordinarily. Just to take a good picture of it when the insect flies requires me to use a speed of at least 1/1600 of a second. Better lenses and cameras might need half that speed. My friend takes pictures of these insects at 1/500 of a second.

Here I was, looking carefully at pink and purple cone flowers when suddenly my eyes saw something in the sun resting on some green plants. I approached and saw that it was the hummingbird moth seemingly resting. I carefully approached it and took several pictures from the side, seeing the dark eye perfectly. It was the first time that I had seen it immobile.

After a few minutes I went on scouting again and found one that was active, sipping the nectar from a purple cone flower. Luckily the sun was shining and the insect varied its position so that sometimes I had it facing from the side and other times its back.

These insects are most active when the sun is out and the temperatures are at their peak. This is probably why few people had seen them in the past weeks as we have had fairly cool weather with not much sun. The past two weeks seemed to have seen an explosion of them.

I was lucky as during that day I saw two of them on the same purple cone flower. I took many pictures and sure enough I had several where the eye of the insect was clear. One has to take many pictures in order to have a few that are good. Hopefully this insect will be more abundant in the following weeks as the summer season continues.

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South Asia is warming up.

A new study seems to confirm that South Asia will face a threat in the future from heat and humidity driven by global warming. At least 30% of the millions of people living there may be exposed to this deadly combination.

We humans cannot easily survive in areas where the humidity is high, or what is called the “wet bulb” temperature recorded by weather stations. If wet bulb temperatures in our environment are greater than 35C then our ability to sweat and to dissipate heat diminishes and even the most fit individual would die in around 6 hours.

Even a wet bulb temperature of 31C is a dangerous level for most people. In 2015, in India and Pakistan a heat wave killed 3500 people. This new study seems to show that we would go from zero people affected by wet bulb temperatures to 30% of the people affected in the area. A lot of people work in agriculture in those areas.

The only solution is to keep the increase of the worldwide temperature to just over two degrees for the worst case scenarios to be averted. And India and Pakistan would not see deadly heat waves arriving every year and killing thousands of people. But the prospects of this happening is now seriously in doubt.

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Earth’s big carnivores are in trouble.

Some of the world’s largest carnivores have lost 90% of their historic range according to a recent study. These are; the Ethiopian wolf, red wolf, tiger, lion, African wild dog and the cheetah. If they are to survive longterm they have to be reintroduced in the areas where they used to live. A difficult prospect.

Scientists looked at historical maps of 500 years ago to come to the sad conclusion that these big carnivores are in trouble. This contraction is a global issue. Out of 25 large carnivores 15 of them have lost more than 60% of their historic range.

Man is part of the solution to expand the range again of these carnivores. People have to be willing to live again with some of these carnivores such as the wolf. Human tolerance is key.

As well, protected areas will work in regions where there is low human density, little livestock and limited agriculture. If one adds larger networks of protected land and favorable human attitudes carnivores can come back to their old haunts.

There is already some success as in parts of Europe the brown bear, the lynx and the gray wolf are coming back to the areas that were once theirs. The dingo and several types of hyena are also doing well as compared to the lion and tiger.

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The Cook Islands in the news.

The Cook Islands have just created one of the biggest marine sanctuaries in the world. This sanctuary will protect parts of the Pacific ocean that are three times as big as France. This zone will be 1.9 million of square kilometers of the ocean.

The Cook Islands count only 10,000 people and its 15 islands cover about 236 square kilometers. The idea of this sanctuary is not to restrict any human activity but to control it and to exploit it in a durable fashion for years to come. The sanctuary will comprise an area of 320,000 square kilometers where fishing will be forbidden.

The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Henry Puna hopes that this new sanctuary will inspire other nations around the world to do the same and protect more of the oceans.

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The woodchuck and I.

I had the good fortune today of seeing a woodchuck up close and personal as. I must say that I am always ready for such animal encounters as I always carry my camera when walking in the botanical garden.

I had spotted the animal from afar as I was walking on the road that passes by a large field. This field is used by children who plant vegetables and other produce and are then used by the community. The animal was towards the end of the field where only grass is present.

I immediately walked straight towards the object of my interest, but at a slow pace. Woodchucks are notoriously shy and a sudden advance on them would have been the kiss of death on my photographic projects. I therefore moved only when it was not looking at me.

The animal was content in eating the grass that was in front of it, sometimes turning left and at times not moving and looking in my direction. I acted the part of appearing to be a statue. It would often chew on the grass and then look up. I was always on the move until I was a few feet from it, hiding behind a rock formation that had been shaped as a wheel by employees of the garden. From there I began taking pictures as I was unsure for how long the animal would stay.

The weather was not the best as the skies were cloudy but at times the sun would shine. I was now crouching and taking pictures of the animal and decided to get even closer to it but slowly. I knew that any rapid movements on my part would mean the sudden departure of my subject.

At times the woodchuck exhibited a strange behviour. At one point it stood on its back legs and stood up looking at me, seeming to strike a pose for me. Of course it is possible that it was trying to intimidate me by appearing larger than it really was. Interestingly not a sound was uttered by the animal. I took more pictures especially as the sun’s rays were now shining on my subject. The animal is not a colourful subject as its fur is brown with some reddish tint into it and it has the face of a beaver. But it is wild.

I was now facing the animal squarely and it did not seem to mine. In fact, it was so comfortable that it installed itself on a flat rock and stretched it front paws slightly in front of it. It was still eying me though, keeping a close eye on me. I was happy as I took more pictures while it stretched in the sun.

After about ten minutes of this the woodchuck suddenly got up and entered a small forest at the back of the area leaving me alone. Not once had it uttered a sound. It was always looking at me and knew at all times where I was and what I was doing. I was not doing much of course, except taking pictures.

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A bees life…

Well now it is official; a bees life is shortened because of the use of pesticides called
Neonicotinoids. They die sooner than bees not exposed to these pesticides and it is not by a small amount, almost 25%.

Not only that, there was higher worker mortality and deficits in learning and memory. The queen was affected as well. Bee keepers are not surprised by all this as they have been on the frontlines of this for the past years.

Some of the changes in bees include bees flying longer, worker bees living fewer days and the inability to keep the colony clean of dead bees. The queen was not taken care adequately as well.

For the beekeepers the answer to this problem is clear; when corn seed is treated with these pesticides it should be done on an only-as-needed basis and not as a preventative measure.

Some countries have put a ban on those pesticides that hurt bees and research is still being done on the bees and the effects pesticides have on them. Health Canada is presently considering a ban on two of those pesticides that seem to harm bees.

Let us remember that bees are vital to plant and crop pollination. Bees are not the sole pollinators yet they are the most abundant with 700 species alone found in Canada. We depend on bees.

 

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