Invasive animal species no.1 – the grey squirrel

The grey squirrel is a small rodent frequently seen across most of England and Wales – its lively character makes it quite an entertaining creature to watch and it seems to blend in perfectly in our woodlands or city parks. However, this is a species which is not native to Britain and since its introduction in the 19th century it has wreaked havoc on our ecosystems.

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Originating from North America, they were first imported to be released onto estates but soon spread beyond and began to impede on the lives of the native species already existing there.

Perhaps the most famous example of these is the red squirrel, whose population has declined dramatically due to being out-competed by the greys for food and by being infected with squirrel pox virus. Grey squirrels are carriers of this disease but unfortunately it proved to be fatal for the reds.

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Grey squirrels also strip the bark off trees such as beech and oak, and on occasion are known to take birds’ eggs from their nests.

So, should grey squirrels be culled? There is a law that allows the UK to poison, trap and kill the rodents, but is it the right thing to do?

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Whilst it would aid the red squirrel population, it could be argued that the greys have been here for a decent length of time now and to remove them could cause more disruption to the ecosystems that they have become a part of.

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It may also be worth considering that it is only through the actions of humans that these squirrels arrived here in the first place – would it be fair to kill them because of our own mistakes?

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In my opinion the situation should be carefully assessed before any drastic action is taken. Numerous culls of other animal species have been ineffective so if this was decided as the course of action then it should be carried out in a controlled area beforehand so that the effects could be monitored.

As sad as it would be to see the death of hundreds of squirrels, it could be for a greater good.

 

Sources used in this blog post:

RSPB – http://www.rspb.org.uk/

The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/uk

The Telegraph – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

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Zoos – good or bad?

As a zoology student I find it incredibly frustrating when people ask me if I want to work in a zoo. The short answer to this question is no, but the long answer would probably include an explanation of what zoology actually is – a study of the physiology, evolution, behaviour and conservation of animals (among other things!)

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I have mixed feelings on zoos. My family didn’t visit them much when I was a child; I only have vague recollections of seeing elephants when I was young so when I travelled to Tanzania and Kenya it felt as though I was seeing all of the animals for the very first time.

It was therefore quite ironic that one of the activities for new zoology students in my first week in Manchester was a trip to Chester zoo.

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I went with an open mind but no amount of imagination could conjure up the expanses of grassland, or the watering holes where these animals would gather in the wild – the enclosures were small in comparison and I saw animals pacing up and down next to the fencing. It seemed so wrong to have these creatures kept for human entertainment.

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However, there is a different side to zoos – they can play an important role in conservation.

Many captive breeding programmes have helped to bring species back from the brink of extinction, and some do release animals back into the wild (although sometimes the offspring are simply sold on to live in other zoos).

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They can also serve to educate the general public on the plight facing many animals in the present day, and this in turn could inspire people to change their lifestyle in order to help certain animals (for example checking products for irresponsibly sourced palm oil or reducing energy usage).

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Some important research is carried out in zoos. Near the elephant enclosure at Chester zoo there were signs explaining research that is being carried out into EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus) – the zoo funds this research, which will hopefully create a vaccine for elephants both in captivity and in the wild.

Despite my views on keeping wild animals in captivity, I do have to admit that zoos could be crucial in saving many endangered species. That doesn’t mean I want to work in one though!

Wildlife in Tanzania and Kenya – reptiles

When I went to Tanzania and Kenya, I took with me a book for identifying mammals and a book for identifying birds. I felt quite well prepared but what I didn’t realise was that I had left a huge gap in my ideas of what animals I was going to see – I had completely overlooked reptiles!

It is since I have returned home that I have discovered that Tanzania has over two hundred species of lizard alone, not to mention the many snakes, chameleons and other reptiles lurking out there. This made identifying the species using my photographs (and occasionally my memory) tricky to say the least – I will apologise in advance for any mistakes!

There isn’t going to be a great amount of writing in this blog post; it will be more of a showcase of the reptiles I managed to photograph during my time abroad.

dsc_0148Common striped skink

dsc_0099Tropical house gecko

dsc_0182White headed dwarf gecko

dsc_0108Rainbow agama

dsc_0360Possibly a juvenile rock agama – and although I didn’t get a photo I think I saw an adult as well…

dsc_0165Wavy chameleon

Below are three species that I have been unable to identify; I have found pictures of vaguely similar reptiles but apart from that there seems to be very little information available (I need to buy myself a book!) If any of my readers can identify them then please let me know!

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I only saw one snake throughout the whole trip – a green mamba. It was an incredible bright green colour, but I didn’t have my camera on me at the time and did not see it again after that occasion.

This is the last of the ‘Tanzania and Kenya’ themed blog posts for now – I have something slightly different planned for my next series of blog posts so stay tuned!

 

Wildlife in Tanzania and Kenya – birds

Birds have always held a certain fascination for me, and on my journey around Tanzania and Kenya I saw an incredibly diverse range of them all coexisting in the same habitat.

(Below: ostriches grazing – male is black and female is brown)

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This blog post will introduce just a few of the feathered creatures that I came across – and I might just add in here that they are significantly harder to photograph than the mammals in my previous post!

These yellow-collared lovebirds (otherwise known as black-masked lovebirds) were perched at the top of this dead tree. Often with parrots and parakeets there is a notable difference between the males and females however with this particular species that is not the case, so I was unable to identify the genders of these birds.

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My first encounter with glossy starlings was when I was sat very quietly and one landed in a tree close by. It was minute, with iridescent green feathers – I was so annoyed that I didn’t have my camera with me! On safari we saw a different type of glossy starling – the superb starling. This species was much larger but still had that amazing metallic gleam to its feathers.

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The ‘barbet’ was not a bird I had ever heard of before I went to Tanzania – it bears some resemblance to a woodpecker and does chisel holes in trees to make its nest, but is in fact an entirely different species. The striking red and yellow barbets shown below were feeding from a termite mound.

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I had been hoping to see some larger birds on my adventure as well, and I was not disappointed. Marshall eagles swooped over us from time to time while we were on safari, and we were even lucky enough to see one perched in the top of a tree. The wing span of these birds was enormous: they even made the trees seem small!

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However, one of my favourite moments was seeing marabou storks. When I was younger I saw one of these birds in a conservation area at a nature reserve near to where I lived in Norfolk. I was in awe of the huge beak and the size of the bird itself – it was so unlike anything I had seen before, so of course I was absolutely thrilled when we stopped below a group of marabou storks that were circling, looking for a recent kill.

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Keep an eye out for my final blog post about Tanzania and Kenya – it should be posted within the next week.

Thanks for reading!