“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead Late last year, at the same time the Presidential election results shook the nation, the majestic Laysan albatross started returning to Kaua‘i. They dropped their spatula-like feet and touched […]
In the face of climate change, globalisation, war and overpopulation, animals are under greater threat than ever before. However, in 2017 we are in a better position than ever to protect and conserve them. Conservation has never been easier than it is in the 21st Century: we have social media, email, worldwide broadcasting and many other forms of media to share stories of struggling species, but also to share success stories and to encourage people and communities to work together.
For me, art is just an extension of this means to spread the word of conservation and its importance. David Attenborough and Jane Goodall, Richard Leakey and Peter Singer (to name just a few) each have their own unique platform, presenting to use conservation not necessarily through heart-wrenching images of suffering or tragic tales of failure, but through provoking in us a sense of awe, wonder and hope.
For just one example, read about Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Programme, a marvelous initiative helping communities to learn about the environment, and actively participate in it.
For me, art is conservation, Through paintings of rare and unique animal species and presenting them at exhibitions, showcasing them online and turning them into wonderful stationery and household products, wildlife is taking centre stage in a medium previously reserved for landscapes or religion. Beautiful paintings, just like those of Franz Marc, or those that I myself am painting, give us a unique insight into the world, and encourage us to care.
Through the promotion and sales of such paintings, we can also actively participate in conservation projects, through donating a percentage of sales and commissions to worthy conservation projects. It is your choice. This is why I paint, to inspire, to conserve.
Ps put this on while reading:
“Metaphysics must flourish. He who understand baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.” Charles Darwin
The seemingly irreverent, joking quote of Darwin rang incessantly through my mind as I watched the whole of BBC’s Planet Earth II series from beginning until last Sunday’s Desert episode. It’s a phrase of surprising importance, depth and profundity from the founder of modern biology. It speaks of something few people understand. Neither the lay people that think that an interest in nature is a hippie, far-out discipline. Nor do the nature-loving hippies, those ragged political animals themselves seem to understand.
It’s a fact I am constantly reminded of whenever I hear Sir David Attenborough’s soothing, intellectual voice: the study of nature is the most profound and noble pursuit available to a thinking man. From it stem all the other great achievements of our species. And when you…
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The world is quite literally on our doorstep. Thanks to globalisation, immigration, airline travel and our amplified imagination, almost every corner of the world has been discovered, trampled on, and had a selfie taken with it.
Yet there are still places in the world that most of us have never heard of. Species we’ve never heard of; a habitat we never knew existed. What is even more surprising and sobering, is that some of these species could be gone before we even realise they were ever there.
A prime example is the saola, affectionately known as the Asian unicorn, an animal as legendary as its name implies. The saola is only as old as I am (in terms of its exposure, having only been discovered officially in 1992), but already it is facing severe pressures. Its evergreen forest habitat sits caged in from all sides, hemmed-in by the Annamite mountains, along the borders of Vietnam and Laos. The saola is unfortunate enough to be caught between two extremely industrialised and developing countries, and it faces habitat destruction, which people to exploit to hunt for food, traditional medicine and more.
“Only recently discovered, saola are already extremely threatened. At a time when species extinction on the planet has accelerated, we can work together to snatch this one back from the edge of extinction.”
Dr. Barney Long, WWF Asian species expert
No forest is too far away for us to ignore any longer.
I’ve visited many zoos around the world in my twenty five years on this planet, and I always looked forward to indulging in my love of nature in whatever small, humble way I could, land-locked in the centre of the UK or, more recently, relocated on a tiny Mediterranean island with virtually no native mammal species.
So during my recent trip to Madrid a day out to the city’s zoo was definitely on my to-do list. However, after my visit I found myself feeling unusually hollow and felt as though I had come to a new realisation since my last zoo experience eight years ago.
Zoos have moved on a great deal since 1828 when weird and wonderful animals were transported from across our colonies for our gawking eyes and our amusement. Facilities have improved, cages (or enclosures) have gotten bigger, and education, welfare and conservation have become a much higher priority. Zoos have allowed many people, me included, to learn about species that they would not have otherwise been able to see, and zoos inspire and intrigue us at all ages.
However, I left the city zoo feeling that this showcase of the natural world, as diverse and immersing as it was, was just a falsity. A portfolio of species in a context that simply does not exist in the wild. I struggle to see the benefits of zoos claiming conservation aims when they have managed to successfully breed a family of rare giant pandas, only to keep them confined to a relatively small and featureless enclosure with no possibility of ever introducing them into the wild to diversify its minuscule population.
I struggle to see the educational purposes of keeping (as far as I could see, at least) a lone wolf in an area not big enough for it to break into a run. This is not a typical or an accurate representation of the wolf in the wild. We all know that the wolf is a highly intelligent, social and transient species that roams vast areas and holds a huge territory with diverse habitat.
I struggle to see how children benefit from being held in front of a fence by their parents for a photo, when the child is not even old enough to know that he is a child. Or how older children can learn anything aboutanimals by banging on the glass screaming, or commenting (yet again) that they found Dory.
It’s problematic for me, one who wishes to indulge in nature as much as possible, and who craves contact with the natural world, to feel such apathy for this place. Whilst I am certain at least that the animals that I saw had their basic needs taken care of, behavioural, spacial, social and psychological restrictions are clearly felt. It definitely gave me some serious food for thought.
I’d love to know your opinions on this matter.
“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too? “
– Douglas Adams
A 15cm high songbird that struggles to fly more than a few yards might not seem like conservation’s great success story, and in a way, it’s not, but the story of the black robin of New Zealand can teach us a lot about how and why small changes can make such a big difference.
In 1980 Old Blue was the only breeding female of a group of just five, the only five representatives of her species, which had been in rapid decline since the introduction of weasels and other foreign predators to their island home. With the dedication of a small team of conservationists, and the help of some unwitting tomtits, Old Blue became the sole progenitor for her entire species, and helped bring them back from the brink of extinction.
Though today, there are still only enough black robins to fill a few handfuls (around 200), this small success story speaks volumes for the small societal and political changes that we need to make, in order to make much bigger changes.
If one bird can inadvertently save her own species, the small changes that we can do as the human species, can help save the planet in big ways. It all starts with awareness. What might seem as something inconsequential can have a profound effect on an ecosystem. It’s not just about the big, eye-catching species that we see splashed all over the Vatican or the media; it’s about habitats, it’s about mentalities, and it’s about desire to change.
Read. Watch. Learn. Get to know about these little stories; get involved.
Below are some more inspiring stories about conservation:
Guest Post by Claire L Stott, the mind behind Grey Feather Photography
Starlings & house sparrows, you might think of these as rather ordinary birds, commonplace and a regular sight in any British town or city, but have you noticed these birds are not as numerous as they once were? Have you noticed your garden sparrows dwindle over the years?
In recent years both species have suffered serious and dramatic declines. They are far from becoming endangered (there are still over 5 million breeding pairs of house sparrows in the UK), however, the rate of decline in their numbers is nevertheless alarming.
It is estimated that populations of sparrows have decreased by at least 70% since the 1970’s and the situation for the starlings is just as bleak. Due to these trends both birds are now on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, meaning they are of greatest conservation concern. The reason for the plummeting population is not yet clear; it is thought to be partly due to the availability of food and nesting sites but this is only speculation and research is ongoing.
With this in mind perhaps it is time we took more notice and appreciation of these birds. They may not be the most exciting and colourful of our garden visitors but anyone who takes the time to watch them, can’t help be fascinated by them. Whether it’s watching a family of sparrows noisily gathered around a bird feeder or flocks of starlings dancing through the sky in one of their spectacular murmurations…
Act now and do your bit to help these fascinating creatures. Why not start putting out food for your garden birds or install nest boxes to give them the shelter they need to raise their young?
Claire Stott is the face behind Grey Feather Photography. It was in Malta some years ago where her interest in photography began. She now resides in the beautiful coastal town of Aberystwyth in Wales, where she lives with her husband and cats. Over the years Claire has self taught and developed her own unique style of photography. Her images feature bright, bold colours and her inspiration comes from her love of all things nature! Aside from photography, Claire’s other passion is for animals. In her spare time she volunteers for the Cats Protection League and the RSPB.
*Facts & figures sourced from the RSPB http://www.rspb.org.uk
All images copyright of Grey Feather Photography 2015 © www.greyfeatherphotography.com