Category Nature

The good shepherds

This year Japan suffered its worst ever whaling season. The reason? Battle-hardened conservationists.

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They might be modern-day pirates, as one US court damningly ruled, but their motive is nothing like gold and silver. Sea Shepherd, a non-profit marine wildlife conservation organisation, is renowned for using direct and aggressive tactics to prevent ocean killings on the high seas. Diplomacy is thrown overboard. Whatever needs to be done, will be done.

The Japanese government is well aware. It is among the few countries that hunt and kill whales. The practice was banned in the 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling, but Japan claims it uses whales for scientific purposes. That exploits a loophole in the law...

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Celebration of the lizard

The world’s largest lizard is a shrewd predator that will stop at nothing for its next meal. Meet the Komodo dragon.

Tatiana-Morozova

Dinosaurs may have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years, but reptiles remain that carry their legacy. That, at least, is the impression one gets of the Komodo dragon, a three-metre-long killing machine whose favourite preys include pigs, deer and large water buffalos. Even humans are unlikely to escape its wrath: in February, two people were attacked by a giant dragon that had somehow wandered into their office. They ended up in hospital.

The home of this sinister-looking lizard is a group of volcanic islands in the centre of the Indonesian archipelago. The government created a national park here in 1980 to protect it, with UNESCO adding its endorsement in 1991...

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The supervolcano

Yellowstone National Park is a geological masterpiece of hot springs and active geysers, but beneath lies a sleeping giant. 

Lorcel

When transfixed by the geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park, it is easy to forget what powers it all. The sights can be so beautiful they are spellbinding: the spectacular hot springs, the geysers, the lava formations, the fumaroles; not to mention the wildlife of grizzly bears, wolves and bison; the scenic landscape of wild forests, majestic waterfalls and large canyons.

Indeed, Yellowstone is easily among earth’s greatest geological treasures, and has been recognised as such. The 9,000-square-kilometre area (3,478 square miles) was the very first national park of the United States, created in 1872, with UNESCO listing it in 1978...

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Chop and change

Amazonian deforestation has been greatly reduced in recent years, but changes to Brazil’s legislation on natural protection areas have filled conservation groups with skepticism.

Jenny-Leonard

Everyone wants a piece of the Amazon. Last year, the Brazilian government made changes to the forest code, an old law that determines how large an area Amazonian land owners are required to leave untouched. The farmers, represented by the powerful agri-business sector, demanded the legislation be relaxed, so they could develop more land, produce more goods and expand their business. Environmental NGOs argued that more deforestation would further threaten the rainforest’s biodiversity. In the end, the changes appeared to be a compromise between the two sectors. But conservationists were not happy.

The Amazon, ...

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Sympathy for the devil

It is fierce, noisy and eats almost everything in sight, but now the Tasmanian devil is facing its biggest threat in 70 years.

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Mention ‘Tasmanian devil’ to someone and chances are they’ll think of Taz, the dribbling Looney Tunes character chasing rabbits and ducks with a boundless appetite. Taz is strong and determined, spinning through trees, rocks and slurping lakes dry through a straw. But he’s also woefully stupid; naïve, temperamental and comically impatient.

The real-life inspiration behind Taz is less known. In the forests of Tasmania, an archipelago of some 300 islands 240 kilometres south-east of mainland Australia, the genuine Tasmanian devil roams. There are between 10,000 and 50,000. Funnily enough, the devil shares many traits with Taz...

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A wake-up call

With Africa’s rhino and elephant poaching worsening by the year, Charlie Mayhew, founder and chief executive of conservation charity Tusk, says nations must pass tougher legislation or risk losing their prized wildlife.

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In early December last year, four black rhinos were found dead at the Lewa Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya. They had been shot. The news was shocking: this was Africa’s most secure facility. Protected by 150 armed officers, it had gone from 1995, when it was founded, to 2010 without losing a single rhino. Two weeks later another discovery was made. A four-year-old calf was found dead, its body riddled with bullets.

The slaughter highlighted the increasingly brutal reality of rhino and elephant poaching that Charlie Mayhew and fellow conservationists are fighting against...

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Saving the shark

In July 2011 the Bahamas joined a small group of nations in becoming a shark sanctuary. With the global shark population in decline, conservationists are hoping others will follow suit.

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Depicted as a merciless, penguin-chewing, surfer-chasing serial killer, the shark will never be the first in line for public sympathy. Now, though, it needs it more than ever. Having roamed the waters for 400 million years, the global shark population is plunging. Today the International Union for Conservation of Nature says around 30 per cent of the world’s shark and ray species are threatened with extinction.

The reasons are several. Industrial fishing has increased in the past 60 years, with shark fins, meat and liver oil very much in demand...

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The living museum

Despite being taken of UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in 2010, the endemic species of the Ecuadorian Galápagos Islands still face serious threats.

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Some call it a ‘living museum’ and a ‘showcase of evolution’. Some 600 kilometres west of Ecuador, a cluster of more than 100 islands house what is perhaps the most endemic group of species on earth. It’s a place where marine iguanas and giant tortoises hang out on volcanic rocks and beaches, next to a rare melting pot of marine life. But it’s also much more than that.

What makes the Galápagos Islands so special centres on their unusual formation. Located over a volcanic hotspot, they have been created by eruptions, layer-by-layer. Some are five million years old; others are still being formed...

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Swimming with predators

Killer whales have come to Norway’s north-western coast to feed for the last 20 winters. For the brave, it is a chance to watch a natural predator at (very) close range. 

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The scenario may make you uneasy. In an ice-cold fjord in northern Norway, surrounded by snow-covered mountains and trees, you float just below the surface, armed only with a wet suit and snorkelling gear. The only escape route is the rubber boat you just jumped off. Below, a six-metre, five-tonne killer whale – known for feasting on seals, sea lions and even whales – glides so closely you can almost touch it.

Swimming with these so-called ‘wolves of the sea’ may not be the world’s most relaxing experience, but it is surely among the most exciting ones...

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The slow march

Each year, millions of red crabs migrate to the shores of Christmas Island to mate, creating one of the world’s natural wonders.

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It can almost resemble a moving red carpet, gliding slowly but firmly across rocks, hills and roads. Each ‘wet season’, usually between October and December, a large portion of Christmas Island’s 120 million red crabs – or Gecarcoidea natalis – leaves the forest for the shores, instigating a synchronised five-kilometre pilgrimage that virtually crosses everything in its way. As the island’s 1,500 residents know all too well, the crabs do not like shortcuts.

This direct approach poses interesting challenges for Christmas Island, a remote Australia-governed island in the Indian Ocean on which two-thirds of the 135-square-kilometre surface is covered ...

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