Cycads: The rhinos of the plant world

Posted by on May 16, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Cycads: The rhinos of the plant world

John Yeld | 15 May 2018 John Yeld says this particular poaching crisis has been largely playing out below the radar of public awareness EXREMELY harsh penalties are being handed down to convicted wildlife poachers these days, so what’s an appropriate sentence for someone who has pleaded guilty to illegally possessing 38 items from a group of living organisms far more critically endangered than rhinos or pangolins? That’s a question a Pretoria regional court magistrate will be pondering this week as prosecutors, arguing in aggravation of sentence, call experts to testify about the extreme conservation value of these organisms: cycad plants (Encephalartos species). Some local cycad species have already been poached out of existence in the wild while others have been reduced to literally a handful. For example, armed guards now protect Encephalartos dyerianus, the critically endangered blue cycad that is clinging to life in the wild on a single small granite hill, less than 10 hectares in extent, in Limpopo province. The cycad family is the oldest complex life form still in existence anywhere on Earth, with a lineage stretching back an incredible 340 million years and predating the dinosaurs. In fact, cycads have been around so long that they’ve survived three of the five great mass extinction events, including the End Permian extinction of 251 million years ago that is known as “the great dying” and nearly ended life on Earth when 96% of all species went extinct. “This is a crazy group of plants that are ‘the elders’ of biodiversity and of the plant world. They are weird, amazing, strange, fascinating,” says cycad expert Professor John Donaldson, Chief Director: Biodiversity Research, Assessment and Monitoring at SANBI (SA National Biodiversity Institute) and the Harold Pearson Professor of Botany at the University of Cape Town. Today, there are still 350-odd cycad species in three genera world-wide, and South Africa has a disproportionate share with 37 Encephalartos species in two genera that also account for more than half of the known cycad species in Africa. Three quarters of our 37 species are endemic, meaning they occur naturally only here and nowhere else on Earth. Twelve are “Critically Endangered”, while four are “Endangered” and another four are already considered “Extinct in the Wild”. Two species are believed to have gone extinct in just seven years during the past decade, between 2003 and 2010, and for seven of the critically endangered species there are fewer than 100 plants of each left in the wild – far fewer than rhinos. Donaldson, who has co-chaired the SSC (Species Survival Commission) Cycad Specialist Group of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) since 1997, warns that cycads everywhere are facing major threats – so much so that they are second only to the sturgeon fish family for the dubious title of the world’s most threatened group of living organisms. Massive cycad poaching is taking place world-wide and particularly in South Africa, resulting in a biodiversity crisis that eclipses the tragedy of rhino poaching and other illegal wildlife trade. Unfortunately, this crisis has been largely playing out below the radar of public awareness, outrage and concern. Like other wildlife poaching, it’s human greed that is the major reason for these cycads’ precarious hold on life. Because of their rarity and attractiveness as landscape elements...

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Eco Film Fest Review: Plastic, plastic, everywhere – and not a drop to drink

Posted by on March 29, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Eco Film Fest Review: Plastic, plastic, everywhere – and not a drop to drink

Our May meeting will focus on the problems with plastics, how it affects the oceans and our health. Sue Swain from Biowise will highlight the plight of wildlife in our oceans,  and she will also create awareness how to recycle plastics. Below an article highlighting the problems of plastics. LIFE, ETC MARELISE VAN DER MERWE LIFE, ETC 28 MAR 2018 (SOUTH AFRICA) Journalist Craig Leeson was planning to film blue whales when he instead encountered a soupy mess of microplastics in the deep sea. What followed was the documentary A Plastic Ocean, screened at this year’s Eco Film Festival. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE. In the same week that Australia announced a pending ban on plastic bags, Indian media reported that the Maharashtra government had imposed a ban on plastic carry bags and thermocol cutlery – the 18th state in the country to impose a similar ban. Meanwhile Health-e News has reported on the dangers of microplastics in water, saying “microplastic is everywhere – from the fish to our water supply”. Enter the documentary A Plastic Ocean. It began when Australian journalist Craig Leeson was on the lookout for blue whales. Except he didn’t find majestic creatures frolicking in pristine waters. Instead, he found a polluted soup of degrading plastics. So he and free diver/ environmental activist Tanya Streeter began investigating the extent of the problem, and what they found wasn’t pretty. “How do we call something disposable,” asks Streeter, “when it’s indestructible?” Exhibit A: a brutus whale dying slowly on a beach. When it finally breathes its last, six square metres of plastic sheeting are found in its stomach. Verdict: it couldn’t eat and slowly starved, dying a drawn-out, agonising death. Exhibit B: A sea bird is found desperately ill, one of many. After it dies, 234 shards of plastic are recovered from its stomach. This is not a record. Previously, 276 shards have been pulled from the stomach of one 90-day-old chick. An estimated 90% of seabirds have swallowed plastic. Exhibit C: A turtle is found floating strangely on the ocean surface. It is found to have so much gas due to swallowing plastic bags that it is unable to dive for food. Exhibit D: Tuvalu, which has finally begun to fill in some of its unsightly borrow pits in the interim, is so covered in waste that residents have simply begun to build over it. But their living conditions are desperate. The subtext is clear: this could be the surface of the earth one day. The film does not only make the case for saving marine life. Many will be familiar with the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch; what A Plastic Ocean does is lay out in bite-size chunks what happens to the entire food chain when rubbish floats about in what appears to be clean water. There are, it argues, some five trillion pieces of plastic afloat in what’s more like a “plastic swamp”. When plastic is dumped into the sea, salt and UV light degrade it into smaller pieces which then make their way across the ocean as shards and microplastics. And then there are the worse culprits: the already tiny microbeads in toothpastes and facial scrubs. Once plastics start breaking down, argue numerous researchers interviewed in the film, they absorb other chemicals that are already free-floating in the ocean. In...

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KNYSNA REHABILITATION – AN OPPORTUNITY LOST?

Posted by on March 20, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

KNYSNA REHABILITATION – AN OPPORTUNITY LOST?

I’m going to add my penny’s worth …. I believe the current infestation of Alien Invasive species is out of control. The areas affected are too vast, it is too costly for concerned  individuals to do regular follow ups and most property owners are reluctant to remove the bit of greenery that is on their barren plots regardless of the fact that these plants are declared invasives. There are colonies of aggressive aliens establishing themselves where they never before occurred.  Madeira vine, Bugweed, all proclaimed Wattles, Pampas grass and many more species  are now seen growing along road verges and empty plots in Paradise.  What makes the situation worse is the fact that home owners that have lost their homes and  had their payouts are now taking NO responsibility for the land they own. The Municipality  published a little leaflet citing the responsibility of landowners to clear their properties of alien invasive species, yet nothing has been done  by the Municipality  to eradicate these plants from road verges and open spaces which falls under their jurisdiction. Dr Tony Rebello said last year that if the  invasive species can’t be controlled,  the next fire will not be in a hundred’s year time, but it can be as soon as twenty years from now! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Tuesday, 20 March 2018, 10:01 Wattle regrowth in Belvidere heights. GARDEN ROUTE NEWS – “We have grave concerns about achieving environmental restoration goals in the Knysna burn scar without appropriate and dedicated funding,” says Cobus Meiring of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI), based in George. According to Meiring several high-level applications to national government (disaster management funds), are pending. However, almost a year later, no funds have, as yet, been released, and there is no indication from the authorities as to how much will be made available. Established by Premier Helen Zille in 2017, following the severely destructive Knysna fires, the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative (or better known as the GRRI), is aimed at building a better Garden Route. “In many respects, the fires led to initiatives aimed at creating a better environment for Knysna communities. However, there is much debate on the matter, and if the progress has been adding value,” says Meiring. The GRRI Environmental Work Stream, one of several aimed at restoring fire-related damage (including e.g. training, infrastructure development and social services), intends to host a seminar in June to not only commemorate the fires but more importantly, to reflect on the state of the environment. We are not achieving environmental restoration goals in the Knysna burn scar Following the Knysna fires, an immense amount of work was conducted to ensure that large-scale erosion was to be averted, and that remaining dead/ dry biomass is removed from the urban interface to ensure that the fire does not repeat itself. Fortunately, no serious flooding followed the fires, and the environment proved a whole lot more resilient than expected, with no landslides reported, and small-scale soil and sand flows causing little or isolated damage in Brenton-on-Lake and Brenton-on-Sea. As expected, invasive alien plants made an aggressive comeback. In some respects, landowners were/ are proactive in dealing with invasive alien plant regrowth. However, on many farms the scale of invasive alien bounce-back outflanked resources available to private landowners to deal with the matter effectively, or at...

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Garden bird feeders help spread disease among wild birds.

Posted by on March 13, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Garden bird feeders help spread disease among wild birds.

A few weeks ago something very unusual happened whilst we were having tea on our veranda. A Cape turtle dove flew in and came to rest on my husbands head.  The poor creature had the most awful growths on its head and it was evident that he /she was in great discomfort. We tried to catch him, but he flew away. A few days later he was back again.  Unfortunately this time we found him dead in the gutter. I mentioned it to a friend of mine who said that they have found two doves with the same condition on Thesen Islands.  You may have seen birds inflicted with this disease, perhaps there is someone who can shed some light? I came across the article below that was published in The Guardian a couple of days ago.  You may find it of interest. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Some previously rare illnesses are becoming epidemics in some bird populations, scientists say. Patrick Greenfield  @pgreenfielduk Mon 12 Mar 2018  A 35% drop in the population of breeding greenfinches in the British Isles since 2005 illustrates why disinfecting feeders is key to protecting the birds. Photograph: Alamy Garden bird feeders are contributing to the spread of serious diseases among wild birds, scientists have warned, causing previously rare illnesses to become epidemics in some populations. Poor garden feeder hygiene, droppings accumulations and stale food are promoting the transmission of illnesses between garden birds as the animals repeatedly congregate in the same location, coming into contact with species they would not usually interact with in the wild. A study by the Zoological Society of London, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and Fera Science analysed more than 25 years of wild bird health data, including the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, and found dramatic changes in some British bird populations, which scientists believe could have been caused by disease spread at bird feeding sites. “We’re calling on everyone who feeds wild birds to be aware of their responsibilities for preventing disease. Simple steps we’d recommend include offering a variety of food from accredited sources; feeding in moderation, so that feeders are typically emptied every one to two days; the regular cleaning of bird feeders; and rotation of feeding sites to avoid accumulation of waste food or bird droppings,” said Kate Risely, from BTO. The study analysed data on the protozoan parasite responsible for finch trichomonosis, which has caused a 35% drop in the population of breeding greenfinches in the British Isles, falling from 4.3m to 2.8m birds since the disease emerged in 2005. Gardeners can combat the disease by regularly disinfecting feeders and feeding sites, and rotating the position of feeders in the garden. Paridae pox and passerine salmonellosis were also analysed by scientists. The study’s lead author, Becki Lawson from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, said: “Our study shows how three of the most common diseases that affect British garden birds have changed both dramatically and unpredictably over the past decade, both in terms of the species they affect and their patterns of occurrence. “Both finch trichomonosis and Paridae pox have emerged recently, causing disease epidemics affecting large numbers of birds, while passerine salmonellosis – previously a common condition – appears to have reduced to a very low level. These conditions have different means of transmission – so...

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