Tuesday, 25 November 2003

Big Cats in England?

My recent visit to Patagonia further confirmed my incredulity at the idea of big cats living wild in England. I spent several days on the Estancia La Esperanza, the ranch owned and managed by the WLT’s partner, the FundaciĆ³n Patagonia Natural. Each day I went out with the reserve’s manager, Gustavo Zamora. He knows the ranch well. Very well indeed, and each day we found footprints of puma, and we also located a recent puma kill of a guanaco (wild llama). He finds a kill of guanaco or sheep almost every week, and can find fresh footprints and scats any day. But still, after three years living and working on the ranch has yet to see a living puma. There are also several scientists studying the guanaco, who spend hours and hours most days watching the guanacos and other wildlife, but they have never seen the pumas.

So it is bizarre how in England sightings of these beasts are more common than the other evidence they leave behind. And the habitat in Patagonia is extremely open -- low bushy steppe and desert, with few places to hide, unlike most of the places in England where these alleged pumas are reported. But the Beasts o Exmoor, Bodmin and Surrey live on, just like their ancestors, the Hound of the Baskervilles and the Black Dog of Bungay -- rural myths to compete with the Alligators of the New York Sewers.

Tuesday, 18 November 2003

Where is the rainforest going -- yet more concerns

I am writing this from the office of the WLT's partner in Argentina -- the FundaciĆ³n Patagonia Natural. Flying across the Amazon and then on to Argentina, several things struck me looking down. First, it was dark as we flew across the western Amazon, and from on high fires could be seen at regualr intervals. This has been noted many times before, but what doesn't seem to be mentioned is the amount of light pollution there is even in remote parts of the world. It seemed that villages and even scattered farms now have generators, and bright lights are becoming the norm. What effect this has on migrant birds and other wildlife is impossible to guess.

And then soon after crossing the border into Argentina (it was light by now) it was possible to see the forest being stripped. square plots were visible from the air, some already farmed others still forest. Those cleared took virtually no notice of water courses, and increasing sedimentation was often visible. And for what? Yet more food for the northern hemisphere, which is already overfed. However, it is not all depressing -- there are some splendid initiatives happening in Patagonia -- but that will wait for another day.

Thursday, 13 November 2003

Concern about the rainforest

The headlines o Britain’s Independent newspaper yesterday (12 November) splashed the fact that Britain’s foreign aid to tropical rainforests was being slashed. The worst fears of conservationists seem to being fulfilled –the Blair government not content with following George Bush into Iraq, was now following his lead on environmental matters. The cost of the war in Iraq continues to escalate, and it appears that Britain is prepared to sacrifice the rainforest in order to maintain its military presence. And this was not all. The same newspaper carried reports on the changes in nature conservation – which involve the abolition of English Nature. Many conservationists will see this as an attempt by central government to silence criticism of its poor environmental record. English Nature has guarded its independence from government jealously, and on many occasions spoken out against government policies. Replacing it with a government department is generally seen as a very retrograde step.