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Under da Sea (Biology)

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Originally posted on Scientific Babble:

Are there any other sharks in Britain, apart from the Basking Shark?

I didn’t think so. My South African parents used to go swimming with sharks a lot in Africa. They saw many different species from Great Whites to the Ragged-tooth otherwise known as the grey nurse or sand shark. I loved hearing about their adventures and stories and would one day love to become a qualified deep sea diver and swim with a shark, without a cage, just like my parents. One of the shark species they never managed to lay there eyes on was the rapid Mako shark. I have never seen a shark in the wild but have seen them in sea centres like ‘Deep Sea World’, in Edinburgh.
Until now I never knew that there were any other wild sharks in Britain besides the Basking Shark. I couldn’t have been more wrong! There are least 21 species…

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Dreamworld applies to Australian Environment Department to import three tigers from Japanese zoo

Dreamworld has applied to the Federal Environment Department to import three live tigers from a Japanese Zoo.

According to a September 10 notice distributed by Wildlife Trade Assessments, Dreamworld needs more tigers to sustain the Gold Coast theme park’s generic tiger management programme.

“There are no suitable tigers within Australian zoos that will meet Dreamworld’s requirements,” the notice, which invites comments for one week, says.

“Dreamworld tigers are used in an interactive public education programme to deliver messages about tiger conservation” and 15 percent of the proceeds are devoted to tiger conservation, the notice says.

The theme park’s tiger programme for Dreamworld visitors includes $695 tiger walks, $345 photo opportunities, cub walks, tiger displays with handlers, tiger feeding sessions and VIP experiences, according to the website.

The money raised goes to the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation which “make significant donations to fund anti-poaching patrols and conservation initiatives in Russia and Indonesia to help save tigers in the wild”, according to a page on the theme park’s website.

Tigers are listed on Appendix I of Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and their trade is strictly regulated.

This application does not meet the requirements of s303CG of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Act), because it does not meet any of the eligible non-commercial purposes,” the notice says.

However Dreamworld is claiming exceptional circumstances to import the tigers from Japan’s Hirakawa Zoo.

The exceptional circumstances bullet pointed in the notice are:

  • the proposed import of the tigers would not be contrary to the objectives of Part 13A of the Act
  • the import provides the opportunity to promote international cooperation in tiger conservation
  • the tigers will help to promote awareness of global wildlife conservation within the Australian community
  • the import will allow Dreamworld to sustain the tiger conservation programme
  • the import will ensure that Dreamworld’s significant contribution to global tiger conservation can be maintained.

To make a comment:

Please address any comments to:


Wildlife Trade Assessments

Department of the Environment

GPO Box 787



Surfing with the baitfish


By Mic Smith

At a recent surf at Broken Head there was lots to eat in the water judging by all the fishing action going on.

My feet were dangling off the side of my board in black clouds of bait fish. Dolphin pods were cruising back and fourth sometimes breaking the surface an arm’s length away. Gannets were diving for fish left and right.

When the gannets popped up fish-in-mouth they’d flee skyward from their rapacious buddies hot on their tails. Or if they bounced buoyantly but fishless back on the surface they’d have that “ready for another go” look in their eye.

Obviously they’d caught the bait fishing bug and like a gambler at the racetrack they weren’t quitting till there was nothing left.

Gannets dive for bait fish

Gannets dive for bait fish

I wasn’t leaving either, not while the surfing banks were good and the glassy conditions held.

A big flock of pelicans sitting like a church picnic were fishing neck-plunging style 50 metres further out.

They were taking advantage of the dolphins’ teamwork.

The dolphins, who are master strategists, and bigger fish (hopefully no Great Whites) were herding the bait fish up to the surface. The pelicans just thought it was great. They can’t dive like gannets. They can only plunge as far as their necks allow, so they were all ‘Oh yeh” with the way the dolphins were bringing the tasty sardines up to them.

It went on for hours, so when I got out I got the camera and tried to catch some bait fish fever with the lens.

The gannets obliged my lens, it was like the Battle of Britain. But while I was shooting away, a couple of pelicans, no doubt a breeding pair, landed nearby and waddled up to check me out.

A breeding pair of pelicans land

A breeding pair of pelicans land

Looking for a bit of a fishy handout from a fisherman no doubt.

Getting a close up gander at these giant birds was beautiful. Big patient eyes and thick cassowary-berry-blue legs. The cricket umpire waddlers of the sea.

Checking me out

Checking me out

I realised I didn’t know anything about these black and white B52s of the bird family. I’d never seen a baby pelican, so when I got home I checked out the internet for where they breed.

The bird community expert I found online, Julian Reid from Australian National University, was in the field out west researching a rare parrot when I emailed but he called me when he came back to his Canberra home.

“I saw a few pelicans while I was out there,” said the bird researcher who specialises on bird communities in outback regions.

Pelicans breed during big wets (La Nina) on islands in the Channel Country of South West Queensland that are formed in the floods, he said.

The pelicans choose the islands because they are safe from dingos.

The biggest breeding colonies Dr Reid had seen were 75,000 breeding pairs.

Nobody knows how the pelicans on the coast know when it’s going to flood out there. It’s one of those incredible phenomenon how they know and how they coordinate hundreds of thousands of pelicans to fly west together.

No one knows how pelicans know the big wets are happening out west before the make the trip

No one knows how pelicans know the big wets are happening out west before the make the trip

Pelicans were rare on the coast south of Sydney until the 1974-76 La Nina when huge breeding colonies produced millions of offspring. There’s been pelicans south of Sydney ever since, Dr Reid said.

He said they breed every year and flooding events out west are rare, so pelicans also breed on near-shore islands along the coast.

Pelicans are opportunistic and smart. Like the ibis on the Gold Coast they don’t mind a bit of a dump scavenging to supplement their fish diet.

The wise old pelicans take advantage of the opportunities that people and dolphins create for them.

Saigon Horn: A TCM doctor’s perspective of sung te giac (

By Mic Smith originally posted on Groundreport: 08/23/2013

The clinic where Dr Nhon works uses traditional treatments such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion and massage mixed with a lesser amount of modern treatments. Patients are nearly always prescribed herbs. Prescriptions of medicines made from animals are very rare. Traditional medicine in Vietnam is heavily influenced by China, Dr Nhon says.
Early this year on a visit to Vietnam I interviewed a university trained Traditional Medicine Doctor at a respected clinic in HCMC. Though he shares the same medical views on rhino horn as the generations of doctors in Vietnam and China that have practiced before him, he says rhino poaching is stupid and should stop.

A Traditional Chinese Doctor in Ho Chi Minh City says while he believes in the medical efficacy of wild animal parts, his clinic very seldom prescribes them.

Dr Nhon, who is a senior doctor at Buu Di Duong Clinic in District 8 with a six year traditional medicine degree at HCMC’s Traditional Medicine University, says the use of wild animal parts for TCM wasn’t taught at his university.

However the use of “snakes, insects, tiger, rhino horn and mountain goat” is an accepted TCM practice, he says, because the knowledge comes from “experience accumulated and handed down over generations.”

His comment suggests that the Chinese system of ‘priorism’, or an inherent belief in the sacredness of the past, is also operating in Vietnam.

At his university, students were taught to revere the teachings of the fathers of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine, Lan Ong and Tue Tinh who had a great impact on the philosophy of Traditional Medicine across the country.

There are important links, however, in Traditional Medicine education between China and Vietnam, Dr Nhon says.

Most of the the official university textbooks in his medicine degree were internal university editions of translated books from China, he says.

Dr Nhon, whose university at Nguyen Van Troi St in Phu Nhuan District is one of the most respected in Vietnam, says the staff at his clinic very seldom give patients advice to use medicinal animal parts even if the patients request it.

“It is not about what patients want as they don’t know what they need. It’s about what we decide to treat them with.”

The clinic treats patients according to the five yin and yang elements of water wood, fire, earth and metal that relate to the different organs in the body.

While the old ways have great value, things have changed as they now have “the perfect combination of the old and the modern”, Nhon says.

His clinic relies 70 percent on traditional medicine and 30 percent on modern medicine. For example Dr Nhon says he uses the practice of reading the subtle pulse and then sends patients for modern tests to confirm results of traditional diagnoses.

The combination of old and new treatments at the clinic suggests a 70 percent trust in traditional medical wisdom compared to a 30 percent level of trust in Western science, indicating a shift in the longstanding trend that Vietnamese have high trust and dependence in traditional medicine.

When asked about the medical efficacy of rhino horn. Dr Nhon says it only releases temperature to reduce fever.

He says he’s aware of the endangered status of rhinos, adding one solution could be the humane farming of rhinos for their horns.

“The people who kill them in the jungle are stupid. They should be farmed humanely, same as the bear bile, although some people don’t do that humanely.”

China, which once had its own natural populations of rhinos, allegedly has flagged plans of legal rhino farming for the horns.

Such solutions, however, could exacerbate the illegal slaughter of rhinos by providing means to launder blackmarket horns through legal channels and rhino conservation NGOs have objected to talk of legalising any section of the rhino horn trade.

NGOs alleged the legalising by CITES of trade in ivory to Japan in 1999 and China in 2008 was impossible to control and only increased the illegal slaughter of African elephants.

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) alleged China’s ivory control system is a failure and alleged the 2008 legal ivory auctions resurrected the illegal ivory trade with tens of thousands of elephants being killed each year.

Peak bodies for TCM around the world share ethical concerns for the use of endangered species for TCM. Read the views of The Journal of Chinese Medicine.

Danang customs detect rhino horns and ivory in fake marble shipment


By Mic Smith

Rhino horn smugglers have concealed 142kg of rhino horn in blocks of fake marble to transport it from Mozambique to Vietnam.

Customs officers in Tien Sa Port in Danang in Vietnam found the banned animal parts along with 603kg of elephant tusks when they inspected a shipping container full of rocks on a boat from Mozambique.voi_TMKI

They became suspicious of the pinkish coloured blocks and broke them open to reveal  a combined 750kg of rhino horn and ivory.

They said a second container in the same shipment contained real marble.

The ship arrived at the port at 4.30am on Tuesday August 10. The discovery of the rhino horns and elephant tusks was reported on Thursday.

The containers being shipped on Liberia flagged King Brian were registered to contain raw natural marble “rough jade” worth VND450 million (US$20,250). The importer was Da Nang-based Van An Co. Ltd.

The King Brian ship then went south to Hiep Phuoc Port in Ho Chi Minh City docking August 13 at 5.30am on the way to its destination Port Klang in Malaysia.

King Brian pic


Most rhino horn that is poached in South Africa has been being transported through Mozambique since 2014.

Vietnamese and Chinese illegal syndicates dealing in illegal animal parts have moved their operations from South Africa to Mozambique where they receive more protection from the police and government officials.

The syndicates recruit poachers from poor Mozambique villages who enter South Africa illegally to poach rhinos in Kruger National Park.

The poachers use axes to mutilate the rhino’s face, often while the rhino is still alive, to remove the horn, which is prized in Vietnam.

In related news

A rhino poacher in South Africa has been sentenced to 77 years in prison.

Mandla Chauke, a South African, was arrested in Kruger National Park in 2011.

Chauke had shot three rhinos with two accomplices before a shootout with rangers in which one suspect was killed.

Chauke was convicted of murder, illegal hunting of rhinos, rhino horn theft, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, as well as trespassing in a national park.

Prosecutors had argued successfully that Chauke should be convicted for the murder of the accomplice who was killed by rangers.

It is likely Chauke was poaching the rhino for the market in Asia.

Whitehouse talks wildlife trafficking with Vietnam

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung received Secretary of the US Department of the Interior Sally Jewell in Hanoi on June 30. Jewell was visiting Vietnam primarily to discuss wildlife trafficking

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung received Secretary of the US Department of the Interior Sally Jewell in Hanoi on June 30. Jewell was visiting Vietnam primarily to discuss wildlife trafficking



Back when I was in my early 20s in the 1980s and 90s, I was passionately opposed to the Chinese syndicates that were profiting from ivory. Photo by Mic Smith


I had a friend who told me a story about an elephant gun. He had been working remotely in the Northern Territory and one night a car came upon his camp and started to circle it threateningly. I don’t know if it was true (he used to tell a few tall stories) but he said he had a big calibre elephant gun and he shot the engine of the car. The bullet went through the engine block. The occupants fled (where to I don’t know, this is a bit of a weakness in his story lol). After that I got the idea of being a one man vigilante and going after the Chinese syndicate bosses with an elephant gun. It was very poetic. My girlfriend at the time was an artist and she worked up images for tattoos for me and we talked a lot about this. I never got a tattoo and I never went after the Chinese syndicates. Photo by Mic Smith


My girlfriend and I had another friend, a “bluesician” harmonica player from Zimbabwe. We talked about the ivory syndicates with him and I was surprised he didn’t feel the same way about elephants. He said that elephants were a nuisance in Zimbabwe. They would trample right through your house or your farm. The people feared them, he said. There were too many of them. It was good to get a different perspective, but I remained on the elephant’s side. Photo by Mic Smith


More than 20 years passed. I hadn’t thought about elephants really for a long time. But in Vietnam in 2011, I worked on a few stories about elephants and then of course I discovered the horrific amount of elephants that were being killed for their tusks in Africa. OMG 25000 a year poached. I engaged in debates about the legalisation of segments of the ivory trade. I’m against it. It wasn’t until I came across a drawing I did with my girlfriend in an old sketchbook that I could see that I had regained my passion for elephant conservation. Or more significantly that at my core I hadn’t changed. “Man elephant” was the name of the sketch. I’m a journalist now so I had traded the fantasy of an elephant gun for a tactic that aligned much better with my character – writing. Photo by Mic Smith

Port St Johns photo essay. Photos by Mic Smith


Port St Johns from the road in


Local surfers don’t surf the Port St John’s breaks anymore since seeing two mates get taken by Zambezi bull sharks




The derelict Cape Hermes hotel and a local resident


Homeless. His bed is in the room behind


This amazing peak at the rivermouth is rarely surfed because bull sharks breed up the river





Around the cape this cove has both lefts and rights that are rarely surfed


Donkeys of the Transgei


Techniques and challenges of new models for journalism: The Undercurrent

Techniques and challenges of new models for journalism: The Undercurrent.


Program Director, Director-General of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Ms. Nosipho Ngcaba, CEO of South African National Parks, Mr. Fundisile Mketeni, community representatives, members of the media…

It has been over a century, 117 years, since the very first conservation area was proclaimed in South Africa.

Which may make it easy for some to forget that our national parks, from the vast plains of the Kruger National Park, to the sweeping coastlines of the Ttitsikamma Marine Protected Area – look like this not just because of Mother Nature, but because they are protected. And because they continue to be conserved thanks to the efforts of the men and women we celebrate here today.

World Ranger Day is supported by the International Rangers Federation, and is marked annually on the 31st of July to acknowledge these, our dedicated guardians of our natural heritage; a heritage bequeathed not to us alone, but to future generations. It is this principle that the provisions of our Constitution relating to environmental rights emphasise: the protection and regeneration of our environment as an inheritance.

Like many countries, South Africa faces the challenge of managing its natural endowments in the face of increased environmental degradation.

The threats are varied, complex and multi-faceted, and range from the threat posed by climate change, to the activities of transnational, organised criminal syndicates involved in the illegal trade and trafficking of wildlife.

It is our rangers who are at the frontline: whether they are battling wildfires, or confronting poachers.

As the threats to our natural heritage are amplified, so the roles and responsibilities of rangers have steadily evolved.

Being at the forefront of conservation now carries a heavy risk, for which many of our brave rangers have paid the ultimate price.

I would like to ask you to join me now in observing a minute of silence in memory of those who have been hurt, or lost their lives in the cause of conservation; not just here in South Africa, but around the world.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is no coincidence that we as government have chosen the Marakele National Park to host this year’s World Ranger Day celebrations.

As you will know, one of Africa’s most iconic species, the rhino, is increasingly under threat from the poacher’s gun. Rhino populations around the country are vulnerable, as are the rangers who have dedicated their lives to protecting the animals.

In particularly hard hit areas the ranger corps are being militarised, with some rangers engaged in daily confrontations with heavily armed gangs in the parks.

Considering the magnitude of the problem, which we as government are tackling through the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros plan approved by Cabinet in 2014: we are all the more keen to trumpet our successes.

I have been told that it has been nearly two years since the last rhino was poached here in the Marakele National Park, and that during that last incident, the suspects were successfully tracked down, arrested by our rangers.

It is an extraordinary achievement, for which I salute them on behalf of not just the Department of Environmental Affairs, but also ALL South Africans!

The success of the Rhino Protection Plan under implementation here at Marakele is fundamentally linked to the work of the park Rangers and the other staff, and the networks of cooperation between the park’s management and those living in the vicinity.

This model, of integrating communities into the mainstream of conservation, is one we champion and are extremely proud of.

For it is a fact that until democracy, the relationship between our national parks and our people was defined by dispossession and discrimination.

Our protected areas existed for the sake of the very few, leading to distrust and suspicion between the management of the national parks, and the communities in which they were located.

It has been under this government, led by the African National Congress, that the gates that once sealed off our protected areas from our people, have been flung open.

Now more than ever, communities are playing a role in preserving our natural heritage, and as we continue to fight the threat of illegal wildlife crime as we are here in Marakele National Park, they have become our allies and partners.

And we know that we could not have done so without our rangers and other staff who continue to nurture these relationships.

Theirs is a task that can be rightly called “always on their feet.”

Not only are they out battling the elements, sometimes spending weeks out in the bush at a time – but they are also our eyes and ears on the ground – cultivating networks in communities and building relationships of trust – for the sake of protecting our wildlife.

We recognise that in order for biodiversity conservation to make sense to ordinary South Africans, we have to ensure that we collaborate with communities, particularly those who are directly affected by poaching.

The Rhino Protection Plan that has been so successful here in the Marakele National Park is one of six under implementation in parks around the country. As part of this plan, our rangers have, among other things, been receiving intensive professional training to deal with the threat posed by armed poaching gangs. We have also provided our rangers with extra equipment and other support, such as canine systems.

The Integrated Strategic Management plan outlines a series of interventions and measures we as government are employing to protect our rhino: and central to each and every one of them, is providing our rangers with whatever support they need.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Earlier this week the Rhino Conservation Awards were held in Johannesburg to acknowledge those at the forefront of conservation of the species across not just South Africa, but all the African rhino range states.

Not only were two of our Kruger National Park staffers runners-up in the category of best Field Ranger, but our world famous Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) won in the Best Conservation Practitioner category. I say they are world famous because of their efforts, and not just because they are known for being a ladies-only hit squad!

The work of the Black Mambas doesn’t just focus on conducting anti-poaching operations in the Balule Nature Reserve in Limpopo; they also spend a great deal of time educating communities in the area on the benefits of conservation and rhino protection.

Engaging with communities directly to combat wildlife crime is a cornerstone of government’s anti-poaching efforts countrywide.

The introduction of Environmental Monitors (EM’s) into areas facing high numbers of poaching incidents has played a demonstrable role in combating this crime.

These so-called rhino ambassadors play the role of protector and educator interchangeably: and is testimony to the increasingly important role they play in wildlife management today.

Another example of the multi-faceted and changing role of the ranger has been in the Table Mountain National Park. Faced with increased incidents of criminal activity targeting visitors, we have now introduced a Visitor Safety Ranger, as part of our Visitor Safety Programme.

These rangers have been provided with specialised training and equipment enabling them to respond effectively to incidents. Their presence has led to a significant reduction in crime in the Park. Statistics show that reported crime in the Park has stabilised at half the levels they had reached before the rangers were introduced.

Given the magnitude of the publicity around rhino poaching it is important to remember that this is a crime not isolated to any particular species, but affects much of our other flora and fauna. South Africa’s extensive coastline and marine life, for example, is under threat of exploitation by criminal syndicates.

This has negative consequences for our sustainable use policies – that aim to create and maintain large-scale opportunities for our people to live, work and eat from our oceans: and for our oceans to be conserved for future generations.

Our Marine Rangers are playing a key role in stamping out abalone poaching along our coastlines. In the Bird Island Marine Protected Area (MPA), which forms part of the Addo Elephant National Park, they have managed to successfully manage and effectively eliminate abalone poaching.

They are based on Bird Island, and equipped with a patrol vessel. Together with well-established informer networks, these rangers have managed to achieve an extraordinary feat, as have the rangers here at Marakele.

They have shown that though the task is an immense one, the actions of rangers in the areas in which they work, can in fact clear an area of poaching. They are successes we once again applaud and seek to build upon.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Next year South Africa will host the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

This will provide us with an opportunity to demonstrate not just this country’s conservation successes, but also to promote the sustainable utilisation of our natural resources as an integral part of conservation and economic growth.

South Africa is a country where sustainable utilisation of natural resources is constitutionally protected. For we know that if used responsibly, our natural endowments can aid in resolving our many challenges through job creation, skills development and economic upliftment. Because our national parks aren’t just places of beauty.

They are a major contributor towards community upliftment, a source of employment, and incubators of the next generation of conservationists.

Which is why the Department of Environmental Affairs, through our Environmental Protection and Infrastructure Programme has prioritised funding to our People and Parks programme, as well as to the wildlife economy. An amount of R 877 447 290 for People and Parks and R 130 300 000 with a total of R1 007 747.290 has been budgeted for the next 3 years.

To foster true pride in our natural parks among all our people, we have to make them key to all decision-making; for they are our current and future ambassadors of conservation.

Many of the rangers we celebrate here today did not grow up believing this was career path available to them.

It is a testimony to how far we have come as a country, under the leadership of the African National Congress, that those tasked with protecting and preserving the sweeping vistas of our parks and the pristine coastlines of our MPA’s – are truly representative of all of South Africa!

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to once again remind those gathered here today, that our country’s natural splendor – which draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to South Africa every year, is not as beautiful as it is, by chance.

Our forefathers realised that the natural beauty they looked upon back then, like here in Marakele – had to be legally protected to ensure it would be there for future generations.

The work of a ranger is a diverse and complex one. They have and will continue to lead the way for us in conserving our country’s natural wonders.. in tribute to all that they do, let us follow in their footsteps, each and every one of us.
I thank you!


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