Category Archives: Mammals

The recovery of otters but the decline in water voles

The Good – Otters

Following a period of rapid decline in the latter part of the 20th Century, the European Otter (Lutra lutra) is now showing signs of population recovery and re-colonisation of former habitats. The main reasons for the decline has been attributed to loss of habitat, indirect poisoning from the use of now banned agricultural pesticides accumulating in the food chain, and degraded water quality due to pollution.

Otters receive full legal protection under The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. It is a criminal offence to deliberately, capture, disturb, injure or kill them or to damage, destroy or obstruct their breeding or resting places.

In the UK, otters have been recorded using almost every type of waterway such as canals, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, rivers and streams. In England and Wales they are found mostly in freshwater systems but can also utilise suitable coastal habitats.

Surveying for the presence of otters is reliant on field signs and therefore should be carried out in dry weather. A fixed distance, both sides of the watercourse will be examined for signs such as above and under-ground resting sites (couches and holts), droppings (spraints), feeding remnants and tracks.

The Bad – Water Voles

The water vole (Arvicola amphibious) is an herbivorous semi-aquatic rodent, the largest of UK’s three species of vole, similar in size to a brown rat.  They can inhabit most wetland habits, such as canals, marshes, ponds, reed-beds, rivers and streams, but favour stable slow flowing or still waters with steep sided bank sides with sufficient vegetation for food and cover. They create an extensive system of burrows in the bank-sides and can also make nests woven out of vegetation at the base of reeds and rushes, or nest in clumps of rushes or grass tussocks in wet fields and meadows.

Water voles have suffered a major population decline due to the loss and fragmentation of their habitat, and more recently this decline has been accelerated due to predation by the American mink introduced. It is estimated that the species has been from approximately 90% of the sites where it occurred in the last century.

From April 2008 the water vole and its breeding and resting places are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). The water vole is also a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority terrestrial mammal species.

Direct sightings of water voles are rare, therefore most surveys  to find them along watercourses are based on the presence of signs such as burrows, droppings, feeding stations, footprints and latrines.

How does ecological consultancy fit in with all of this?

Ecological consultants offer advice to a variety of organisations and individuals on issues related to wildlife and the species that are protected, such as otters and water voles. This advice is often in response to planning related requests such as those for major developments like road building, housing development, wind farms or for new factories, schools or hospitals.

Long-beaked Echidna

It is a fact of common knowledge that wildlife is one of the most intricate and diverse environmental issues. On the one hand, the number of animal species cannot but amaze, but on the other– lots of species are threatened with constant poaching, destruction of their habitat, poisoning and even climate change occurring right now. Among endangered species there are a lot of interesting and unique representatives, suffering greatly from human activity.

Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna is likely to be the most peculiar mammal in Australia, the land abundant in endemics and one-of-the-kind animals. In its turn, echidna happened to be the only mammal that can lay eggs and feed offspring with milk at the same time! Long-beaked echidna was considered extinct for a long time, but in 2007 zoologists’ expedition has discovered some representatives of the species. These echidnas were called after their discoverer – David Attenborough. However, long-beaked echidna is still in the list of endangered species.

Have you heard of saola? Due to its specific appearance it is also nicknamed as “Asian unicorn”. So, one can imagine the extraordinary nature of this hoofed species. The existence of such animals was not revealed until 1992 and its discovery, by the way, is recognized as one of the most astonishing during the last half of the century. At the time the population of saola was little, and to date it has worsened even more. Reasonably, saolas were announced as endangered species in Laos; its decline has been associated with permanent poaching using hunting dogs. In addition, the situation is enhanced by the fact that saolas cannot be kept in Zoos, where the staff cannot manage proper habitat. None saola is kept in the Zoo around the world.

River dolphin’s familyis the oldest dolphin species, considering they lived millions years ago. These strange dolphins are almost blind. There are to main sites where populations of river dolphins were recorded – Amazon and Yangtze Rivers. Especially, this species is highly valued in China, where it is equal to a nation’s patrimony. Although poaching of river dolphins was banned in 1982, the population of this marine mammal continues to reduce. According to Chinese zoologists, dolphins fromYangtze River cannot be bred in captivity and the entire river dolphins’ population might disappear in 10 years.

One more original Asian mammal is Chinese pangolin. The key thing about this Asian is its skin, which is formed with scales. In sober fact, the scales are glued wool of the pangolin, comprising nearly 25 per cent of animal weight. It is also an exciting attraction for pangolin poachers, who hunt these animals for their skin, meat and scales. Purposes of Traditional Chinese Medicine require pangolin’s body parts, as well as those ones of other unique mammals. So, one could guess, there are pretty a lot of reasons to hunt pangolins in China despite animals’ rarity and exceptional appearance.

There Is A Lot I Didn’t Know About Wolves

There is something about wolves that resonates with us. It’s something to do with their ‘lone warrior’ mystique and fierce loyalty; we admire that contradiction of independence and pack mentality. But how much do you actually know about them? Well, did you know they have 42 teeth? And that’s just the start; there are plenty of interesting facts relating to this noble predator.

When it comes to vital statistics the wolf is a big boy. Amongst the genus of canis, which refers to dogs essentially, it is the largest. It grows to almost one meter tall at the shoulder, is between one and a half and two meters in length and weighs up to 60 kg. That means in a scrap with you, the wolf is going to be favourite. However, such negative interactions with human are exceptionally rare to the point of non-existent. In North America where wolves are prevalent, there are no recorded cases of a healthy wolf attacking a human.

So what do they eat? They can’t get enough of hooved animals. As carnivores they exist solely on meat; eating moose, deer, elk, caribou goats and even bison. They’re also happy to munch smaller prey including hares, beavers, birds and even rodents if the opportunity or need arises. If there is a chance to scavenge they will make the most of such fortune.

Socially wolves live in packs; while packs as large as 30 wolves have been recorded the normal size is between six and eight. The leaders will always be the alpha male and female, and it is likely the pack will mostly be made up of their offspring. Theses alpha members will direct the pack in their hunting, den building and establishing of territory.

A packs territory is largely dependent on where they live. For example in the US a territory may be as little as 50 square miles, even smaller in some instances, whereas in Alaska or Canada packs have been known to roam areas up to 1000 square miles.

Social relations in these groups are strong and wolves have elaborate communication systems famously involving howls, but also clicks, whines and whimpers as well as complex body language. Through this interaction the bonds are ever strengthened to the point where single wolves will sacrifice themselves for the pack. However seeing as the wolf can reach a sprinting speed of 35 miles per hour if a wolf needs to get out of trouble sharpish it usually can.

Wolves sadly flirt with endangered species list regularly. In recent times it was estimated there were about two million wild wolves living throughout the world. Now however it is thought to be less than 200,000. These are regal and magnificent beasts, and we should be doing all we can to protect them.

When he’s not shaving his body, wolfman Simon Oliver can be found working as a copywriter for Find Me A Gift, the novelty gift ideas people.