The Gardeners of the Forest

The Gardeners of the Forest: Ian Redmond at TEDx Southampton University

Drawing on four decades of research with gorillas, starting as an assisstant to Dian Fossey, Ian Redmond OBE passionately argues why we must protect these and other species such as elephants because of their important impacts on ecosystem processes that we, even in the industrialised countries of the north, depend on.

Why Wolves? – David Parsons

Dave Parsons, TRI’s Carnivore Conservation Biologist, gave a lecture in Santa Fe for a program called Science Cafe for Young Thinkers sponsored by the Santa Fe Alliance for Science. The lecture is about wolf ecology and trophic cascades explained at a high school level.

Cheetahs on the brink

Over the course of several thousand years, the cheetah served as an important status symbol in numerous civilizations including the Egyptian, Persian, Mughal, and Frankish Empires. Akbar the Great was said to have kept 1,000 cheetahs on his palace grounds, and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia had an affinity for keeping them as pets.

But like many large African and Asiatic mammals, cheetahs are now threatened by a loss of habitat, genetic issues, poaching, and a range of other problems. The fastest land animal on earth is now threatened by extinction and is in a race against time as its numbers dwindle, with just over a few thousands remaining in the wild.

Photographer Frans Lanting and filmmaker Christine Eckstrom have spent years documenting the natural world and teaching people how they can coexist with wildlife. In the following film from National Geographic Live, Lanting and Eckstrom explain how they documented rare cheetahs in Africa and in Iran and what challenges lay ahead for these elusive felines.

Global cheetah populations have plummeted over the past century, from an estimated 100,000 cheetahs in 1900 to fewer than 10,000 today. And once upon a time, cheetahs roamed the deserts of Iran. But international scientificsurveys recently confirmed what Iranian biologists already suspected– today there are fewer than 100 Asiatic cheetahs left on earth.

The Iranian Cheetah Society, founded in 2001, has started using social media, including their youtube channel, to promote awareness about endangered Asiatic cheetahs in Iran. The organization posts short video clips from their research in northeastern Iran, both in the Miandasht Wildlife Refuge and the Behkadeh Reserve, featuring rare Iranian cheetahs in the wild.

The dwindling population of Persian gazelles, devastated by heavy poaching in previous decades, has negatively impacted Iran’s cheetahs. Poachers are a serious threat to many endangered species across the Middle East.

A recent picture we featured of Lebanese bird hunters and their kill in a national park sparked fiery debates on social media. And in the case of Iran, both their cheetah and leopard populations are teetering on the brink of extinction.

According to Wikipedia The Asiatic Cheetah is a critically endangered subspecies of the Cheetah found today only in Iran, with some occasional sightings in Balochistan, Pakistan.

It lives in its vast central desert in fragmented pieces of remaining suitable habitat. Although once common, the animal was driven to extinction in other parts of Southwest Asia from Arabia to India and Afghanistan.

Estimates based on field surveys over ten years indicate a remaining population of 70 to 100 Asiatic Cheetahs, most of them in Iran.


Hans Rosling: the man who’s making data cool


He’s been called the Jedi master of data visualisation, dubbed a statistics guru and introduced as the man in whose hands data sings. When it comes to celebrity statisticians, Hans Rosling is firmly on the A-list.

In the years since his first TED talk (Stats that reshape your worldview), which thrust him into the spotlight in 2006 with millions of online views, Rosling’s now signature combination of animated data graphics and theatrical presentations has featured in dozens of video clips, a BBC4 documentary on The Joy of Stats, and numerous international conferences and UN meetings.

Instead of static bar charts and histograms, Rosling, professor of global health at Sweden‘s Karolinska Institute, has used a combination of toy bricks, cardboard boxes, teacups and vibrant, animated data visualisations to breathe life into statistics on health, wealth and population. With comic timing and a flair for the unusual, Rosling’s style has undoubtedly helped make data cool.

When Time magazine included him in its 2012 list of the world’s 100 most influential people, it said his “stunning renderings of the numbers … have moved millions of people worldwide to see themselves and our planet in new ways”. However, Rosling, 64, is less convinced about his impact on how people view the world.

“It’s that I became so famous with so little impact on knowledge,” he says, when asked what’s surprised him most about the reaction he’s received. “Fame is easy to acquire, impact is much more difficult. When we asked the Swedish population how many children are born per woman in Bangladesh, they still think it’s 4-5. I have no impact on knowledge. I have only had impact on fame, and doing funny things, and so on.”

He’s similarly nonplussed about being a data guru. “I don’t like it. My interest is not data, it’s the world. And part of world development you can see in numbers. Others, like human rights, empowerment of women, it’s very difficult to measure in numbers.”

Rosling is strikingly upfront about the limitations of data. Sometimes, the problem is that different countries measure things – like unemployment – in different ways, he says. In other cases, there are real uncertainties in the data that must be assessed: child mortality statistics are quite precise, whereas maternal mortality figures are not; global poverty measurements are infrequent and uncertain.

“That unit [at the World Bank] which assists countries, trains the staff, and helps them to compile [poverty] data, how many persons are working there? Four half-time. For the world. It’s a joke. They’re very competent, they’re very good. But it’s not serious … The uncertainty of 1.3 billion [people living in poverty] is plus or minus half a billion. And we will not know whether the MDGs [millennium development goals] have been achieved until 2019, the later part. We only get poverty measurements every fifth year.”

These issues are well known, he says, but still underappreciated and infrequently discussed. “It’s like the emperor’s new clothes, and I’m the little child saying ‘He’s nude! He’s nude!'”

Still – when handled with care – global statistics can help challenge common myths and misconceptions about the world, Rosling hopes. Chief among the myths still to be debunked, he says, is the idea that the world is split in two – with a developed world on one side and a developing world on the other. “We don’t have two types of countries any longer, we have four or five types … [and] the idea that the western world will be ahead of the rest for ever is wrong.”

Anxiety about population growth is another of Rosling’s targets. “If you save the lives of poor children you destroy the planet. There are so many who think that death keeps control of population growth. That’s just wrong!” Child mortality has plummeted over the past half-century, so it’s no longer death that determines population growth, he insists, but fertility rate – and this too has decreased in so many countries. “The average number of children in the world is 2.4. The number of children below eight years of age in India has stopped growing. The number of children in the total world has stopped growing. Most of the fertility transition is done.”

“I can show you! Let me show you the world,” he enthuses, interrupting our interview only briefly to pull from his pockets a series of props. Laying out toy bricks and a handful of counters on the table, he shows in 3-D how the dynamics of global population, child mortality and carbon emissions have changed over the past 50 years – and how the world might look by the end of the century.

“[We now have] 7 billion people, [with] 7 million children dying. Six [million] of these die in the poorest 2 billion, 1 die here in the middle and here almost no one. Can you see?” he asks, waving his hands over his display. “There is no developing world with high child mortality! It is 2 billion people that still have three or more children per woman, where still girls cannot go to school, or very few, and where you have almost all the child mortality and almost all the maternal mortality.”

If Rosling comes across as advocating for a shift in focus towards the poorest countries, he’s adamant he’s not. “I don’t debate. There are too many debates. Too much Word, not enough Excel.

“If people want to help with something, it’s good to know where the problem is … [for example] the problem of lack of schooling for girls is not a global problem. It is not a developing world problem, it’s a problem in the poorest 2 billion. But there it’s an extremely severe problem … Men in Afghanistan have half the schooling of women in the world. But young women in Afghanistan have one-seventh of the men in Afghanistan. This is the world I would like to explain.

Disappointed with his perceived lack of impact on public understanding of global progress, the self-styled “edutainer” is now turning his attention towards teachers. Over the next few years, his Gapminder foundation will push through a school project to provide materials on the basic macro-trends on population, economy, living conditions and energy, to help teachers in high school and college to better communicate the realities of the world.

“Fame is a dangerous thing. It’s what the post-industrial society wants. They want fame and many followers on Twitter. But to really make the world understandable, that challenge is remaining.”


More information about Hans Rosling:

What If We Lost The Cheetah? Laurie Marker

What if we lost the Cheetah?

Laurie Marker from the Cheetah Conservation Fund

The cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal, survived mass extinction during the last ice age 10 000 years ago.

But it has taken just the last few decades for man to place the hunter on the endangered species list, with experts warning it could disappear from the wild by 2030.

Unlike rhinos and elephants, the cheetah is not a target in Africa’s poaching bloodbath. But it is the only big cat to adapt poorly in wildlife reserves as its natural habitat is increasingly wiped out.

“Cheetahs don’t do well in protected wildlife reserves due to increased competition from other larger predators, such as lions and hyenas, which thrive in protected areas,” Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia told AFP.

“Most protected areas are unable to maintain viable cheetah populations,” she added.

In the early 20th century, the global cheetah population was around 100 000 with populations throughout Africa, the Middle East and several Asian countries.

There are barely 10 000 in the wild today, in Africa, and a small population in Iran which is critically endangered.

According to big cat NGO Panthera, cheetahs have disappeared from 77 percent of their original territory in Africa.

The International Union of the Conservation of Nature lists the southern African species as vulnerable.

“The main limitation to the survival of the species in the wild is reduction and fragmentation of habitat as well as human wildlife conflict,” said Marker.

If no special measures are taken, wild cheetah will disappear by 2030, according to Panthera.

The greyhound-like cat, with its distinctive tear-stain-like facial markings and spotted golden coat, is a consistent loser in confrontations with lions or leopards which are heavier and more powerful.

Even in a good scenario, its prey will be stolen before it has a chance to feed. In the worst cases, the cheetah will be killed.

The sprinter, which reaches speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour (74 miles per hour) needs vast open spaces with a low density of fellow carnivores to thrive.

In Africa, it is estimated that 90 percent of cheetahs live alongside humans where they are often in conflict with livestock farms.

Another handicap it faces is natural inbreeding dating back to the last ice age when the global population plunged.

As a result, according to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, every cheetah today is as closely related as if they were twins, leading to a genetic bottleneck.

This puts the cheetah in an unenviable position. To enable the mixing of genes, they need a greater range than other animals to be able to freely migrate. But as humans increasingly encroach on its environment, this has become even more difficult.

Researchers know that isolated micro-populations of threatened species lead to rapid extinction.

So in the short-term, the easily tamed animal is being raised in captivity. Private farmers, notably in South Africa, exchange individuals to maintain a healthy population.

A pioneer of this approach is the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre near Johannesburg, which has achieved 800 births since the 1970s.

It’s an encouraging figure for the survival of the species. But what lies ahead for those in the wild?

“Our research and experience shows that even wild cheetahs that have not had at least 18 months of life with a mother in their natural habitat have a difficult time being re-wilded,” said the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s Marker.

“They simply don’t learn the survival skills necessary to sustain themselves in the wild.”

“A cheetah born in captivity, one that never has the experience of living in the wild with its mother, would have virtually no chance of success if released.”

Against these odds, some game farm owners are hoping for miracles.

Damien Vergnaud is one of them. In the desert-like Karoo, a few hours from Cape Town, he owns the 10,000 hectare Inverdoorn private reserve.

“We hope to soon release three cheetahs in a totally wild environment, with minimal human interaction,” he told AFP.

The Cheetah Conservation Fund would like to see the cat’s range boosted — not by traditional means of snapping up large areas of land, but through corridors that allow them to move freely.

“We’d like to see the cheetah’s range increasing, with populations linked with each other through corridors, and even see cheetahs reintroduced to former range countries, like India,” said Marker.

More about the Cheetah: