Saturday, July 13, 2019

Lecture evening: In the Sea and In the Air

This week we attended the annual lecture event organized by our vet clinic, Medivet. Each year (more or less), they arrange a lecture event or film screening for their customers, focusing on animal and environment issues.

This year's event was entitled In the Sea and In the Air. There were about 80-100 people in the audience, including some children who asked good questions.

The first lecture was by underwater photographer Alon Zehngut of Flying Camel. He described various diving trips around the world, the marine wildlife he has photographed, and a bit about the equipment required. He showed many photos of manta rays, sharks, whales, dolphins, and some fish. Alongside the sense of wonder any encounter with the vast diversity of life on this planet awakens, there was the inevitable discussion of the destruction human beings have been causing.

Sharks have been vilified as dangerous predators, even though most species never attack humans, and there are fewer people killed by sharks each year than those killed by other animals. On average about 5 people die in shark attacks each year. In contrast, humans kill about 100,000,000 sharks per year, which means about 1,000 sharks every hour. Sharks are hunted for their fins in a despicable practice called shark finning. This is due to the consumption of shark fin soup, which has become a status symbol in Asia, and also for "traditional" remedies that have no scientific justification.

It is time for those of us who care about our planet and its animals to try to eliminate these cruel and destructive practices. I knew about shark hunting only in a general sense, but having been educated about the horrifying specifics, I'm doing my part by writing about it now, and I hope that every person who reads this can tell a few others about it and start a ripple effect.

Here are some of Alon's photos.

The second lecture was by Yigal Miller from the Carmel Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, not far from where we live. He's responsible for the vulture rehabilitation program. Vultures are highly endangered, and human factors have drastically reduced their population. Habitat loss, electrocution, shooting, poisoning, and even traffic accidents account for many deaths. Because vultures scavenge on carcasses, poison passes along the food chain and they can be killed by eating other animals that have been poisoned. They can also get lead poisoning from eating lead bullets as well as from having lead bullets lodged in their bodies if they are shot and manage to survive. 

Vultures lay one egg and both parents raise the chick together, taking turns to stay with the chick while the other parent flies off in search of food to bring back for the offspring. As a result, if one parent dies, the chick has little chance of survival. The Hai-Bar rescues such chicks and raises them in captivity, as well as conducting a captive breeding program. They take care not to let the chicks become used to humans and "imprint" on them. 

Eventually, the vultures are released into the wild. Yigal said that since they have been putting GPS trackers on the released birds, they can see how far they fly, ranging into our neighbouring countries, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and even as far as Sudan.

The Hai-Bar has a controlled feeding station, where they receive dead livestock and test them before feeding them to the vultures. They ask the farmers who raised the animals about antibiotics and pain medications they might have received, to avoid passing these on to the vultures and making them ill, and in some cases they test the carcasses.

The lecture didn't directly address a sad case we learned about recently. In May this year, eight of the twenty vultures in the Golan died of poisoning. While this case received widespread media attention, Yigal said that vultures die or disappear almost every day, and the problem is wider than just one poisoning event.

Vultures are another species with a negative reputation, but their importance in the biosphere cannot be underestimated. People may find the scavenging of dead animals distasteful, but it is an essential part of the circle of life. I have come to appreciate vultures much more since watching SafariLive, a channel that livestreams African wildlife in an authentic and uncensored manner. While I don't consider them lovable and cuddly like the lions and leopards I enjoy watching, I have great respect for them and for all the species that make up the fabric of our planet's ecosphere. I wish the Hai-Bar's conservation efforts the best of luck.