Saturday, January 31, 2009

Getting to Komodo Island, Almost... (Part 2 - The Photos)

Regular readers may recall my friend Bob's recent attempt to get to Komodo Island to see the local Dragons, along with his travelling companion Dave. Unfortunately, they were thwarted in their attempt due to problems with weather and transportation, but they have provided this splendid photographic account of their tribulations anyway. Enjoy.

Friday, January 30, 2009

David Attenborough's Zoo Quest for a Dragon - NOW ONLINE!

Gotta love the BBC! Check out the David Attenborough BBC Archive page which now includes all six episodes of his Zoo Quest for a Dragon TV series, first broadcast in 1956! Unfortunately its only available to UK users, due to copyright restrictions.

Program 1 synopsis...
David Attenborough and cameraman Charles Lagus begin their quest in Borneo, the first in the chain of islands they must cross in order to reach Komodo. There they trek through jungle to a village belonging to the Dayak tribe, where they are given a warm welcome. The 'Zoo Quest' team are hoping to find an orangutan and, with guidance from the Dayaks, they discover and film one in the wild. However, it is an orphaned orangutan held captive by a hunter that Attenborough falls for in the end. has a number of Zoo Quest products available, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, or even better (because David Attenborough reads it), get the book on CD. It's a great adventure. Zoo Quest books and tapes are also available in the US: Zoo Quest stuff at

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Song of the Dodo

David Quammen's book "The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction", is previewed over at Google Books, and features the pages that introduce Mauritius Kestrel conservationist Carl Jones into the story. Carl Jones featured in both the Last Chance To See book and also in the Rodrigues Fruitbat Radio Episode which is now available for streaming from the BBC Last Chance To See website.
Carl Jones is a tall, sarcastic Welshman with a sheepdog haircut, a weakness for bad jokes, and a manic devotion to native Mauritian wildlife, especially the birds. His reputation carries far beyond south-western Mauritius, but I've only just met him, and I hardly know what to expect. I know that he has lived on the island a dozen years. I know that he runs a bird-rescue project in the vicinity of Riviere Noire, near the mouth of a system of steep valleys and igneous cliffs called (at least by the English speakers in this polyglot culture) the Black River Gorges. I know that the Black River Gorges contain small, precious remnants of forest, enclaves of wild landscape amid the sugar cane and the urban sprawl and the beach-tourism development that carpet modern Mauritius. I know that one focus of Jones's efforts has been the severely endangered falcon, the Mauritius kestrel, which stood just a sneeze from extinction then Jones first arrived. And I know that Jones, though trained as a scientist, retains the admirable passion and zeal of an adolescent pigeon fancier.
The full version of the book is available at both and

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mountain Gorillas: Video of Ruzirabwoba

Courtesy of, here's a magnificent close up view of Ruzirabwoba - "he who is not afraid". The close up on his eyes is just extraordinary.

And here's footage of an potentially explosive interaction between Humba and Kabirizi.

Rodrigues Fruitbat Hits Twenty Three

This article from the Detroit News noted the fact that Tanner, a Rodrigues Fruitbat at Cranbrook Institute in Bloomfield Hills, celebrated his 23rd birthday late last month. As they only live to be about 20 in the wild, that's great going.
"He's in good health. He's retired," Organization for Bat Conservation director Rob Mies said.
By his species' standards Tanner is a senior citizen.

Only about 4,000 of the large, fruit-eating bats still live on tiny Rodrigues Island in the Indian Ocean.
Tanner had been the second oldest of the 1,000 or so golden bats in captivity until a few months ago when a 23-year-old female died at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo. He's also three years older than others in captivity.

Their ages are confirmed because each of the captive bats are registered worldwide, Mies said.

Kakapo Parrots: Awaiting Mating

The Otago Daily Times has an EXCELLENT article, along with four nice photographs, on the the Kakapo mating cycle, and Rod Morris' quest to record their elaborate mating ritual for posterity.
The pursuit of love is not easy for a male kakapo, though they are one of most highly sexed birds in the world, according to veteran New Zealand wildlife photographer and writer Rod Morris.

In the early 1970s, Morris accompanied Don Merton, of the former New Zealand Wildlife Service, on an expedition to find kakapo in Fiordland.

Merton took the first black-and-white photographs, while Morris took the first colour stills of the world's heaviest, only nocturnal and flightless parrot making its unique booming mating call.
The article concludes with mixed news about the early egg production of this year's season.
As the ODT went to press the rimu trees were flowering but it was too early to say whether they were going to have a bumper crop of fruit. Four females have mated successfully, and one bird, Lisa, has laid three eggs, though one was infertile and one embryo died. DOC workers are optimistic about the third egg.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mountain Gorilla Population May Have Declined

This report at Global Voices discusses a new study published in New Scientist that suggests that the number of Mountain Gorillas may have been over estimated somewhat.
We have always known that there are around 700 Mountain Gorillas still alive in the wild today - 336 of which are in Uganda.
The 336 individuals said to be resident in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park were estimated using a method that counts the number of nests that the majestic primates build each night. The new study now indicates that this method may have overestimated the number of individuals in the population since gorillas make more than one nest a night.

In other news, the UN recently declared 2009 as "The Year of the Gorilla".
The United Nations Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals has declared this year (2009) as the "Year of the Gorilla."The declaration is in a bid to help save our endangered 'primate cousins', the gorillas, from extinction.

The Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals observed that the population of the four remaining gorilla species in Africa is being threatened by rampant poaching, deforestation and the dreaded Ebola virus which is taking a deadly toll on the lives of primates and even humans.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Son of Sinbad?

Optimism continues to grow for a bumper Kakapo breeding season. From the Southland Times...
Out of the 38 breeding-age females, five had mated so far. If more than 80 per cent mate then it could result in as many as 40 chicks.
The department was optimistic this season would bring some genetic diversity through Richard Henry's offspring. Richard Henry was the only surviving kakapo from Fiordland and, until this year, his sons, Sinbad and Gulliver, had not set themselves up a booming site or attracted a female.

Evidence indicates Sinbad has managed to do so and fingers were crossed Gulliver finds himself a mate soon too, she said.
And direct from the Kakapo Rangers themselves...

More Mating!
on the 12th January Nora mated with Lionel, Nora has not mated since 2002 so this is fantastic news.
The team on the island found mating sign in Sinbads bowl today! Sinbad is the son of Richard Henry, so he is genetically valuable. We are not sure who Sinbad mated with last night as both Cyndy and Kuihi turned up to visit him - time will tell!
The team has had to employ four new rangers this year to keep up with the developments...
This year we’ve employed four extra kakapo ranger staff to help us through the breeding season. Jason Malham, Ruth Cole, Phil Marsh and Jo Whitehead. The workload out here is ramping up so everyone is busy busy busy.
News flash! Errol just got back to the hut with the news that Nora has had a second mating with Lionel! Nest number two on the way…..!! Go Nora!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gorilla Ranger Killed

Pierre Peron, Virunga National Park communications officer, reports on the BBC News website that Safari Kakule, has been killed when the team he was with were attacked by Mai Mai militia.
The team of rangers defended their position and managed to apprehend a Mai Mai officer.

But the attack was extremely violent and they were greatly outnumbered. As they retreated from their position, Safari was hit by the attackers' gunfire.

Safari was an exceptional ranger, who had worked with the gorillas in Tshiaberimu for several years.

Facebook Option

Just a quick note to say that a Facebook icon has now been added to each post. Share and Enjoy.

Last Chance To See - The Radio Series *UPDATED*

The BBC Last Chance To See "Radio" page has been updated again to include the full radio episode "Ralph, The Fragrant Parrot Of Codfish Island". This episode features Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine in their search for the Kakapo Parrot. The site indicates that the Juan Fernandez Fur Seals episode will be the next to be made available, in February 2009.

The radio series episode guide in David Haddock's "The Story of Last Chance To See" has been updated with the link to all the episodes released so far.

NOTE: This material is only available to UK users due to copyright restrictions.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Getting to Komodo Island, Almost...

I had hoped to bring you a special report and photo album direct from Komodo Island, as my friend Bob has been out travelling in Asia since September. However, he ran into severe difficulties getting to the island and eventually had to admit defeat, as his email below explains...
After taking the ferry from Bali to Lombok (the next island to the east where we planned to maybe hike the big volcano, visit the Gili Islands, or book a trip to Komodo) we found more crappy weather, so our options became limited to travelling to Komodo by bus and ferry or travelling back to Bali and flying in from there.

We went for the 24-hour bus/ferry option to Komodo rather than travelling back to Bali. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the final ferry port on Sumbawa island ready for the eight hour trip to Labuan Bajo, we were behind schedule and reckon we just missed the morning ferry.

First, the bus company told us that we couldn't get tickets for the ferry right now because it would not depart for another four hours, and then, after a bit of arguing, we were told that the ferries had been stopped entirely due to the bad weather. The next one was due to go at 4am the next morning - but they couldn't guarantee it!

When we tried to go and check out the details for ourselves, the guys from the bus company followed us and basically told the people we were asking not to tell us anything or misinform us. We were then offered the chance to pay an excessive bus fare back to the nearest town, or wait about eight hours for a free ride back.

It was a totally horrible situation, but we eventually just got the hell out of there and got on a different bus back to the nearest town where we had to spend the night in a hotel and then fly all the way back to Bali the next day, because they didn't do flights from there to Labuan Bajo.

After we got back, we weren't particularly inclined to fly to Labuan Bajo at all, so we moped around in Bali for a day, and then I got a boat to the Gili Islands to take an open water diving course. So I'm sorry to report that we failed!! I was gutted, but it's wearing off now as we've seen some pretty cool stuff on the diving course so far. I ended today swimming with a massive manta ray, which was good for me but not so useful for you, I'm afraid. :-(

What a terrible shame. Thanks for trying Bob, and many thanks for sharing your experiences.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fertile Kakapo Egg Found. First of Many?

The Otago Daily Times reports that at least one fertile Kakapo egg has been found on Codfish Island, with high hopes of more to come, and the distinct possibility of 100 Kakapo Parrots by year's end.
Lisa and a kakapo named Basil mated on Christmas night and their first chick was due in early February.

With conditions similar to 2002 when a record 24 chicks hatched, the Department of Conservation was hoping the small kakapo population would top 100.

Kakapo Recovery team leader Deidre Vercoe said with more females reaching breeding age and the level of rimu fruiting on the island, the breeding season could produce as many as 40 chicks.
Keep your fingers crossed everybody.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Giving Away Too Much?

According to the New Zealand Herald, the BBC is getting a little concerned that too much of Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine's travel experiences are getting out on the 'net, months ahead of the supposed September 2009 broadcast date. Personally I think Stephen has been doing a lovely job of letting us follow along with the recording, and the micro-blogging nature of Twitter hardly allows that much detail to appear. What do you think?
It appears Fry was warned about giving too much away when he wrote about the kakapo.

"I'd furnish you with pix, but BBC being pissy about material 'belonging' to them as it's their trip, so I'm being cagey," he says.

"BBC not banned me zackly [exactly], but they'd clearly rather I didn't share my experiences digitally till post transmission. Bah."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Carwardine Impressed by Kakapo Conservation Efforts

New Zealand's Southland Times reports that Mark Carwardine was very impressed with the conservation efforts being made for the Kakapo Parrots. He and Stephen Fry have been down there this week, and have both been rogered by randy Kakapo during the trip.
Returning from Codfish Island yesterday, Mr Carwardine, who now sports a series of impressive "kakapo scars" said he was impressed with New Zealand efforts to save the kakapo and said it was one of the most hands-on recovery schemes he had seen.
"We got great footage of Sirocco and lots of good interviews with the rangers and their volunteers," he said.

The rest of the world could learn a lot from the way New Zealand conducted its recovery schemes, and other countries were now starting to take notice of initiatives being conducted in the south, he said.
Here's a selection of Stephen Fry's Tweets during the trip...
Watched (and heard) a kakapo booming in his bowl last night. Wonderful. Sxx 11:02 AM Jan 5th from Tweetie

To some extent the kakapo is one of evolution's most pitiable errors. On the other hand there is something in their solemn lovelinesss ... x 10:24 PM Jan 5th from web

When I say kakapo are "evolution's error", it's their complex mating rituals,inability to flee predators and general (sweet) dumbness x 10:38 PM Jan 5th from web

A kakapo tried to shag the back of my leg. Mark was roughly shagged on the back of his neck. It's mating time for kakapo: anyone'll do x 9:50 PM Jan 6th from Tweetie

Leaving Codfish Island this morning and heading for Queenstown. Kakapo made 1 last alarming attempt to ravish me on way to loo last night x 12:06 PM Jan 7th from Tweetie