Day 29: For today’s 30 Days Wild, I’d planned to tune into The Wildlife Trusts’ Wild LIVE: Bringing Back Beavers, however it has been postponed. Beavers went extinct in the UK during the 16th Century. For the past 20 years The Wildlife Trusts’ have been at the forefront in restoring beavers back to the rivers they once inhabited. This Wildlife Trusts’ talk was to celebrate the reintroduction of this ecosystem engineer and why beavers are so essential in the restoration of nature in the UK.
Here’s some facts on the Eurasian beaver.
The beaver (Castor fiber) was a semi aquatic mammal native to Britain before it was hunted into extinction for its fur and castoreum, a secretion used in perfumes and medicine. They are a keystone species due to their positive influence on the environment. They prefer freshwater habitats. They dig canal systems, coppice trees and shrubs, and create wetlands which in turn has enormous benefits on other species such as otters, fish and birds. As they create their environment, their influence can be seen in the reduction of flooding, increased water retention and cleaner water.
Eurasian Beaver from the Northwitch Guardian
Their home is called a lodge, made up of sticks and branches and they live in small family groups. They are herbivores and willow bark, twigs and leaves are their favourite foods. Beavers are a large mammal weighing in at around 30kg and are as large as a Labrador. Their teeth are orange due to the protective iron enamel and like all rodents they grow continuously throughout their life. They are crepuscular meaning active during dawn/dusk, and can remain underwater for 15 minutes. There are currently eight beaver reintroduction projects across the UK with several more upcoming.
Seven years ago David and I began work on creating a wildlife yarden. We focused on attracting as much wildlife to an inner city walled yard as we could.
Bird feeders were the first and easiest addition to the yarden and during late summer/early autumn the feeders are usually awash with different coloured wings and bird calls. From chattering charms of goldfinches and the happy chirruping of sparrows to boisterous gangs of starlings. The odd blue tit is seen nervously snatching away a sunflower heart as well as two delicate greenfinches who’ve visited among with the goldfinches. All this activity has caught the eye of several sparrowhawks whose presence in the yarden is a wondrous sight to behold.
Goldfinches Picture by David Evans
Starling Picture by David Evans
About three years ago we put in a wash bowl pond. It’s in a sheltered spot so we don’t have dragonflies or damsels visiting but we did have a little frog for a short while.
Over the years we have planted shrubs and herbs which flower at different times of the year to attract insects. We even have the odd sapling tree, with a hawthorn being my pride and joy!
Red Mason Bee
Honey Bee and Passion Flower
Large White Butterfly
Swallow Tailed Moth
Red Tailed Bumblebee
Trying to increase the insect population means that other predators will hopefully move in. Imagine my excitement and surprise when I discovered that a bat frequents the area!
I know nothing about bats so here’s a few facts on them:
There are 18 species of UK bat, with 17 breeding here
They all eat insects and are a natural pest control for e.g. mosquitoes
A pipistrelle can eat up to 3000 insects a night
They use echolocation to find food
They are indicators of biodiversity
They pollinate and spread seeds
Like the dormouse and hedgehog they hibernate
The mating season is from September and females give birth to one pup around June in maternity roosts
Cats and birds of prey are their main predators
They are the only mammal that can fly
I wonder what type of bat is visiting? It could be the most common bat in the UK, called a common pipistrelle. I’d need a bat detector to discover the identity of our new visitor, perhaps I’ll add one to my birthday/Christmas wish list. :p
Have you got bats visiting your garden? What is your favourite bat?
‘Panda’ from the Nepalese, nigalya ponya meaning bamboo footed.
The red panda was the first ‘panda’ to be know to the West as early as the 1800’s! In 1825 Frenchman Frederic Cuvier published an account describing the red panda and named the species, Ailurus fulgens fulgens, or shining cat.
By the 1840’s English naturalist Brian Houghton Hodgson had written a detailed study on the red panda or ‘Wah’. Focusing on habitat and diet.
It was not until 1869 that the giant panda was identified. However to distinguish the species, the first panda was renamed the lesser panda.
It’s been eight years since I saw my first red panda, having been oblivious to their existence until then. For me it was love-at-first-sight! They seem to be a number of animals all rolled into one, which has caused countless debates as to what family or classification of animal the red panda truly is.
Are they bear-cats? They are cat sized (always a plus in my book) and rather bear-like, though they are not part of the ursidae family.
They bark like a dog: There is little published evidence but the red panda is highly susceptible to diseases like canine distemper.
Their vocalisations sound similar to birds:
A living fossil: Recent DNA studies have concluded that the red panda is in its own family of the Ailuridae, being part of the super-family the Musteloidea, (weasels, skunks and raccoons).
The only similarity with giant pandas is their diet (bamboo) and the false thumb, an elongated wrist bone that acts like a sixth digit. It helps with holding food and climbing, especially head first!
Red pandas are found largely in temperate, deciduous forests, from Nepal to China and Myanmar. There are two subspecies, Ailurus fulgens fulgens and Ailurus fulgens styani. Their red fur, one of the densest of all mammals (for insulation), is perfect camouflage during autumn.
Due to living in Himalayan regions, red pandas prefer cooler days. Winter is the best time to find them active.
Although they have a penchant for bamboo, eating up to 45% of their body weight a day, red pandas are classed as carnivores. They eat fruit, insects, eggs and small birds.
Feeding Red Pandas at Paradise Wildlife Park
Red pandas have a slow metabolism due to being unable to digest bamboo properly, hence being rather sedentary. I’ve noticed many zoo guests just walk past red panda enclosures because they have been asleep up a tree. In most cases you need to visit several times in the hope of catching one awake. Being a crepuscular animal doesn’t help either as they are more active at dawn and dusk.
They are solitary animals, only coming together for mating. The female is only receptive one day a year. The breeding season is usually January to April with birth around June/July. The litter usually consists of one to four cubs, but usually two.
Photo by David Evans
In 2010 I was honoured to witness Chester Zoo’s female red panda, Lushui move her cub, Lily from nest to nest. They do this to avoid predators. Cubs come out of the nest from around three months, and stay with their mothers for about a year before finding their own territory. Their lifespan in captivity can reach 15 years.
However beautiful red pandas are, they are classified as endangered by the IUCN. The main threats to them are deforestation, hunting, poaching and illegal trade. In China there is a traditional custom dating back to around the 13th century where red panda pelts are given to newlyweds as a sign of ‘good luck’. Red pandas are also predated upon by snow leopards and martens.
Yellow Necked Marten
Traditional Red Panda hat
Conservation: Exact numbers of red pandas in Asia are relatively unknown, estimates say up to 10,000 adults. There is a worldwide effort to protect the red panda and its habitat. In many of the countries where the red panda is found, their habitat has been designated areas of protection, though these areas are hard to police. The Red Panda Network liaise with ‘forest guardians’ to educate and highlight the need to conserve red panda habitat. They are also working directly with the creators of the Panchthar-Ilam-Singhalila(PIS corridor), which will be the first Red Panda Protected Forest.
In captivity there are two long term initiatives for breeding, the Red Panda Species Survival Programme (SSP) and the European Endangered Species Programme (EES) which offers a ‘stud book’ of potential mates.
Popular culture: There have been a number of depictions of red pandas on many platforms over the years. Another name for the red panda is the Fire Fox. Mozilla use this name for their web browser, though their logo is ambiguous.
Cinema: In 2008 DreamWorks released Kung Fu Panda with Shifu, being a lose representation of a red panda! A year earlier an animated Barbie film, the Island Princess had a red panda as a friendly aide.
In 2013 Pocket Gems released a game called Animal Adventure with a red panda as one of the main characters.
The future…is still uncertain.
At the time of writing, the WWF have announced that the giant panda’s status has improved from endangered to vulnerable. Hopefully the red panda being under the ‘umbrella’ of conservational efforts for the giant panda, will start to feel the effects of these protection methods soon?
And finally: Sadly, earlier this year, the Red Panda Network announced that poaching of the red panda had increased in 2016! Their annual International Red Panda Day (17th September 2016) will focus on anti-poaching initiatives.
The road ahead may still be long but there is hope for the future of the red panda. Conservation efforts are starting to produce results for not only the giant panda but tigers also, why not for the red panda? They have so much going for them. To me they are sweet, endearing animals, they are all superstars, none other than Ming Ming!