Thursday, 28 October 2010

Gaia? Is that you? Are you listening in?

As the world's national representatives now deliver near end game statements; many "reaffirming [our] pledge to Mother Earth", ME (seemingly in response if your beliefs are so placed) goes and chucks Typhoon Chaba at Japan. She then invites us all to watch as it arcs towards Nagoya, with flight schedules crumbling in anticipation of it. The plan (if one exists) may be simple: "you people are **** useless! There is no way you are just jumping on a plane as leaving. Now sit back down and deal with this mess you've made!". The Earth Mother equivalent of earthly mothers everywhere "you're not going anywhere 'til you've tidied your room".

Not forgetting dad's too. But the old Father's more concerned with the temporal. Now he's going to give us a real talking to later, mark my words.

Baton down the hatches: squall's a'coming...!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Power and The (In)gloriousness

Large international NGOs rule the world. Governments are nothing but aggregations of ciphers, inanely directing the will of unelected, unrepresentative white middle- and upper-class men.


I postulate this hypothesis based on nothing more than a few meetings and after COP drinks with various people, including white middle- or upper-class men running significant sections of large international NGOs. And they are lovely people. But is does strike me that some have disproportionately more influence than is possibly healthy. Evidence is presented in a number of forms. The most worry is that most of the government representatives here attend many other similar meetings on, for example, climate change, biosafety, finance, and tarmac (I made up the last one). They are frequently not specialists and rely on the input of trusted NGO minders.

Government people arrive with a statement of amendments to submit to the working groups tasked with drafting the agreements on biodiversity, often in the form of "We the people and government of X are grateful to the working group for their hard work in drafting an excellent document dealing with these important issues...". This goes on for a bit and then they will feel compelled to object to the erroneous inclusion of a comma here or there. After these initial sessions of comma removal or, rarely, elevation to a semi-colon, they will be ushered away by the heavies (also lovely people) of which ever NGO has managed to secure an interest in their country. They are then held in consensual captivity until such a time as they are needed for a high-level session or to brief their ministers, by which time they are well coached and will object/agree as the NGO dictates. A not insignificant and related feature, is the degree to which large international NGO funding from governments such the US is linked through overseas aid and development money. I see opportunities for all sorts of shenanigans.

Cynicism solidified through exposure to the global indecision making process, I'm now of to check my traps near the Chinese delegate paddock. So far just a Japanese badger (courtesy of Dr Yayoi Kaneko of the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, or TUAT(!). After a long week at COP10 it was great to get close to some wildlife, including a fab little raccoon dog.)

Having trouble with your badgers? Riordan will sett (haha) you straight.


Arigatou gozaimasu.

Monday, 18 October 2010

COP10 Nagoya

Hi All.

As promised, a hot off the SD photo from our stand at COP10. By the way, CEPA stands for Communities, Education and Public Awareness. But you already knew that.


Sunday, 17 October 2010

COP10 Nagoya

Dear All,

Long time no hear. Apologies for that (as ever).

International politics is a distant, conceptual dark energy somewhere out there, apparently binding the universe. Not so distant now. I was definitely under its crushing weight as Shi Kun and I negotiated our way through the security of COP10 in Nagoya. More experienced members here tell me these initial negotiations are the reasons little else can be decided - once you have done whatever needs doing, said whatever needs saying and conceded ground to secure a goody bag for your nation you are spent. There is nothing else in the tank to see you through the negotiation of treaties and inter-governmental agreements.

Lucky for the world, that we are merely here to present our work and provide these apparently long-suffering darkened room-dwelling souls with a glimpse of the world about which they so passionately joust. For those in the vicinity, we are at Stand 1 in the CEPA Fair. I'll find out what CEPA stands for and let you know (along with a pic or two). For now you can have one from the mountains (I've had requests).

I'll let you know what occurs, but now the opening ceremony! Ooh. Some awe-inspiring footage of wildlife and (inexplicably) some cats playing in a garden. Nice.

Much love to the world.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Yushu Earthquake

Dear All,

Having just returned from our field site in Sichuan, I must express my great sadness for the people of Yushu in the aftermath of the earthquake. We have been working in Luoxu Nature Reserve, some 140 km from the epicenter, and the families of many of our Tibetan friends and colleagues have been affected by this devastating event. Our thoughts are with them and we continue to hold out hope.

Working on one the most glorious species on the planet, in such awe inspiring landscapes, highlights for me the duality of the natural world: in each instance offering both harshness and beauty. To emphasise this inevitable state I offer a photo of a snow leopard taken in Luoxu last week. This one is for the people of Yushu.


Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Mountain Castle or Heart of Enlightenment...

Seemingly endless days of bus travel have left their mark. My life now seems to oscillate between Kafka and Conrad in equal measure, though more Buddhist versions of the two. I may still reach that elusive and difficult fieldwork goal.

Shixu now. 4200m in mid-nowhere. The monks of Ganzi have been replaced by feral dogs roaming the streets at night and sleepily growling during the day. Monks are around, just fewer. One approached me today asking if I was American. I told him English (Yingguoren). He then asked me about "he who must not be named". No, not Voldemort, but a particular Lama, who is not welcome in China. When I asked our Chinese students to help translate our fledgling conversation, he scurried away.

Onward to Luoxu...

Now, where IS Klamm?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Harsh winter in Central Asia

Our friends at the Snow Leopard Trust have highlighted the devastating effects in Mongolia of what has turned out to be an exceptionally harsh winter. It is claimed that around 4.5 million livestock have been lost (about 10% of the national total), with predictably awful consequences for the rural communities there. SLT are spearheading an appeal for aid. In China too, some areas have reported unusually severe conditions, though the severity and extent is not yet apparent. Sichuan for example continues to have unseasonally bad weather and our team will be in Xinjiang within the week and we will determine the situations there.

More when I can...


Hi All,

We are now well and truly up on the plateau, staying briefly in the small town of Ganzi from where we will head to our next field site in Luoxu. Journeying here is hard and the prospect of another 13 hour bus ride is not filling me with glee. This may not matter, since onward buses may not exist and we will have to explore alternatives. The local government forestry team are putting all their effort into getting us to the wilderness on time.

Ganzi itself is a curious, but friendly place. There are a large number of monasteries around and the town is awash with gangs of monks hanging out in their traditional red robes, with apparent time (eternity?) on their hands. There is a definite sense of other-worldliness that pervades these cut-off and remote outposts. Although we have flakey internet, I don't think many others have much contact with elsewhere. Nonetheless, the Tibetan people are demonstrating their unique hospitality (hic!).

Ever onward...

Monday, 5 April 2010

Like bloody paramoecium in a bloody fish tank…

In an effort to instil in our Chinese students the kind of enthusiasm that will get them to climb 2000m to our next field site, we have been conducting mini-tutorials over dinner. The nett effect of these sessions has been to spoil dinner. What I know is that students present as a diverse allsorts of types and we have those bead-covered clear liquorice pucks that are often left behind.  As a dedicated academic I am not deterred, but bean curd is not a hard enough substance to bang my head against. I’ll move these sessions to breakfast, where we have cake.

Incidentally, Joelene has been under the weather with something that turns people into Jabba The Hut (should that be hyphenated?). After being encased in carbonite and rescued by the feared Jedis, Oscar and Max, along with Dawn wearing  a gold bikini, I am now safe and she is on the road to recovery, thanks to antiJabbabiotics.

Having been in Chengdu for too long I now need more sleep and less Starbucks coffee.


Thursday, 1 April 2010

Sichuan update

Hello All.

I have a brief moment of connectivity and thought a bit of blogging would be my best use of time. Hmm... ok.

We've been working in Baoxing Nature Reserve, to the west of the more famous Wolong Biosphere Reserve. Both are panda hang-outs (red and giant, both of which were surprisingly good at hiding), and the latter was where our Sichuan Forestry Administration team managed to get photos of snow leopards (see example picture). Baoxing is connected to Wolong by a high altitude dendritic ridge, with steep sided valleys all around. Our interests are to see if snow leopards are dispersing along these ridges, and assessing the prey temptations that may motivate them. This part of the world is hugely bio-diverse, by nature of its topography, and so we are also keen to examine the relationships between snow leopards and the other predators that may influence their movements. Common leopard are found within the wooded slopes below the high-altitude grasslands, and bears and wolves wander around most habitats.

We have just come down from the higher areas of Baoxing, having set camera traps along the altitudinal gradient, which also constitutes in a habitat gradient. We have managed to enlist the cooperation of local Tibetan herders, who will maintain the cameras in situ while we head further west into the plateau (weather depending). The Tibetan people in this area have been fabulous and haven't missed an opportunity to invite us into their houses and ply us with baijiu, as is their custom. Having been working at altitude the sudden influx of booze made sure we all slept heavily last night.

The weather has been a minor issue, with heavy snowfall making transport difficult. Our horses in Baoxing braved all, but we did not want to put upon them too much. Nor our local support team for that matter. Despite some awful conditions, we made good progress and look forward to seeing some photo-fruits from our endeavours.

Much love,

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Crime and punishment...

Hi All.

After a slight (!) delay, there is much to catch up on and much to do. I'm back in China, preparing for snow leopard fieldwork on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in Sichuan. It seems these are the only times I get a moment to update this blog, so I will try to put out a few items of hopeful interest in the next couple of days.

For starters, thanks to all those who have been sending me cuttings about recent prosecutions in Xinjiang, against two farmers who were accused of killing a snow leopard. Details from the BBC and the Chinese news agency, Xinhua (sorry - this is the English link).

Not surprisingly, feelings have been mixed. These are farmers from a very poor community, trying to protect their family interests and stop a snow leopard taking their livestock. Hard line conservationists will view any illegal killing of endangered wildlife as a serious and punishable crime. Legislation in China, and other countries, to protect endangered species enshrine this principle, but less than hard-liners hope that court systems will allow for some sensitivity. These are not new issues and there is a vast history of case lore from around the world (see People and Wildlife). We need sensitivity, because the people living and working with snow leopards and other dangerous or damaging wildlife hold the solution to their protection. In an ever increasingly crowded world, we cannot separate people from these animals, so we must find ways to ensure that vulnerable communities are not disadvantaged by the goals of conservation. These goals must include people as a fundamental part of the ecosystems we seek to protect and people must accept that we rely on the the services that these ecosystems provide. Top predators have always been persecuted and many parts of the world from where they have been eradicated (at great expense) are now seeking to reintroduce them (at more great expense). It seems that the roles that these animals play, for example in regulating herbivores and their nasty diseases, are too valuable to lose.

Back to Xinjiang (always a good idea). The somewhat harsh sentences given to these farmers may do nothing to develop trust and understanding. And it is impossible to rule out that there may be other, undisclosed, forces at work. There is also the unhappy back-drop of illegal trade in the body parts of snow leopards and the authorities in Xinjiang will seek every opportunity to demonstrate to the world their intolerance to such practises.

For our part we are working with the communities in Taxkurgan to understand their needs and wants, and we are discussing options to develop community-based insurance schemes to fairly compensate for livestock losses to wildlife. As it is, snow leopards are not the problem. It's wolves...! I'm not going to get into the whole psychological predisposition against wolves... well, not yet.

Remember, trust and understanding are as rare as snow leopards and we possibly need to work even harder to get them back.

Take care,