Professor Adam Hart was our guest on the podcast not long ago, in episode 66. However, given the unusual situation we are going through globally, we decided to get together again just a few weeks later. The reason is to discuss the devastating effect the COVID-19 pandemic is having on wildlife conservation. Major sources of funding for conservation, like tourism and hunting, have dried-up overnight. And with the general turmoil and uncertainty, conservation enforcement has been weakened and poaching is on the rise. We also explore the idea of a connection between the coronavirus and biodiversity loss.
If you care about wildlife and conservation you should definitely listen to this episode, learn about the situation and see if, and how, you can help.
Pádraic is well known to my podcast listeners. He was our guest in episodes 20 and 35. And in episode 62 I talked with Patrick Cross about his work inspired by Pádraic’s book.
There have been many things I have wanted to talk to Pádraic about since our last podcast, which was a year and a half ago. So today I am pleased to bring you another conversation with Pádraic. We talk about rewilding, reintroduction of wolves and lynx and, last but not least, if there is a connection between the coronavirus and biodiversity loss.
The issue of African wildlife conservation is very complex and difficult. There are many factors that have to be considered, some of them are literally a matter of life and death. All that immersed in a highly emotional atmosphere. This subject is infinitely interesting to me. So, today I am delighted to bring you my conversation with biologist, broadcaster, academic and author, Professor Adam Hart. During the podcast, we discuss the elephant situation in Botswana, the role of rural communities in wildlife management and the highly emotional subject of trophy hunting.
We have talked about the book “Whittled Away – Ireland’s Vanishing Nature” twice already. In episode 20 our guest was the author, Pádraic Fogarty, who was also featured in episode 35 where I brought you the recording of his talk under the same title as the book.
Today I talk with Patrick Cross about his photographic project based on that book. We also talk about photography (the outdoors flavour), human impact on the environment and natural history.
Many of us outdoors people like to keep records of the animal and fish species we have encountered, caught or seen during our time in the outdoors. To keep those records we use spreadsheets, databases, dedicated apps and, perhaps, a pen and paper if you’re a little old-timey chap. As it turns out, there is a website that can not only help you record and explore your sightings but also include your data in the national dataset that is used by scientists. This website is operated by The National Biodiversity Data Centre and, in this episode of the podcast, our guest is their Citizen Science Officer, Dave Wall.
It all started on Twitter. Shaun contacted me and casually suggested that I record an episode of the podcast from South Africa. We exchanged a few messages and Shaun sent me a few photos. It quickly became obvious that he can talk for hours about riding a mountain bike in the stunning landscapes of South African game reserves. In the episode Shaun describes not only the South African mountain biking scene but we also talk about encounters with African wildlife. Yes, it’s pretty scary at times! This episode undoubtedly can give you an idea for a bucket list mountain biking trip.
Recently I have read a lot of articles, blogs and press releases about fox hunting with hounds. The vast majority was negative. They were pointing out the cruelty of the endeavour and the callousness of participants. There were even reports about protesters clashing with hunt supporters. Also in my own circle, fox hunting with hounds is often criticized by people who otherwise don’t have an issue with hunting in general. In fact, this type of hunting has its opponents in other parts of the world too. For example, American outdoorsman Steven Rinella in his book Meateater, which I reviewed in episode 2, tells his own story about hunting with hounds. He describes how his initial negative childhood experience was turned around in his thirties when he hunted with a professional houndsman.
The best way to form an opinion is to have a first-hand experience. Early this year, I was lucky enough to spend the weekend with a fellow outdoorsman, and our guest on episode 33, Aaron Turner. After finishing breakfast in his farmhouse, we headed for the hills where a few houndsmen and their dogs were in the middle of a hunt. We quickly took an elevated position on one of the fields and began glassing to locate the hunting pack. Initially, we spotted only two leading hounds, but after a short while the main pack of about 16 dogs emerged from the nearby forestry. Soon we could hear the dogs baying.
Baying is a loud sound made by a hound when it picks up a scent trail. It resembles something between barking and howling. It is meant to let other hounds in the pack know that a new trail has been picked up. I must admit that it was truly remarkable to observe those dogs hunting. They ran the surrounding hills like it was nothing! We could see them crossing the field a few meters away in one direction, and just a few minutes later we could see the entire pack again on the skyline on the hills a few miles away in the opposite direction. It was also amazing to see the phenomenal level of control a houndsman has over the pack. Once he started calling his dogs, they quickly dropped the trail, aborted the hunt, and began running towards him. My friend observed that often people who criticize hunting with hounds are unable to call their toy dog back from the park.
The hunt itself is quite random in nature. Hounds pick and lose scent trails many times during each hunt. Some dogs in the pack lose the trail and others pick it up. There is no guarantee however that they will pick up the same trail that the previous dogs lost. In addition, dogs can’t tell from the scent which way the animal went. As a result, they might hunt in the opposite direction and eventually lose the trail again. That is not a problem however, as catching or killing an animal is not really the purpose of the hunt. In reality, dogs are often fed before the hunt which makes them slower and consequently less likely to catch fast-moving critters like hares. What counts is the time spent outdoors with the dogs.
It is hard to avoid the impression that most of the critics of hunting with hounds either live in urban areas or just moved to the countryside from a city. This usually means that they are missing the connection with the land and the wildlife. They only kind of understand the circle of life. They do not farm and are oblivious to issues like the necessity of predator control. The sight of a dead aminal is alien to them as they were comfortably isolated from such things while going about their city lives. However, if a fox snatched their cat or small dog they’d be up in arms that someone should do something about it! Then, I suspect, they would be much more tolerant of lethal fox population control.
Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland is an organization dedicated to helping injured wild animals return to the wild in full health. But that’s not all. WRI’s mission is to develop a coordinated approach to wildlife rehabilitation in Ireland. They are also involved in efforts to fight wildlife crime. Since the topic of wildlife is an important part of Tommy’s Outdoors, I was eager to sit down with Aideen Magee, one of WRI’s directors, and talk with her about their work. In the podcast you will find lots of useful information about wildlife. We also dig a little deeper into specific wildlife rehabilitation issues. Please go to the WRI website and donate to their cause.
There is a lot of talk recently about continuous cover forestry, timber plantations and development of native woodlands. I had an opportunity to explore the subject with my guest, Forestry Inspector and Fire Management Officer in the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, Ciaran Nugent. In my opinion, this is one of the most educational episodes of the podcast. During our conversation, we talk about the history of Irish forestry, its current direction, wildlife conservation and the delicate balance between plants and animals in the environment. We also spend some time discussing fires, their role in an ecosystem and fire prevention.