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Specimen of the Week: Week Four

Emma-Louise Nicholls7 November 2011

Scary MonkeyWelcome to the 100th UCL Museums and Collections blog post!!! What an honour! I shall definitely be sharing a wine with scary monkey (see left) later on and he says he gives you all permission to leave work early for the momentous occasion. When you first start writing a weekly blog you suddenly become very aware of time and more to the point, how quickly it whips by! Already it is week four of the new specimen of the week blog. Someone pointed out yesterday it was only seven weeks until the new year. Frightening!

 

Anywho, this week I have decided to choose one of my most favourite animals to tell you about. It is one of the largest species of the group to which it belongs and famous for its weird appearance. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

A minute’s silence for the Vietnamese Javan rhino

Emma-Louise Nicholls25 October 2011

Skull of a Javan rhinoDear readers,

It is with a very heavy heart that I bring you the news that the second subspecies of Javan rhino, the Vietnamese Javan rhino, has been driven to extinction thanks to poachers. The third subspecies, the Indonesian Javan rhino, is now the last remaining representative of this entire species. The loss of the population in Vietnam is called a local extinction for the species and means that Vietnam has now lost all of its rhinos. A sad loss of heritage for the people.

The last individual was found dead, with a bullet hole in its leg and its horn removed.

Rhino horn is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, it is made of keratin, the same material as your finger nails and has been repeatedly scientifically proven to have no medicinal value whatsoever. The rhinos are dying for nothing. (more…)

Firing cannons at birds

Jack Ashby30 June 2011

Natural history has always been a field largely populated by amateurs. This is one of its biggest strengths. Without the passion and interest of millions of people worldwide it would be very hard to get anything done – both politically and financially. And by referring to people as amateurs I’m certainly not suggesting that they can’t also be experts.

Ringing a bar-tailed godwit

Ringing a bar-tailed godwit

Hard-core natural historians regularly fall into one of three groups – birders, mammal-tickers and herpos (those obsessed with reptiles and amphibians). A common trend among them (though not true of all members of each group) is the desire to “tick off” as many species as they can, and create a nice long list of everything they have seen. (more…)

Cows and cremation – fighting fire with fire

Jack Ashby20 June 2011

In my last post I begun to talk about the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s ecologists that I have joined for a month in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. It’s the dry season here and while most of the land isn’t underwater the annual ecological trapping survey is underway.

This involves trapping small mammals, lizards, snakes and frogs and doing bird and vegetation surveys to assess what lives in various different habitats here. A couple of major investigations are underway – the purpose isn’t just to create a list of residents. About half of the reserve has had cattle removed from it (because of seemingly bizarre land-leasing laws this conservation NGO is technically required to run their wildlife sanctuary as a cattle station), and one question is to ask what impact that has on the ecology. It’s easy to predict that the many small mammals that rely on grass seed would be affected by these massive grazers, and this is what the data are suggesting. (more…)

Journey to find and save the world’s rarest primates

ucfbceh1 June 2011

The ‘Journey to find and save the world’s rarest primates’ event provided an opportunity for people from all backgrounds to come together and celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity, as well as the International Year of Forests. Organised by gibbonologist Helen Chatterjee, UCL Genetics, Evolution and the Environment, the evening sought to raise the profile of the Hainan gibbon, the world’s rarest primate. The Save the Gibbons website provides details on the problem and ways which we can all help. (more…)

Australian fieldwork: a pocket guide

Jack Ashby27 May 2011

I’m writing from the Kimberley region of north-western Australia, where I’m spending a month or so trapping animals with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). This is how I spend my holidays, or at least as many of them as I can. This is my third trip to Oz over the past year, and I’ve spent about seven of the last 13 months doing fieldwork here.

This has caused several people to ask me why I keep coming back to Australia; it’s a big world out there and there are plenty of mammals to chase around the rest of the globe. Why I don’t I go somewhere else? (more…)

Where is the wild?

Jack Ashby12 May 2011

The wilderness can feel pretty wild, but this has been farmed for decades. Is it still natural?

The wilderness can feel pretty wild, but this has been farmed for decades. Is it still natural?

A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 15

For the past 14 weeks I’ve been writing the account of the five months I spent on ecological fieldwork in Outback Australia. This is the final post for that trip. I visited many of the world’s major ecosystem types – rainforest and desert, alpine and coral reef, moorland and woodland, heath and kelp forest, monsoonal woodland and swamp. I trapped, tracked, handled, spot-lit, sampled and photographed some of my most favourite animals. Not wanting to boast, but I had a frankly awesome time.

A few weeks back I wrote about what makes an animal wild. To finish this series I’d like to ask a similar question of the landscape. Over the course of those five months I barely went inside, or even saw a building for that matter. Sleeping in a tent, cooking on a fire, drinking from a stream and washing in a bucket certainly should make you feel like you’re living relatively wild. At least with respect to my London life. (more…)

What price science?

Jack Ashby5 May 2011

A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 14

From April 2010 I spent about five months undertaking several zoological field projects across Australia. I worked with government agencies, universities and NGOs on conservation and ecology studies ranging from Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, the effect of fire, rain and introduced predators on desert ecology and how to poison cats. This series of blog posts is a delayed account of my time in the field.

Weeks Sixteen to Nineteen – part 3

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been describing the final field project on this trip, joining ecologists from the Australian Wildilfe Conservancy (AWC) on a full faunal survey of their sanctuary on the Arhnem Land Plateau in the Northern Territory. During this one month expedition I encountered more snakes than I had throughout my whole life previously. Snakes on field work is the topic of this week’s post.

Carefully handling a funnel trap containing a brown snake

Carefully handling a funnel trap containing a brown snake – trying to identifying without touching the snake.

(more…)

Cane toads ate my baby

Jack Ashby28 April 2011

A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 13

From April 2010 I spent about five months undertaking several zoological field projects across Australia. I worked with government agencies, universities and NGOs on conservation and ecology studies ranging from Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, the effect of fire, rain and introduced predators on desert ecology and how to poison cats. This series of blog posts is a delayed account of my time in the field.

Weeks Sixteen to Nineteen – part 2

Last week I described how we went about trapping small fauna at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Wongalara sanctuary in the Northern Territory’s Top End. This week I want to talk about cane toads and some of the other feral beasts around. (more…)

Gotta catch ’em all – Top End Trapping

Jack Ashby21 April 2011

A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 12

Burton's snake lizard

Burton’s snake lizard from a funnel trap

From April 2010 I spent about five months undertaking several zoological field projects across Australia. I worked with government agencies, universities and NGOs on conservation and ecology studies ranging from Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, the effect of fire, rain and introduced predators on desert ecology and how to poison cats. This series of blog posts is a delayed account of my time in the field.

Weeks Sixteen to Nineteen – part 1

For my final bit of fieldwork I joined a team of ecologists from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) at one of their sanctuaries, carved out of the incredible Arnhem Land Plateau in the monsoonal forest of the Northern Territory’s Top End. (more…)