Wednesday 12 June 2013

The Lion King 4?

After spending 10 weeks in Cape Town, I have seen a variety of African wildlife and landscapes. While taking The Biology and Ecology of The Lion King, I have learned to observe my surroundings through a knowledgable lens. I have thoroughly enjoyed our discussion about different forms of wildlife depicted in The Lion King, and I wanted to close off my blog posts with a bit of discussion looking forward to the future of this beloved animated film.

We've seen The Lion King 1, 2 and 1 1/2, and the franchise has grossed millions of dollars worldwide. If it is so successful, why wouldn't the filmmakers make another film? The Lion King has provided audiences with never-before-seen a peek into the fantasized world of Africa, and the franchise has proven timeless.

Different blogs have speculated on the possibility of another Lion King film. The Lion King 3D recently hit theaters, and The Lion King Special Edition is also expected to release again within the next few years. Ideas regarding different possible sequels include: Timon and Pumbaa: The Story of a Killer Lion, and The Lion King 4: The Beginning of The End.

All of these ideas are likely just from fans, but there is definitely still an interest in future Lion King Films. What made this movie so timeless? What makes a sequel successful? At the end of the day, there are no official sites posting credible information regarding a possible Lion King 4 in the future. However, Disney is known for taking animated films "out of the vault" now and again to satisfy fans with old favorites. I don't think this is the last we will hear about The Lion King franchise.


Monday 10 June 2013

Engineers meet Biologists, Veteranarians, and Scientists!

Alan Wilson has developed a structure and motion laboratory, which focuses on the study of animal motion and behavior to improve technology. The lab is designed to learn more about the structure of animals, and how this structure allows them to move. Alan Wilson asks questions about dogs, dinosaurs, elephants, and cheetahs. His dedicated team of vets, biologists, engineers, mathematicians, and scientists work together to develop new ideas to change the way we think about robotic systems.

Increasing technological sophistication makes studying animals more precise than ever before, and scientists are able to measure movement with extreme definition. As we discussed in class, wildlife is a great resource for scientific study, and engineers can use their systems as models to design other systems. The structure and motion lab uses both fieldwork and laboratory work to study animal locomotion. The entire project is a collaborative effort that combines many different fields of science.

Over the last ten years, Alan has been developing microtechnology to mount on animals for data collection. This microtechnology ranges from GPS tags to aerial drone systems to follow animals in the wild. This technology needs to be quiet, lightweight, and climate proof to survive in the harsh conditions of the wild.

The most interesting part of this article for me is the Cheetah Robot design, that is using the aerodynamic body structure of the cheetah as inspiration for a lightweight, free-moving field robot. In class, we marveled at the magnificent speed and grace of the cheetah. I wondered how a creature created by nature could move so quickly and effortlessly in the savannah. This lab is actually studying this animal with such precision, that scientists are actually coming closer to figuring out how the cheetah runs! Wow!

The interdisciplinary study of this laboratory is inspiring! It is so great to see different fields coming together to ask questions about their surroundings. Reading this article made me reflect on my studies as an engineer. It has been so wonderful for me to come to Cape Town with a variety of Stanford students with different academic backgrounds to share ideas, and experience a new culture together.

If you want to learn more about Alan Wilson's Lab, here is the link


Elephant Poaching, Joseph Kony, and State-Sponsored Poaching

Many sources have made allegations that elephant poaching is on the decline. However, that is not the case as elephants continue to be poached for their ivory. The ivory trade is extremely lucrative, with prices at a record high. As is the case with the black market rhino horn trade, ivory trade also persists due to a high interest from many Asian countries. Ivory and rhino horns are both used in traditional medicines that have been proven not to work, however the demand is still extremely strong.

You guys may remember the famous warlord, Joseph Kony, who was thrown into the international spotlight after a short video found its way on the interwebs. Kony is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda who continues to wreak havoc throughout the country. There are also bands scattered throughout South Sudan, the Congo, and the Central African Republic. The LRA is known for its ruthlessness, pillaging villages, mutilating citizens, and recruiting children to serve as soldiers. However, since the video's release in 2012, Kony's LRA has found itself with depleted resources and no steady stream of income.

Two US-based organizations, the Enough Project and the Satellite Sentinel Project, recently released information about Kony and the LRA turning to poaching and the ivory trade as a means to generating income. There have been reports that they are using funds from the trade to purchase arms, ammunition, and sustenance.

Because the LRA is so infamous for extreme violence and ruthlessness, it is scary to learn about this new venture. With the number of elephants still on the decline, having such rebel groups added to the list of poachers only means bad news for Africa's elephants and other wildlife that generates money. Along with the LRA, state-sponsored militias from Sudan, South Sudan, and the Congo have also been responsible for many elephant killings throughout Central Africa in order to fund their efforts.

One can only hope that this trend does not accelerate and gain popularity in areas where elephants abound. It is imperative that governments take the necessary action to protect their wildlife, as elephants, rhinos, cheetahs--you name it--are not renewable resources.


A Gang of Baboons!

Imagine coming home to find 5-7 baboons chilling in your kitchen... eating your food...sleeping in your bed...and using your toilet. Picture that... now watch the video below:

Last month, a gang of baboon burglars were recorded running in and out of a beach front property in the South African town of Betty's Bay, ransacking the kitchen and eating whatever they could get their hands on. The filmmaker and a few friends--bold, but mostly stupid--entered the home in an effort to scare the baboons away.

Baboons are terrestrial animals and are found in many environments throughout Africa. They are omnivores, eating plants, insects, birds and small antelopes alike. Their primary predators are humans, lions, and the hyenas. Other animals typically prey on baby baboons. Baboons are known to be extremely aggressive when threatened or when their babies are threatened.

During the tour of the Cape peninsula, we ran into baboons on many occasions. The first time we spotted an adult baboon with her baby not very far behind. While we did not see other baboons around, chances are that there was probably a few more lingering around that evaded our gaze. Baboons are known to live and travel in groups of about 5 to 250. Later on during the tour, we saw a troop of maybe 20 baboons crossing the street--babies riding on the backs of their mothers, with a few trailing closely. This encounter was extremely fascinating, albeit a dangerous venture for the baboons who moved quite slowly across the street.

Colleen, our tour guide relayed a story about the relationship between the baboons and the towns' residents. Many times, these baboons enter towns and are seen as a danger to the residents and their properties. These baboons are often shot down on the spot. The above video is a very compelling visualization of baboons raiding human dwellings. The men could have seen a very different ending to their exploit due to the aggressive nature of the baboon. In my opinion, it is best not to confront these animals. The best preventative measure is to keep windows and doors closed and in the event that baboons do enter your home, do not enter, rather call the authorities to properly negotiate with the animals.

Nonetheless, it was a fascinating watch of how wildlife can interact with sometimes unsuspecting humans.


Canned Hunting in South Africa

More lions live in captivity than do in the wild (5000 v. 2000).
Today, instead of allowing lions to remain "The King of the Jungle," they have been reduced to mere commodities. Canned hunting is a trophy hunt in which lions that were previously bred in captivity and then released into the wild are targeted by hunters who pay tens of thousands of dollars to obtain access to these animals. These lions are typically not as accustomed to living in the wild thus are not as vigilant, alert, and aggressive as wild lions and cannot protect themselves as efficiently. Canned hunting is practiced wildly throughout South Africa, bringing an enormous amount of money to farms that breed lions. In my opinion, it is extremely unethical and another way in which humans are destroying African wildlife.

Today, there are over 160 farms legally breeding lions, with many of them engaging or selling their cats to programs that engage in canned hunting. Each year, hundreds of lions are killed in trophy hunts. Canned hunting was banned in South Africa under a 2007 government regulation that made the hunting of lions released into the wild less than 24 months prior illegal. However, the regulation was struck down in 2010 as a result of the protests of special interest groups.

The idea of breeding lions just to kill them--trophy hunting--is inhumane to say the least. The South African government must act quickly in order to curb this practice. With the numbers of lions dwindling every year, it is important that conservations fulfill their purpose to conserve the animals that they breed and nurse to health.


Fear for Rhinos in China

After two presentations on rhino poaching, along with a general understanding of Chinese culture and the black market trade, every single person in this course should know that China is one of the main drivers of rhino poaching. Even more, it would be a terrible, terrible, idea to even consider raising rhinos anywhere in China.

Nonetheless, this is exactly what was done. According to Reuters, "Seven savannah-dwelling African rhinos are said to be waiting release into the wild." The first problem, I addressed in the introduction. The second problem is that these rhinos are going to be released into a forest environment when they are savannah-dwelling animals. In recent years, more than 150 rhinos have been transported to China. These rhinos will struggle in a forest environment, there is no doubt about it. "[There are] concerns about nutrition and their overall ability to cope. If they don't have supplementary food, they will starve." Tom Milliken, a rhino conservationist claims, "This is simply not conservation." This raises many questions about the purpose of the project. Is it really for the welfare of the rhinos, or does China have ulterior motives, as rhino horn powder currently costs more than gold in Vietnam.....

China has previously been exposed to have been trying to import African rhinos to a "conservation park" that was an effort to harvest rhino horn. Many are suspicious that this new effort is another attempt to bring the rhino horn trade straight to China.

It simply does not add up in my head. There are no savannahs in China, and nowhere similar to breed rhinos. Instead, they are opting to put them in a completely new environment. China had a previously foiled plan to harvest rhino horns. Now, it is for the sake of conservation. It just does not make sense... especially with the amount of money exchanging hands.

What do you think?


Sunday 9 June 2013

Ostrich Egg Artwork

Today I'd like to share an experience that I had walking through the V and A waterfront in Cape Town. The mall is absolutely beautiful, and there are tons of wonderful shops and restaurants to explore. My friend Christina walked into a lovely little boutique called Avoova, to buy a beautiful bowl decorated with ostrich egg pieces. I wanted to know if this was an ethical practice, because I have noticed a ton of different places selling ostrich egg jewelry in Cape Town.

Further research of the store in Cape Town revealed that this particular art store uses egg shards and fragments collected from already broken eggshells on ostrich farms in South Africa. This makes me feel a lot better about purchasing some artwork from the store, because it seems as if the production is not immediately harming any ostrich babies.

Ostrich art has been around for an extremely long time. In fact, a 60,000 year old egg shell with designs was found recently in a South African archeological cave site. The designs on the egg shells are thought to depict different artistic motifs from ancient hunter gatherer tribes. The shells showed an impressive amount of diversity in the designs.

Here are some of the awesome designs found on the fragments. This article reminded me about the ostrich egg artwork on our Western Cape Sites of Memory trip to the Khoe-San reserve a few weeks ago. Today in the Kalahari, hunter gatherers still practice this sacred artwork! From expensive V and A waterfront stores to hunter gatherer artists, this artwork has definitely made its mark on the culture of South Africa.