The Best of the Top 25: Part 2

This week we continue our flash back on some of the best Top 25 photographs of the last year. Of the thousands of pictures submitted and the hundreds selected for the Top 25 blogs, these are considered the best of the best! Thank you to all the photographers who have submitted pictures over the last year. Your pictures allows us to a tell a story about the wonderful birdlife that exists on our planet. Keep up the good work!

To recap even more of our Top 25 images you can visit our youtube channel. You can find even more bird photography highlights on our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages!

This beautiful Anna’s Hummingbird can be found on the west coast of North America (Sutapa Karmakar)The pet trade is one of the factors driving Bali Mynas to extinction (Arun Samak)The Black-throated Trogon can be found in the humid forests of South America. This one was photographed in Panama by Owen DeutschIn winter Brown-headed Gulls can be found on the coastlines of India and south-east Asia. Here they associate with fishing vessels, eating any scraps from the ship (Mukesh Mishra)The Brown-hooded Kingfisher of southern Africa rarely fishes, in fact they eat mainly insects (Rodnick Clifton Biljon)A Handsome Burchell’s Starling photographed in Botswana by Owen DeutschThe Collared Kingfisher is widespread across south-east Asia. Taxonomists have divided the species into 50 different sub-species! Although the species as a whole is widespread some of the sub-species have very small populations which are threatened (Kishore Debnath)The Common Kingfisher eats mainly fish and insects. Several times a day they will regurgitate a pellet with the indigestible remains of their prey (Kuntal Das)The Daurain Redstart was previously known to only breed in China, Mongolia and Russia. Recently a new breeding population was discovered in Japan (Vinayak Joshi)The Demoiselle Crane breeds aross central Eurasia. Those from the west of the breeding range then migrate to Africa for the winter and the others migrate to India (Anirban Roychowdhury)An endangered Egyptian Vulture photographed in Haryana, India by Vishal MonakarThe Eurasian Jay is a woodland species, they collect acorns and bury them to eat later. However they store far more than they need and many of them will start to grow into oak trees (Asim Haldar)The breeding success of European Bee-eaters is strongly linked to weather conditions. A study in Germany found breeding success to be twice as good in warm, dry years, compared to wet and cold years (Carlo Galliani)This European Starling is in fresh plumage, once the feathers start the wear, the pale spots become less visible (Donald Bauman)Male Great Bustards are known to eat poisonous blister beetles in the mating season. These contain cantharidin, a known aphrodisiac. It is suspected that this helps makes the males more willing to court females (Lennart Hessel)A yellow morph of the Green-winged Pytilia photographed in Kimberley, South Africa. Normally the face would be red in this species (Brian Culver)Between 1985 and 2004 the population of Grey Crowned-cranes halved, they are now considered endangered (Wasif Yaqeen)A striking portrait of an Indian Eagle-owl (Prasad Sonawane)The Northern Long-eared Owl has excellent hearing, it is thought that they locate their prey mainly from sound (Zafer Tekin)A male Calliope Hummingbird showing his colourful display feathers (Jola Charlton)A Mountain Bulbul photographed in the Himalayas by Vishal MonakarA pair of Atlantic Puffins on Skomer Island, Wales (Suranjan Mukherjee)Even thought Steppe Eagles are endangered, they are still one of the most common large eagles in the world (Tauseef Zafer)Violet-backed Starlings are important dispersers of mistletoes. They eat the fruit and then regurgitate the seed which then grows into a new plant (Shantharam Holla)The White-throated Bee-eater breeds along the edges of the Saharan desert, before wintering in central Africa (Caroline Muchekehu)

Our mission is to build a global community around the freedom and beauty of birds in the wild as ambassadors for the natural ecosystems that they depend upon. They are the music, decoration, and character of every terrestrial habitat on the planet and have been around since the dinosaurs. They are the witnesses and ambassadors of the awesome power of nature. The wide availability of good, cheap optics has opened their world to us for the last few decades. Amazing, affordable DSLR cameras with long lenses are delivering brilliant digital bird imagery to online communities.

We are in a day-and-age during which more bird species are threatened with extinction than ever before. The Wild Birds! Revolution aims to publish the “Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week” to 1 million people every week by the end of the year. That is a revolution that will change the world! Join thousands of other weekend naturalists, photographers, birders, experts, hikers, nature-lovers, guides, scientists, conservationists and artists that share the thousands of wild bird photographs submitted to the Wild Bird Trust website and Facebook page. Thousands of wild bird enthusiasts are going out every day to photograph our planet’s beautiful birdlife. Pick up your camera, fill your bird feeder, open your heart, and join the Wild Birds! Revolution!!

Edited by Christie Craig, Campaign Manager

The Best of the Top 25: Part 1

Endangered Vultures Critical to Disease Control in Africa

Dr. Corinne Kendall giving a presentation on vultures in Tanzania.

National Geographic Society grantee Corinne Kendall studied vulture biology and conservation at Princeton and now works for North Carolina Zoo putting her knowledge to work in on-the-ground (and in-the-sky) research in Tanzania. She’s also passionate about education, managing a teacher training program in Uganda and teaching at zoos and universities across the United States. We asked her about her recent findings about these critically endangered birds.

Why are vultures so important to the overall health for life in Africa?

Vultures play a critical role in disease control and waste removal. They are actually one of the most important scavengers in Africa and are believed to consume even more carrion than mammalian scavengers like hyenas. Vultures also eat rapidly and feed in large groups which allows them to consume carrion quickly. This reduces the risk of disease spread from flies or bacteria. Vultures are resistant to many diseases so they don’t contract or spread diseases like tuberculosis or brucellosis even if the animals they are consuming died from those causes.

Vultures have the advantage of incredibly efficient soaring flight which allows them to travel large distances in short amounts of time. White-backed vultures are also highly social. These two characteristics make vultures uniquely capable of responding to fluxes in food availability created when a large animal dies or during an epidemic. As a result they can be particularly important for reducing disease spread during an outbreak.

What can vultures teach us about the spread of anthrax and other animal mortalities?

Vultures respond to disease outbreaks quickly and reduce the spread by consuming carrion without contracting the disease. In Tanzania, Wildlife Conservation Society biologists and I have satellite-tagged White-backed vultures and recently had a unique opportunity to understand how anthrax spreads during an outbreak using our tagged vultures. Because birds stop for extended periods when feeding at a carcass, we were able to identify locations of animals that died of anthrax during a recent epidemic in Ruaha National Park. Using our tagged birds we can assess when and where the outbreak started, how it spread, and when it ended. In collaboration with Tanzanian National Parks, we were even able to identify contaminated carcasses so that rangers could destroy some carcasses and help to reduce the spread of anthrax.

Vultures might be able to help us understand other animal mortalities as well. For instance, there is concern about a giraffe skin disease which has become very common in Ruaha National Park.

It is not known if this disease affects mortality rates in giraffe. Using vultures, we may be able to find giraffe carcasses more rapidly and assess how severe the skin disease was in the deceased individual.

Why are African vultures declining?

African vulture populations have declined precipitously in the last three decades and many species are now considered endangered or critically endangered. Poisoning is the primary cause of decline. Poisoning occurs when people put pesticides onto livestock carcasses when cows or other domestic animals are killed by lions and hyenas. These retaliatory killings are intended to kill the carnivores, but vultures are the more common victims of poisoning. In some cases, poachers have also begun poisoning vultures either for their body parts or because they want to reduce vulture numbers so that the birds don’t alert rangers to elephant carcasses, from individuals that have been recently poached.

Vultures FEEDING ON ANIMAL CARCASSES HELPS SCIENTISTS TRACK THE SPREAD OF DISEASES SUCH AS ANTHRAX. Photograph by James Smoliga.

What can be done to save Africa’s vultures?

Wildlife Conservation Society and North Carolina Zoo are working closely with Tanzanian National Parks to ensure a safe future for vultures in Tanzania. We have conducted ranger trainings on how to respond to poisoning events, such as ways to collect evidence, how to care for sick birds, and how to properly dispose of the poisoned carcass. In addition, in September 2017 we held Tanzania’s first ever Vulture Awareness Day. This event attracted hundreds of people and media attention in Tanzania and communities were amazed to learn about the important role that vultures play in the environment and what they can do to save them. It really helped raise the profile of these sometimes overlooked birds.

Is there hope for African vultures?

The threats to African vultures are great and poisoning can kill a large number of birds very quickly. However, there is hope for African vultures. Recent studies from Wildlife Conservation Society and North Carolina Zoo in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania suggest that this park may be a critical stronghold for African vultures. Populations appear to be stable and poisoning appears to be infrequent in this area. We are optimistic that vulture populations in southern Tanzania can flourish even though declines are continuing elsewhere.

For the white-backed vulture and other wildlife, time is running out. Join National Geographic explorers, like Corinne Kendall, as they work to protect wildlife, preserve the last wild places on the planet, and push the boundaries of discovery. Click here to donate.

Originally posted 2018-02-02 07:04:46.

Opinion: Poisoning of Ugandan Lions Highlights Africa’s Rural Poverty Crisis

No wild animal on earth has an easy death. Be it starvation, disease, mortal wound, or a predator’s teeth, an inevitably grisly end awaits all creatures born into a world where nature’s dictum is the daily struggle to survive.

Though seemingly cruel, the ebb and flow of an animal’s precarious existence is the status quo that conservationists the world over are fighting to preserve. Without that primal but necessary ecological rhythm, wildlife in all flesh and form would simply cease to be.

I preface the savagery of the natural world in contrast to the recent alleged poisoning of a pride of lions in Uganda to emphasize an important point.

As someone who loves Uganda, who spends time in the field doing research on its resident lions, observing and documenting their struggles for survival, even getting to know some of them as individuals, I’ve come to accept that their transient, unforgivingly harsh lives and equally cruel deaths are part of the natural order.

Yet despite the fact that wild lions don’t live that long, I was crestfallen to hear of the premature deaths of 11 of them in Queen Elizabeth National Park, done likely in retaliation for livestock predation.

Sadly, these lions, eight of which were cubs, did not die as ecologically intended. Their lives were tragically snuffed out as a result of suspected poisoning, which as it relates to lion conservation, is an unfortunate setback for the Ugandan population.

What happened in Queen Elizabeth National Park is not an isolated event. Human-wildlife conflict is endemic across much of rural Africa, impacting the entire conservation apparatus: regional biodiversity, the stability of ecosystems, and the well-being of marginalized peoples acting on basic survival compulsions. It is a nearly insurmountable hurdle with no straightforward way over.

Upon learning of the tragedy, I immediately wrote to my colleague and friend, Dr. Ludwig Siefert. As head of the Uganda Carnivore Program, he dedicates himself to finding a balance between the lions of Queen Elizabeth National Park and the vibrant communities of fishers and farmers living near them, including the village of Hamukungu, where the deaths occurred.

By working closely with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Siefert’s efforts have seen lions celebrated throughout the park’s enclave villages, financial compensation for the loss of goats and cattle thanks in part to tourist donations, and a number of other human-wildlife conflict programs aimed at protecting people and lions from one another, all under the umbrella of greater carnivore conservation.

To say that I wasn’t overcome with emotion at the loss of these 11 lions would be dishonest; my initial reaction was a plurality of anger, frustration, and sadness. But though my feelings were justified, I eventually had to swap them for critical thought.

“Lions will do what comes naturally to them,” Rachael, my fiancée said, referring to the all too common attacks on livestock. “Whoever poisoned them did so to protect their animals. How can we, who have grocery stores and access to so much that many people in Africa don’t have, even possibly understand what life is like for them? There’s just no good solution at the moment.”

Though not a conservationist by trade, she’d provided a profoundly teachable moment. I needed the reminder that even though a lot was done to ensure the safety of these lions, human conditions in this part of the world meant that it was only a matter of time before another flash point was reached. It was, and has been for some time, a no-win situation.

The lions of Queen Elizabeth National Park are famous for climbing sycamore figs in the Southern Ishasha sector, and candelabra euphorbia cacti in the northern Kasenyi plains. Photo by Michael Schwartz.

When taking a bird’s eye view of Africa, her people and her wildlife, one must admit that something is truly wrong with the overall picture. Yes, there are a number of organizations—government agencies, researchers, NGOs, volunteers, effervescent activists—all dedicated to saving lions. Some are quite successful. Yet in spite of management strategies and livestock husbandry schemes, compensation plans and cattle enclosures, lions are still being eliminated at an alarming rate.

This steady decline reveals a hard truth: As long as a growing rural population remains tethered to poverty, the risk of losing more lions stays high. And if we (the Western world) react to every wildlife tragedy with nothing more than moral exhibitionism toward the disenfranchised, then the root of the problem will stay buried beneath the conflict.

This may come as a surprise, even go beyond the frame of reference for some, but though I’m saddened, I hold no ill will toward the perpetrator(s). I know that if caught, there will likely be a hefty jail sentence or stiff fine. But how many times have we seen people apprehended, issued severe punishments, then become recidivists?

While arrests may be a salve to our personal wounding at the loss of wildlife and painstaking desire to see justice served, in the end it is nothing more than an attack on the symptom of human-wildlife conflict. The source, meanwhile, remains free to dictate these sad turn of events ad nauseum.

This is not to argue that there are no circumstances that warrant justice, nor is it wrong to express sympathy over the loss of these amazing creatures. But to put one living thing on a pedestal while refusing to empathize with the difficult circumstances of the other, is the wrong way to approach the problem.

In other parts of the world, where poverty isn’t as rampant, there doesn’t exist the same level of concern about dangerous wildlife, if one’s cattle or crops are safe, when the next meal can be successfully speared, trapped, shot, or fished, or if there is enough wood for the fire or water fetched from the nearest body of water to drink.

Ironically, while many of those suffering from domestic stock losses that take punitive action against offending lions arguably don’t see their intrinsic value, those in the western world who hold lions in high regard live in places completely devoid of them.

A Ugandan fisherman heads out at dusk to earn a living. Photograph by Michael Schwartz

Human poverty and wildlife is like oil and water. Not only are they incompatible, but they exist at the heart of so many tragic events contributing to wildlife loss in Africa. From retaliatory aggression against predators acting merely on instinct to unsustainable bushmeat poaching in support of a starving family, poverty has crippling effects on the lives of humans, animals, and the environment at large.

For people living in the African bush, tending herds is an occupational hazard, while for lions, easy meals can come at deadly costs. To boil it down, both parties living on the fringes are a continued threat to one another. How, then, can the problem be fixed?

Though I’m immensely passionate about lions, part of the answer begins by having compassion toward my fellow human beings. It must start by changing public opinion of the African people, many of whom are still seen unfairly as the callous enemies of wildlife. By continually impugning their character, by pitting human against beast without understanding the root cause of the issue, we are doing nothing more than reinforcing the status quo, meaning lions won’t stand much of a chance.

Like it or not, the lives of people and lions are inextricably linked, as they have been since time immemorial. The survival of latter being dependent on the welfare of the former is more important than ever.

Rather than immediately casting judgment, we must rediscover our empathy. We must ask ourselves what we would do if we were living without the means or resources to protect ourselves? Only then will more people care enough to act in the best interest of people and lions. Only then will another Ludwig Siefert join in the effort. That, in my opinion, is the true definition of a conservationist.

A conservationist is not someone who only loves animals. A conservationist is someone who sees the whole picture, and dedicates herself or himself to finding solutions that are beneficial for all involved. They are the ones who tirelessly work to build rainwater collection systems, or raise funds to open a school where young minds can learn about the value of the wildlife in their own backyards.

I must be careful not to paint with too broad a brushstroke, as I do not want to oversimplify all that human-wildlife conflict entails. There are similar issues such as ivory poaching, unsustainable hunting, corruption, and rhino horn harvesting that require the law’s intervention.

But when I envision communities with safe access to clean drinking water, proper forms of waste disposal, and improved or alternative fishing and farming methods, all with the idea of healthy local economies in mind, I believe lions will have a better chance of survival.

Imagine if the outside world showed as much care and concern for the people of Africa as it does for its wildlife? What if we traded in empty criticisms for helping hands? Once more, that is the essence of what it is to be a conservationist, not to mention what it is to be human.

This effort must coalesce with the celebration of the amazing people—black, white, and otherwise—that call Africa home. From the four kingdoms of Uganda to the Rainbow nation of South Africa, the herders of the Maasai Steppe to the San who can read the intricacies of the bushveld the way no other human can, the future of lions, indeed all wildlife under the brilliant African sun, is under their care.

Lions have as much a right to be on this earth as we do. But it is only when we give the same amount of compassion and care to people that lions will be free to live and die as nature intended.

“If we do not do something to prevent it, Africa’s animals, and the places in which they live, will be lost to our world, and her children, forever. Before it is too late, we need your help to lay the foundation that will preserve this precious legacy long after we are gone.” Nelson Mandela

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