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Understanding animals with Expert Africa

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Understanding animals in Africa:

analysing 999 lions’ roars, researching vulture culture,

fashion royalties for big cat conservation and more…


VULTURE CULTURE IN BOTSWANA

Soaring and circling on thermals, vultures are always a useful indicator of a recent kill, but they also play a critical role in cleaning up the bush and maintaining balance in the ecosystem. Devouring the last scraps of a kill at speed, these avian scavengers are highly effective at preventing the spread of bacteria and serious diseases, including rabies, anthrax and cholera, thanks to their thorough carcass-cleaning and powerfully destructive gastric juices.

Vulture numbers are plummeting globally, however, and there is concern that in Africa their numbers are dropping to unsustainable levels. In Botswana, which has some of Africa’s largest contiguous wildlife conservation areas, all five vulture species are officially listed as either Critically Endangered or Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The threat of extinction has dire implications for the ecosystems they help manage.

Help is at hand from the team at Raptors Botswana, who are working to research and protect these remarkable birds. Last month, in partnership with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and Wilderness Safaris, they fitted satellite tracking devices to six vultures of three species to better understand their use of space. With ever-decreasing ranges from which to forage, fully understanding their movements may prove critical to their survival.

This wonderful video captures the tagged bird’s release.


HOW THE FASHION INDUSTRY COULD CHANGE ITS SPOTS

 Artificial leopard print has long been part of the fashionista’s wardrobe: you can find it adorning shoes, bags, coats, gloves and accessories on almost every high street. But could our love of the exotic pattern also help conserve these beautifully attired cats?

Yes, say scientists. In a recently published paper in the Journal for Nature Conservation, Dr Caroline Good and her team from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit explore the potential of a ‘species royalty’ which would benefit leopard conservation initiatives by exploiting the appeal of their much admired fur coats.

The team’s analysis showed a staggering interest in leopard print fashion: 2.9 million Instagram posts tagged with #leopardprint and 80,000 English language news articles in the last 15 years alone. It is an enduring trend that has sadly not translated into similar concern for the conservation crisis facing leopards: only 2% of news stories mentioning leopard print were linked to the animal’s vulnerable conservation status.

While this disconnect presents challenges, the researchers see a real opportunity here. In a revolutionary fundraising idea, they propose a species royalty in which a payment is made by fashion brands to spotted cat conservation organisations in exchange for the use of the leopard’s coat patterns.  Even the smallest royalty payment on each item would transform funding for spotted cat conservation.

With leopards having disappeared from more than 75% of their historic range already, they need all the help and inventive ideas they can get. As customers, we can demand responsibility from our chosen fashion brands, perhaps by suggesting they consider this scheme.

Meanwhile, we can visit areas where leopards are carefully monitored and protected. The income from tourism in most leopard areas offered by Expert Africa is invaluable to their conservation: check out our top spots for seeing these beautiful cats in the wild.

For further information, or to talk to a safari specialist, call Expert Africa on 020 3405 6666 or visit www.expertafrica.com.

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When I first started out travel writing, twenty years ago, I was writing a weekly round-up for The Independent. The first PR agency I ever tapped into for their clients' holiday ideas was Travel PR; they were always full of great suggestions for the column and responded quickly. Over the years, I've worked with them on many occasions and their close association with AITO has always paid dividends. Nothing has changed; some of the best story ideas I get herald from them, and their response time remains very speedy. They are a pleasure to work with.

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