Orangutan “who do you think you are” sheds light on conservation prospects

The orangutan is an animal very close to my heart. I was lucky enough to work with some of these beautiful and engaging animals during a trip to Borneo a few years ago. There are only two species of orangutan left on the entire planet, both of which are endangered! One species is found on the island of Borneo and the other species on the island of Sumatra. The orangutan is an arboreal animal that lives in dense tropical rainforest. The recent destruction of its habitat for timber extraction and oil palm plantations has resulted in a considerable global effort to conserve the species, before it is too late. However, modern conservation projects are not just a simple case of instigating a rehabilitation, relocation or reproduction programme.

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How did the Zebra get its stripes?

For centuries we have asked questions of evolution. Questions such as why does a Leopard have spots, how did a Camel get it’s hump or perhaps most famous of all: why is a Giraffe’s neck so long? A lot of the time people create “just-so” stories to answer these questions. For example, “it was favourable in terms of evolution by natural selection to be a Giraffe with a longer neck to reach higher branches”. When this theory was tested they found that Giraffes actually spend most their time foraging in low branches. Scientists now believe the long necks are used by males to fight each other for access to females to mate with. (The fact they can also reach higher into fruit bearing trees is an added bonus!) This is called necking. There are plenty of videos on YouTube if you are interested! Most just so stories have now been tested and more scientifically minded and testable hypotheses have been given to describe them. However there is one story that has been puzzling scientists until now: why does a Zebra have its stripes?

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Mosquitos – To kill or not to kill, that is the question.

The climate we live in today is one of change. There is a huge debate as to if that change is for the better or worse, but the fact remains the climate is changing. This is not a new phenomenon. The climate has radically changed since the beginning of life some 3.6-3.8 billion years ago. However, no single species has ever been directly responsible for changing the climate – until Homo sapiens rocked up. We are changing the climate so quickly evolution can’t keep up. This means many species are struggling to survive, leading to a significant number of species extinctions. We are very quick to jump to the needs of endangered species, particularly those that are beneficial to us. But what about the species we don’t like? What about mosquitos? How many times have you been on holiday and got a nasty bite, or been forced to religiously take anti-malaria tablets? Mosquitos are irritating disease spreaders, so why don’t we just get rid of them?

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