August 24, 2009
|The Wildlife Conservation Network is holding its annual Wildlife Conservation Expo on Saturday, October 13, 2012 from 10am to 6pm at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco, CA. The lineup includes 20 prominent conservationists.|
An interview with John Hare of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation
Of the world's two camel species, the Dromedary camel, characterized by a single hump, became extinct in the wild 2,000 years ago. The second species, the two-humped Bactrian camel, was on a similar trajectory until very recently, but still less than 1,000 of the world's 1.4 million Bactrians are wild.
The abundance of domesticated Bactrian camels relative to wild camels doesn’t address the question of whether it matters if another species of camels goes extinct. John Hare, founder and director of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, argues that it does. Hare says the world will be a poorer place if wild Bactrian camels are allowed to follow their cousins into the sunset. He notes that wild and domesticated Bactrian camels are thought to have diverged some 700,000 years ago and have a 3.5 base genetic difference, more than twice the separation between humans and chimpanzees, suggesting that they may even be independent species.
Wild Bactrian camel. Photo by John Hare.
Hare, working with local partners and the Chinese government, is fighting to ensure these camels will outlast this final threat by establishing one of the world's largest nature reserves and encouraging local populations to embrace wild camels as a source of pride, rather than a source of protein.
Hare says these efforts could yield benefits beyond saving the rarest camel.
Hare notes that differences between wild and domesticated Bactrian camels are unsurprising given they are thought to have diverged some 700,000 years ago.
In an August interview with mongabay.com, Hare discussed his efforts to protect the planet's last remaining wild camels.
Note: If you are interested in meeting the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, John Hare will be presenting at the Wildlife Conservation Network's Expo in San Francisco on Saturday, October 3th.
Mongabay: What is your background and how did you get interested in working with the Bactrian camels?
John Hare: I worked for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi on conservation issues and prior to that had worked in Africa. The work in Africa included working with Dromedrary camels. While at UNEP I had a chance meeting with a Russian professor which led to my inclusion on the joint Russian-Mongolian Expedition to the Gobi Desert. I was the wild camel man on that expedition. I was so interested in the Gobi and the wild camel that I left UNEP and set up the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, a UK registered charity. We helped the Chinese establish one of the biggest nature reserves in the world in China's former nuclear test area (155,000 square kilometers) where the wild Bactrian camel survives. It is the eighth most endangered large mammal on the planet and is critically endangered. In China it survives on salt water with a higher salt content than sea water. It also survived over 43 atmospheric nuclear tests, over half of which were more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. DNA tests confirm that the wild Bactrian separated from the domestic Bactrian camel 200,000 years ago. It has a genetic base difference with the domestic Bactrian of 3 percent. We have a 5 percent difference with a chimpanzee.
Mongabay: What is the biggest threat to camels?
Mongabay: Why is wolf predation a threat to the species? Have wolf populations changed or is the population so low that natural predators now put it at risk?
John Hare: The reason for the increase in the wolf population is because the Chinese government has banned herdsmen from carrying guns to protect their flocks. There has been a notable increase and while on an expedition with domestic camels in the area (I always travel with camels and not vehicles), our domestic camels in 2006 were attacked at night by three wolves.
Mongabay: Is there a threat of inter-breeding with domestic camels?
John Hare: In some areas to the south of the Reserve, but as domestic camels are rapidly decreasing, the threat gets less every year. Not that I like to see the drop in domestic Bactrian camel numbers in any way, but 'progress' is forcing them out.
Mongabay: Is the Chinese government supportive of your efforts?
John Hare: The Chinese government is very supportive of our efforts and the reserve has recently been upgraded to a National Reserve with the same status as the Panda Reserve.
Mongabay: Could conservation of wild Bactrian camels benefit domestic camels? Are there other benefits to Bactrian camel conservation?
John Hare: The greatest contribution as a result of conserving the wild Bactrian camel comes in the form of answers to the following: How did they survive 43 atmospheric nuclear tests? Is there any linkage between salt water and an ability to withstand radiation? The answers to these two questions could be highly beneficial to mankind.
Mongabay: Wild Bactrian camels can apparently drink salt water, while domestic Bactrian camels will not. Are scientists looking into this behavior/adaption?
Camel expedition members in the field.
Mongabay: Do you conservation efforts involve working with local communities?
John Hare: We have initiated a massive awareness-raising program in schools and villages surrounding the reserve. A booklet about the wild camel which I wrote is used in Chinese schools and has been translated into Mongolian, Chinese and Kazakh. It is called 'The King of the Gobi' and we are in urgent need of funds to reprint the booklet.
Mongabay: What are the biggest challenges of working in the field?
John Hare: The huge distances - the reserve is nearly as big as Texas - and the extremely hostile climate which varies from -40 Celsius (-40°F) in winter to 56 Celsius (133°F) in summer.
Mongabay: Is there any potential for tourism to support Bactrian camel?
John Hare: Tourism potential is limited - to the east of the reserve is a military area - and the Chinese are wary of tourists in this area. No-one can enter the reserve without special permission.
Mongabay: How can people in places like the U.S. help your efforts?
John Hare: By joining the Wild camel Protection Foundation and thereby gaining information and updates on a regular basis. By donating much-needed funds to help with our research and awareness-raising.
Mongabay: Do you have any tips for aspiring field conservationists?
John Hare: Don't take 'no' for an answer, but quietly battle on. Be patient when dealing with government officials. Be resolute when conditions are extremely hostile! Above all BE PATIENT.
Wild Camel Protection Foundation
If you are interested in meeting the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, John Hare will be presenting at the Wildlife Conservation Network's Expo in San Francisco on Saturday, October 3th
Cadbury dumps palm oil after consumer protests
(08/17/2009) Cadbury New Zealand, responding to widespread consumer protests, will stop adding palm oil to its milk chocolate products, reports the New Zealand Herald. The candy-maker substituted palm oil and other vegetable fat for cocoa butter earlier this year. The company cited cost savings for the decision, but the move triggered outcry from environmental groups who blame palm oil production for destruction of rainforests across Indonesia and Malaysia, key habitat for orangutans and other endangered species. Concerns that Cadbury chocolate could be imperiling orangutans led the Auckland Zoo and others to ban Cadbury products. Meanwhile consumers swamped the company with letters and petitions protesting its use of palm oil.
Issues around palm oil development prove complex, controversial
(08/12/2009) A new report from published by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) highlights the benefits — and controversies — of large-scale expansion of oil palm agriculture in Southeast Asia. The review, titled "The impacts and opportunities of oil palm in Southeast Asia: What do we know and what do we need to know?", notes that while oil palm is a highly productive and profitable crop, there are serious concerns about its environmental and social impact when established on disputed land or in place of tropical forests and peatlands.
LUSH cosmetics launches campaign against palm oil
(08/10/2009) LUSH Cosmetics, a leading cosmetics-maker, will no longer use palm oil due to environmental concerns over its production. LUSH, which is now selling a palm oil-free soap, has launched a two-pronged campaign to make consumers aware of the impacts of palm cultivation on tropical forests and encourage other consumer-products companies, including Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Nestle, to reformulate their products using alternatives to palm oil.