Rhinos at risk

I know I’ve discussed the situation regarding rhino horn before, but I recently had an article published in NatSCA News that goes into a bit more detail about the thefts of rhino horn from collections in Europe, the current status of rhino populations in the wild and the huge increase in levels of poaching. I thought it might be useful to share the article a bit more widely by making it available here: The Horns of a Dilemma: The Impact of the Illicit Trade in Rhino Horn.

rhino-dehorned via everything.co.za


Normally NatSCA News articles are published online a year or so after they are published in hard copy, but the article I wrote will be out of date by then and I will have to spend the next year or so getting annoyed by newspaper articles talking about the market for horn as an aphrodisiac (which is nonsense), without being able to easily share the results of my research into the subject.

One element of my research has been a map that shows the places in Europe from which rhino horn has been stolen in the last 18 months or so (I will keep updating it):

The situation for rhinos is bad and it’s getting worse.

Friday mystery object #97 answer

Apologies for the lack of response to questions last Friday, I was travelling and had limited access to the internet.

Excuses aside, I was impressed by the overall accuracy of the answers received about what this skull belonged to:

Everyone spotted that it was a carnivore and most of you identified this as being the skull of a mustelid, but no-one seems to have got this identification spot-on (perhaps my stinking clue was a bit too vague). Suggestions ranged a fair bit and uncertainty was rife, as shown in this word cloud of the comments:

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the clue, Skunks were suggested quite a lot as were Civets and Polecats/Ferrets (which are indistinguishable from each other on the basis of the skull, since Ferrets are just domesticated Polecats).

This suggestion of Polecat is pretty much there, although the specimen is not the standard European Polecat Mustela putorius rather it is an African mustelid known as the  Continue reading

Noisy neighbours

I just thought I’d mention my new noisy neighbours at work – a couple of Ring-necked parakeets have set up a nest in an old Greater-spotted woodpecker hole next to my office:

Parakeet nest hole

The squawking is loud and frequent, but it’s novel having these colourful birds just a few metres away!


One of the new neighbours

Greetings Scientopians and Happy Birthday Charles Darwin

I’m going to be at Scientopia as a guest blogger for the next couple of weeks, so I hope you enjoy my scribblings about my interests and my work as a scientist in a cultural institution – an incongruous but rewarding experience.

The Friday Mystery Object will continue as usual and I will mirror much of the content here. My first post is just a brief introduction and a belated ‘Happy two hundred and second Birthday’ to Charles Darwin for yesterday – check it out here.



Skull of maneating tiger, Horniman Museum NH.74.11.19

Tool use, technology and cooperation have allowed humans to claw their way to the top of the predatory heap. As a species we can and do kill anything and everything. Sometimes we kill for food, sometimes for profit and sometimes for fun. Very occasionally we also kill for self protection.

Humans have been largely off the menu for quite some time – and although people are still killed and eaten by large predators with some regularity (perhaps a hundred or so a year), humans are not the first prey of choice for any species of carnivore – it’s just that some individuals within a species will develop a taste for human. When there are attacks on people it will usually be because there has been a blurring of borders between a human habitat and the habitat of the predator. The most obvious example of this is when humans are occasionally taken by sharks whilst in the sea or by crocodiles in lakes and rivers.

Staying on land, the blurring of borders between predators and people is linked with habitat loss  and the encroachment of human development, agriculture and habitation, with the associated issues of deforestation and re-purposing of land. The development of infrastructure brings humans into wilderness, such as with the Tsavo bridge project in Kenya, where a pair of lions terrorised construction workers for ten months in 1898, eating about 35 and possibly killing around 135.

As habitat is lost, predators are faced with fewer natural prey and they are thrust into close proximity with domesticated animals – with obvious consequences.  Where you have livestock being killed you also have people trying to protect their livelihood and this is where the conflict really heats up, taking its toll on both the people and the predators. There can be no winners. Continue reading

Friday mystery object #17

I can’t believe it’s Friday again – it’s all a bit hectic at the moment, so apologies for the late posting of this week’s mystery object.

 Here’s a rather odd object from the Horniman’s collections – any idea what it might be?


As usual, post your answers below and if you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer them!

Friday mystery object #14 answer

On Friday I gave you a bit of a change from museum specimens and presented you with this:

mystery14bEveryone managed to get the identification to at least within the Order level (it’s in the Orthoptera), which is good going when dealing with insects. The hard bit came down to whether it was a cricket or grasshopper. Now, the photo does not show the most important feature for distinguish between these two types of orthopteran: it’s the antennae length that gives it away (grasshoppers have short antennae, crickets have long antennae). Colour is not really important (sorry KateKatV).

That said, the vivid green colour, speckled appearance, lack of wings and characteristics shape of the ovipositor (curved bit at the back which means this is a female) are a give-away for those who are familiar with this particular beastie (and for those who use Google image to help with their identifications). It is in fact a Continue reading

Friday mystery object #14

Last week I let Harrison pick an object that proved a bit too difficult (although perhaps I could have been more generous with the clues I gave…). This week I am giving you something that is actually alive and commonly found in gardens in the UK – so it should be a doddle to identify:


Simple questions – what species is it (binomial name gets you kudos) and what gender is it?

Answers in the comments section below – but I’m afraid I won’t be able to respond to comments this week. Good luck!

Friday mystery object #13 answer

Crumbs, it appears that last Friday’s object stumped everyone! Harrison certainly chose a difficult one…

mystery13aSmallCasserole came closest, asking:

Is it antler or horn?

but my response:

Antler or horn that thick?

was perhaps too ambiguous – because there is a horn out there that is this thick, that of a Continue reading

Friday mystery object #13

Today’s mystery object has been selected by a very helpful work experience volunteer who was assisting me in the collections yesterday, so my thanks to Harrison! He is rather more cruel than me, so there’s no multiple choice on this – we just want you to see if you can work out what it is. I will attempt to answer any questions (time permitting) since our broadband seems to have been sorted out at home.

So here it is:


Continue reading