Will fate of world’s tigers be eclipsed by venal China’s Olympic celebrations?

ROLL on the Olympic Games! Terrorism, weather, earthquakes and smog permitting, there will be many days of fabulous sport and life-changing experiences ahead for both participants, spectators and organisers of all nations.

There will no doubt be great celebrations and masses of oppor­tunity to sell all things Chinese to vastly larger-than-usual crowds of visitors. But will they be buying Tiger Wine? The Olympic Games will be a great time for burying bad news.

Shetland Tiger Fund (STF) supporters are gearing up for the annual fund raising events to raise money both for tiger conservation projects and also for initiatives which support local people at the sharp end of the problem; farmers, villagers and reserve staff.

Right now the main wild tiger protection organisations are con­cerned that while attention shifts to the Olympic Games, some of the hideous maltreatment of wild animals in Chinese private zoos and tiger “farms” will increase. Worse, it is feared that those desperate to legalise the selling of wild tiger parts might choose this time to pressure the government into lifting the ban on sales of tiger parts.

Thousands of bodies of farmed tigers and other endangered species corpses have been deep frozen over the past few years in order to be ready for a lifting of the ban. Fortunes could be made by selling skins, teeth and claw souvenirs and tiger part medicines to unaware tourists during the Olympic bonanza. The reports on undercover visits to some of these “farms” make very grim reading.

Thankfully the huge tide of traditional use of tiger part medicines is beginning to turn. STF directs its funds via the small, but highly effective Environmental Investigation Agency. EIA staff are encouraged by the growth of wildlife support groups in China.

This year STF will be supporting the establishing of a group of young Shetlanders who are keen to set up their own wildlife action group. Wildernews will report on progress.

Did you manage to see the eclipse? I was hugely grateful to two friends, without whose phone calls I would have forgotten to go out and look. I hurried to find a piece of glass and a candle.

Waving the flame until the glass was black enough, brought back childhood memories of eclipse watching, and the sudden alarm of my toddler sister Rowan who after peering through the glass cried out: “Someone has bited the sun!” Just in time, we enjoyed the image of the partially obscured sun’s disc, reminiscent of a giant happy smile floating above us.

Later Peter Van Mill passed on a great alternative to candled glass. Take a glass bowl and fill it with water. Place black paper or fabric underneath it and carry it outside into the sun. Set it down carefully onto a secure surface and wait for the ripples to subside.

Now move around the bowl until you can see the sun’s reflection on the surface of the water. You will be able to enjoy clear views of the eclipse without any risk of damage to the eyes, or of breaking a piece of glass or of burning your fingers while smoking it. Thanks Pete, I will definitely try that one next time.

Whether you believe in global warming or not, there can be no disputing the fact that Shetland’s beaches were almost tropical last week. But two beaches in particular received tropical sea gifts from the West Indies via the Shetland branch of the Gulf Stream.

John Wishart found a magnificent sea bean. It was a fine specimen of the giant tropical vine Entada gigas. It was a rich, glossy brown and was over two inches across. That was triumph enough, but then he found a second one, not far away from the first!

I was delighted to get an email from Marc Beswick, who came across a whole coconut stranded on the sand at Sandvoe in North Roe. It was complete with its husk, the dense, coarse layer of fibrous insulation and waterproof outer skin which grows around the nut.

A surprising number of coconuts manage to survive the long months of sea travel to Shetland. Maybe the occasional coconut invasion will be particularly useful, if Shetland’s climate changes sufficiently to allow them to sprout.

More reports of drift seeds have come in since, from folk who found things in the past. I would be grateful for any details of such findings, to pass on to an ac­quaint­ance who has made a lifetime’s study of British drift seeds. If you can recall what kind of seed it was, where you found it and if possible when, do please let me know.

It wasn’t just the beaches that enjoyed the sun. Voe show basked in such heat that one of the pet rabbits nearly conked out in the heat. On-the-ball show staff revived it and a small handful of fresh grass and clover seemed to help. At least the rabbit was under a tent roof though, unlike the cattle and sheep. The latter especially were panting in their pens. Tiny pets like hamsters fared better, as they were under cover and had water as well as food available all day.

Maybe it was the heat that enabled the recent discovered scorpion to manage to get into the “north boat”, featured in a recent issue of this paper. The thought of it sent a shiver up my spine, as I recalled a close encounter I had with one of these creatures many years ago while I was a volunteer at a kibbutz in northern Galilee.

It was about 4am and time to get up, as the heat at that time of year meant that the first work shift started before breakfast. I went sleepily out of the small room in the wooden hut, shared with another volunteer and washed my face under the tap on the balcony. My towel was kept nearby, hung over the balcony rail. I usually kept my eyes shut after the cold splash, but this time, for some reason I opened them as I grabbed the towel and brought it up towards me. For one horrified split second I froze.

A large black scorpion was clinging to the very piece of towel which I was about to rub over my face. It must have crawled up the rail overnight and decided to stay for a while in the comfort of the folds. The shrieks I emitted as I flung towel and scorpion away brought the rest of the volunteers out of their beds far more effectively than their alarm clocks. One narrow escape!


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