Posts Tagged Orange-bellied Parrot

Well Blow Me Down

In a world of climate change we are all (well, maybe not the coal and oil companies) looking for alternative ways to generate energy that do not produce greenhouse gases. It seems ironic that the nuclear industry has seen this as a potential opportunity to appear green and a viable alternative to coal power. Apart from the fact that plutonium is still deadly for 250,000 years and countries like Germany appear to be winding their nuclear programs down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, nuclear is no more sustainable than coal or oil. Uranium will run out just like all the fossil fuels, so why go down a potentially lethal path for the sake of a few years of power? Forget the nuclear nonsense and head straight to the technologies that will keep my computer alive and active long after I’ve nourished a few thousand worms.

Which brings me to wind farms and turbines. As usual, a lot of nonsense is being spouted by both sides. One memorable newspaper article described opposition to turbines because they would negatively affect the migrating orange-bellied parrot, with a lovely full colour photo of the parrot accompanying the article (http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2006/04/05/1143916574751.html). Interestingly these turbines were destined for a site east of Melbourne, in an area not visited by OBPs, who prefer the saltmarshes west of Melbourne for their overwintering grounds.

Nevertheless turbines do kill birds and bats, 100,000 to 440,000 birds each year according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (http://www.nature.com/news/the-trouble-with-turbines-an-ill-wind-1.10849), generally through direct collisions. This is, however, considerably fewer than are killed by cars (60-80 million), building strikes (100,000 to 1 billion), power lines (up to 175 million) and our old friend, the pussy cat (365 million to 1 billion). Very rubbery figures to be sure, but significant nonetheless.

Bats, however, die in a more interesting way. The movement of the propellers generates a significant area of low pressure behind the turbine (five to 10 kilopascals less than the surrounding air). As nature abhors inequality, when the unsuspecting bat flies into this low pressure region the relatively higher pressure inside its body attempts to equalise with the lower pressure outside its body. It does this by expanding outwards, which leads to ruptured blood vessels and lungs filled with blood (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=wind-turbines-kill-bats). I can certainly attest to this, having necropsied affected bats. There are no external signs of damage but their chests are certainly full of blood, caused by this barotrauma.

What to do? Do we sacrifice some birds and bats on the altar of climate change, because none of us want to return to pre-electricity days but we also don’t want our planet to heat up? You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and all that. Rather than scrap a potentially important source of sustainable power one suggestion is to be smarter about placing wind turbines away from bird and bat flight paths in the first place. While this is sensible in principle we don’t know enough about their pathways to make this work reliably.

What shows more promise is redesigning the turbines themselves. On a recent ski trip to Copper Mountain in Colorado I saw some wind turbines on the very top of the mountain. But these turbines were different to the traditional horizontal axis turbines we are all familiar with. They were vertical axis turbines. Instead of having a big propeller spinning on a pole, they had vertically orientated blades which spun around the central pole. I had never seen this design before, but it could be the answer. According to a report these vertical turbines are less dangerous than the horizontal ones because they don’t use propeller-like blades to capture the wind, but rotating open-framed cylinders (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44627832/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/upright-turbines-breathe-new-life-wind-farms/). The downside is that they don’t generate as much electricity as the traditional turbines. However, according to the article, “putting windmills upright and spacing them more tightly together can generate more electricity on less land, and kill fewer birds or bats than traditional horizontal rotating wind turbines.” These vertical turbines are also only 30 feet high, which is below the migratory level for birds and bats.

It is amazing how resourceful we can be when we have to. It’s just a shame that resourcefulness only materializes when we are faced with a catastrophe. But that is how we operate, I guess. Why waste time on things that might happen, like Y2K, when there are so many things that are happening to worry about? It does make preventative medicine particularly hard to sell, however.

Dr. F. Bunny

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What’s Up Now, Skip?

Who’s that you’ve got with you, Skip?

An OBP. What’s that, an Ordinary Bloody Parrot?

Sorry, an orange bellied parrot. Handsome fellow. Why is he looking so glum?

Because there are only 36 of his friends left in the wild (http://www.theage.com.au/environment/conservation/no-flight-of-fancy-this-rare-bird-needs-to-be-caught-to-survive-20120901-257ji.html).

But there has been a captive breeding program going for nearly 20 years. Hasn’t this program been breeding birds to release back into the wild?

I see. The captive parrots have poor fertility, possibly because the founders are descended from only six birds. Why weren’t birds brought in from the wild to increase their genetic diversity?

Oh, permission to do exactly that was sought several times but wasn’t given until now. A bit like shutting the gate after the parrot has bolted, eh Skip?

But I thought they were doing okay in the wild? Weren’t there at least 150 birds as late as 2006? So what’s caused the population crash?

No one knows? But I read that there are plans to release birds into the wild this summer (which has been happening most summers for over ten years now). If we don’t know why numbers have declined so dramatically, and prior releases have failed to increase population numbers, and a lot of the captive birds are inbred then that doesn’t seem like such a great idea does it? Why are you looking at me like that?

Hold on. Who is that over there? It looks like an eastern barred bandicoot. Some of them have been released onto French Island. Unfortunately that is turning into a bit of a debacle too. While French Island is meant to be fox free it certainly isn’t feral cat free. There’s even a picture of a cat with a bandicoot in its mouth (http://bird.net.au/bird/index.php?title=Eastern_Barred_Bandicoot). Despite that bandicoots have still been released onto French Island and (surprise, surprise) they are being predated by the cats that live there (http://bird.net.au/bird/index.php?title=French_Island_Eastern_Barred_Bandicoot_Trial_Release). The New Zealanders did not start returning birds to their offshore islands until every last cat and rat had been eradicated from them. You would think the Australians would have learnt something from that. You are still looking at me strangely, Skip.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

 

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Save Me

I sometimes think there are good reasons why certain species are endangered. I am sure there are plenty of species who were minding their own business and doing pretty well for themselves until we entered the picture and wiped them out. The passenger pigeon springs to mind. However, there are others that look destined to become extinct whether we help them along or not. Nature seems to be telling them (and us) that their time is up. They had their moment of fame and now it’s time to step aside. The cheetah seems to be one of these. No matter what you do to help them they just seem destined to go extinct. Cheetahs are so inbred that they will accept skin grafts from unrelated individuals. Vaccines given to domestic cats to protect them from cat flu actually cause the disease in cheetahs. Normally mild infections, like ringworm, run rampant in cheetahs. Even the animal kingdom seems to be against them with lions doing everything they can to wipe them out by stealing their food and killing their cubs.

Given the limited resources that are available for endangered species programs and the fact that we cannot save them all, it would be logical to expect that those species that have recovery programs got there through a rigorous process of scientific examination exploring the pros and cons of attempting to save them as opposed to leaving them to die out. The chief criterion for commitment should surely hinge upon the program’s chance of success. Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Species get recovery programs for three reasons: 1) someone powerful and influential in a zoo or related institution takes a liking to them and wants to make an effort to save them, 2) someone affluent takes a liking to them and is prepared to throw a heap of cash at a recovery effort, 3) they are cute. The final reason must surely explain all the money being spent on cheetahs and giant pandas. This also helps to explain why many of the species with recovery programs do so poorly, such as the orange-bellied parrot which is worse off now than when its program started over 15 years ago.

Dr. F. Bunny

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