Sunday, 31 January 2010

Not chickens this time but Nepal

This is something of a departure from the chickens however I was working out in Nepal during November 2009 and really wanted to do a quick note on what I was doing out there. I have eventually managed to get around to sorting a few photos so I hope it's of interest.

Nepal is a small country, money poor for the most part but rich in its lovely people, incredible landscape and generous nature.

My work there was two fold:

(1) working to assist the captive management programme saving vultures from extinction and (2) advisory work at the Central Zoo in Kathmandu

The vultures are one of the biggest man made tragedies in modern times however as they are not tigers or elephants they don't get the press or public support they need. Natures binmen they scavenged throughout Asia but due to widespread use of a simple veterinary drug Diclofenac 99% of the world population of three species of vulture have died out.

See for more information.

Young oriental white-backed vultures at the Rescue
As a last ditch attempt to save the vultures from imminent extinction birds have been collected from the wild and being kept in aviaries in order to hold them and breed them so at some stage in the future when all chances of the drug being removed from the environment are realised, birds can be released back into their natural habitat.

Captive breeding centres already exist in India and Pakistan and recently Nepal began its own programme.

My job, along with ZSL Head Vet Andrew Routh was to run a workshop on the captive management and veterinary care of vultures as well as looking at the work being done in Nepal.

It was a hugely inspirational time and the people we worked with ranged from the vulture keepers to field workers to vets to park rangers - all deeply committed to saving vultures and having a real understanding of the plight of the birds.

Adult oriental white-backed vulture in the wild

I was deeply impressed with the work being done and I have to say it was a great pleasure to visit a vulture restaurant "Jataya" where the vultures are fed carcasses safe from drug contamination. The most encouraging signs were that the area where the vulture feeding place is situated is now "drug free" and that vultures are actually nesting around the area where the safe food is placed. The most incredible thing is that vultures are seen as messengers of bad tidings but the entire local community has really taken to getting behind and supporting the recovery of the vultures. The vultures still totter on the edge of extinction, lost forever but if what I saw in Nepal was anything to go by I feel hugely encouraged.

Me on elephant back

The vulture work was carried out at the Chitwan National Park where I also had the pleasure of going out early in the morning on elephant back to try and see Asian one-horned rhino. Once you get a hang of the rolling gait of the elephant you realise what an amazing platform they make for wildlife watching. I am truly happy to say that we did manage to see some of these incredible rhinos.

Asian one-horned rhino in the wild - mum and baby
Secondly was work at the Central Zoo in Kathmandu. It has over a million visitors a year but charges a tiny amount and urgently needs funds. The money is needed for raising the standard of life for the animals held in the zoo, to support the hard working and dedicated staff and ensure through education and interpretation (in all its forms) the Nepali people come to appreciate the incredible creatures that live in their wonderful country.

Discussing work on the rhino enclosure at the zoo - and a chance to get up close
There is no doubt that there are welfare concerns for some of the animals (anybody with a spare £5000 would hugely improve the lives of clouded leopards, leopards, jackals and a black bear so just drop me an email :) however for the most part the staff work hard with what they have. The Zoo has many old features and has many issues to overcome but with the dedicated Zoo Director and most enthusiastic Zoo Vet I only had admiration for the perseverance they have in making the zoo work.

Again another couple of days of workshops and it was great to have an exchange of ideas and how the lives of the animals could be improved. It's important to also remember that all we did was bring forth the ideas from the staff - the ideas were there, they just needed some coaxing. And seriously - if anybody has any funding thoughts PLEASE let me know, the zoo is the most amazing opportunity to get the next generation to understand more about animals, plants, biodiversity and making sure Nepali wildlife and habitats have some chance of survival in the future.
Discussing bird husbandry with the hornbill listening as well
Most people think that Nepal is cold, snowy and tottering on the edge of the Himalaya and Everest. Think again, down in Chitwan where the vulture centre is, it's positively tropical with elephants wandering down the streets, rhinos and tiger in the Chitwan National Park and gharials (tropical fish eating crocodiles for the want of a better description). Even in Kathmandu, where the name conjure images of a snowy mountain-top hidden city, its very warm even in November and snow is as rare as hens teeth!

The second part of my time there was with husband who flew out and we then had an amazing ten days holiday/adventure and that's going to be part II if I ever get around to writing it - maybe a job for hubbie??

Friday, 29 January 2010

Never put all your eggs in one basket (or in your pocket!)

The snow has gone (so I do need to find a new photo for the header pic) though as a well known Cheshire saying goes "it's as cold as a witches tit". However its getting lighter and lighter each morning, very slow in our eyes but interesting that both Harriet and Stella are now laying on a regular basis so the birds are noticing it.

Out in the dark at 05.45 checking and feeding the chickens, Stella had laid below the perch (in truth probably from it) so I popped the egg into my pocket and carried on feeding and giving them clean water. I bent over to pick up some rubbish off the floor of the run and heard a gentle pop followed by a warm sensation on my leg. "Dammit".......... note to self, do NOT bend over with thin shelled egg in pocket as they break!

Joy, as the egg just didn't break in my pocket, bloody messy anyway however in the pocket was;
my iPod
my mobile

All I can do is apologies to those neighbours that heard a stream of expletives far too early in the morning, you may have thought it was a nightmare but it was me!

Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend so join in if you can.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Homes Wanted and Big News

Firstly if you read the last blog a full 24 hours ago you will know that Annie, the owner of Eggnog and the Borg (Shirl and Pearl the silkies) had a sneaking suspicion that Shirl could actually be a Stan. Well all her nightmares came true yesterday as when Eggnog was crowing as he should, well BOTH Shirl and Pearl joined in! Needless to say Bob and Barry as they are now known will need rehoming - they are great chickens - if you are interested in owning a lovely blue silkie cockerel (or two) do get in touch and I will put you in contact with Annie.

Now the Big News. As predicted yesterday, Miss Harriet produced an egg this morning!

As ever it wasn't a simple process but one that took Harriet an hour to decide where to lay. In one of the carrying boxes in the shed or in skylon which had new wood shaving and straw in? Back and forth and back and forth with much clucking to ensure the entire world was aware that she wanted to lay an egg. I was eventually ejected from the run while cleaning it out so Harriet could lay..........and 30 minutes later - result!

Of course, having gone through the entire stress of laying an egg a lady, and a chicken lady at that must instantly rush to bathe, theoretically dust bathe but in this weather?

"wot are you looking at?"
As ever, Harriet delights in finding mud and having a good old shake around, heaven's only knows how she ever managed to get white again but she does and after producing an egg she deserved it - well done Harriet.
"Daddy, I'm not really THAT dirty am I?"

Saturday, 16 January 2010


It's amazing that January is already half way done - most of the time has been spent whipping the huskies into a frenzy to get the sled going to transport me to and fro between work and home. Well watching the news you would think that's how it was. Sure its been snowy but isn't that what winter is about? A few inches of snow and transportation seems to collapse - the trains are bloody useless!

Anyway, I think the girls are glad to see the end of the all the snowy weather. Of course with snow on the ground even when they were given access to have a run about in the garden they were not having any of it and stayed resolutely in the run. Now the lawn is clear they are more than happy to run about on very soggy grass eating all the wild bird seed that has been thrown from the bird table and then revealed by the receding snow.

And no news - nothing really has changed. Ruby is eventually looking slightly better, lots of pin feathers now so not long until she is back to glorious normality. Saying that, in the condition she is now there is no chance of eggs from her for a while. Harriet on the other hand is fairly close to laying and I would be surprised if we didn't get an egg in the next week. She crouches as soon as she gets a hand any where near her, she is looking wonderful and lastly I would say she is eating really well but as her other name is "Pigsy" its hardly surprising, that silkie will eat anything! And Stella - still looking gorgeous and still being an orpington to the core and not laying a ruddy thing. Have to say she really is calming down a lot.

Its really interesting to note that last year we gave the girls lighting every morning so they could start feeding at 6.30am. As this entailed a right rigmarole of swapping lights, recharging batteries, etc this year we didn't bother. The girls seem fine however last year we have eggs virtually all winter and this year obviously not, the last egg being laid in mid November. Might revert to lighting up mornings again next winter to see if it really does keep egg production going.

To finish - a quick update on the chicks that left us in the autumn, and proper chickens they are now and we are so happy to still be in contact with the wonderful folk who now have them.

Sebastian and Doris looking splendid

Firstly Sebastian and Doris the speckled sussex bantams. Ros has sent us some great photos of them, both are looking marvellous especially Sebastian who seems to have grown into a very handsome chap - and looking at the pictures they look as if they are living in rural paradise!

Secondly Eggnog and the Borg (Shirl and Pearl) who went to Annie and Tim, again from south London suburbs to the beautifully green countryside of rustic Dorset. Now the kids were going in with an already established group of chickens and initially they did have a bit of a slight kicking however the Borg are happily settled in and Eggnog really does rule the roost and keeps his girls very happy according to Annie. Slight problem in that Shirl might be Stan so we will await further information.

Eggnog with Shirl and Pearl in the background

Okay, that's it - hopefully next update will include the joyous news of an egg!