Saturday 23 April 2016

Goats of Es Vedra culled

Es Vedra's goats culled

Mountain Goat (Photo: Public Domain)

The mysterious rocky island of Es Vedra, off the southern coast of Ibiza in the Balearic Islands, has lost its goat population. The goats were rather cruelly culled, or killed being a more accurate description, and animal-lovers that knew about the proposed cull were disgusted to find that the killing of the goats went ahead despite campaigns to stop this.

The goats had been living on the island for the last 25 years, after a male and four females had been introduced there to replace an earlier colony, and estimates put their numbers as being between 40 and 50 animals.  The goats were a great talking point for local people in Ibiza because some people didn't even believe the animals existed and were no more than another of the many myths and strange stories about the islet, but the goats were very real and one of the attractions of cruises around the island of Es Vedra was to see if you could spot any goats there. 

The problem was, though, that the goats had little to eat on the barren and rocky island, which was, indeed, becoming even more barren and rocky due to the animals eating whatever vegetation they could find. This was causing soil erosion because the goats were often ripping the plants out of what little soil there was there.

The local government stepped in because there are endemic and protected flora growing on Es Vedra, as well as some interesting fauna, including Eleanor's Falcon (Falco eleanorae), which breeds on the island, and a subspecies of the Ibizan Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis formenterae). The island's wildlife needed protecting unlike the poor goats that were a threat to the unique habitat Es Vedra provided.

Formentera Wall Lizard ( Photo: Arnau.sellares)

Sadly the government decided that the goats would have to go and that it was too difficult to catch them all and remove them to Ibiza, despite offers from animal-lovers willing to find homes for them.  On the morning of 4 February 2016 at 8am. environmental agents sailed over to Es Vedra and started shooting at the terrified goats. By 2pm it was all over and the bodies of the slaughtered goats were left where they fell.  It had also been decided that the corpses of the animals would be left to decompose naturally, even though this is against the law (Ley 8|2003 de Sanidad Animal).

Caterina Amengual, Director of Natural Areas of Biodiversity for the Balearic Department of the Environment is reported to have said: "It's a question of priorities and the conservation of ecosystems is a priority."

Although it is very sad to know what happened to the goats, and in no way do I condone the way the animals were killed, I can see her point of view. Something had to be done to protect the natural wildlife of Es Vedra and the goats had no such protection. 

Es Vedra at Sunset (Photo: Public Domain)

Es Vedra is an interesting island, not just because of its flora and fauna, but because it is the subject of many myths and legends, including that it has mysterious magnetic powers that mess up navigation and that it is where an underwater base for UFOs exists. There have been reported sightings of UFOs near Es Vedra. It has even been linked with Atlantis, and on the coast opposite it is an area that is known as Atlantis because of its unusual rock formations. In reality it was an old quarry and the rocks got taken away to build the walls of Ibiza Town. 

Trek to film the lizards of Es Vedra

Sunday 10 April 2016

Is the Chupacabra just a Kinkajou?

What is a Chupacabra? 

The chupacabra is a creature that is the subject of an ongoing myth. Its name translates from the Spanish as "goat-sucker," and, indeed, the animal is reported to be carnivorous and to act like a vampire in sucking the blood from its prey.  It is said to be like a small bear with spines on its back and it has claws and fangs. Other descriptions liken it to some sort of reptilian creature. Some stories that have circulated in conspiracy theory, the world of the paranormal and in ufology have suggested the chupacabra is an alien animal, the product of genetic engineering in secret experiments, a hybrid and even a demon or a life-form from another dimension. 
Chupacabra (Public Domain)

The chupacabra was first reported from Puerto Rico in the mid-1990s but soon after other reports started circulating of sightings of this weird creature in other parts of Central and South America. It wasn't long before the chupacabra was seen in North America and even in Tenerife in the Spanish-speaking Canary Islands. The chupacabra was reportedly seen in the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Brazil and Mexico. It is usually seen at night and domestic animals, such as sheep and goats, that it is said to have attacked are drained of blood. This ties in with reports of animal mutilation cases, said to have been done by aliens. Reports circulate in ufology about cattle and other animals that have been killed and had parts of their bodies surgically removed with great precision and the blood being drained.  Of course, there is also the link with the very real vampire bats which do feed on blood. Lots of videos exist on YouTube and elsewhere that are said to prove, or at least question, the reality of the chupacabra. 

The world of science and rationality is not convinced about the truth of any of these reports and  of the animals that have been photographed or captured on film, most have been identified as some type of dog, including coyotes, that is suffering badly from the condition known as mange, which makes the fur fall out.

The Kinkajou

Kinkajou (Public Domain)

The Kinkajou (Potos flavus) is a rainforest mammal related to raccoons and its range is throughout many parts of Central and South America, which just happens to be where the chupacabra is reported. It is also known as a honey bear and normally feeds on fruit and leaves but also eats, insects and the eggs of birds. It is often hunted for its fur, its meat and for the exotic pet trade. Because of its wide distribution it is not yet regarded as an endangered species of animal. 

Kinkajous are often kept as pets in Central and South America, and in Peru they are known as "lirón," an animal that is regarded as a hybrid of a monkey and a bear which is another fanciful belief not based on reality. In El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, which are also in the range where chupacabras are said to live, the kinkajou is often kept as pets and are commonly called micoleón, meaning "lion monkey." This idea that it is a hybrid has fed into the stories of the chupacabra being a hybrid created by genetic engineering. 
Yawning Kinkajou (Photo: Robrrb)

There is currently a video being circulated by La Extra Bandera newspaper doing the rounds on Facebook social networking site showing what is said to be a chupacabra. The poor animal, whatever it is, is desperately trying to bite its way out of the metal cage it is in. It appears to be a kinkajou just like the one in the photo above that is showing its claws and teeth, or maybe the animal in the La Extra Bandera video is some type of small bear that has lost its fur due to disease. I think you will agree that there are far too many coincidences for the true identity of the chupacabra not to be a kinkajou. Mystery solved: the chupacabra is nothing more than a kinkajou! 

Friday 1 April 2016

Kickstarter campaign for Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets at Kew Gardens

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets is a herbal with a difference!

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets is a herbal with a difference because it looks at why ancient herbalists, like Nicholas Culpeper, decided to group various culinary and medicinal herbs under the astrological dominion of the Sun, Moon and the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Of course, the title otherwise would make you wonder what it is about because this is the only planet in this Solar System with vegetation growing on it, as far as we know.
Culpeper: Public Domain

The ancient herbalists assigned plants to planetary rulers according to their characteristics. For example, herbs ruled by Mars the god of war, had something aggressive about them, such as spines or sword-shaped leaves. Herbs ruled by Venus the goddess of love had some connection with sensuality and passion. 
Dragon Tree: Public Domain

The weird dragon tree from the Canary Islands is a herb of Mars. It has lance-shaped leaves and bleeds a red resinous sap called dragon’s blood. The rose is a symbol of romantic love, and not surprisingly is a herb of Venus. Herbs of the Sun could have golden-yellow flowers, like the sunflower, or perhaps they have petals that radiate out from a central disk. The sunflower has this characteristic too. Herbs of the Moon have something rounded about them, such as rounded leaves, or white or silvery colour. The white water lily is a good example of a herb of the Moon. water is also associated with the Moon because the Moon has an effect on the tides.
White Water Lilies : Public Domain

Mercury was the messenger of the gods, so herbs ruled by Mercury have something that really communicates about them. Fennel is an example of a herb of Mercury. It communicates visually with its graceful appearance and feathery leaves, and to our tastes and sense of smell with its flavour like aniseed and aroma like aniseed too.  Herbs of Jupiter have something expansive about them and this is why many trees, such as the lime tree and the oak, are considered as under the dominion of Jupiter. Herbs of Saturn could be poisonous ones, like the hemlock, the monkshood and the henbane. This is because Saturn is associated with death and the “Grim Reaper.”

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets is being published by Moon Books at the end of May, 2016. It has seven sections for each of the seven heavenly bodies, and seven herbs are described in each section. The book follows on from Herbs of the Northern Shaman which was published by the same publisher. It is already listed on Amazon.

An online course about Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets

With the help of my partner Melissa Houghton I am putting together an online course of video presentations featuring the many herbs covered in my book.  The course will give additional information to what is in the book and will include footage of the actual plants which will be useful for identification. We want this educational project to be an artistic one and so it will contain Melissa’s poetry in places too. It will be a collaboration and a work of inspiration, as well as a work of education.

Birth of Venus :Public Domain

In addition to looking at why the ancient herbalists decided that specific herbs were governed by particular planets and their deities, and the associated folklore and superstitions about the plants, I will be looking at the practical uses for the herbs, in herbal medicine and in the kitchen, in the perfume industry, to make cosmetics, or to make clothes dyes even. Herbs are all around us and have so many uses. The painkiller we all know as Aspirin has its origins in the willow tree. Herbs are a part of the natural world and help us connect with it, the more we know about them.  This is why this project is educational in a bigger way than just learning about herbs and how they were once viewed by the herbalists of the past.

Kickstarter Campaign

Melissa and I have started a Kickstarter Campaign to help us raise the money for a trip to London where we can visit Kew Gardens and capture video footage for the course, as well as to consult the fantastic library in this world famous botanical gardens. Kew is a place where we can get up close to the plants I have written about, and where I can research about them in the library. The Herbarium at Kew Gardens has over seven million specimens in its vast collection. The Kew Library, which is part of the Herbarium, has one of the largest collections relating to botany in the world. Where better could a researcher go?

To find out more about our campaign please see Film featuring Herbology with the Bard of Ely at Kew Gardens. Please support the campaign by backing it and sharing it! With your help we can make this work! Backers will receive an artfully rendered film of Kew Gardens with me showing you the plants we found there, and Melissa waxing poetically.

Endorsements for Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets has received some excellent endorsements. Celebrated poet and author Peter Finch had this to say about it: “The spirit here might at first seem to be Sun Ra via Captain Beefheart or Dr William Price channelling Iolo Morganwg but read and you’ll find a work of accessible erudition, a herbalist ground breaker of considerable scope. Steve Andrews, poet, mystic, and author of distinction rides again.”

And Archdruid of Avebury and Keeper of the Stones, Terry Dobney, endorsed it with these words: “As the Keeper of the Stones here at Avebury, the knowledge of the herbs, plants and trees is a daily wonder, and this knowledge is there in this intriguing book, for all to unlock the secrets of their magic and uses. A beneficial "right" arm to those full of questions! Seek the knowledge and you will understand - highly recommended!”