Am I Getting Closer to Mastering Life?

I have been back in the UK for nearly two months now. Leaving Thailand was tough, English rain every day, no elephants and less independence were things I slowly learnt to deal with when I became a graduate living with her parents again!

I’m keeping busy with a waitressing/housekeeping job in a local seaside village, trying to earn as much money as possible because in September I will be starting my masters degree.

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The view from work

It’s something I definitely was not keen on doing when I got towards the end of my undergraduate degree. While my friends were applying for masters last year, I sat back and relaxed in the knowledge that I didn’t want to do one so didn’t have to stress about any of the things they were worried about whilst filling out their applications.

Turns out, I actually just wanted to make it a whole lot harder for myself. I made the decision to apply while I was in Thailand, and started looking at courses around Christmas time. I applied to the University of Exeter in mid February. After many emails back and forth to my mum, I eventually had to get her to upload copies of my transcript and other documents because the internet was so poor in Huay Pakoot! I got my offer the day before my birthday- what a great birthday present.

So in September I will be moving down to Falmouth for the year to study for a masters in Conservation and Biodiversity, with a trip to Kenya thrown in somewhere in the middle!

Having the time away from education has made me now become so excited to go back. I miss the student lifestyle (I know it can’t last forever but if I can stretch it out then why not) and the freedom of living away from home (but I do love my parents to bits and will miss them billions).

In the mean time I get to enjoy my time at home, with a dog on my lap every time I sit down and horses relaxing just outside my window. As an exchange for Thailand it couldn’t really be much better.

 

Fish, Fish and More Fish

As the biodiversity intern at GVI Chiang Mai, I have a biodiversity related project. I still see the elephants practically every day, but I also have to do something else. And that something else is go fishing. Every Tuesday I grab my net (homemade by my homestay), pull on my wellies and head down to the river with my pack of volunteer-ducklings following behind.
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I thoroughly enjoy fishing. Pulling the net out of the water and seeing a little silvery fish flopping around at the bottom, knowing you caught this master-of-water with your own hands, it doesn’t get much more rewarding than that!
As with all things in life, I can’t just fish for joy (despite it being one of my favourite things to do here). My aim was to start up a project which, over time, will document all the fish species found in the area, and where they’re more or less prevalent. It is something for me to pass on to the next biodiversity intern, to pick up as their own project and to integrate into normal weekly hikes. Fishing was not a regular thing when I first arrived here, despite staff saying how fun it was, and it has been incredible to see people getting into that routine of knowing you can go fishing on a Tuesday if you want to.

So what do I actually do when I go fishing? I created a data record sheet and key, so t

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Blacktail Shiner

hat when we catch a fish we can record it. Eventually I would love to see the combination of water testing hikes and fishing hikes, to understand how water quality affects fish in the area. Each time we catch a fish we record its length, width, colour and other characteristics, along with where it was found, water depth and water speed. As this project is only just starting out, I’m only using this data to identify the fish. Currently I have identified two species, the Giant Danio (or Giant Daniel as we like to call it) and the blacktail shiner.
 

Whilst fishing is a joy, it is simultaneously so frustrating! Especially when you

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Giant Danio

have a time limit and work to get done based around it. Catching fish during the day is nigh on impossible. Don’t ask me where the fish go, because I have been out at night and I see the water teaming with fish, but during the day they are gone. Gone. You can turn over rocks and stick your net through twisting roots and other hard to reach places but the fish are just not there. I have been night fishing before, but it was before I started collecting data. I keep pushing for night fishing hikes but as of yet one hasn’t happened.

But all is not lost! This isn’t a project with a time limit, it’s just that I have a time limit on being here. The next biodiversity intern can (and hopefully will), pick up where I left off, and get a whole load of data throughout hot season, and then the next person can get data through rainy season and so 16129318_10158145527620565_576916547_o.jpgon. The data collection never ends!
I feel very proud to have set this up myself, almost like a legacy that can continue on here in Huay Pakoot. Eventually it would
be great to have a species list brimming with fish, and then to go to the villagers and find out what they call each one in Pakinyaw. Probably just “shiny fish,” “tastey fish” and “slimy fish,” the language is very literal and blunt.
I still have one month left here, and who knows what may happen in a month. I
still have my eye on that freshwater river monster.

A Brief Visit to Vietnam

My visa ran out on the 15th of December, and in order to get a new one I had to go to a different country and reapply for another 3 month visa. With the other interns either having to leave the country earlier than me, or only wanting to do a quick border trip I decided to go to Vietnam with Jess, an intern who was finishing her time here in Thailand at the same time I needed to leave.

We left Huay Pakoot on Friday 9th December, in time for my flight which was on the Sunday. The weekend was a fairly sombre  and 15403655_10154276401294141_5753212476975007300_oemotional one, as the girl who I had become closest (Laura) was leaving, along with other volunteers and interns who had been here for a considerable length of time.

I arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam at 8:30pm on the 11th after a very long day of travelling. Jess met me in baggage claim and we got the fanciest taxi to the AirBnB we were staying in. It had a bath (couldn’t pass up the opportunity so I was in there the next day).

The next day I got up early to go to the Thai embassy. My walk there gave me my first impression of Hanoi- busy. Crossing the road is almost impossible, you just have to be brave. There are also parts of pavement you’re not allowed to walk on, which I quickly found out when an armed soldier asked me to go to the other side. I didn’t go up that road again! Once I found my way to the embassy I filled in the paperwork and handed in my passport and there began one of the most nerve wrecking 36 hours of my life (even though I know I’m not a criminal). 15443099_10154284118794141_304103715437285864_o

Hanoi is a lovely city, full of hidden gems, one of which is the lake. I had coffee in a cafe on the lake front, and had lunch in a floating restaurant. That evening we ate in an Irish pub (fish and chips!) and played pool, and despite it being a first for me, me and my partner won!

The next day I waited anxiously until 3pm, when I went to pick up my passport, complete with a brand new Thai visa, yay!

That evening Jess and I found an amazing vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant, where I had tofu and vegetable stew and she had porridge with potato. It was so good we went back with our other two friends later in the week.

On Wednesday we got a taxi to the bus station and caught a bus (and a ferry) for a 4 to 5 hour drive to Cat Ba island where we spent the next couple of days. We spent the whole of Thursday in kayaks, exploring the multitude of mountainous islands surrounding the island. It was on this day that I saw my first wild m15571159_10154301842014141_288658566_n.jpgonkey! After kayaking through a cave we came across the park rangers who were observing 5 black langur monkeys just sitting on the mountain rock face.

Kayaking was fantastic, I love being in a boat and the scenery was just incredible. I took a lot of video on my GoPro so eventually I will make some sort of film from it.

We ate lunch at a beach resort. It was full of fish, shrimp and amazing spring rolls. I played beach volleyball with Jess after we ate but managed to stand on a shell and puncture the bottom of my foot. It bled but wasn’t too painful and had basically healed by the next morning.

It was a good thing too because the next day I climbed a mountain! I went to the national park, saw Hospital Cave, where the whole island lived during the war, and followed one of the trails up to a viewing platform and then to the very top of the mountain. In most places there were steps carved into the side of the mountain but every so often you just had to scramble up the cliff face. It proved worth it for the views though. This particular graffiti artist obviously thought the same.
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We spent our last day back in Hanoi, exploring the old city and citadel. It was a beautiful place, but full of subtle reminders of the Vietnam War, including tanks and planes from both the American’s and Vietnamese lining one road. I especially loved the North Gate, which showed craters from French cannonballs from a war in the 1800s.

Seeing Vietnam was a real treat slotted into the middle of my trip here to Thailand. I would highly recommend it- very easy for British citizens to enter, but if you’re American be prepared to fork out $200 for your visa! A beautiful country, with so many things to offer.

GVI Sleepout!

Sorry I’ve been so rubbish at posting blogs, I can barely keep my daily diary entries up to date!! I wanted to post this at least a week ago but living in the mountains comes with it’s struggles of no internet! Here’s a little something of what I got up to in November.

On the 20th to the 22nd November the volunteers, interns and staff here at GVI Chiang Mai challenged themselves to a sleep out in the forests surrounding Huay Pakoot in Northern Thailand.

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The scale my team created to keep track of donations.

We did this to raise money for some of the elephants we have here in the village: Sah Jah, Lulu and Khum Suk are all funded through the GVI Trust, money donated by people like you. We need to raise £5000 per year to enable the elephants to remain here in the village and this was a challenge we set ourselves to help raise that! Please donate here! We were split into 3 teams (Sah Jah, Lulu (my team) and Khum Suk) and would be building shelters, fires, cooking and doing challenges in our teams.

On the 20th we all gathered at base to organise our packs and distribute the equipment we had been given between us. I carried a length of rope, a tarpaulin and a box of 30 packets of noodles on the hike to the area that would become our home for 3 days and 2 nights. Once we got there our teams were allowed to choose the area they wanted to fb_img_1481384279874et up their shelter in order of the winners to losers of a quiz we had had earlier that week. My team got second choice and had a large area of forest with a slanted fallen tree that we thought would be perfect to help keep our tarpaulins up.
It didn’t take us too long to raise a shelter (with the help of a mahout), with 2 tarpaulins over our heads and another on the floor. We spent some time collecting firewood, building a fire pit and creating some chopsticks and bowls out of bamboo as we had neither provided.
Then we had our first challenge: to make up a “jungle song” and make some instruments and perform it to everyone. We produced our own rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”:
“Forest sleep out we love you
 Raising money for Lulu
 In the mountains of Huay Pakoot
 We need help from the mahouts
 Forest sleep out we love you
 Raising money for Lulu”
After just about managing to scrape together a meal of noodles, which we ate pretty sloppily out of our bamboo bowls, we went night fishing! I caught 5 fish, most of them pretty small, but some other people caught some decent sized fish which were fried and eaten. We headed off to bed, completely oblivious to the horror that was in store for us that night.
Usually what comes springing to mind when you think of the weather in Thailand is something nice and hot. Not at night in the middle of the forest, oh no. I have no idea what the actual temperature was, but due to the cold I manage to only grab one hour of sleep, and spent the rest of the night trying desperately to find firewood and bribe our fire to stay aflame the whole night. Other teams were having similar problems, including the staff, so we ended up with a few visitors during the night, each trying to stay warm or just spread some camaraderie. Seeing the sun peak through the trees was a blessing.
The next day half the group had to leave due to feeling unwell or exhaustion. The 10 volunteers that remained decided to group their efforts to create one large sleeping area (out of team Lulu’s original shelter) and a communal fire pit. We were treated to chocolate bars to keep out spirits up. Working together as one team was so much more effectual that 3 separate teams and later that day we had a raised sleeping areas and large communal fire pit with a raised seating area.15109439_10154767368377206_852831559108855231_n.jpg
That evening the mahouts treated us to a curry, chicken and hotdogs and raised our spirits even more before we faced another cold night.
We all slept better, with 10 people in one area rather than 4 or 5, but I still only managed around 4 hours sleep. Morning came to grant sweet relief from the uncomfortable night. We dismantled all of our shelters, picked up all our belongings and started the trudge back up the steep path we had decended 3 days ago (fortunately to a truck waiting at the top to take us home).
Have a look at the video to see what we got up to, see if you can spot the elephant cameo, and donate if you can!

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Life in a Karen Village

I always wondered, how different can it really be? We’re all human after all, with the same wants and needs.

Adjusting to life in Huay Pakoot hasn’t been nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I expected a couple of “what have I done?!” moments but I haven’t had one yet (other than my stressful/exhausted airport experience) and other than Cadbury’s chocolate and normal crisp flavours (spicy lobster.. what!?) there aren’t many home comforts that I would say I truly miss. Other than my family, friends and pets of course.

The Village
Huay Pakoot is a small mountain village with a school, several shops, a coffee shop and a temple for the monks. The villagers consist of large families and everyone appears to know everyone else. 20160924_065129Other than the one leading to the village, there are no roads. The ground where you walk and drive is generally muddy, stony pathways interspersed with areas of cement. The preferred mode of transport is a motorbike, although many houses do have cars and trucks for transporting goods. There are no street lights, pavements or road signs. The paths are all pretty steep; it is built on the side of a mountain after all. Many houses are on stilts (it rains a lot) and most are made of wood, but a couple have bricks and a few huts are made of bamboo.

The Food20161013_175059
Rice is prominent throughout breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is either fried rice or boiled/fried egg with bread. Lunch is almost always a tin of rice with a dish such as miscellaneous vegetables with scrambled egg, sometimes with a bit of meat mixed in, or pumpkin. Cabbage and rice noodles are also frequently served. You can buy chicken noodle soup or fried chicken from Weapon’s shop but on a lucky day I have been given it for lunch. Dinner is more varied, on the odd occasion I have been given spaghetti bolognese, but it is usually rice with veg/meat. Fried pumpkin or banana are favourites among the gollas (westerners) here. The food is not as spicy as I expected, but I think it has been toned down for my sake.

The people
Everyone here is very hardworking, getting up around 5am each day, but very kind and family orientated. Married couples live with the wife’s parents as one big family unit, which is lovely to see. 20161006_102239-1They’re also very welcoming, not only are you allowed to walk into someone’s house without an invitation (in fact you’d probably be welcomed with open arms) but it’s not often you’d find a village in the UK so willing to accept up to 30 foreigners into the village and into their homes, providing food, clean clothes and a place to sleep for up to 6 months at a time. We often eat at each other’s houses, collecting the food provided by our individual homestays along the way, arriving to a huge grin of the villager whose house we are eating at. My homestay has a nearly 3-year-old boy who they are very keen to get me to teach English. Currently his favourite words are elephant and bellybutton!

The Language
The language is Pakinyaw (not Thai), which is spoken only by the Karen people in this area. Some villagers can speak Thai, and even fewer can speak English, although we are teaching them and they teach us Pakinyaw in return. It is a tonal language, with many of the words and phrases sounding very similar, and it seems to me that they just use the same 5 words in a different order! I’m doing my best to learn it, and I can understand the odd word that my homestay family say to each other but I cannot (yet) have a full conversation.

The Bathroom
Toilets in the village are squat toilets. 20161010_112328.jpgThey are not difficult to use, you just have to remember not to flush toilet paper down the loo, and in order to flush them you have to throw water down them from a bucket. Showers are bucket showers. You wash with cold water from a bucket that is so cold you have to build up a bit of courage for the first load you chuck over your head. After hike though the freezing water is very refreshing and I look forward to it. I’m lucky enough to have a shower head attached to a hose, and despite the pressure being pretty rubbish it does make showering a little but easier (when the water is actually running).

My Room
My room is one half of a bamboo hut situated next to my homestay’s house. The second room appears to function as a store room/spare bedroom when needed. My room is small but perfectly sized for what I need. I have a mat to sleep on, a mosquito net and a set of 3 shelves where I put my clothes. I have a few nails in the walls where I hang towels, my bags and coats. I wove a basket in my first week here, which is where I keep my toiletries. I have a porch, which comes in handy to hang my clothes on the rail to dry.

The Wildlife
While Thailand boasts having a rich diversity of birds, they are not often seen or heard quite in the same way as back at home. The most common noises are of insects, cicadas and crickets performing the daily background music. We do see birds around, and I have had to learn 34 species as part of my internship, but more commonly you see butterflies and moths flying around. 14711572_10154099996589141_983325086149528880_o.jpgThese are brightly coloured and a lot bigger than any you’d find in the UK! Around the village the most common animals you will spot are dogs, cats, chickens, buffalo and pigs. Dogs are around because the villagers believe they keep away bad spirits, but they are not looked after like domestic dogs at home. This is something some people struggle to understand when they come here, as dogs as pets are a huge part of western culture. Oh and of course there are the elephants, not something you’d see everyday back in the UK.

So whilst living in Thailand does throw up a fair few differences from living back in the UK, it is a way of life that I am enjoying living. It is so relaxed, it is so beautiful and it is a life worth living. When you get to see a view like this every day, can you ask for much more?

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Chains

When I first arrived in Huay Pakoot and was given an introduction to the elephants they have here, one of the first things I was told was that the elephants are chained. This came as a shock and my first thoughts were whether I had come to a place where they treat the elephants in a way that I wanted to be involved in.

Common views of chains are as restraints: big, heavy, metal links that restrict movement, chafe the skin, cause sores and act as a burden. I quickly learned that here in Huay Pakoot this is not the case whatsoever.

Chains here are life savers.

All the elephants here have one chain around one foot. These chains do not rub their legs and are made to be a length and thickness corresponding to the elephant’s size and age, so they are not given anything they can’t cope with.

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The chain can be seen around Gureepo’s right front foot, but does not restrict her movements

The mahouts are with the elephants all day, from around 8:30 until it starts getting dark. During the day, the chains, whilst still attached to the elephants, are not attached to anything else and drag harmlessly behind them as they walk. They do not restrict movement, gliding smoothly through the undergrowth. If on the off-chance a chain does snag on a branch or a rock, the elephant’s mahout will always be nearby to release it. If the mahout cannot unsnag the chain, the chains break easily at the point where they attach to the foot. The chains are used to track the elephants during the day as they leave grooves in the ground easily recognisable to the mahouts. They’re also used for volunteer safety, to help the mahout control the elephant and avoid harm coming to any humans.

At night the elephants are chained for their own protection in areas where the mahouts have ensured there is enough food and water to see them through the night comfortably. The chains are long enough to allow movement and natural foraging even when attached to a tree. Elephants can be easily startled and the ease of the chain breaking allows them to get away from situations where they are uncomfortable is necessary. In some instances, for example during thunderstorms, the mahouts will stay with the elephants throughout the night to ensure their safety in a scary scenario.14433010_10154042651859141_2088782770712202398_n.jpg

The dangers facing elephants left alone, unchained, at night, in a human dominated world one day became a terrifying reality when the youngest elephant, Lulu, got into a crop field and ate pesticide. Thankfully, due to the care and love the mahouts give to their elephants, the problem was spotted early, before it was digested and caused internal damage. She was left with damage to her tusk, which fell out, but has since started to grow back.

While initially the word chain conjures up terrible images of elephants being mistreated it must be understood that in a world dominated by humans, sometimes chains are a necessity and when used correctly do not prevent the elephants from living long and fulfilling lives.

 

My First Hike

I’ve learnt a new meaning to the phrase “being thrown in at the deep end.”14368866_10154038468859141_6069508554566436668_n.jpg

Hikes leave at 7:30, so you have to get up early every day in order to go. Breakfast is brought to base and usually (always) consists of rice. After eating and filling up my water bottles we set off on my first hike.

We went to find Khum Suk, 64, Kha Moon, 34, and Lulu, 5. This group of elephants are a family unit consisting of grandma, mother and grandchild.

We hiked for 2 hours, over a river, up steep sided, slippy slopes and through the undergrowth until we suddenly stumbled upon them. While the mahouts knew they would be there it was a shock for me to see the elephants right in front of me just standing in the same forest I had been trudging through for the past 2 hours.

Because it was our first time meeting the elephants we got to feed them pumpkin (lukay bow). I fed Khum Suk, but Kha Moon got a little bit because the people feeding her had run out and she pestere

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Feeding Khum Suk. Left is her Mahout, Root, who also makes fantastic coffee for those early mornings.

d me for more. I’m not complaining! Elephant trunks do not feel anything like you would expect. Their skin is rough, but smooth and firm all at the same time. The strength within their trunks is just incomprehensible. They were only taking pumpkin from my hand but I still felt like they could break my arm in two if they wanted to. From a distance they didn’t look that big, I just took it in my stride, like seeing elephants you see regularly in photos, but getting up close is a whole other story. I’m used to being around horses, but elephants are so much bigger in every single way and they’re a lot more intimidating and awe-inspiring. You get an impulse to reach out and touch them whilst simultaneously wanting to get out of their way.

In order to observe the elephants naturally and take data we moved away a little distance. We remained like this for a little over an hour, just observing the elephants’ natural behaviour (which consists mainly of eating). During this time we had to constantly move out of Lulu’s way, as she’s quite inquisitive but doesn’t seem to know her own size yet!

It was while we were watching the elephants that I realised I had been bitten by a leech. I was wearing wellies, long socks and tight leggings yet somehow the little bloodsucker still managed to worm it’s way onto my skin and steal my blood. I didn’t notice until after it had drunk its full, fallen off and left me bleeding. I wasn’t really bothered by it, but from then on everyone else was super conscious of leeches being Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 09.43.21.pngaround. The only annoying thing was the blood on my clothes, but I got that off with a scrubbing brush when we got back.

We hiked back a different way,
this route taking us up on to the ridge of the mountains. It provided incredible views but my legs and lungs complained relentlessly. The sun had come out, and while it was a manageable temperature for sunbathing, for hiking it proved challenging. I thought the hills in Exeter would prepare me for hiking in hilly terrain over here, boy was I wrong. It’s like comparing mountains with molehills.

 

I MADE IT

Flying to Thailand is not fun. I took 3 planes, Heathrow to Mumbai (9 hours), (Mumbai to Bangkok (4 hours) and Bangkok to Chiang Mai (1 hour), with a 2 hour stop in Mumbai and a 6 hour stop in Bangkok.

The only upside? They feed you loads on the plane. They gave us this packet of what I thought was peanuts, but realise they weren’t when I opened them. It was called “Murukku,’ which was a bit like Bombay mix flavoured but looked like tiny churros.

On the flight from London I was sat next to a British woman called Bryony, who had a PhD and was marking her masters student’s work. She was really nice and we spent our stop over in Mumbai together.

Passport control is now probably one of my least favourite things. I was terrified I wouldn’t be allowed in even though I know I haven’t done anything wrong! Got through safely though.When I finally made it to Chiang Mai I was so relieved. 14446193_10154049016859141_9022901181063878521_n.jpgThe view from the tunnel from the plane nearly made me cry, a combination of exhaustion, relief and pure awe at the beauty. The picture doesn’t do it justice, especially as it was through a window and there’s a plane in the way, but everything is so green and mountainous here.

I got picked up by a member of staff with a Sung Tao, which is like a truck with benches in the back (probably wouldn’t meet any health a14355703_10154049016959141_3821192079270220929_n.jpgnd safety standards in the UK…) and got dropped off at the Eco Resort Hotel which was my stay for the night. It was during this journey that I realised Thailand is pretty hot. The Sung Tao had no air con, just the breeze through the window when we were moving, and that itself was still just warm air. People drive like maniacs too, scooters and motorbikes weaving in and out of traffic all the time.

I had a roommate called Krystal who is staying on project for one week. We had a meeting where we met a couple of members of staff and the rest of the interns/volunteers who were starting. Krystal and I then had dinner together in a little restaurant just by the hotel and then went to bed as we had both arrived that day and were equally shattered.

We left at 9am on Sunday morning for the 5 hour bus ride from Chiang Mai to Huay Pakoot, the village I am staying in. We first stopped at a Tesco, where I grabbed some snack food, flip flops and a sim card for my phone. It then started raining, and when I say raining I mean pouring. GOPR0118.jpgIt was like someone had left a tap on up there and it was just flowing out of the clouds. We stopped at Wachirathan waterfall,  where the thunder and lightning started. Please excuse the water on the lens of my GoPro, as I said, it was raining. A lot.

We continued on our journey after being read a few risk assessments for the project and later stopped at Mae Chaem for some lunch and to buy some wellies. I now own some lovely blue wellies/gum boots/rain boots (to accommodate for all the different nationalities we have here).

On the bus journey I was sat next to David, who is also an intern, but had been on the project last year for 3 months, so already knew a lot about it. He got really excited when we got close and the excitement spread like wildfire through the volunteers in the bus. We rounded a corner and a small wall with a mural painted by previous volunteers came into view, signalling our arrival. After a short drive down a bumpy lane (even more holes than my drive at home) we reached “Base” (which after a few days of being here I realised would be where I would spend my life from now on).

I then got introduced to my homestay, Daw, and shown to my room. It’s a cute little bamboo box room with a mattress on the floor and a couple of shelves. There are a whole load of nails in the walls and a bamboo pole across one wall which I use to hang some clothes on, especially when they’re wet.

Dinner was what they call “Pot Luck.” To put it simply, we all sit on the floor around some wooden planks (the table) and our homestay bring our dinner to Base and we all share and pass the food around. It was a great way to spend the first night. Before we could eat we had a Geeju, where a few of the women from the village tied white string around our wrists and said prayers to keep our 37 spirits from straying to keep us healthy.

 

The next day I met my first elephant.

Leaving the EU: The Environment

Firstly I must apologise for the considerable length of time it has been since my last blog post. March, April and May were extremely busy months, with me completing my dissertation and revising for and sitting my final exams at university. It is now June and there are just 3 months until I leave for Thailand!

But now, on to a topic that has rocked the UK today: the European Referendum.

Most people will know by now that the UK voted to leave the European Union yesterday, with millions of Britons waking up to the news this morning. There are both pros and cons resulting from this decision. 150302-Impact-Brexit-Barometer.jpgFactors such as the economy, trade and immigration were most widely focussed on in the media and political discussions. One of my main concerns, however, was the environment, and with many of our environmental targets set by the EU I am worried about the consequences for the environment with this referendum result.

Indications are that environmental protection will now become weaker. The most immediate impact of leaving the EU was clear this morning, with the financial markets crashing. Becoming “green” does not come for free, money is required to develop technology and investments are needed to put methods into practise.

One of the European Union’s greatest, yet somewhat understated, achievements have been the environmental issues it has tackled. These include controlling air and water pollution and protecting endangered species. warning-suspected-pollution-incident-sea.pngThe EU also sets targets for renewable energy, not only allowing this industry to grow, but helping reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Other initiatives include cleaning up sewage on beaches; the water of many was deemed too dirty to swim in, in the 1980s. After legal action from the EU, 99% of the UK’s beaches are now deemed safe for swimming.

The EU Renewable Energy Directive set a target for 20% of the EU’s energy to be renewable by 2020. The UK already showed signs of being reluctant to commit to this, resulting in an individual target for the UK of 15% of energy being renewable. Additionally, the UK consistently falls short of other targets set by the EU. For example, 40,000 people die prematurely in the UK from air pollution and dozens of cities in Britain are failing to meet air pollution targets. The government admitted that London, Leeds and Birmingham will not meet the set targets by at least 2030, which is 20 years later than the original target set by the EU.

The EU places quotas on fishing catch and bycatch. Without these quotas, the seas around the UK could be fished in an uncontrolled manner until there is nothing left. The short term vision is that a lift of these quotas will allow fishermen to sell a higher quantity of fish, and more valuable fish such as tuna, therefore increasing their income and boosting the industry. In the long run, however, fish stocks will collapse, so the benefit will be short lived. Take a look at my blog “Overfished and Underloved” for more information on overfishing.

The laws passed through the EU will still apply to the UK once we leave, however our parliament now has the power to change them. It would also depend on whether we remain in the Europe
an Economic Area (EEA). If we remain within the EEA, most environmental laws, other than the Bathing Water Directive, would still apply. Whether laws will be changed is yet to be seen, however cutting funding for environmental protection may be seen as an easy way for the future govetractor.jpgrnment to save money.

On the other hand, leaving the EU gives us more control over the environmental protection laws passed. This may mean that we can fine-tune them to be more specific for the UK’s individual requirements and could allow us to spend allocated money more effectively. The EU has also passed a moratorium on the use of genetically modified crops. This is a whole debate in itself, however the restriction of use may be leaving us vulnerable to crop diseases which may otherwise be prevented.

I have my doubts over whether effective laws will be passed to protect the environment and whether the UK will continue its efforts to reach current targets in the wake of this decision.

 

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Throughout my time at university, I have been told by lecturers to look at the way the media portrays new scientific studies and advances. I’ve always understood why, but until now none of the news stories have hit me as hard as these:

Headlines from Pakistan Today, Fox News and the LAD Bible

As my previous blog states, tigers are my favourite animal, so I’m probably biased as to why this story in particular caught my eye. Nonetheless, it highlights the struggle scientists face when trying to get important advancements across to the wider public without the message being misunderstood.

As a university student, I am very lucky to have access to almost any scientific paper I could ask for. So I downloaded this one to have a better read and judge the results for myself. The paper is titled “Tracking changes and preventing loss in critical tiger habitat,” by Joshi et al (2016).

The doubling of the tiger population by 2022, mentioned by the news articles, is a target set in 2010 in Russia, called the Tx2 in response to the rapidly diminishing tiger population and habitat. This agreement aimed to set up Tiger Conservation Landscapes (TCLs) to help reach the target. Figure 1 shows the distribution of these TCLs.

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Figure 1. Tx2 TCLs have the potential to double tiger populations by 2022.

Data provided in the paper is not initially encouraging. It highlights a total loss of 7.7% of total tiger habitat from 2001-2014 and a loss of protected (TCL) habitat of 5.7%, resulting in a loss of around 400 tigers.

The authors note that this loss of habitat is much less than expected, which may be due to increasing conservation efforts. On the flip side, the impact of the habitat loss that has occurred has been devastating. For example, the habitat lost in the Cambodian Northern Plains landscape was enough to support 174 tigers. Conflicting data such as this continues to be provided. The study explains that while a forest corridor connecting Nepal’s Bardia National Park with India’s Katarniaghat Tiger Reserve is now being used by tigers, another survey indicates that tigers are now absent from the Basanta corridor, where they were previously frequently spotted.

The second sentence in the abstract reads “Habitat loss, along with poaching, can undermine the international target recovery of doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022.” Whilst the results from this study do suggest that currently there is enough habitat to support a doubling of the tiger population, habitat loss is expected to continue. This paper should provide encouragement that current conservation efforts are having an impact, and that increasing efforts could have an even greater impact. This does not mean to say that tiger populations are out of the woods. The threat of extinction is still very real.

When taken out of context, the headlines reported seem fantastic. But what is a doubling of the tiger population in reality?  7000 tigers. That is less than a third of the current polar bear population (IUCN Red List).

Before taking what is written in the news as a given, take the time to look into their news stories. Is everything really as it seems?

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I prefer this headline, from Headlines and Global News.