Meet the Madagascar pochard: the world’s rarest bird

madagascar pochard

For many people the new year is an opportunity for a fresh start and the potential to create new surroundings. Well if that’s the case then things are going just ducky for the Madagascar pochard in 2019. Considering the long swim the world’s rarest bird has had to get there, we’d say that’s definitely worth celebrating.

After all, it was only a few short years ago that these diving ducks were thought to have gone the way of the Dodo.

For years the Madagascar pochard faced habitat loss as a result of sedimentation, invasive species, pollution, and poor agricultural practices across the country, and in 1991 the last bird sighting had experts believing the creatures had been wiped out permanently.

Then, 15 years later in 2006, biologists from the nonprofit bird conservation group The Peregrine Fund discovered a small paddling of 25 ducks at the remote and heavily forested volcanic Lake Matsaborimena in the north of the country, where they had been forced in order to survive. Experts were immediately asked to come in and assess the situation, which they deemed dire.

They were “only clinging on to existence in a place not really suited to them,” Wildfowl and Wetlands (WWT) head of conservation programs Rob Shaw tells the BBC.

“We realized that although they were having ducklings, all the ducklings were starving when they got to about a month [to] six weeks old,” WWT’s program development advisor Peter Cranswick recalls to the CBC. “So we literally took three clutches, 24 eggs, from the wild, hatched them by the side of the lake, and then drove them to the nearest town that had electricity and water and, having made no preparations, reared them in a hotel bathroom.”

Nine years later and conservationists are chalking up a big win, as 21 of the rare birds were released back into the wild just before the new year. That victorious moment, which came after plenty of “sweat and blood,” according to Cranswick, may be a turning point in the critically endangered species’ future survival.


View this post on Instagram


Thought extinct for over 15 years, the Madagascar Pochard was rediscovered in 2006 on a remote lake in #Madagascar. A captive breeding programme was established to save the species and eventually release them back to the wild… On the 21st December 2018, 21 individuals were released from floating aviaries on to lake Sofia! What a privilege to have been able to film some of the effort and hard work it took to reintroduce the species to the wild. Photo is of of a young Pochard with just a few down feathers remaining, taken with the fantastic @fujifilmx_uk #gfx50s and #GF110mmf2 lens. @wwtworldwide @wwtslimbridge @durrell_jerseyzoo #conservation #endextinction #wildlifephotography #nature #wildlife #africa #africanwildlife #rarestbird #pochard #duck #madagascarpochard #endangerd #endangeredspecies #captivebreeding #science

A post shared by @trailtoanywhere (@benjaminsadd) on

You can’t blame biologists for patting themselves on the back over the news, or over the fact that they now have roughly 100 birds in captivity with plans to release more. In order to get to that point, WWT, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Peregrine Fund and the Madagascar government collaborated first to find suitable breeding grounds, and then to create a centre where the ducks could thrive.

They settled on Madagascar’s northern Lake Sofia, where the pochards would have access to food but would be far enough away from human interference. Even then the lake conditions needed improvement, so experts worked with local communities to help develop less harmful farming and fishing practices.

Once the lake was ready the team then constructed the world’s first ever floating aviaries, which were converted from Scottish salmon farming cages, to ensure the ducks could acclimatize and wouldn’t fly off in search of wetlands. According to Cranswick it was a months-long process that involved border rigmarole, transportation woes, and lots of creativity.

“We went to the manufacturers and pleaded to make a duck-sized version of [the cages] that would fit on a shallow lake,” he told CBC. “It’s come in kit form, and we’ve had to export it and get it through customs and get it on the back of a tractor and then get it up to this lake that’s literally on the back end of beyond.”

The specific 21 pochards that were released in December were hatched a couple of months earlier, in October, and reared in the pens. Feeding stations and rafts have also been installed across the lake in order to encourage the birds to stay, which they seem to be doing for now.

Of course while seeing these birds back in the wild is a promising start, there’s still a long way to go before they’re considered safe from extinction. Some are hoping the story of their release will spark more conversations over the ongoing wetland conservation efforts in Madagascar, while others are hoping it inspires hope.

“The restoration program at Lake Sofia will encourage others in Madagascar to no longer look at the Island’s wetlands as lost causes,” Hywel Glyn Young, head of birds at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, tells Smithsonian. “They may once again be centres of biodiversity while continuing to support communities of people who also depend on them.”

Here’s everything we know about: Tardigrades

KINGDOM: Animalia
LIFE SPAN: Between 4 months and 2 years, depending on the species.
PHYLUM‎:Tardigrada, Micro-animals
SIZE:  0.1 mm to 1.5 mm

Photo courtesy of

The Basics: 

Tardigrades have 8 legs, are normally found in freshwater, and are segmented.  They were discovered in the 1773 and named water bears. They’re also known as water bears or moss piglets. The name tardigrades appeared three years later and it means “slow steppers”. It refers to their slow movement.

They’re most famous for being able to tolerate ridiculously extreme environments. They’re found in almost all environments on earth. These environments include deep waters, jungles, rivers, and even mud volcanoes. There’s probably a tardigrade within a stone’s throw of you right now.


There are over 1,000 species of tardigrades distributed among three classes and seven orders.The three classes are eutardigrada, heterotardrigrads, and mesotardigrada. The reproductive system is one of the main ways to tell them apart. Heterotardigrada have gonoducts that open to the outside through a pre-anal gonopore, rather than opening into the rectum as in the eutardigrada. This means eutardigrada has one single orifice for reproduction and digestion, and heterotardigrada have separate orifices. The third class, mesotardigrada, has only been described by one specimen in 1937. The specimen then was lost in an Earthquake and no other specimens have ever been found. So, it’s likely, or even probably, that this class doesn’t even exist.


They walk in a way that resembles the gait of a bear, hence their original name and current nickname, water bears. They range in size from 0.1 mm to 1.5 mm. Their body has a head, three segments with a pair of legs on each, and a caudal segment (a tail) that has another pair of legs. The legs have no articulations but have four claws at the end made of chitin—the same material crab shells are made of. The 6 front legs point downwards and are used to grab things and to move, and the legs on the caudal segment point backwards and are used to grab onto the floor or substrate while the water bear waits for food to come to them. In addition to this, tardigrades can do gas exchange through their whole body. They do not have a nose or any other respiratory organs.

  • Adult tardigrades have a set amount of cells. All members of the same species have the exact same number. This is called eutely, and occurs mostly on microscopic organisms.
    • Baby tardigrade eggs hatch within 2 weeks. Babies are born with the full number of cells. Instead of cell division, they grow when their cells get bigger. 

Their mouth has stylets, which are basically little sharp teeth used to pierce plants or small invertebrates. When pierced, they leak fluids. Tardigrades feed on those fluids by sucking them in using specialized sucking muscles in their pharynx.The stylets are replaced when they molt.

Tardigrades have anal ducts, but some species only poop when they molt. It’s like their version of pooping their pants and throwing the underwear in the garbage.

Most species have compound cup eyes. They also have little hairs along their body to feel vibrations around them. They lay eggs and they do it when they molt. So, the female will molt and leave the eggs in the old cuticle (their old “skin”). The male will then fertilize them, and in some cases move them and attach them to the substrate.

Photo courtesy of American Scientist


  • They can be found everywhere but the easiest way to find them is by putting moss in water, and then examining the water. 
  • Some species are herbivores, others eat bacteria, and others are carnivorous (and can eat other tardigrades)

Extreme Environments

Tardigrades can tolerate environments that would kill other animals in seconds. This is true mostly for terrestrial tardigrades. Marine and aquatic tardigrades are not as resilient because their environments are more stable. However, in extreme conditions terrestrial tardigrades can mummify themselves into little shriveled glass tardies called tuns. As tuns, they can stand things such as:

Extreme temperatures

  • Some species can survive at almost absolute zero (-273 C), and others can live through periods at temperatures over 150C.
  • Of course, they can’t tolerate those temperatures forever. The longer they stay at those temps they more likely they are to die. Still, they can live for a few days at -200 C and up to 30 years at -20.
  • Cold is dangerous because it damages cells. As water gets colder it expands, that’s why ice floats. As it expands it creates great pressure on the cells, which are mostly full of water. (Cells are basically water bags, that’s where the thing about us being 50-60% water comes from). When the water inside the cell expands so much that the cells explode it’s obviously bad news. That’s what causes frostbite.
  • To deal with this they enter a state called cryobiosis, where their metabolism gets suspended.
  • To protect themselves from expanding water inside the cell they release cryoprotectants, which make the ice crystallize in a way that’s less damaging to the cell, and that preserves some of the elasticity of the cell.

Extreme pressures

  • Some species can withstand pressures 6 times higher than those encountered at the bottom of Mariana Trench.
  • Others can survive in a vacuum. Some have survived in outer space, where they’re exposed to both a vacuum and solar UV radiation.
    • This happened in 2007 and was an experiment performed by Italian scientists from the European Space Agency.


  • Even their DNA is strong. It can tolerate radiation because they have a protein that protects. This protein is call dsup (damage suppressor). It’s not complete protection but they reduce x-ray radiation damage by 40%
  • They can tolerate 1,000 as much radiation as most animals. You would die if you receive doses of about 5 Gy (gray). Tardigrades can survive up to 5000 Gy. They become sterile after 1000 Gy, but still. Crazy stuff.
  • As a reference, a victim who was a mile away from the hiroshima bomb explosion received about 9 Gy.

Air deprivation

  • They swell and float around until they’re in a spot where they can breathe again.


  • They can go down to 3% of their normal water content, and shrivelling to a third of their size. This shrivelled tardigrade is called a tun.
  • This is called anhydrobiosis.


  • Some species can go without food for over 30 years. At this point they dry out and become dormant, then they can rehydrate, eat something, and go have babies.
    • 30 years is rather rare, but many species can do this for at least 5 years.
    • This process is called anhydrobiosis (meaning extreme desiccation, with water going down to 3% of their usual rate) and is a form of crytobiosis (a state where metabolic functions stop)
  • They have been found everywhere from the deep sea to the himalayas.
  • They have survived five mass extinction events and have the capacity to survive many more.
  • Note that some people called them extremophiles, but they’re not. Extremophiles are animals that are adapted to live in extreme environments. Tardigrades are just able to tolerate those environments.
Photo courtesy of American Scientist

How to Discover Tardigrades

  • New tardigrades are being discovered all the time. This is how you could discover one and name it after your dog or your favourite brand of mayonnaise.
  • Collect a clump of moss or lichen (dry or wet) and place in a shallow dish, such as a Petri dish.
  • Soak in water (preferably rainwater or distilled water) for 3-24 hours.
  • Remove and discard excess water from the dish.
  • Shake or squeeze the moss/lichen clumps over another transparent dish to collect trapped water.
  • Starting on a low objective lens, examine the water using a stereo microscope.
  • Use a micropipette to transfer tardigrades to a slide, which can be observed with a higher power under a compound microscope.


Here’s how pigeons played an important role in military history

When you think of pigeons, you probably think of pesky flocks hanging around hot dog carts. But did you know carrier pigeons (aka homing pigeons) were once heroes of war? That’s right. Pigeons had important and dangerous jobs throughout military history, including World Wars One and Two. So let’s show a little respect!

What did pigeons do in war?

Before the use of radio, pigeons acted as animal cell service providers. Julius Caesar sent messages by pigeon, as did Parisians in the Franco-Prussian War (1870). They have been delivering messages since the 6th Century BC, if not earlier.

Pigeons were especially useful during conflict, as they allowed military units to communicate remotely from field to headquarters. During the World Wars, a soldier would place a message in a small canister tied to a pigeon’s leg. The pigeon would fly to its destination coop where it would trip a wire alerting the Signal Corp.

How Did The Birds Know Where To Go?

Military pigeons participated in rigorous training, but the science behind the method is still hotly debated.

One theory is that pigeons recognize landmarks from above. But this doesn’t explain how a pigeon would fly from London to Paris, without ever seeing the route before.

For a time, many believed that pigeons use the Earth’s magnetic field as a compass to determine direction, although this was recently disproved. A more recent theory suggests pigeons can hear “infrared sound”, ultra-low frequencies that signify one location in relation to another. This theory explains why on certain days, especially with inclement weather, a pigeon might fly off course.

Scent Maps

The most accepted theory is that pigeons identify “home” by using their sense of smell to create a mental map. They recognize the smell of home from far away and “follow their nose” like Toucan Sam.

Either way, in terms of military use, pigeons were kept at a home base roost and then transported in boxes or cages with deployed army units. When released from the units’ random location, the pigeons would be able to identify the their home base from afar, and return home with a message.

When delivering messages across enemy lines, heading home became a dangerous commute.

Why Was It Dangerous?

The enemy would try to intercept the messages without any interest in keeping the pigeons alive. Enemy soldiers would send hawks after the pigeons and shoot them down in mid-air when given the chance.

Pigeons were often celebrated and awarded medals of honour for their crucial role. 32 pigeons recieved the Dickin Medal, instituted in 1943, to honour animals who showed “gallantry or devotion to duty while serving in military conflict”.  Never mind that the animals never really had a choice in the matter.

Pigeons of Distinction

The following is a selection of pigeons who received the Dickin Medal for their service in World War 2.


Paddy hailed from Northern Ireland and trained as a racing bird under the Royal Air Force. He was an extraordinary flyer who could reach 90 km per hour. He was sent on a special D-Day mission with American Forces. In terrible weather conditions, Paddy evaded German falcons to deliver information back to the Allies’ home base.

William of Orange

This pigeon worked for the British MI14 and saved over 2000 lives in the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944.

German troops had the Allied forces surrounded, and were disrupting their radio signals. Pigeons became their only option for communication. William flew over 400 km from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom and delivered one of few crucial messages. Although German forces won the battle, William’s message saved many lives.


An RAF Bomber crashed into the North Sea on February 23, 1942. The four passengers were freezing and struggling to survive in their watery surroundings. They released Winky without a message as a last resort.

Winky flew over 200km to his owner who alerted the Royal Air Force. Although Winky carried no message, the RAF was able to approximate the bombers’ location based on the known flight path and time of Winky’s arrival.

Mary of Exeter

This pigeon was known for her endurance despite sustaining several injuries over the course of her career.

Mary received 22 stitches after an attack by German hawks, and still managed to deliver her message. On a separate occasion Mary was shot in the wing with several bullet pieces were lodged in her body. This still didn’t keep her down. During her final mission, Mary was hit in the neck by shrapnel. Amazingly she survived to receive the Dickin Medal sporting a supportive leather collar.

G.I. Joe

G.I. Joe saved the Italian town Calvi Vecchia from a bombing in 1943. The Allies were planning to bomb the town, when the Germans’ vacated unexpectedly. Locals’ attempts to inform the British forces by radio failed and the attack was looming. Enter G.I. Joe. He flew 32 km in 20 minutes with a message to the American Forces who managed to cancel the attack. This noble pigeon saved an estimated 1000 lives.




The most significant instances of wildlife decline in Canada in 2018

The most significant instances of wildlife decline in Canada in 2018

Earlier this year it was pretty sobering to learn that we’ve now killed 83 per cent of all wild mammals on earth. Still, facts like that somehow seem to be another country’s problem—something sad that happens in other parts of the world. In a country like Canada, we’re basically doing okay with our moose, and our fisheries, and our polar bears, right?

Not so, says senior species specialist at WWF Canada, Emily Giles. The perception that Canadian wildlife is doing well was blown apart last year with the organization’s Living Planet Report Canada, in which they revealed that of the 903 vertebrate species studied, 451 of them declined since 1970–that’s a whopping 48 percent.

“People were genuinely surprised to learn there are species at risk in Canada and that we have lots of wildlife that’s in trouble,” Giles says. “It’s important to keep talking about it because it is news to a lot of people.”

Big news stories hit home

Slowly but surely the perception is changing, and that’s in part due to some big animal stories in the media in 2018. Giles points to the killer whale pushing her dead newborn in the water for more than two weeks, or the ongoing plight of right whales in Canadian waters as recent examples of such monumental events.

The most significant instances of wildlife decline in Canada in 2018

“[These stories] definitely helped raise the profile of species at risk in Canada and captured everyone’s heart, which is important too in terms of getting people to care about these things,” she says. “As awful as those stories are, at least they get people’s attention about what’s going on.”

Several species in trouble

While the story of the grieving killer whale helped shed light on the survival struggles facing orcas and other whales in the country, it also opened up a conversation about their food source, chinook salmon, which are currently on the endangered list. It’s not just chinook salmon we have to worry about though.

“It’s salmon in general,” Giles says. “There are growing threats to wildlife in Canada but specifically in B.C., salmon are threated both by threats in freshwater as well as in their marine habitat. It’s obviously signifying that something is terribly wrong.”

On the land, Giles notes that one animal people should pay more attention to is the caribou, which has seen a massive decline.

“Caribou are the focus of a lot of scientists and conservation biologists because their decline has been so massive—both for boreal caribou and barren ground caribou, which are the arctic caribou,” she says. “Some of those herds have experienced declines of more than 95 per cent. These are really important animals for people that live in the North. They’re really important culturally, so it’s critical that we pay attention to what’s going on with that species.”

Meanwhile, other species worth highlighting from the report include the little brown bat, which had to be emergency listed in 2014 as endangered “because it experienced such vast and significant decline,” and the wood turtle.

The most significant instances of wildlife decline in Canada in 2018
Ryan M. Bolton/Shutterstock

“The wood turtle is considered threatened again, but turtles in Canada are not doing well. There are eight freshwater turtle species and all eight of them are at risk in at least some part of their range in Canada,” Giles adds.

Hope on the horizon

One of the big takeaways from the Living Planet Report Canada was that once species get on the at-risk list it’s hard to get them back off. In fact, animals listed as at-risk continued to decline at a rate of nearly 30 per cent as a result of things like habitat loss, pollution, climate change, overharvesting, and invasive species.

“Those are the top five threats, but typically species at-risk in Canada are under duress from at least two of those,” Giles explains. “It’s a combination of threats that also interact with one another, and they’re cumulative. So we usually need to take a combination of steps in order to help species, and that’s why it’s becoming more and more difficult to solve these problems—the problems are so complex.”

Still, she notes there are many opportunities to protect the species we do have in Canada, and Canadians can do their part by speaking up as citizens and consumers. Encouraging businesses and governments to practice more sustainable policies and practices is a start, and can have a big impact on wildlife and climate change in the long run.

People can also get involved on a local level by participating in WWF Canada’s Go Wild initiatives, and by writing to their local government representatives and urging them to dedicate more protected areas to wildlife across the country.

“We’re really trying to push them to create these high quality, protected areas that are also connected so that they’re not just little isolated islands that are happening across the country,” Giles says. “It’s the same for marine life; we want to see new marine protected areas that also keep industrial development out. Some marine protected areas allow gas exploration or extracting of things like oil, and we don’t want to see that happen. We want to have an area that actually offers protection for our wildlife.”

Now isn’t that a thought.

The ethical dilemma of warm winter wear

The ethical dilemma of warm winter wear

Canadians are about to face the coldest months of the season, which means it’s time to break out the serious winter gear. From giant parkas to lined boots, staying warm in the bitter cold is necessary as we shuffle from place to place and try to go about our regularly scheduled lives.

But while that down-filled jacket may be warm and cozy, it’s not the most ethical of choices for animal lovers. If you avoid animal-tested products, refuse to wear fur, leather, or silk, and you aren’t cool with eating meat, then chances are you haven’t been down with down for a while either.

However for the rest of us who maybe aren’t so savvy when it comes to the dark underbelly of the warm winter fashion industry, let’s break it down, shall we?

Gearing up with down

Down is the soft layer of feathers that sits closest to a bird’s skin, usually in the chest region. Down from geese and ducks is a popular lining for coats, sleeping bags, comforters, and clothing because it’s lightweight, warm, and it doesn’t contain prickly quills. Furthermore it creates high-loft clusters that trap air and body heat while still being breathable and resilient to aging (well-cared-for down can last years).

However, down feathers don’t mix well with water. Wet down loses most of its insulating properties as it clumps and loses toft. It is also slow to dry, which can create a potential mold situation.

The argument against down

Most down is sourced from geese and ducks already being slaughtered for food, but over the past few years the practice of live-plucking birds in breeding flocks or birds being raised for meat and foie gras has come to light.

According to PETA the live-plucking process involves holding the bird by its neck or wings while its legs are physically restrained and their feathers are ripped out of their skin. Often an animal’s skin is torn open during the process and workers will have to sew them up without painkillers. Live-plucking typically starts when the bird is about 10 weeks old, and is repeated in six-week intervals until the animal is sent to slaughter.

The organization also notes that buying down can inadvertently lead a person to support the foie gras industry, in which feeding tubes are crammed down birds’ throats and they’re force-fed so much that their livers swell to roughly 10 times their normal size. Often, foie gras producers boost their profits through live-plucking practices.

Quelling public concern

These days many companies, including Canada Goose, claim to use only ethically sourced down—as in down from poultry by-products. (Canada Goose also claims its fur use is in accordance with the Agreement of International Humane Trapping Standards in Canada.)

So who ensures down is ethically sourced? The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) is an independent, voluntary global standard that helps to ensure down feathers come “from animals that have not been subjected to unnecessary harm.” The RDS seal is given to farmers, brands, and supply chain members that don’t practice live-plucking and don’t force-feed their animals, that have “holistic respect” for the welfare of birds from hatching to slaughter, that properly identify its down, and that only carry products with 100 per cent certified down.

A (Canadian) synthetic alternative

Of course some people prefer to avoid down altogether, which is where synthetically produced materials come in handy. These days polyester-fibre-based, synthetic insulation mimics the properties of down but is also effective when wet–and it dries faster. Sure it’s heavier than down and isn’t quite as warm, but it’s also friendlier on the wallet and is naturally hypoallergenic.

An increasing number of companies are now offering vegan winter jackets, including Quartz Co, which works in conjunction with Altitude Sports and Monark Cooperative to offer milkweed parkas. Not only do the innovative parkas offer a down-free alternative, but they also help to develop the milkweed industry—an important tool for the survival of the Monarch butterfly.

Meanwhile other Canadian companies, from Patagonia and Noize to Wuxley Movement and Frank and Oak, now offer entire lines of vegan outdoor gear. That’s good news for animals lovers, because it means going cruelty free is easier (and more stylish) than ever.




Parrots are not pets

Their beautiful colours and exotic good looks have made parrots a popular pet throughout history. Unfortunately many parrots are abandoned or put up for adoption by their owners every year, leading many to parrot rehab.

What is parrot rehab?

Parrot rehabilitation centres can be found all around the world. They care for parrots that have been abandoned or given up by their owners. They also take in parrots deemed dangerous or unsuited to domestic life. The best rehab centres and sanctuaries attempt to give parrots an environment similar to their natural habitat. That means room to fly around, plenty of perches, and other birds for company.

There are close to 400 species of parrot, all native to tropical and sub-tropical regions of the globe. Of the hundreds of species, only 4 do not qualify for protection under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Illegal bird trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to harm the population of wild parrots world wide as they are forced into captivity and into the homes of humans who often get more than they bargained for. 

Why are so many parrots abandoned?

Many people who choose parrots as pets, don’t understand that parrots are wild birds. Domestication takes hundreds of years! Unlike dogs and cats, parrots are only a few generations, at most, away from life in the wild. They are loud and messy and not suited to life in a cage. Some species of parrots fly up to 30 miles in the wild every day! Natural parrot behaviour is not exactly simpatico with natural human behaviour. Humans often can’t handle the domestic dispute, and the parrot ends up in rehab.

Parrots are loud

One of the reasons parrots have become such popular pets is their uncanny ability to mimic the human voice. But besides the occasional, “Polly Want A Cracker”, parrots are also prone to emitting ear-splitting shrieks.

In the wild, parrots rely on vocalization to attract mates, alert others of danger, and generally communicate with their flock. Macaws, Cockatoos and Amazons are among the loudest species of parrots. Their calls that can be heard for miles. Does anyone really want that in their home? Loud parrots end up in rehab.

Parrots are complex

Parrots are among the most intelligent birds on the planet. They have complex social systems and even speak in regional accents. A flock of African Grey parrots contains 20 – 30 birds. They live together socially and work together for survival. In captivity, parrots require hours of social activity with humans and other birds in order to avoid anxiety and behavioural disorders.

Parrots have shown the capacity to carry emotional baggage. Just like a rescue dog that has been abused, parrots appear to remember stressful events. Their response to the stress can affect them, and their relationships with humans, for the rest of their lives. A bird will show signs of stress by plucking out its own feathers, crying in distress, or biting and attacking humans. None of this behaviour is ideal for a pet, and again, the parrot ends up in rehab.

Petting = Sex

Parrots aren’t like dogs or cats who enjoy a good pet from just about anyone. For parrots, touching, preening and cuddling is reserved for mates only. For some types of parrots, touching anywhere other than the head and neck area could result in sexual stimulation. Yep, that’s awkward.

If they’re not into it, a parrot could respond with aggression.

On the other hand, the parrot might consider a human as its mate. You try telling a parrot, “it’s not you, it’s me”. A whole slew of other problems can arise from this messy break up, often leading the parrot to, you guessed it, rehab.

Parrots are monogamous

Many parrots choose a mate and form a tight bond, often for life. For lack of a better choice, a parrot may choose a human as its mate.  Be warned that a parrot is a jealous and possessive lover. In an attempt to defend its mate, a parrot may become aggressive to other humans including family members.

When forced to choose between a parrot and a child, most humans choose the child. And the parrot ends up in rehab.

Parrots live a very long time

On average, a parrot’s lifespan is between 60 and 80 years. So adopting a parrot is a bit like adopting a child. A child that never moves out or matures past the age of three. Needless to say, many parrots outlive their owners and eventually end up, in rehab.

So don’t get a parrot as a pet…

Parrots are amazing and beautiful, but also complex and demanding. For everyone’s sake, it’s better to leave these birds where they belong, in the wild.

Many sanctuaries and rehab centres can’t keep up with the number of parrots abandoned every year. If you love parrots, you might consider donating to or volunteering at a parrot rehab near you.

Meet the real life fox whisperer

Meet the real life fox whisperer

Many wildlife photographers become known for their jaw-dropping snaps of animals in the bush, or for their fierce focus on creatures that aren’t easily accessible to the public. And then there’s Konsta Punkka, a.k.a. The Fox Whisperer.


View this post on Instagram


~ Just chilling and enjoying the life

A post shared by Konsta Punkka (@kpunkka) on


A new side of wildlife

Unlike those other photogs, the Finland native prefers to capture close-ups of the animals we know and often ignore, like the common squirrel, racoon, and of course, fox. But what really sets Punkka apart aren’t his muses, but how he captures them: all of his photographs feature truly memorable animal expressions.


View this post on Instagram


~ Raccoon dog baby curiously looking into my camera

A post shared by Konsta Punkka (@kpunkka) on

“People live their busy lives in the cities and they don’t have any idea that they might be sharing a neighbourhood with a fox, owl, and squirrel family,” he says. “It drives me to go out every day to show people the perspective of the world through the eyes of fox.”


View this post on Instagram


~ Fox portrait taken at sunset light in Finland. Looking forward to more of these moments in the up coming months.

A post shared by Konsta Punkka (@kpunkka) on

The early days

Punkka started his career when he was 17 years old, turning his photography hobby into a full-time career—a career that has now included gigs for places like National Geographic, Greenpeace and Icelandair.

“I used to play drums in a wedding band. But I was never really better than average so I decided to give photography [a full-time shot] after I graduated from high school,” he says on his popular Instagram page, which currently boasts more than 1.2 million followers.

“I spent one summer holiday shooting all night and through that I found my love for wildlife photography. After I got the first fox shots I stopped doing anything else and I haven’t stopped since.”

A man on a mission

Today Punkka spends at least 200 days of the year outdoors trying to capture animal expressions. During the Nordic midnight sun season he switches his schedule to sleep during the day so that he can stay up and shoot at night.


View this post on Instagram


~ Found my favorite owl today. Great Grey owl watching my moves 🦉

A post shared by Konsta Punkka (@kpunkka) on

Meanwhile, despite fox continuing to be Punkka’s main focus, he also snaps shots of bears, deer, and other animals he comes across during such treks–both at home and abroad.


View this post on Instagram


~ Family portraits in Torres Del Paine. Patagonia III

A post shared by Konsta Punkka (@kpunkka) on

“I spend weeks and weeks every summer finding new fox families,” he says in an Instagram Q&A. “You need to spend all the nights with the families and follow their movements to get different perspectives. Of course always from a safe distance or with remote cameras. [The] more you spend time with them [the] better footage you get.”


View this post on Instagram


~ Curiosity

A post shared by Konsta Punkka (@kpunkka) on

Punkka never baits or disturbs the animals he shoots, but tries to tell a story through intimate portraits. “Intimacy can only be achieved through trust,” he says. “The animal is never just a random subject.”

Safety is also a huge concern for the photographer, especially when capturing some of the amazing bear shots that he does. To get up close and personal he dons a specific bear-proof hide with a “pipe system taking the human smell in the air” to protect him from “curious” animals.

Teaching us his ways

Having spent years on the fox-trodden path, Punkaa now shares his wealth of knowledge through workshops and by offering branded pre-sets for the amateur photographer to improve their own skills.

“Forest means a lot of different things to everyone, for me it’s a magical place full of life and different photo opportunities,” Punkka writes.

“It is a mysterious place where you can end up finding anything. For the last four years I have been focusing on capturing emotional and dreamy portraits of wildlife living close to my home or on the other side of the planet. My intentions are not to document their life, but to spend time there to get to know the animals and show what they feel and see.”

We’d say he’s definitely succeeding in that mission. Now… if only he could tell us what the fox says.

Remembering Roger, the world’s most muscular kangaroo

Roger the Kangaroo

At first it seemed like a meme gone wrong, but a few years ago a six-foot-seven, 200-pound kangaroo became a global celebrity when photos of his buff, buff body basically broke the Internet.

As you would expect a bodybuilder-muscle-flexing kangaroo, holding a crushed metal bucket, to do.

Since then we’ve all been following “Roger’s” adventures at The Kangaroo Sanctuary in Australia’s Alice Springs. Sadly, those adventures came to an end earlier this month with news of his passing at the age of 12—a good age for a red kangaroo, whose life expectancy is about 12-15 years.

“It’s a very sad day here today,” said the sanctuary’s owner and operator Chris Barns in a video posted to Facebook. “Roger was our alpha male for many years. He grew up to be a kangaroo that people from all over the world have grown to love as much as we love him.”

The original Kangaroo Dundee

In 2013 BBC filmed a documentary, Kangaroo Dundee, highlighting the work Barns does at the sanctuary. In it, cameras follow Barns, a.k.a. “Brolga” as he rescues joeys and raises them among his mob of nearly 30 kangaroos in Alice Springs.

Interest in the film began in 2011, when Barns was “living out in the bush in a tin shack with his family of kangaroos.” He thought the publicity would be a good opportunity to raise awareness about kangaroos orphaned by highway accidents. Since then Barns has also released a biography and has become known worldwide by the Kangaroo Dundee moniker.

A life devoted to animals

Barns grew up watching the Australian television series, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, which followed the adventures of a boy and his intelligent pet ‘roo. By the time Barns was 10 he had an aviary, and at 17 years old he became a zookeeper. He also spent time as a tour guide before deciding to devote his life to kangaroos.

“Alice Springs is finding comfort and beauty in the remoteness,” Barns said in a follow-up to Kangaroo Dundee, One Plus One: The Road to Alice. “Home is the bush. Where I grew up, where my parents are, that’s home as well, but the home in my spirit is the bush.”

Visiting the sanctuary

Barns opened The Baby Kangaroo Rescue Centre in 2005, and followed that up by opening the 188-acre The Kangaroo Sanctuary in 2011. His goal is to educate the public while continuing to help rescue and care for orphaned animals. To do so he offers pre-booked guided sunset tours that kick off in the late afternoon when the nocturnal animals begin waking up.


View this post on Instagram


Darling Zen Zen 😋🌱😍And while all that munching goes on, Rui soundly sleeps snuggled up to Zen Zen 😴

A post shared by The Kangaroo Sanctuary (@thekangaroosanctuary) on

Meanwhile Barns also takes donations, which are put towards the rescue and care of the animals. With those donations he also built Central Australia’s first wildlife hospital, The Kangaroo Hospital, which opened in 2015.

Raising Roger

Like many of the joeys that Barns saves, Roger was reared by hand after Barns discovered him on the side of the road in his dead mother’s pouch. As the animal grew bigger and more muscular he eventually became the pack’s dominant male. That meant he also saw Barns as a threat.

Naturally, Barns gave Roger plenty of space, telling Buzzfeed in 2015 that male red kangaroos need to be great wrestlers and kickboxers to survive, and they’ll engage in hand-to-hand combat to develop the necessary muscles.


View this post on Instagram


Roger when he was alpha male – ready to pounce 💪🏽And of course I ran away 😁❤️

A post shared by The Kangaroo Sanctuary (@thekangaroosanctuary) on

“There are no single girls in the bush,” Barns told the publication. “They’re all under the care of one dominant male, so these guys need to be tough to survive.”

Future roos

Roger may be gone, but he leaves behind a legacy though his own babies—including one named Monty. According to The Sanctuary’s Facebook page Monty grew quickly; early on was already twice the size of females his age. If history repeats itself that means the world could fall in love with another muscular kangaroo of Roger’s stature in the very near future.

If that’s the case, then Barns had definitely better get to work on his kickboxing skills already.

5 animals that moved to the endangered list in 2018

5 animals that moved to the endangered list in 2018

The past year has certainly been filled with bids to help stabilize ecosystems and increase the number of certain species. From conservationists taking drastic measures to preserving rhino populations, to poachers potentially facing the death penalty in Kenya, there have been some pretty creative solutions to ongoing problems.

It’s those kinds of measures that have historically helped animals like the golden lion tamarin, the black rhino, and the grizzly bear come back from the brink of extinction, but there are still thousands of animals on the endangered list. More than 26,500 species actually, according to the IUCN Red List. That number represents more than 27 per cent of all assessed species.

As 2018 comes to a close, the organization notes that while things are looking up for the fin whale and the mountain gorilla—two species of animals now recovering thanks to conservation action—some new animals also entered the list this year.

Gentle giraffes

5 animals that moved to the endangered list in 2018

With their notable necks and cute faces, giraffes are popular animals with children and adults alike. Unfortunately, two subspecies of the world’s tallest land animal, the Kordofan giraffe and the Nubian giraffe, have been added to the list of critically endangered animals. Meanwhile, the Horn of Africa subspecies is now listed as endangered. The animals made the shift on the list this year as a result of increased urbanization, poaching, and civil unrest in certain parts of Africa.

This pretty tarantula

Milan Zygmunt/Shutterstock

The Mexican Orange Beauty is a notable species of tarantula in Mexico thanks to its striking orange markings, and up until five years ago the spider was easily found in the country’s wild coastal region. However as a result of urbanisation and agriculture, (not to mention its popularity as a pet) the species is beginning to disappear. It officially entered the IUCN Red List as endangered in 2018.

An African oryx

suthon thotham/Shutterstock

Once upon a time the East African Beisa oryx was easily spotted in the bushlands and grasslands, but by the mid-1990s it was estimated there were only 26,000 left. Until this year the species had been listed as near threatened, but as a result of hunting, livestock farming, and urban development it’s estimated the population has since declined by more than 50 per cent. Now it’s officially endangered, with few conservation efforts currently in place to save it.

Peru’s notable toad

Edvard Mizsei/Shutterstock

Back in 2004 the Paramo toad was assessed under “least concern” on the IUCN Red List; 14 years later and it’s now classified as critically endangered. The Peru toad may in fact already be extinct given that the last sighting was in 2005. The drastic decline is a result of habitat loss and the contamination of freshwater through mining activities and agricultural expansion, but the IUCN notes “threats from chtridiomycosis and climate change cannot be ruled out.”

Canadian salmon

Bryan Faust/Shutterstock

The plight of Chinook salmon made headlines earlier this year when the story of an orca pushing her dead newborn calf along 1,600 kilometres of ocean for more than two weeks went viral. Orcas rely heavily on the fish as a food source, and that food source is indeed running out. The World Wildlife Federation’s Canadian chapter notes the addition of 13 populations of Chinook salmon from Vancouver Island, Thompson, and Fraser rivers to the national Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife’s list of species at risk this year, pointing to “an ecosystem in crisis.”


Click here for more information on species that changed categories on the IUCN Red List between 2017 and 2018.

Are polar bears endangered or not?

The WWF labels polar bears as vulnerable, so why is the word on the street this year that polar bears are doing just fine?

A 2017 video of a starving polar bear went viral. The emaciated bear dragged itself slowly, nibbling on a discarded seat from a snowmobile. People everywhere were up in arms.

But only a year later, the government of Nunavut drafted a report claiming an abundance of polar bears were posing a threat to Inuit people.

So what’s the truth?

Are Polar Bears a Threatened Species?

Polar bears are classified as a vulnerable species by the World Wildlife Foundation and have been on the United States’ Endangered Species list as “threatened” since 2008.

Polar bears are marine animals that spend more than half their time hunting for food on the ice of the Arctic Ocean. Their high-fat diet consists primarily of seal meat, and a polar bear is lucky to catch one in every five seals it goes after.

As climate change decimates the polar bear’s available hunting territory, polar bears are having a hard time finding enough food. It is especially perilous for bears on dry land, like the polar bear in the viral video. They are marine animals after all, who move and hunt more efficiently in water.

Polar bears are also hunted in a long-standing Inuit tradition. A polar bear skin goes for $10,000 or more, while the meat is divided up and shared for food. The Canadian government is hesitant to make the traditional hunt illegal for cultural reasons but have imposed rules and restrictions to avoid overhunting.

So Is the Report Wrong?

In addition to an increased number of polar bear encounters, two Inuit men were killed in polar bear attacks over the summer of 2018. One was on hunting trip, the other, unarmed, died protecting his children. Locals complain they are now forced to carry a gun whenever they want to enjoy the outdoors. Both of these deaths occurred outside community borders.

Polar bears are formidable creatures armed with teeth and claws. So they are definitely something to be cautious about. It’s true that polar bears are appearing in communities, and locals have been forced to think about protection.

The report is criticized for its strong reliance on Inuit knowledge, as opposed to Western Science. As a people, the Inuit have observed and relied upon their Arctic landscape for thousands of years. Many concerned residents believe the government needs to prioritize Inuit lives over the polar bears.

The report further states that “[Inuit knowledge] acknowledges that polar bears are exposed to the effects of climate change, but suggests that they are adaptable.” Environment Canada responded that the report is “not in alignment with scientific evidence”.

What Are Scientists Saying?

Researchers agree there has been an increase of polar bears venturing into Northern communities, but they do not agree that overpopulation is the cause. Instead, scientists say climate change is to blame. Forcing polar bears out of their usual hunting grounds out of desperation for food. The species is still vulnerable.

As Arctic ice melts, food supplies dwindle, and so polar bears have started to adapt. They have followed the smell of food into human communities. Just like raccoons or even coyotes, they have started to teach themselves a new way to survive.

Is There A Solution?

The government of Canada imposed a quota system in the 1970s that is still in effect today. Its purpose is to regulate the polar bear hunt and conserve the polar bear population while accounting for the requirements of the Inuit population. There have been many complaints that the quota has gone down in recent years.

Many communities are frustrated that the polar bear has become a symbol for climate change. Who would want to be painted as a villain to the world, when all they are trying to do is protect their own?

There have been several solutions proposed by Inuit Communities to manage the threat of polar bears. Pond Inlet wants permission to kill any bear within 1km from the community border, without affecting their quota. Other proposed plans focus on education and bear safety for both individuals and communities.

Climate researchers propose that the only solution to the polar bear problem is to protect our environment. Preserve their icy Arctic habitats and polar bears will have no need to wander into human territory. Unfortunately, we may be beyond that point.


Some communities, such as Churchill, Manitoba, have learned to coexist with polar bears. Their polar bear alert program works to protect both humans and polar bears. Strategies include a voluntary curfew at 10 pm, and all car doors to remain unlocked in case passersby need a safe place to hide. When a bear approaches the town, the alert team will first try to scare it away with a loud noise like a siren or car horn. They keep the problem bears in a “polar bear jail” holding area, before relocating them by helicopter.

The community of Arviat, Nunavut, was home to Aaron Gibbons, who died protecting his children from a polar bear. Arviat already had a Polar Bear Patrol in place, much like Churchill’s alert program. In 2016, the program successfully deterred 205 bears and relocated 25. Only 4 bears were killed in defense.

Check out this guide to polar bear safety to learn more.

The booming black market animal trade in Canada

Animal trafficking is the 4th largest illegal market in the world, raking in $20 billion dollars a year.

You may think of the illegal animal market is far from home, but reports show that business is alive and well in Canada. From bear genitals to eel meat, the government has seized more than 4,000 animals and animal parts since 2011.

The animal contraband comes from both outside and inside Canada.

Exotic Animals Coming In

Exotic animals, like parrots and tigers, are often bred within Canada. Other times, people steal animals from their natural habitats and smuggle them across borders.

A pet store in Sudbury Ontario called “Northern Exotics” is famous for their “breeding room”. They charge visitors cover to see various exotic species including corn snakes and squirrel monkeys, all bred in store. They even host birthday parties there. The store accepts animals from the public with a no questions asked policy, so it’s safe to assume most of these animals came to Canada illegally.

In October 2016, police intercepted a transfer from a boat crossing the St. Lawrence River from the U.S. They confiscated 205 live reptiles, including South American red-footed tortoises, a serrated hinge-back tortoise, Chinese striped turtles, African side neck turtles, Jackson’s chameleons and green iguanas. The shipment was intended for pet stores in Canada.

Environment Canada says one man tried to smuggle baby elephants in the back of his car, telling the border agents they were “car parts”.

Finches from Trinidad and Guyana are popular in the Toronto area and are often smuggled inside hair rollers with their beaks taped shut.

One Canadian man thought he could get away with crossing the U.S. border with 51 live turtles taped to his body!

An Edmonton man received a $10,000 fine after he tried to bring a truckload of snakes and scorpions in from the United States. He was also charged $1,400 to cover care for the animals.

Sometimes it’s only animal parts being smuggled. In 2015, police raided a warehouse in Richmond B.C. in a sting operation. The warehouse belonged to a supposed “antiques dealer” and contained illegal items such as ivory, rhino horns, and coral.

Smuggling From Within Canada

Canada is a vast territory filled with wildlife that many people in the world consider exotic. So, it’s no surprise that the market for Canadian animals and animal parts is a lucrative and growing business.

An ex-Mountie from New Brunswick was caught smuggling Narwhal tusks into Maine in 2017. The long spiral-shaped Narwhal tusks are coveted for jewelry making. The tusks were smuggled across the border hidden in secret compartments in the ex-cop’s car.

In some cultures, broth made of the paws, gallbladders or genitals of bears is said to have significant healing properties. A bear gallbladder goes for $10,000 on the black market. There have been multiple incidents of bear trafficking in both British Columbia and New Brunswick. Disturbingly, a grizzly bear was found on the side of a highway in British Columbia missing only its paws in May of this year.

Hunters in Northern British Columbia often cross the border into the Yukon to illegally hunt for the large and majestic Dall’s Sheep. The hunters will then take the sheep home with them and claim B.C. as the province of origin. This practice jeopardizes any accurate monitoring of the sheep population.

Why do people do it?

Sometimes smugglers are animal enthusiasts who can’t be bothered to fill out the proper paperwork. Most of the time smugglers have a lot to gain. Even when facing the risk of punishment or the death of animals in the process, it’s usually worth it for the profit. When a Quebec man and a taxidermy company were caught illegally exporting polar bear pelts in May 2018, both parties were fined $5,000. Meanwhile, the pelts were worth between $16,000 and $35,000 each.

What are the consequences?

For the smugglers who get caught, the punishment ranges from minor to severe. The trafficking of bear parts is six-months in jail and/or $250,000.

Two British Columbia men accused of illegally hunting a Dall’s Sheep in the Yukon were convicted 13 years later when prosecutors used the hunters’ own photos against them. They were charged $7,500 each, and forced to hand over the trophy mount of the sheep.

Besides punishment for the perpetrators, animal trafficking can have long-lasting effects on the environment and wildlife. Foreign animals brought into the country can bring communicable diseases with them. Sometimes foreign animals released to the wild become invasive species.

Illegal poaching puts endangered and vulnerable species at risk such as the polar bear and spotted turtle. The competition that comes with illegal big game hunting is another concern when it comes to conservation.

What is being done to stop it?

Environment Canada, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canadian Border Services Agency work together to battle illegal animal trafficking. Environment Canada deals with conservation issues such as overhunting and removal from habitats. The Food Inspection Agency has jurisdiction over the treatment and health of animals, (even those that aren’t generally thought of as food). Border Services, of course, is in charge of imports and exports, declarations and suspicious border activity.

For the sake of the animals and our ecosystem, the fight to end animal trafficking continues.

The ongoing plight of honeybees

With their buzzing little bodies, their often feared stingers, and their servitude towards a single queen, honeybees have long fascinated us. Look no further than Jerry Seinfeld, who based an entire animated film (Bee Movie) on one, or the marketing people behind Honey Nut Cheerios for proof.

Unfortunately, honeybees also continue to be in grave danger, and declining populations have led to public concern and more people within the scientific community taking note.

Colony Collapse Disorder and the four “P”s

In 2006 honeybees made headlines as a result of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), when hives inexplicably died out in the winter months. The media caught on and government officials pressed scientists for an answer to the mysterious happenings, as others cited the rapture and conspiracy theories.

bee colonies
Igor Podgorny/Shutterstock

While the exact cause of CCD remains unknown (chronic disease and environmental stress play a role), it has effectively stopped in the last few years. But that doesn’t mean bee populations are faring much better.

As a result of the four “P”s: poor nutrition, pesticides, pathogens, and parasites, bees continue dying at alarming rates. Between April 2016 and March 2017, about one third of the hives in the U.S. perished—and that was only the second-lowest loss in the last seven years.

In Canada we’re faring slightly better, with reported colony loss at 16.8 per cent in 2016.

The value of pollination

Losing bees at such alarming rates isn’t just bad news for honey lovers. On a larger scale, bees are important pollinators that affect the availability of food worldwide (more than 80 per cent of food crops require pollination, or to put it another way, one in every three bites of food we consume is pollinated). Meanwhile, roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops depend on them. Without bees to pollinate plants for free, the industry would skyrocket billions of dollars.

bee pollination

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” Dave Goulson at Sussex University said in conjunction with a study revealing a 75 per cent decline in flying insects. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

Hitting home

In Canada, 95 million pounds of honey was produced in 2015, with many beekeepers also transporting their colonies from field to field in order to help farmers with pollination.

According to Bees Matter, a Canadian organization dedicated to the education of honeybees, canola farmers rely on half of the honeybee colonies in the country to pollinate their crops, while apple and blueberry farmers cite the pollinators as critical to ongoing success.

The buzz in Europe

The plight of honeybees has become so dire that the European Union has stepped in and banned outdoor use of three of the five neonicotinoid pesticides linked to mass bee deaths. Meanwhile in France, government officials have banned all five of the pesticides, both on outdoor crop fields and inside greenhouses.

“Policy makers in other jurisdictions will be paying close attention to these decisions. We rely on both farmers and pollinators for the food we eat,” Nigel Raine at the University of Guelph told The Guardianof the decision. “Pesticide regulation is a balancing act between unintended consequences of their use for non-target organisms, including pollinators, and giving farmers the tools they need to control crop pests.”

diseased bees

Neonicotinoids, which were first created in the mid-1990s, attack an insect’s central nervous system and quickly became popular on flowering crops like fruit trees, canola, and vineyards. Not only does their use translate into an increased mortality rate for bees, but those insects that do survive have lower immune systems and are therefore more vulnerable to disease.

The question now is if these particular pesticides are banned, what will farmers use to replace them and will those methods be just as harmful?

“If these neonicotinoids are simply replaced by other similar compounds, then we will simply be going round in circles,” Dave Goulson of the Unicersity of Sussex also told The Guardian. “What is needed is a move towards truly sustainable farming.”

Parasites, disease… and a vaccination?

Pesticides certainly don’t help a honeybee’s ability to thrive, but neither do parasites and other deadly diseases, like the nasty bloodsucking parasites called varroa mites or the always perplexing problem of American foulbrood (AFB)—an infectious disease harming bee colonies worldwide.

While researchers (including those at Ontario’s University of Guelph) continue pondering the problem of varroa mites, it seems as though they may have found a solution to AFB. Testing on the first-ever insect vaccination was recently announced, which would be a game-changer not only for bees but for insects everywhere.

In typical vaccinations a dead or weakened version of a virus is injected into a person or animal, which in turn sparks the immune system into creating antibodies. But because insects don’t have antibodies, traditional inoculations are impossible.

However biologist Dalial Freitak at the University of Helsinki realized that when a moth was exposed to certain bacteria it was able to pass down a resistance to the next generation, and that made her wonder about the application for bees. So she and her coworker, Heli Salmela, got to work on using the bee protein vitellogenin to create a similar immune response in bees.

They found that in feeding a queen bee the foulbrood bacteria, the vitellogenin protein binds with pathogen molecules, which in turn helps her baby bees develop an immune system that’s able to recognize and protect them from AFB.

The team is calling the resulting vaccine, which is currently in the testing phase, PrimeBEE.

How to help

You don’t need a fancy lab or equipment to help honeybees thrive at home. In the spring, planting pollinator-friendly flowers that are native to your area will give bees a fighting chance to forage, especially if you plant in a sunny, bee-friendly area. It’s also helpful to set out a plate of water or a decorative rock where rain can collect so that bees can easily access it.

“Bees spend a lot of time gathering pollen and nectar from flowers, but they also need water,” entomologist Emily Kuhns told USA Today. “Bees also use water to regulate their temperature, help with digestion and to dilute stored honey.”


Meanwhile, if you’re a city-dweller and you believe the best way to help is by taking up beekeeping as a hobby, you might want to reconsider. The rise of urban beekeepers is doing more harm than good, since there isn’t enough nectar and pollen in these areas to feed so many bees.

“There’s a lot of enthusiastic people out there who really want to help the bees,” biologist Karin from the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex told CBC. “But if you want to help elephants in Africa, you wouldn’t just put loads more elephants out there if the habitat wasn’t there to feed them.”

Sorry to be a buzzkill.