Turtles and Malaysia

After a long break from blogging I-am-back! GCSEs are over, results day is out of the way and I thought now would be a good time to talk about what I’ve been doing this summer.

I was lucky enough to travel to Malaysia with a few friends from school where we worked with a turtle conservation charity on the east coast. We learnt a lot about turtles while working at the turtle sanctuary and we were given many opportunities to get hands on with the turtles, helping to release hatchlings, clearing out old nests, cleaning tanks and painting a table to help promote turtle conservation.

There are four main types of turtle in Malaysia not including the freshwater turtles (called Terrapins). They are the Leatherback, the Olive Ridley, The Green and the Hawksbill. An Olive Ridley turtles diet consists of crustaceans, molluscs, jellyfish, fish and seagrass and they are generally greyish to olive green in colour. Green turtles are sort of olive green to brown and black in colour and they feed on mostly sea grass, seaweeds and occasionally jellyfish. A Hawksbill turtles colour is a mixture of yellow, brown and darker brown streaks and they eat sponges which are hard coral-like marine organisms. Hence why these turtles are called Hawksbill, due to their distinctly shaped bills used to break off bits of sponge. Leatherback turtles are generally black with whitey grey patches and their diet consists of mostly jellyfish. The population of Leatherback turtles in Malaysia has reduced by 99.9% with current rates of nesting at about 4 nests per year compared with over 10,000 nests recorded in the 1950’s, therefore the Leatherback is listed as critically endangered. The job of the turtle conservation society is to stop the three remaining populations of turtle in Malaysia from going the same way as the Leatherback by protecting and caring for them in their sanctuaries.

While working with the charity we visited two of their sanctuaries. The first was an inland sanctuary where injured turtles were kept and cared for. It also has an information centre to help educate young Malaysians on the importance of protecting and looking after turtles. The second was a hatchery on the beach. The volunteers who work here are responsible for looking after the turtle eggs that are laid by turtles who make their nests on the beach. Because of the danger to these eggs posed by wild dogs and the locals (turtles eggs are a popular food Malaysia and tend to go for a high price in the market), the eggs are removed from the nests laid by the turtles and put them into pre dug nests in the hatchery. This way the eggs are safe from predators and this increases their chance of survival.

After the newly laid eggs are in their nests the sanctuary waits 60 days which is the average time in takes for them to hatch. Once they hatch, the turtles crawl up through the sand and when the first signs of movement appear we moved the sand from the top of the nest to help the turtles out and conserve their much needed energy. We released the hatchlings as soon as possible after they hatched because the energy that they get from the egg only lasts them seven days after hatching before they must get food, so there was no time to waste. Rather than releasing the baby turtles straight into the sea we released them from the top of the beach to allow the turtles to acknowledge and ‘map’ the beach in their brains so that they may come back in the future to lay their own eggs.

After the turtles have hatched the nests are left for ten days to give any unhatched eggs the chance to hatch before the nests are cleaned out and prepared for the next load of eggs. We were given the job of digging up the nest and removing the old shells as well as unfertilised eggs and unhatched eggs. The amount of eggs in each nest is known when they are placed inside and so the removed eggs must be counted to insure none are left in the nest. The removed eggs are catalogued so the sanctuary can keep track of how many eggs have hatched, been unfertilised or are unhatched. The unhatched eggs are usually eggs where the turtle inside has died as the majority of turtles hatch within 60-70 days after being laid so when we were digging up the nests the last thing we expected was to find an unhatched egg with a living turtle inside. But to our surprise when we were opening up the unhatched eggs (to see if they were dead or just unfertilised) we found not one but two of the eggs in one of the nests contained living turtles. The first we named Milo but unfortunately he was blind and died 30 minutes after we found him. The second we named Lippy, he was a lot smaller than hatchlings should be but he still had a chance so was released along with new hatchlings from another nest.

During our time at the sanctuary we worked on painting an old wooden cable reel which the sanctuary was using as a table to help promote turtle conservation and increase awareness of the importance of protecting turtles in the people that see it. We created a scene of the sea and the beach merging and produced images of turtles swimming, laying eggs and feeding as well as including slogans in all different languages that promoted turtle conservation and discouraging the eating of turtle eggs. It acted as a summary not only of a turtles life but also of our time with the turtle sanctuary and allowed us to leave our mark.

This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, not only did I get to help an animal charity carry out its important work but I was able to witness wonderful things and spend my days helping animals on the beach, my idea of heaven.

Castle Vets Work Experience

Last week I attended work experience at a local veterinary surgery. I was lucky enough to witness several operations and sit in on many vet consults. In this post I will talk about some of the most interesting cases I came across.

On my first day I met a 12 year old king charles spaniel called Charlie. He came in because he needed his anal glands washed out. Anal glands are little sacs that sit right inside of anal opening on either side. They produce a thick foul-smelling oily liquid which is secreted by their glandular tissue for identification and territory-marking. Usually anal gland secretions are very small so you can’t smell them, but occasionally you can smell the odour from the dog’s bum and this is because they have lost their ability to empty these glands voluntarily. They need to be emptied to stop them becoming impacted and uncomfortable and that is what had happened with Charlie. I was responsible for holding Charlie up while the vet pushed distilled water into his anal glands to wash them out.

On another day I got to see the vet trimming a rabbits teeth. Rabbit teeth are ‘open rooted’ which means they grow continuously throughout their lives, much like a human’s fingernails. If they are not worn down by the action of chewing and grinding of tooth against tooth when eating, then they must be trimmed to enable the rabbit to continue eating and to reduce the chance of the rabbit injuring itself. This may be caused by the misalignment of the teeth called ‘malocclusion’ which means the teeth are unable to wear each other down properly. The procedure of trimming this rabbit’s teeth was very quick and simple and did not require an anesthetic.

On my final day was very privileged to be able to watch a nephrectomy. A nephrectomy is the name of an operation where a kidney is removed. The nephrectomy I watched had to be performed on a cat that had a tumor in her right kidney. The tumor was too large to remove and still have a healthy kidney afterwards and so the whole thing was removed. Most animals do not need both kidneys but before the nephrectomy was carried out the cats left kidney was assessed to see if it could maintain the health of the cat without the help of the other kidney. First the nurses trimmed the hair around where the incision was going to be made and then sterilised it. After one vet had made a cut on the abdomen, the other searched for the kidney. Two vets were present in the operating room as it was a complicated procedure. Then they removed it from the tissue that separates the kidney from the rest of the abdomen, this is called the ‘parenchyma’. Before cutting the kidney out they had to make sure they had cut off the main blood vessels going to the kidney, the renal artery and the renal vein. These, as well as the urethra, were tied off and cut. The kidney and ureter were then removed, and then the vets checked for bleeding and the sewed up the incision. It was about a 90 minute operation and very fascinating to watch.

Overall this was a great week which allowed me to witness a range of conditions and operations in all sorts of animals. I learnt a lot from observing the vets work. I also appreciated the amount of work that goes into keeping the surgery clean and sterile and had the chance to hone my cleaning skills. One of the main things I learnt was the importance of people skills in veterinary medicine. The animals you must treat can’t speak and so being able to communicate effectively with the owner is vital in diagnosing what is wrong with the animal.

Swans and Bird Flu

After recent outbreaks of Bird Flu across the country, particularly in swans, I thought it would be a good topic for todays blog. Here it is:

Bird Flu, also known as avian influenza, is a disease that affects the lungs and airways in birds caused by infection of the influenza virus. It can be split into two different categories. The first is called a ‘low pathogenic avian influenza’ or LPAI and the second is called a ‘highly pathogenic avian influenza’ or HPAI. If a bird is infected with a LPAI type of bird flu it is likely that it will have only mild illness, for example, not producing as many eggs or ruffled feathers. But a bird infected with a HPAI type of bird flu it is almost certain to result in death, especially in domesticated birds, if not treated. Both types of bird flu are extremely contagious and this means they can spread rapidly in flocks.

It is thought that most wild birds are immune to some form of bird flu and are therefore not affected by it. It is likely that they are the birds that carry and spread the virus to domesticated birds like ducks, turkeys and chickens that are raised for poultry. It is usually the case that domesticated birds are not immune to any form of bird flu and if they come into contact with the droppings or other secretions of an infected bird they are likely to become infected with the virus and die.

Household birds can also become infected with bird flu, for example budgies, macaws and cockatoos. The symptoms for bird flu in household birds can include: discharge from the eyes, lack of appetite, breathing problems and swelling of the head. If a household bird becomes infected with the LPAI type of bird flu it won’t always display symptoms but could still it can die suddenly or might pass on the virus to humans that it lives with, depending on which strain it is. If a bird is not treated in time, the death rate for bird flu is high. A vet will be able to diagnose a bird with bird flu through tests for viral infection. There is a vaccine that has been developed to prevent bird flu, but it is thought to be more effective in poultry birds than birds kept as pets.
To prevent the spread of Bird Flu a pet bird might be kept in quarantine or in some flocks of birds it is necessary to carry out a cull.

Recently in the news, there have been stories of outbreaks of bird flu across the country. It is believed to be due to the current H5N8 strain. At Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset eighty wild swans have died from the disease. Abbotsbury Tourism general manager John Houston said: ‘Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about it. You can’t stop migratory birds dropping in to local colonies of swans and infect the population.’ This current strain of the virus is thought to have been brought into Britain by birds migrating from Europe and spread to local poultry birds in swannerys and farms. Other cases of bird flu in Britain in the past couple of weeks, include at a turkey farm in East Lindsey, Lincolnshire, where 2,500 turkeys have already been culled and 6000 more affected. On the 16 December it was confirmed that the premises in Lincolnshire were infected with the H5N8 strain of the virus and only today has the 10km surveillance zone and the 3km protection zone been lifted. This strain of bird flu has also been found in Wales, Scotland, Merseyside, Gloucestershire and Somerset.

Currently, Public Health England is saying this strain is of very low risk to public health and has never infected a human being and The Food Standards Agency has said that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

I hope you enjoyed this post and learnt something about bird flu that you didn’t know before.

Curiosity and the Cat

Feral cats are a real problem in Australia, they threaten the existence of over 100 native species and have already brought 20 native Australian mammals to extinction. They are a major cause of decline for many land-based endangered animals such as the bilby, bandicoot, bettong and numbat. They also can carry infectious diseases which can be transmitted to native animals, domestic livestock, humans and domesticated cats. It is estimated there are 20 million feral cats in Australia who can kill between 5-30 animals per day, in Australia they are considered pests.

Feral cats are the same species as domestic cats, however they live and reproduce in the wild and survive by hunting or scavenging. Cats are defined as feral, stray or domestic based on how dependent on humans they are. It is hard to believe that our cuddly pets can be responsible for causing the extinction of whole species. The real environmental disaster that the feral cat population is causing in Australia is hard for a lot of people to truly comprehend.

Current methods to decrease Australia’s feral cat population fall far short of what is needed to stop them driving still more endangered species to extinction. Techniques such as baiting, trapping and shooting, which help remote islands and small fenced areas to be cleared of feral cats, are not effective when trying to tackle the problem at a national level. Feral cats are difficult to locate and very wary of humans, which makes trapping and shooting time consuming and impractical. Also the removal of cats from one area is quickly insignificant because of the immigration of other cats from other areas. Feral cats do not readily take bait as they usually catch live prey and so baiting is also quite uneffective and baiting can also have an impact on native species. Many of the diseases used to control numbers are already in the feral cat population and so have no effect.

“Given the urgency of the problem, we need a layered approach, including emergency intervention for species most at risk, and research that improves longer term management of feral cat impacts in larger areas,” said Tim Doherty of Deakin University in Australia.

So what is being done to tackle this problem. At the Federal Department of Environment and Energy a new feral cat-specific bait called Curiosity has been developed. There are other feral cat baits, for example Eradicat, but most tend to work under specific conditions whereas Curiosity has many more positive qualities. It uses a meat sausage with a small hard plastic pellet inside. This contains the toxin PaPP or para-aminopropiophenon. Interestingly, para-aminopropiophenon is a compound, originally used as an antidote to cyanide poisoning.

“It works by stopping oxygen bonding with haemoglobin so when the cat eats the sausage, and feral cars don’t chew their food so much as gulp is down whole. The pellet releases in their stomach, they get groggy, go to sleep, and they die completely humanely.” says the Threatened Species Commissioner for Australia, Gregory Andrews.

Some of its other qualities include the fact that it can be distributed out of the back of a car, truck or even aircraft and trials have shown that 80% of the cats that consume Curiosity die from it. Also the design of the sausage and pellet, means that native carnivorous animals are very unlikely to eat it and if they do it is almost certain that they will spit the pellet out.

Currently Curiosity is waiting for assessment and registration but could this be the drug that helps to save over a hundred native Australian species from extinction by the most destructive predator, the cat.

Spots and Rosettes

This week is a bit of a random one but not any less interesting. I chose to research leopards and I was amazed at their adaptability to their environment and the variety of things they eat. Leopards are the smallest of the four big cats, renowned for their agility. They can run up to 58km per hour and can leap 6 metres horizontally and 3 metres vertically.

Leopards are very adaptable and live in different places around the world, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, northeast Africa, Central Asia, India, and China. They can live in rainforests, deserts, woodlands, grassland savannas, forests, mountain habitats, coastal scrubs, shrub lands and even swampy areas.

They are also extremely impressive hunters. They always hunt, kill and feed alone and quickly and quietly, to avoid drawing attention to themselves. They are so strong and agile climbers that they often haul bodies of large animals into the branches to keep them safe from scavengers such as hyenas. A male leopard can drag a carcass three times its own weight, including small giraffes, over six metres up at tree. They are also nocturnal and spend their nights hunting instead of sleeping. Leopards will eat anything that crosses their path including cheetah cubs, baboons, rodents, monkeys, snakes, large birds, amphibians, insects, antelopes, warthogs and porcupines. Leopards are also very good swimmers and often catch and eat fish. They are usually able to kill their prey with one swift bite to the neck, breaking it.

Leopards live alone and have their own territories, they are very solitary and only really spend time with other leopards when they are mating or raising young. Leopards tend to have two or three cubs per pregnancy. Mothers don’t wander their territories after giving birth until their young are able to come with them. Cubs suckle for around 3 months and are kept hidden for about the first 8 weeks to protect them. They will stay with their mothers for 2 years and then they will leave to find their own territories.

Even though these animals are extremely skilled hunters who eat a variety of prey, can adapt to anywhere in the world and are also very elusive, secretive and a camouflaged, their numbers are declining. The main cause for this is by habitat loss and hunting. Leopards are hunted for their coats as they have distinctive dark spots or rosettes, which create beautiful patterns against their light fur but some also have black coats so their rosettes aren’t visible, they are often called black panthers, but are still hunted. Their solitary nature also makes them more vulnerable than if they lived in groups.

Mammals and Umbilical Cords

Hello readers!! This week is a question that bothered me for a long time but when I researched it in more detail I realised that it was in fact a very simple answer and a stupid question. So I ask you, do animals have belly buttons?

A belly button, also known as a navel or umbilicus, is a sort of scar on the abdomen the umbilical cord was previously attached. All placental mammals have a navel, and we humans are one of those. Placental mammals are gestated inside their mothers and so are all born with umbilical cords. Most placental mammal mothers chew off the cord with their teeth, leaving a flat scar that is usually less noticeable than a human’s belly button. A lot of animals in the wild then eat the placenta to reduce odors that may attract predators, restore nutrients lost during pregnancy and gain hormones. Chimpanzee mothers ignore the umbilical cord entirely, and simply haul around baby, placenta and cord until it dries up and drops off in about a day.

Marsupials are pouched mammals, like the kangaroo, the cord usually falls off while in the mother’s pouch, and a scar never forms. Monotremes are egg-laying mammals, like the platypus, and so have no need for a umbilical cord and therefore no umbilicus.

Most fish, insects, birds and other animals that aren’t mammals do not have navels but the closest non-mammals have come to having bellybuttons are scorpions. Scorpions are viviparous, meaning that the give live birth and therefore use a form of placental structure is used, but no scar is left when the young are born.

The biggest thing I learnt when researching this is that humans aren’t as special as we think we are. Instead of thinking logically about the fact that humans are mammals and most mammals do have umbilical cords and therefore bellybuttons, I thought about how strange it would be if we humans weren’t the only ones to have bellybuttons and if I’m honest I am ashamed to have that attitude. I think that we need to stop seeing ourselves as the superior race and remember we are animals too. We all need to be more aware that we are nature too and we are not as different from our fellow mammals as we think we are.

Work Experience Mini Blog Day 5 – Types of Bedding

The right bedding can depend on a number of factors including cost, transport, storage, disposal and the individual. In general, the most common types of bedding used are straw and shavings.

– Wheat Straw is great for bedding it is not only cheap and readily available but also it is easy to muck out. It rots down well, and so you could dispose of it in a muck heap or can be given away or sold as it makes a great fertiliser. But it is not suitable for horses with allergies or breathing problems as it can be very dusty and poorer quality straw could be mouldy as well. Sometimes it can be hard to store bales because they need a lot of space to stay dry.

– Oat Straw is probably the least suitable for bedding as it can become saturated very quickly but it also the most expensive, sometimes in a good harvest year it can be cheap. But it does gives a clean and bright appearance and straw manure can be disposed of far easily than other types of materials.

– Wood Shavings are very absorbent which makes them easy to muck out. Dust-free shavings are available so are suitable for allergic horses. They are easily disposed of as they will burn. But if you cannot or don’t want to burn the shavings, they can be hard to get rid of. They take a long time to rot down and so are not great on muck heaps.

– Wood Fibre is an environmentally friendly product as it is made from recycled materials. It is great for bedding as it is warm, dust free, comfortable and supportive. It is also free-draining which means that bed that stays dry on top also horses stay clean as it does not cling to manes or tails. High absorbency means that it can be very heavy to muck out.

– Shredded Paper is also a really good choice for bedding. It has great insulation and storage qualities and is completely dust free For grooming qualities, shredded paper is excellent because it keeps horses cleaner than other bedding products. Although it does require more cleaning and maintenance than straw or shavings, it is light to work with, quite absorbent, warm and can be cheap. It would not be practical to have paper on a muck heap as shredded paper tends to blow around in the wind so the most important fife time way to dispose of it would be to burn it.

– Wood Pellets are environmentally friendly and compost much quicker than shavings or straw. They are dust free and highly absorbent. When water is added to the pellets they expand and can absorb up to nine times more liquid than shavings. But they cable slippery when wet

– Hemp is quite a new type of bedding but has good absorbency and makes a very comfy bed. It is also dust free and decomposes quickly. But it can be expensive and if ingested, can cause swelling in the stomach.

Work Experience Mini Blog Day 3 – Grooming Tools

Curry Comb
Curry combs are usually made of rubber and are used to not only to remove mud but also to massage the horses muscles and stimulate the skin to release natural oils. The curry comb is usually used in a circular motion to work loose embedded mud.

Dandy Brush
A brush with long stiff bristles used for removing dry surface dirt, usually used on the less sensitive parts of the horse’s body. Generally it is used after the curry comb when most of the hard mud is removed and there is just dust left.

Body Brush
This brush has soft bristles used to remove the grease and dust from the coat that can be used on sensitive areas such as the head and ears.

Hoof Pick
A hoof pick is used to remove the dirt, snow, stones or any other debris in the hoof of a horse. When picking loosening the dirt in a horses hoof you must be careful to make sure you avoid the frog (the sensitive part of a hoof, it is triangular in shape, and extends mid way from the heel towards the toe), if you use the pick on that the horse are going to feel it. It is best to work from heel to toe, to prevent accidentally jabbing the frog or stabbing yourself with the hoof pick.

Shedding Blade
A shedding blade is not really a blade more of a metal loop with saw-like teeth . It is used mostly in summer to help remove the excess hair. The blade is used on your horses coat the same way you would use a brush and is just as good at removing access hair.

Pulling Comb
A pulling comb is used to pull a mane or tail. Pulling a mane or tail will thin an overly thick one to the right length and thickness. It involves plucking out certain bits of hair to help make it look neat and tidy and the pulling comb aids this.

Work Experience Mini Blog Day 2 – Horse Gaits

Today I went out riding and learnt about the different types of gaits, or movements, a horse has. Horses have four different natural gaits, the walk, trot, canter and gallop. They all have specific footwork and approximate speeds.

The first and slowest is a walk. It is a four beat gait which means that there are three hooves on the ground at any one time and each moves on its own in a specific order. It is approximately 4 miles per hour. When the horse is walking it ‘tracks up’, this means that the hind hoof should fit into or in front of the Hoover mark of the fore hoof. There are also four variations of the walk, Collected Walk, Medium Walk, Extended Walk and Free Walk.
These are the four beats in order:
1st beat right hind leg
2nd beat right fore leg
3rd beat left hind leg
4th beat left fore leg

The second is a trot. It is a two beat movement which means that there are two hooves off the ground at a time (apart from a brief moment of suspension between beats when all four hooves are off the ground) and two diagonal legs move together. It is approximately 8 miles per hour. It is more comfortable for the rider and horse if the rider rises up and down every-other beat, this is called ‘posting’. There are also four variations of the trot, Working Trot, Collected Trot, Medium Trot and Extended Trot.
The horse moves its legs as follows:
1st beat right fore leg and left hind leg
2nd beat left fore leg and right hind leg

The third is a canter. It is a three beat gait which means there is a period of suspension after each stride. Depending on which direction you are riding in or what rein you are on, you will either be riding a left lead canter or a right lead canter. It is approximately 16 miles per hour. There are four variations of a canter Working Canter, Collected Canter, Medium Canter and Extended Canter.
These are the three beats in order for both types of canter:
1st beat left hind leg
2nd beat right hind leg and
3rd beat right fore leg

1st beat right hind leg
2nd beat left hind leg and right fore leg
3rd beat left fore leg

The fourth and fastest gait is a gallop. It is a four beat movement which means that each of the horses legs strikes the ground in quick succession with a moment of suspension in between each stride. It is approximately 32 miles per hour. There are also two types of gallop, the right leg lead and the left leg lead.
These are the four beats in order:
Right lead
1st beat left hind leg
2nd beat right hind leg
3rd beat left fore leg
4th beat right fore leg

Left lead
1st beat right hind leg
2nd beat left hind leg
3rd beat right fore leg
4th beat left fore leg

There is also a gait called a ‘pace’ but it is debated whether it is natural or not. It is used in harness racing. It is a two beat movement and involves the legs on the same side moving together.

Work Experience Mini Blog Day 1 – Laminitis

This week I am doing work experience at a stables and every day this week I will be posting a mini blog about my day. Today I will be writing about laminitis.

This morning I was helping to turn out the horses and ponies into their various fields. Some of the horses and ponies had to be put in specific fields according to the length and quantity of grass. This is because of a disease called laminitis, it is a serious disease, a horse may have to be euthanised if the effects of the disease become so serious and it can be expensive to treat. Excessive intake of grass can cause this and so the ponies that were most at risk had to be put in the fields with the least grass.

Laminitis is the inflammation of the laminae, the “velcro-like” bonds between the pedal bone (end of leg) and the hoof, causing pain and lameness. Sometimes the laminae connections start to separate and break down, allowing the pedal bone to rotate, sink or move around in the hoof – this rotation/movement is called founder or chronic laminitis, it is not the same as laminitis but is what laminitis could develop into. I included a diagram at the bottom of this post to help explain this better.

Laminitis is thought to have many cause but one of the most common is high intake of soluble carbohydrates (sugars and starch), which is why length of grass was important when putting the ponies and horses into their fields. When an excessive amount of these are ingested it causes undigested sugar and starch to be pushed through to the hindgut (a component in a horses digestive system) where bacteria breaks down the undigested material causing acidity which kills the bacteria. As the bacteria die they release toxins that are released into the blood and are thought to disrupt blood flow, which can cause laminitis in the foot. Other causes are stress, due to travel or change in environment; infection; obesity, puts strain on the horse’s vital organs as well as its limbs; and also trotting for long periods of time on hard surfaces can affect the laminae.

The best way to prevent laminitis is through diet and through understanding what components of the horses diet create the risk of laminitis. Grain contains starch that is converted to simple sugars and lush grass contains readily available sugars. Limiting these is a simple way to prevent laminitis. You could do this by section into off parts of a field with an electric fence or turning out horses into fields with little grass.

That’s it for today but check back tomorrow for another post!!The effect of laminitis