First Danish cosmonaut in space

This video says about itself:

Historic 500th Soyuz rocket sets off from Baikonur

1 September 2015

The 500th Soyuz rocket has successfully lifted off from the Gagarin’s Start launchpad marking a historic milestone for Baikonur Cosmodrome. The spacecraft will deliver three new crew members to the International Space Station.

Russian and Kazakh cosmonauts (Sergey Volkov and Aidyn Aimbetov respectively), along with the first ever Danish astronaut (Andreas Mogensen) have entered history on board Soyuz TMA-18M. The 500th manned rocket launched from the same pad that Yuri Gagarin’s original Soyuz blasted off from on April 12, 1961.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain today:

Soyuz slowly blasts off to space station

KAZAKHSTAN: A Russian, a Dane and a Kazakh blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome to the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday.

Andreas Mogensen became the first Dane in space, while Kazakh Aidyn Aimbetov got his chance to go into space when British singer Sarah Brightman pulled out.

The Soyuz spacecraft will take an unusually long two-day flightpath to the ISS due to safety concerns after the station had to adjust its orbit to avoid orbital debris.

Saiga antelope and art in Kazakhstan

Drawing attention to the plight of the saiga through local engagement in community art. Photo: Rory McCann

From BirdLife:

Drawing attention to the plight of the Saiga through school mural painting

By Rory McCann, Mon, 15/06/2015 – 12:40

I am here in Kazakhstan to paint a mural depicting the wildlife of the steppe environment, with a particular focus on the Saiga antelope – a comical-looking yet critically endangered species which originally inhabited a vast area of the Eurasian steppe zone. The Saiga population in Kazakhstan has recently suffered severe losses due to a disease outbreak.

On my second day I meet staff of the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK, BirdLife Partner in Kazakhstan), who tell me one of the main issues for Saiga antelope is that they are being poached, especially by individuals in the remote villages of central Kazakhstan.

Our mural will be made in one of these villages, with the aim of boosting the plight of the Saiga. The mural painting team are Zhanna Aksartova – ACBK’s Conservation Education Coordinator, Ekaterina Aksartova – Zhanna’s sister and ecology student, and myself – Rory McCann – a wildlife artist with a background in conservation.

We travel across Kazahkstan to the village where we will paint the mural.  Its location is the village school, a mighty-looking building built by the government 3 years ago. We hope to have the help of the schoolchildren.

We are shown around the school by the school director and the village leader. I am touched and tickled to be given many business-like handshakes by children as young as three years old!

It’s exciting to introduce ourselves and explain our reasons for being there. We talk about the values of preserving native biodiversity and we launch a drawing competition for the students.

We have eight days to paint the mural!

The first brush strokes are always the hardest, but the fear of ruining a perfectly good wall quickly subsides and mural-painting fever takes over!

The days go by and our mural starts to take shape and so does a growing following of budding young artists. By the third day, I can barely move for all the students who are packed around me producing their own drawings based on the mural painting.

Zhanna and Ekaterina chat to the children and get them involved in activities such as making masks and singing songs about the Saiga. The children seem enthralled by the process – exactly the response we were hoping for!

We run a workshop with the younger competition winners – a series of mini drawing challenges, a master class in drawing eyes, and making Saiga gift cards. The competition winners can paint an animal on the mural.

The final day arrives. We must have the mural finished by 5pm in time for the grand opening. The mural has been sectioned off with curtains across the entrance so that our big unveiling can have maximum dramatic impact!  At 4:45 pm, the brushes are put down for the last time, with a big sigh of relief.

At 5pm, we emerge from behind the curtains to a waiting crowd of students, staff and other villagers. A few minutes of prize–giving, tributes and words of thanks, the curtains are pulled back to reveal the finished mural. More than 25 steppe animals and birds are represented on the mural painting.

The hope is that this project can pave the way for ACBK to conduct further outreach and educational projects in this region with a view to improving the status of the Saiga antelope and other species in the surrounding environment.

The enthusiasm and friendliness of the students has really made this experience a rewarding one for me.

The Mural Project was instigated by the Saiga Conservation Alliance, with funding generously given by Zynga via the Wildlife Conservation Network.

Rory McCann worked for two years at BirdLife’s Global Secretariat office in Cambridge.

Nearly 140, 000 of the critically endangered saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica), which lives in the Central Asian steppe, have died suddenly in Kazakhstan, almost half the global population, over a two week period: here.

Kazakhstan’s saiga antelope threatened by government

This video says about itself:

‘Saiga’ by Bill and Rahima Fitz (1999; English) (WARNING: Graphic content)

Apr 29, 2013

Short English-language film about the saiga antelope by documentary-makers Bill and Rahima Fitz. Produced in 1999. Narrated by Mark Wile.

When the documentary was produced poaching was recognized as a threat to saigas, but the devastating decline in saiga numbers of the 1990s had yet to be acknowledged.

WARNING: Includes graphic content of saiga poachers butchering live animals.

From Wildlife Extra:

Kazakhstan’s saiga threatened by new border fence and railway

Critically-endangered saiga antelope to face new barriers

September 2013. A new report by the UN’s Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), called Saiga Crossing Options, has been published. The report describes and maps new threats for the charismatic saiga antelope.

Critically-endangered saiga antelope in Kazakhstan

The recovery of the critically-endangered saiga antelope in Kazakhstan faces serious challenges from new railways and boarder fences currently planned and constructed across Central Asia. The report not only identifies risks, but also proposes mitigation measures. FZS and partners in Kazakhstan are in close negotiation with the relevant ministries to discuss changes and technical modifications to avoid severe negative impacts to a species which only just recovered from their major decline in the 20th century.

The Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) together with partners in Kazakhstan has been engaged in the conservation of steppes and the recovery of the endangered saiga antelope since 2005 and is strongly concerned about current infrastructure plans in the region which cut through important saiga habitat.

Border fence and railway

While measures to reduce poaching have been an urgent priority, new threats from the effects of fencing and transport corridors are emerging. As a result of Kazakhstan’s entry into a customs union with Russia and Belarus the nation has been strengthening its borders by constructing a fence. The purpose is border demarcation and to slow smuggling of narcotics. This fenced border will be an obstacle for saiga in their attempts to access habitat critical for their survival during the region’s harsh winters. To add to the increasing difficulties facing saiga, a new railroad corridor is under construction (Shalkar – Beyneu and Zhezkazgan – Saksaulskiy) through the Ustyurt and Betpak-Dala saiga populations.

The report was co-produced and co-funded by FZS as well as Fauna & Flora International (FFI).

Read the full report here.

Kuwait poachers kill rare sociable lapwings

This is called Sociable Lapwing Tracking – RSPB Video.

From Wildlife Extra:

Critically Endangered birds needlessly shot in Kuwait

Sociable lapwings targeted by hunters in Kuwait

March 2013. Sociable lapwings are declining due to low adult survival, which is almost certainly caused by being shot during migration. There is evidence from known stopover sites in north-eastern Syria and some areas in Iraq from 2008 and 2009 that these birds are widely hunted by both locals and visiting falconers from the Gulf States.

The latest reports from the region are the first to confirm the killing of sociable lapwings in Kuwait. The birds appear to have been shot on 12th March. Tim Stowe, the RSPB’s Director of International Operations says: “Regrettably, this is the first confirmed hunting of sociable lapwings in Kuwait, and this latest information is of particular concern as these birds were returning to Kazakhstan where they would have started breed in 6 weeks time.”

In May 2012, the revision of the 2002 Action Plan was adopted by the 5th Meeting of the Parties to Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) in La Rochelle, France. This identified the urgent need for action across sociable lapwing range states to implement and enforce effective hunting legislation.

Sergey Dereliev, AEWA Technical Officer states: “Although Kuwait is not yet a Contracting Party to AEWA, the Government has expressed its interest in the objectives of the Agreement through attendance at the meeting in La Rochelle, and it could play a significant role in the Gulf region in helping to halt the decline of this Critically Endangered species by implementing and enforcing hunting legislation. By improving adult survival by 30% we could see a stabilization of the current population size on the way to a future increasing population trend.”

The RSPB has been supporting work on the Critically Endangered sociable lapwing since 2005, and from 2011 has been acting as Co-ordinator for the implementation of the International Single Species Action Plan for the species under a Memorandum of Cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Secretariat of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

Courtesy of Birdlife.