Wednesday 28 September 2011

Rabies outbreak in Arctic Norway - Hysteria or sensible management?

A menace to society!

Rabies is a viral decease that is common worldwide, except for in a very few countries in the world (eg. Norway, Sweden, UK, Australia, Japan, Iceland). It is also known as dog madness decease as the virus mainly spreads through saliva which gets transmitted when a dog or an other canine species bite another warm-blooded species. The virus goes into the neural system and eventually reach the brain in which it infects. Once reached the brain, the strong symptoms starts to show and the decease is virtually incurable. One of the symptoms is that the infected animal get aggressive for no apparent reason and might bite anything that comes close. About 55 000 people worldwide are killed every year due to rabies infection.

I was recently in Svalbard, where there have been a few cases of rabies in arctic foxes. We were at the harbour, and some of our crew saw a fox that was biting rubber tires of cars, and was very approachable. A woman bent down, stretched her arm out to feed it and got bitten. The fox was killed, and proved positive to rabies. This was the beginning of what is now known as a rabies outbreak in Svalbard. The Governour is now flying around the whole of the archipelago, and especially around the year round settlements, to find animals (foxes, reindeer and I guess polar bears) that behave in a strange way – if so – they shoot them. Arctic foxes in Svalbard has become extremely common and due to no hunting (only trapping in traditonally made traps) most of these are very tame and easy to approach. In fact, they often approach you to within a meter or so if you remain calm. How the Governour is asessing the behaviour and what is normal from not I don’t know. They already killed many foxes – and except the very first one - all of them proved perfectly healthy…..I think they have admitted some problems themselves with this since they decided that in and around Longyearbyen (the main settlement of about 2300 habitants) they will kill ALL foxes – sick or not.

The decease probably arrived to Svalbard via Arctic foxes migrating over the drift ice from Russia, Greenland or Arctic Canada. Due to this migratory pattern, and even though very rarely documented (last in January 2011, and before that in the 1980s), I think it is safe to say that rabies might always be present in Svalbard. Longyearbyen has a lot of people, dogs and not the least children, and I therefore understand there are some concerns. But given the slight chance to get infected, and the relatively easyness to treat the decease (when treated at early stage, there is a 100% recover) isn’t this yet another example of Norwegians absurd view on nature? The rest of the world is living with rabies present around them all the time, but they don’t go around killing every animal in nature. There are also other methods to prevent the decease to spread than killing – for instance has North America had great success with ”vaccinated” bait put out for raccoons. Once again, Norway show themselves as the hunting nation it is, and find the only way to manage nature is through hunting and killing.

There is a concensus in all the countries that have signed the Svalbard treaty, that Svalbard should remain as natural and pure as possible and the archipelago should be viewed as a reference area to how nature would look without human interference. To eradicate a totally natural decease like rabies is thus not obeying to this objective. The arctic fox is a very important top predator in the Arctic ecosystem, and the number of foxes present has large affects on population distribution in many sea bird species. Rabies is one of nature’s ways to reduce the arctic fox population. When our wildlife management starts to pick out pieces of nature, to select them away from the ecosystem we so desperately want to preserve - they virtually make the whole idea of Svalbard as a reference area for science and future look like a big illusion.

My advice is therefore not to go around like cowboys to kill foxes that shows perfectly normal behaviour, but to make people watch their dogs, vaccinate all dog owners that frequently get in touch with canine saliva (there are a lot sledge dogging activity in Longyearbyen) and to keep some vaccination stored in case of a rare incident of a fox biting a person should happen. 

The arctic fox is an important top predator in the Arctic eco-system


Tuesday 6 September 2011

Canon eos 7d - made for wildlife photographers?

I had this camera for about a year and a half, or more precisely – I had three of this camera for a year and a half. I like it very much, and until this summer I had only good things to say about it. The autofocus system, the image output, the fastness, the flexibility and not the least the price. Compared to most other professionals and semi-professional photographers I regard myself as fairly conservative when it comes to the equipment hysteria we have witnessed as the digital era has evolved. I like to think of my equipment as work tools – not diamonds or treassures. Therefore, I rarely buy the most expensive or the newest equipment out there. Sometimes, things go wrong. It also means that I can take some risks regarding the equipment in pursue of the images I see in my mind. A good example is the award winning polar bear picture in the BBC WPY competition last year. When putting up the equipment for this image, I considered the camera and lens as a write off. Surprisingly, both the camera and lens survived with no permanent damage. However, a week after it was destroyed by an angry walrus.

As a wildlife photographer, I learned a long time ago that the best images are not necessarily made in nice weather. Therefore I upgraded myself to a camera, where the manufacturer promise weather resistanse and highly trust worthy for action photography. The 7d is also a ”crop camera” which is perfect for my bird photography since it fits well with my 300mm lens. All things combined, the choice was quite straight forward when deciding on which camera should replace my broken Canon 40d. Soon I got the 7d, and I have been very happy with it, contrary to the walrus I met this summer. Another angry walrus. Another camera broken. I can’t blame this on the Canon manufacturer, and since I’ve been happy with it so far I bought myself yet another new 7d. This one had some problems from the beginning. Since I was doing fieldwork in the Norwegian Arctic and far away from any internet or post service, I couldn’t report it imediately.

One day, I was again out photographing some walruses. The weather was light rain, and I was for once actually careful with my camera to avoid getting it wet. For maximum five minutes, I had it outside in light rain, and was careful to dry it off with a cloth before putting it back into the camera bag. Since this day, It has never worked and I was quite sure that this would be possible to reclaim from Canon as a fault. Could I be more wrong about it! Not possible according to the workshop, and they suggest to write off this camera as well. I was quite pissed off by this, but searching the internet it seems that I am not alone. Many others report the extreme low weather resistanse of this camera despite the the adds from Canon. It is worse than all my lenses and previous cameras I’ve ever have had my hands on. I was very surprised when I heard that Canon write on their web site that by weather resistant, they mean the time it takes from it starts raining until you have put the camera into your back pack. In reality, this means 10 seconds! This is actually like being spit in the face, and I must say that I’ve rarely heard such bullshit.

Canon sells their camera under false conditions, and as a customer I feel tricked and fooled. In short – if you are a serious outdoor photographer – stay far away from the Canon 7d!  You have been warned!

Walrus killing a Canon 7d