SciBlogs

Archive July 2011

I’m in a questioning mood Brendan Moyle Jul 13

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The last month there's been the odd noise made by conservationists that not all is well in NZ. One catalyst for this was the remarks by Dr Mike Joy in the Dominion Post. Another has been the poaching of jeweled geckos in Otago. The suggestion that such geckos should be bred to reduce poaching was met with by a chorus of opposition (Otago Daily Times).

The current strategy we have to save endangered species, is basically to treat conservation as a money sink. The problem is, that it's failing. After the National Biodiversity strategy was launched, the 5 year review found that only 2-3% of the DoC estate was getting optimal management. Nearly half was receiving no management at all. Now we're about 10 years on. Joy points out that 35% of our native plants and animals are on the brink of extinction. That however, doesn't include the 3000-4000 species on which we have no data on their conservation status.

How are we doing?- well, we've got about 200 endangered species under active management. That doesn't mean that their status is improving. But that's about 200 out of 2788 recognised endangered or threatened species and another 3000-4000 that nobody has had a chance to look at.

Everybody who is familiar with conservation in New Zealand knows this. We're busy watching stuff decline, populations get snuffed out in different areas over decades. I'm sick of it. We're failing. There's no point pretending that this isn't happening.

My problem isn't that we're not using other strategies- perhaps with increased commercial or private factors- my problem is that nobody is prepared to even consider varying what we do.

Consider some of the remarks made in response to the idea that maybe, we could use commercial incentives with jeweled geckos.


…But I haven't seen anything to convince me commercialisation would be a good idea. "We're talking about endangered native species, not pets or farm animals. We have a duty to protect them and their habitat, certainly, as they're part of our national identity. To move beyond that into breeding and selling wildlife like kakapo, kiwi or tuatara on a commercial market is not something I believe New Zealanders would accept.

– Kate Wilkinson, Minister of Conservation

I always find it funny that I'm willing to accept the slaughter of thousands of kiwis by predators over the last decade, but not commercialisation. Commercialisation isn't the issue. The issue is whether the strategy we adopt for a particular species, leads to a recovery of that species. That's what I want to know. I can see we have a lot less kiwis than we had in the 1980s. I can see that kakapo has become extinct almost its entire natural range.

Let's have a look at what Australia did with salt-water crocodiles since the 1980s:


There was a conservation problem, commercial incentives were incorporated into the plan, and we now have a lot more crocodiles. Let me suggest that if we had this level of success with any our 200 species under active management, we'd still be celebrating.

Instead we have policy makers deciding that we'd rather see tens-of-thousands of kiwis get slaughtered over the last two decades- to have less kiwis- because the principle of being anti-commercialisation matters more than getting a positive conservation outcome.

I think we need to have policy-makers making less decisions on what our principles should be, and more on preventing extinctions by being open to anything that is going to help. For some species, there will be economic factors that are contributing to their decline. And in those cases, a solution based on economics might in fact work. We shouldn't be afraid to discuss it.


Doc [the Department of Conservation] is firmly opposed to the commercial trade of endangered wildlife. We are fully committed to ensuring threatened species like Otago's jewelled gecko thrive in the wild – not in some unnatural breeding cages for sale.

– A Department of Conservation spokesman

Again, missing the point. The problem with the jeweled gecko is the current trade strategy isn't leading to more geckos in the wild. The current "non-commercial" strategy isn't designed to increase wild gecko numbers. It's designed to increase the poaching level by inflating gecko prices overseas. We are in effect, putting a bounty on each jeweled gecko for any poacher to collect. We're promising to enrich poachers by rewarding them to reduce wild numbers.

This is insane.

The idea that is being proposed is that by incorporating some commercial elements into the gecko recovery, we might actually have more wild geckos. I kind of thought that might merit a bit more deliberation.

So often conservationists seem to get locked into the idea that commercial use is a binary decision. Either you use protection, or carte blanche open sale. This is the wrong way to be thinking about it. Using economic incentives- such as regulated trade (quotas, permits etc)- is just another policy tool that can be incorporated into a conservation programme. It's not going to suit all species, and it doesn't preclude other conservation measures.

This is really something that needs to be debated and discussed rationally- and with evidence. The frustrating thing here is simply, we're not having this debate. So let's just ponder whether the type of recovery Australia got with its crocodiles is something we really do aspire to achieve for our native species.

Tonight’s Wildlife Photo Brendan Moyle Jul 04

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Kararea (Bush Falcon)
The NZ bush falcon Falco novaeseelandiae is the only extant native hawk or eagle

Ricoh buys Pentax Brendan Moyle Jul 04

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One of the technology news stories from Friday was the sale of the Pentax camera business to Ricoh. Hoya bought Pentax only in 2007 and is retaining Penatx's medical technology. While Pentax used to be a major player in the SLR and Medium Format camera markets, its fortunes have declined. It is now ranked 10th in world digital camera sales with only 1.5% of the market (and its sales continue to decline).

This is partly a reflection of the big changes in the wold camera markets. It used to be that cameras were the preserve of traditional camera companies. The technology embedded in film cameras, the lenses that were developed to match these, was specialised knowledge that just a few companies sustained. People bought Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Olympus or Pentax. That was basically the choice-set. Now digital cameras have become something technology companies are moving into.

This is perhaps exemplified by Sony purchasing the Minolta camera assets off Konica. Sony brings sensor-technology to the table (and its sensor division sells a lot of sensors to Nikon as well). And while technology companies have succeeded in making big inroads into the compact camera market, the SLR market is still dominated by Canon and Nikon. Minolta gave Sony the change to generate some market-share out of that mount. But other companies attempts to make SLRS (Samsung, Sigma, Fuji) have not gone down nearly as well.

Where does that leave Pentax? Well, timing is everything and the traditional SLR market is changing. SLR cameras are based on a mechanical, flipping mirror that exposes a sensor to the image. The mirror mechanism dictates that such cameras have to be a certain size to accommodate it. There have been two recent technology developments however that are potential game changers.

The first is the development of mirror-less cameras that use large sensors. SLR cameras traditionally were preferred over compacts because the much larger physical size of the sensor meant better image quality. Images would have 'less noise' and better colour range and fidelity. Now Panasonic, Olympus and Sony all have cameras that are mirror-less, have interchangeable lenses and large sensors.

The second development is the translucent mirror technology launched by Sony. Other companies are likely to have similar ideas in the pipeline. This 'SLT' technology means the camera can shoot at a much higher fps (as it's not limited by the mechanics of a mirror flipping up and down), and the camera can be made smaller. Sony has since shown little appetite for launching traditional SLR cameras.

The selling points of Pentax were the robust build of their SLR cameras and lenses. They incorporated weather-sealing into even their entry-level DSLR cameras. Nonetheless, the lack of market share has been a product of several factors.

First, the limited lens choice. While I have respect and affection for many of the Pentax L range of lenses, the fact is there's not a lot of them. The longest telephoto option is a 300mm F4 lens- there are no options to go longer or faster than this. This wasn't helped by a reputation for AF-tacking that was not on par with other systems.

Second, the lack of an upgrade path. As a keen photographer, what I like in a system is the option to go to a full-frame digital camera later (a full-frame DSLR uses a larger 24x36mm sensor rather than an APS-C 25.1*16.7mm sensor). I don't know if I want to exercise that option, but there may come a point in time when I want to. Pentax never provided that option.

So the Ricoh purchase might be good for the two companies. Ricoh has a good range of compacts, Pentax is a legacy brand in the SLR market and comes with a lot of SLR technology. A synergy is possible, but this seems to be discounted by the market.

After the Ricoh purchase, Ricoh shares actually dropped in value (0.2%). Hoya, who had got rid of the Pentax camera business (and kept the medical technology) saw its shares rise by 6% on the announcement and ended still up 4%. One still hopes for nostalgic reasons perhaps, that Pentax will recover some lost ground from this purchase.