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Animal Avengers

Ben Cleuch - pretty damn good idea for a adventurous hike.

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Ben Cleuch - pretty damn good idea for a adventurous hike.

Not a Munro, not even a Corbett but pretty damn good hill to walk. Ben Cleuch may not appeal to many as it's not on the 'list' of fancy pants mountains to climb but to me it was one of the most satisfactory hikes I have done for a while (I'm even eating my celebratory dark chocolate as I type this).

It is the highest point in the Ochil Hills - 721 metres (2,365 ft) high and can be approached from many directions. Today was such a wonderfully clear day, the views were excellent! Particularly those to the north looking towards the Southern Highlands. Ben Lomond and my second favourite - Ben Vorlich were especially prominent. Looking to the south gave excellent views over the Forth Valley region, the Forth bridges (the new Ferry Crossing!) and Edinburgh to the east, Glasgow to the west: almost a coast to coast view but not quite. I swear I could see Dundee at some point. 

I have used WalkHighlands for inspiration - if you want to follow my route just click here. They describe it really well, much better than if I attempted to write all of this down. 

Just be warmed - when they say 'steep' they really do mean freakishly STEEP! I was lucky Cooper the whippet was wearing his new Ruffwear harness as otherwise he would break his back. With the harness I was able to lift him and help him on some of the steeper parts. Otherwise he is a born mountain junkie and did very well for a wee whippet. 

 

 

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Living wild and free - a dolphin tale

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Living wild and free - a dolphin tale

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In my WHOLE underwater life this particular moment is and will be the most amazing and memorable! A few days ago an entire herd of free and absolutely wild dolphins 🐬 casually swam right next to us. Being the usual curious selves, they came to say hello, kept a vigilant watch as there were babies with them and then they peacefully left! This is why nature is most amazing when you do not force it or try to captivate what should be free! ⠀

Egypt has some of the most abundant marine sightings, not only beautiful coral and fish but dolphins, even whales and orcas. You can see why this is a true kingdom for divers. 

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Most of us want to swim with dolphins but the question is do dolphins want to swim with us? Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, and we need to respect that. Dolphins are highly sociable animals, they may approach people in the wild because they are naturally curious and may investigate unfamiliar objects in their habitat, but this can potentially be dangerous for both humans or the dolphins, so be mindful!It is illegal and very dangerous to harass, feed, chase and TOUCH any marine animals in the wild. Everywhere , not only here in Egypt. Close contact with humans may be really distressing and touching them may spread our germs that those mammals aren't used to fight off.

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I am passionate about responsible tourism (as you probably noticed if you read my previous blogs) and preserving this unique area was important for us. Dolphins are not only beautiful, they are an important part of a very complex and fragile ecosystem. They are an indicator species, being a barometer for the health of the waters they live in. Providing a safe and peaceful place for those amazing animals to live and raise their babies, have sufficient amount of natural food, clean water and air should be the main goal and responsibility for all of us, whether residents or visitors. That's why swimming past rubbish or worse, throwing it off your boat is absolutely unacceptable! Mind that next time you go off traveling.

Here is a great article about swimming with dolphins: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8572855.stm

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There are many different species of dolphin in the seas and oceans of the world but the most likely you will encounter in the Red Sea is the Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) which are most common, Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) and Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus), which lives in steep slopes that drop below 300m.

Along with whales, dolphins are collectively known as cetaceans. They are highly intelligent and social creatures that share distinctive aspects of all mammals, such as breathing with lungs, nursing their babies and creating complex social relationships. Interestingly, they are not fish and should not be confused with the fish called dolphin (also called Dorado or mahi mahi). This fish inhabits warm temperate and tropical waters around the world. It is a beautiful, colorful and sadly edible. But it is NOT related to any of the dolphins species.

Did you know that dolphins never sleep? Unlike with humans, their breathing is conscious and voluntary, so should they go to sleep like we do or should they loose consciousnesss due to an accident, their respiration would stop and they would die. Apparently, they rest one hemisphere of their brain at a time.

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Another fact that I found interesting is that unlike other mammals, dolphins have adapted to long periods of apnea and can reach great depths without encountering problems of embolism. Can you imagine if we could do this? Dive with no decompression stops? I would certainly love this as still have tendency to descent too fast and suffer of a massive headache.  

Before we came to Egypt, I did a little research about dolphins living in captivity and learned even more while being here. Captive dolphins are kept hungry as this ensures that they perform. From what I have experienced working with other wild animals, it looks as this is the case with all wild animals in captivity.  Dolphins in the wild do not jump through hoops, eat dead fish, wave, kiss or drag people through the water as they hold onto their fins. Can you imagine how it must feel to do something over and over again against your will?

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Wild dolphins constantly travel, covering thousands of miles every year experiencing a wide diversity of natural habitat and the freedom to deep dive. Just imagine being confined to a small, unnatural pool, with somebody taking away all your freedom and then making you perform.

It also looks like most dolphins held in captivity were captured from the wild. I don't even have to ask you how would you feel kidnapped? Not to mention that many Dolphins die prematurely in captivity and there is a much higher rate of infant mortality. I don’t know about you, but the idea of baby dolphins dying for my so-called entertainment horrifies me. Orcas (which are part of the dolphin family) in captivity suffer from stress, become aggressive and often chew the bars at the side of their small tanks.  Over 90% of Seaworld’s Orcas have not survived past 25 years. In the wild, a female orca can live up to 80-90 years. Think about it.

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Dolphins are a common sight in all areas of the Red Sea, from Taba down to Sudan. Swimming with wild dolphins is very different to swimming with captive ones, the latter being confined ... Maybe because of this, it is even more rewarding to see them living free and happy. To me it was a highlight of my stay in Egypt, and one of the most amazing memories I have collected over the years. It literally made me cry of happiness seeing those babies swirling in the water past me, feeling free and happy to do what ever they want to do.

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Saving the survivors

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Saving the survivors

As every year, right before Xmas I have this odd urge to buy Xmas cards just because everyone are doing so and it takes me a moment to stop and remind myself my own ethics. I never buy cards to just put my name on them and prefer to use them only if I have something meaningful to write so the person who receives it may actually want to keep it rather than bin a tone of paper that once was a living and growing tree. I'm so pleased to see that the image of horror that is currently in Syria had such an impact and made people to reevaluate where they are sending their money and send it to the White Helmets this year. We are going to support a charity that is very close to my heart and that I've been following for a while now. Saving The Survivors is a non for profit really tiny charity that helps rhinos who have miraculously survived the attack of poaches and helps them to come back to health after the barbarian act people do to another being. You see, we all have gifts that can make a difference in the world, we are all emphatically skilled to feel pain of others, we are all capable of love. But like in the case of Syria, or Libya, or Iraq, or testing your toilet cleaner on animals or poaching rhinos, elephants and other animals, we also have the capability of turning all of this off and embracing the darkest, most cruel and heartless side. While you are siting at your dinner table on the Xmas day, have a moment of reflection and decide where do you stand today. 

The picture above is of Hope, a beautiful female rhino that got brutally attacked, got her horn cut off and left to die. The charity that we support found her just in time to operate and she was fighting bravely almost a year before she passed away. Today we only have a very small amount of rhinos left in the wild and this number is declining every year. The picture was taken by Adrian Steirn, one of my favourite wildlife photographers who shows the beauty as well as the cruelty of the world.

If you want to learn more about rhinos and would like to help Saving The Survivors, just click here.

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