Category Archives: Animals

Three months of adventure, penguins, tinned food and no showers on the incredible Nightingale Island

Late last year I had the privilege of collecting field data for my Conservation Biology MSc thesis on Nightingale Island. I kind of shot myself in the foot a bit with that because it meant I had 3 months less time to write up than all of my classmates. I have little to no experience writing up scientific papers, and although I have good writing skills in general I’ve learned that scientific writing is a peculiar beast which requires weeks of sweat, blood and tears (oh, so many tears!) to wrestle into submission for those who have not encountered it before. I’ve had to get an extension for my write-up – I am very lucky that my supervisors are so kind, supportive and helpful – but living on Nightingale and working with the penguins was worth all of the trouble a thousand times over.

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Sun spider

On my holiday in the Karoo desert, the day before I was stung by a scorpion which had climbed into my bed:



I found an interesting looking spider half hidden under my pillow, which I have just managed to identify online. It gave me a bit of a shock at the time, because it was huge and hairy with big pincers:



And frankly I did not want to share a pillow with it. I captured it in a container, admired it for a bit (it was terribly energetic and had very fine beautiful white hair all over its legs and body), and then released it outside a short walk away from the house.

Anyway, today I found these pictures of it, and after a bit of hunting around I’ve found out that this is not actually a spider, but a Solifugid, an order in the Arachnida class like spiders and scorpions. Those huge fangs have no venom, and although they could give a human being a nasty nip they are pretty much harmless, although they can be rather aggressive hunters. And their natural prey is…….. can you guess? Scorpions.

Sun spider

What a lovely brave scorpion-eating thing

Yet another lesson that human interference with ecosystems (even if that ecosystem happens to be your bed) will only ever backfire. Who knows, maybe if I’d just peacefully let it share my duvet it would have killed and eaten the scorpion before it stung me that night, and I wouldn’t have had such a fright from it!


On my birthday (November the 5th) when I was asleep I was stung in the face by a scorpion in the Karoo National Park. It gave me a bit of a shock!

I would be perfectly happy never seeing one of these things ever again. I can’t help wondering whether it’s some sort of spooky sign that I shouldn’t be doing the conservation biology masters course I’ve signed up to next year, or maybe it’s the scorpion’s way of giving me a big scorpiony hug to say thank you for deciding to become a champion of biodiversity. Hmm…

North and South and Slugs

I’ve become rather taken aback by the sheer number of people who have popped their clogs in North and South. In misery it’s one step away from a Chekhov play. I’ve had to cheer myself up with this touching image of true banana slug love:

slugs in love


Love IS beautiful, isn’t it?


South Africa’s Dis-Chem animal testing policy on cosmetics

So, I’ve been looking around for shampoo/conditioner/soap stuff which is not tested on animals. It’s surprisingly difficult to find, which is odd: you would imagine that since humanity has been using soap for 4812 years we would have fucking figured out by now what makes our skin break out in a rash and what doesn’t without needing to rub it all over shaved rabbits kept in cages in horrible strobe-lit laboratories first.

I am agnostic about animal testing for medical purposes, but for vanity products and basic cleaning materials it’s just ridiculous. The frantic manic feverish visual shouting – yelling – BLUDGEONING of advertisements showing off the latest shampoo with nutrino cerano collagen elastin free-radical pro-xylane peptide antioxidant crap is nauseating, and it’s sickening to think how the media manipulates girls/women and slowly grooms them so that they eventually they actually don’t even blink at this shit and actually end up believing that using L’Oreal shampoo is going to make their hair age less or whatever-the-fuck.

And one is reminded of this every half an hour or so if you watch TV, browse the internet, listen to the radio, etc, so there is no damn escape and frankly it’s no wonder I’m as worked up as I am about it and all the swearing in this post is perfectly justified. If anybody ever manages to make the science behind that stuff popular enough to break through to the targeted market group those cosmetic companies are going to be in seriously deep shit (go go go Ben Goldacre and

Anyway the products which are not tested on animals tend to be full of things like organic free range yak lactate extract, with the yaks hand raised and milked by bearded tibetan monks wearing nothing but sandals. This sort of thing adds about R90 (£9ish) onto the price of what you would otherwise imagine would be a perfectly ordinary bottle of shampoo. I have spent hours trawling organic shops, supermarkets, chemists etc looking in vain for affordable shampoo which isn’t tested on animals. HOURS! And it was right under my nose the whole time (I think I must have just blanked it out because of the packaging or something): it seems that most Dis-Chem own brand products* a) actually work, b) are cheap and c) are not tested on animals**. Hurrah!

* This fact is based on me going into Dis-Chem and checking random bottles of bubble bath and shampoo, I have no idea how many products they produce actually are/are not tested on animals.

** Note that this information is only written on the back of their bottles in tiny writing and does not appear to be advertised anywhere (including their website) that I can see. This is odd; there is a huge market for caring consumers. Do they not know this? Why do they think the other companies get away with charging R100 for a tiny bottle of shampoo? Do imagine that just because a woman is interested in having shiny hair she does not care about animals? Hmm, worrying thoughts. On the other hand I am quite respectful of them as they are clearly doing it under their own steam and because they feel it is the right thing to do rather than as a slimy marketing ploy.