Wildlife

Elephants Rescued from Mud-Filled Bomb Crater

A rescue in Cambodia saved 11 Asian elephants from a muddy death after they fell into an old bomb crater.

The herd — three adult females and eight juveniles — was discovered in the large crater in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary on March 24, covered in mud and unable to escape, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Local farmers notified the Cambodian Department of Environment, which called in the WCS to save the unfortunate pachyderms.

After building a ramp, the elephants could be seen pushing each other up the slippery ramp with their heads and trunks. The last elephant remaining in the crater, with no herd members to push it out, got a little help from people at the scene, who pulled the animal out with ropes. The elephants, which had been trapped for days, were freed within a few hours.

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Wildlife

Humpback Resurgence

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Super-groups of humpback whales have been observed with increasing frequency during the past five years off South Africa’s Atlantic coast.

The species hadn’t normally been considered all that social, usually being found in pairs or small groups that congregated only briefly. But research missions in 2011, 2014 and 2015 found humpbacks feeding and frolicking in groups of up to 200.

The whale had been hunted nearly into extinction, but its populations have seen an unexplained resurgence.

Scientists believe the super-group gatherings could possibly be the return of a previously unobserved feeding strategy thanks to the newly abundant population.

White-nose Syndrome discovered for 1st time in Texas

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The fungus known to cause White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease that has decimated hibernating bat populations in the United States and Canada, has been discovered for the first time in Texas. The fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) was detected on three species of hibernating bats in northern Texas: the cave myotis, Townsend’s big-eared bat, and the tri-coloured bat.

‘Devastating’ coral loss in South China Sea

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Scientists are warning of another “devastating” loss of coral due to a spike in sea temperatures. They say 40% of coral has died at the Dongsha Atoll in the South China Sea.

Nothing as severe has happened on Dongsha for at least 40 years, according to experts.

The Dongsha Atoll, located in the South China Sea, near south-eastern China and the Philippines, is rich in marine life and is regarded as one of the world’s most important coral reefs.

The researchers said on its own, a 2 degrees Celsius rise in temperatures was unlikely to cause widespread damage to coral reefs in the region. But, a high-pressure system caused temperatures to spike to 6 degrees, leading to the death of 40% of coral over the course of six weeks. Coral reefs are shallow water ecosystems and a tweak in the local weather can turn that 2 degrees Celsius into a 6 degrees Celsius warming.

Hunting of Grizzly Bears in Alaska Refuges

The U.S. Senate voted, mostly along party lines, on Tuesday (March 21) to abolish a regulation that prohibited certain types of hunting in Alaska national wildlife refuges.

In the 52-to-47 vote, the Senate used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn a so-called midnight regulation that President Barack Obama’s administration passed in their last hours in office last year.

The justification for the abolition was that states, not the federal government, should shape regulations regarding wildlife within their borders.

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Wildlife

Czech Zoo Dehorns Rhinos to Ward Off Poachers

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In the wake of a brazen incident of rhino poaching at a French zoo, a Czech zoo that holds the largest number of rhinoceroses of any zoo in Europe is cutting the horns off the at-risk animals.

Přemysl Rabas, director of Dvůr Králové Zoo, announced today (March 21) that the zoo had begun dehorning its herd of 21 rhinos. The first rhino underwent the procedure under sedation yesterday. The intervention took less than 1 hour, and it was performed without any complications.

Chimpanzee Funerary Rites Seen for 1st Time

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In a first, scientists have observed a chimpanzee cleaning the teeth of a dead companion. This postmortem ritual, which was caught on video, hints that humans might not be the only animals to gently attend to their dead. With the care of a mortician, the chimpanzee opened the mouth of her dead companion with her hands. She took a grass tool and poked it between his teeth, seeming to examine and even taste the debris she flossed out.

Scientists now have a growing body of evidence about some unusual animal kingdom mortuary practices. Crows seem to hold vigil over their dead. Elephants, dolphins and whales have been known to stick by their dead companions.

Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, had also been seen engaging in some mourning behaviors in the past, like returning to,dragging and perhaps even trying to resuscitate corpses. But using tools to clean the dead is something new to science.

Wildlife

Whale shark takes up residence in Knysna lagoon – South Africa

Visitors and boat operators in the Garden Route are urged to be mindful of a massive whale shark currently residing in the Knysna lagoon.

The whale shark took up temporary residence in the lagoon in an attempt to avoid the colder water in the deeper ocean, outside of the Knysna heads, the National Sea Rescue Institute in the area says. But, the animal’s reluctance to head out into the cold might be weakening it.

The NSRI assisted in a rescue attempt when the shark beached on Saturday, 11 March. Appearing ill and weak, the animal was assisted in breathing by pumping water through its gills, the NSRI said.

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Wildlife

Turtle Disease Mystery

Turtles in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have suffered from a variety of illnesses that some experts believe may be caused by cobalt pollution.

The first outbreak began in 2010 when two-thirds of the green turtles examined in Brisk Bay developed a herpes virus infection that caused tumours to grow on their eyes, shells, tails, flippers and organs. Two years later, 100 green turtles washed up onshore at nearby Upstart Bay, suffering seizures and uncontrolled head movements that led to a mass death.

The latest ailments have recently left some of Upstart Bay’s turtles with mysterious eye infections.

Wildlife

Rare White Rhino Killed for Coveted Horn at French Zoo

A 4-year-old white rhinoceros who was inside an enclosure in a French zoo has been killed for his horn.

“Vince,” a young rhino at the Thoiry Zoo, was found shot in the head, and one large horn had been sawed off by a chainsaw, according to the Guardian. The animal’s second, smaller horn was cut but not fully removed, which suggests that the poachers left in a hurry, police told reporters.

This is the first known poaching incident of a rhinoceros at a zoo, said CeCe Sieffert, the deputy director of the International Rhino Foundation.

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Wildlife

Whale ‘Scratchathon’

A leading British marine biologist says that he has found that sperm whales gather in groups as large as 70 to engage in a mass “scratchathon,” during which they exfoliate their outer skin.

Luke Rendell of the University of St. Andrews was studying the social life of the whales when he made the discovery.

“The shedding of skin is part of a natural antifouling mechanism to stop them being encrusted with other marine animals and parasites.” said Rendell. New Scientist reports he found that the whales “love touching against each other,” and can engage in the group grooming and frolicking for hours or days at a time.

On the Brink

No more than 30 miniature porpoises with cartoon like features are left in the northern Gulf of California, where experts are now considering keeping some in sea pens to prevent the marine mammals from going extinct.

Since 2011, 90 percent of the snub-nosed vaquita population has fallen victim to Asian appetites for an endangered fish called the totoaba, which swim in the same Mexican waters.

The porpoises get trapped and drowned in the curtains of illegal gill nets set to catch the totoaba, which can earn Chinese restaurants thousands of dollars each.

Wildlife

Deep Sea Harbingers

The sudden appearances of giant oarfish, which typically live deep in the ocean near the seafloor, have sparked fears in parts of the Philippines that the fish are warning signs of an impending large earthquake.

Three have been found off the northern coast of Mindanao since Feb. 8, with the first appearing just two days before a 6.7 magnitude temblor rocked the island.

The fish can weigh up to 600 pounds and are known in Japan as “Messengers from the Sea God’s Palace.”

Ocean Suffocation

Earth’s oceans have lost more than 2 percent of their oxygen during the past 57 years in a trend scientists warn could threaten the future of marine life.

A study at Germany’s Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research confirmed earlier predictions that if climate change and the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for it continue unabated, ocean oxygen loss will accelerate and reach up to 7 percent on average by the year 2100.

“Since large fish in particular avoid or do not survive in areas with low oxygen content, these changes can have far-reaching biological consequences,” said lead researcher Sunke Schmidtko.

Wildlife

Polar Bears – Good News

Polar bear populations are growing despite global warming, according to new research.

The new population estimates from the 2016 Scientific Working Group are somewhere between 22,633 to 32,257 bears, which is a net increase from the 2015 number of 22,000 to 31,000. The current population numbers are a sharp increase from 2005’s, which stated only 20,000 to 25,000 bears remained — those numbers were a major increase from estimates that only 8,000 to 10,000 bears remained in the late 1960s.

Until the new study, bear subpopulations in the Baffin Bay and Kane Basin (KB) were thought to be in decline due to over-hunting and global warming. The new report indicates this is not the case.

Scientists are increasingly realizing that polar bears are much more resilient to changing levels of sea ice than environmentalists previously believed, and numerous healthy populations are thriving.

Winged Extinction

The buzzing wings of crickets and grasshoppers could fall silent across the European landscape if action isn’t taken to protect the insects’ habitats, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The grassland inhabitants are an important food source for birds and reptiles, but more than a quarter of their species have been driven to extinction in recent decades. The disappearance has mainly been due to loss of habitat to wildfires, intensive agriculture and tourism development, according to the conservation group.

Monarch Losses

The number of monarch butterflies has dropped by 27 percent during recent months at the insects’ winter home in western Mexico. The plunge followed last year’s apparent recovery from the historically low numbers two years ago. Experts at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán state say some of the decline could be due to storms late last winter that felled more than 100 acres of forests where the colourful butterflies winter. The monarchs also suffered a high level of mortality due to the same cold, wet and windy storms.

Wildlife

Climate Threat to Wildlife May Have Been Massively Underreported

More than 700 of the world’s threatened and endangered animal species may be directly affected by climate change, according to a new study — vastly more than the number of animal species scientists initially thought would face risks from global warming.

Scientists had previously determined that only 7 percent of mammals and 4 percent of birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Red List” of threatened species are affected by climate change. However, a new study finds that the threat from climate change may have been massively underreported.

In a comprehensive analysis of 130 previous studies on the subject, researchers found that nearly half of the world’s threatened and endangered mammals and nearly a quarter of birds are already seriously impacted — more than 700 species total.

Most climate change studies focus on impacts in the future, but the researchers said the effects of global warming are being felt “here and now.” And research on present threats were focused on specific species and were spread across numerous journals, according to study co-author James Watson, director of the Science and Research Initiative at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Primates, in particular, are threatened because they have specialized diets and their tropical homes are vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change. In some cases, species can adapt to the changes, but others are facing dire consequences.

For instance, mountain gorillas live on top of mountains — they’ve got nowhere else to go if the climate changes,” Watson said. “They’re stuck on top of these mountains, so they might not survive climate change because they can’t move anywhere else.”

Though birds can fly from mountaintop homes, the researchers found that species that live at higher altitudes and experience little seasonal temperature changes are negatively affected by climate change. Animals that dwell in aquatic environments also face even higher risks because these ecosystems are among the most vulnerable to global warming, according to the scientists.

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Wildlife

More Whales Stand in New Zealand

The mass stranding of whales on a remote beach in New Zealand has taken a turn for the worse as 240 more arrived. Earlier on Saturday, volunteers had refloated some 100 of the more than 400 pilot whales which beached on Thursday. But a human chain, with volunteers wading neck-deep into the water, failed to prevent a fresh pod making landfall.

The whale stranding, at Farewell Spit at the top of South Island, is one of the worst ever in New Zealand. Dozens of volunteers turned out to help. More than 300 of the 400 original arrivals died while medics and members of the public tried to keep survivors alive by cooling them with water.

It is not clear why the whales continue to arrive on the 5km-long (three mile-long) beach next to Golden Bay. One theory is that they may have been driven on to land by sharks, after bite marks were found on one of the dead whales. Sometimes the whales are old and sick, injured, or make navigational errors particularly along gentle sloping beaches. Whales that become beached will send out distress signals attracting other members of their pod, who then also get stranded by a receding tide.

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Wildlife

Massive Whale Standing in New Zealand

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Rescuers were engaged in a race against time on Friday to save the lives of a large group of whales, after more than 400 of the animals swam aground along a remote beach in New Zealand.

About 275 of the pilot whales were already dead when Cheree Morrison and two colleagues found them on Farewell Spit at the tip of the South Island. Within hours, hundreds of farmers, tourists and teenagers engaged in a group effort to keep the surviving 140 or so whales alive in one of the worst whale strandings in the nation’s history.

Getting the large animals back out to sea proved to be a major challenge. As many as half of the 100 refloated whales managed to strand themselves again, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The adult and baby whale carcasses were strewn three or four deep in places for hundreds of yards, often rolled over on the sand with their tail fins still up in the air.

Morrison’s group alerted officials, and volunteers soon began arriving in wetsuits and carrying buckets. Dressed in her jeans and sandshoes, Morrison waded into the water and did what she could to try to maneuver the surviving whales upright so they could breathe more easily.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of whale strandings in the world, and Friday’s event is the nation’s third-biggest recorded stranding.

The largest was in 1918, when about 1,000 pilot whales came ashore on the Chatham Islands. In 1985 about 450 whales stranded in Auckland.

Endangered penguins hunting for fish in wrong place

Endangered penguins are hunting for fish in the wrong place because climate change has prompted sardines and other prey to move to another part of the ocean, researchers have discovered.

The plight of the African penguin – found in Namibia and South Africa – highlights the dangers to wildlife of the sudden rise in temperature caused by human-induced global warming.

For the penguins have learned to look for places with lower sea temperatures and large amounts of a type of chlorophyll. These are tell-tale signs of plankton and, in turn, the fish that feed on them.

These once sure-fire ways to find large shoals are now leading the penguins into an “ecological trap” that is pushing them closer to extinction.

And the situation has been made worse by industrial-scale fishing and a raft of other problems, mostly caused by humans.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are about 80,000 adult African penguins left. But oil slicks in 1994 and 2000 killed some 30,000 birds and the death toll “may increase” if planned harbour developments go ahead, the IUCN says.

In the new study, researchers from Exeter and Cape Town universities tagged 54 juvenile birds from eight different colonies to find out where they go to look for fish.

The areas they chose were once rich hunting grounds for sardines and anchovies.

But changes in water temperature and salt content have prompted the fish to move hundreds of kilometres away.

The problems in finding food have produced low survival rates among juvenile African penguins, previously known as jackass penguins.

It is thought breeding numbers are about 50 per cent lower than they would be if the birds were able to find enough to eat.

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Wildlife

Whale found dying off coast of Norway with 30 plastic bags in its stomach

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Scientists in Norway found more than 30 plastic bags and other plastic waste inside the stomach of a whale stranded off the coast. Wardens had put the whale down after realising it wasn’t going to live, and had clearly consumed a large amount of non-biodegradable waste.

Despite the huge volume of plastic clogging up the whale’s stomach, the fact it died from ingesting the waste was “not surprising”, said researchers, as the volume of plastic in our seas continues to grow.

The Cuvier’s beaked whale was found stranded in shallow waters off the island of Sotra, and was in such poor condition the wardens decided to put it down. The creature had very little blubber and was emaciated, suggesting the plastic had lead it to become malnourished.

Dr Terje Lislevand, a zoologist who studied the whale, said: “The whale’s stomach was full of plastic bags and packaging with labels in Danish and English.” He also said the intestines were probably blocked up with plastic, causing severe pain.

Mexico’s vaquita porpoise close to extinction, 30 left

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Mexico’s vaquita marina is edging closer to extinction as scientists warned Wednesday that only 30 were left despite navy efforts to intercept illegal fishing nets killing the world’s smallest porpoise. At the current rate of loss, the vaquita will likely decline to extinction by 2022, unless the current gillnet ban is maintained and effectively enforced.

An analysis of acoustic data from the upper Gulf of California in northwestern Mexico found that, as of November, only about 30 vaquitas likely remained in their habitat, the report said.

A previous census between September and December 2015 had found around 60 vaquitas. There were 200 of them in 2012 and 100 in 2014.

Authorities say the vaquitas have been dying for years in gillnets that are meant to illegally catch another endangered specie, a large fish called the totoaba. Smugglers ship the totoaba’s dried swim bladder to China, where it fetches tens of thousands of dollars and is eaten in soup.

Known as the “panda of the sea” because of the dark rings around its eyes, the 1.5-meter (five-foot) cetacean has rarely been seen alive.

In a possibly last-ditch effort to save the vaquita, scientists plan, after getting government approval, to capture specimens and put them in an enclosure in the Gulf of California where they can reproduce.

Shark Fin Fast

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Indonesia cautions that there is an urgent need for shark fin soup enthusiasts to refrain from serving or eating the dish as some of the shark species in the archipelago are nearing extinction.

WWF says about 110,000 tons of shark fins are taken from Indonesian waters each year, leading to the sharp decline in shark populations.

“Indonesia largely depends on fisheries, so this is about food security too — if all the sharks are gone, we would have to start eating plankton soup,” said WWF leader Imam Musthofa Zainudin.

Wildlife

Lions Killed for their Paws and Heads

Three lions have been killed for their paws and heads at a farm outside Polokwane, South Africa.

Officials say they are concerned about the rising killing of the animals in the province, with a total of 9 lions being found dead in the last few months in Tzaneen, Hoedspruit and Mara areas.

Police say a preliminary investigation suggests that the wild cats were poisoned.

Canned hunting – or officially “the hunting of captive bred lions” – remains legal in South Africa.

Recently, at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, a motion was adopted to terminate captive-bred hunting of lions and other predators, as well as breeding them in captivity for commercial, non-conservation purposes.

South Africa has shown little regard for this overwhelming response by the key global conservation leaders who voted 82% in favour of Motion 009.

Captive-bred predators fell through the “legislative cracks” in South Africa, and there was little doubt that the legalisation of trade in domestic lion body parts would grow the demand for wild lion bones.

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