Toxoplasmosis: Death of monk seals

Officials with the Hawai‘i Departments of Health (DOH) & Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) say that the three tragic deaths of endangered Hawaiian monk seals on O‘ahu due to toxoplasmosis is very sad and could have been entirely preventable.

Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson said, “The only thing certain about toxoplasmosis is that there are far more cases in humans and more deaths in seals, dolphins, native birds and other animals today than are recognized and reported. Since cats are the only animal that transmit the disease, it only makes sense that reducing the number of feral cats will reduce the risk of infection and serious illness or death”.

In addition to preying on native wildlife, cats pose a significant health risk to people, marine wildlife and birds. Feeding cats at state parks, boat harbors and other coastal areas increases the risk of transmission because the cysts don’t need to travel very far to get into the ocean.

With only an estimated 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals still in existence, we simply cannot afford to lose even one of these critically endangered mammals to a disease that is preventable.

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Dolphin Bonding

A new study reveals that male bottlenose dolphins communicate by calling on their bros by name.

The University of Western Australia study found that dolphins use signature whistles for each other, and are the only animals besides humans to adopt names.

Researcher Stephanie King says that using individual names helps the dolphins negotiate a complex social network of relationships.

The study also revealed the male dolphins spend a lot of time caressing each other with their pectoral fins, as if they are holding hands.


Coral Reefs Face More Challenges

Coral reefs, already under existential threat from rising water temperatures, face further risks as projected sea level rises will outpace the speed they are able to grow, new research suggests.

Current growth rates in the tropical western Atlantic and Indian Ocean have so far kept up with modern global sea level rises – 6cm during the 19th Century and 19cm during the 20th century. But projections for sea level rises by the end of the 21st Century will outpace coral growth, the study says.

Reef growth is already severely hampered by combinations of coral disease, deteriorating water quality and fishing pressure, along with severe impacts from “coral bleaching” caused by climate change.

Even under modest climate change prediction scenarios, only about 3 per cent of Indian Ocean reefs will be able to track local sea-level rise projections without sustained ecological recovery, whilst under continued high emission scenarios, most reefs will experience water depth increases in excess of half a metre.

Reefs serve as natural breakwaters that reduce flooding by dampening waves and breaking them early.

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Ancient baobabs are dying

Baobabs are dying across southern Africa‚ and climate change may be to blame.

Some of the oldest and largest baobabs in South Africa‚ Zimbabwe‚ Namibia‚ South Africa‚ Botswana‚ and Zambia have abruptly died in the past decade‚ say a team of international researchers. The trees‚ aged between 1‚100 and 2‚500 years‚ may have fallen victim to climate change‚ said the team.

While the cause of the deaths is unknown‚ the researchers “suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular”.

The dead trunks were only 40% water‚ instead of the 75-80% they should have been. Their condition meant they could no longer support the tree’s weight. Between 2005 and 2017‚ the researchers dated “practically all known very large and potentially old” African baobabs – more than 60 in total. After studying data on girth‚ height‚ wood volume and age‚ they noted the “unexpected and intriguing fact” that most of the oldest and biggest trees died during the study period.

The oldest tree which suffered the collapse of all its stems was the Panke tree in Zimbabwe‚ estimated to have existed for 2‚500 years. The biggest‚ Holboom‚ was from Namibia. It stood 30.2m tall and had a girth of 35.1m.

The most famous victim of the die-off was the Chapman’s baobab‚ a national monument and tourist attraction in central Botswana that bore the carved initials of explorer David Livingstone. It was named after South African hunter James Chapman‚ who visited it in 1852. On January 7‚ 2016‚ its six trunks all collapsed and died.



Gorilla Rebound

The population of Africa’s critically endangered mountain gorillas has soared by a quarter since 2010, with wildlife authorities estimating the number now to be over 1,000 individual primates.

The population boom came despite the threat of poaching and armed groups vying for control on the chain of volcanic mountains that are home to the gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The population increase came after the introduction of park guards, veterinary care, community support projects and regulated tourism around the gorillas’ habitats.



Toxic Toad Could End Up Killing the Predators on Madagascar

An invasive species of toad in Madagascar is even more dangerous to local wildlife than previously suspected — its poisonous slime is deadly to just about any local predator, including endangered lemurs, that tries to eat the amphibian.

The Asian common toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) is a newcomer to the island of Madagascar, and in just a few years it has spread rapidly. Invasive species upset the balance of local diversity and can cause big problems for native animals, but scientists recently learned that the runaway success of the toad could have even more troubling consequences than thought.

In the evolutionary arms race of predator versus prey, animals that habitually eat toxic creatures often evolve resistance to their poison, in the form of genetic mutations.

But when invasive species suddenly arrive in an ecosystem — as the Asian common toad did — would-be predators that have never encountered the toxic invader before are exceptionally vulnerable to the unknown threat lurking in the body of their next meal.

77 Malagasy species that would be likely to eat the poisonous pests, including 28 birds, 27 snakes, 12 frogs, eight mammals and two lizards. And except for one type of rodent, every species lacked the genetic mutations associated with resistance to the toad’s poison.

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Global Warming

Eerie silence falls on Shetland cliffs that once echoed to seabirds’ cries

Sumburgh Head lies at the southern tip of mainland Shetland. This dramatic 100-metre-high rocky spur, crowned with a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, has a reputation for being one of the biggest and most accessible seabird colonies in Britain.

Thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars gather there every spring to breed, covering almost every square inch of rock or grass with teeming, screeching birds and their young.

Or at least they used to – for this year Sumburgh Head is a quiet and largely deserted place. Where seabirds once swooped and cried in their thousands, only a handful of birds wheel round the cliffs. The silence is uncanny – the result of a crash in seabird numbers that has been in progress for several years but which has now reached an unprecedented, catastrophic low.

One of the nation’s most important conservation centres has been denuded of its wildlife, a victim – according to scientists – of climate change, which has disrupted food chains in the North Sea and North Atlantic and left many seabirds without a source of sustenance. The result has been an apocalyptic drop in numbers of Arctic terns, kittiwakes and many other birds.



Thirsty Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes appear to be more prone to bite during droughts and in arid climates because the insects need blood to stay hydrated, as well as for its protein content, new research reveals.

A team from the University of Cincinnati says the discovery could lead to new ways to fight mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria, West Nile virus, dengue and Zika.

While the stagnant pools of water that form when it rains produce ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes, the disease-carrying pests are likely to become more aggressive when they dry up.

Lead researcher Chris Holmes believes that climate change could make periods of drought more frequent, increasing the health threat posed by mosquitoes.


Oceanic Heat Wave

Tropical fish from off northeastern Australia have been spotted around parts of New Zealand, lured across the Tasman Sea by a record-breaking hot summer season.

The country’s unusual warmth was largely generated by what meteorologists term a “marine heat wave,” which has seen water temperatures nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

The rare appearance of the Queensland groper, also known as the giant grouper, has startled New Zealand divers, who fear the fish won’t survive once temperatures cool to near normal.


Happy Captives?

A controversial study suggests captive dolphins can be as “happy” as those swimming free in the wild, and also appear to look forward to human interaction.

French researchers played specific sounds before offering the dolphins different things to do, such as playing with new toys, interacting with a human or being left to do as they pleased. The marine mammals would clearly bob their heads out of the water when they anticipated a human was coming.

The scientists conclude this means the dolphins become excited when offered the chance to connect with their human trainers.


Japanese Whale Slaughter

Japanese research vessels harpooned, killed and necropsied 333 Antarctic minke whales during an annual hunt last summer — and 122 of those whales were pregnant.

The expedition, reportedly mounted for “scientific research,” also resulted in the slaughter of 114 immature whales, according to a report of the hunt released by the International Whaling Commission.

According to the report, researchers set out to acquire data on the age, size and stomach contents of minke whales in the South Ocean between Australia and Antarctica. This involved shooting the whales with grenade-tipped harpoons (a controversial killing method that results in instant death only 50 to 80 percent of the time), hauling the slain whales aboard a research vessel and cutting them apart on-site.

Killing the whales in this fashion was necessary, the researchers wrote, as “age information can be obtained only from internal earplugs and therefore only through lethal sampling methods.”

Despite Japan’s claims that continued whale hunts like these are purely scientific, the country also allows whale flesh to be sold in markets and restaurants and ultimately plans to revive its commercial whaling industry, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. This potential profit motive — coupled with recent footage of Japanese vessels slaying whales in an Australian whale sanctuary — has resulted in international condemnation of the country’s brutal hunting practices.

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Zambia to reinstate hippo cull

Just about two years ago, this website reported on the Zambian government sanctioned plan to cull 2,000 hippos as a ‘wildlife management tool’ to prevent the future spread of anthrax among wild animals.

Just a short period later, the government suspended the cull “to allow for further consultation with stakeholders”.

Now, the wildlife conservation organization, Born Free, reports the 2016 decision not to cull has been reversed, prompting calls for Zambian leaders to personally intervene and call a permanent halt to this damaging and distressing plan, with immediate effect.

According to a Born Free press release Thursday– In a shocking and secretive move, Zambian authorities have overturned their 2016 decision to suspend the brutal culling of up to 2,000 hippos in the world-famous Luangwa Valley over the next five years. The cull is once again being promoted to trophy hunters as a hunt, this time by the South African hunting outfitter Umlilo Safaris.

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France – Asian Worm Invasion

A silent invasion of giant hammerhead flatworms has been occurring for the past two decades in France and some of its territories.

The extent of the invasion was uncovered by citizen scientists, who found that several non-native species now slither across urban areas of southern France and its overseas territories from the Caribbean to Oceania.

The ecological impact of the invasion is unclear, but the worms prey on animals living in the ground, including earthworms.

The Asian natives are believed to be inadvertently spreading through international trade.



Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study

Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet.

The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.

The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.

Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass. The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface.

The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals. A cattle farm in Mato Grosso, Brazil. 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock.


The destruction of wild habitat for farming, logging and development has resulted in the start of what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in the Earth’s four billion year history. About half the Earth’s animals are thought to have been lost in the last 50 years.

But comparison of the new estimates with those for the time before humans became farmers and the industrial revolution began reveal the full extent of the huge decline. Just one-sixth of wild mammals, from mice to elephants, remain, surprising even the scientists. In the oceans, three centuries of whaling has left just a fifth of marine mammals in the oceans.