Wildlife

Spotted Zebra

A rare polka-dot zebra foal has created a stir after pictures appeared this past week. The equine oddity was spotted at Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, and is said to be a first for the park.Screen Shot 2019 09 19 at 1 08 33 PM

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Wildlife

Birds lose weight, migrate later after consuming insecticide

Birds that have ingested seeds treated with a common insecticide experience weight loss and delay their migrations — effects that could reduce their chances of surviving and reproducing, researchers found.

In a study of white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) in Canada, biologists documented the effects in birds that eat the equivalent of just a few seeds treated with the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid — an amount they could be expected to consume in the wild from agricultural fields.

Researchers suspect these impacts could be related to a dramatic decline in some songbird populations.

Neonicotinoids are often applied as a seed coating to protect crops from harmful insects, but when the chemicals are exposed in the environment, studies have found they can affect pollinating insects as well as birds.

Researchers found that birds given a higher dose of the pesticide lost 6% of their body mass within six hours, causing the birds to stay an average of 3 ½ days longer than birds in a control group at the stopover site before resuming migration.

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Wildlife

Botswana Reintroduces Elephant Hunting

Botswana has reintroduced elephant hunts with a cautious approach to pricing, a move that’s likely to further inflame the controversy that’s threatening a $2bn tourism industry after a five-year ban on hunting was lifted.

The government will auction licenses to hunting operators for the right to shoot 158 elephants but is yet to decide on the minimum price it will set at the sales, said Kitso Mokaila, the country’s environment minister.

There will also be a charge of 20 000 pula (about R27 000) for each of 72 elephant hunting licenses designated for foreigners, according to government documents seen by Bloomberg. That compares to at least $21 000 for the right to shoot an elephant in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population, with about 130 000 of the animals roaming free nationwide.

By lifting the hunting ban, Botswana has brought itself in line with its neighbours. The number of hunting licenses are below the 400 cap it set itself, and compares with 500 licenses in Zimbabwe and 90 in Namibia. In South Africa, foreign hunters generated R1.95bn in 2017. Less than 50 elephants are shot in South Africa annually and Zambia has allocated 37 licenses for this year.

Wildlife

Fish Rescue – Australia

Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state government has launched an operation to transplant masses of native fish from a dwindling river threatened with further shrinkage during the scorching and dry summer ahead. The move comes after massive fish deaths hit the stressed lower Darling River basin last summer.

“We’re staring down the barrel of a potential fish Armageddon, which is why we’re wasting little time rolling out this unprecedented action,” said NSW agriculture minister Adam Marshall.

Some environmental advocates say water extraction for agriculture upstream amplified the effects of the drought on the river, which ravaged species living in it.

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Wildlife

Cultural Exchange

British researchers say humpback whales have distinctive songs that are unique to where they originally came from, but the tunes can change over time.

Ellen Garland of the University of St. Andrews says those songs evolve as the marine mammals encounter others of their species while traveling through the oceans.

“We can pinpoint a population a whale has likely come from by what they are singing,” Garland says.

Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, Garland says the sharing of whale song is a type of cultural exchange that occurs throughout whales’ lives.

Wildlife

Great Barrier Reef Outlook now ‘Very Poor”

The Great Barrier Reef’s long-term outlook has been dropped from “poor” to “very poor” in a new report that calls for urgent action on climate change and other threats to the natural wonder.

Rising sea temperatures and marine heat waves are doing the most damage to the reef’s health, according to the report written by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Josh Thomas, the group’s CEO, called this a “critical” point in the reef’s history, saying its future depends on action taken now. If nothing is done to stop the current rate of global warming, the reef will be irreparably damaged for future generations. The finding comes from an analysis of data from scientific institutions, research centres, industry and government agencies – and is the culmination of two years of expert workshops.

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Wildlife

Scientists reproduce coral in lab

A team of scientists in the US have managed to reproduce coral in a lab setting for the first time ever, an encouraging step in the race to save “America’s Great Barrier Reef” off the coast of Florida.

The researchers from Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation were able to reproduce endangered Atlantic Pillar coral through induced spawning, a development that could ultimately prevent the extinction of the Florida Reef tract.

It’s been done before at the Horniman Museum in London with Pacific corals, never with Atlantic corals, and the Pillar coral that was spawned is a highly endangered species.

Florida’s corals are deteriorating rapidly due to climate change and a destructive tissue disease that appeared in the waters of the southeastern state in 2014. Scientists hope to reproduce healthy corals and repopulate the reefs through this technique.

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Wildlife

Wildlife summit votes down plan to allow sale of huge ivory stockpile

An attempt to allow a huge sale of stockpiled elephant ivory has been defeated at an international wildlife conference. The rancorous debate exposed deep divisions between African nations with opposing views on elephant conservation.

About 50 elephants are still being poached every day to supply ivory traffickers and all countries agree the world’s largest land animal needs greater protection. But southern African nations, which have some of the largest elephant populations, want to allow more legal sales of ivory to fund conservation and community development. But 32 other African nations argue all trade in elephants must end, including the trophy hunting legal in some states.

The new sale proposal was comprehensively voted down by 101 votes to 23.

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Giraffes to be protected as endangered species for the first time

The Cites nations did give new protection to the giraffe by voting to end the unregulated international trade in the animal’s parts.

There are fewer giraffes alive than elephants and their population has plunged by 40% since 1985 to just 97,500. However, this debate also exposed the same north-south divide in the continent.

The proposal was passed when countries voted by 106 to 21.

New Mexico proposes ban on wildlife trapping near cities

New restrictions on wildlife foot traps and wire snares were proposed Thursday by regulators seeking to resolve conflicts over trapping traditions and evolving attitudes about animal suffering.

The New Mexico Game and Fish agency outlined a proposal to ban traps and snares on select tracts of public lands outside of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Taos, along with a half-mile no-trapping buffer at officially recognized hiking trailheads.

The proposal includes mountainous areas east of Albuquerque that are popular for outdoor recreation, along with swaths of national forest along mountain highways leading to ski areas near Santa Fe and Taos. Trappers would be required to attend training. Also, design specifications for traps and snares are being suggested to reduce the risk of animals being maimed by snares and to ensure they don’t walk away with traps attached.

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Wildlife

California to build largest wildlife crossing in world

Hoping to fend off the extinction of mountain lions and other species that require room to roam, transportation officials and conservationists will build a mostly privately funded wildlife crossing over a major Southern California highway. It will give big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures a safe route to open space and better access to food and potential mates.

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Wildlife

Freshwater species on a fast decline

Freshwater species have declined 88 percent since 1970 — twice the decline of animals on the land or ocean, according to recent research, yet large gaps remain in monitoring and conservation efforts. The two main threats, they found, are overexploitation and the loss of free-flowing rivers. “The results are alarming and confirm the fears of scientists involved in studying and protecting freshwater biodiversity,” said Sonja Jähnig, of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries.

Thousands of birds killed during hailstorm

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More than 11,000 waterfowl and wetland birds were killed after “baseball-sized” chunks of hail fell on a Montana wildlife management area last weekend, state officials said Friday. Ducks and shorebirds with broken wings, smashed skulls and other signs of internal bleeding were found on the shores around Big Lake Wildlife Management Area in Molt, Montana.

Biologists who surveyed the area estimated that between 11,000 and 13,000 birds were found dead or badly injured after the hailstorm. Most of the injured birds are not expected to survive. About 20 to 30 percent of the entire bird population at the lake died in the storm.

Panama – A Broken Link in an Intercontinental Wildlife Route

The expansion of human populations has left animals such as white-lipped peccaries, jaguars, giant anteaters, white-tailed deer and tapirs isolated throughout Panama, a study recently published in Conservation Biology found. The nation represents the narrowest portion of a system of protected areas and connecting corridors that extend through the length of Central America and part of Mexico, known as the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC).

The results of the study strongly suggest that the bridge [through Panama] is broken. Until a few decades ago, many of these large mammal species still occurred continuously throughout the isthmus.

Now the animals live in forest “islands,” surrounded by cattle ranches, fields of crops, roads and other human developments that jeopardize their ability to move from one place—and, correspondingly, from one group—to another. The habitat fragmentation prevents animal movement and gene flow between populations, which can be detrimental to their long-term survival.

Panama has always played a crucial role in the movement and gene flow of numerous neotropical forest species. When the Isthmus of Panama, connecting North and South America, emerged about 2.8 million years ago, the event led to the Great American Biotic Interchange, allowing species to migrate between the two continents.

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Wildlife

World’s nations gather to tackle wildlife extinction crisis

From giraffes to sharks, the world’s endangered species could gain better protection at an international wildlife conference.

The triennial summit of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), that began on Saturday, will tackle disputes over the conservation of great beasts such as elephants and rhinos, as well as cracking down on the exploitation of unheralded but vital species such as sea cucumbers, which clean ocean floors.

Extraordinary creatures being driven to extinction by the exotic pet trade, from glass frogs to star tortoises, may win extra protection from the 183-country conference. It may even see an extinct animal, the woolly mammoth, get safeguards, on the grounds that illegal elephant ivory is sometimes laundered by being labelled as antique mammoth tusks.

The destruction of nature has reduced wildlife populations by 60% since 1970 and plant extinctions are running at a “frightening” rate, according to scientists. In May, the world’s leading researchers warned that humanity was in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the planet’s natural life-support systems, which provide the food, clean air and water on which society ultimately depends.

South Africa pushes for trade in endangered wildlife

The South African government, together with those of the DRC, Namibia and Zimbabwe, is proposing measures which, if enacted, could open the door to the international trade in elephant ivory, rhino horn and other endangered species.

In a submission to the eighteenth conference of the parties (CoP18) to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to be held in Switzerland in September 2019, the countries argue for a major overhaul in the way in which the organisation operates.

They believe they should be allowed to sell threatened wildlife species anywhere in the world in the same way that mineral resources and mass-produced plastic trinkets are traded on global commercial markets.

In essence, the countries proposing these changes to CITES are upset that current rules prohibit them from deriving profits from wild animals which they consider to be valuable products that they should be entitled to harvest and sell as they see fit.

South Africa is one of the best examples of this philosophy in action. Over the past decade or so, the government, guided by economists promoting extreme free-market policies and the unrestricted commodification and commercialisation of nature, has succeeded in crafting laws and regulations that explicitly lay out this interpretation of sustainable use, for instance in the case of lions and rhinos.

The government-supported industry of breeding lions in captivity in South Africa provides an illustration of the outcomes of this philosophy. Supposedly proud of its global wildlife conservation status, the country now hosts more of these caged and commodified lions than live in its national parks and nature reserves.

The problem is that wild animals are not the same as commercial goods and lions bred in captivity for the sole purpose of becoming targets for wealthy trophy hunters and a ready supply of bones for the market in traditional Chinese medicine, are neither capable of surviving in the wild nor have any conservation value whatsoever. In fact, one could argue that they are no longer truly lions in an ecological sense.

Given the current extinction crisis, we should do everything to protect endangered species, not expand ways to exploit them to their greatest commercial potential and it is extremely short-sighted and irresponsible for South Africa and other countries to make proposals that would diminish CITES’ effectiveness.

Wildlife

Cyanide Bombs Banned in Some States

Notwithstanding the Trump administration’s reauthorization of the use of sodium cyanide in wildlife-killing devices called M-44s “cyanide bombs”, wildlife advocacy groups in a number of States have successfully campaigned to ban their use, including Wyoming (2019), California (2019 and 2017), Oregon (2018), Colorado (2017), Arizona (2017) and Idaho (2019 and 2018).

Wildlife

Trump Administration Guts Endangered Species Act

The new rules, which the administration says will benefit businesses, tell regulators not to consider science alone when making decisions about endangered species.

Back in May, the United Nations warned that 1 million species are at risk of extinction, and that time is running out to save them — posing a severe risk to human life. Now, the Trump administration has significantly weakened the Endangered Species Act, a bipartisan 1973 law designed to prevent the most threatened species from going extinct.

The Endangered Species Act bans harassing, hurting or capturing species deemed endangered, and it requires agencies to enact rules designed to protect their ecosystems. Its goal, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), is to help species recover to the point that they no longer need federal protection. The most famous species that ecologists credit the FWS with preserving is likely the bald eagle. There were just a few hundred breeding pairs left in the U.S. in the 1970s, according to the American Bird Conservancy. Now, there are thousands.

The Trump administration’s argument for scaling back the act rests on the idea that it’s a burden to businesses.

The first key change to the act, according to The New York Times, involved requiring regulators to take economic costs into account when making decisions related to protecting species from extinction. The law previously required regulators to rely entirely on science in their decision-making.

The second key change has to do with the term “foreseeable future” that’s used in the act, according to the Times. Currently, regulators can take into account the effects of heat and drought and other impacts that result from ongoing climate change as part of making decisions related to the foreseeable future. The tweak, according to the Times, could lead to disregarding climate science as part of decision-making to protect endangered species.

“Over the objections of nearly everyone, the Trump Administration has eviscerated one of our nation’s foundational environmental laws. Poll after poll shows Americans support the Endangered Species Act as a lifeline to the wildlife it protects. The Administration ignored the hundreds of thousands of objections from scientists, wildlife experts and the American people who overwhelmingly support the Endangered Species Act,” Rebecca Riley, legal director for the Nature Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in the statement.

Wildlife

Droves of Blacktip Sharks Are Summering in Long Island for the First Time

Sharks making their annual northward migration from Florida have a new summer vacation destination: Long Island.

Blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), which range from 4 to 8 feet (1.2 to 2.4 meters) long, spend much of the year in Florida before heading north to cooler waters. In the past, the Carolinas were the sharks’ destination of choice. But not anymore. Because of climate change, the waters off North and South Carolina are no longer cool enough in the summer. So blacktips are seeking waters farther north — and Long Island fits the bill.

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Wildlife

Heatwaves kill coral reefs faster than believed: Study

Marine heatwaves are killing coral reefs far more quickly than previously believed, according to a new study released yesterday.

Scientists have known that rising sea temperatures blamed on global warming can severely damage reefs through a process of “bleaching”, where the high temperatures kill the colourful algae that nourish the coral animals. Coral anemones build calcium carbonate skeletons that create the reefs and rely on algae for most of their food. In return, the algae get a home to live in.

Repeated “bleaching events”, such as ones that hit Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017, can eventually kill the coral in a process which takes months or years. If sea temperatures ease, some bleached corals are able to regenerate.

But the new study found that severe marine heatwaves can actually degrade the skeletal structure of the coral, potentially killing the organisms in a matter of days or weeks.

“The severity of these heatwave events is beyond the bleaching process, it’s actually a point where the coral animal itself is dying,” said Dr Tracy Ainsworth, a co-author of the study from the University of New South Wales.