LB1C. 2001 Seeking Biodiversity
Staying current for Chapter 1
Articles from 2001–2010
Stay current index page for chapter 1
2010 Nov 26. The Fight for Yasuni. By Eric Marx, Science. Abstract: Over the past decade, biologists working in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park and the adjoining Waorani Ethnic Reserve, a 17,000-kilometer section of the Amazon Basin that was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989, have documented Yasuni’s remarkable biodiversity, providing evidence that its forest has the highest number of species on the planet, including an unprecedented core where there are overlapping world richness records for amphibians, reptiles, bats, and trees. Through a group called Scientists Concerned for Yasuni, these researchers have waged an international campaign to protect the location, which happens to sit atop Ecuador’s second largest reserve of crude oil. This unabashed science-based advocacy has had an impact…
2010 Oct 26 The Impact of Conservation on the Status of the World’s Vertebrates. By Michael Hoffmann et al., Science. Abstract: Using data for 25,780 species categorized on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, we present an assessment of the status of the world’s vertebrates. One-fifth of species are classified as Threatened, and we show that this figure is increasing: On average, 52 species of mammals, birds and amphibians move one category closer to extinction each year. However, this overall pattern conceals the impact of conservation successes, and we show that the rate of deterioration would have been at least one-fifth as much again in the absence of these. Nonetheless, current conservation efforts remain insufficient to offset the main drivers of biodiversity loss in these groups: agricultural expansion, logging, overexploitation, and invasive alien species.
2010 Oct 26. Scenarios for Global Biodiversity in the 21st Century. Henrique M. Pereira, Paul W. Leadley, et al., Science. Abstract: Quantitative scenarios are coming of age as a tool for evaluating the impact of future socioeconomic development pathways on biodiversity and ecosystem services. We analyze global terrestrial, freshwater, and marine biodiversity scenarios using a range of measures including extinctions, changes in species abundance, habitat loss, and distribution shifts, as well as comparing model projections to observations. Scenarios consistently indicate that biodiversity will continue to decline over the 21st century. However, the range of projected changes is much broader than most studies suggest, partly because there are significant opportunities to intervene through better policies, but also because of large uncertainties in projections.
2010 October 5. Toiling to Save a Threatened Frog. By Erica Rex, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Vance Vredenburg, a professor of biology at San Francisco State University, is conducting an experiment he hopes will help preserve what remains of these once abundant creatures. Dr. Vredenburg and his colleagues are inoculating chytrid-infected frogs with a bacteria, Janthinobacterium lividum, or J. liv, that does not prevent infection with chytrid but can help frogs survive…
2010 Sep 17. In Search of the Grizzly (if Any Are Left). By William Yardley, The New York Times. Excerpt: PASAYTEN WILDERNESS, Wash. — “Here,” said Bill Gaines, a wildlife biologist for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, “is the mother lode.”
Caught on a prong of barbed wire that he had strung weeks earlier in these remote mountains was a tantalizing clue: strands of light brown bear hair.
…Mr. Gaines is leading the most ambitious effort ever to document whether grizzlies still exist here — a century after fur trappers and ranchers killed them off by the hundreds — at a time when tension is high in the West over the fate of wild predators like gray wolves. While many people want the grizzlies, an endangered species, to make a comeback here, others worry that more bears will mean more conflict.
“Grizzlies are a threat to livestock and to humans,” said John Stuhlmiller, the director of government relations at the Washington State Farm Bureau…. People whose livelihoods are not threatened by predators do not get it, Mr. Stuhlmiller said. “If my 401(k) was being raided by grizzly bears, I would think differently,” he said.
…For nearly 30 years the federal government has had a program to help restore the grizzly bear population in Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming. It has made a difference in places like Yellowstone National Park and the Continental Divide region of Montana, but not in the North Cascades, one of six designated recovery zones. Instead, this area has been locked in a virtual standstill as political winds shift over the preservation of large predators.
…Yet small steps are being taken. If the study in the North Cascades proves that grizzlies still live in the area, advocates for recovery will probably face less political opposition. This is because they would be augmenting the historic population, not trying to rebuild the population from scratch when there were no bears at all.
2010 April 29. World’s 2010 nature target ‘will not be met’. By Richard Black, BBC News. Excerpt: The world’s governments will not meet their internationally-agreed target of curbing the loss of species and nature by 2010, a major study has confirmed.
Virtually all species and ecosystems show continued decline, while pressures on nature are increasing, it concludes.
Published in the journal Science, the study confirms what conservationists have known for several years.
The 2010 target was adopted in 2002, but the scientists behind this study say implementation has been “woeful”.
“Our analysis shows that governments have failed to deliver on the commitments they made in 2002,” said research leader Stuart Butchart, from the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Unep-WCMC) and BirdLife International.
“Biodiversity is still being lost as fast as ever, and we have made little headway in reducing the pressures on species, habitats and ecosystems.”
Unep chief scientist Joseph Alcamo added: “Since 1970, we have reduced animal populations by 30%, the area of mangroves and seagrasses by 20% and the coverage of living corals by 40%.
“These losses are clearly unsustainable.”…
2010 April 10. Giant Lizard Discovered in the Philippines is New Species. NY Times. Excerpt: MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Researchers have concluded that a giant, golden-spotted monitor lizard discovered in the forested mountains of the Philippines six years ago is a new species, according to a study released Wednesday.
The 6.5-foot (2-meter) -long lizard was first spotted in 2004 in the Sierra Madre mountains on the main island of Luzon when local researchers saw local Agta tribesmen carrying one of the dead reptiles.
But it took until last year to determine it was a new species. After capturing an adult, researchers from the University of Kansas and the National Museum of the Philippines obtained DNA samples that helped confirm the lizard was new to science.
…”I knew as soon as I saw the animal that it was something special,” Luke Welton, a graduate student at the University of Kansas and one of the co-authors of the study, said in a statement.
It is not that unusual to find a new species of tiny fish, frog or insect these days. But Welton and his colleagues said it was a ”rare occurrence” to discover such a large vertebrate, particularly on an island hit by deforestation and nearby development. They compared their find to the 1993 discovery of the forest-dwelling Saola ox in Vietnam and a new monkey species discovered in the highlands of Tanzania in 2006….
2010 March 12. Climate Change Threatens Migratory Birds, Report Says. By John M. Broder, NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — Changes in the global climate are imposing additional stress on hundreds of species of migratory birds in the United States that are already threatened by other environmental factors, according to a new Interior Department report.
The latest version of the department’s annual State of the Birds report shows that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or suffering from population decline.
For the first time, the report adds climate change to other factors threatening bird populations, including destruction of habitat, hunting, pesticides, invasive species and loss of wetlands….
2010 Feb 18. World’s most endangered primates revealed. IUCN. Excerpt: Mankind’s closest living relatives – the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates – are on the brink of extinction and in need of urgent conservation measures according to Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008–2010.
The report, compiled by 85 experts from across the world, reveals that nearly half of all primate species are now in danger of becoming extinct from destruction of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade and commercial bushmeat hunting. The list includes five primate species from Madagascar, six from Africa, 11 from Asia, and three from Central and South America, all of which are the most in need of urgent conservation action.
Conservationists want to highlight the plight of species such as the golden headed langur (Trachypithecus p. poliocephalus), which is found only on the island of Cat Ba in the Gulf of Tonkin, north-eastern Vietnam, where just 60 to 70 individuals remain. Similarly, there are thought to be less than 100 individual northern sportive lemurs (Lepilemur septentrionalis) left in Madagascar, and around 110 eastern black crested gibbons (Nomascus nasutus) in northeastern Vietnam.
…Almost half (48 percent) of the world’s 634 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests (which results in the release of around 16 percent of the global greenhouse gases causing climate change), the hunting of primates for food, and the illegal wildlife trade….
2009 November 23. In the Dark: Unusual Deep-Sea Species Documented [Slide Show]. By Katherine Harmon, Scientific American. Excerpt: The darkest reaches of the ocean have long been thought of as a desolate biome. But as researchers send equipment down to document these mysterious depths, they are quickly learning not only that it is teaming with life, but also that it boasts surprising diversity.
More than 340 scientists from around the world have been working over the past nine years to complete the Census of Marine Life, a project that has sent out dozens of expeditions to document ocean life at all levels of the sea….
2009 July 25. New Creatures in an Age of Extinctions. By Natalie Angier, The NY Times. Excerpt: …Since the last summary of the world’s mammals was published in 2005, tallying the roughly 5,400 mammalian species then known, Dr. Helgen, curator of mammals at Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, said an astounding 400 or so new species have been added to the list. “Most people don’t realize this,” he said, “but we are smack-dab in the middle of the age of discovery for mammals.”
Yet as he and other biologists are all too aware, we are also smack-dab in the middle of a great species smack down, an age of mass extinctions for which we humans are largely to blame. Estimates of annual species loss vary widely and are merely crude guesstimates anyway, but most researchers agree that, as a result of habitat destruction, climate volatility, pesticide runoff, ocean dumping, jet-setting invasive species and other “anthropogenic” effects on the environment, the extinction rate is many times above nature’s chronic winnowing. “Our best guess is that it’s hugely above baseline, a hundred times above baseline,” said John Robinson, an executive vice president at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The problem is, we’ve only described an estimated 15 percent of all species on Earth, so most of what’s going extinct are things we didn’t even know existed.”
In sum, we have a provocatively twinned set of rising figures: on the one hand, the known knowns, that is, the number of new species that researchers are divulging by the day; and on the other, the unknown unknowns, the creatures that are fast disappearing without benefit of a Linnaean tag….
2009 July 2. World ‘still losing biodiversity’. BBC News. Excerpt: An unacceptable number of species are still being lost forever despite world leaders pledging action to reverse the trend, a report has warned. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says the commitment to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010 will not be met. It warns that a third of amphibians, a quarter of mammals and one-in-eight birds are threatened with extinction. The analysis is based on the 44,838 species on the IUCN Red List.
“The report makes for depressing reading,” said co-editor Craig Hilton Taylor, manager of the IUCN’s Red List Unit.
“It tells us that the extinction crisis is as bad, or even worse than we believed.
…The main policy mechanism to tackle the loss is the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD), which came into force in 1993… Currently, 168 nations are signatories to the convention, which set the target “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level”.
Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy head of the IUCN’s Species Programme, warned that the scale of “wildlife crisis” was far worse than the current global economic crisis.
“It is time to recognise that nature is the largest company on Earth working for the benefit of 100% of humankind,” he said….
The assessment lists 869 species as Extinct or Extinct in the Wild. Overall, the report categorises at least 16,928 species as being threatened with extinction….
2009 June 17. Dingoes ‘could help rare species’. By Richard Black, BBC News. Excerpt: Re-introducing dingoes across tracts of Australia could have benefits for wildlife and possibly cattle farmers.
Researchers found that dingoes suppress populations of kangaroos and red foxes, which are big consumers of vegetation and small mammals respectively.
Writing in the Royal Society’s journal Proceedings B, they say the benefits of dingoes outweigh concerns over their presence as an “alien predator”.
The wild dogs were brought to Australia about 5,000 years ago. Their appetite for sheep means they have been expelled from large swathes of the country, notably the productive farmlands of New South Wales and Victoria, where a “dingo fence” more than 5,000km long has been erected to keep the predators out.
But this may have contributed to the demise of some native animals and the endangerment of many more.
“There is a lot of pressure to get rid of dingoes, and they can do damage,” said Michael Letnic from the University of Sydney.
…”But dingoes suppress fox and kangaroo numbers, and when you don’t have dingoes in the system, kangaroos basically eat all the herbiage and foxes take all of the prey.”…
2009 February 17. Debate Rages Over Elk Feeding. By Kirk Johnson, The NY Times. Excerpt: JACKSON, Wyo. — When the mighty elk herds of the West were facing the possibility of extinction from overhunting, settlement and neglect a century ago, people here stepped forward and began what has turned out to be a profound biological experiment.
They offered food to the straggling survivors.
The Jackson herd, now tens of thousands of animals strong, became the foundation for a resurgent elk population. After the federal government stepped in to run the feeding system in 1912, a self-reinforcing loop of tourism, hunting, ranching and politics emerged. Having lots of elk in one place where humans would feed them, year in and year out, gradually became a goal in itself, shrouded with complex motives and enshrined by time.
…Now a new and tightening circle of challenges is closing in on the elk and the human system that has sustained them, forcing a debate over the science, emotion and economics of protecting these magnificent animals and the landscape they inhabit. At the center is a critical question: Did human kindness backfire, setting the elk up for disaster?
A federal lawsuit filed last year by a coalition of environmental groups charges that feeding the elk violates the Fish and Wildlife Service’s charter to manage refuges for healthy populations and biological integrity. Feeding programs, the suit argues, endanger the elk and create monocultures that degrade the landscape for other creatures, like birds, which can no longer nest on feeding grounds stripped of willows by the ravenous herd….
2008 October 6. One in 4 Mammals Threatened With Extinction, Group Finds. By James Kanter, The New York Times. Excerpt: BARCELONA, Spain — An “extinction crisis” is under way, with one in four mammals in danger of disappearing because of habitat loss, hunting and climate change, a leading global conservation body warned Monday.
“Within our lifetime, hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions,” said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or I.U.C.N., a network of campaign groups, governments, scientists and other experts.
Among 188 mammals in the group’s highest threat category — critically endangered — was the Iberian lynx, which has an estimated population of 84 adults and has continued to decline as its primary prey, the European rabbit, has fallen victim to disease and overhunting.
…Jan Schipper, the director of the global mammal assessment for the I.U.C.N. and for Conservation International, an environmental group, said it was hard to draw a direct comparison with the last detailed survey on mammals, in 1996. New species have been identified, others discovered, and the criteria used to assess species have been made more broadly applicable across all animals and plants.
But he gave a mostly bleak assessment.
“Although 5 percent of mammals are recovering, what we observe are rates of habitat loss and hunting in Southeast Asia, Central Africa and Central and South America that are so serious that the overall rate of decline has steadily increased during the past decade,” Mr. Schipper said….
2008 Aug 5. Trove of Endangered Gorillas Found in Africa. By ANDREW C. REVKIN, NY Times. Excerpt: A grueling survey of vast tracts of forest and swamp in the northern Congo Republic has revealed the presence of more than 125,000 western lowland gorillas, a rare example of abundance in a world of rapidly vanishing primate populations.
As recently as last year, this subspecies of the world’s largest primate was listed as critically endangered by international wildlife organizations because known populations – estimated at less than 100,000 in the 1980s – had been devastated by hunting and outbreaks of Ebola virus. The three other subspecies are either critically endangered or endangered.
The survey was conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society and local researchers in largely unstudied terrain, including a swampy region nicknamed the “green abyss” by the first biologists to cross it.
…The lowland gorillas discovered in the Congo Republic survey are secure for now, but pressures are growing on wildlife in central Africa as international demand builds for tropical hardwood and other resources. The government of Congo Republic has granted national park status to one of the studied regions, Ntokou-Pikounda, which is estimated to hold 73,000 gorillas. But there is little money for staff or operations, conservation society officials said….
2008 Aug 5. Alaska: Suit Filed Over Polar Bears. By WIRE SERVICES. Excerpt: The state has sued Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, seeking to reverse his decision to give polar bears protection under the Endangered Species Act…. The lawsuit, filed Monday, argues that the Interior Department failed to consider that polar bears had survived previous warming periods….
2008 July 15. Efforts on 2 Fronts to Save a Population of Ferrets. By Jim Robbins, The New York Times. Excerpt: WALL, S.D. — A colony that contains nearly half of the black-footed ferrets in the country and which biologists say is critical to the long-term health of the species has been struck by plague, which may have killed a third of the 300 animals.
A much-publicized endangered species in the 1970s that had dwindled to 18 animals, the black-footed ferret had struggled to make a comeback and had been doing relatively well for decades. But plague, always a threat to the ferrets and their main prey, prairie dogs, has struck with a vengeance this year, partly because of the wet spring.
The ferrets are an easy target for the bacteria. “They are exquisitely sensitive to the plague,” said Travis Livieri, a wildlife biologist here who is trying to save the colony. “They don’t just get sick, they die. No ifs, ands or buts.”…
But the fight is not only against the plague. While the federal Forest Service is part of the effort to protect ferrets, it has also, at the request of area ranchers, poisoned several thousands of acres of prairie dogs on the edge of the Conata Basin, a buffer strip of federal land adjacent to private grazing land. The buffer strip does not have ferrets, but it is good ferret habitat, experts say, and if they were to spread there it could help support the recovery.
But prairie dogs eat grass, and a large village can denude grazing land.
Of even more concern to biologists and environmentalists, though, is a Forest Service study of an expanded effort to kill prairie dogs in ferret habitat, which biologists say could be devastating to the restoration of the ferrets.
…Enough prairie dogs need to survive the plague to keep the ferrets from starving to death. One ferret eats 125 to 150 prairie dogs a year…
Summer 2008. Jurassic Beach. Jennifer Uscher, Nature Conservancy Magazine. Excerpt: … Throughout most of the past century, the horseshoe crab never registered as much more than an oddity for beach goers to step around…. “My grandparents fed them to their chickens and their hogs; it was the only thing they were good for,” says Bill Hall, a marine researcher and education specialist at the University of Delaware. Then, in the 1950s, scientists discovered a compound in the crab’s copper-based blood that clots when it comes into contact with harmful bacteria. Many countries, including the United States, now require that the biomedical industry use this compound, called lysate, to test just about any object or substance used during a medical procedure that could cause infection-syringes, scalpels, intravenous drugs.
“Most people have no idea,” says Hall …But thanks to lysate’s ability to alert against infection, the horseshoe crab has helped save many lives-more than a million people, according to one estimate-since the compound was discovered.
To supply the biomedical industry with this anti-infection compound … approximately 300,000 crabs are caught and bled each year. While some of these crabs are returned to the ocean, only a little worse for the wear, as much as 40 percent of the catch dies from the trauma or is sold to the bait industry. Bill Hall helped start the crab count in 1990 in part to monitor the impact of the biomedical industry, which had-and still has-a huge stake in sustainably managing the horseshoe harvest. “This crab saves lives,” says Hall. “There is nothing to replace it.”
While the biomedical industry’s limited catch was not considered a major threat to the horseshoe crab population, in the mid-1990s Hall and others began to notice signs that something was going wrong with the numbers of crabs coming onto shore during the annual spawning counts.
Half a world away, a culinary trend was sending the Delaware Bay horseshoe crab population into a downward spiral. Beginning in the 1990s, surging demand in Asia for whelk (or conch, as it is called) and American eel gave watermen along the Atlantic Coast a big incentive to catch horseshoe crabs, which they slice up and use as bait in traps. …From the late 1960s to 1996, the annual catch increased from 10 tons to 2,550 tons.
A crash in the horseshoe population wasn’t far behind. And … it put at risk dozens of other species, including threatened loggerhead sea turtles … and at least 11 species of migratory birds, which rely on the crab’s protein-packed eggs as a crucial food source during their intercontinental spring migrations….
2008 May 15. Polar Bear Is Made a Protected Species. By FELICITY BARRINGER, NY Times. The polar bear, whose summertime Arctic hunting grounds have been greatly reduced by a warming climate, will be placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced on Wednesday.
But the long-delayed decision to list the bear as a threatened species may prove less of an impediment to oil and gas industries along the Alaskan coast than many environmentalists had hoped. Mr. Kempthorne also made it clear that it would be “wholly inappropriate” to use the listing as a tool to reduce greenhouse gases, as environmentalists had intended to do.
… the Interior Department added stipulations, seldom used under the act, that would allow oil and gas exploration and development to proceed in areas where the bears live, as long as the companies continue to comply with existing restrictions under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Mr. Kempthorne said Wednesday in Washington that the decision was driven by overwhelming scientific evidence that “sea ice is vital to polar bears’ survival,” and all available scientific models show that the rapid loss of ice will continue. The bears use sea ice as a platform to hunt seals and as a pathway to the Arctic coasts where they den.
…The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit in 2005 to force a listing of the polar bear. …Kassie Siegel, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the listing decision was an acknowledgment of “global warming’s urgency” but would have little practical impact on protecting polar bears.
…Over all, scientists agree that rising temperatures will reduce Arctic ice and stress polar bears, which prefer seals they hunt on the floes. But few foresee the species vanishing entirely for a century and likely longer.
…The territorial government of Nunavut, which is home to upward of 15,000 polar bears, had campaigned against new United States protections for the bear, largely because of worries that the lucrative local bear hunts by residents of the United States would stop when trophy skins could no longer be brought home.
2008 Apr 13. In the West, a Fierce Battle Over Wolves. By KIRK JOHNSON. The NY Times. Excerpt: DENVER – …Since March 28, when the wolf was taken off the list of federally protected species in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, a fierce battle of perceptions and posturing has unfolded on the Web and in the news media as pro-wolf and anti-wolf forces stake out sometimes hyperbolic positions concerning where in the West animals and humans should exist.
The backdrop is a running time clock and a lawsuit. On April 28, a coalition of environmental groups has said it will to go federal court challenging the decision to lift protections.
Until then, the court of public opinion is in session, as cases are built for how the new system of state management is working or not. …Some ranchers and hunters urge caution in killing wolves unnecessarily, to avoid inflaming emotions that could haunt the legal process later on.
“I would certainly not want to create any useful ammunition, no pun intended, for the pro-wolf environmental groups that have announced their intention to sue,” said Budd Betts, a dude-ranch operator and former Wyoming state legislator near Jackson Hole. “The legal aspect is connected to the emotional and the political, and no judge is immune.”
Pro-wolf forces, meanwhile, say that wolf killers may have created a martyr. On the first day protections were lifted, a partly crippled and much photographed radio-collared wolf named 253M was legally shot near the town of Daniel in western Wyoming.
The killing made headlines as far away as Utah, where 253M had wandered in 2002, before being transported back to Wyoming. A story in The Salt Lake Tribune quoted a woman as saying she had wept at the news of the animal’s death.
Responding to what it says are numerous public inquiries, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department began a w eekly wolf update on its Web site, starting on April 4. “We’re hearing a lot, from all sectors of the public,” said a spokesman, Eric Keszler. “Some want no wolves to be killed – others ask where the trophy game area is going to be.”
Wyoming, Montana and Idaho plan their first wolf trophy hunting seasons this fall. About 1,500 wolves inhabit the three states, most of them descended from 66 wolves introduced into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the mid-1990s.
State management plans allow for wolf hunting – or in some places, outright eradication – with a target population of 150 in each of the three states….
2008 April 6, Koalas In Danger. By Kathy Marks, The Independent. Excerpt: The future of the koala, perhaps Australia’s best-loved animal, is under threat because greenhouse gas emissions are making eucalyptus leaves – their sole food source – inedible.
Scientists warned yesterday that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were reducing nutrient levels in the leaves, and also boosting their toxic tannin content. That has serious implications for koalas and other marsupials that eat only, or mainly, the leaves of gum trees. These include a number of possum and wallaby species.
…Despite koalas’ predilection for eucalyptus, the leaves are not nutritionally rich. In fact, even in the best conditions they are so low in protein that koalas – which spend up to 20 hours a day asleep, and most of the rest of their waking hours eating – have to eat 700g (1.5lb) of them a day to survive.
…WWF Australia warned recently that rising temperatures threatened numerous Australian native species, including the tree frog, the hare kangaroo, the tiny tree kangaroo and the greater bilby.
In a report last month, it said that such creatures – already endangered as a result of wide-scale land clearing and the introduction of exotic predators – could be pushed into extinction by climate change and its knock-on effects….The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there are fewer than 100,000 koalas remaining in Australia today.
2008 Mar 25. Bats Perish, and No One Knows Why. By TINA KELLEY. NY Times. Excerpt: Al … Hicks, a mammal specialist with the state’s Environmental Conservation Department, said: “Bats don’t fly in the daytime, and bats don’t fly in the winter. Every bat you see out here is a ‘dead bat flying,’ so to speak.”
They have plenty of company. In what is one of the worst calamities to hit bat populations in the United States, on average 90 percent of the hibernating bats in four caves and mines in New York have died since last winter.
Wildlife biologists fear a significant die-off in about 15 caves and mines in New York, as well as at sites in Massachusetts and Vermont. Whatever is killing the bats leaves them unusually thin and, in some cases, dotted with a white fungus. Bat experts fear that what they call White Nose Syndrome may spell doom for several species that keep insect pests under control.
Researchers have yet to determine whether the bats are being killed by a virus, bacteria, toxin, environmental hazard, metabolic disorder or fungus. Some have been found with pneumonia, but that and the fungus are believed to be secondary symptoms.
…One affected mine is the winter home to a third of the Indiana bats between Virginia and Maine. These pink-nosed bats, two inches long and weighing a quarter-ounce, are particularly social and cluster together as tightly as 300 a square foot.
“It’s ironic, until last year most of my time was spent trying to delist it,” or take it off the endangered species list, Mr. Hicks said, after the state’s Indiana bat population grew, to 52,000 from 1,500 in the 1960s….
2008 Mar 25. Link to Global Warming in Frogs’ Disappearance Is Challenged. By ANDREW C. REVKIN, NY Times. Excerpt: …The amphibians, of the genus Atelopus – actually toads despite their common name – once hopped in great numbers along stream banks on misty slopes from the Andes to Costa Rica. After 20 years of die-offs, they are listed as critically endangered by conservation groups and are mainly seen in zoos.
It looked as if one research team was a winner in 2006 when global warming was identified as the “trigger” in the extinctions by the authors of a much-cited paper in Nature. The researchers said they had found a clear link between unusually warm years and the vanishing of mountainside frog populations.
The “bullet,” the researchers said, appeared to be a chytrid fungus that has attacked amphibian populations in many parts of the world but thrives best in particular climate conditions. The authors, led by J. Alan Pounds of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica, said, “Here we show that a recent mass extinction associated with pathogen outbreaks is tied to global warming.” The study was featured in reports last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Other researchers have been questioning that connection. Last year, two short responses in Nature questioned facets of the 2006 paper. In the journal, Dr. Pounds and his team said the new analyses in fact backed their view that “global warming contributes to the present amphibian crisis,” but avoided language saying it was “a key factor,” as they wrote in 2006.
Now, in the March 25 issue of PLoS Biology, another team argues that the die-offs of harlequins and some other amphibians reflect the spread and repeated introductions of the chytrid fungus. They question the analysis linking the disappearances to climate change….
2008 Feb 22. U.S. Ends Protections for Wolves in 3 States. By KIRK JOHNSON, NY Times. Animal advocates say that gray wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho still need protection, despite considerable growth in their numbers.
2008 January 2. A Divide as Wolves Rebound in a Changing West. By KIRK JOHNSON, NY Times
Excerpt: CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Sheltered for many years by federal species protection law, the gray wolves of the West are about to step out onto the high wire of life in the real world, when their status as endangered animals formally comes to an end early this year. The so-called delisting is scheduled to begin in late March, almost five years later than federal wildlife managers first proposed, mainly because of human tussles here in Wyoming over the politics of managing the wolves….From the 41 animals that were released inside Yellowstone from 1995 to 1997, mostly from Canada, the population grew to 650 wolves in 2002 and more than 1,500 today in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The wolves have spread across an area twice the size of New York State and are growing at a rate of about 24 percent a year, according to federal wolf-counts….The director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Terry Cleveland, said changes in economics and attitude were creating a profound wrinkle in the outlook for human-wolf relations. Mr. Cleveland, a 39 year-veteran with the department, said that many newcomers, who are more interested in breath-taking vistas than the price of feed-grain and calves, do not see wolves the way older residents do. In the public comment period for Wyoming’s wolf plan, sizable majorities of residents in the counties near Yellowstone expressed opposition….Many new land owners around Yellowstone have also barred the hunting of animals like elk on their property, sometimes, in a single
pen stroke, closing off thousands of acres that Wyoming hunters had used for decades. … But the trend of land enclosure, Mr. Cleveland said, is probably not in the wolf’s long-term interest. “As large ranches become less economically viable, the alternative is 40-acre subdivisions,” he said, “and that is not compatible with any kind of wildlife.”
Some advocates of wolf protection say that for all the talk of
moderation and the nods to a changing ethos, old attitudes will take over once the gray wolf is delisted. “I think it’s going to be open season,” said Suzanne Stone, a wolf
specialist at Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation group….
2007 December 18. Zoologist Gives a Voice to Big Cats in the Wilderness. By CLAUDIA DREIFUS, NY Times. Excerpt: Among zoologists, Alan
Rabinowitz is known as the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation. But he is actually more the Dag Hammarskjold of biology. …That is because Dr. Rabinowitz, executive director of science and exploration at the Wildlife Conservation Society, is a kind of international diplomat for big cats – jaguars, leopards, pumas.For 20 years, he has traveled the world, imploring the power elite of democracies and dictatorships to dedicate large parcels as reserves for these imperiled felines.In the 1980s, he persuaded the leaders of Belize to establish the world’s first jaguar preserve. More recently, this Brooklyn-born biologist prevailed on the junta in Myanmar to transform 8,400 square miles of forest into the Hukawng Valley Tiger Reserve….
Q. With so many of the world’s animals in danger, why do you mostly advocate for big cats?
A. Because cats get to the human psyche. People love big cats. If I go to a government and say, “If you don’t do something quickly, you’re going to lose your tigers,” they listen. If I say, “You’re about to lose all your wolves,” they won’t care. But leopards, tigers, jaguars – people have a huge admiration for them. My real goal is to save large sections of pristine wilderness for all types of wildlife. One way to do that is to make sure that the top predators have enough safe territory to thrive in. Because big cats need so much territory, when you save them, you’re really saving whole ecosystems and you’re saving the other animals down on the food chain. This is what’s called the “apex predator strategy” in conservation. The other thing I’ve seen is that no government, even if they are doing a lot of development, wants to lose their big cats. Even when you’re talking to the most authoritarian of dictators, none of them wants to be the guy at the helm when the last of his country’s tigers go extinct….
Q. What originally drew you to conservation?
A. As a child, I had this horrific stutter. In school, I was put in what was called the retarded classes. I was very angry that people couldn’t see past the stuttering. From the second grade on, I stopped talking, except to the little green turtle and the chameleon I kept at home. Talking to the animals, I realized they had feelings. I didn’t know if they understood me. But I saw that they were exactly like me. They weren’t broken, but people mistreated them because they can’t communicate. I thought if these animals had a voice, people wouldn’t be able to crush them and throw them away. When I was a child, I promised the animals that if I ever got my voice back, I’d be their voice….
2007 November 13. Off Endangered List, but What Animal Is It Now? The Great Lakes gray wolf is off the endangered species list, but biologists say it has hybridized with coyotes and wolves from Canada. By MARK DERR. NY Times. Excerpt: Amid much fanfare this year, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service declared the western Great Lakes gray wolf successfully recovered from an encounter with extinction and officially removed it from the endangered species list. Under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, the wolf boomed in population to 4,000 in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin today, up from just several hundred in northern Minnesota in 1974.
But the victory celebration was premature, according to two evolutionary biologists, Jennifer A. Leonard of Uppsala University in Sweden and Robert K. Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles. The historic Great Lakes wolf did not return intact from the edge of oblivion. Instead, the scientists report in the online edition of the journal Biology Letters, it hybridized with gray wolves moving in from Canada, coyotes from the south and west and the hybrids born of that mixing….
2007 November 12. World’s Smallest Bear Faces Extinction. By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.. Excerpt: GENEVA (AP) — The world’s smallest bear species faces extinction because of deforestation and poaching in its Southeast Asian home, a conservation group said Monday.
The sun bear, whose habitat stretches from India to Indonesia, has been classified as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union.
”We estimate that sun bears have declined by at least 30 percent over the past 30 years and continue to decline at this rate,” said Rob Steinmetz, a bear expert with the Geneva-based group, known under its acronym IUC
The group estimates there are little more than 10,000 sun bears left, said Dave Garshelis, co-chair of the IUCN bear specialist group.
The bear, which weighs between 90 and 130 pounds, is hunted for its bitter, green bile, which has long been used by Chinese traditional medicine practitioners to treat eye, liver and other ailments. Bear paws are also consumed as a delicacy.
Another threat comes from loggers, who are destroying the sun bear’s habitat, Steinmetz said.
Thailand is the only country to have effectively banned logging and enforced laws against poaching, allowing the sun bear population to remain stable there, Garshelis said.
IUCN said six of the eight bear species in the world are now threatened with extinction.
Other vulnerable bear species are the Asiatic black bear, the sloth bear on the Indian subcontinent, the Andean bear in South America and the polar bear. The brown bear and the American black bear are in a lesser category of threat, IUCN said….
On the Net: World Conservation Union: http://www.iucn.org/en/news/archive/2007/11/12–pr–bear.htm
2007 June 5. SCIENTIST AT WORK | LINDA J. GORMEZANO A Team of 2, Following the Scent of Polar Bears By ANDREW C. REVKIN
Excerpt: The hunt begins with a loud shout in Spanish by Linda J. Gormezano.”¡Búscalo!” Seek. Waiting with ears pricked and tail wagging, Quinoa, her black male Dutch shepherd, leaps to work, straining at the leash, nose down, weaving left and right. … The quarry sought by Quinoa, named for the Andean grain, is something utterly conventional and doglike: feces, poop or, as field biologists prefer to call it – scat. It comes from polar bears. Although this exercise is taking place in the Mianus River Gorge Preserve, a wooded nook tucked in Bedford, N.Y., 40 miles northeast of Manhattan, the small hidden heaps contain things as foreign to New York as can be – the bones and feathers of snow geese, kelp and lyme grass, a trace of seal. The samples, hidden ahead of time (on Petri dishes), came from the collection Ms. Gormezano has been amassing since 2005 in fieldwork on the grassy coastal plains ringing the western shore of Hudson Bay in central Canada, one of the southernmost bastions of the great ice-roaming predators.
… Ms. Gormezano is using scat to track the wanderings, genetics and condition of the bears, which in that northern region, particularly, have shown signs of stress that could be related to the warming Arctic climate and retreating sea ice. … Other methods for tracking shifts in populations involve chasing the bears in helicopters, sedating them with darts and tagging or collaring them. But such methods can pose risks or alter the bears’ behavior, she said. … In contrast, bear scat, and also tufts of fur left in dens or sleeping spots, can be collected without affecting the bears. Tests of DNA in the feces can distinguish individual animals. So the dispersion of scat provides a map of a particular bear’s wanderings.
“All the issues with global warming are going to affect southernmost populations, especially around southern Hudson Bay and western Hudson Bay, where they’re already starting to see changes, reduced reproductive output, thinner subadults,” Ms. Gormezano said. “So this is a great opportunity to try out a new method.” …
2007 April 23. Bees Vanish, and Scientists Race for Reasons. By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO. NY Times. Excerpt: BELTSVILLE, Md. … The volume of theories to explain the collapse of honeybee populations “is totally mind-boggling,” said Diana Cox-Foster, an entomologist at Penn State. More than a quarter of the country’s 2.4 million bee colonies have been lost – tens of billions of bees, according to an estimate from the Apiary Inspectors of America, a national group that tracks beekeeping. So far, no one can say what is causing the bees to become disoriented and fail to return to their hives. … With Jeffrey S. Pettis, an entomologist from the United States Department of Agriculture, Dr. Cox-Foster is leading a team of researchers who are trying to find answers to explain “colony collapse disorder,” the name given for the disappearing bee syndrome. …the most likely suspects: a virus, a fungus or a pesticide….”There are so many of our crops that require pollinators,” said Representative Dennis Cardoza, a California Democrat whose district includes that state’s central agricultural valley, and who presided last month at a Congressional hearing on the bee issue. “We need an urgent call to arms to try to ascertain what is really going on here with the bees, and bring as much science as we possibly can to bear on the problem.” So far, colony collapse disorder has been found in 27 states, …Honeybees are arguably the insects that are most important to the human food chain. They are the principal pollinators of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts. … more beekeepers have resorted to crisscrossing the country with 18-wheel trucks full of bees in search of pollination work….
2007 February 13. Group: Germany’s Amphibians Threatened. By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. Excerpt: BERLIN (AP) — This year’s unusually warm winter could cause large numbers of amphibians to die in Germany, an environmental organization said Tuesday. Unseasonably warm weather and rain over the last few days has already brought amphibians out of hibernation, the German-based Euronatur organization said. …Newts already have been sighted in pools of water in southern Germany, and the first toads should be seen in the next few days if the weather continues to be warm, Euronatur said. If a cold spell hits now, it could be especially deadly for newts, toads and other amphibians. Eggs could cease developing and adult animals, which are not able to return to hibernation in time, could die. Shorter winters and hotter summers in Germany and other changes attributed to global climate change have depleted native amphibian populations, shortened the lifecycle of already threatened animals, and dried up small water pools that amphibians inhabit during the summer’s hotter months.
2007 February 6. For Wolves, a Recovery May Not Be the Blessing It Seems. By JIM ROBBINS. NY Times. Excerpt: HELENA, Mont., Feb. 5 – …At first glance, it seems like a win for conservation that wolves are now successful enough that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service proposed taking wolves in Idaho and Montana off the endangered species list…. But the price of success may be high. In Idaho, the governor [C. L. Otter] is ready to have hunters reduce the wolf population in the state from 650 to 100, the minimum that will keep the animal off the endangered species list. …The proposed delisting, as it is called, comes because the population of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is surging. …wolves in [Wyoming] will continue to have federal protections under the Endangered Species Act, federal officials say, because the state’s policies are not adequate to keep the wolf from becoming endangered again. …At the same time, the service announced that the delisting process for wolves in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota was complete. At 4,000 total, the wolf population in those states is considered fully recovered, and the comment period is finished. ….Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group that played a pivotal role in the wolf’s return, opposes the delisting. “We don’t support the delisting at this time,” said Jamie Clark, executive vice president of the group. “Hunting is fine. But you have to be judicious about where you hunt and when you hunt. Wyoming and Idaho say they are going to kill wolves, but there’s no mention of population science or monitoring. Its politics, not science.” …On the other hand, some officials say that federal protection has resulted in far too many wolves and that delisting is needed to cull the excess….
2007 January 23. A Radical Step to Preserve a Species: Assisted Migration. By CARL ZIMMER, NY Times. Excerpt: The Bay checkerspot butterfly’s story is all too familiar. It was once a common sight in the San Francisco Bay area, but development and invasive plants have wiped out much of its grassland habitat. Conservationists have tried to save the butterfly by saving the remaining patches where it survives. But thanks to global warming, that may not be good enough. …Studies on the Bay checkerspot butterfly suggest that this climate change will push the insect to extinction. The plants it depends on for food will shift their growing seasons, so that when the butterfly eggs hatch, the caterpillars have little to eat. Many other species may face a similar threat, and conservation biologists are beginning to confront the question of how to respond. The solution they prefer would be to halt global warming. But they know they may need to prepare for the worst. One of the most radical strategies they are considering is known as assisted migration. Biologists would pick a species up and move it hundreds of miles to a cooler place…. Dr. Jason McLachlan, a Notre Dame biologist, …and his colleagues argue that assisted migration may indeed turn out to be the only way to save some species. But biologists need to answer many questions before they can do it safely and effectively. The first question would be which species to move. If tens of thousands are facing extinction, it will probably be impossible to save them all. …The next challenge will be to decide where to take those species. …”We don’t even know where species are now,” Dr. McLachlan said. Simply moving a species is no guarantee it will be saved, of course. …As species shift their ranges, some of them will push into preserves that are refuges for endangered species. “Even if we don’t move anything, they’re going to be moving,” Dr. McLachlan said….
2007 January 2.The Rancher and the Grizzly: A Love Story. By Bruce Barcott Excerpt: People, livestock, and a threatened predator are learning to get along in the new west. As an afternoon rainstorm sweeps down Montana’s Madison Valley,…rancher Todd Graham stands inside a dusty barn and asks his neighbors for help….Graham addresses a veritable cross section of the new West: sheep ranchers, cattlemen, conservation biologists, government officials, retirees, and second-home owners. Seated in folding chairs, they’ve gathered for a Living With Predators workshop jointly organized by the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group (which defends livestock) and Keystone Conservation (which defends animals that want to kill the livestock)…..The Madison Valley today is the crash point of two demographic trends: a hot western housing market and rebounding populations of predators….About 7,000 people live in the valley, and cattle still outnumber them ten to one. But that’s changing. Retirees and second-home owners, eager to claim their slice of Montana heaven, are snapping up 20-acre ranchettes carved out of 1,000-acre working ranches…….Humans aren’t the only creatures attracted to the valley. Yellowstone’s grizzlies, once threatened with extinction, have made a strong recovery….Having reached their population limit within Yellowstone — these bears need plenty of territory to roam, forage, and mate — they are fanning out beyond the park’s boundaries…..As their numbers grow, Yellowstone grizzlies face a crucial test: Can they survive on land owned by ranchers, farmers, and the new wave of retirees, telecommuters, and vacation-home owners?…..One of the largest relatively intact temperate ecosystems on earth, the Yellowstone region hosts perhaps the greatest concentration of large mammals in the contiguous United States, including the nation’s biggest populations of grizzlies outside Alaska. It’s a region marked by concentric circles of wildlife protection.…..A final decision is expected from the Fish and Wildlife Service in early 2007. If the Yellowstone grizzly loses its threatened status, protection of the bear will be turned over to state wildlife agencies….
27 December 2006. Agency Proposes to List Polar Bears as Threatened. By FELICITY BARRINGER and ANDREW C. REVKIN, NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 – The Interior Department proposed Wednesday to designate polar bears as a threatened species, saying that the accelerating loss of the Arctic ice that is the bears’ hunting platform has led biologists to believe that bear populations will decline, perhaps sharply, in the coming decades. … in a conference call with reporters, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said that although his decision to seek protection for polar bears acknowledged the melting of the Arctic ice, his department was not taking a position on why the ice was melting or what to do about it. …[he said] it was not his department’s job to assess causes or prescribe solutions. …The scientific analysis in the proposal itself, however, did assess the cause of melting ice. …buildup of heat-trapping gases was probably contributing to the loss of sea ice to date or that the continued buildup of these gases, left unchecked, could create ice-free Arctic summers …possibly in as little as three decades. The Interior Department …must also work out a recovery plan to control and reduce harmful impacts to the species, usually by controlling the activities that cause harm. It is unclear whether such a recovery plan could avoid addressing the link between manmade emissions of heat-trapping gases and the increase in Arctic temperatures. Kert Davies, the research director for Greenpeace U.S.A., one of three environmental groups that sued the Interior Department in 2005 to force it to add polar bears to the list of threatened species, said the administration was “clearly scrambling for credibility of any kind in this issue.” Kassie Siegel, the lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, …that took the lead in the lawsuit calling on the department to list the polar bear, added, “I don’t see how even this administration can write this proposal without acknowledging that the primary threat to polar bears is global warming and without acknowledging the science of global warming.” As a result of the lawsuit, the Interior Department had a court-ordered deadline of Wednesday to make a decision. The worldwide population of polar bears currently stands at 20,000 to 25,000, broken into 19 groups in Russia, Denmark, Norway, Canada and the United States. …The most-studied bear population, in the Western Hudson Bay in Canada, has dropped 22 percent, to 935 from 1,194 from 1987 to 2004….
12 December 2006. All but Ageless, Turtles Face Their Biggest Threat: Humans. By NATALIE ANGIER, NY Times. Excerpt: …With its miserly metabolism and tranquil temperament, its capacity to forgo food and drink for months at a time, … the turtle is one of the longest-lived creatures Earth has known. Individual turtles can survive for centuries,…. Last March, a giant tortoise named Adwaita said to be as old as 250 years died in a Calcutta zoo, having been taken to India by British sailors, records suggest, during the reign of King George II. In June, newspapers around the world noted the passing of Harriet, a Galapagos tortoise that died in the Australia Zoo at age 176 – 171 years after Charles Darwin is said, perhaps apocryphally, to have plucked her from her equatorial home. Behind such biblical longevity is the turtle’s stubborn refusal to senesce – to grow old. …Dr. Christopher J. Raxworthy, the associate curator of herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the liver, lungs and kidneys of a centenarian turtle are virtually indistinguishable from those of its teenage counterpart …. “Turtles don’t really die of old age,” Dr. Raxworthy said. In fact, if turtles didn’t get eaten, crushed by an automobile or fall prey to a disease, he said, they might just live indefinitely. …Researchers estimate that at least half of all turtle species are in serious trouble, and that some of them, like the Galapagos tortoise, the North American bog turtle, the Pacific leatherback sea turtle and more than a dozen species in China and Southeast Asia, may effectively go extinct in the next decade if extreme measures are not taken. …Geneticists have proposed that the turtle shell may have appeared quite suddenly in the distant past, rather than emerging slowly through modest, mincing modifications of pre-existing structures. They suggest that the dramatic innovation could have arisen from just a few key mutations in master genes like the so-called homeobox genes, which help specify an animal’s basic body plan….
14 November 2006. Global Warming Increases Species Extinctions Worldwide, University of Texas at Austin Researcher Finds AUSTIN, Texas-Global warming has already caused extinctions in the most sensitive habitats and will continue to cause more species to go extinct over the next 50 to 100 years, confirms the most comprehensive study since 2003 on the effects of climate change on wild species worldwide by a University of Texas at Austin biologist. Dr. Camille Parmesan’s synthesis also shows that species are not evolving fast enough to prevent extinction. “This is absolutely the most comprehensive synthesis of the impact of climate change on species to date,” said Parmesan, associate professor of integrative biology. “Earlier synthesis were hampered from drawing broad conclusions by the relative lack of studies. Because there are now so many papers on this subject, we can start pulling together some patterns that we weren’t able to before.” Parmesan reviewed over 800 scientific studies on the effects of human-induced climate change on thousands of species….
September 2006. Dinos of the Sea Scramble to Survive. Terrain Magazine, Ecology Center. by Susan P. Williams Excerpt: All seven species of sea turtles are considered critically endangered by the World Conservation Union, but the precarious plight of the leatherback, the oldest and largest species, has conservationists especially alarmed. Karen Steele of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project says that the population has plummeted by over 95 percent, from 115,000 in 1980 to less than 3,000 nesting females in 2006. Steele worries that the big turtles may be only 5 to 30 years away from extinction.
…Known as “the dinosaurs of the sea,” leatherbacks have been around for 100 million years, since before the time of Tyrannosaurus rex and friends. …Leatherbacks face many threats, but chief among them are humans harvesting the eggs from nesting beaches and drift gillnet and long-line fishing. Drift gillnets, often a million square feet in size, are placed vertically like curtains to drift with the current and ensnare large fish. Long-line fisheries catch fish and sometimes turtles with 60-mile lines of baited hooks. Other hazards are plastic bottles and bags that leatherbacks may confuse with jellyfish, and developments near nesting beaches which, when lit up at night, draw hatchlings away from the water. Development of major nesting beaches around the Pacific has forced the population out to fewer, more far-flung areas…
11 July 2006. Racing to Know the Rarest of Rhinos, Before It’s Too Late. By MARK DERR, NY Times. Excerpt: A two-ton rhinoceros measuring 5 feet tall and 10 feet long, with a fondness for browsing on low-lying shrubbery, hardly seems like a difficult animal to find. Unless there are fewer than 60 left on the planet. That is the case with the Javan rhinoceros, often called the rarest large mammal on earth and perhaps the most endangered. …Because they lead solitary, secretive lives in remote forests in Indonesia and Vietnam, these rhinos are very hard to study: images of them come from “camera traps” activated by movement in the forest, and biologists get DNA samples from dung or from the horns and hides of dead animals. “It is totally amazing how little we know about these animals, their mating habits and social behavior,” said Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando, director of the Center for Conservation and Research in Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka. “Till a decade ago people were debating whether the females have horns.” (They do.) …The plight of the Javan rhino is a direct result of human actions, especially habitat destruction and hunting, Dr. Fernando said. For millions of years, the animal flourished in lowland forests from eastern India and Bangladesh all the way to the islands of Java and Sumatra, now part of Indonesia. During periods of glacial advance and low sea levels, those islands formed a land mass, Sundaland, that was connected to the mainland. Unfortunately for the rhino, humans favored the same habitat and had little use for a large herbivore that raided their crops. Farmers regarded rhinos as agricultural pests and often killed them on sight. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the advent of colonialism and firearms drew hunters who slaughtered thousands. By 1934, the species was all but extinct on the Asian mainland. Devastated by the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, the Ujung Kulon peninsula was later recolonized by rhinos and other animals but not by humans. It has since become a national park, and strong anti-poaching measures are in place. But perversely, the rhinos’ numbers have barely budged since 1980; the lack of human disturbance means that mature forests and exotic plants are replacing the shrubby lowland vegetation the animal prefers. A further problem, the scientists say, is that the remaining rhino populations lack the genetic variation they need to combat disease, adapt to changing conditions and avoid the health and fertility problems that arise from inbreeding. …The Indonesian forestry department has decided to improve rhino habitat in Ujung Kulon by keeping out or removing competitor species, like the banteng, a wild cow, and invasive, exotic plants that crowd out the rhino’s preferred food, Adhi Rachmat Hariyadi, site manager for the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Ujung Kulon National Park project, wrote in an e-mail message. …
“Allowing a species such as a rhinoceros to go extinct in the 21st century,” he writes, “would be tragic and unpardonable.”
28 May 2006. Alligators Abound During Annual Fla. Count. By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ON LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla. (AP) Excerpt: … officials estimate there are more than one million alligators in Florida — a miraculous comeback for a species that was approaching extinction 40 years ago. State officials and environmentalists attribute the population growth to strict federal regulations on sales of alligator products like skin and meat, along with tight limits on hunting and trapping. …Each year, scientists set out into some 50 locations statewide for the monthlong population assessment, recording alligator size and estimating age.
If they can’t get close enough before a gator sinks beneath the surface, the biologists use estimates, sometimes using the distance between its eyes to determine size or noting the pace with which it fled. …Though its brain is only the size of a man’s thumb, the American alligator has proven highly adaptable since it emerged about 4 million years ago from a line of reptiles that have survived on Earth for 200 million years. …the species can grow to 14 feet long and weigh up to 1,000 pounds during a life span of more than 30 years. … In 1967, after years of overhunting and habitat loss, the American alligator was listed as an endangered species, but conservation efforts and hunting regulations led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to pronounce it fully recovered 20 years later. …State alligator management: http://myfwc.com/gators
27 May 2006. Bear Hunting Caught in Global Warming Debate. By CLIFFORD KRAUSS. NY Times. Excerpt: RESOLUTE, Nunavut …Polar bear hunting has gotten caught up in the larger debate over global warming. Scientists and environmentalists are pushing for measures to protect the animal, whose most immediate threat, they say, is not hunters, but loss of habitat. As its icy environs shrink, the polar bear has, improbably perhaps, become the new poster face of Arctic vulnerability. …”People care about polar bears – they’re iconic,” noted Kassie Siegel, a lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity. …Her group, along with Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a petition with the United States government to list the polar bear as threatened as a way to push the American authorities to control greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide from cars. The message has alarmed American polar bear hunters…. It has also run up against unbending opposition from local communities of Inuit, also known as Eskimos, and the Nunavut territorial government, which has expanded sport hunting in recent years. … a list of stresses on the polar bear: Global warming is melting the bear’s icy migration routes, critical for breeding and catching seals for food, around Hudson Bay and Alaska. … there are more than 20,000 polar bears roaming the Arctic, compared to as few as 5,000 40 years ago, before Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to strong restrictions on trophy hunting in the 1970’s. …In Resolute, a snow-swept hamlet of shacks hugging a salty ice-packed Arctic channel, Inuit villagers hold an annual lottery to see who will get the permits to kill the local quota of 35 bears a year. Fifteen of those bears will be consumed locally, as food and to make rugs, mattresses, wind pants and mittens. The 20 other permits are sold to American hunters. With each permit, or tag, worth nearly $2,500, that means a fast infusion of nearly $50,000 a year into the community, on Cornwallis Island some 500 miles above the Arctic Circle. On top of that, the guides earn almost $8,000, and their assistants another $4,500, per hunt. …
1 May 2006. 16,000 Species Said to Face Extinction. By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. GENEVA (AP) — Excerpt: Polar bears and hippos are among more than 16,000 species of animals and plants threatened with global extinction, the World Conservation Union said Tuesday. According to the Swiss-based conservation group, known by its acronym IUCN [http://www.iucnredlist.org], the number of species classified as being in serious danger of extinction rose from about 15,500 in its previous ”Red List” report, published in 2004. The list includes one in three amphibians, a quarter of the world’s mammals and coniferous trees, and one in eight birds, according to a preview of the 2006 Red List. …The Red List classifies about 40,000 species according to their risk of extinction and provides a searchable online database of the results. The total number of species on the planet is unknown, with 15 million being the most widely accepted estimate. Up to 1.8 million are known today. People are the main reason for most species’ decline, mainly through habitat destruction, according to IUCN. …Freshwater fish have suffered some of the most dramatic population declines because of human activities that damage their habitat, like forest clearance, pollution and water extraction. In the Mediterranean, more than half of the 252 endemic species are threatened with extinction.
14 March 2006. A Rare Predator Bounces Back (Now Get It Out of Here). By ABBY GOODNOUGH. NY Times. Excerpt: OCHOPEE, Fla. – In the weeks before Valentine’s Day, a healthy Florida panther kept emerging from the dense, sloshy wilderness around Big Cypress National Preserve to kill things he shouldn’t: chickens, ducks, a turkey, a pig and a house cat, all on residential property that his stealthy species normally shuns. The hungry panther – nicknamed Don Juan by scientists who had radio-collared him years earlier and knew he had fathered some 30 kittens – kept coming back for more, despite efforts to deter him. So on Feb. 16, wildlife officials had dogs chase Don Juan up a tree, shot him with a tranquilizer gun and removed him from the wild. It was no light decision, as the number of Florida panthers, the only subspecies of puma east of the Mississippi, is estimated at fewer than 100. Cars have already hit and killed five other panthers in 2006, including one pregnant with four kittens and another that was crossing a road just north of the Florida Keys, far from typical panther habitat. A sixth was apparently killed by another panther, an increasingly common fate as the territorial cat loses habitat to subdivisions, golf courses and the like. A new federal report in January announced the obvious: that the Florida panther population must grow to survive – ideally, to three separate populations of at least 240 each – but that it is ever more desperate for space. The report, by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, rehashed the thorny old idea of moving some of the cats to Central Florida and eventually to other states where they once roamed, like Georgia and Arkansas….Darrell Land, the panther team leader for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, … and other government officials said they hoped the new federal plan for dealing with “panther-human interactions” and educating the public would avert conflicts …A panther that stalked or showed other aggressive behavior toward people would immediately be removed from the wild. But with one that killed pets or livestock, or did not retreat when a human tried to scare it away, wildlife officials would first try “aversive conditioning”: chasing it with dogs, hitting it with a slingshot or otherwise trying to deter it from returning to the area. …The new federal report – the latest draft of a panther recovery plan last updated in 1995 – suggests keeping panthers far from urban areas by moving some of them into rural Central Florida. But many scientists, including Mr. Land, are skeptical. They say that Central Florida does not have enough contiguous panther habitat, that the cats would have to cross more highways, and that much agricultural land would have to be turned into the dense forests that panthers prefer. A better alternative, many scientists agree, is moving some Florida panthers to remote areas of Georgia, Arkansas or other states where they used to roam and where choice panther habitat still exists. But as history and the recent tensions here suggest, getting the public to embrace what the report calls “large carnivore reintroduction” will not be easy. When Texas pumas were released in North Florida in 1988 and 1993, to gauge whether a permanent population of Florida panthers could be established there, local opposition was fierce and hunters shot some of the cats. …”The cat was listed as endangered in 1967 and we’re still waiting, 39 years later.” In Arkansas, home to four of the nine recommended relocation sites, David Goad, deputy director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said panthers were unlikely to be welcome there. “Before you can move a large predator into an area you’ve got to have a lot of support from the public,” Mr. Goad said….
15 December 2005. Parrots of the Caribbean. By Alan Mowbray, Forest Magazine, Winter 2006. Excerpt: The Puerto Rican parrot was one of the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act more than thirty years ago. It remains one of the most critically endangered members of the list today; fewer than forty individuals remain in the wild. Five hundred and twelve years ago, on his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus dropped anchor off the Caribbean island that he named San Juan de Bautista. He and his crew of Spanish explorers saw white-sand beaches bordered by lushly forested mountains. They were greeted by the native Taino people, who gave them gifts of gold nuggets plucked from the island’s rivers. Hundreds of noisy, bright-green parrots with beautiful white-ringed eyes swooped overhead. The Taino called these birds “Higuaca.” At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Spanish colonists estimated that there were nearly a million of these beautiful birds living in the island’s forests. Today there are fewer than forty Amazona vittata-the Puerto Rican parrot-living in the wild on the island we know as Puerto Rico. …Their demise is directly related to the rise of human population on the island: As colonists cut down forests and converted land for agriculture, the habitat on which the species depended started to disappear. The remaining parrot population, which had retreated to the Luquillo Mountains, was further reduced when the forests there were cut for charcoal production in the 1900s. …By 1989, the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Plan had been in operation for almost two decades and the parrot population in the wild had increased to forty-seven birds. Then disaster struck. On September 18th, 1989, Hurricane Hugo roared across the Luquillo Mountains, destroying more than half of the parrots in the wild. By year’s end, only twenty-two birds remained. By early 1994, the wild population had risen to thirty-nine birds and six breeding pairs. Today’s parrot population continues to hover at that level….
6 December 2005. In Mongolia, an ‘Extinction Crisis’ Looms. By JOHN Noble Wilford, NY Times. Excerpt: ULAN BATOR, Mongolia – On a highway west of this capital, roadside signs advertise marmot, fox and other wildlife, and stacks of skins stand on display. In open markets, traders conduct a gritty commerce in furs and hides, much of it illegal. Similar markets flourish elsewhere in Mongolia, especially along the border with China….If the good news in Mongolia is the gradual comeback of the Przewalski wild horses, the disturbing news is the diminishing numbers of other wildlife, under relentless siege by overhunting and excessive trade in skins and other animal products. … the populations of endangered species – marmots, argali sheep, antelope, red deer, bears, Asiatic wild asses – have plummeted by 50 to 90 percent. The only other possible exception to the woeful trend, conservation experts say, is the apparent increase in wolves. …A draft report of the study, “The Silent Steppe: The Illegal Wildlife Trade Crisis in Mongolia,” was circulated recently. … Hunting for subsistence and income increased. Illegal trade in meat and other animal products proliferated. “Neighboring countries, especially China, have been the happy recipients of this new stream of wildlife product, consuming millions of animals every year and generating uncounted profits,” … more than 250,000 Mongolians, out of a population of 2.6 million, are active hunters. …In the last five years, the saiga antelope has declined from more than 5,000 to fewer than 800; the saiga horn is prized in China as a traditional remedy. The red deer population has fallen 92 percent in 18 years, and the argali, the wild mountain sheep with handsome spiraling horns, are down 75 percent in 16 years. One of the rarest animals in the Mongolian mountains is the snow leopard, and its survival is endangered. …The Gobi bear, a small animal related to the brown bear and known to exist only in a corner of the desert here, may be beyond saving. Dr. Zahler, of the conservation society, said that as few as 25 were left. “The bears appear to face numerous potential threats, ranging from lack of food and water to inbreeding and fragmentation of the few remaining breeding adults,” Dr. Zahler wrote in an earlier research report.
26 September 2005. As Population of Yellowstone Grizzlies Grows, Further Protection Is Up for Debate. By JIM ROBBINS. After dwindling to 200 or so by the 1970’s, the number of the big bears in the mountains and grassy meadows around Yellowstone National Park has grown to more than 600, thanks to the federal protections given to the species in 1975. “It’s the biggest success story under the Endangered Species Act because grizzly bears are one of the toughest species to manage,” said Chris Servheen, who has been working on efforts to protect and to re-establish grizzlies in Yellowstone and elsewhere for 25 years and is coordinator for grizzly bear recovery for the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula, Mont. While there is widespread agreement that the story is a good one, however, there is disagreement on the next chapter. The Fish and Wildlife Service, saying that the mission to bring the bear back has been accomplished, will propose removing the bear from the list of threatened species this fall and, after a comment period, make a final decision in 2006. Delisting has happened for only about 15 species out of the 1,830 on the imperiled list. But opponents of delisting say the bear is still endangered, primarily because of threats to critical food sources. Both sides say the science is on their side. …Whether to recognize the Yellowstone bears as a recovered population is not just an abstract scientific debate. Grizzlies, which occasionally prey on people, are moving out of the park’s mountain wilderness and federal forest refuges and into areas with growing human populations. Removing protections would allow the bears to be hunted. Since the late 1960’s, there have been 17 fatalities involving bears and many more attacks in Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, home to the only other large population of the bears in the lower 48 states. …A critical element in the Yellowstone grizzlies’ future is that they are an island population, a remnant of a much larger one that once extended from the Pacific Ocean to the Midwest. While bears in Glacier are connected to much larger Canadian populations, bears in the Yellowstone area are, in terms of numbers and genetics, on their own. A disease could decimate the population.
Fall 2005. Seeking a Missing Species. By Richard S. Nauman. Forest Magazine. Excerpt: …in the spring of 1996, when U.S. Forest Service biologists Dave Clayton and Sam Cuenca flipped over a rock and found something unexpected underneath, the esoteric study of genes, principally the realm of university researchers, became part of their daily work. Under the rock was a small woodland salamander. … Clayton and Cuenca noticed that this salamander was different. It shared the general form and color of neighboring populations, but it appeared a little more full-bodied, with a wider head, shorter body and longer legs than other salamanders. Though they didnœt realize it at the time, the pair had discovered a species new to science, a salamander that may have been living for millions of years along the dry hillsides above the Klamath River in the rain shadow of the Marble Mountains. … even as the new species was being established, changes in land management laws were affecting it. In 2004, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, the two land management agencies governed by the Northwest Forest Plan, eliminated the survey-and-manage provision of the plan altogether. The original version had required salamander surveys prior to timber harvest, road building and other land management projects for the Siskiyou Mountains salamander and protection of all known sites. …While federal agencies move cautiously with the management of the salamanders, the California Department of Fish and Game has submitted a petition to the State Fish and Game Commission recommending elimination of the state protections that protect both species on private lands, and states in its petition that “The Department further believes that no special management provisions or protections under the California Environmental Quality Act or Forest Practice Rules are necessary to conserve this species.”
7 July 2005. Did humans cause ecosystem collapse in ancient Australia? Dr. Marilyn Fogel, Carnegie Institution. Washington, D.C. Massive extinctions of animals and the arrival of the first humans in ancient Australia may be linked, according to scientists at the Carnegie Institution, University of Colorado, Australian National University, and Bates College. The extinctions occurred 45,000 to 55,000 years ago. The researchers traced evidence of diet and the environment contained in ancient eggshells and wombat teeth over the last 140,000 years to reconstruct what happened. The remains showed evidence of a rapid change of diet at the time of the extinctions. The researchers believe that massive fires set by the first humans may have altered the ecosystem of shrubs, trees, and grasses to the fire-adapted desert-scrub of today.
6 June 2005. Prehistoric Decline of Freshwater Mussels Tied to Rise in Maize Cultivation. USDA Forest Service (FS) research suggests that a decline in the abundance of freshwater mussels about 1000 years ago may have been caused by the large-scale cultivation of maize by Native Americans. In the April 2005 issue of Conservation Biology, Wendell Haag and Mel Warren, researchers with the FS Southern Research Station (SRS) unit in Oxford , MS, report results from a study of archaeological data from 27 prehistoric sites in the southeastern United States. Worldwide, freshwater mussels have proven to be highly susceptible to human-caused disturbance, and represent the most endangered group of organisms in North America. Of 297 species found in the United States, 269 freshwater mussel species are found in the Southeast. “We can tie declines of specific mussel populations to the construction of dams, stream channelization, or pollution from a specific source,” says Haag, “but the worldwide patterns of decline in these animals implies that larger-scale disturbances such as sedimentation and nonpoint-source pollution may have an equal impact.” …”Human population in the Southeast began to increase steadily about 5000 years ago,” says Warren. “With increasing population came land disturbance from agriculture. This intensified about 1000 years ago, with the beginning of large-scale maize cultivation…. “As far as we can tell, Native Americans harvested mussels without preference for species,” says Haag. “Shell middens provide us with a way to establish the range of freshwater mussel species before human impacts, and to chart changes in relative abundance as impacts increased.” The researchers found that the relative abundance of riffleshell mussels in the rivers they studied declined gradually during the period between 5000 and 1000 years ago; however, the decline accelerated markedly during the period between 1000 and 500 years ago, when thousands of acres of land were cleared for farming.
Full text version of the article: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/9281
For more information:
Wendell Haag at (662-234-2744 x245) or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mel Warren at (662-234-2744 x34) or email@example.com
Moon Bears. March, 2005. A day in the sun for moon bears. by Lisa Owens-Viani; Earth Island Journal, Spring 2005, Vol. 20, No. 1 … an Asiatic black bear, also known as a “moon bear” … was taken to a grim concrete room filled with rows of tiny elevated iron cages containing other moon bears. In this room he underwent an operation in which a seven-inch catheter was inserted into his gallbladder. …the bear farmers would “milk” bile from his gallbladder twice a day in a crude and painful procedure. … bears are sometimes further immobilized in metal jackets, torso-squeezing devices like corsets, or in “crush” cages to keep them from protesting during the milking…. By the early 1990s, there were almost 500 bear farms operating in China, containing over 10,000 bears. … the Chinese government estimates that less than 15,000 moon bears remain in the wild…. “Today, we have over 50 herbal alternatives and synthetic medicines that have the same efficacy as bear bile. There is no need for bears to suffer any longer.” … For more information on the China Bear Rescue, see http://www.animalasia.org.
5 October 2004. NEW TOOLS FOR CONSERVATION (from NASA Earth Observatory website).
Scientists are studying animal and plant species with satellites. With remote sensing data, researchers are able to accurately map species’ habitats and plan conservation programs.
6 January 2004. Multiplication Problem Threatens Stock of Sturgeon, By CHRISTOPHER PALA. TYRAU, Kazakhstan – Beluga caviar, pearly black and $1,500 a pound, goes well with Champagne. But next year, connoisseurs may have to do with farmed American caviar or lesser Caspian species if the United States Fish and Wildlife Service decides to ban imports. At issue is the number of beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea. Some researchers say the sturgeon, a 200-million-year-old species, is in serious trouble. [photo caption] A beluga was dragged to a barge on the Ural River near Atyrau, Kazakhstan. The river is the last spawning ground for the endangered sturgeon. Overfishing has wiped out much of the adult population.
18 December 2003. NASA HELPS FORCAST REPTILE DISTRIBUTIONS IN MADAGASCAR — NASA-supported biologists developed a modeling approach that uses satellite data and specimen locality data from museum collections to predict successfully the geographic distribution of 11 known chameleon species in Madagascar.
5 March 2001. Where Frogs Live by Michon Scott. In the 1970s, Cynthia Carey was studying a population of boreal toads in the Colorado Rocky Mountains for her Ph.D. thesis when the unthinkable happened: all the toads in her study mysteriously died. Carey suspected a pathogen, perhaps bacterial, but had no way to verify her hypothesis. In the late 1980s, amphibian population declines gained widespread attention as a growing number of researchers observed similar problems. When they returned to once-thriving frog habitats, the familiar amphibians were gone. Concern deepened in 1995 when Minnesota schoolchildren visited a local frog pond to discover alarming deformities in leopard frogs.