Posted in Conservation Frontlines
Nearly 15,000 miles of roads will be built in tiger habitat by mid-century, further threatening the species and highlighting the need for conservation. U. of Michigan ecologists calculated the extent and potential impacts of new road networks across 450,000 square miles (1.165 million sq km) of tiger habitat in 13 countries. Road construction often exacerbates the main threats to tigers: prey depletion, habitat degradation and poaching. The study appeared in Science Advances on April 29. [Ed. note: CFL is supporting a U. of Montana Amur tiger conservation project.]
Hunting threatens one of the world’s largest wildlife migrations. A U. of Queensland-led study indicates that three-quarters of migratory Asia-Pacific shorebird species are now threatened by “widespread and unsustainable” hunting. Researchers report that hunting records from 14 countries indicate that many of the 46 species involved are declining and several face extinction. Previously, habitat loss, particularly in China and Korea, had been thought to be the main cause of these losses. Managing hunting across such a large zone is complicated by the range of people involved, some of whom hunt for food. As well, “There is no coordinated monitoring of how many shorebirds are taken annually across the region, which makes management really hard.” [Ed. Note: Although the report speaks of “hunting,” it is in fact unregulated harvesting of migratory birds for food by local people—Conservation Frontlines will address the issue in detail.]
Pakistan’s Salt Range currently holds 5,000 Punjab Urial (Ovis vignei punjabiensis). Their return from the brink of extinction to a viable and healthy population was made possible by community-based, managed trophy hunting. Pakistan’s International News reported the findings on May 19, and recommended that “More funds and resources should be allocated to communities, more communities should be included in the conservation programs, and creative incentives should replace bureaucratic red tape.”
Watch a Himalayan lynx stalk markhor on the cliffs of the Chitral valley in Pakistan. A camera team from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Dept. and WWF-Pakistan captured this sequence on video for the first time. The spectacular 6:26-minute film, narrated in English, is on YouTube and in the Conservation Frontlines Video Library.
Locusts are excellent sources of protein and other essential nutrients. When locusts are swarming—as in the Horn of Africa now—they can be collected in large numbers. However, an article in The Conversation on April 24 notes that Africa’s current massive locust infestations are being “managed” with extremely toxic chemical insecticides, so people should not eat the dead locusts or use them for animal feed.
Wildlife breeding licenses are now available in Tanzania, according to an April 30 article in The Citizen. “Applications to establish zoos, wildlife farms, breeding sites and ranches are accepted over the next 45 days.” The Ministry of Natural Resources is also reviewing Tanzania’s Wildlife Conservation Act of 2009 in order to impose a wildlife export ban and to authorize the sale of crocodiles and hippos near local communities.
The US is providing N$100 million to help Namibia fight COVID-19, announced US Ambassador to Namibia Lisa A. Johnson on April 24. The funds (US$5.7 million) are meant to strengthen Namibia’s lab-testing capabilities, improve Namibia’s emergency response to epidemics at the national and local levels and provide American medical and technical expertise.
Conservation of African forest elephants has been hindered by how little is known about them. A study published in April in PLOS ONE suggests that the species is at even greater risk than thought; one of the largest populations, in southwestern Gabon, was found to be 40% to 80% smaller than expected. Forest elephants, Loxodonta cyclotis, often are grouped with the better-known savanna elephants, Loxodonta africana, resulting in less scrutiny, but researchers say the two animals are quite different.
A pygmy seahorse has been found in Sodwana Bay within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. According to a May 20 article in The Conversation, this is Africa’s first pygmy seahorse. The tiny creatures grow to a maximum of two centimetres, or three-quarters of an inch. Researchers confirmed that this is a new species and named it Hippocampus nalu.
Namibia has a new scoring system for horns, skulls and tusks of game animals. The Namibia Professional Hunting Association’s new Age-Related Trophy Measurement System is meant to help sustain the nation’s wildlife gene pool by encouraging hunters to harvest older animals, those past their reproductive prime. The ART system, which has been in development for years, will be implemented on September 1, 2020.
Cape Beech trees in and around Betty’s Bay—a small town in South Africa’s Western Cape—are being wiped out by a canker disease from a fungus called Immersiporthe knoxdaviesiana, a close relative of the fungus that caused the notorious chestnut blight disease in North America. A May 4 article in The Conversation reports that the disease’s origin is unknown and that the fungus could be new to South Africa: “This would be much like SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19, where a novel pathogen encounters a naive host—in this case a tree and not a human.”
An outbreak of African swine fever in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, was reported by The Sowetan on May 11. ASF does not affect humans and the consumption of pork is safe, but products from affected pigs can be a source of infection to other pigs. ASF has appeared in the Free State, North West, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces in the past three years.
South African game-farming is on the brink of collapse, according to a May 11 Business Maverick article. The pandemic and the lockdown measures to contain it have dried up the industry’s revenue streams—hunting, game viewing and sales. As a result, some of the land currently under conservation outside national parks (about 20.5 million hectares, or 50 million acres) could revert to agriculture; animal welfare and poaching crises loom; and job losses in the sector will have dire consequences for rural families.
Game reserves also rely on income from tourists, but global lockdowns have killed those funds too. This also affects communities bordering game reserves across Africa. A May 20 article in South Africa’s Daily Maverick points out that hungry families may be forced to set snares for bush meat while reserves must find income to keep anti-poaching units in the field and to pay staff salaries.
North & South America
Genetic engineering may restore the American chestnut tree, says an April 30 New York Times article. Chestnut trees ranged from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River until, beginning in the early 1900s, a deadly fungus killed an estimated three billion of them. Now researchers at the NY College of Environmental Science and Forestry have created a version of the tree that appears resistant to the blight. Serendipitously, few plants can absorb carbon from the air faster than a chestnut tree. With this in mind, an essay last year in The Wall Street Journal suggested “Let’s farm chestnuts again.”
The US Forest Service offers data on carbon emissions and removals for 49 states. “From forest managers to policy makers, data on the role of forests in the carbon cycle is critical to decisions that will shape the future of the Nation’s forests,” said USFS scientist Grant Domke. The report, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals from Forest Land, Woodlands, and Urban Trees in the United States, 1990-2018,” is available from the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station.
“Nation’s last new coal plant proposal denied in Georgia” says an April 14 news release from the Sierra Club: “The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has denied a request for additional time to begin construction on the proposed Plant Washington, signaling the end of the troubled 12-year-old project. . . Plant Washington represented the last proposed new coal power plant project in the United States.” The 850MW plant would have cost more than $2 billion and produced the annual carbon pollution equivalent of about one million cars.
Tolerating grizzly bears is no easy task was the message for members of Montana’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council during its (virtual) meeting in April. KPAX News reported that dealing with people is the most confounding part of managing grizzly bears, and that perceptions of risk and benefit play a major role in considering the possibility of hunting seasons for the bears in Montana.
Across North America, only Alberta has gained hunters. A May 6 article in MeatEater.com reports a 23% per-capita decrease in hunters across the US and Canada between 1991 and 2016—a trend that will lead to “great challenges in revenue shortages, loss of political capital, and shrinking social relevancy” among fish & wildlife agencies and conservation organizations. Among the 50 states and 10 provinces, only Alberta reports more hunters per capita now than it did 10 years ago. The possible reasons and mechanisms for this growth are under study. [Ed. note: In the wake of COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-processing plants, some US states are reporting a surge in applications for hunting licenses.]
Microplastics have been found in Florida raptors, including hawks, ospreys and owls. The U. of Central Florida study, published recently in Environmental Pollution, is important because birds of prey are critical to ecosystems. Microplastics are the detritus of discarded consumer or industrial items; their accumulation in digestive systems can lead to poisoning, starvation and death. Microplastics are found in the guts of fish, marine birds and filter-feeders such as oysters and there are reports of whales dying from eating plastic. However, birds of prey have not been thoroughly examined before, partly due to their protected status.
US Dept. of the Interior will receive nearly $25 million to conserve winter habitat for elk, mule deer and pronghorn antelope. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation announced the grants on May 4.
Changes have been made to the 2020 Federal Duck Stamp Contest to celebrate the conservation achievements of waterfowlers. Each entry must depict an appropriate waterfowl hunting scene or include a hunting-related element. Since 1934, sales of duck stamps for hunting licenses have generated more than $1.1 billion and conserved more than 6 million acres (2.43 million ha) of critical habitat.
A deadly virus is killing wild rabbits in North America, according to a May 20 report in Science. In the 1980s, rabbit hemorrhagic disease devastated domestic rabbits in China, Europe and Australia. A new strain emerged in France in 2010 that also attacks wild species. In Spain, the virus has killed 60% to 70% of rabbits, leading to declines in rabbit predators: Spanish eagle numbers are down by 45% and the Iberian lynx by 65%. The virus was recently found in New Mexico and Arizona and is spreading across North America. “The outlook right now,” said a researcher, “is so unbelievably bleak.”
Bacterial pneumonia is killing Nevada’s desert bighorn sheep, which number about 10,400 in 100 herds, reported The Ely Times on January 5. The disease continues to wipe out entire herds statewide. Nevada wildlife officials will collect tissues from each herd to study the infection.
In Oregon, at least, proof that Americans can still agree on something came out of statewide polling on wildlife issues: Funding and policies to ensure that the state’s game herds can migrate between their seasonal ranges remain popular among a very wide spectrum of registered voters. The findings appeared in late April on the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation partnership website.
It could be a century before the George River caribou herd recovers, according to a March 6 report in Forest News. In 2001, there were about 385,000 caribou in the herd, in Labrador; a 2018 survey found only 5,500. Todd Russell, President of the NunatuKavut Community Council, defended his people’s hunting practices and blamed the decline on recreational hunting and poaching as well as disease, natural predation, development and climate change. The indigenous peoples of the Ungava Peninsula are developing a 100-year caribou recovery strategy.
British Columbia aims to address the precipitous decline of the province’s 13 mountain caribou herds, all threatened with local extinction. An April 25 article in The Narwhal discusses BC’s wolf cull as well as snowpack fluctuations, destruction of old-growth forests and the impact of forestry, mining, oil and gas development and road-building.
Rare photos of the Amazon’s short-eared dog appeared in The New York Times on May 4. The enigmatic and secretive “ghost dog,” Atelocynus microtis, inhabits the Amazon River rainforest; a new study sheds light on the ecology of the short-eared dog, the Amazon Basin’s only endemic canid.
Private conservation at work in Chile and Argentina. A May article in National Geographic describes Tompkins Conservation’s purchase of more than 2 million acres of land in Chile and Argentina since the early 1990s, which was then donated to those countries to establish or expand 14 national parks. The brainchild of Doug Tompkins (founder of The North Face and Esprit), and his wife Kris McDivitt (former CEO of Patagonia), Tompkins Conservation works to restore habitat and conserve wildlife—the macaw, Andean condor, Darwin’s rhea, pampas deer, tapir, collared peccary, giant otter, giant anteater, jaguar, puma, huemul and more.
PPAs, privately protected areas, could play an important role in achieving targets in conservation and biodiversity. The PPA and Nature Stewardship Specialist Group of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas recently published guidance on PPAs and is encouraging greater involvement of the private sector in conservation.
A charity is delivering free meals that include game to frontline NHS staff during the pandemic. The British Game Alliance, Fieldsports Journal, Samworth Brothers and Wild & Game are involved in the program, called Game Aid: “The meal bags, that cost £2 to produce and deliver, consist of a sumptuous Wild & Game pheasant & pork pie, some fruit, a bottle of water, a packet of crisps, a fruit bar and a chocolate treat. We know these healthy and hearty Game Aid meal bags will go some way towards ensuring no NHS or care worker needs to worry about leaving the hospital to buy food or cook a meal, in order to remain nourished.” The Chairman of the NHS National Food Review Committee has endorsed the program and fundraising has been successful.
“Farm to Fork” and biodiversity strategies meant to guarantee sustainable, healthy, nutritious and high-quality food for Europeans were announced on May 20 by FACE, the European Federation for Hunting and Conservation. FACE noted that millions of Europeans already consume locally available food from hunting, fishing and gathering fungi and plants—Europe’s 7 million hunters have been operating a “field to fork” system for generations, benefitting from healthy and locally sourced game meat.
Monitoring biodiversity in Europe may fall to hunters. An April report—“Hunters as citizen scientists”—highlights the role of hunters in monitoring biodiversity across Europe. The lead author, from Norway’s University of Science and Technology, said, “The key point of our study is that collaborations between hunters and scientists are fruitful and should be considered a standard partnership for biodiversity conservation. A result of this is that many of the game species are among the best studied wildlife species we have in Europe.”
The evolution of hunting is documented by a 300,000-year-old throwing stick used by Homo heidelbergensis to take waterfowl and horses. The rare artifact was discovered by archaeologists in Schöningen, Germany. HeritageDaily.com reported that the 64.5 cm (25.4 in) carved-spruce stick was recovered from a layer of sediment that in the 1990s yielded spears, a lance and additional wooden tools of unknown function. Throwing sticks can be used to take down birds or rabbits or to drive larger game, such as the horses that were butchered in large numbers on the Schöningen lakeshore.
Some 160,000 blackbirds died from the Usutu pathogen in Germany between 2011 – 2016, and another outbreak occurred in 2018. An end to the infections is not in sight. The Usutu virus originated in Africa; insects, especially the mosquito, are its most important vector (infection from bird to bird is not possible). In humans, Usutu infections are usually mild or go unnoticed. The most common symptoms include headache, fever and rash. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported the story on May 1I, noting that “with ongoing global warming, the risk of renewed and possibly larger outbreaks increases.”
It’s true for fish too: Large individuals are necessary for reproduction. Commercial fisheries and anglers often focus on “trophies”—the large individuals of a species, male and female, that are the most challenging to catch or that have the most meat. But a researcher at the Academy of Finland has found that, for many species, this works against sexual selection and harms reproductive success and population viability. Her report appeared on April 29 in Evolutionary Applications.
Backers of China’s Belt & Road Initiative fall short in protecting biodiversity, according to U. of Queensland researchers. Their report, in May in Nature Sustainability, notes that “The six terrestrial infrastructure corridors envisaged under BRI crisscross some of the most ecologically fragile geographies in Southeast Asia, Central Asia and South Asia” and adds that “most financiers of the BRI are yet to put in place binding biodiversity impact mitigation requirements. The considerable biodiversity impact of infrastructure projects could remain unmitigated.” [Ed. note: The Belt & Road Initiative to develop infrastructure in 152 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas has been the subject of global discussion; this Jan. 16 analysis by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is one of many reports on the campaign.]
Antarctica is turning green as the planet warms. A new map of microscopic algae blooming on snow along the Antarctic Peninsula has been created by scientists from the U. of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey. The Peninsula is the part of Antarctica that has warmed the most. The study, in Nature Communications on May 20, indicates that “green snow” is likely to spread as temperatures increase.
Through relocation, croplands could be halved in area, finds a new study in Nature Sustainability in April. Growing crops in the most agriculturally productive regions would increase the efficiency of global farming significantly—only 62% of the area currently devoted to agriculture would be needed to generate the same yields—thus freeing substantial land for ecological restoration. As crop relocation and intensification will have socioeconomic effects and impact food distribution, this is a hugely complicated challenge that would require international coordination and cooperation.
Saving Species on Private Lands: Unlocking Incentives to Conserve Wildlife and Their Habitats, a new book by legal and environmental historian and conservationist Lowell E. Baier, shows landowners how to incorporate wildlife into their land-management plans and secure funding, technical guidance and advice to support effective conservation. The book is available in paper and digital editions. (When ordering, use code RLFANDF30 to save 30%.) More information is on the author’s website at www.lowellebaier.com.
“Humans are not the virus.” The prohibitionist approach of some NGOs and “office-bound experts” during the COVID-19 pandemic derives from speculation, half-truths, deliberate misrepresentations, Western prejudices, latent racism, “staggering hubris” and “the specter of ecofascism,” writes Fiore Longo, a Research and Advocacy Officer at Survival International in The Counterpunch on April 24. Demanding the global end to the consumption of wild meat could “spell disaster for the lands and ways of life of indigenous peoples around the world,” yet some groups have seized on the crisis as a chance to criminalize those ways of life. Living off wildlife is key for many cultures and has little or no connection to species extinction or deadly viruses, Longo concludes.
Changes in climate and biodiversity could drive future pandemics, according to a May 15 “Public Health” Q&A on CarbonBrief.com. Rising temperatures and changes in precipitation are driving thousands of species to seek more tolerable climate conditions. “If, in the future, we see species moving into areas where humans are prevalent, we could see new opportunities for pandemics to evolve.” Zoonoses—infections passed from vertebrate animals to humans—account for two-thirds of all human infectious diseases and 75% of emerging diseases. Recent examples include Ebola in Africa, Marburg in Europe and Africa, Hendra virus in Australia and the SARS and Nipah viruses in East Asia. Some, such as HIV/AIDS and HiNi swine flu, have had a lasting global impact. COVID-19 was also most likely caused by a spillover. An estimated 1.7 million potentially harmful mammal and bird viruses have not yet migrated to humans.
Global warming dries up northern peatlands and forests, which burn more easily, which accelerates climate change even further. A study by 59 international scientists of how ecosystems lose water to the atmosphere appeared in May in Nature Climate Change. Peatlands, spongy bogs and fens store vast amounts of water and carbon and serve as natural firebreaks between sections of forest, but they are extremely vulnerable to atmospheric water loss.
Potentially lethal heat & humidity levels are here. A new study at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has found that extreme heat and humidity conditions forecast for the end of the 21st Century are in fact already occurring in Asia, Africa, Australia and both South and North America. Along the Persian Gulf, for example, researchers found more than a dozen recent outbreaks surpassing the theoretical human survivability limit. These instances have so far been localized and lasted just hours, but they are increasing in frequency and intensity.
Leveraging COVID-19 recovery programs to advance the climate agenda is a strategic approach to transitioning toward a more sustainable post–COVID-19 world, write Daniel Rosenbloom and Jochen Markard in a May 20 editorial in Science. Faced with overlapping crises, immediate societal mobilization is required. “COVID-19 recovery programs can lay the foundation for a more sustainable and prosperous future. Nations should not squander this opportunity.”
Perhaps it’s time for a little relief with these wildlife-inspired cocktails from the May 18 edition of the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, including the Wile E. Coyote, the Silver Fox, the Porcupine, the Salty Raccoon and of course that old classic, the Pink Squirrel. All by themselves, Wild Turkey bourbon, Grey Goose vodka and Famous Grouse whisky have blunted the edge of many a nightmare (or caused new ones).
While filming a group of markhor grazing on the steep, rocky cliffs of Pakistan’s Chitral Valley, in the Tooshi-Shasha Wildlife Conservancy, the WWF-Pakistan field production team and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Dept. spotted a lynx crouching behind a rock, about to begin a stalk. What followed was a dramatic scene few have ever witnessed—a lynx killing a yearling markhor.
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