Wildlife

Prolific Tortoise

A species of Galapagos giant tortoise once on the brink of extinction has been saved with the help of a half-century of tireless breeding from one of only three surviving males.

Since 1976, “Diego” has fathered 800 of the now 2,000 Chelonoidis hoodensis of Española Island. But since the species is no longer in danger and the successful captive breeding project is ending, the pressure is now off for the approximately 130-year-old Diego.

Experts say the playboy has a “big personality” and is aggressive, active and vocal while mating. Diego will be allowed to live out his golden years in leisure after finally being released back into the wild on his native Española Island, where he was captured by scientists 80 years ago.

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Wildlife

A blob of hot water in the Pacific Ocean killed a million seabirds

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As many as one million seabirds died at sea in less than 12 months in one of the largest mass die-offs in recorded history — and researchers say warm ocean waters are to blame.

The birds, a fish-eating species called the common murre, were severely emaciated and appeared to have died of starvation between the summer of 2015 and the spring of 2016, washing up along North America’s west coast, from California to Alaska.

Now, scientists say they know what caused it: a huge section of warm ocean water in the northeast Pacific Ocean dubbed “the Blob.”

A years-long severe marine heat wave first began in 2013, and intensified during the summer of 2015 due to a powerful weather phenomenon called El Nino, which lasted through 2016.

The heat wave created the Blob — a 1,000-mile (1,600 km) stretch of ocean that was warmed by 3 to 6 degrees Celsius (5.4 to 10.8 Fahrenheit). A high-pressure ridge calmed the ocean waters — meaning heat stays in the water, without storms to help cool it down.

Those few degrees of warming wreaked havoc on the region’s marine ecosystems. There was a huge drop in the production of microscopic algae that feed a range of animals, from shrimp to whales. The warmth caused a massive bloom of harmful algae along the west coast, that killed many animals and cost fisheries millions of dollars in lost income.

Other animals that experienced mass die-offs include sea lions, tufted puffins, and baleen whales. But none of them compared to the murres in scale.

About 62,000 dead or dying murres washed up on shore — but the total number of deaths is likely to be closer to one million since only a small fraction of birds that die at sea wash up, said researchers from the University of Washington,

The murres likely starved to death because the Blob caused more competition for fewer small prey. The warming increased the metabolism of predatory fish like salmon, cod, and halibut — meaning they were eating more than usual. These fish eat the same small fish as the murres, and there simply wasn’t enough to go around.

Wildlife

Australian Wildfire Rescue

Specialised animal rescue teams have been deployed to Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia after unprecedented bushfires ripped through one-third of the island’s bushland. Humane Society International has been building food and water stations for animals still in the wild while also searching for koalas, possums and wombats that may have survived.

Wildlife

Airdrops of Food of Australian Wallabies

The Australian government is using helicopters and airplanes to help feed starving animals displaced by the country’s wildfire crisis.

The New South Wales government used aircraft to drop more than 4,000 pounds of food, mostly carrots and sweet potatoes, to colonies of brush-tailed rock-wallabies that were left stranded as massive wildfires ravaged their habitat.

The brush-tailed rock-wallaby was already endangered in southeastern Australia before the fires began in September and government officials said their survival could be complicated further by the ongoing crisis. The fires are estimated to have killed more than a billion animals and scorched more than 8.4 million hectares — about twice the size of Maryland.

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Wildlife

More Locust Swarms

Kenyan officials began aerial spraying for hordes of arriving desert locusts that have ravaged vegetation across parts of Ethiopia and Somalia in recent weeks.

The worst infestation in 70 years has already destroyed 175,000 acres of crops across the Horn of Africa and parts of northeastern Kenya, threatening famine in a region that had already suffered devastating flooding last year.

“We have seen drought and torrential rains kill our people and animals, and now we have locusts,” Kenyan legislator Adan Keynan told reporters at the country’s parliament in Nairobi.

Microplastics Affect Coastal Wildlife

Microplastics (plastic particles under 5 mm) are an abundant type of debris found in salt and freshwater environments. In a Limnology & Oceanography Letters study, researchers demonstrated the transfer of microplastics through the food chain between microscopic prey and larval fish that live in coastal ecosystems. They also found that microplastic ingestion interferes with normal growth in fish larvae.

The investigators also looked at the effects of a common pollutant (the pesticide DDT) that attaches to microparticles in coastal waters. Organisms were not able to detect or discriminate against ingesting microparticles with high levels of DDT.

Wildlife

Lions Poisoned – South Africa

Eight lions at a North West bush lodge have been killed during an alleged poisoning, police have confirmed. The carcasses were found on Friday morning at the Predators Rock Bush Lodge, near Rustenburg.

Their paws and snouts were cut and removed, in an apparent ‘muti’ killing, where the animals parts are used in witch doctor rituals.

Wildlife

Another record year for manatee deaths

Wildlife experts say more manatees were killed by boaters in Florida this year than in any other.

At a time when boaters are supposed to slow down, wildlife experts say some aren’t following the rules, with deadly results. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says last year, 125 manatees were killed by boat, and so far this year, 129 manatees were killed.

Although manatees are no longer listed as endangered, they still face many dangers.

Koala Receives Water from Passing Cyclists

This desperate koala can be seen hastily drinking water in a bid to cool down amid the soaring heat in Australia. The marsupial approached a group of cyclists who were riding towards Adelaide, where temperatures are nearing 40C. The group saw the stricken animal in the middle of the road when they went round a bend in the state of South Australia and came to its assistance.

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Wildlife

African Locust Swarms

Somalia’s worst locust swarms in 25 years have devoured vast tracts of crops and grazing land across the country and parts of neighbouring Ethiopia.

Farmers faced with starvation have urged their governments to request aid from the international community to avert the looming famine.

The swarms were made worse by unseasonably heavy rainfall and the resulting floods that have killed hundreds of people across the Horn of Africa in recent months.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says the infestations have become far worse than its experts feared earlier this year.

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Wildlife

Koalas starving and dying of thirst after bushfires destroyed their habitat

Koalas are starving to death because bushfires plaguing the country are destroying their food. The bushfires in the Adelaide Hills have burned 25,000 hectares of land and left koalas desperately searching for food and water. Its often at least four days before they are found. Koalas eat eucalyptus leaves – but thousands of trees have been decimated by fires.

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Wildlife

Rhino Poaching – Botswana

Thirteen rhinos have been poached in Botswana in the last two months, the tourism ministry said, as the government tries to crack down on hunting of the endangered species.

The country is home to just under 400 rhinos, according to Rhino Conservation Botswana, most of them roam the grassy plains of the northern Okavango Delta.

The number of rhinos poached since October 2018 now stands at 31. Twenty-three of those were white rhinoceros and eight were black rhinoceros, which are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Wildlife

Salmon Bonanza

Fishermen in Canada’s Northwest Territories say they have caught more Arctic salmon this year than in all of the previous 20 years combined.

The fish also emerged earlier than normal, mainly because of the virtual lack of ice in the Mackenzie River during the Arctic summer.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says 2,400 salmon catches were submitted to the agency, compared to only 100 last year.

Agency biologist Karen Dunmall points to a warming climate and disappearing ice for the salmon bounty.

Acidic oceans are corroding the tooth-like scales of shark skin

Shark skin might look perfectly smooth, but inspect it under a microscope and you’ll notice something strange. The entire outer surface of a shark’s body is actually covered in sharp, little scales known as denticles. More remarkable still, these denticles are incredibly similar to human teeth, as they’re also comprised of dentine and enamel-like materials.

Your dentist will no doubt have warned you that acidic drinks like fizzy cola damage your teeth. This is because acid can dissolve the calcium and phosphate in the enamel tooth covering. For the first time, scientists have discovered a similar process acting on the tooth-like scales of sharks in the ocean.

The carbon dioxide (CO₂) that humans release into the atmosphere doesn’t just heat the planet. As more of it dissolves in the ocean, it’s gradually increasing the acidity of seawater. In the past 200 years, the ocean has absorbed 525 billion tonnes of CO₂ and become 30% more acidic as a result. Now scientists worry that the lower pH is affecting one of the ocean’s top predators.

Corrosion and weakening of the denticle surface could degrade the highly specialised drag-reducing ridges, affecting the ability of these sharks to swim and hunt. Many shark species are top-level predators, so if they’re not able to hunt as effectively, this might have an unpredictable impact on the population size of their prey and other animals in the complex marine environment. Some species of shark need to swim constantly to keep oxygen-rich water flowing over their gills and to expel CO₂ – another process which might be hindered by increased drag.

Wildlife

Toxic Cities

On Sept. 9, 2019, a mountain lion was found dead in the Santa Monica Mountains. It was the fifth mountain lion to die from consuming rat poison in that region. Rodenticides aren’t the only health risks that urban wildlife face. Wildlife living in cities or suburban areas experience unique health challenges compared to their country cousins, often due to human activities.

A recent study found that overall, urban wildlife had poorer health than wildlife in more natural areas. This was mostly due to urban animals having more toxicants in their tissues. Toxicants are toxic substances artificially introduced into the environment by human activity and include pesticides, industrial pollutants and heavy metals.

Toxicants can potentially harm animals’ reproduction, development and survival. Exposure to heavy metals has been found to weaken the immune system of tree swallows, possibly making animals more susceptible to disease or less able to recover from infection.

Another study demonstrated that exposing amphibians to pesticides increased their susceptibility to infection with a parasitic worm. Amphibian populations are in decline globally, in part due to disease, and so it is important to understand how toxicants influence disease to conserve threatened populations.

Wildlife

Innkeeper Worms Wash Up on California Beach

Thousands of unusual marine worms, called fat innkeeper worms — or “penis fish”— washed up on Drake’s Beach in California after a recent storm.

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Wildlife

Thousands of baby flying foxes starve after Australian bushfires

Thousands of baby grey-headed flying foxes have been abandoned by their mothers in the latest example of wildlife devastation caused by Australia’s severe drought and bushfires, which disrupted the bats’ ability to produce milk for their offspring.

A threatened species, the grey-headed flying fox is one of the world’s largest bats, with a wingspan of up to a meter, and is covered in dark grey fur with an orange collar.

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Wildlife

Mice Brutally Attack and Devour Albatross Chicks

House mice that were introduced to Gough Island in the South Atlantic are attacking and killing both adult and baby albatross.

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