Squirrel Poaching

A new Russian fad of nabbing squirrels out of parks to keep them as pets has officials threatening large fines for those who continue to squirrel away the animals.

Some nature lovers say they are outraged by the poaching, which has led to Moscow’s Ecological Control unit beefing up surveillance in the city’s parks to protect the wildlife.

People who collect the bushy-tailed animals can resell them as pets for about 5,000 rubles ($144).

Despite Russian websites selling squirrels that say the animals are a “friendly and gentle” to keep around the house, they actually can bite and are not domesticated.



Giant Unnamed Jellyfish Found on Australian Beach

A huge specimen of an unnamed species of jellyfish washed up on a beach south of Hobart, Australia, last month.

A photo taken of the nearly 5-foot-wide creature by Josie Lim after her family came across it caught the attention of experts at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), who are in the process of naming the new type of lion’s mane jelly.

These jellyfish “look like a dinner plate with a mop hanging underneath … they have a really raggedy look to them,” said CSIRO expert Lisa-ann Gershwin. She called the find a “truly magnificent animal.”

Recent years have seen huge blooms of jellyfish in Tasmanian waters, and Gershwin says scientists are not sure why.

She told reporters that such a population explosion is likely to be having a significant impact on the marine ecosystem off southeastern Australia.



Oldest Known Bird Hatches a New Chick

The world’s oldest known wild bird just became a mother again.

The 63-year-old Laysan albatross named Wisdom was spotted taking care of her newborn earlier this month on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Biologists banded Wisdom in 1956 as she incubated an egg and have been following her ever since. The tough old bird has hatched a new chick for the past seven years in a row and has likely raised more than 30 chicks in her lifetime. She also survived a 2011 tsunami, which claimed 2,000 of her fellow adult albatrosses and about 110,000 chicks in the Midway wildlife refuge, an island habitat in the middle of the North Pacific.

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Baby River Turtles Hatch by the Thousands in Brazil

More than 200,000 baby turtles recently crawled out of their shells and swarmed sandy riverbanks in the interior of Brazil.

The mass hatching is an annual event for Great South American river turtles. Every time the dry season rolls around in the the Purus River basin in western Brazil, thousands of newborns emerge in one of the largest known mass hatchings for the species (Podocnemis expansa), according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Scientists with WCS and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation were on hand for the recent mass hatching in November 2013 in Brazil’s Abufari Biological Reserve. The team counted about 210,000 baby river turtles in total and rounded up 15,000 of those young creatures for a “mark and recapture” program.

By keeping tabs on marked turtles, scientists can estimate their population, monitor their travel and track their survival rates in the years to come.

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Climate Change Killing Young Argentine Penguins

Penguin chicks in Argentina’s coastal Patagonia are being killed by chilling rains that climate change is bringing to the historically arid region, along with spells of unprecedented heat.

A new study published in the journal Plos One shows that chicks being born on the Punta Tombo peninsula are vulnerable to hypothermia when they grow too big for their parents to keep them warm by sitting on them, and have yet to grow their waterproof feathers.

Increasing rainstorms are drenching them to death.

This has been the leading cause of chick deaths on the peninsula during two recent years.

“Climate variability in the form of increased rainfall and temperature extremes, however, has increased in the last 50 years and kills many chicks in some years,” the authors write.

Beyond shifts in weather, the researchers point to altered fish behaviour from climate change as an increasing cause of penguin deaths as well.



Beavers Pitched to Ease Britain’s Flooding

The seemingly never-ending rounds of flooding that have plagued Britain for the past two years could be averted in the future by reintroducing beavers to the wild, a leading scientific organization advises.

The U.K. Mammal Society has recommended to the environment secretary that the “master river engineers” could permanently alleviate the nation’s frequent floods.

The animals were hunted to extinction in the U.K. during the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century by those who wanted their fur and by landowners keen to protect their trees and fish.

Manmade diversion of waterways since then have set up conditions that reduced the land’s natural ability to hold water, allowing frequent devastating floods.

One wild beaver was recently sighted in Dorset, and a trial introduction of the animals is nearing completion in Scotland.

The government has considered paying farmers to hold back water in the uplands, at the cost of millions of pounds per year.

“The beaver could achieve the same effects for free and forever if we are bold enough to re-establish and tolerate it as a natural component of our river systems,” said Marina Pacheco, the society’s chief executive.



Hundreds of Dolphins Found Dead In Peru

More than 400 dead dolphins have washed up over the past month on some of the same beaches in northern Peru where scientists were never able to determine what killed some 850 of the animals in 2012.

IMARPE, the Peruvian Sea Institute, says 220 of the dead marine mammals were found during the last week of January alone.

Marine biologists say determining what’s killing the dolphins is difficult because their laboratories have only three or four of the approximately 100 chemicals available to solve the mystery.

But one institute official says the animals may have died from ingesting toxic algae.

Peru’s Organization for the Conservation of Aquatic Animals theorized in 2012 that the deaths were caused by ship sonar blasts used for seabed oil exploration, based on the damage found in some of the dolphins’ middle ear bones.

Peru denied those claims and said the deaths were due to “natural causes.”



Monarch Butterfly Migration May Be Vanishing

The lowest number of monarch butterflies ever recorded in their Mexican winter home has experts worrying about the future of the epic monarch migration.

A new report by the World Wildlife Fund and two Mexican agencies says this year’s precipitous plunge in monarch numbers is due to the loss of the insect’s main food: milkweed.

Loss of the plant’s habitat to urban sprawl and expanding agriculture is said to be literally starving the insects to death. Recent bad weather hasn’t helped.

The black-and-orange iconic butterflies now cover only 1.65 acres in the pine and fir forests of Michoacan state, west of Mexico City.

That’s compared to almost 3 acres last year and more than 44.5 acres at the recorded peak in 1995.

Experts say the long-term decline in the butterfly’s population can no longer be due to brief and unusual weather conditions.

“The main culprit is now [genetically modified] herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops and herbicides in the USA,” which “leads to the wholesale killing of the monarch’s principal food plant, common milkweed,” said Sweet Briar College entomologist Lincoln Brower.

The extreme drought in the U.S. corn belt during the summer of 2012 also wiped out huge numbers of milkweeds. Elizabeth Howard of Journey North says that was a fatal blow to many of the iconic fliers.

Monarchs typically live only four to five weeks, except for the generation that emerges in late summer. That’s the one that migrates the entire way southward to the species’ wintering grounds in Michoacan.



Hundreds of dead animals found at South Africa airport

More than 1,600 animals were discovered crammed into two crates at the OR Tambo International Airport. The survivors are being treated at a local zoo.

The animals, from Madagascar, had been without water and food for at least five days, reports say.

They are believed to have been destined for the exotic pet market in the US.

The animals, which included at least 30 different species of frogs, chameleons, lizards and toads and geckos, had been placed in two crates about half a metre in size – one on top of the other.

The chameleons were tied in small muslin bags, while the other reptiles and amphibians were crammed into small plastic tubs. Some of the animals were so tightly packed together that they were unable to move or turn around.

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Killing Sharks Prompts Australian Outrage

Environmental and wildlife advocates slammed Western Australia’s move to begin killing sharks along the Indian Ocean coast at the southwest tip of the country in the wake of seven fatal shark attacks within the past three years.

The cull comes as marine biologists around the world warn that some shark species are becoming endangered due to overfishing and mutilation for their fins.

The Western Australia government allowed contract fishermen to place baited hooks on drum lines off popular beaches in the state capital of Perth and to the south to kill white, bull and tiger sharks over 10 feet long.

The first shark killed was shot and its carcass dumped at sea.

A new poll by the leading UMR research company finds that 82 percent of Australians don’t think the sharks should be killed and say people enter the water at their own risk.

But Western Australia’s leading politician doesn’t agree.

“When you have sharks that are three, four, five metres long of known aggressive varieties, swimming in the water very close to beachgoers, that is an imminent danger,” said Premier Colin Barnett.

Activists have pledged to interfere with the killings with tactics like removing bait from the drum lines.



See-Through ‘Fish’ Startles New Zealand Fishermen

A northern New Zealand fisherman and his two sons were baffled after pulling in a nearly foot-long translucent marine creature that looked a lot like a see-though fish.

“It felt scaly and was quite firm, almost jelly-like, and you couldn’t see anything inside aside from this orange little blob,” Stewart Fraser told the Daily Mail.

Researchers from the country’s National Marine Aquarium examined photos of the catch and believe it was likely a Salpa maggiore.

“The salp is barrel-shaped and moves by contracting, pumping water through its gelatinous body,” said Paul Cox from the aquarium.

Little is known about them or how the unusually large one caught by Fraser came to be so far from its normal habitats in the Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica.



5,500 Siberian Beavers to Be Culled

Several thousand beavers in western Siberia are facing a cull by the summer in a drive to avoid an outbreak of disease.

Gazeta Kemerova news website cited a statement by the Kemerovo Region’s environmental protection department as saying as many as 5,500 beavers could be killed to thin out the ranks of the animal.

Overpopulation of beavers is also reportedly responsible for numerous road-flooding incidents caused by their dams.

No up-to-date information on the beaver population of Kemerovo Region is available. In 2011, the population of beavers stood at 18,000 and was growing steadily.

The Eurasian beaver was hunted to the brink of extinction in the early 20th century, but the population has bounced back enough for it to lose its threatened status.



Plant Virus May Be Behind Massive Honeybee Deaths

Chinese and U.S. researchers say a virus that typically infects plants has been found in honeybees.

The scientists inadvertently found tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV) during routine screening of bees.

“The results of our study provide the first evidence that honeybees exposed to virus-contaminated pollen can also be infected and that the infection becomes widespread in their bodies,” said lead author Ji Lian Li, at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science in Beijing.

He added that the honeybees can also spread TRSV as they move from flower to flower and between plants.

TRSV is particularly dangerous since it produces a flood of mutations that infect in different ways.

Bee colonies found with high levels of various viral strains were less successful in surviving harsh months last winter than those with lower levels of infections.

One-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died off during the winter of 2012-13, a 42 percent increase in fatalities from the previous winter.

TRSV infections could be at least one factor behind colony collapse disorder, which has stumped scientists for years.



Record Year for Rhino Poaching

The number of rhinos illegally slaughtered in South Africa in 2013 reached an all-time high, with an average of three rhinos killed each day, according to new figures released this month by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.


Japanese Fishermen Terrorize Dolphins Before Slaughter

More than 200 bottlenose dolphins spent a second day penned in a cove by Japanese fishermen, U.S. conservationists said Sunday, many of them stressed and bloodied from their attempts to escape.

The dolphins will spend a third night without food or rest in Taiji Cove before the fishermen likely start to slaughter them Monday for meat, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said.

Until now, the fishermen have focused on selecting dolphins to be sold into captivity at marine parks and aquariums in Japan and overseas, the conservation group said. Twenty-five dolphins, including a rare albino calf, were taken on Saturday “to a lifetime of imprisonment,” and another 12 on Sunday, the group said. Two dolphins have died in the process.

Although the hunting of dolphins is widely condemned in the west, Japanese defend the practice as a local custom — and say it is no different to the slaughter of other animals for meat.


Sydney’s Bald Reef Gets a Seaweed Transplant

Seaweed transplants could help revive an underwater forest off the coast of Sydney, Australia, that was wiped out by sewage dumping decades earlier, a new study suggests.

The large brown seaweed species Phyllospora comosa, commonly called crayweed, once thrived off the city’s shores, providing food and shelter for other undersea creatures like fish and abalone. But in 2008, researchers discovered that this macroalgae had disappeared from a 43-mile (70 kilometres) stretch of Sydney’s coastline — and that it had probably been missing for years.

A group of ecologists took fertile crayweed from surrounding coastal areas and transplanted the species onto two barren reef sites off Sydney. At one site off Long Bay, transplanted crayweed individuals survived just well as those left undisturbed, and they even reproduced.

Seaweeds are the “trees” of the ocean, Campbell added; they support life along temperate coastlines, which can help promote biodiversity and sustain fishing and tourism industries.

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Mild Scandinavian Winter Stirs Bears and Buds Flowers

The bulge of warm air over Northern Europe, pushed up by the Arctic vortex on the other side of the Atlantic, has caused bears to emerge early from hibernation in Finland and plants to bud earlier than normal in Norway.

While North Americans have shivered in the coldest weather in decades, Nordic residents have experienced one of the mildest winters in a century.

The Norwegian newspaper Sunnmørsposten published reader photographs of daffodils emerging as early as mid-December, along with crocuses, daisies, dandelions and honeysuckle.

“It was very unusual to see no snow in large areas where it is normal in December,” said Ketil Isaksen, a scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

“Only in the mountains and certain parts of Norway could you find snow.” Heavy rainfall, instead of snow, is believed to have flooded bear dens, forcing the animals out of hibernation.