Wildlife

Botswana Lifts Ban on Hunting Elephants

Botswana, which has the world’s biggest population of elephants, lifted its suspension on hunting, a move that is likely to spark further debate on a politically charged issue in the southern African nation.

The government would ensure that “reinstatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner” and in accordance with the law and regulations, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said in emailed statement Wednesday.

The number of elephants in Botswana has almost tripled to 160,000 since 1991, increasing conflict between farmers and the animals, which at times destroy crops and kill villagers.

Critics, including former President Ian Khama, say the drive is politically motivated, being geared to win rural votes in an October election and could damage tourism, which accounts for a fifth of the economy.

Wildlife

India’s soaring wildlife crime

In February this year, customs officials at Chennai International Airport in southern India heard unusual squeaks coming from the luggage of a man who had arrived from Bangkok. Inside his bag was a tiny leopard cub in a basket.

The customs department in Chennai has been seizing star tortoises, sea cucumbers and pangolin scales being smuggled out of the country for years. Officials now say exotic species being smuggled in are on the rise. But where the exotic wildlife being smuggled into India is going is anybody’s guess.

The illegal trade in wildlife is driving species all over the globe to the brink of extinction. In India, the trade is expanding rapidly, driven by demand for rare species—headed for the pet market—as well as for species believed to have medicinal properties. The main consumer markets are China and South East Asia, but wildlife—alive or as body parts—is also smuggled to the Gulf, Europe and Northern America. Beyond India, the main transit countries are Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Indian wildlife species and products commonly smuggled out of the country are tiger and leopard skins, their bones and other body parts, rhino horns, ivory, turtles and tortoises, sea horses, snake venom, mongoose hair, snake skins, tokay gecko, sea cucumber, chiru fleece, musk pods, bear bile, medicinal plants, red sanders timber and caged birds such as parakeets, mynas, munias. Most people probably don’t even realize that this wealth of species even exists in India. But they are perishing fast, with a population of only about 25 of the chiru remaining.

The most trafficked species are pangolins, seahorses and tortoises:

– In 2018, TRAFFIC India released a study which revealed that at least 5,772 pangolins were captured in India from 2009 to 2017 for illegal trade.

– The Patagonian seahorse (hippocampus patagonicus) is one of the three sea horse species which is trafficked for its use in medicine.

– The Indian star tortoise is now the most trafficked tortoise worldwide as it is in high demand as a pet.

The tokay gecko has come into the picture recently after a number of seizures, mainly in northeast India. The trade is believed to be fueled by unfounded claims it can be used as a cure for AIDS. A crackdown by agencies in several Indian states has led to the arrest of more than 300 gecko traffickers in the past year. More than 1,000 geckos have been confiscated in India during this period and released back into the wild.

Rat poison affects peri-urban wildlife in Cape Town, South Africa

Urban rat poisons are spilling over into Cape Town’s natural environment, threatening species such as caracal, mongoose, otter and owl, a team of University of Cape Town (UCT) researchers in the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild) has discovered.

In their recent paper, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, the researchers found that anticoagulant rat poisons are infiltrating Cape Town’s peri-urban wildlife food chains. They identified six predator species at risk: caracal, Cape clawless otter, Cape eagle owl, large spotted genet, honey badger and water mongoose. Others are likely affected as well.

They detected at least one of the four most toxic rat poison compounds, all available in over-the-counter products, in six of the seven species tested. Caracals living in or near vineyards had the highest exposure to rat poisons but the route to exposure is unclear.

One of the most significant findings of the study is that exposure occurs at all ages. Several lactating female caracals were sampled in the study and found to be exposed to rat poisons, suggesting that kittens may be exposed through their mother’s milk.

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As consumers, we need more eco-friendly alternatives to rat poison and the simplest solution is well within everyone’s reach – improve the management of waste which attracts rats in the first place.

Wildlife

Swine Invasion – Canada

The population of hybrid wild pigs has exploded across several Canadian provinces during the past 30 years, posing threats to native species, agriculture, livestock and even traffic.

A new study by the University of Saskatchewan tracks the spread of the porcine pests, which are a cross between domestic pigs and wild boar that were imported from Europe in the late 1980s to diversify Canadian livestock. Others were imported for sport hunting.

The hybrids that escaped into the wild have rapidly multiplied as the most prolific invasive mammal species in Canada.

They are currently concentrated in the Canadian prairies, but other clusters have become established in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

Wildlife

Colorado rejects ban on trapping and trophy hunting of bobcats

Grappling with the increased killing of bobcats for fur pelts to supply coat-makers in Asia, Colorado wildlife commissioners on Thursday rejected a citizen petition to outlaw the trapping and trophy hunting of the animals in the state. The commissioners said science drove their decision — namely a lack of evidence that harvesting bobcats at current levels is harmful to the species.

Scores of residents testified on either side of the proposed ban during a Colorado Parks and Wildlife hearing held in Grand Junction, the latest clash as the West’s booming urban population challenges entrenched values around relations with wildlife.

Trappers told the commissioners how they used money from sold bobcat pelts to support their families and attend college.

Licensed hunters and trappers in Colorado killed 1,978 bobcats last year, nearly three times the 680 killed in 2004, a majority for pelts, according to CPW records reviewed by The Denver Post. Annual U.S. exports of bobcat pelts top 30,000.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials have identified robust prices for pelts as the motivation for the increased killing. Bobcat-fur coats made in China and Russia sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

Bobcat snare fur trappers

Australian Cat Cull

Australia has begun dropping poisonous sausages from the air to kill the millions of feral cats that are ravaging native species across the country’s vast landscape.

Officials had been trapping and shooting the felines, which were first brought to Australia by European settlers in the 1700s.

The predators have since ravaged native wildlife, including many species that live nowhere else on Earth. At least 20 mammal species have been driven into extinction with the help of the invasive cats.

The accelerated plan to kill millions of the feral felines by 2020 uses sausages made of kangaroo meat, chicken fat, herbs, spices and poison. The cats are said to die within 15 minutes of eating the mixture.

Wildlife

Ocean wildlife gain reprieve as offshore drilling plan delayed indefinitely

North Atlantic right whales and other marine wildlife are safe, at least for now, from a Trump administration plan to expand offshore drilling.

On April 25, US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told The Wall Street Journal that the administration is indefinitely delaying plans to open 90 percent of all federal waters to oil and gas leasing. The delay stems from a U.S. District Court ruling in March that blocked proposed lease sales in the Arctic Ocean. Secretary Bernhardt said the administration will wait for the appeals process to run its course before proceeding with a broader drilling expansion.

Wildlife

The Danger of Snares

The loss of natural heritage, mainly due to poaching, has long been a thorn in the side of national and provincial conservation agencies and the spotlight is firmly on rhino and elephant because of massive increases in animal losses over recent years.

But what of other species which are also at risk including antelope and, high on the endangered scale, pangolin and wild dogs?

An answer, in part, comes from the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) which points out that a snare, in a person’s hand, doesn’t look like much.

“It’s just a piece of wire with a loop here and there. Place this wire in the hands of wildlife poachers and it becomes one of Africa’s most deadly weapons.

“Snares and traps kill millions of animals across the world each year. In Africa snares are mostly used to capture antelope for bush meat. In some instances, the goal is to target key high value species for trafficking body parts.

“Snares do not discriminate, catching anything,” the Stellenbosch-headquartered NGO said.

“A recent find in Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park was again evidence of this sad fact. Strategically concealed in a high density antelope movement area, a snare line claimed a waterbuck and three endangered African wild dogs,” a PPF spokesman said.

“It was clear from analysis of the scene the dogs were not targets of this trap. The carcasses were intact with no body parts removed. Most likely responding to the distress calls of the trapped waterbuck the dogs ended up caught in the snare line.”

Wild dogs are one of the most endangered carnivores in the world with only a few thousand still found in mostly southern and eastern Africa. African wild dogs are particularly susceptible to becoming by-catch in snares as, if a dog is caught, the rest of the pack are most likely to look for the missing individual and become ensnared.

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Wildlife

All the Babies in This Massive Penguin Colony Keep Drowning

The second-largest colony of emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) in the world appears to be collapsing, after rough seas drowned all of its babies three winters in a row.

The Halley Bay colony once accounted for 5 to 9% of the global emperor penguin population, according to the British Antarctic Survey (BAC), which reported the catastrophe. That amounted to about 15,000 to 24,000 adult breeding pairs. But in 2016, the sea-ice platform on which the colony was raising its babies collapsed during rough weather, throwing infant penguins unable to swim into the frigid water. In 2017 and 2018, the rough weather pattern repeated itself.

“For the last 60 years, the sea-ice conditions in the Halley Bay site have been stable and reliable,” the BAC said in a statement. “But in 2016, after a period of abnormally stormy weather, the sea ice broke up in October, well before any emperor chicks would have fledged. This pattern was repeated in 2017 and again in 2018 and led to the death of almost all the chicks at the site each season.”

The birds arrive at the site from their summer sea jaunts each April to breed; for the resulting chicks to survive, the site has to remain stable throughout the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, which lasts until December. These findings, based on satellite images and published April 25 in the journal Antarctic Science, were verified when researchers visited the region.

By 2018, a handful of adults — a “few hundred,” or about 2 percent of the original population — turned up at the Halley Bay site, the researchers reported. The remaining colony appeared in disarray, with adults moving closer to the ice edge than is typical, and was difficult to count scattered among the roughened chunks of ice.

“Whether the adult birds here were failed breeders or non-breeders is difficult to assess from imagery alone,” the researchers wrote.

The good news is that at least some of the colony appears to have moved, rather than died out. The Dawson-Lambton Glacier colony 34 miles (55 kilometers) to the south has significantly swelled in numbers since the devastation of Halley Bay, the BAC reported. That colony, which had hit a low of just 1,280 pairs in the 2015 season, swelled in each succeeding year. In 2016, it reached 5,315 pairs. In 2017, there were 11,117 pairs. And by 2018, a full 14,612 pairs set up camp at the site.

Those numbers are still lower than the original Halley Bay total, but suggest that a significant number of penguins have figured out that it’s better to move than return to the especially dangerous site.

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Wildlife

Listing Giraffes as Endangered Species

Two giraffe subspecies have been listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species for the first time.

Giraffe numbers plummeted by a staggering 40% in the last three decades, and less than 100,000 remain today. Habitat loss through expanding agriculture, human-wildlife conflict, civil unrest, and poaching for their meat, pelts, and tails, are among the reasons for the decline.

Meanwhile US Federal wildlife officials said Thursday that they would officially consider listing the giraffe as an endangered species, a move long sought by conservationists alarmed by the African mammal’s precipitous decline and a growing domestic market for giraffe products. Designating giraffes as endangered or threatened would place restrictions on their import into the United States and make federal funding available for conservation efforts.

Conservationists also hope that a listing could elevate the giraffes’ plight, which they said was often overshadowed by higher-profile initiatives to protect lions, elephants and other distinctive animals.

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Environment

Trump’s Alaska drilling study slammed

The Trump administration failed to adequately consider oil spills, climate change and the welfare of polar bears in its expedited study of proposed drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, according to comments published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The unusually harsh criticism from federal wildlife regulators could deal a blow to one of the most high-profile items in President Donald Trump’s energy agenda, and reflects the pitfalls of the administration’s drive to speed up big projects with quicker, shorter environmental studies.

The Interior Department wants to hold its first lease sale of at least 400,000 acres (160,000 hectares) in ANWR, America’s largest wildlife sanctuary, later this year, but could face lawsuits if its permitting process is flawed.

Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska: 

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Wildlife

Flamingo Freedom

Dozens of the nearly 500 flamingo chicks rescued after they were abandoned by their mothers in January are being returned to the wild by a nationwide network of South African volunteers.

The chicks, then too young to fly, had been stranded after a severe regional drought dried up their habit, leaving their mothers unable to care for them. About 100 of the birds are expected to be resettled during the first week in May.

Private pilots along with hundreds of volunteers and donors have helped in the rescue.

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Wildlife

Botswana Considers Culling Elephants

People living on the outskirts of Botswana’s game parks are anxiously waiting to see if the government is going to do anything to stop roaming wildlife from killing villagers and eating and destroying their crops.

The government is in the process of debating whether to cull elephants, revoke the 2014 ban on hunting or try to keep the wildlife off villagers’ land.

Communities living on the outskirts of fence-less, state-owned parks and forest reserves say their lives are proof that wild animals cannot coexist harmoniously with human beings.

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi appears to be sympathetic to the plight of these communities who are attacked and killed by wild animals and whose crops are eaten and destroyed.

Culling and hunting options have sparked widespread opposition and criticism from animal rights groups and conservationists.

In what appears to be a political crusade to justify culling and hunting as options, the Botswana government has said:

– 25 people have been killed by elephants between 2009 and this year so far;

– Botswana has an elephant population of 130 000 against its carrying capacity of 54 000;

– More than 70% of the elephant population lived outside their designated areas.

Wildlife

Butterfly Bonanza

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Residents of Israel and Lebanon have been treated to the flutter of millions of butterflies that have appeared this spring in numbers not seen in more than 100 years.

The massive migration of Vanessa cardui butterflies from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait came after a winter that saw unusually heavy rainfall. Experts say this gave the species’ caterpillars a bumper crop of plants to thrive on.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority says the butterflies have reached Cypress on their way to Spain and other parts of Europe for the summer.

Bleak Future for Corals

Unprecedented coral bleaching events at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef during 2016 and 2017 have left the World Heritage Site without enough juvenile coral to rebuild, scientists warn.

A report in the journal Nature says the number of “coral babies” trying to repopulate the reef has fallen by 89 percent.

While there are ongoing small-scale efforts to transplant juvenile coral to the reef, researchers say that the efforts are likely to be futile due to the high probability of more severe coral bleaching events brought on by a warming world.

Wildlife

Wildlife bridges over highways make animals safer

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Roaring traffic doesn’t stop big mammals like moose and bears from crossing highways—nor does it keep myriad smaller creatures from being squished by car tires. In just two years along one stretch of highway in Utah, 98 deer, three moose, two elk, multiple raccoons, and a cougar were killed in car collisions—a total of 106 animals. In the United States, there are 21 threatened and endangered species whose very survival is threatened by road mortalities, including Key deer in Florida, bighorn sheep in California, and red-bellied turtles in Alabama.

There’s one solution, however, that’s been remarkably effective around the world in decreasing collisions between cars and animals crossing the road: wildlife under- and overpasses. One can get reductions of 85 to 95 percent with crossings and fencing that guide animals under or over highways.

Wildlife Officers Rescue Birds Stuffed in Tiny Cages in India

Despite massive conservation efforts, the illegal wildlife trade continues around the world, putting endangered species at risk and threatening millions of vulnerable animals. In India, the trade of pet birds is a big issue. Thus, this makes the recent news of 550 protected Indian birds being rescued from an illegal pet market in Kolkata even more harrowing.

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Wildlife

World’s Rarest Giant Turtle Loses Last Known Female, All But Guaranteeing Extinction

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) is considered the most critically endangered turtle in the world, with only four known individuals left on Earth. On Saturday (April 13), that population fell to three, as the species’ last known female died in a zoo in Suzhou, China.

The captive turtle was more than 90 years old and died shortly after an attempt to artificially inseminate her. No complications from the insemination procedure (which was the turtle’s fifth) were reported, and the cause of death is being investigated.

The rare turtle is survived by one male, who also lives in the Suzhou Zoo and is believed to be about 100 years old. Scientists had been trying to breed the pair for years, but were unsuccessful due, in part, to the male’s damaged penis.

The world’s final two known R. swinhoei turtles live in separate ponds in Vietnam. Their genders are unknown. The species used to be widespread in the fresh waters of China and Vietnam, but have dwindled to near-extinction due to hunting and habitat loss.

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Wildlife

Birds vs Buildings

A new study finds that hundreds of millions of birds die by crashing into U.S. buildings each year during their migrations.

Songbirds are among the greatest victims at night because they emit chirps that signal other birds to follow and sometimes crash into the structures.

City lights and glass windows that appear as clear air to the birds are also threats. Chicago is said to be the most deadly city for bird crashes, with Houston and Dallas coming in second and third.

Researchers say that since half of migratory birds pass through a particular city during six nights in the spring and seven nights in the fall, cities could cut down on bird deaths by dimming their lights during those brief periods.

Whale Liberation

The Kremlin has intervened to free nearly 100 whales that have been held in small pens in Russia’s Far East following months of pressure from animal rights groups and Hollywood stars.

It is believed the whales were caught last year for sale to Chinese marine parks, which pay millions of dollars for them. Surveillance by Greenpeace and other groups revealed that the whales have suffered from hypothermia, skin lesions and flipper deterioration.

An international group of scientists, including the famed marine expert Jean-Michel Cousteau, announced that the whales will be released in phases under the new agreement with Moscow.

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