Wildlife

Power Line Hazard

The electrocution of 11 giraffes from low-hanging transmission lines in a Kenyan conservation area has the country’s power company promising to raise the cables and check its entire network for safety. Conservationists demanded immediate action after three rare Rothschild’s giraffes were killed in the Soysambu Conservancy within three days. Only about 1,600 of the species, which do not have spots on their legs, roam freely in the wild. The Soysambu Conservancy currently hosts about 125 giraffes.

Wildlife

Wildlife Severely Affected in Texas Freeze

Bats and birds were among the wildlife pummeled during the Southern freeze. Starving and disoriented, the winged mammals tumbled to the snow-coated ground as temperatures plunged to levels rarely seen in the region. Bats are among numerous wildlife believed to have taken a beating in the South, a region unaccustomed to such a severe and prolonged cold snap. Many species migrate there for winter precisely because of its normally mild weather.

Fish kills were feared in Arkansas and Louisiana. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said it expected casualties among exotic deer and antelope. Across the Gulf of Mexico coast as far east as Florida, naturalists worried about monarch butterflies and the milkweed plants essential to their survival as they prepare to migrate northward. Milkweed provides spots for female monarchs to lay eggs and food for their larvae. If the plants’ growth across the South is stunted, more young would not survive.

Sea turtles stunned by frigid Gulf coastal waters were still being cared for at facilities this week. More than 10,600 had been found and officials were tabulating how many died.

Wildlife

Beached Whales

Hundreds of people in New Zealand worked together to successfully “refloat” 40 long-finned pilot whales that stranded on a remote beach. The whales did not swim out into the deeper ocean, however, so some conservationists are worried that the animals may beach themselves a second time. The 40 whales initially stranded Monday morning (Feb. 22) on Farewell Spit, a beach on South Island, along with nine other whales that died during the stranding.

Wildlife

Wildlife Trafficking Driving Species into Extinction

Wildlife populations decline by an average of 62% in areas where species are traded, pushing some closer to extinction, according to a new report.

The first analysis to quantify the impact of the legal and illegal wildlife trade looked at 133 land-based species and found the most endangered – which typically have smaller populations – are most at risk, with average declines of 81%. In some cases this resulted in local disappearances, with certain populations of spider monkeys and Baird’s tapir declining by 99.9%, according to an international team of researchers led by Sheffield University.

Some estimates suggest the illegal wildlife trade could be worth as much as $23bn (£16.5bn) a year, with more than 100 million plants and animals trafficked annually.

The main drivers of wildlife trafficking are the pet industry, bushmeat (defined as wildlife traded for food consumption), traditional medicine, ivory and laboratory use. The study did not include subsistence-based bushmeat eaten by the communities that hunted it. Local wildlife trade involving the extraction or commercialisation of bushmeat supports an estimated 150 million households.

National and international trade – which were found to be more significant drivers of decline than local trade – generally involve the extraction and trade of species of high commercial value, such as ivory from African elephants, horns from Javan rhinoceros and pangolin scales from across Asia and Africa.

Wildlife

Ocean Noise

The racket of human activity beneath the ocean surface is drowning out the natural noises made by marine creatures, which researchers say is as harmful as overfishing, pollution and climate change.

A University of Exeter team made the conclusion after reviewing more than 500 studies on marine noise. The review says while military sonar and oil exploration blasts are obvious sources of distress and deafness in the ocean, noise from shipping has increased by 32 times in the past 50 years. The study says the din of offshore wind farms, bottom trawling and other sources are drowning out the calls many species use to communicate, spawn and migrate.

Wildlife

The Last Goodbye

The Last Goodbye shows ranger Joseph Wachira comforting Sudan, the last male northern white rhino left on the planet, moments before he dies at Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya.

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The Amazon unravels into savanna

At the beginning of the 1990s, while observing the large trees of the Amazon ceding ground to the scrub-like vegetation of the Cerrado, in a process driven by human activity, Brazilian scientist Carlos Nobre conceived of the hypothesis that a process of savannization of the world’s greatest tropical forest was underway.

The results show a bleak scenario for some of the species that have evolved to thrive in forests, which may lose up to 50% of their range by the end of the 21st century. This is especially the case in the region known as the Arc of Deforestation, a zone of agricultural expansion in the south and southwest of the Brazilian Amazon, where the rainforest abuts the Cerrado shrubland.

The only refuge for these species would be the central area of the Amazon Basin, in areas closer to the Andes Cordillera, less vulnerable to climate change and to the impact of the agricultural frontier. The expectation is that there could be an influx of up to 60 species into these untouched regions, increasing competition with endemic wildlife for resources and bringing unpredictable ecological consequences.

Conversely, species native to the Cerrado, which are also losing habitat to farmland, would see a net increase in their distribution by up to 30%, as the savannization of the Amazon (and, to a lesser extent, the Atlantic Forest) open up new areas for them that would otherwise have remained unsuitable.

Wildlife

China Expands Protected Wildlife List

China has added 517 new species to a list of nationally protected animals, marking the first major update of the inventory since its introduction in 1989.

The additions, which include the wolf, large-spotted civet and golden jackal, take the number of species on the List of Wildlife under Special State Protection – an adjunct to the Wildlife Protection Law – to 980. Among the other additions were the Skywalker (or Gaoligong) hoolock gibbon and Bailey’s (or hot-spring) snake, which is endemic to Tibet.Among the other additions were the Skywalker (or Gaoligong) hoolock gibbon and Bailey’s (or hot-spring) snake, which is endemic to Tibet.

‘Drastic’ Declines in Cambodia’s Endangered Wildlife

Cambodia’s last two wildlife sanctuaries have seen a drastic decline in wildlife populations. The estimated banteng population (ungulates) plummeted by 72%, from about 3,013 in 2010 to just 856 in 2020, within both sanctuaries, which have a combined area of 5,955 square kilometers – slightly larger than Brunei Darussalam. The population of red muntjacs, also known as barking deer, had declined to about 3,350 in 2020, half the number that had been found in 2010. Between the late 1960s and the early 1990s, Cambodia’s total banteng population fell by 95%, according to the WWF.

Rampant poaching and deforestation due to overseas business interests are responsible for the drop in wildlife numbers.

Wildlife

In a desert seared by climate change, burrowers fare better than birds

In the Mojave Desert, small mammals are weathering the hotter conditions triggered by climate change much better than birds, finds a new study. Using computer models, the study team showed that small mammals’ resilience is likely due to their ability to escape the sun in underground burrows and their tendency to be more active at night. This gives small mammals lower ‘cooling costs’ than birds, which have less capacity to escape the heat.

Wildlife

Square Dung

Researchers say they have finally solved the mystery of why the poop of Australia’s iconic wombats comes out in cubes rather than in rounded forms. The fecal phenomenon has long puzzled scientists.

Writing in the journal Soft Matter, a team from the U.S. and Australia found the cubes are formed within the last section of the intestines as the dung dries out in the extremely long wombat colon. The sculpting of the poop into cubes happens as stiff and flexible regions of the colon contract in tandem. “Our research found that … you really can fit a square peg through a round hole,” said Scott Carver of the University of Tasmania.

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Shark – Ray Decline

A new study reveals overfishing has decimated the populations of sharks and rays in the world’s oceans, with numbers dropping more than 70% on average between 1970 and 2018. Oceanic whitetip sharks are now near extinction, dropping in numbers by 98% in 60 years.

Sharks and rays take years to reach sexual maturity and have few offspring, contributing to their dwindling numbers.

Scientists say the loss of the top predators leaves a “gaping hole” in the marine food web. Those predators have been described as the lions, tigers and bears of the sea, keeping its ecosystem in balance.

Wildlife

Disappearing Bees

About a quarter of all known bee species haven’t been seen since the 1990s even though efforts by scientists and amateurs to survey them have increased by about 55% since the turn of the century. Eduardo Zattara and Marcelo Aizen of Argentina’s National University of Comahue found that the decline isn’t the same for all bee populations, and the lack of sightings for those missing doesn’t mean the species have gone extinct. The researchers say it just means those bees are now rare enough that people who tend to report bee sightings aren’t coming across them. The destruction of natural habitats, heavy use of pesticides and climate change are likely to be causing the decline, according to Zattara.

Wildlife

Plausible Alibi

A tagged racing pigeon once believed to have flown from a competition in the United States to the Australian city of Melbourne, 8,000 miles away, briefly faced a death sentence as officials deemed it a foreign biohazard.

Since the bird had seemingly bypassed the country’s strict quarantine regulation forbidding the importation of live animals or birds, plans were made to euthanize it. But sharp eyes from racing experts saw that the tag, allegedly from a U.S. bird organization, was not authentic. So “Joe,” named after new U.S. President Joe Biden, was found innocent and will be given the chance to fly freely around the neighborhood where it was first spotted.

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Wildlife

Most Animals Are Decreasing In Size As Result Of Global Warming

Scientists from the University of Granada (UGR) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile have succeeded in explaining why ectotherms (animals whose body temperature depends mainly on environmental temperature—that is, most animals) are reducing in size as a result of global warming.

heir study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, offers the first plausible physiological explanation for the general reduction in organism size that has been observed, as a consequence of global warming. Rising temperatures lead to metabolic restrictions which restrict growth—in other words, the animals cannot develop to achieve larger sizes. With increasing size, death due to thermal stress occurs at a lower metabolic rate compared to rest at a non-stressful temperature.

Wildlife

Octopuses Adapt to Climate Change

With the impact of climate change increasing by the day, scientists are studying the ways in which human behavior contributes to the damage. A recent study at Walla Walla University, by a collaboration of researchers from Walla Walla University and La Sierra University, examined the effects of acidic water on octopuses, potentially bringing new insight into both how our activities impact the world around us, and the way that world is adapting in response.

The study focused on the metabolic rate of octopuses exposed to water acidified by carbon dioxide, and the changes it made to the animals. CO2 is a key indicator of the growing acidity of our oceans because much of the gas released into the air by humans is dissolving into the seawater.

For instance, studies on cuttlefish show no significant change in their metabolism after exposure to increased OA, while squid subjected to the same conditions showed a reduction in aerobic metabolism, indicating reduced oxygen circulation in the subjects. The results demonstrated a surprising amount of adaptability in the subjects.

Wildlife

Fences hinder migratory wildlife in Western US

Each year, thousands of migratory mule deer and pronghorn antelope journey northwest from their winter homes in the Green River Basin, a grassland valley in western Wyoming, to their summer homes in the mountainous landscape near Grand Teton National Park.

But to reach their destination, these ungulates must successfully navigate the more than 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles) of fencing that crisscrosses the region. That’s enough distance to span nearly twice the length of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Fences don’t always pose an insurmountable barrier to wildlife, and different species find different ways to get around them. Mule deer are willing to jump over fences that are low enough. Pronghorn antelope, however, are reluctant to jump over fences and instead must seek out areas where they can move underneath.

Each year, mule deer encountered fences an average of 119 times, Xu found. Pronghorn antelope encountered fences at more than twice that rate, about 248 times per year. About 40% of these fence encounters resulted in a change in the animals’ behavior.

Wildlife

Domestic Kangaroos

Kangaroos have shown they can use body language to ask humans for help, busting earlier beliefs that only domesticated animals have such an ability.

Alan McElligott and colleagues at the City University of Hong Kong tested 16 roos living in captivity with the same methods used to study horses, dogs and goats. After blocking food from the kangaroos with a transparent box door that made it impossible for the marsupials to get it, they observed the animals’ behavior. The roos almost always turned to a nearby human for help. “They’d look straight up at my face, like a dog or a goat would do, and back at the box, and some even came up and scratched my knee like a dog pawing [for attention],” said McElligott.

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