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 on: Nov 29, 2015, 11:03 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
EU-US trade deal will unleash oil sands and fatally undermine climate efforts

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership aims to pave the way for the exploitation of toxic tar sand crude oil – with potentially devastating results

29 November 2015 07.00 GMT

The prospects for a meaningful agreement at the UN climate change talks beginning on Monday are bleak. As a result, so too are the prospects for the 100 million more people predicted to be living in poverty by 2030 as a result of global warming.

Though framed by record high temperatures and an increasing number of extreme weather events, the Paris talks are already beset by the same problems that repeatedly dog climate change negotiations: the richest countries steadfastly refuse to meet legal commitments and shoulder their share of responsibility, preferring to uphold the desires of all-powerful corporate lobbies. Meanwhile, the poorest countries meet or exceed their responsibilities.

But regardless of commitments made in Paris, any steps to halt runaway climate change will be wholly undermined by the secretly negotiated EU-US trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

While touted as a “free trade” deal, in reality TTIP is anything but. The reduction of “tariffs” is a tiny fraction of the deal. The trade deal’s central mission is to remove “non-tariff barriers” – the regulations that often protect our society, health and environment. Fundamentally, it is a struggle between corporate power and the interests of people and the planet, with wide-ranging ramifications for the global south.

Since its 2013 announcement, a key aim of TTIP has been to destroy regulations that prevent high-polluting tar sand crude oil from entering Europe. It is a target intimately tied to the EU’s anti-Russian geopolitical aims, and the wishes of the powerful oil lobby and its conduits in the American, British and Canadian governments. As the Guardian has revealed, the EU is colluding with the world’s biggest oil companies to ensure TTIP’s energy chapter is firmly in their interests.

An agenda that promises a high-carbon future unmasks the spin of rich country promises to phase out fossil fuels by the end of this century, highlighting the corporate nature of the deal and its devastating consequences for climate change. As the Nasa scientist James Hansen argues, if the tar sands are exploited as projected, it will be “game over for the climate”.

Regulations on both sides of the Atlantic are targeted for removal. On the one hand, there is the EU’s fuel quality directive (FQD), created to reduce emissions from transport fuels to meet climate change commitments. On the other, there is the 40-year US ban on crude oil exports, which Republicans are eager to dismantle against the wishes of the government and Democrats.

Tar sands oil is abundant in Canada, where mining has decimated the rights of First Nations communities, destroyed ancient forests, diverted huge amounts of water and led to toxic pollution. Research suggests that tar sands extraction and refining – which takes place in the US – leads to 23% higher greenhouse gas emissions than average EU fossil fuels.

The EU adopted the FQD in 2009. Since then, it has been firmly in the crosshairs of the world’s largest oil companies, which have invested heavily in tar sands.

The oil companies have harnessed support in the office overseeing US trade policy, among US Republicans, in the Canadian and British governments, and in the European commission, which oversees EU trade policy. The result has been the progressive weakening of the directive, the future of which after 2020 is uncertain.

Michael Froman, the US trade representative, believes the directive is a “discriminatory” barrier to trade. The US Chamber of Commerce revelled in having “successfully advocated for a delay in, and possible reconsideration of” the directive, marking it as one of its “policy accomplishments for 2013”. The British government, heavily lobbied by BP and Shell, has been quick to lend its support to Canadian efforts to destroy the directive.

But a statement from a group of US members of Congress highlights, the trade agenda is undermining climate change policies. “Pressuring the EU to alter its FQD would be inconsistent with the goals expressed in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan,” says the statement, adding that ”trade and investment rules may be being used to undermine or threaten important climate policies of other nations”.

For its part, the European parliament, which will vote on TTIP’s ratification, is playing both sides. In a TTIP resolution passed in July, consecutive paragraphs commit to “abolish any existing restrictions or impediments” on fuel exports and imports, before stating that energy quality standards must be respected, “including those for energy products related to their impact on CO emissions such as the one enshrined in the fuel quality directive”.

Far from being a simple case of European interests versus US interests, the lines of demarcation in TTIP are between the mutually exclusive interests of transnational big business and people and the planet; if the deal passes, the former wins and the latter lose.

Both TTIP and climate change are symptoms of the dominant neoliberal ideology. Regardless of the outcomes of talks in Paris, without a fundamental change to our corporate-led system, we will soon start counting the cost in the millions of lives lost in the global south.

 on: Nov 29, 2015, 10:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Japan under fire over decision to resume whaling

Officials maintain a third of previous numbers will be caught and insist plan is scientifically sound
Minke whale in the ocean

Sunday 29 November 2015 00.05 GMT

Japan is set to resume whaling early next year, after a break of more than 12 months, in defiance of an international court of justice ruling that it cease the practice.

The Japanese government says it has taken into account the court ruling and its “scientific” whaling programme will catch only a third of the minke whales it caught under its previous programme – 333 instead of 1,000 – which it halted in March last year.

Japan’s international whaling commissioner, Joji Morishita, said in a letter that his government had “sincerely taken into account” recommendations of the International Whaling Commission’s scientific committee. He said Japan’s new programme “does not require any substantial changes” and confirmed whaling would resume.

However, the announcement has been condemned by environmental groups and the Australian and UK governments. A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are deeply disappointed with Japan’s decision to restart whaling in the Southern Ocean. This undermines the global ban on commercial whaling which the UK strongly supports.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare said Japan’s new programme would result in the slaughter of nearly 4,000 whales over the next 12 years in an expanded Antarctic killing zone. The charity is urging supporters to write to Foreign Office minister James Duddridge to ask the British government to challenge Japan’s plan “and lack of regard for international law”.

Greg Hunt, Australia’s environment minister, said Japan cannot unilaterally decide to start whaling in the Antarctic Ocean again against the advice of scientists. The Japanese Fisheries Agency has notified the IWC that it will resume whaling in the 2015-16 season under a revised plan. The commission is reviewing the science behind the plan and has raised serious concerns.

“Australia strongly opposes the decision by Japan to resuming whaling in the Southern Ocean this summer,” Hunt said on Saturday. “It cannot unilaterally decide whether it has adequately addressed the scientific committee’s questions.”

Hunt said Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and foreign minister Julie Bishop have also directly told Japan that Australia does not support whaling. “We will continue to pursue the issue through the IWC and in direct discussions with Japan,” he said.

Conservation group Sea Shepherd, which annually sent boats to disrupt the Japanese whaling fleet, warned any return to whaling by Japan would be illegal.

“We would like to remind the Japanese government that the whales of the Southern Ocean are protected by international law, by Australian law and by Sea Shepherd,” chief executive Alex Cornelissen said.

“As such, any violation of the sanctity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary or the Australian Whale Sanctuary will be regarded as a criminal act.”

Sea Shepherd’s main ship, the Steve Irwin, is docked in Melbourne, but the group did not say whether it would trail the Japanese whalers on any new hunts.

Australia won a case against Japan last year in the international court of justice. The court ruled that Japan’s “scientific” whaling programme was not scientific at all and ordered Tokyo to recall its fleet.

Japan started its whaling programme in 1987, a year after an international moratorium was enacted. It accuses critics of sentimentality and disregarding scientific evidence about sustainability. Japan also maintains that most species are not endangered and that eating whale is part of its food culture.

The ICJ says Japan has caught some 3,600 minke whales since its current programme began in 2005. In April 2013, Japan announced its whaling haul from the Southern Ocean was at a record low because of “unforgivable sabotage” by activists from the environmental group Sea Shepherd.

 on: Nov 29, 2015, 10:19 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
continued ..

 on: Nov 29, 2015, 10:18 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

 on: Nov 29, 2015, 10:16 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Here are some cool pictures of animals and humans hugging.

To enlarge any picture simply click on the 'jpg' of each picture.

God Bless, Rad

 on: Nov 29, 2015, 09:56 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Good intentions won’t be enough in climate talks

Originally published November 28, 2015 at 5:19 pm

The participating countries are vowing to make changes that fall far short of the goal, much like a patient who, upon hearing from his doctor that he must lose 50 pounds to avoid life-threatening health risks, takes pride in cutting out fries but not cake and ice cream.

By Justin Gillis
The New York Times

After two decades of talks that failed to slow the relentless pace of global warming, negotiators from almost 200 countries are widely expected to sign a deal in the next two weeks to take concrete steps to cut emissions.

The prospect of progress, any progress, has elicited cheers in many quarters. The pledges that have been announced “represent a clear and determined down payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in a statement a month ago.

Yet the negotiators gathering in Paris will not be discussing any plan that comes close to meeting their own stated goal of limiting the increase of global temperatures to a reasonably safe level.

They have declined to take up a recommendation from scientists, made several years ago, that they set a cap on total greenhouse gases as a way to achieve that goal, and then figure out how to allocate the emissions fairly.

The pledges countries are making are voluntary and were established in most nations as a compromise between the desire to be ambitious and the perceived cost and political difficulty of emissions cutbacks.

In effect, the countries are vowing to make changes that collectively still fall far short of the necessary goal, much like a patient who, upon hearing from his doctor that he must lose 50 pounds to avoid life-threatening health risks, takes pride in cutting out fries but not cake and ice cream.

The scientists argue that there is only so much carbon — in the form of exhaust from coal-burning power plants, automobile tailpipes, forest fires and the like — that the atmosphere can absorb before the planet suffers profound damage, with swaths of it potentially becoming uninhabitable.

Carbon budget

After years of studying the issue, the experts recommended to climate diplomats in 2013 that they consider the concept of a “carbon budget” to help frame the talks. Yet the idea was quickly dismissed as politically impractical, and more recent pleas from countries like Bolivia to consider it have been ignored.

If any serious push had been made before the Paris talks to divvy up the emissions budget, the negotiators “would have all run screaming from the room,” said Michael Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York. “So that’s not a real alternative.”

The carbon budget will probably not get much attention in Paris for simple reasons.

Wrestling with a budget would, for instance, throw into stark relief the global inequities at the heart of the climate crisis. And it would illustrate just how big the problem really is, how costly the delay in tackling it has been and how inadequate the plans being discussed in Paris are for limiting the risks.

Consider, for example, that Europe, the United States and China have offered emissions-reduction pledges that are their most ambitious ever. And yet, if their plans are carried out, a recent analysis suggests those regions will use up most of the remaining room for emissions in the atmosphere, leaving relatively little for the other 5 billion people on the planet or their descendants.

To change that equation, the biggest polluters would have to commit to cutting their emissions at rates that would be difficult to achieve, potentially disruptive to their economies and politically unrealistic.

Moreover, any serious discussion of the carbon budget would amplify a point of serious contention, known as “climate injustice,” in the talks. It refers to the idea that poor countries bear little past responsibility for climate change but are first in line to suffer its consequences, without much capacity to protect themselves.

Many of those same countries want to develop their economies by burning some fossil fuels, but because decades of high emissions by richer countries have created such profound risks, they are under pressure to adopt costlier green energy instead.

The idea of a carbon budget is based on a goal that the nations of the world set for themselves. In hopes of heading off the worst effects of climate change, they agreed in Cancún, Mexico, in 2010 to try to keep the warming of the planet to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the level that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution.

Many scientists do not believe such a limit would be particularly safe — it may still cause the sea to rise 20 feet or more, for instance, over a long period — but they agree that going beyond it would certainly be disastrous, precipitating an even larger rise of the sea, catastrophic heat waves, difficulty producing enough food and many other problems.

A piece of the pie

A series of scientific papers in 2009 demonstrated that limiting the temperature increase to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit could be achieved by calculating the total amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that could be emitted into the atmosphere before emissions needed to stop.

The U.N. committee that periodically reviews climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, highlighted the idea in a report it issued in Stockholm in 2013.

The group calculated a budget that can be thought of as something like — to use another food metaphor — a carbon pie, with the central question being: How can it be carved up fairly?

The problem is that about two-thirds of the pie has been eaten by a handful of rich countries, plus China. At current rates, the remainder of it will be gone in 30 years or less. Many poor countries are crowding around the table, pleading for a sliver, but the big emitting countries insist on laying claim to most of the rest of the pie.

The pledges countries will be making in Paris are voluntary, and it is already clear, based on analyses published recently by several groups, that they will not come close to meeting the carbon budget.

Many negotiators are pushing for a mechanism in which countries would gradually ratchet up their commitments to cutting greenhouse gases over time. But that would entail more delays, and it is not certain the carbon limit can be met that way.

Given the political realities, some scientists involved in devising the budget have resigned themselves to seeing it ignored in this round of negotiations, with the hope that countries will accelerate their efforts in coming years.

Myles Allen, a climate scientist at Oxford University and a leading proponent of the budget idea, said it was better for countries to keep negotiating than not. “It was probably the right call to brush it under the carpet for now,” he said.

Unburnable carbon

Though it will be ignored in Paris, the idea of a carbon budget is gaining currency in the broader world of climate-change politics. For instance, the notion is at the heart of the student-led movement urging college-endowment funds and other investors to shed their holdings in fossil-fuel companies.

The students’ argument is not just that the companies are blocking needed change, but that they represent risky investments, given that much of the fossil fuels they hold as reserves cannot be burned if the world intends to stay within the carbon budget.

The same idea was at the heart of a speech recently by Mark Carney, head of the Bank of England, who cited the potential economic risks of “unburnable carbon,” as it has become known. It is even an element of a recently disclosed investigation by the New York attorney general, who is studying whether Exxon Mobil and other companies have properly disclosed to investors the possibility that they may not be able to burn all their reserves.

Yet, within a month of the adoption of the carbon budget, as part of the Stockholm report two years ago, the idea of using it in the global negotiations had been dismissed. “I don’t think it’s possible,” Figueres, of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, told The Guardian newspaper that fall. “Politically it would be very difficult.”

Some country, or group of countries, may try to inject the carbon budget into the Paris talks. But most delegates are so unenthusiastic about the concept that it is likely to be dismissed.

Levi, of the Council on Foreign Relations, is among the realists about what can be achieved in the negotiations. “The only way you can assess foreign policy is by asking: ‘Is what we’re getting better than something else?’ ” Levi said in an interview. “I don’t see a better deal out there.”

 on: Nov 29, 2015, 09:31 AM 
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Snow Leopards Need To Be Protected ... But How?

One conservationist has a radical new plan—treating the rare cat as a "domesticated" animal.

By Christine Dell'Amore, National Geographic News

The snow leopard in Pakistan is an endangered species. The population of the rarely seen big cat has likely fallen to fewer than 450 in the country, mainly due to hunting. Now an expert has come up with an unconventional—and controversial—proposal to save the snow leopard: Classify it as a domesticated animal.

That doesn't mean that snow leopards are literally tame, like a chicken, explained Shafqat Hussain, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer who spoke during the National Geographic Explorers Symposium in Washington, D.C., in June: "When I say that snow leopards are like domestic cats, I mean it rhetorically to make contrast with the word wild."

His idea stems from the changing relationship between snow leopards and humans. Where the cats do remain in the Himalaya, they increasingly share their habitat with mountain herders. A 2010 study of snow leopard scat found that up to 70 percent of the species' diet in the Gilgit Baltistan Province (map) comes from sheep, cattle, and other domestic animals. Some herders have killed snow leopards in retaliation for preying on their livestock.

Given the snow leopards' diet, "how do we see these mythical, elusive wild animals? Are they really wild in the sense that of meaning we attach to the word wild—existing on its own, having no connection with society and domestic economy?" Hussain said.

"Clearly not."

Supporting Locals

So the way to enable snow leopards to survive, says Hussain, is not to create protected areas that sequester them from local communities. That solution often alienates farmers, who lose their grazing areas as a result. He would suggest supporting local herders instead so they can make a living despite snow leopard incursions.

And that's exactly what he's been doing for more than a decade. In 1999 Hussain founded the Snow Leopard Project, an insurance scheme that compensates local people in snow leopard-range countries if their livestock are killed by the predators.

Various branches of the successful project, which is jointly managed by project officials and a committee of villagers, have spread to 400 households covering 3,000 animals across central Asia.

Since 1998, close to U.S. $7,000 has been paid out in compensation for lost animals, and $13,000 invested on improving livestock corrals and other infrastructure. Meanwhile, the snow leopard population seems to have remained stable, if not grown, Hussain said.

Snow Leopard Perspective Controversial

Not everyone agrees. In fact, there is great consternation in the big-cat conservation community about Hussain's ideas, particularly that conservation groups don't work with locals.

Tom McCarthy, executive director of the Snow Leopard Program for the big-cat conservation group Panthera, said that he doesn't "know a single conservation [nongovernmental organization] working on snow leopards today that would support setting up reserves for the cats at the expense of local people."

For example, before Hussain set up the Snow Leopard Project, McCarthy and colleagues founded the award-winning Snow Leopard Enterprises, which helps local people in snow leopard countries generate income.

Conservation biologist and snow leopard expert Jerry Roe also said by email that relabeling the snow leopard as domestic will not resolve the conflict between snow leopards and herders or benefit the species.

For one, "a change of definition will not alter the perspective of snow leopards as a pest species in the eyes of herders," said Roe, co-founder of California-based Nomad Ecology, an ecological consulting and research company.

Living With Snow Leopards

Hussain thinks the objections are just not valid. Local people—at least in Pakistan—do not have an "atavistic enmity to snow leopards, [nor] this itch to kill it," he said. "If they get compensated for their losses, they have no interest in eliminating this animal."

Such is the case with Mohammed Ibrahim, chairman of Skoyo Krabathang Basingo Conservation and Development Organization in Krabathang, Pakistan (map), who also owns 15 goats. In a phone interview with an Urdu interpreter, Ibrahim said that he's not worried about snow leopards, mostly because of insurance schemes such as Project Snow Leopard that compensate herders for lost animals.

And since snow leopards have never been known to attack people, Hussain is confident that his scheme would work far better than a conservation policy that separates the leopards from the locals: "The idea of co-existing with snow leopards is easy to implement if you satisfy the villagers."

Ultimately, conservationists share the same goal: Ensuring that the snow leopard—what Hussain calls a "symbol of the high mountains"—can survive. Whether that will continue to be an animal dependent on people for food, though, is still up in the air.


Why Do High-Altitude Snow Leopards Breathe Like Pussycats?

How these big cats thrive in low-oxygen mountain habitats is still a mystery, study says.Despite living at high elevation, the snow leopard breathes in a similar way to cat species at sea level, a new study says.

Photograph by Tim Fitzharris, Minden Pictures/National Geographic
By Carrie Arnold, National Geographic
 August 05, 2015

The snow leopard might rule the high reaches of the Himalaya, but they share some unexpected similarities with the humble house cat, a new study says.

Despite living at elevations of more than 16,400 feet (5,000 meters), these spotted big cats breathe in the same way as other feline species that live at sea level—notably your pet kitty.

(See snow leopard pictures in National Geographic magazine...

Anyone who has ever tried to run even a short distance on a mountain has felt the effects of high elevation. The difficulties people and other animals have breathing isn’t due to lower oxygen, but rather low air pressure at high altitudes. Each breath takes in less oxygen and fewer air molecules overall.

Without adequate oxygen, mammals can't stay warm, run to chase prey, or escape predators. To get around this, other high-dwelling animals have evolved coping strategies—in particular, many of them have more efficient hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein in the blood.

Related Video...    WATCH: Big Cats Up Close:

Scientists wondered if snow leopards had the same adaptation. But the new research, published August 5 in the Journal of Experimental Biology, reveals they don't.

In fact, the predators take in about half as much oxygen with each breath as they would at sea level. (See pictures and video of snow leopards in Afghanistan..

"We were very surprised," said study leader Jan Janecka, an evolutionary biologist at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. "Changing hemoglobin is one of the simplest ways to adapt to high altitudes."

Mountain High

Scientists already knew that low-altitude feline species generally have hemoglobin that's not good at binding with oxygen.

Even so, Janecka and colleagues suspected that they would find differences in the hemoglobin properties of snow leopards compared with other cats.
The team obtained blood samples from big cats living in various U.S. zoos, including the African lion, tiger, leopard, panther, and of course snow leopard. They also took blood from domestic housecats.

When the scientists looked at the genes that make hemoglobin, as well as the protein itself, they found no differences between snow leopards and the other cat species.

"We still don’t know how snow leopards adapted [to life at altitude]. Our study raised more questions than it answered," Janecka said.

"There Must Be Other Things Going On"

Graham Scott, an evolutionary physiologist at McMaster University who was not involved in the study, says it was "technically very well done and used state-of-the art analyses."

"What’s unique about this study is that it shows us there must be other things going on" in the leopards' ability to live at altitude, he notes. (Learn about National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative.)

For instance, Janecka and others believe that snow leopards might simply breathe harder to bring more oxygen into their bloodstream, and have begun studying that theory.

"As long as the animal is getting enough oxygen, natural selection isn't picky," Scott says.

“It shows," he quipped, "that there’s more than one way to skin a cat."


Out of the Shadows: The elusive Central Asian snow leopard steps into a risk-filled future

By Douglas H. Chadwick
National Geographic
Photograph by Steve Winter

When a snow leopard stalks prey among the mountain walls, it moves on broad paws with extra fur between the toes, softly, slowly, "like snow slipping off a ledge as it melts," Raghu says.

"You almost have to turn away for a minute to tell the animal is going anywhere. If it knocks a stone loose, it will reach out a foot to stop it from falling and making noise." One might be moving right now, perfectly silent and perfectly tensed, maybe close by. But where? That's always the question. That, and how many are left to see?

Raghunandan Singh Chundawat has watched snow leopards as often as anyone alive. The New Delhi biologist studied them closely for five years in Hemis High Altitude National Park in Ladakh, the largest, loftiest district of northern India, and carried out wildlife surveys in the region over nine additional years. We're in the 1,300-square-mile park this evening, setting up camp in a deeply cleft canyon near 12,000 feet. It's June, and the blue sheep have new lambs.

We keep one eye on a group crossing a scree slope, the other eye on the cliffs at its top. Leopards are ambush hunters that like to attack from above. While the common leopard of Asia and Africa relies on branches and leaves for concealment, the snow leopard loses itself among steep jumbles of stone. This is exactly the kind of setting one would favor. But I'm not holding my breath. Raghu has sighted only a few dozen in his whole career.

Lengthening shadows coalesce into dusk. Wild roses perfume the Himalayan canyon as passing squalls brush the ridgetops with new snow. I imagine a leopard easing down the darkened slopes. It flows low to the ground, with huge gold eyes and a coat the color of dappled moonlight on frost. The body stretches four feet from nose to rump. Its tail, the most striking in the feline family, is almost as long, and so thick and mobile it looks as if the cat is being followed by a fuzzy python. The snow leopard sometimes uses its tail to send signals during social encounters or to wrap partway around itself like a scarf when bedded down in bitter weather. But the main function of this plume is to add balance in an environment with thousand-foot drops.

In Mongolia a park ranger once told me he'd seen snow leopards crouch and sway that plume in the air to lure curious marmots closer, just as hunters do with white rags. Possible. But I heard a simpler explanation from Sodnomdeleg Bazarhuyag, a retired doctor in a community of herders in northwestern Mongolia. We went to search out snow leopard sign in a gorge glistening with river ice. When a band of scimitarhorned wild goats (ibex) appeared on the skyline, Bazarhuyag scanned carefully around them, saying, "Snow leopards are good at hiding, but sometimes they forget about their tail."

DARKNESS CLAIMS the last crags. Raghu and I won't glimpse a snow leopard this day. It's not a disappointment. The great cat is only living up to its reputation for being impossible to find. Called shan in Ladakhi, irbis in Mongolian, and barfani chita—snow cheetah—in Urdu, the carnivore scientists label Uncia uncia ranges across about a million square miles and portions of 12 nations. You'll never hear one give away its whereabouts by roaring; it lacks the throat structure, though it can hiss, chuff, mew, growl, and wail. Besides being secretive, well camouflaged, and usually solitary, snow leopards are most active at night and in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn, amid the most formidable tumult of mountains on Earth: the Himalaya and Karakoram; the Plateau of Tibet and adjoining Kunlun; the Hindu Kush, Pamirs, and Tian Shan; the Altay, whose peaks define Mongolia's border with China, Kazakhstan, and Russia; and the Sayan chain west of Lake Baikal.

Bound to high, cold, steep terrain, snow leopards have always remained at fairly low densities, but became still more sparse during the past century because thousands were turned into pelts for the fashion trade. Though officially protected since 1975 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the spotted cats continue to be killed for their coat, worth a black market fortune. Demand for their bones and penis, hyped as tonics in eastern Asia, is increasing. Conflicts with livestock keep growing too, which leads to more persecution by herders. Bait, snares, pitfall traps, and poisons make it far easier to kill a snow leopard than to see one alive. The current population is estimated at only 4,000 to 7,000. While these aren't hard figures, the number may be less than half of what it was a century ago. Some authorities fear that the actual number may already have slipped below 3,500. Five of the countries in snow leopard range may have 200 or fewer.

There's no escaping the fact that most of the world's big cats are in deep trouble, from the heavily poached tiger to the last 30 free-roaming Amur leopards. Snow leopards are no exception. But here's some encouraging news: the rise of grassroots conservation efforts in a few locales to halt the snow leopard's downward spiral. Several community-based programs in India and Mongolia sounded especially promising—at least on paper. But how well do they really work?

Saving an animal means getting to know it, and scientific information about the leopard is scarce. Perhaps no other large, popular land mammal has so many details of its natural history still missing. Raghu, the regional director of science and conservation for the nonprofit Snow Leopard Trust, knows as much as anyone, and he has that sixth sense that researchers with years afield develop, an extra awareness that guides him to the fragile leg bones of an infant blue sheep here in a ravine, or an ibex skull lying there, high on a slope where wind whips the wildflowers into blurs of color, and lets him say things like: "At a fresh carcass, you can tell if a snow leopard with young made the kill. The ears will be gnawed off. Those are all the cubs can get at until she opens up the hide for them." Tall and fit, with a long-legged stride, Raghu is a wizard at trailing faint paw prints across stony ground. But the otherwise ghostlike predators also leave behind a surprising amount of more obvious clues. It helps to picture 80- to 120-pound cats in a colossal litter box.

Droppings, together with scrapes made by the rear legs, reveal habitual routes that tend to follow ridgelines or the base of cliffs. Scrambling for footing day after day, I gradually realize that these travelers like to mark the same type of features that draw my attention en route: solitary boulders, sharp corners along gullies, knolls, and saddles. Near tree line, they stripe the occasional trunk with long, vertical claw marks.

If my eyes are too busy taking in scenery to notice a fresh scrape, my nose will still register the acrid tang of leopard pee. Elsewhere, I'll catch a musky aroma sprayed from anal glands up onto an overhanging rock. Frequently used scent posts take on an oily sheen. Passing cats stretch to rub their cheeks against them, leaving white hairs for me to tuck in a pocket for luck scaling the next rock face. Fifteen, sixteen thousand feet, no matter how far up I climb, some villager will have gone higher and left stone cairns bearing prayer flags or stacks of horns. Later, the cats come by and leave their own markings on these offerings. "A lot of research on snow leopard movements really tells you more about the limits of human abilities," says Raghu after crossing a cascade swollen with glacial melt. "You can only climb so many slopes before you grow exhausted or encounter sheer cliffs. It is just not possible to keep up." So Raghu tried capturing the cats to attach radios to them. He finally collared a female. But, like previous investigators, he was seldom able to monitor a signal for long before the animal dropped behind some ridge that blocked the transmission.

Over the years, biologists reported snow leopards covering territories of five to fourteen square miles. But when American biologist Tom McCarthy first placed a satellite collar on one in Mongolia in 1996, he found it roaming 386 square miles. "My guess is that the more satellite collars we get out, the larger we'll discover snow leopard territories to actually be," said McCarthy, now the science and conservation director of Snow Leopard Trust. Ten years passed before the next satellite tag was put on, again by McCarthy, this time in Pakistan. By mid-2007 the cat wearing it had revealed its movements over a 115-square-mile area and had moved across the border to Afghanistan.

SNOW LEOPARD RESEARCHERS need to gather more than cat facts, because you can neither understand nor save a predator without doing the same for its prey. Snow leopards hunt chiefly Asia's high-country array of hoofed wildlife: ibex, argali and urial sheep, blue sheep, tahr, the goat-antelopes known as gorals and serows, Tibetan antelope, Tibetan and goitered gazelles, musk deer, red deer, wild boars, wild asses, wild yaks, and wild Bactrian camels. Marmots, hares, and mouse hares (pikas) are on the menu too, along with partridges and turkey-size snow cocks. On top of everything else, snow leopards routinely add the tall, feathery shrub Myricaria and other plants to their diet. Curious, but then my house cat swallows grass and loves cantaloupe.

As the top carnivore of the alpine and subalpine zones, the snow leopard strongly influences the numbers and whereabouts of hoofed herds over time. That in turn affects plant communities and thus shapes the niches of many a smaller organism down the food chain. The leopard's presence—or absence—affects competing hunters and scavengers too, namely wolves, wild dogs, jackals, foxes, bears, and lynx. This cascade of consequences makes Uncia uncia a governing force in the ecosystem, what scientists term a keystone species.

Since the range of the snow leopard overlaps those of so many other creatures, protecting its habitat also preserves homes for the majority of mountain flora and fauna. While we were exploring part of the Zanskar Range in Ladakh, Raghu and I crossed tracks that sent him racing off to an overlook. A few minutes later, a brown bear—the same species as North America's grizzly—galloped and slid down a high riverbank, swam across surging rapids, muscled halfway up a cliff wall, and finally lay down to dry its silver-tipped fur in the warm morning sun. We had found one of the last few dozen of its kind in that huge section of the Himalaya.

Do snow leopards attack humans, as bears sometimes do? No, never, Raghu says. He once watched a village girl pulling on one end of a dead goat, unaware that the other end, hidden by a bush, was snagged in a snow leopard's jaws. She came away unscratched. But a single leopard swatfest in a herd of livestock can plunge a family into desperate poverty.

Because farming is marginal at best in Central Asia's cold, dry landscapes, traditional cultures depend mainly upon livestock to get by. Some herders operate from mountainside hamlets. Others are nomadic, migrating long distances between seasonal pastures. Either way, snow leopard conflicts come with the lifestyle. Wired to select the unwary and the stragglers among wild ungulates, the cats can hardly help picking off a few domesticated versions. At night, when flocks are stuffed into low stone corrals, a leopard can all too easily hop in to join them.

During a several-day trek through the Sham area of the Ladakh Range, which rises to the north of the Zanskar Range, on the other side of the Indus River Valley, Jigmet Dadul, a conservationist, and I made our way over the passes to the barley fields and poplar groves of the village of Ang. There we looked up Sonam Namgil. Three nights before, a snow leopard had leaped atop his stout mud-brick outbuilding and then ten feet down through a ventilation hole onto the floor. When Namgil opened the door in the morning, he found wide golden eyes staring back amid the bodies of nine goat kids and a sheep.

"The wolf comes and kills, eats, and goes somewhere else," said the 64-year-old herder in a ragged sheepskin coat, "but snow leopards are always around. They have killed one or two animals in the pastures many times. This was the first problem at my home. Everybody wanted to finish this leopard."

The cats may claim only a small part of livestock herds, but the loss may be huge to the owner. Where losses mount, it's often because human hunting has made natural prey scarce. Overgrazing by livestock also reduces the natural capacity of rangelands to support native herds. Hungry leopards turn to the tame flocks for food, and angry herders kill the cats in retaliation. With little or no government enforcement of wildlife regulations in remote areas, a protection strategy has little chance of breaking these cycles unless it gains local support.

Religious leaders have recently spoken up on the leopards' behalf. Within the mountain ringed courtyard of the Rangdum monastery, between the Zanskar Range and the main Himalaya, Tsering Tundup, a Buddhist monk, said, "Whenever we have an opportunity, we talk to people and encourage them not to kill any being." Several people told me that the villagers listened when a lama farther up the valley condemned a spate of revenge shootings of snow leopards. Soon afterward, a new lotus-shaped shrine was built with the herders' guns cemented inside.

The Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who is widely followed in Central Asia, has specifically urged followers to safeguard snow leopards and avoid wearing their pelts as part of traditional festive clothing. "People depend upon animals, but we must not use them for our luxury," he told me during an interview in Washington. "Wild animals are the ornaments of our planet and have every right to exist peacefully. Some, including snow leopards, are quite rare and visible only at high altitudes. So we need to pay special attention to protect them."

Financial incentives can also make a difference. Jigmet Dadul's employer, Snow Leopard Conservancy–India, had helped set up Himalayan Homestays, a program that steers trekkers to the houses of herders who agree to protect snow leopards and their wild neighbors. For a clean room and bed, meals with the family, and a warm introduction to their culture, visitors pay about ten dollars a night and save carrying a tent and food. Having guests once every couple weeks through the tourist season provides the hosts with more than enough income to replace stock lost to predators.

The conservancy donates funds to cover livestock pens with stout wire mesh. Rodney Jackson, the pioneering snow leopard researcher who founded the conservancy, says, "We figure each project to predator-proof the corrals of a village this way saves an average of five leopards." The organization also launches small-scale livestock insurance programs and provides seed money for parachute cafés—trailside tea shops beneath an army surplus parachute pitched like a big tent. Meanwhile, teams conduct environmental classes at village schools and train Homestays members as nature guides, available for hire. Homestays families pool 10 percent of their profits for community projects that conserve cultural values, such as renovating a monastery, or improve habitat for wildlife.

In case you're wondering what happened to the marauding cat that was stuck inside the tall building in the village of Ang, the news that brought villagers crowding in for a peek also reached the ears of a local Homestays nature guide. By insisting that they let authorities relocate the animal, the young man saved a snow leopard from being beaten to death.

"That is the kind of story that keeps you going," says Rinchen Wangchuck, who helped conceive Homestays.

Snow leopard numbers for Hemis National Park and other strongholds in Ladakh look stable or even on an upward trend. Blue sheep are definitely increasing, and urial sheep have made a strong comeback from lows caused by poaching. Regional wildlife departments, nonprofit groups, and the mountain villages can all claim the credit together.

Success stories like these are rare in other parts of snow leopard range, where the cats continue to vanish from many locales like snow patches under a summer sun. Sprawling China hosts the greatest share—perhaps 2,000, mostly spread across the wrinkled immensity of Tibet. Yet authorities worry that the cats are being heavily hunted in China, the world's largest market for illegal tiger and leopard products. To undermine the Dalai Lama's influence, officials have even forced some Tibetans to wear snow leopard fur. Due to recent heavy poaching in Kyrgyzstan, the next-largest population of the predators may now belong to Mongolia, which probably holds 800 to 1,700.

Mongolia remains almost as much a nation of herders as it was during the era of Genghis Khan. Livestock outnumbers the 2.6 million humans fifteen to one. Though an admirable network of parks and reserves has been established in western Mongolia, the infrastructure to manage them is thin.

"We don't have enough staff to protect their core wildlands from heavy livestock grazing, poaching, forest fires, and illegal woodcutting," explained Mantai Khavalkhan, the superintendent of four reserves in Mongolia's Altay region. Yet the cat Khavalkhan called "the most secret of animals" appears to be holding its own where conservation efforts have won local support.

One winter Dashdavaa Khulaa, a park ranger in the Turgen Range, watched a herd of 27 ibex take shelter in a cliff-face cave. A mother snow leopard with two partly grown cubs followed them in. Only 24 ibex made it out. For Khulaa, the tale is part of a larger story: Though the Turgen Range, part of the Altay Mountains, saw some heavy wildlife poaching in the past, it has become a stronghold for ibex and their predators. One of the reasons is a grassroots antipoaching patrol in the Altay region known as the Snow Leopard Brigade. Ganbold Bataar, former director of Mongolia's national park system here in the province of Uvs, is its founder and current chief.

"With two employees for this whole province, we couldn't hope to keep up," Bataar said. "But we have more than 290 volunteers here." They were local herders, and their eyes were everywhere in the countryside. Whoever turned in a poacher stood to gain 15 percent of the fine as a reward. But that wasn't always the main incentive. Toward evening, three horsemen driving their flocks home galloped over to visit our camp. They all considered themselves volunteer members of the antipoaching brigade. They knew the mother snow leopard well. She'd had three new cubs the previous year, they said. The two from her earlier litter had gone off to establish territories of their own on the mountain slopes just across the river. One had appeared prowling the iron-red ledges there just recently. One of the horsemen said simply, "I'm proud to live in a place with snow leopards."

A small, soft-spoken woman named Bayarjargal Agvaantseren has found another way to enlist local communities in conservation. Twice every year, this former schoolteacher sets out from the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, to visit some of the 24 herder communities she has engaged in a handicrafts project tagged Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE), a program of the Snow Leopard Trust.

Most herder families used to sell the soft underfur of goats—cashmere—to middlemen, earning about $600 a year. Thanks to Agvaantseren, women in the community now also make an array of products using wool from their goats, sheep, yaks, and camels: skeins of soft yarn, felt and decorative rugs, seat pads, children's booties, or Christmas tree ornaments shaped like snow leopards and ibex. My favorites were doll mice with whiskers of stiff yak tail hair—toys for little cats, designed to save big ones.

Through Agvaantseren, the organization buys these items from herding families and arranges to market them abroad. Participants must first sign a pledge to preserve snow leopards and their prey and to encourage neighbors to do the same. The arrangement boosts incomes by 10 to 15 percent, which elevates the status of the women and translates into more emphasis on education and health care. If no one in the community kills protected species over the course of a year, the program members receive a 20 percent bonus.

In one of Agvaantseren's communities, a winter village of herders in far northwestern Mongolia, a lively scene of trade took place on the floor of a ger heated by a stove fueled with yak dung. A Khazakh woman named Saulekhan Kekei had brought 17 felt rugs made over 68 days. She had six children and an ill husband to support. Those rugs would bring the equivalent of nearly three months' wages in her job as a janitor and guard at the village school. "I own only 12 sheep," Saulekhan said. "I have to buy wool from neighbors. But I am able to provide for everyone at home now and pay for my eldest daughter to go to college."

An independent review in 2006 found no poaching of snow leopards in areas where SLE operates. Agvaantseren just added eight more communities and intends to expand a microcredit scheme that lets members borrow at a discount to buy items such as spinning wheels or material to improve corrals. "People hear good reports from neighbors, and they come to us now asking how to join," she said.

In our imagination, snow leopards belong to a realm beyond the dust and noise of human affairs. In reality, only about a fifth of their range lies within reserves, and many of these contain villages and livestock. Informal protected zones exist around many Buddhist monasteries, but the Western model of establishing nature sanctuaries in landscapes unoccupied by humans simply doesn't fit much of Asia.

Projects like the Homestays program in India and the handicrafts business in Mongolia, however, seem to fit very well. Though they cover only a small fraction of the species' homeland so far, they make live leopards more valuable to more people each year, and in doing so they mark a path toward the conservation of high mountain ecosystems.

I never minded not seeing snow leopards—not as long as I found plenty of their sign. It was my guarantee that I would soon come across other spectacular wildlife. And it meant that I could still dream of pulling myself up to the spine of a ridge, as Raghu once did, and meeting face-to-face with a snow-cloud-colored cat climbing from the other side.

 on: Nov 29, 2015, 09:12 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Finding the Last Cheetahs of Iran

Posted by Luke Hunter of Panthera in Cat Watch on October 25, 2012

This week, National Geographic magazine published extraordinary new images of wild Asiatic cheetahs in Iran. Shown cresting a barren, mountainous ridge devoid of green, Iran’s cheetahs could not be any more distant–geographically and ecologically–from their African counterparts pictured in the same article navigating tourist traffic-jams on Kenyan grasslands. And unlike Kenya’s spectacularly photogenic cheetahs, Iranian cats are virtually invisible. Intensely shy, scattered like grains of sand over Iran’s vast central plateau, and hovering on the edge of extinction, they are essentially impossible to see.

That National Geographic was able to photograph these rarest of cheetahs is testament to 11 years of conservation work by the Iranian Department of Environment. In 2001, with support from the United Nations Development Programme, the DoE initiated a comprehensive long-term program to pull the cheetah back from the extinction cliff. The ambitious “Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project” (CACP) designated five landscapes as specially protected cheetah reserves and provided the resources to make them safe havens–dozens of dedicated cheetah guards, new vehicles, motorbikes and other materiel. Alongside the necessity of vigorous protection, the CACP mounted a nationwide campaign to draw attention to the cheetah’s plight. Back then, most Iranians had no idea they were the custodians of the last Asiatic cheetahs on earth. By the time of my first visit to Iran in 2004, that had already changed. When buying supplies in a roadside store in a tiny, remote desert town, I saw a CACP poster pinned behind the counter showing Marita, then the only Asiatic cheetah in captivity (Marita died in 2003: Koshki, shown on page 115 of the magazine, is one of two captive Asiatic cheetahs in the world today). The ancient shopkeeper proudly told me his village was in the heart of yuz palang country and that only Iran has the cheetahs; he was correct on both counts.

    The surveys corroborate what Iranian biologists have long suspected: There are fewer than 100 Asiatic cheetahs left on Earth.

The CACP also initiated the first scientific surveys of cheetahs. Assisted by the Wildlife Conservation Society and later my organization Panthera (both groups still cooperate with the Department of Environment in conserving the cheetah), the CACP began camera-trapping. Camera-traps–remote triggered cameras that silently capture images of anything passing by–were unknown in Iran prior to the CACP. Today, the project has completed 24 massive surveys logging almost 34,000 camera-trap nights (10 individual camera-traps running for one night equals 10 trap-nights). From the original five core areas known to harbor cheetahs, they have been confirmed from a further 10 sites in the country. Evidence of residency and breeding including terrific pictures of young cubs, is now confirmed from 10 of the 15. Incredibly, even though this herculean effort has produced tens of thousands of images of wildlife, cheetahs have been photographed on fewer than 400 occasions in more than a decade. The surveys corroborate what Iranian biologists have long suspected–there are fewer than 100 Asiatic cheetahs left on Earth.

Formidable Challenge

It was these incredibly long odds that faced Geographic photographer Frans Lanting when he hit the ground in April 2011. I accompanied Frans on this first expedition to help find promising sites for his high-end version of the camera-trap–digital SLRs linked to multiple flashes and inch-wide sensor beams positioned with blow-torch precision to trigger the shot. Everything hinged on being able to anticipate where the cheetahs would move. It was a formidable challenge given the arid enormity of their desert habitat where identifying cheetah-friendly locations felt like looking for pennies on a sandy beach. Not only that, Iranian cheetahs live at the lowest density recorded anywhere for the species, one to two cats per 1,000 square kilometers; the same-size area on East African plains can hold 100 cheetahs.  So, even if we found a site with promise–a freshwater spring, scent-marking tree or natural trail–it might be months before a cheetah happened along.

Fortunately for us, the expedition had more expertise than my semi-educated guesses. From their years of surveying, the CACP scientists as well as biologists from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation and the Iranian Cheetah Society had built up a very detailed picture of how cheetahs move through the forbidding landscape. Iranian field knowledge was the reason the mission had any chance at all. Guided by their know-how, our desert trip became a whirlwind “greatest hits” tour of good cheetah sites, the best of which Frans was able to select for his cameras. Combining exquisite Iranian field knowledge with Frans’ technical wizardry and perfect composition, the resulting images are a spectacular first.

    Iranian field knowledge was the reason the mission had any chance at all.

My hope is that National Geographic’s wonderful photographs bring the predicament of this critically endangered cat to a new audience who, like most Iranians a decade ago, had never heard of the cheetah’s existence in the country. I also hope the photos celebrate the dedication of the Iranian Department of Environment, the CACP staff and Iran’s energetic NGO community to conserving the cheetahs. Here in the West, we are rarely given such a positive glimpse into Iran without the over-heated rhetoric of politics. As the only country on Earth that has managed to keep this remarkable cat alive, Iran deserves to be congratulated.

Photograph by Frans Lanting:

Rescued as a cub from the hands of a poacher, five-year-old Koshki grew up in a reserve in northeast Iran. He’s one of only two Asiatic cheetahs living in captivity. A thick tuft of fur on his shoulders, needed for bitter winters on the high steppes of central Iran, sets him apart from African cheetahs.

 on: Nov 29, 2015, 07:16 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
In Search of the Elusive Sea Wolf Along Canada's Rugged Coast

At Canada's western edge, beachcombing wolves swim between islands, eating whatever the sea serves up.

By Susan McGrath
National Geographic

"You feeling lucky?” Ian McAllister calls.

We’re standing on a speck of an island, eight miles west of the British Columbia mainland. Wooded, windswept, it’s one of thousands of islands along this storm-scoured coast, naught but a series of seal-draped rocks between this one and Japan. The April wind whips away my bark of disbelief that luck would come my way, and besides, McAllister—environmental activist, photographer, wolf whisperer—has already made up his mind. He settles into the windrow of bleached driftwood at the high tide line, and so do I. Before us, a gravel tide bar some hundred yards long connects our little island to another. Ensconced in our bony nests, we scan the far island’s twisty green-gold Sitka spruce and cedar, the bladder wrack and eelgrass. And just like that, luck strikes.

A pale stick figure of a wolf steps out of the salals and picks its way down the bank to the beach opposite us. With its muzzle, it pokes at the eelgrass. It plants a paw on something, tears at it with its teeth—a dead salmon maybe. Then another wolf materializes alongside the first. The two touch muzzles, turn to the gravel bar, and begin to plod across its tide pools in our direction.

In our collective imaginations, wolves lope across the tundra after caribou or weave through timber in Big Sky country or stalk stray sheep. They’re carnivores, hunting deer, moose, mountain goats, caribou, and anything else running about on hooves. Indeed, wolves barely more than howling distance inland make their living that way. But not out here. On the outer coast of British Columbia, whole generations of wolves have never seen a mountain goat or a moose. Some may have never seen a deer.

For decades headlines across the West have howled about wolves—their comebacks, their setbacks, the debate about whether and how to manage them. They’ve been studied, profiled, vilified, and glorified. You’d think by this time we’d know all there is to know about them. But aside from Homo sapiens, there are few mammals more adaptable or more diverse in their habitats than Canis lupus. And these wolves of the British Columbia coast appear to be unique.

Chris Darimont, from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, has spent over ten years developing a fine-grain picture of coastal wolves, which he lightheartedly calls “Canada’s newest marine mammal.” New to science, he means.

Halfway across the land bridge now, the pair of unlikely marine mammals paces into focus. The wolf on the right is nearly white with age. “Alpha female,” McAllister calls out. The fur on her face is worn to fuzz, like a child’s old stuffed toy. Her eyes are bald, round buttons. The other wolf, an alpha male, is an Adonis—tawny, with a loose mantle of black-tipped fur. The wolves reach our beach. Closer. Bigger. At last the matriarch stops, looks up. She coughs a growly, hostile chuff and disappears up the beach.

Adonis raises his head, loses his slump, pins me with his amber eyes—and keeps coming. Slow, deliberate, bold—ignoring McAllister and coming straight at me.

Even if you offered the prize of a pound of smoked salmon, most Canadians couldn’t tell you much about British Columbia’s remote coast. Vancouver Island bookends it to the south, the big Haida Gwaii Islands and southeast Alaska to the west and north, respectively. In between, open to the full fury of the Pacific, lies this coast. It stretches 250 miles as the raven flies. But glaciers raked deep fjords here during the last ice age, gouging a steep-sided labyrinthine and fingerlike tidal coastline. Icy, plankton-rich ocean currents bathe it, sustaining an extraordinary abundance of life in the sea—whales, seabirds, salmon, sea lions, seals—and on land, grizzly and black bears, including the fantastic white variant, the Kermode, or spirit bear. A misty temperate rain forest of conifers shrouds it all, from waterline to Coast Mountains crest. It’s roughly 25,000 square miles in area—a Switzerland-and-a-half of forest—one of the biggest swaths of its kind left in the world. It’s called the Great Bear Rainforest.

In the early 2000s Ian McAllister and Canadian wolf biologist Paul Paquet became intrigued when they saw coastal mainland wolves eating salmon. With local First Nations’ support, they recruited graduate student Chris Darimont to investigate. Darimont narrowed his study area to Heiltsuk First Nations territory on the central coast—one-third of it water, the rest largely roadless, dense with towering Sitka spruce and cedar, and often extremely steep. Darimont and Paquet ditched the traditional approach of collecting blood and hair directly from the animal.

“We collected poop,” Darimont tells me. Wolf scat, he means, and also wolf hair, veritable libraries of data about home range, sex, diet, genetics, and other variables. “Wolves are deliberate poopers, not random like deer,” Darimont says, “and they use travel corridors very reliably.” Wolves’ anal glands add oily deposits to scat, appending messages intended for other wolves. They favor posting their messages conspicuously, especially at trail intersections, where one missive gets twice the readership.

“I’d throw a mountain bike out of the boat onto a logging road or game trail and spend ten sweaty hours scat hunting,” Darimont says.

Ten years, innumerable poop jokes, more than 3,000 miles, and 7,000 samples later—autoclaved, washed, bagged, labeled, and eventually stored in Darimont’s mother’s basement—the feces began to deliver the facts.

The data from coastal wolves along the mainland quantified what many locals already knew: Wolves eat salmon. In spawning season the fish make up 25 percent of these wolves’ diet.

These wolves are beachcombers. They chew barnacles, scarf up the roe that herring lay on kelp, and feast on dead whales.

The shocker came from the rest of the data. Going in, Darimont and Paquet had assumed that the coastal wolves on the islands were simply normal wolves that moved between islands and the mainland, pushing on whenever they’d polished off the deer. Instead the data showed that wolves can spend their whole lives on outer islands that have no salmon runs and few or even no deer. These wolves are more likely to mate with other islanders, not with salmon-eaters. And they’re beachcombers. They chew barnacles. Scarf up the gluey roe that herring lay on kelp. Feast on whales that wash up dead. Swim out into the ocean and clamber nimbly up onto rocks to pounce on basking seals. “As much as 90 percent of these wolves’ diet can come directly from the sea,” Darimont says.

Most extraordinary is the wolves’ swimming prowess. They often swim across miles of ocean between islands. In 1996 wolves showed up on Dundas Islands for the first time in the Tsimshian people’s long collective memory—eight miles from the nearest land.

Paquet says these types of coastal wolves aren’t an anomaly, they’re a remnant. “There’s little doubt these wolves once lived along Washington State’s coast too. Humans wiped them out. They still live on islands in southeast Alaska, but they’re heavily persecuted there.” British Columbia permits almost unfettered hunting of wolves, but the vast, nearly roadless forest, low human population, and First Nations’ tenure along this coast have made the Great Bear wolves’ chances for survival look halcyon compared with the outlook for southeast Alaska’s wolves.

Despite these advantages, and despite the wolves’ impressive adaptability, their prospects are changing.

A controversial energy project called the Northern Gateway Pipelines aims to bring twin pipelines from Alberta’s tar sands across the Coast Mountains and down to a new terminal on a fjord far up into the province’s northern coast. With the pipelines working at capacity, nearly every day a tanker could be making the perilous inland passage. At the same time multiple shipping terminals for liquefied natural gas from Canada’s fracking fields are on the drawing board, promising even more tankers in these waters. The oily specter of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound haunts many on this coast. In a rare display of accord, dozens of First Nations bands officially opposed the Northern Gateway project last year. Will they have the clout to stop it? “Our Nations have been stewards of our homelands since time before memory,” says Jessie Housty, a young Heiltsuk Tribal Council member who’s actively opposing the project. “Northern Gateway can’t break 10,000 years and more of guardianship.” Nevertheless, at such times, an ancient, rugged coast can suddenly appear fragile.

The male wolf stalks nearer, closer. Bigger. My eyes flicker over to McAllister. His expression: impassive. Has he brought pepper spray? I don’t think so. I review in my mind what I know about wolves. Does one look a wolf in the eye? The wolf is close now, 20 feet from me and still coming. Staring. Staring.

Then, as if breaching from the waves, a third wolf porpoises up from below the driftwood directly in front of me—a younger, redder replica of Adonis. It slams an adoring cheek against the male’s, whimpering ecstatically, nuzzling his face from below in an exuberant display of affection. For a moment longer Adonis’s gaze stays locked on mine. Then he turns to greet the joyful youngster. The younger wolf ambles toward the water and lies down on the sand. As my eye follows the youngster, the alpha male vanishes. And just as suddenly reappears at my left, downwind of me, on my drift log. My breath catches. He sniffs the air. Drills me with his eyes. Then he abruptly loses interest in our conversation. He steps down to the beach, lies down near his offspring, and gazes out across the wild gray Pacific Ocean, where food comes from.

 on: Nov 29, 2015, 07:09 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
November 28, 2015

Understanding synapse degradation could lead to Alzheimer’s treatment

by Chuck Bednar
Red Orbit

The discovery of how brain cell synapses degrade during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease could eventually lead to new ways to treat this deadly form of dementia.

In a study published Friday in the journal Nature Communications, Dr. Vladimir Sytnyk of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of New South Wales and his colleagues explained that they studied a type of protein, neural cell adhesion molecule 2, that helps physically connect the membranes of synapses in the brain.
Neural cell adhesion molecule 2, or NCAM2, also helps stabilize synaptic connections between neurons, they explained. The loss of synapses and the destruction of neural connections are some of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Sytnyk said. It occurs early on in the disease, when patients typically only have mild cognitive impairment and well before nerve cells die off.

“Synapses are required for all brain functions,” he explained in a statement, “and particularly for learning and forming memories.” He added that he and his UNSW associates had “identified a new molecular mechanism which directly contributes to this synapse loss – a discovery we hope could eventually lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease and new treatments.”

NCAM2 broken down by beta-amyloid protein

Dr. Syntnyk’s team used post-mortem brain tissue from both Alzheimer’s patients and people who did not have the condition. By analyzing this tissue, they discovered that individuals that had the disease had lower levels of synaptic NCAM2 in the hippocampus, which is among the first parts of the brain to be affected by the disease.

Furthermore, mice studies and laboratory research both demonstrated that NCAM2 was broken down by beta-amyloid, another type of protein that makes up the majority of the plaque which is known to accumulate in the brains of people suffering from the neurodegenerative condition.

“Our research shows the loss of synapses is linked to the loss of NCAM2 as a result of the toxic effects of beta-amyloid,” said Dr. Sytnyk, who worked with first author Dr. Iryna Leshchyns'ka of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences. “It opens up a new avenue for research on possible treatments that can prevent the destruction of NCAM2 in the brain.”

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