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« Reply #6375 on: Oct 14, 2019, 03:48 AM »

Study predicts ‘frightening future’ for North American birds, with two-thirds of species extinct by 2100 if earth warms more than 1.5 degrees

on October 14, 2019
By Common Dreams

“There’s hope in this report, but first, it’ll break your heart if you care about birds and what they tell us about the ecosystems we share with them. It’s a bird emergency.”

In a new study published Thursday by the National Audubon Society, scientists say that saving hundreds of bird species from extinction by the end of this century is entirely possible—but that without commitment from policymakers to end human-caused global warming, two-thirds of North America’s birds could be gone by 2100.

The report, “Survival by Degrees: Bird Species on the Brink,” found that 389 out of 604 North American bird species are at risk of extinction by 2100 if the Earth’s temperature rises by 3 to 5º Celsius, as it’s projected to if the current trend of emitting millions of tons of carbon each year continues.

    It’s a bird emergency: Two-thirds of America’s birds are threatened with extinction from climate change, but keeping global temperatures down will help up to 76 percent of them. #BirdsTellUs https://t.co/evshGW2zd9

    — David Yarnold 🐦🇺🇸 (@david_yarnold) October 10, 2019

The Society released its report less than a month after the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies revealed that nearly a third of North American birds—about three billion—were lost over the last five decades.

Thursday’s study predicts “an even more frightening future” unless the climate crisis is stopped, Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold said in a statement.

“Birds are important indicator species, because if an ecosystem is broken for birds, it is or soon will be for people too.”

—Brooke Bateman, Audubon SocietyThe group looked at 140 million bird records and measured the effects of sea level rise, urbanization, and extreme heat on bird populations. Many of the changes caused by increased carbon in the atmosphere will drastically reduce the range in which birds are able to live, the study found.

“Birds will be forced to relocate to find favorable homes,” reads the report. “And they may not survive.”

The Audubon Society created an interactive graphic allowing users to view how warming of 3º Celsius or more would affect various species versus warming of 1.5º, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is the upper limit for global warming in order to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.

    #BirdsTellUs the time to act is now. Use our first-of-its kind web tool to find threatened birds in your zip code, as well things you can do to help. https://t.co/6sEXvaLAbE

    — David Yarnold 🐦🇺🇸 (@david_yarnold) October 10, 2019

The bobolink, which lives in the northern U.S. and southern Canada, would lose 88 percent of its current habitat range by 2100 if policymakers don’t pass laws to help limit the warming of the globe, and would be forced to move north. The species would lose only 43 percent of its range if the Earth warms 1.5º Celsius.

Other birds at risk for drastic habitat loss include the Baltimore oriole, the saltmarsh sparrow, and the purple finch.

The prediction of an extreme loss of bird species by 2100 also points to danger for humans as well, the Audubon Society said.

“Birds are important indicator species, because if an ecosystem is broken for birds, it is or soon will be for people too,” said Brooke Bateman, senior climate scientist for the Society.

But the group stressed that with commitment from government leaders around the world, more than three-quarters of bird species in North America are expected to have far greater outcomes at the end of the century, retaining more of their habitats.

    Audubon’s science shows how devastating the climate crisis could be for birds. It also shows that if we act soon, we can help a majority of these species. Ask your members of Congress to invest in a clean energy future and support the BEST Act https://t.co/rCTyqTDvdS #BirdsTellUs pic.twitter.com/2NZ6qJG61i

    — David Yarnold 🐦🇺🇸 (@david_yarnold) October 11, 2019

“By stabilizing carbon emissions and holding warming to [1.5º Celsius] above pre-industrial levels, 76 percent of vulnerable species will be better off, and nearly 150 species would no longer be vulnerable to extinction from climate change,” the report reads.

Renee Stone, the group’s vice president for climate, called on the public to make clear to election officials that reducing carbon emissions to net zero in the next decade, and therefore stemming the crisis, is a top priority for them.

“We already know what we need to do to reduce global warming, and we already have a lot of the tools we need to take those steps. Now, what we need are more people committed to making sure those solutions are put into practice,” said Stone.

While “there’s hope in this report,” Yarnold said, “it’ll break your heart if you care about birds and what they tell us about the ecosystems we share with them. It’s a bird emergency.”

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« Reply #6376 on: Oct 14, 2019, 03:51 AM »

The Crisis for Birds Is a Crisis for Us All

The mass disappearance of North American birds is a dire warning about the planet’s well-being.

By John W. Fitzpatrick and Peter P. Marra

Dr. Fitzpatrick is the director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dr. Marra is the director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative.

NY Times

Nearly one-third of the wild birds in the United States and Canada have vanished since 1970, a staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.

The disappearance of 2.9 billion birds over the past nearly 50 years was reported today in the journal Science, a result of a comprehensive study by a team of scientists from seven research institutions in the United States and Canada.

As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent.

What makes this study particularly compelling is the trustworthiness of the data. Birds are the best-studied group of wildlife; their populations have been carefully monitored over decades by scientists and citizen scientists alike. And in recent years, scientists have been able to track the volume of nighttime bird migrations through a network of 143 high-resolution weather radars. This study pulls all of that data together, and the results signal an unfolding crisis. More than half our grassland birds have disappeared, 717 million in all. Forests have lost more than one billion birds.

Much of the loss is among common species. The red-winged blackbird population has declined by 92 million. A quarter of all blue jays have disappeared, along with almost half of all Baltimore orioles. These are the birds we know and love, part of the bird life that makes North America lively, colorful and filled with song every spring. While it remains vital to save the most endangered of these birds, the loss of abundance among our most common species represents a different and frankly more ominous crisis.

Birds are indicator species, serving as acutely sensitive barometers of environmental health, and their mass declines signal that the earth’s biological systems are in trouble. Unfortunately, this study is just the latest in a long line of such mounting evidence.

A study in Germany, for instance, reported a midsummer decline of 82 percent in the biomass of flying insects over the past quarter century. Forty percent of the world’s amphibians are in danger of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Stocks of bluefin tuna are down to the last 3 percent of their historic population, and the United States’ Atlantic cod fishery recently hit a low. A United Nations report this year warned that about a million animal and plant species face extinction. That’s “more than ever before in human history,” according to the report.

All these statistics together underscore the pervasive character of the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch defined by the planet’s natural systems being altered profoundly by human behavior. How deeply will these losses have to cut before society declares, “Enough!”?

We can do better, and we must, if only in our own self-interest, because trouble for birds means trouble for us as well.

Staggering Losses of the Most Abundant Birds

A selection of common species.

For every 10 birds in these species

in 1970, the number lost since then:
















Eastern meadowlark

Loggerhead shrike

Chimney swift

Grasshopper sparrow

Horned lark


Wood thrush

Green heron

Common grackle

Yellow-billed cuckoo

Baltimore oriole

Barn swallow

Indigo bunting

Blue jay

Graphics by Bill Marsh/The New York Times | Source: Decline of the North American avifauna, in the journal Science; photo credits, from top: Shelley Rutkin, Garrett Lau, John Petruzzi, Frantz Delcroix and James Kinderman for the Macaulay Library, Cornell University

The fate of meadowlarks offers an example. These yellow-breasted songsters of America’s wide open landscapes depend on healthy grasslands that play an important role in filtering water runoff. But in the last half-century, 73 million eastern meadowlarks and 65 million western meadowlarks have vanished as grasslands have been lost and water in many communities has become contaminated by agricultural runoff.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Populations of North American ducks and geese have grown by 56 percent since 1970, according to the Science paper, and this is not an accident. During the first half of the 20th century, hunters became deeply concerned about declines in duck populations every bit as severe as those we’re witnessing among common songbirds today. The United States and Canada responded with laws to protect wetlands and collaborated with Mexico to safeguard migrating waterfowl. Conservation management became increasingly driven by science. Private philanthropy, especially by Ducks Unlimited, generated significant financial support for wetlands acquisitions. Millions of additional acres of wetlands were restored and protected by the federal and state governments. The result: Waterfowl populations are booming today.

Across the Continent, Birds in Collapse

Percentage change in bird populations since 1970, by United States and Canadian breeding habitats.

Portion of all birds lost:


Non-native species (in any habitat)




Boreal forest


Western forest


Arctic tundra


Found in multiple habitats


Found in several forest types


Eastern forest





Only habitat with bird increase: Wetlands


By The New York Times | Source: Decline of the North American avifauna, in the journal Science; study covered continental birds and did not include Hawaiian species.

That success in waterfowl management can point the way forward. We need bold, landscape-scale conservation campaigns across North America that are comparable with those that brought back the ducks. These efforts do not require locking up land in gated wildlife preserves. Conservation programs under the federal Farm Bill on private lands in the Upper Midwest helped grow duck populations while providing protection from floodwaters and keeping drinking water supplies safe. Expanding the scope of those Farm Bill conservation programs would produce more of these benefits. Moreover, a bipartisan measure in the House called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would direct some $1.4 billion a year in federal dollars to invigorate underfunded state and tribal wildlife habitat conservation programs.

Habitat loss has been the main cause of bird declines, and efforts to reduce development in wild lands and suburban sprawl should remain at the forefront of conservation priorities. Additionally, we need to address other threats killing birds. Feral and pet cats roaming outdoors cause huge bird mortality every year, as do collisions with buildings, communications towers and power lines. Recent evidence shows that pesticides, like neonicotinoids, may be directly or indirectly responsible for killing large numbers of birds. What’s also worrisome is that scientists are only now beginning to assess the ravages of the changing climate on bird populations.

More People, Fewer Birds

Another way to assess the decline: a rough estimate of how many birds there were for every person in Canada and the United States in 1970 and in 2018.

2018: 20

1970: 45

birds for every person in both countries

Estimated birds: 10 billion

Continental U.S., Canada combined population: 222,585,000

Birds: 7.1 billion (–29%)

Population: 359,284,000 (+61%)

By The New York Times | Sources: Decline of the North American avifauna, in the journal Science; Census Bureau; Population Reference Bureau; Statistics Canada. U.S. population figures exclude Hawaii and U.S. island territories, which were not part of the continental bird study.

What we need most is a societal shift in the values we place on living side-by-side with healthy and functioning natural systems. Natural habitat must not be viewed as an expendable luxury but as a crucial system that fosters human health and supports all life on the planet. The loss of nearly three billion birds signals a looming crisis that we have the power to stop. We call on all our lawmakers, political candidates and voters across the continent to place renewed value on protecting our common home — the great tapestry of natural systems we share with other species and must protect for future generations.

John W. Fitzpatrick is the director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Peter P. Marra is the director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative and previously ran the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

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« Reply #6377 on: Oct 14, 2019, 03:54 AM »

Retrofitting busy highways to let wildlife travel safely, too

Mark Lawler, an environmental specialist with the Colorado Department of Transportation, consults images of a tunnel created for wildlife’s safe passage beneath three lanes of speeding traffic. (Matthew Staver)

By Jennifer Oldham
October 14 2019
WA Post

COLLEGIATE PEAKS SCENIC BYWAY, Colo. — U.S. Highway 285 was once a death zone for the dwindling herds of elk and mule deer on Colorado’s Western Slope. But today it offers a lifeline, helping them travel from their summer range high in the mountains to winter foraging grounds along the Arkansas River.

For the past year, a tunnel dipping under three lanes of speeding traffic has beckoned. And as frost descended recently on subalpine meadows and glittering-gold aspen, a huge bull elk, measuring at least nine feet from antlers to hoofs, entered the structure ever so cautiously. Infrared cameras on both ends captured his meandering.

“Yes!” exulted Mark Lawler, an environmental specialist with the state transportation department, sitting under the 25-foot-wide tunnel arch and watching images pop up on his laptop. The ground there was marked by coyote, deer and even squirrel tracks, more proof of success. But Lawler was focusing on the elk’s safe passage. He “won’t be hit by someone on the highway.”

The $3.5 million project is one of several planned for Colorado’s ever more crowded roads, on which some 4,000 bears, bighorn sheep, coyotes and myriad other animals died last year. The cost of the carnage exceeded $80 million, according to state officials.

Across the country, as development continues to encroach on natural areas, wildlife-vehicle collisions are taking a massive toll. More than 1.9 million animal-collision insurance claims were filed in fiscal 2019, a State Farm report found, with some researchers estimating the annual price tag of the resulting human fatalities, wildlife mortality, injuries, vehicle damage and other costs at almost $10 billion.

Yet advances in satellite tracking technology are helping biologists to better understand how many animals rely on corridors — strips of land that link habitats — and how wildlife crossings over and under roads are essential to reconnect these shrinking settings. Federal and state officials, conservationists and landowners are now partnering across borders on remedies.

“Our ecosystems are in crisis due to habitat loss, deforestation and, of course, climate change,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who in May introduced a Wildlife Corridors Conservation bill with bipartisan support. The measure would provide federal land managers the authority to establish corridors, set aside $78.5 million in funding, in part for regional projects, and order the creation of a federal wildlife connectivity database.

“The science is clear that corridors help protect our most vulnerable species,” Udall said in an interview.

Eight-foot-tall fencing along both sides of U.S. Highway 285 in Colorado helps funnel animals toward a special underpass crossing. (Matthew Staver)

Research and video feeds show that specially designed crossings have protected scores of pronghorn antelope in Wyoming, panthers in Florida, mule deer in Nevada, moose along “Slaughter Row” in Utah and grizzly and black bears in Montana from oncoming cars and trucks. Mortality dropped by as much as 90 percent, studies show.

Beyond maintaining populations, such projects ensure that ailing ecosystems retain biodiversity, scientists note. The strategy works for flora, too. A new study based on a decades-long experiment that restored longleaf pine savanna in South Carolina found that fewer plants went extinct in connected habitats.

“We need to create, or support, maintaining wildlife movement and connectivity at landscape scale because it has long-term genetic consequences,” said Rob Ament, road ecology program manager at the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, who is consulting on a project in Asia that will benefit rhinos, tigers and elephants. “We built our interstate system in the 1950s and 1960s before we knew this, and now we must retrofit it to connect landscapes across major highways.”

Under a 2018 secretarial order, the Interior Department is funding work in 11 Western states to identify wildlife corridors and what threatens them, and to create plans and partnerships to preserve such areas. Casey Stemler, a senior adviser in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, recalls asking those states to list the key risks to the corridors, “and they all said highways.” A Senate transportation bill includes $250 million for a five-year wildlife-crossing pilot program.

New Mexico and Colorado officials are collaborating with tribes, the National Wildlife Federation, sportsmen’s organizations and landowners pushing for special management areas to protect corridors across three national forests — Rio Grande in Colorado and Carson and Santa Fe in New Mexico. Collectively, they represent one of the least fragmented wildlife landscapes in the continental United States, with elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorns, lynx, black bears and cougars traveling among them.

“When you have two areas that promote wildlife movement from forest to forest, region to region, and state to state, it sets a strong precedent,” said Jeremy Romero, the federation’s regional connectivity coordinator. “We are hoping this can be a West-wide model.”

States are independently prioritizing wildlife corridors and crossings, too. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) in March signed legislation directing her transportation and game and fish agencies to work with tribes in using GPS data from wildlife fitted with electronic collars to identify roads that hinder migration. A plan listing the top proposed corridor projects is to be submitted to the legislature by January.

And under an executive order from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) in August, his natural resources department is studying migration patterns in advance of developing new policies. “We want to ensure conservation of big-game winter range so we can grow our outdoor recreation economy and protect the diversity of our wildlife,” Polis said in a recent interview.

Meanwhile, engineers in Southern California are designing the world’s largest animal crossing. The $87 million overpass, which will span a 10-lane Los Angeles freeway, is a bid to save the region’s mountain lions by reconnecting habitats in the Santa Monica Mountains with those to the north. Other creatures also are expected to traverse it.

Roadway ecologists emphasize crossings’ cost-effectiveness. Every vehicle-elk collision avoided meant $17,483 per kilometer per year in car repairs and medical expenses averted, a 2009 Montana study found. With moose, the figure jumped to $30,760.

“A lot of these structures, we’ve done the math on them and they can effectively pay for themselves in a decade,” said Hall Sawyer, a research biologist at West Inc., an environmental consulting firm in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Key to crossings’ success are fences that direct wildlife toward the site and structure, metal guards that keep animals off roads at intersections, and earthen ramps that allow them to exit.

A couple of hours west of Colorado Springs, the project along Highway 285 has two miles of eight-foot fencing on either side of the asphalt to funnel animals into a trio of box culverts constructed in the late 1960s. Its location near the small town of Buena Vista is not happenstance: Lawler compared law enforcement crash data on injuries from wildlife-vehicle collisions and carcass removal information collected by maintenance crews, then talked with wildlife managers in the area and coordinated with private landowners.

The effort paid off: The bodies of elk and mule deer no longer litter the road. Instead, Lawler watches remotely as they amble with little danger through the tunnel.

The state transportation department plans to hire a firm next spring to track data from the structure’s cameras and better quantify the crossing’s effectiveness.

“It would be great if someday wildlife treatments are seen as stand-alone projects,” said Lawler, glancing up at the pinyon- and juniper-covered hillside where animals case the underpass for safety. “I can see that day coming.”

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« Reply #6378 on: Oct 15, 2019, 03:38 AM »

'The smell will knock you off your feet': mass mussel die-offs baffle scientists

Mussels, the backbone of the river ecosystem because they control silt levels and filter water, are facing a mysterious affliction

Emily Holden in Washington
15 Oct 2019 07.00 BST

Each fall since 2016, wildlife biologist Jordan Richard has returned to the same portion of the Clinch River in Tennessee, braced for the worst – tens of thousands of newly dead mussel shells gleaming from the surface of the water.

The mass die-off isn’t recognizable at first. But once Richard sees the first freshwater mussel, which look quite different to their marine cousins of moules frite fame, he scans the river and finds another every five to 10 seconds.

“The smell will knock you off your feet,” Richard said. “You see what was a healthy looking river, but now there’s just dead bodies scattered everywhere.”

Mussels are the backbone of the river ecosystem because they control silt levels and filter water. And they are facing a mysterious affliction in hotspots in the US and abroad.

Richard, who works for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is part of a team investigating the bizarre declines in Tennessee and Virginia, as well as Oregon and Washington. The group includes biologists, pathologists and epidemiologists from the University of Wisconsin and the US Geological Survey. They say others are researching similar episodes in Spain.

Of the roughly 300 freshwater mussel species in North America, 71% are considered endangered, threatened or of concern, largely because of human degradation of rivers. They are also vulnerable to the climate crisis, because of heat and changes to precipitation.

In the southeast US alone, nearly two dozen species of mussels are thought to have gone extinct.

“When you talk about these massive global extinctions, these are the species that are really blinking out, and there’s so many of them nobody even notices,” Richard said.

But researchers looking at the Clinch River suspect this particular die-off could be happening, at least in part, because of a disease – largely because it is not affecting other types of animals. Mass die-offs in rivers have typically been from the construction of dams or chemical spills that killed many kinds of animals.

In Tennessee, the pheasantshell mussel has been hardest hit. It is the most abundant, representing about a quarter to a third of the biomass of mussels in the river, Richard said. He has found other types of mussels dead, including some at risk of extinction. And the deaths have already spread upriver to Virginia.

Richard said observers have seen this phenomenon before, in the 1980s and 1990s in the nearby Holston and Powell rivers. Scientists have yet to explain why it’s happening though.

In Oregon and south-west Washington, conservation biologist Emilie Blevins, said she has seen tens of thousands of mussels dying, including in the Chehalis River. Western pearlshell mussels have been a key target. Blevins works for the Xerces Society, a conservation group established in the 1970s to call attention to risks to invertebrate species, including bees, dragonflies and snails – the species “the world is running on” but doesn’t think of as often, she said.

“It is concerning because we are seeing it in various locations and large numbers of mussels are dying and sometimes quite rapidly,” Blevins said.

Tony Goldberg, a veterinary epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin, said the die-offs are peculiar because of how they narrowly affect mussels.

“It seemed very strange that there was one species out of a biodiverse assemblage that was being affected,” Goldberg said. “From an epidemiologist perspective that is a red flag for infectious disease.”

Diseases decimating species aren’t new. Ebola caused mass mortality in gorillas in Central Africa in the early 2000s, a transmissible cancer killed a huge percentage of Tasmanian devils in the 1990s and a fungal disease killed the now-extinct golden toads in Costa Rica in the late 1980s, Goldberg noted in a recent article in Bonefish and Tarpon Journal.

Goldberg explained that even if a die-off doesn’t cause outright extinction, it can whittle down a species’ numbers enough to cause ecosystem shifts or even collapses.

If the problem with the mussels is a disease, Goldberg worries that it could evolve and learn how to kill other kinds of freshwater species. He said technologies are rapidly developing to prevent viruses and other pathogens in wildlife, including with vaccines administered to eggs and probiotics.

In the meantime, mussel disappearances could permanently change rivers communities rely on.

“If we have one of these die-offs, the river will never look the same, even to a casual observer,” Goldberg said. “The bottom will be different. The fish and other wildlife will be different. It’ll smell and look different. It’ll be cloudier. It’s just not going to be the same river.”

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« Reply #6379 on: Oct 15, 2019, 03:41 AM »

Images offer glimpse into life of endangered Florida panther

Carlton Ward’s photographs chart survival struggle of one of America’s last remaining big cats

Robin McKie science editor
15 Oct 2019 09.13 BST

The discovery of a female Florida panther lying with a broken leg on a verge outside the town of Naples, south of Tampa, triggered a widespread rescue dash.

Conservationists, who had previously fitted a tracking collar to the animal, were aware she had recently given birth. The kittens would not survive long on their own, they realised, and so an urgent search for them was launched.

Eventually two of the three were found and reunited with their mother. Her leg was treated by vets from White Oak Conservation Foundation and the trio were eventually reintroduced into the wild.

It was the first time a Florida panther family had been rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild together, and an image of the two young males – anaesthetised prior to a final pre-release check-up – was taken by wildlife photographer Carlton Ward. His picture is one of a series he has taken of Florida panthers, images that will receive a highly commended award at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year ceremony at the Natural History Museum in London this week.

“There are only about 200 adult panthers now left in the wild in Florida,” Ward told the Observer last week. “However, these animals are now facing a series of new threats to their numbers: the spread of housing across their last habitats in southern Florida, and the construction of new roads, which bisect their ranges.”

Florida panthers once roamed across the south-eastern US. However, by the middle of the last century hunting and habitat loss had reduced their population – now isolated to a pocket of southern Florida – to about 30 to 40 adults. The animals were heading for extinction but were saved when they became one of the first to gain federal protection under the Endangered Species Preservation Act. Hunting of the panther was outlawed and some land set aside for reserves, such as the Big Cypress national preserve, near Naples.

As a result, Florida panther numbers have slowly risen over the past 50 years, with the adult population now standing at more than 200.

But new threats to the Florida panther – a subspecies of puma, or mountain lion – are emerging. Florida is losing more than 100,000 acres of rural and natural land each year to provide homes for the massive influx of people moving into the state. It is estimated that a third of a million people are settling in Florida every year.

In addition, new roads are being built across the panther’s last reserves and there have been worrying numbers of deaths. About 30 panthers a year are killed on the state’s roads, according to Ward. In addition, ranch lands used by panthers to move around are now being sold to housing estate developers, which threatens to cut off essential wildlife corridors.

Yet panthers play a key role in protecting Florida’s environment, added Ward, who has been studying and photographing these highly endangered carnivores for several years. “For example, they help to control numbers of white-tailed deer, coyotes and hogs, which all cause considerable amounts of ecological damage.”

As result, Ward is campaigning for the preservation of ranch lands in the state and for the construction of more barrier fences and dedicated wildlife crossings. The need for action is urgent, he added.

Recent photographs – taken by Ward using remotely triggered cameras – indicate that the Florida panther is beginning to extend its range slowly northward and has recently crossed the Caloosahatchee river, which cuts across much of south Florida. Crucially, these images were of female panthers. In the past, males – which patrol ranges of up to 200 square miles – have been spotted in northern Florida but until now they had no chance of finding a mate. Ward’s photographs of a female and two offspring moving northwards offer new hope that the panther’s range can be extended. “However, we have to find ways to protect these new reserves and to build up numbers of Florida panthers to ensure their future survival,” said Ward.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum London, 18 October 2019 – 31 May 2020

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« Reply #6380 on: Oct 15, 2019, 03:45 AM »

Last wolves in Africa: the fragile wildlife of Ethiopia's ravaged parks

Wildfires and an encroaching population are threatening grasslands that host some of the world’s rarest species

Tom Gardner in Debark
15 Oct 2019 07.00 BST

Conservationist Getachew Assefa points across the valley. “It started close to the mist over there, by the most spectacular viewpoint,” he says. “Almost all the grassland was burnt. All of that plateau and the steep cliff over there.”

Six months after wildfires torched this part of Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains, the scars are healing: heather and grass have returned to carpet the hilltop, brightened by the yellow daisies which bloom after the long rains. On the near side of the valley lie barley fields, rippling in the wind.

The scene is bucolic. But, as Assefa explains, these montane grasslands and the rare wildlife they host are under threat.

Two fires broke out earlier this year, ravaging one of the oldest natural Unesco world heritage sites, and destroying, at least temporarily, the habitat of some of the world’s rarest species: the copper-coated Ethiopian wolf and the walia ibex, a goat found nowhere else on earth.

Few doubt the blazes’ cause. The park’s wolf monitors – which include Assefa – saw, through binoculars, two men setting tussocks alight, though they couldn’t confirm their identities.

“They did it in five areas, on purpose,” he says. The fire raged for several days, and it took thousands of locals including a nearby football club – eventually assisted by a team of Israeli firefighters – to bring the flames under control. Around the same time the Bale Mountains, in the country’s south, were also affected by wildfires that lasted for more than 20 days and which experts attributed to human encroachment on the park.

Incidents like these shed light on the pressures threatening Ethiopia’s fragile wildlife and delicate ecosystems: accelerating competition over resources as the human population swells, political instability, global heating and mass tourism.

“We are in a crisis situation,” says Greta Iori, Ethiopia technical advisor for the Wildlife Conservation Society, who fears the country’s endemic species are being driven close to extinction. “We are inundated with issues when it comes to wildlife.”

Ethiopia was one of the first countries in Africa to establish national parks. The Simien Mountains were formally added to these in 1969, and today there are 20 national parks, and many more protected areas nationwide. For a country with few minerals or natural resources such as oil, assets like these are an important source of national income.According to the World Bank, “natural capital”, including forests and agricultural land, accounts for 40% of Ethiopia’s total wealth.

But the parks are in a dire state. In Omo national park, in the far south of Ethiopia near the border with Kenya, the government is building sugar factories and vast irrigated plantations. Awash national park, the country’s oldest, is severed in two by the railway and eastern highway towards Djibouti. Abijatta-Shalla, south of Addis Ababa, is home to a soda ash factory.

Meanwhile, ethnic unrest in eastern Ethiopia has had an enormous impact on Babile Elephant Sanctuary, one of the country’s most important elephant ranges. According to Iori a huge number of new human settlements have appeared inside its borders since 2017.

The elephant population is under extreme pressure due to “heightened and unavoidable human-elephant conflict”, she says. A population of about 500 could be decimated “in a blink of an eye” through poaching, with park staff struggling to secure the sanctuary.

“2019 has been brutal with an incredible spike in elephant killings,” she says. “It’s like we’ve already lost in Babile, and it’s heartbreaking.”

Nationwide, conservation efforts have been stymied in recent years by civil unrest and the political transition following the appointment of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018.

“In general Ethiopia has never been a huge poaching-for-trafficking hotspot – but since law and order has crumbled we’ve seen a spike in opportunistic poaching and subsequent trafficking,” Iori says. “The police and army are busy with other things, and the risk of getting caught is low.”

In the Simien Mountains the problems are less advanced and the park better managed. But similar dynamics are present. When political protests broke out in 2016, the park was a target of popular anger, with locals breaking prohibitions against tree-chopping and livestock grazing. “Everyone was rushing to get his share,” recalls Assefa. “We lost two of the best wolf habitats.”

Today the park’s authorities still struggle to enforce local laws designed to protect the natural environment.

“There is a big conflict between the young, unemployed people and the park management,” Assefa explains. He reckons the fires this year were started by locals disgruntled by the authorities’ heightened clampdown on livestock grazing inside the park’s perimeters.

Setegn, a local farmer whose house lies just beyond the park, admits he grazes his animals inside the boundary marked by the main road. “The park management said we can’t cross the road – they say we won’t get any benefit from tourism unless we graze on the right-hand side,” he says. “But it’s very difficult. There is no survival for us without livestock.”

Others interviewed by the Guardian expressed the same concerns, saying their incomes had been badly hit by the restrictions.

The barley fields on the left of the road are another sign of human intrusion, and of the waning authority of the park management, notes Nick Crane, the British owner of Simien Mountain Lodge. “They encroach slowly – imperceptibly – so you hardly notice it,” he says.

According to Abebaw Azanaw, the park warden, there are about 130 households around the edges of the park.

Relocating them would be costly and could spark renewed conflict. In 2016 the entire village of Gichi – nearly 500 households located on the escarpment where the fire started – opted to move to a new settlement near the town of Debark, which cost the government on average $17,000 (£14,000) per family. The compensation was sizeable but many complained about a lack of electricity in their new homes on arrival, and of a lack of jobs. Some threatened to return to the park.

“We learnt from Gichi that it is very difficult to resettle people from the park,” says Assefa.

The root of the problem is common in many developing countries when it comes to conservation: how to strike the right balance between the resource demands of local residents and the need to protect the natural environment for future generations.

Promoting tourism is part of the answer, should it mean jobs and higher incomes for locals, but only if managed well.

In 2015 the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced that it intended to triple foreign visitors to more than 2.5 million by 2020.

But for John Watkin, who worked in the Simien Mountains as the chief technical advisor for Africa Wildlife Foundation between 2018 and 2019, “uncontrolled tourism” is the most serious threat to the park’s wildlife.

“The park infrastructure is simply not set up for huge numbers of tourists … Tourism is always looking for a new hot destination, and Ethiopia is it. But unless it is done well it is going to cause serious problems,” he says.

For Crane, one answer is to increase the park price for foreign visitors, to try to limit the number coming to the Simien Mountains each year.

Meanwhile Watkin suggests Ethiopia considers alternative conservation approaches that allow communities to take ownership of the process, moving away from the state-led “fortress conservation” model that prevails. He notes examples in Kenya and Tanzania, where local communities run eco-lodges and tourism ventures while ensuring the landscape is protected. “They’re 20 to 30 years ahead of Ethiopia in this,” he says.

Such approaches might make it possible for Ethiopia to square the circle between conservation and development.

“The core of the problem is that tourism is not working for the locals,” says Joshua Amlakse, a Simien Mountains guide. “Nothing ends up in the local community.”

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« Reply #6381 on: Oct 16, 2019, 04:09 AM »

Was Heidi the Octopus Really Dreaming?

They’re far from us on the tree of life, and their brains are very different, and some scientists say we should take care before we assume that cephalopods sleep like we do.

By Elizabeth Preston
Oct. 16, 2019

Heidi the octopus is sleeping. Her body is still, eight arms tucked neatly away. But her skin is restless. She turns from ghostly white to yellow, flashes deep red, then goes mottled green and bumpy like plant life. Her muscles clench and relax, sending a tendril of arm loose.

If you haven’t seen this video clip yet, from a PBS documentary, Nature, watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vKCLJZbytU

From the outside, the cephalopod looks like a person twitching and muttering during a dream, or like a napping dog chasing dream-squirrels.

“If she is dreaming, this is a dramatic moment,” David Scheel, an octopus researcher at Alaska Pacific University, said in the documentary. Heidi was living in a tank in his living room when her snooze was captured by the film crew, and he speculates that she is imagining catching and eating a crab.

But an octopus is almost nothing like a person. So how much can anyone really say with accuracy about what Heidi was doing?

When our two branches of the animal family tree diverged, backbones hadn’t been invented. Yet octopuses, cuttlefish and squid, on their own evolutionary path, developed impressive intelligence. They came up with their own way to build big brains. Much of an octopus’s brain is spread throughout its body, especially its arms. It makes sense to be cautious when we guess what’s going on in these animals’ minds.

Looking at a behavior like Heidi’s is “a bit like going to a crime scene,” said Nicola Clayton, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge who studies comparative cognition.

“You’ve got some evidence in front of you, but you’d need to know so much more to understand better what’s causing the behavior.”

It’s only conjecture to say the octopus is dreaming without more data, she said. Does the sequence of Heidi’s color changes match an experience she had while awake? Dreaming in humans mostly happens during rapid-eye movement, or R.E.M., sleep. Could we observe something similar in octopuses? Dr. Clayton points out that a human sleeper might flush red because she’s overheated.

Alex Schnell, a cephalopod intelligence researcher in Dr. Clayton’s lab, said some of her colleagues aren’t always careful about interpreting behaviors they’ve observed. Simpler explanations are more likely than complex ones. Dr. Scheel himself acknowledged that Heidi’s nighttime transformations could be nothing more than the twitching of muscles that control her color-changing organs.

Daniel Margoliash, a neuroethologist at the University of Chicago, said the video of Heidi is “spectacular.” Research by Dr. Margoliash and others has shown that many birds go through sleep stages including R.E.M., like humans and other mammals do, rather than just turning off at night like a light switch. He has also discovered that activity patterns in the brains of sleeping songbirds match patterns that appear during the day while they’re singing.

Scientists can’t ask a songbird whether it sees anything while it sleeps. “But it’s as if the birds are dreaming of singing,” he said.

Evidence suggests that sleep stages, and perhaps dreaming, evolved multiple times in vertebrates, Dr. Margoliash said. Why not in the squishy cephalopods too?

He says big, complicated nervous systems create certain problems for their owners, no matter what those brains look like. The brains need to be calmed and regulated; experiences and memories need to be consolidated. Maybe similar sleep patterns evolved across the animal kingdom to solve those problems, Dr. Margoliash said. “If that’s true, then I expect that dreaming in fact exists in many animals.”

Recent studies have shown that cuttlefish cycle in and out of an R.E.M.-like state while they’re sleeping. Their eyes move quickly, and changing color patterns flash across their skin. In the video of Heidi, Dr. Margoliash said that to him, “it looked like there was a period of time when the eyes were clearly moving,” as in R.E.M. sleep.

“Who knows! But you can’t ignore it,” he added. “You have to study it.”

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« Reply #6382 on: Oct 16, 2019, 04:12 AM »

When orangutans played kazoos, they produced evolutionary news

By Adriano Reis e Lameira
October 16, 2019 at 2:00 PM EDT

A kazoo might seem a world away from the spoken word. But our ability to produce its buzzing, Donald Duck-like sound at will was key in us ever developing the ability to speak at all. And while our capacity for speech is unique, my colleague Robert Shumaker and I have used the novelty instrument to show that great apes aren’t far behind.

Speech is one of the defining marks of humanhood. It is the interface of our social and societal relationships, and the baton through which individuals and generations pass information and knowledge from one to the other. Yet, how our species — and our species alone — developed such a powerful method of communication remains unclear.

Perhaps chief among the necessary tools for speech is voice control. That is, the uniquely advanced ability to engage our vocal folds to produce sounds at will, as opposed to the reflexive screams and cries that other animals produce as automatic responses to changes in their environment and physiology.

Scientists long thought that the capacity of great apes to control their voice was just as limited as that of their fellow mammals. But recent evidence suggests that these views were misguided.

For instance, great apes can mimic the rhythm of speech, producing babbling vocalizations that could easily be confused with those of a Disney cartoon character. They can also match the pitch of a human voice. Such feats would be impossible if great apes could not deploy and use their voice on command in similar ways to us.

To find out more about these abilities, we gave captive orangutans at the Indianapolis Zoo the opportunity to play a membranophone — a class of musical instrument that includes the kazoo.

Kazoos and other membranophones are unique in that despite their resemblance to a flute or a whistle, merely blowing a constant stream of air into them produces no sound. To activate the instrument, the player must hum or talk into the kazoo. This is because it is the bursts of air produced by our vocal folds opening and closing when we vocalize that make the membrane of the instrument vibrate, and the instrument play.

In our study, some of the orangutans activated the kazoo within minutes, producing sounds of varying pitches and durations in response to kazoo demonstrations by the human experimenters. The speed with which these orangutans changed the quality of their voices shows that they were producing the sounds at will, rather than through training — which, as any dog trainer will reassert, requires months of reflex building and conditioning.

These findings show that orangutan voice control lags not far behind that of humans. They confirm that the vocal abilities of great apes have been largely underestimated.

That only some of the orangutans managed to play the kazoo shows us that the capacity and/or motivation to demonstrate vocal control differs between individuals. So one great ape can never be representative of the vocal abilities of a whole species. To understand the vocal control of apes further, scientists should develop tests tailored to match each individual ape’s limitations and drive. This won’t be a surprise to parents, teachers and linguistic therapists, who know that children develop speech at different rates and manners, despite sharing virtually the same environment.

Although precise tests such as these are possible only in controlled settings with voluntary participation from captive individuals, evidence suggests that wild orangutans also use vocal control in their natural environment to communicate and pass information between individuals and generations.

For example, wild orangutans can modify their alarm calls with hands and leaves to make them sound bigger, depending on how dangerous the predator they encounter is. Wild chimpanzees are more likely to produce snake alarm calls when group members are unaware of the threat and selectively inform high-ranking group members that food is available — both indicators of intentional control of vocalizations.

More recently, I showed that wild orangutan mothers delay signaling alarm calls in response to predators until there is no danger, informing their infants of the danger that just passed through the forest floor below. Such an ability indicates not only some degree of vocal control, but also another prerequisite for speech — the ability to communicate about the past.

Understanding the extent to which great apes can “speak” offers clues as to how and when the various skills required for full-blown speech emerged in our evolutionary lineage. Scientists previously thought that great apes didn’t have the required brain circuitry. Now, it seems that they do. The question now is why our species used the past few million years to hone these neural capabilities, but our close cousins didn’t — or weren’t able to.

Having spent much time around orangutans, I’m certain that they possess a great many more skills and abilities than current science gives them credit for. They are truly fascinating and intelligent creatures, and we must make every effort to conserve and protect them and their habitat — not just to better understand our place in the natural world, but as a mark of respect for theirs.

Adriano Reis e Lameira is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick. This report was originally published on theconversation.com.

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« Reply #6383 on: Oct 16, 2019, 04:15 AM »

Hordes of tarantulas are crawling across San Francisco right now

Mike Wehner

If you have a natural aversion to spiders, you might want to steer clear of the San Francisco Bay Area for at least the next few days. Reports indicate that tarantula activity has spiked in parts of California, including the Bay Area, with the increase in big spider sightings is being blamed on warm fall weather.

Warm fall days are common across much of the state, and the shift in seasons prompts male tarantulas to search for mates. For residents, that means seeing the huge eight-legged creatures far more frequently, but scientists insist that there’s really nothing to worry about.

Even if you’re not particularly afraid of spiders, tarantulas can seem intimidating. Their large size makes them seem far more fearsome than they really are, but the big spiders don’t actually care all that much about humans. They’re docile by nature and will typically do their best to avoid interactions with humans.

Still, locals are warned that coming across one or more tarantulas will likely be commonplace for a short while, and residents may even spot males fighting. Like many other species, male tarantulas will attempt to beat down fellow spiders they see as threats and will attack one another for the right to mate with females.

The tarantula boom isn’t limited to the Bay Area either, as the spiders are known to live throughout California. As is true in the San Francisco area, warm fall days will be prime time for tarantula mating all across the state.

As KPIX reports, the spider mating frenzy is only expected to last a few days before things calm down, which should be welcome news for any arachnophobes.

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« Reply #6384 on: Oct 17, 2019, 03:36 AM »

Flying foxes found dead and emaciated across eastern Australia as dry weather bites

Vets say conditions have led to a ‘starvation event’, killing creatures or leaving them ‘looking like they’ve been mummified’

Lisa Cox
Thu 17 Oct 2019 04.02 BST

Flying foxes, including threatened species, have been dying or taken into care in large numbers due to a food shortage in their habitat in eastern Australia.

Authorities in Queensland and New South Wales say there have been increased reports since September of sick and dead flying-foxes in an area stretching from northern NSW up to Gladstone in Queensland.

Many of the animals found on the ground have been highly emaciated and dehydrated.

Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science said flying foxes in trees had been exhibiting behaviours consistent with malnourishment, such as remaining in food trees instead of returning to their normal roost areas during the day.

The two main species affected are the grey-headed flying fox – a threatened species listed as vulnerable under Australian environment laws – and the black flying fox.

Carers and experts believe the cause is the prolonged dry conditions in eastern Australia, which has reduced the availability of food sources such as tree blossom.

Land clearing and development in flying-fox habitat also reduces the availability of food, but the pattern of prolonged warm and dry weather, as well as recent bushfires, has exacerbated the situation.

Tania Bishop, a wildlife veterinarian based in Queensland who has worked with flying foxes for 20 years, said the impact of dry winds and low humidity on the animals had led to what vets and carers were calling a “starvation event”.

“I haven’t ever seen the degree of emaciation and animals in as bad condition as I have this year,” Bishop said.

“The most shocking picture I’ve taken away from the last couple of weeks is a lot of animals that have come in looking like they’ve been mummified, that’s how dehydrated they were.”

Bishop said carers were taking in a disproportionate number of female flying foxes of breeding age during what would normally have been breeding season.

“They should be well and truly into their pregnancy by now and they’re either not pregnant or they come in so thin they ultimately lose their babies,” she said.

She said the baby animals that had been born were incredibly underweight.

“The very frightening thing about the grey-headed flying fox being affected is that their status is already threatened,” she said.

“The concern is what has this done to the already vulnerable status of the species?”

Evan Quartermain, the Australian head of programs for Humane Society International, said carers and vets working on the ground to assist the flying foxes would need support.

“With so many animals in need of care already and a high likelihood that heat-stress events will hit bats again this summer, it’s imperative that authorities roll out all the support they can for volunteer wildlife carers bearing the brunt of this crisis,” he said.

A spokesman for the Queensland Department of Environment and Science said the total impact on flying-fox populations was difficult to estimate accurately, but it was being closely monitored by the department, the CSIRO, local governments and wildlife carers.

He said the government strongly advised members of the public not to touch flying foxes, even if they appeared to be dead, as it was easy to be bitten or scratched when trying to help or move the animals.

“A small portion of flying-foxes carry a virus (the Australian bat lyssavirus) which can be transmitted to humans through contact with saliva or blood from the animals,” he said.

The spokesman said anyone who spots a sick or injured flying fox should call the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) to report it and a vaccinated carer will be contacted to rescue and care for the animal.

A spokeswoman for the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said there had been reports of animals roosting in residential areas rather than returning to their usual camps.

“Throughout October there have been reports of malnourished and dead flying foxes in south-eastern Queensland and northern NSW. This is occurring as a result of a food shortage, which is attributed to unfavourable weather conditions impacting the availability of nectar,” she said.

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« Reply #6385 on: Oct 17, 2019, 03:39 AM »

Fastest ants in world found in northern Sahara, researchers say

Silver ants travel 108 times their body length per second and have stride rate 10 times that of Usain Bolt

Ian Sample Science editor
17 Oct 2019 23.00 BST

The sand dunes of the northern Sahara are home to the fastest ants in the world, according to researchers who clocked the insects foraging for food in the blistering midday sun.

Video footage reveals the ants galloping across the scorching sand at speeds approaching one metre per second, the equivalent of a house cat tearing about at 120mph.

The faster the ants ran, the more they took to the air, in gallops that brought all six legs off the ground at once. At full pelt, the insects travelled 108 times their body length per second, the researchers found.

“They fly through the air with no feet on the ground from stride to stride,” even at relatively slow speeds, said Sarah Pfeffer, who studies animal behaviour at Ulm University in Germany.

There is a reason Saharan silver ants, or Cataglyphis bombycina, have evolved to be fleet of foot. Unlike other desert creatures which shelter from the intense noon heat, for the ants it is a prime time to scavenge. When the desert is at its hottest, they emerge from their nests and zip about looking for food – often the carcasses of less fortunate creatures that have succumbed to the brutal temperatures.

To survive, the ants have silvery hairs that reflect the sun’s rays. But even with this coating and other adaptations, the ants can barely survive the 60C (140F) heat and need impressive speed and navigational skills to find food and return to the nest before falling victim to the heat themselves.

Before Pfeffer and her colleagues could clock the ants racing around the desert, they first had to find them. The scientists travelled to Douz, a town in southern Tunisia, and scoured the nearby dunes for the streaks of silver that are the ants in motion.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZY9AR5WeTTE

Having traced some ants back to their nest, the researchers laid an aluminium channel along the ground and placed mealworms or shortbread crumbs at the far end. Above the track they attached a downwards-facing high-speed video camera to record the ants as they tore back and forth.

Once slowed down, the footage shows the ants coordinating their movements with incredible precision, moving three legs – which work together as a tripod – at a time. Running flat out, the ants covered 85.5cm per second in 47 strides, more than 10 times Usain Bolt’s stride rate. Between each stride, each ant foot touched the ground for as little as seven milliseconds.

Similar footage of another fast desert ant, Cataglyphis fortis, which is found in the Tunisian salt pans, recorded the insects hitting a top speed of 62cm per second. Details are published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

While the Saharan silver ants have shorter legs than their salt pan cousins, the furious stride rate more than compensates, the scientists found. Beyond teasing out the biomechanical secrets of the ants’ incredible speed, the research reveals tricks that engineers can exploit to build smaller, faster, scampering robots, Pfeffer said.

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« Reply #6386 on: Oct 17, 2019, 03:41 AM »

Sawfish numbers in global stronghold are dropping, prompting calls for fishing protection

Monitoring trip returns from ‘stronghold’ for species without finding a single sawfish

Graham Readfearn
17 Oct 2019 18.00 BST

Numbers of endangered sawfish in one of their most globally important strongholds are dropping, with conservationists calling for rules that will cut the numbers of animals being caught in commercial fishing nets in north Queensland.

In September, a two-week private expedition to monitor and tag sawfish in the Norman River, Queensland, returned without finding a single sawfish.

Sawfish are known for their distinct protruding toothed saw – or rostrum – that can detect electrical signals and movement from nearby prey before swiping at it. Some sawfish can grow to seven metres in length, with the saw accounting for about one-quarter its length.

The largetooth and green sawfish are internationally listed as critically endangered, and the dwarf and narrow sawfish are listed as endangered. All four exist in coastal habitats in the Gulf of Carpentaria, considered to be a global stronghold for sawfish.

Guardian Australia can reveal three conservation groups have written to the Department of Environment asking for a suite of rules and restrictions to be imposed on the Queensland-managed Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery.

A national recovery plan for three of the sawfish species, published in 2015, states the main threats include commercial, recreational and unregulated fishing, Indigenous fishing and habitat changes. The sawfish rostrum easily tangles around ropes and fishing nets.

Aquarist Nicole Weller, of the Sea Life Sydney aquarium, returned from a 14-day sawfish monitoring trip in the Gulf of Carpentaria in September without finding a single sawfish.

Weller said they searched across three different sites along the Norman River but poor weather and murky water made the task harder.

    It is critical on a global scale what happens up there.
    Barbara Wueringer

She said: “We were looking to find them, measure them and tag them. We were hopeful that we would have found at least one, so to not get any was disappointing.”

Dr Barbara Wueringer, founder and principal scientist at Sharks and Rays Australia, a conservation group that organised the trip, said they had been visiting river systems over the past five years to gather data on sawfish.

She said: “We do know the numbers have declined. Northern Australia is the last global stronghold for four of the five species of sawfish. It is critical on a global scale what happens up there.”

She said her organisation was working with commercial and recreational fishers in the area and believed most people shared concern for the welfare of the animals.

“Because they have this saw, people like to take a trophy and that’s something that we want to stop. Nobody should remove the saw,” she said. “They need to release the animals with minimal damage and as quickly as possible. Most fishers have good methods and know how to handle them, but because there’s no training provided they sometimes come up with bad methods.”

Prof Colin Simpfendorfer, of James Cook University, says a lack of data makes it hard to be sure of exact numbers of sawfish, but added: “I would be confident to say they’re at levels lower than they have been historically.

“We know that fishing continues to interact with sawfish, particularly the gillnet fisheries in Queensland and the Northern Territory. They’re not targeted by fishing, but they are being caught. We have to deal with this bycatch issue so that animals can be released safely.”

He said pressures on sawfish were less in western areas of the gulf in the Northern Territory where there was little fishing activity.

The Queensland Department of Fisheries has applied to the federal government for a renewal of the Wildlife Trade Operation for its Gulf of Carpentaria fishery. According to its application, some 395 “sawfish and rays” were caught as bycatch in the fishery between 2003 and 2017.

Conservation groups WWF, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and Humane Society International, have written to the federal environment department to ask for a range of restrictions to be placed on the fishery to stop sawfish being caught.

In a submission seen by Guardian Australia, the groups say a lack of rules in the fishery would “likely to lead to the extirpation of sawfish” and the rare “speartooth” river shark.

Dr Leonardo Guida, a campaigner at AMCS, said “to help the survival of the species” the “most tangible and effective” step would be to remove gillnets from critical habitats.

He said a lack of independent observers on boats in the region meant that reported bycatch numbers were likely an underestimate, adding: “We can’t be sure how many sawfish have been caught, or what species, and we don’t know the fate of them.”

Dr Richard Pillans, a CSIRO research scientist, said it was “irrefutable” that the numbers of sawfish left were much lower than they were “100 years ago”.

He said the level of reporting of sawfish as bycatch was “generally acknowledged to be an underestimate”.

The environment minister, Sussan Ley, said that due to concern for the conservation status of the narrow sawfish, on 29 September she had prioritised the species for a threatened species assessment under the EPBC Act.

She said: “The department is currently assessing the new application from Fin Fish Fishery’s against the EPBC Act and a fundamental part of that assessment will be to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to minimise the impacts of fishing on all bycatch species, including protected species.”

She added the government had invested more than $850,000 over the past four years on the national recovery plan for sawfish and river sharks.

A spokesperson for the minister added she was “cognisant of the concerns raised by conservation groups and the public regarding bycatch of sawfish and speartooth shark in the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery.”

A Queensland Department of Fisheries spokesperson said under its Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, “the Queensland Government has committed to undertaking ecological risk assessments for priority fisheries.”

An assessment of Gulf of Carpentaria fisheries was currently underway, the spokesperson said.

The department said while a “number of sawfish are caught in nets” many were “successfully released alive.”

Publicly available data from fishing logbooks show only 46 sawfish had died from capture between 2006 and 2018, but this data covers all of Queensland.

Fisheries Queensland was also looking at “additional education” to help fishers with techniques to release sawfish.

The spokesperson added: “It is illegal to be in possession of any part of any no-take species, which sawfish are under fisheries legislation in Queensland. This means that it is illegal to be in possession of a sawfish rostrum.”

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« Reply #6387 on: Oct 18, 2019, 03:34 AM »

Eyes on the skies: young birdwatchers take flight

More and more young people are feeling the thrill of fresh air, flashing wings and the sound of birdsong

by Liv Siddall
18 Oct 2019 08.00 BST

Look up! Is that a kestrel? A swallow? Take note. These sightings are getting rarer. A recent RSPB report blamed the climate crisis for dwindling bird numbers in the UK. But as the number of birds decreases, the number of young bird enthusiasts in the UK is on the rise. Birdwatchers have long endured an unfair reputation for being anorak-sporting “twitchers”, lumped into the same category as their equally derided cousins, the trainspotters. But times have changed. Now, as a young person, it is becoming acceptable – cool, even – to show the world the mental and physical benefits of getting outside and observing wildlife.

Today, young “birders” are using social-media platforms to form positive communities and share their sightings and experiences. Amusingly, most of it happens on Twitter, where birders pledge allegiance to certain species in their bios and discuss rare species with some of the world’s foremost experts. They use apps and spreadsheets, often photographing their finds and uploading pictures to their social channels instantly. Instagram accounts have been created. WhatsApp groups have formed.

Offline, young birders gather at wetland centres, hold meet-ups in areas of natural beauty, organise hiking excursions. They offer each other tremendous support and subscribe to the same defining message: that anyone can birdwatch anywhere. All you need is a pair of eyes and a desire to go outside.

Mya-Rose Craig, 17, Somerset

I’ve been going out birdwatching with my family since I was a baby. It was OK during primary school, but when I went into secondary I very quickly realised that birdwatching is strange. I’d avoid talking about it like the plague. If any of my primary school friends brought it up, I’d change the conversation very swiftly. Like most 13-year-olds, I didn’t know how to deal with being different from other people, but as I’ve got older I don’t care any more. You should never stop doing what you love because of other people. It helps that I’m friends with people who appreciate going outside and going into nature.

I am now just over 100 bird species away from having seen half of all of the bird species in the world. I’ve been going out birdwatching with my family since I was a baby. It’s something that’s very important in my life, and I can’t really picture myself without it. But I’m one of the lucky ones, you know? Most people don’t have parents who take them out birdwatching for the weekend.

I enjoy the separation from everyday life, I find it really relaxing. Loads of people I talk to always go on about meditating, but I just can’t do it, because my brain goes very fast all the time. Going outside is my version of meditation. It’s something that’s integral to me. I’ve recently been visiting potential universities and greenery has been a factor in that. Sheffield has got so many trees and parks everywhere, and it felt really nice.

With the rise of the youth strikes, and Greta Thunberg, the last nine months have been amazing. Everything’s just suddenly taking off, after not much happening for years and years. It’s been encouraging seeing older people join the movement. I’m in a group chat with loads of climate activists, and sometimes, if I feel a bit hopeless, I like to go on there and see how passionate and motivated everyone is to create change.

Sam Marsh, 9, Wales

My Granny and Bampa are really into birdwatching. They travel all over the world and they’re always on the lookout for feathers and different birds to bring back for me. My favourite is the white-tailed eagle feather: it’s about a foot and a half long, and stiff – like wood. Gran found it in Norway. And pheasant feathers, which I like for their patterns, and how flexible they are. I’ve got about 20 altogether. I find them stuck in trees, or in dense forest, where they can’t really blow around.

We do a lot of hiking and walking. I take my book and my binoculars, which used to belong to my grandfather when he was in the army, and I see what I can spot, and when I get home I look them up online and see what they are. Or I look in my bird book, or on an app called Seek. I want to be a naturalist when I am older, to look at animals, go to different countries, go on telly, tell people how they hunt, how they make their dens, stuff like that. And I’d like to learn more about nature at school. I’ve got dyslexia and I struggle with reading, so I prefer to be out looking at things.

Amelia Bradbury, 9, Norfolk

As a family, we’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. Every Sunday we go to volunteer and birdwatch at Cley Marshes nature reserve, in Norfolk. It’s a salt and freshwater marsh and nature reserve, and it attracts loads of different waders and birds. We have seen shelducks, mallards, avocets, black-tailed godwits, redshanks, lots of different sandpipers… At home we see buzzards, kestrels and sometimes red kites.

I look everywhere for birds. Sometimes we stop the car when we’re driving, if we see a kestrel. We always keep binoculars in the car just in case. I’d like to see a snowy owl, or a little owl, in the wild. And I’d like to see a green woodpecker. My mum saw two recently, but I wasn’t with her.

I record my sightings on a spreadsheet on my dad’s phone and I’ve got my own little notebook, too. I have “collected” more than 120 bird species so far. I can tell birds apart quite easily – they look different, obviously, and they also have different calls. Sometimes I can hear a bird and know what it is. I like the sounds that owls make, and the blackbird’s song, which is probably my favourite. But I also like the woodpigeon’s call. Sometimes I like to draw what I see, and at other times I just draw other random animals.

Anyone can look for birds. Or insects. Go and start in the back garden and work your way out to somewhere else. Look at all the birds and all the insects and try to find some interesting stuff. People seem to see nature, but they don’t always appreciate it. Often, we’re all too busy minding our own business.

Most people in my class like video games. I like some video games, too! But I think a lot of kids would enjoy birdwatching, if they just tried.

Kabir Kaul, 14, Hillingdon

For most of my life I have lived in Eastcote, in the London borough of Hillingdon. When I was about seven or eight I looked outside the window and saw lots of pigeons and robins and sparrows, and I thought: “Let me explore more.” So I got some binoculars, and my uncle bought me a field guide for my 10th birthday, and I just went out to discover the local area.

I realised from a young age that I like nature and wildlife from around the world, but I only started to develop an interest in the wildlife in Britain when I actually looked outside and I realised the wildlife around me was mainly birds. That’s how I got into birdwatching. What most people don’t realise is that everything is hiding in plain sight: it’s all just there, on your doorstep. This is partly why I created an interactive map, Nature Reserves of London. It shows all designated wildlife sites and nature reserves around and throughout the capital, and reveals how much biodiversity there really is.

I think if you live in an inner city, or a built-up place, you just have to look harder. Look at the trees, see if there are ants. And if there are, maybe there’s a blackbird. I’ve been surprised to see waxwings in Wimbledon.

For young children, I’d suggest they get involved with local organisations, or some grassroots projects nearby – maybe an allotment site or a city farm. They might not even have a garden, but if they have a balcony, they could maybe make a pond by filling up an old container with water and putting plants in it. Or they could make bird feeders or nest boxes to hang from the outside of their house. It’s all to do with passion, and the will to do it.

I only have one or two friends at school who are as interested in birding as me. But birdwatching is so calming. It’s wonderful to see the birds and the colours of their plumage and their different sizes and to hear their song.

If people who suffer from mental health issues – or people who are on their phones all the time and they don’t notice their surroundings – actually go outside and look at the trees and hear the birdsong, they will automatically just feel better because they’ll be at one with nature. They’re surrounded by it.

Dara McAnulty, 15, Ireland

It’s always been my view that everyone has a connection with nature: it’s whether or not you choose to heed that connection that makes the difference. When you take the time to enjoy and be calmed by nature, that’s when it starts taking effect and really helping you – noticing that there is a soldier beetle on a leaf, and then being curious about what you have seen… Asking questions is the best thing you can do in this world.

Something that I would like to emphasise is that you do not need any fancy or expensive equipment to go out into nature. If you have eyes, you can watch birds. If you have ears, you can listen to birds. If you have hands, you can feel bark. If you have an open mind, you can feel those experiences. You don’t need too much, just the will to go out.

I go out with no particular aim or reason. I don’t go out specifically to see birds, but I love to see them. They are magical to me, and I enjoy their presence.

I hold the firm belief that people thinking that nature is “dirty” stems from parents saying, “Don’t pick up that feather, because you’re going to get a disease from it.” I’ve touched countless feathers in my life, and never got sick from them.

When I’m out I take field notes. I sit down on a bench, get out a notebook and I write down the date, weather, what I’ve seen and what I’m feeling – my emotions – which I then won’t forget, because it’s been internalised through writing. It makes it feel real.

Some of the connection I have is down to my autism; I feel things very strongly. When I feel bark it feels like a lot more than just touching bark – it feels like touching a living creature. Sometimes it can be quite overwhelming. We are all part of this Earth. I feel a responsibility towards it.

I was bullied quite heavily a couple of years back. They were saying, “Why do you care about nature and all this stuff?” and I was like: “Wait a second, if I care about nature more than basically everything else, and I don’t care about the bullies, it makes them irrelevant.”

There is one thing that I am 100% sure of: my love of the natural world – it is essential to my wellbeing and my mental health. It is a part of me now. If it was taken away from me, it would be like someone taking the floor from beneath me. I don’t know where I’d be.

Visit rspb.org.uk for a guide to birdwatching

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« Reply #6388 on: Oct 18, 2019, 03:37 AM »

Boa constrictor 'at large' in western Sydney after huge snake skin found

Residents warned following discovery of ‘freshly shed’ skin at the Cascades Estate in Silverdale

Naaman Zhou
18 Oct 2019 05.02 BST

Biosecurity officers were combing a western Sydney suburb where an adult boa constrictor was believed to be “at large” on Monday after the discovery of a huge, “freshly shed” snake skin.

It was feared the dangerous snake was roaming the Cascades Estate residential complex in Silverdale.

The skin was found at a construction site on Wednesday and the New South Wales government wrote to residents on Friday to warn them.

The South American snake, which grows to an average of 3m – is illegal to keep in Australia outside zoos, and can kill people and animals by strangulation.

“NSW government has reason to believe there is an adult boa constrictor snake ‘at large’ in or around the Cascades Estate,” the letter said.

“A freshly shed snake skin was found at a property on Torumba Circuit on 9 October 2019, NSW government is in the process of trying to locate and capture the animal and is requesting the residents be on the lookout for it and to report any sightings.”

    camwilson 👋 (@cameronwilson)

    this is supposedly the skin left over pic.twitter.com/BlKz666FfM
    October 14, 2019

On Monday, the government said biosecurity officers were “currently working to locate and capture the animal”.

Residents were told to “observe and, if possible, photograph the animal. If it is moving try and watch where it goes. Do not make contact with the animal.”

The NSW Department of Primary Industries said the boa constrictor was “considered to be one of the world’s largest snake species”.

The snake is not venomous, but constricts and suffocates its prey.

The constrictor is classified as a threat to humans, especially small children, as well as pets. They are native to central America and carry viruses that are fatal to native snakes, who do not have resistance.

If officers found the snake, they would employ a licensed snake catcher to snare it and transport it to a specialist veterinarian, the government said.

“The snake will be examined to determine where it came from, how long it has been in the area, what it has been eating, whether it’s carrying any diseases of concern and whether it has produced offspring,” they said.

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« Reply #6389 on: Oct 18, 2019, 03:40 AM »

GERMANY dispatch: Where Pugs Rule the Racetrack

Pugs enjoy a certain cultlike status in Germany, where their owners gather regularly to swap stories about the breed, and let the dogs compete to see who’s fastest. Or slowest.

By Melissa Eddy
Oct. 18, 2019

HAMBURG, Germany — If Elvis had one advantage over his competitors, it was his long legs. Well, relatively long. His slightly extended snout and slender body also helped him swallow the 80-yard stretch of sandy track in just over eight seconds.

“Sensational!” the timekeeper called as Elvis pounded across the finish line and bounded into the arms of his 13-year-old owner, Emma Pollex, who had run ahead, shaking a small, zipped bag packed with treats.

Elvis was one of the star pugs on a recent sunny Saturday at the Hamburg N.W.R. dog track on the outskirts of the northern German port city.

“He’s really fast,” said Emma, and likes to run, so much so, she said, that Elvis didn’t even need to train before going up against the 49 other competitors.

Along with Joschi, Campino and dozens of other curly-tailed pugs, Elvis was competing in what has become a regular effort in Germany to blow up the breed’s reputation as committed couch potatoes.

Sometimes, the reputation seemed justified. Campino needed a push just to get him past the starting line. Lulu stopped midway for a sniff before dashing backward, then turning around and casually trotting across the finish, taking a leisurely 32 seconds.

“This isn’t a competitive race,” said Angelika Schmorr, Lulu’s owner. “We are all here just for the fun of it.”
ImageA pug getting ready to race on the Hamburg N.W.R. dog track, where greyhounds and whippets generally compete.

In the country that gave the world the German shepherd and the Doberman pinscher, short-legged, smashed-nosed pugs, called “Mops” in German, would seem out of place. But the animals have long been celebrated across this country for their loyalty and clown-like temperament, and as subversive symbols.

Introduced to Europe from China, pugs made their way to Saxony in eastern Germany in the 18th century, where they became the mascot of a group of excommunicated masons who called themselves The Order of the Pug.

Around the same time, a designer at the royal Saxon porcelain factory in Meissen began casting pug figurines that became popular at court. They are still produced and sold today.

More recently, the German comedian Vicco von Bülow, known by his stage name Loriot, has boosted the breed’s popularity in this country, featuring the dogs in his work and declaring, “A life without pugs is possible, but meaningless.”

As the dogs’ popularity has grown, events for pug owners and their animals have sprung up across Germany. While many of these feature “races,” the winners are as much the pets who display their particularly pug-like attributes — which does not necessarily include speed.

A decade ago, Thomas Zupan and his wife, Beate, pug breeders, organized the annual International Pug Meeting in Berlin. It features a 50-yard dash timed with state-of-the-art photo finish equipment and prizes for the fastest — and the slowest — pugs.

The event has drawn participants from across Europe and spectators from across the city. But this year, the city animal welfare authority canceled the pug race at the last minute because of extreme heat, although the gathering still took place.

When Mr. Zupan announced the dogs would not be running, boos and groans went up from the owners of 95 pugs poised to compete — who were unleashed and happily tearing about a vast fenced-in yard that was supposed to serve as the racetrack.

Days earlier, the German branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had warned that the dogs’ snouts and palates were “too short, which makes it difficult for them to breathe,” even in cooler temperatures.

Many owners blamed the race’s cancellation on the warning, and said the activists failed to understand their fun, and their dogs.

“A pug will know if they want to run or not,” said Ursula Streich, owner of Hanna. “If they don’t want to run, then they will just lie down. You can’t do anything about it.”

Ashley Reinhart also said canceling the race made no sense. She was at the event with Kirby and Thor, two rescue pugs. The animals had made their way across the Atlantic with Ms. Reinhart and her husband when they moved earlier this year from Pennsylvania to Lübeck, Germany, for work.

“It’s very unlikely that any pug parent would put their pug in harm’s way,” said Ms. Reinhart, who refers to herself as the mother of Kirby and Thor.

“These dogs are like your kids,” she added, sitting in a camp chair beside a small tent set up to shade her dogs. “If they can’t handle the heat, you would know and as a responsible parent, handle it accordingly.”

Neither Thor, who has use of only three legs, nor Kirby had been registered for the race. Like their owners, they had come along just for the camaraderie.

Thor and Kirby have their own Instagram account, @expatpugs, so friends back home can keep up with their adventures in Germany. They join other pug social media stars, like Hamilton Pug and Doug The Pug, who have captured the attention of millions.

But long before Twitter and Facebook, or even Frank the pug’s debut as an alien disguised as a dog in “Men in Black,” Germans had their own set of pug stars, Meier and Pöhlmann.

In 1971 the country was glued to TV sets, watching as a pair of pugs descended from a spaceship to leave their paw prints on the face of the moon, or at least a low-budget copy of them. The ability of the “astronauts,” in the sketch by the comedian Loriot, to survive in outer space without special suits was attributed to their “new breathing technique” and “unbelievable resistant body form.”

Last year Emma was the most celebrated pug in Germany, called the “Usain Bolt of Pugs” after winning her third straight race in Berlin with a record time of under six seconds. Like Elvis, this year’s winner in Hamburg, Emma is a variety of pug in Germany known as an “Altdeutsche Mops,” or “Old German pug.”

In Germany, both the Altdeutsche strain and more recent efforts to crossbreed pugs with Jack Russell terriers, so-called “Retro Pugs,” have become increasingly popular.

Ms. Schmorr, the owner of Lulu, the pug who took a more circuitous route to the finish line in Hamburg, confessed that she was uninterested in the breed, until she took in the pug that had belonged to her mother, after her death.

That was six years ago. When that pug died, she knew she needed another one.

“Pugs don’t leave anyone indifferent,” she said. “Either you hate them or you love them — and if you do, you can’t live without them.”

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