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« Reply #5070 on: Jul 17, 2018, 04:40 AM »

House Republicans Launch Extinction Bills to Cripple Endangered Species Act


Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives announced on Thursday a series of bills aimed at profoundly gutting the Endangered Species Act, including provisions making it almost impossible for imperiled species to gain protection and giving states that often oppose endangered species protection veto power over those decisions.

In addition, the bills would turn over recovery efforts to states that often lack the funding or regulatory structure to ensure species' survival, let alone recovery.

"These bills will absolutely push wildlife over the edge and into extinction," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Republicans are turning their back on the most vulnerable species in the country just to please polluters and other powerful interests. It's disgusting and repugnant."

More than 75 legislative attacks have been launched against the Endangered Species Act since Trump took office—and more than 300 since 2011, when Republicans took over the U.S. House of Representatives.

Today's attacks are being led by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce and other House Republicans beholden to oil and gas and other extractive industries.

Among the bills, Rep. Westerman's "Petition Act" would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare a petition backlog if it is presented with too many species in need of protection and then suspend any deadlines responding to those petitions and prohibit consideration of any subsequently filed.

"The problem isn't a backlog of petitions, it's a backlog of species that desperately need help and a government that hasn't moved fast enough to prevent their extinction," Greenwald said. "If Representative Westerman and his patrons in the oil and gas industry truly wanted to see the backlog addressed and extinction avoided, they would provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service more money to help the many species waiting for protection, species like American wolverines and lesser prairie chickens."

Other bills give the states undue influence over what should be scientific decisions involving the very survival of species, known as speed delisting of species, which would certainly result in species prematurely losing protection. Rep. Gosar's bill would callously exempt dams and their associated reservoirs from designation of critical habitat, despite the frequent importance of the impounded rivers for many species, ranging from salmon to yellow-billed cuckoos.

The Endangered Species Act is the most successful wildlife conservation law in the world. It has staved off extinction for 99 percent of the species under its care and put hundreds on the road to recovery.

"If you love whales or birds or bears or rare plants, you have to love the Endangered Species Act because it's the safety net that keeps many of them from disappearing into oblivion," Greenwald said. "These Republicans' efforts to tear apart the Endangered Species Act go directly against the will of the American people and will rob future generations of countless species."

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« Reply #5071 on: Jul 17, 2018, 04:41 AM »

World’s Most Endangered Sea Turtle Found Strangled by Beach Chair


An extremely endangered sea turtle was found dead on a Fort Morgan, Alabama beach Saturday, strangled by an abandoned beach chair, the Miami Herald reported Sunday.

The turtle's death was documented by a series of Facebook posts by the Fort Morgan branch of Alabama sea turtle conservation group Share the Beach.

"This makes me so mad. How many hundreds of times do we have to ask people to pick their stuff up? It should just be common decency. I think I am going to print this out and carry it with me next time I have to ask," the first post said.

The posts identified the turtle as a Kemp's ridley turtle, which are the smallest species of sea turtle, according to the Miami Herald, and also the most endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

They typically nest in Texas and Mexico but have been found in the Gulf, WPMI reported.

Kemp's ridley sea turtles have been listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as endangered species since 1970, and the greatest threat to the species is human activity, according to the Miami Daily Herald.

"We did it, turtles will not encounter chairs if it were not for us," Dauphin Island resident and Share the Beach volunteer Richard Brewer told Fox10 News. "Heartbreaking. Truly heartbreaking."

Brewer said that he had a pile of nets, ropes and refrigerator tanks in his yard that he and his daughter had collected from beaches on Dauphin Island this season.

"We had great news this morning, we believe that we have the first Kemp's ridley nest ever found on Dauphin Island, to find out that we had a mature female Kemp's that just died because of something that could have been prevented is tragic," Brewer told Fox10 News.

Matt Ware, a Ph.D. student and marine ecologist who posted the second set of photos of the turtle, said the turtle was found during salvaging activities permitted by U.S. FWS.

Ware told WPMI that he was not sure how long the turtle had been dead, but it could have suffered for days.

"The chair had some growth on it and the turtle was showing signs of decomposition, though not extensive," he said in a comment on the original post reported by the Miami Herald. "It's late in the season for these guys to be nesting, so either she's been carrying it around awhile or she picked it up in the water."

Ware told WPMI that beachgoers should take everything back with them when they leave the beach, even if they plan to return the next day.

"We aren't the only animals who enjoy the beach," Ware said.

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« Reply #5072 on: Jul 17, 2018, 04:43 AM »

300+ Mammal Species Could Still Be Discovered, Scientists Say

By Sara Novak

You can't protect an animal that you don't know exists. Tapanuli orangutans, for example, are found only in the Tapanuli region of Sumatra; they were only identified as a species last year, when scientists found them to be genetically different from other Bornean and Sumatran orangutans. With just 800 left, this newly discovered species is the most critically endangered ape.

It's hard to believe that with only seven great ape species on the planet—Tapanuli, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos—a species could have gone undiscovered until 2017. But, in fact, new research shows that many mammals still fly under the radar.

The olinguito, a carnivorous member of the raccoon family, wasn't discovered in Colombia and Ecuador until 2013. The Burrunan dolphin was found in the waters off Australia in 2011. In a new study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, Molly Fisher and other researchers at the University of Georgia used a predictive model to conclude that 303 mammals have yet to be discovered.

Most of these unknown mammals, the researchers found, are likely in tropical regions of the world, many of which are threatened with habitat destruction. This makes discovering them a race against time before they go extinct. "If a species goes extinct before we discover it, how can we know what went wrong? If we lose a species without knowing it existed, we lose a lot of information," said Fisher.

Fisher said that she chose to study mammals because they are the most charismatic of terrestrial species, and therefore more likely to be protected. But less glamorous creatures, like plants and arthropods, are disappearing at even faster rates than mammals, which is worrying to scientists.

"We're concerned about why extinction rates are on the rise," said Fisher. "We're losing a lot of biodiversity, most of which exists in our remaining forests in places like the Amazon." Some researchers now talk about "biological annihilation," citing cascading extinctions, dwindling population sizes, and range shrinkages among vertebrate species.

Fisher and her team employed scientific modeling to measure discovery and extinction rates. Without direct interaction, however, it's impossible to know whether a species has disappeared completely or just hasn't been seen in a while. This occurred recently with the Guadalupe fur seal, a species found in California and Mexico that was rediscovered after years of suspected extinction.

The model used by the University of Georgia researchers is similar to one used to predict the remaining unknown number of plant species in 2011. It was constructed by counting the total number of species discovered and described by scientists from 1760 through 2010 by five year increments. "The model utilizes a statistical technique called 'maximum likelihood,' which allows scientists to approximate the total number of species that are likely to have existed in order to produce the number of descriptions actually recorded by taxonomists, scientists who classify new species," said Fisher.

As the number of such scientists has increased, so has the number of classifications accounted for in the model. The researchers also noted "taxonomic efficiency" or how good scientists are at discovering new species. Like the Tapanuli orangutan, many species once thought to be identical are, upon closer inspection, found to be genetically distinct. Dr. Michael Krützen from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Zurich was part of the team that helped discover the Tapanuli using genomic analyses from orangutan samples. He said that Tapanuli orangutans differ significantly, most notably in tooth and skull shape, from those outside the region, because their populations had been disconnected for at least 20,000 years. But with so few of them left, it's easy to see why the species wasn't discovered until recently.

Fisher and her team approximate that 5,860 mammal species currently exist. She was surprised to find that Europe and Asia had a significant number of undiscovered mammals. The model showed that 10 percent of species in this part of the world have yet to be discovered, possibly because many are located in lightly populated Siberian regions.

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« Reply #5073 on: Jul 18, 2018, 04:13 AM »

Nearly 300 crocodiles killed in Indonesia after man's death

West Papua official says locals slaughtered 292 crocodiles using hammers and clubs

18 Jul 2018 08.37 BST

People armed with knives, hammers and clubs have slaughtered 292 crocodiles after a man was killed by one of the reptiles at a breeding farm in West Papua, Indonesia.

Photographs released by the Antara news agency showed a large pile of bloodied carcasses in the Sorong district.

The head of Indonesia’s natural resources conservation agency in West Papua said it was thought the victim, 48, was picking grass for animal feed when he was attacked.

“An employee heard someone screaming for help, he quickly went there and saw a crocodile attacking someone,” said Basar Manullang.

After the man was buried on Saturday, villagers entered the farm and killed all the crocodiles, Manullang said.

He said the farm had been granted a licence in 2013 to breed protected saltwater and New Guinea crocodiles for preservation and also to harvest some of them. But one of the conditions was that the reptiles did not disturb the community, Manullang added.

“To prevent this from happening again, farming licence holders need to secure surrounding areas,” he said.

Manullang said his agency was coordinating with the police in their investigation into the incident.

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« Reply #5074 on: Jul 18, 2018, 04:20 AM »

How many hippos are too many? Proposed cull raises questions

By resurrecting a proposal to allow trophy hunters to shoot 250 hippos annually, Zambia stirs controversy.

Jeremy Hance
Wed 18 Jul 2018 06.00 BST

The hippo — really? That’s the common response when tour guides in Africa tantalize travelers with this question: “What’s the most dangerous animal on the continent?” Lion? Rhino? Elephant? No, no, no. Eventually, the tour guide delivers the answer with a twinkle in their eye: the hippo, yes, that water-loving, one-tonne mammalian oddity. Despite their hefty and somnolent appearance, hippos are fast and aggressive — a dangerous mix — and may kill several hundred people a year (of course the most dangerous animal in Africa is not really the hippo at all, it’s the mosquito — but no one likes a know-it-all).

Despite being one of the most unusual animals on the planet — their closest relatives are whales and dolphins — hippos don’t get a lot of love. They tend to be overshadowed by the continent’s other remarkable mega-mammals. Who can compete with elephants and giraffe and lion? Perhaps, that’s why it’s not exactly surprising that the announcement of a hippo cull in Zambia didn’t exactly make global news.
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But the proposal of a cull of hippos — conducted by trophy hunters — on the Luangwa River in Zambia raises a number of conservation questions, from population dynamics, to whether or not trophy hunting is a good conservation strategy in such cases, and even to something called shifting baselines syndrome.

In 2016, Zambia proposed a large-program scale cull of its hippo population, but soon rolled back the idea after backlash by environmental and animal rights groups. Now, the idea is back: Zambia has proposed a cull of 250 hippos annually for the foreseeable future. The government says there are simply too many hippos and fears an outbreak of anthrax that could spread to other animals.

A South African outfitter, Umlilo Safaris, has begun advertising to the chance to kill five hippos per trophy hunter.

Not surprisingly, some animal rights and conservation groups immediately cried foul.

“The negative consequences for thousands of hippo and Zambia’s reputation as a wildlife tourism destination — the proposed cull site can be seen from the internationally-renowned Chichele Lodge — cannot be under-estimated,” said Will Travers, head of Born Free Foundation, last month.

The pushback has put the government on the defensive. Charles Banda, Tourism Minister, has confirmed that a final decision has not been made.

“The matter is under discussion in Cabinet and a decision will be announced soon,” he said.
Is a cull necessary?

The hippo population on the Luangwa River is currently the largest in the world. The IUCN estimates that around 25,000 hippopotamus are living in the Luangwa River and notes that there may be as many as 42 hippos per square kilometer on the river at its highest density. In fact, around 20 percent of the world’s surviving hippos are found in this single river — a remarkable conservation achievement by Zambia.

But is this a rare reservoir of wild abundance that should be celebrated or out-of-control hippos that desperately require lethal management? Currently, the IUCN Red List categorizes hippos as vulnerable. With 115,000-130,000 hippos in the world, they are significantly rarer than the African elephant. The hippo’s global population fell during the late 1990s and early 2000s, but has since plateaued. They remain imperiled by ongoing habitat loss and degradation as well as poaching for their meat and ivory — their teeth.

“Given the number of hippos in [Zambia], at a national scale, the proposed cull number seems reasonable,” Rebecca Lewison, the chair of the IUCN Hippo Group and a professor at San Diego State University, said.

“In general, culling is an established practice that can be effective in reducing populations,” she added.

According to the Zambian government, one of the primary reasons for a cull is the fear of an anthrax outbreak. This is hardly unfounded as anthrax outbreaks have been seen among hippos populations in Tanzania and Namibia last year. While most of us know of anthrax as a deadly poison used to terrorize people, it is a bacteria that most commonly hits ungulates like cows, sheep and, yes, hippos. It tends to hit hippos during drought years when their river dries up.

“Anthrax is a very deadly disease and people are very susceptible to it,” said Corinne Kendall, Curator of Conservation and Research at the North Carolina Zoo, who has studied both hippos, vultures and anthrax.

But that doesn’t mean hippos struck by anthrax would likely spread it to humans.

“Barring eating meat from an animal that’s died from [anthrax] or going up and handling carcasses…one should be able to avoid anthrax,” Kendall noted.

No humans were infected in either Tanzania or Namibia during the anthrax outbreaks.
“The concern with anthrax is that it will spread quickly through the hippos and it does have the potential to spread to other animals, like lions, elephants and giraffe,” Kendall noted, though she added these species are less likely to be hard hit due to their different behavior and diets.

No one wants anthrax infecting their wildlife — let alone their people. But there is little guarantee that killing a few hundred hippos could prevent such an outbreak.

Nor, it seems, is there agreement that the hippos are overpopulated.

“We have to date seen little evidence to suggest hippos are ‘overpopulated’,” said Mark Jones, Head of Policy, at Born Free Foundation.

Kendall notes that managers must have “really good scientific data about the populations” any time culling is considered. She adds that “it’s absolutely critical” to know that the population is significantly above normal.

The government did not respond specifically to the question of overpopulation, but even an international hunting groups said more information was needed.

“It is clear at this stage already that there is a lack of scientific research and its results when it comes to hippo management,” said a spokesperson for the The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC). The spokesperson for the pro-hunting not-for-profit group noted that they’d like to see more clarity on if the hippo is indeed overpopulated in this area or if declining habitat was pushing it into conflict with people.

The CIC said it would support a hunt if the numbers required a cull and the animal is fully utilized, i.e. its meat is eaten. However, a 2013 paper by Chansa Chomba with the Zambia Wildlife Authority, notes that hippo meat is rarely eaten in the area due to a local belief that consuming hippo can cause leprosy.

As largest land animal in the Artiodactyla order, hippos can have heavy impacts on the environment, including erosion and water quality. A large number of hippos produce a lot of feces, delivering high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous into the river system. A paper this year found that hippo feces in the Great Ruaha River in Tanzania impacted both biodiversity and fish abundance — but only during the dry season. Still, sudden fish kills due to hippo poo are likely cyclical, natural events — though exacerbated by human use of the rivers — that have the plus-side of feeding scavengers.

An abundance hippos, of course, can also lead to human-wildlife conflict, and potentially human deaths. Hippos are known to raid crops and will aggressively defend their territory, especially in the water. A common warning: never get between a grazing hippo and its water source, never cut off its escape route. Exacerbating matters, Zambia, like much of Sub Saharan Africa, has seen its human population boom in recent decades — doubling in less than 25 years — leading to greater conflict with wildlife as its territory inevitably shrinks.

In February of this year, a hippo capsized the boat of two men illegally fishing in Zambia — one of them was almost immediately killed by a crocodile. And earlier this month a man in Zimbabwe was killed by a hippo in his garden. Certainly, the people who must live with any potentially dangerous animals deserve a say in how governments respond.

If a cull is done, the next question however is how best to do it. Currently, the Zambia government is outsourcing the cull to trophy hunting outfits. The problem with this is that they are also outsourcing which animals are shot.

Pay to shoot

Trophy hunters usually want to kill the biggest males possible. In some cases this can lead to catastrophic cascading effects, such as with lions when a male dies and its cubs are killed by rival males. But with hippos the exact opposite may happen: killing a bunch of males could actually lead to an increase in the population in coming years.

“It has been documented that the act of culling removes excess males and frees resources for the remaining female individuals, leading to increased births and facilitating rather than suppressing population growth rate,” reads a 2013 paper by Chansa Chomba with the Zambia Wildlife Authority.

Chomba, who did not respond to requests for comment, also found in his research that past culls had little impact on the population. The population on Luangwa has been relatively stable over recent decades after rising from near extermination.

Given Chomba’s research, one has to wonder if this cull is really about something else. If it’s actually about decreasing the population, killing 250 animals via trophy hunting probably won’t do it. For big mammals, hippos have a quick gestation time — eight months — and the population could quickly recover.

Moreover, using trophy hunters is arguably an odd strategy if the goal is to decrease the population. The death of a bunch of old males will do little to decrease the population and may even, as Chomba’s paper suggests, lead to a baby boom.

“I think the discussion…really centers on the pros and cons of trophy hunting,” Lewison said. She noted this depends very much on how the money from the hunt is spread out. Are local people receiving funds? Is a good chunk of the money going to pay for rangers and land protection or is it disappearing into profits and corruption?

The cull has been blasted by Peter Sinkamba, the president of Zambia’s Green Party.

“The Luangwa valley is not overpopulated as they claim,” he said, claiming that the population has actually dropped by 14-20 percent in the last 30 years.

“The culling policy is motivated by pure greed,” he added.

A recent article alleges that the cull really isn’t about too many hippos but about a poorly-written contract signed with hunting outfits in 2016. According to the investigative piece, the Zambian government is looking to avoid a lawsuit by Mabwe Adventures Limited for cancelling the cull last time by giving them, via Umlilo Safaris, another chance at killing hippos. Umlilo Safaris did not respond to requests for comment.

But are the hippos of Luangwa really overpopulated? Or — unlike so many other wildlife populations worldwide — just doing well?

And here’s a much bigger question: do we, as humans, now see natural abundance as somehow unnatural?

Abundance and shifting baselines

Full-grown, big-toothed, grumpy hippos don’t really have predators. The one exception, according to Kendall, are some lion prides that have learned to hunt adult hippos (how have we never seen that on a nature special?). But even with these specialized prides, hippo populations are largely constrained only by their natural environment.

“Often what you see is populations that aren’t regulated by predators, are regulated by disease and other environmental factors. And I think hippos are a good example of that,” Kendall explained. “Their large size and aggressive behaviors mostly allows them to avoid predation. But they can’t avoid drought and they can’t avoid things like anthrax.”

Kendall says hippos “naturally have fluctuating populations”: when there is lots of rain and lush grazing, the population will rise, but it will plunge again during drought years.
Hungry lions had to swallow their pride and share their meal with a pack of hyenas. The big cats were feasting on the carcass of a massive hippo, when the scavengers turned up wanting a piece of the action. The heavily outnumbered lions initially tried to fight them off, but were eventually humbled into sharing their dinner.

In other words, hippos populations won’t run totally amuck. Eventually, Nature — through her tools of disease or starvation — will rein-in Luangwa’s watery behemoths.

“It is somewhat an ethical question: of whether it’s better to let animals die from natural causes or if you want to use human managed techniques like culling,” Kendall said.

But a bigger questions keeps rising to the surface as I read about this cull: have we as a human species become a little unsettled by abundance?

Natural abundance — once the mainstay of the planet — is becoming increasingly rare to witness, especially when we’re talking about anything bigger than an insect (and even those are in deep trouble). I’m not sure what Americans would do if their sky filled up with billions of passenger pigeons — as they once did — but I doubt they would like it. They’d probably push for a mass-scale extermination campaign to escape a seasonal precipitation of bird droppings.

It’s even harder to accept abundance when it’s a species that’s viewed as potentially dangerous — like hippos — or a competitor. Many Europeans and Americans have shown discomfort with even the smallest populations of wolves. The minute they make their reappearance, whether in California, Iowa or Holland, someone is calling for them to be controlled, i.e. hunted. It doesn’t matter that present wolf populations are tiny fractions of their former abundance or that they play outsized roles in maintaining ecological health. The fact that they are returning is...disturbing (to some).

In 1995 scientists described the way in which humans over generations have forgetten what nature really looks like: shifting baselines syndrome. First coined by fisheries scientists, Daniel Pauly, “shifting baselines syndrome” basically means that every generation sees nature through a different lens. The slate is constantly being wiped clean. Therefore, what we view as “normal” nature is actually degraded — and often degraded with every generation. Our baselines of normalcy keep shifting.

In other words, a rising hippo population seem unsettling — even threatening — though a couple hundred years ago they were far more abundant. If you grew up in an area that no longer had wolves — and then they come back — they seem like invaders. How would the average Britain respond if they work up one day and their island was covered, coast to coast, in forest, as it was not so long ago?

Research has proven that humans even experience “shifting baselines” in their lifetimes : it turns out we update expectations (and biases) of nature as we age. Scientists call this personal amnesia: we forget that when we were children we used to hear frogs all the time, we used to see more species of songbird, or have more habitat along field rows.

So, my question is this: Is the desire to cull a recently recovered population a part of our shifting baseline bias? Maybe. Maybe we’re trying to return nature to the way it was, even when in this case it was degraded before and is now actually recovering — just a little.

Humans have long desired to harness and control nature. We are constantly trying to rein in everything nature does, a fact that underpins both our startling success and our potential demise. The American government has an entire unit, the Wildlife Service, that is devoted to killing animals it view as pests — in 2016 it killed 2.7 million animals, including nearly a million red-winged blackbirds, 76,963 coyotes and 14,654 prairie dogs. Apparently, there was just too many of them.

But if the full spectrum life on Earth — and ourselves — is going to have any chance maybe we need to rethink this growing discomfort with natural abundance. Maybe 25,000 hippos on the Luangwa River should be celebrated, instead of feared. Maybe Zambia should be congratulated on its conservation successes. And maybe we should work with the country to help minimize hippo-human conflict, instead of just chastising them at the mere mention of a cull.

Hippopotami, or in Greek “water horses,” used to fill the Nile River. There was once an Egyptian Goddesses with the head of a hippo. Today, these aquatic anomalies are not only extinct in the Nile, but across all of northern Africa. A hippo there would now seem to many unnatural. Though their ancestors would view today’s Nile with shock and fear. They’d probably ask: where are the floods? The abundant fish? The hippos? There used to be so many hippos.

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« Reply #5075 on: Jul 18, 2018, 04:29 AM »

Rare skull of elephant ancestor unveiled in France

Agence France-Presse
18 Jul 2018 at 08:03 ET                   

A French farmer kept quiet for years after stumbling across the skull of an extinct ancestor of the elephant near the Pyrenees mountains, the Natural History Museum of Toulouse has told AFP.

The farmer discovered the first-ever skull of a Pyrenean mastodon in 2014 while doing work on his land near the village of L’Isle-en-Dodon, about 70 kilometres (44 miles) southwest of Toulouse.

Worried that the farm would be overrun by hordes of amateur paleontologists he kept the find a secret for two years before eventually contacting the museum.

“It was only when we went there, in 2017, that we realised the significance of the discovery,” the museum’s management said.

The gomphoterium pyrenaicum was “a kind of elephant with four tusks measuring around 80 centimetres, two on the upper jaw and two on the lower jaw,” museum director Francis Duranthon told AFP on Wednesday.

Before that the only evidence that the giant herbivores had roamed the area millions of years ago were four teeth found in the same area in 1857.

“Now we have a full skull which will allow us to get a clearer picture of the anatomy of this species,” Duranthon said.

“We’re putting a face on a species which had become almost mythical,” the museum’s curator Pierre Dalous added.

The skull has been unearthed and brought to a laboratory partly encased in rock.

“Now we have to chip away, centimetre by centimetre, to reveal the rest of the skull,” Dalous said, adding that experts were halfway through the work which is expected to be completed within six to nine months.

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« Reply #5076 on: Jul 18, 2018, 04:31 AM »

Common cranes 'here to stay' after recolonising eastern England

Model predicts population of UK’s tallest bird could double within 50 years after its return to the east of England following a 400-year absence

Press Association
18 Jul 2018 06.01 BST

Common cranes which recolonised eastern England less than 40 years ago after a 400-year absence are now here to stay, research has found.

There could be as many as 275 breeding pairs of the UK’s tallest bird within 50 years, scientists at the University of Exeter, the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) predict.

Cranes were lost from the UK as a breeding bird in the 16th century as a result of hunting and the drainage of large areas of wetlands, but some returned to the east of England in 1979.

Conservationists supported the small population, but they breed slowly and their numbers remained low over the next two decades, leaving the population at risk of disappearing again if hit by problems such as disease.

A new population model, published in a paper in the journal Animal Conservation, found that an important part of the growth in numbers until 2010 were new arrivals from continental Europe.

Then conservationists began to import eggs and release fledgling cranes in the west of England as part of the “great crane project”, which by 2014 had boosted the UK population with 90 new birds.

As a result, the population model predicts a 50% increase in the number of breeding cranes, from 178 now to 275 pairs in the UK in 50 years’ time.

Dr Andrea Soranio-Redondo, who led the research as part of her PhD, said: “Any small and newly established group is particularly vulnerable to random events such as an outbreak of disease.

“Knowing how many there are isn’t enough to predict whether they’re safe. Understanding the interplay between new arrivals, births and deaths enables us to judge the risk they face and predict their future with far more certainty.”

Prof Stuart Bearhop of the University of Exeter said: “Of course it is obvious that adding birds will boost the population size, but what we find here is that these additional birds, as they establish themselves and become breeders, are a key element in the future persistence of this charismatic species in the UK.”

Schemes to move wildlife such as eggs or chicks from healthy populations to bolster numbers elsewhere were often thought of as expensive and risky.

But conservationists said the findings showed that wildlife translocation, alongside other measures such as providing the right habitat, could help accelerate the recovery of species.

The next challenge to help cranes, which are now a regular sight in the east of England, Somerset and Gloucestershire, is to ensure enough wetlands for them to breed safely, experts said, urging authorities to restore whole landscapes so there are more, bigger, better quality and joined-up areas of habitat for wildlife.

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« Reply #5077 on: Jul 18, 2018, 04:33 AM »

Sunscreen for cows: UK farmers struggle to cope with heatwave

Traditional farming shows its benefits as stone barns and hedgerows provide cattle with relief from the heat

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
18 Jul 2018 11.23 BST

Sunscreen and waiter service for cows, and a renewed appreciation for traditional countryside structures such as stone barns and hedgerows, are some of the modern and ancient ways in which farmers are trying to cope with the heatwave.

Record temperatures and a lack of rainfall have drawn comparisons with 1976, the UK’s biggest drought in living memory. Forecasters say the hot weather is set to continue, probably for weeks.

While modern livestock sheds are usually cooled with fans and sprinklers, ancient stone barns are also effective in the hot weather, according to Robert Martin, a dairy farmer with a 120-strong herd near Carlisle. Their design means a good circulation of air, and the stones help moderate the temperature inside. “The cows are very comfortable in them.”

Martin has also kept many stands of trees on his farm, which is benefitting the cows. Across the UK, much of this traditional shelter has been reduced, as farmers have removed or drastically cut back hedgerows to make for more efficient use of farm machinery. Without their shade, cattle face a hard time, as they are particularly sensitive to sunlight.

Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association, said: “We’d advise farmers to ensure there is adequate shade for livestock to escape the heat, which is why trees on farmland are so important, particularly at this time of year.”

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) advises moving affected animals to a shaded building, but in some cases – only on a vet’s advice – cattle can be given suncream if they have become sunburned.

Cows, like many humans, also lose appetite in the heat, and Martin has got round this by delivering feed right up to each animal to encourage them to eat and drink. “Usually at this time of year they are self-feeding in the fields, but at the moment I’m having to do it,” he said. He is using winter feed, or silage, to ensure the cows have enough food and moisture.

Martin, who is also national treasurer of the Tenant Farmers’ Association, said farmers across the country were doing much the same. “Farmers are very good at looking after their livestock. Every farmer will be doing their best, putting in the extra work. I don’t think there will be issues for animal welfare.”

Matthew Knight, managing director of the RABDF, said:“With the hot weather set to stay, farmers continue to face the challenge of providing the necessary requirements for their livestock. We advise all our members to focus on best practice, making sure their cows have adequate water and shade, providing additional shade if required.”

In the uplands, farmers reliant on natural water supplies were being particularly hard hit, reported Martin Lines, chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network. “Many burns are now dry, which is pretty unprecedented in recent times, and there are concerns that private water supplies to farmhouses could run dry.”

The economic costs will be harder to avoid. The dry spell has meant the grass is growing less strongly, and becoming parched. Even after rain finally returns, it will take three weeks for the grass to grow sufficiently long for cattle to eat. This means farmers like Martin are having to use up supplies of silage. Lines explained: “Fields are ‘burning up’, leaving less grass for the animals to eat. This will have a knock-on effect on winter fodder and some upland farmers have made only about a third of the hay and silage they made last year.”

To make matters worse, the heatwave has followed a long cold winter, when many farmers used up all their stores of feed as livestock were kept indoors longer than usual. Lines said: “They will be faced with having to sell animals or buy extra food from elsewhere, which could have a huge impact on next year’s breeding stock.”

Martin predicted that milk yields were likely to be down by about 15 to 20% for many farmers, and that Britain’s thousands of tenant farmers might have to try making representation to their landlords over the financial effects of the heatwave.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has opened a “fodder bank”, a free service to members that allows them to access feed and animal bedding, and lets them sell any surplus they have back to the bank, and said it would remain open as long as necessary.

To date, according to the industry body Dairy UK, there has been no effect on dairy prices to consumers. Meat continues to be threatened by the entirely separate problem of falling supplies of carbon dioxide, used in packaging to preserve meat products, but the situation is so far being managed.

Some sectors are less affected by the hot dry weather. Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said poultry farmers were challenged, but equipped. “All poultry houses have hi-tech ventilation systems that control and monitor the environment, and this, combined with the skills of our people, means the birds’ welfare is protected. Transportation in this hot weather is carefully managed: we reduce the number of birds on a lorry, maximise the air flow around them, and minimise the journey and waiting times. Our plants have cool well-ventilated areas called lairages, where arriving vehicles are parked and the birds moved from them as soon as possible.”

Free-range birds also always have the option of shade or shelter indoors or outdoors, and access to fresh water.

While many of the worst effects are falling on livestock farmers, Bowles noted that arable farms were also facing serious problems. “Due to a lack of rainfall and unusually high temperatures, it looks like yields for cereals, potatoes and other crops will be down this summer, which could lead to reduced availability in stores.”

Soft fruit, however, is enjoying a bumper year. The winter rainfall and wet spring that hurt animal feed supplies helped to charge up on-farm reservoirs for fruit growers, although according to the NFU some of those are now showing signs of running out.

Lines warned that this year’s weather could presage more to come, and that the government should take note. “Farmers need to be prepared for this extreme weather as it may become the new normal if we don’t accelerate our efforts to address climate change. This is why nature-friendly farming has never been more significant. Farmers need to work together to manage the impacts of climate change, and this action needs to be scaled up rapidly, with strong policy support.”

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« Reply #5078 on: Today at 04:26 AM »

Country diary: I looked into the eyes of Britain's most savage killer

Aigas, Highlands: The weasel may be tiny, but this fierce predator can dispatch and drag off a full-grown rabbit 25 times its size – and has a stare that even humans can find unnerving

John Lister-Kaye
19 Jul 2018 05.30 BST

If I asked you to name Britain’s most savage wildlife killer, you might say fox or peregrine or goshawk, or perhaps even the golden eagle or the Scottish wildcat if you knew about such exciting rarities. But I think you would be wrong. Savage and killers they all are, no question, but in my book none comes close to the smallest UK mustelid, the weasel, Mustela nivalis, so tiny that its skull can pass through a wedding ring.

A few days ago I watched one hunting. It vanished into a rockery and emerged a few seconds later with a vole dangling from its jaws. Voles, rats and mice, as well as small birds, are a weasel’s staple, but a male will take much larger prey such as a full-grown rabbit, up to 25 times its own weight, kill it, and, incredibly, drag it away into cover. No other British predator does that.

Weasels kill by crunching their tin-tack canines into the base of the prey’s skull and not letting go. I have seen a wood mouse, rigid with terror, give itself up at the sight of a weasel. A second later it was dead.

There is a dry-stone wall at the back of our wood. I call it a weasel cathedral. Its galleries and internal boulder halls are perfect weasel dens and, apparently, also irresistible to mice, which doesn’t say much for mouse intelligence – the sheep sheltering in the wolf’s den.

While repairing the wall in April last year I came across a beautiful nest the size of a cantaloupe melon, carefully lined with sheep’s wool, feathers and mouse fur. The unmistakable musky scent of weasel told me it was recently occupied – probably a bitch about to give birth. Desiccated shreds of mice littered the interstices of that wall in both directions. I carefully rebuilt the wall around it.

I once caught a weasel in a Longworth box trap. Expecting a field vole or a wood mouse, I got a shock when I emptied it into a polythene bag. As I released it, it fixed me with a stare I have never forgotten. I felt I was lucky to survive.

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« Reply #5079 on: Today at 04:27 AM »

Endangered bandicoot 'should never have been brought to South Australia'

Researchers say the western barred bandicoot was actually five species and those ‘reintroduced’ would never have lived in SA

Lisa Cox
19 Jul 2018 01.43 BST

An endangered Australian bandicoot that was reintroduced to the Australian mainland is now believed to be one of five distinct species, and researchers say it may have been a mistake to introduce it to South Australia.

Scientists working for the Western Australian Museum have published research that concludes that what has been known as the western barred bandicoot is in fact five distinct species – four of which had become extinct by the 1940s as a result of agriculture and introduced predators. The species were closely related but occurred in different parts of Australia.

In the 2000s, western barred bandicoots that had survived on the arid Bernier and Dorre islands off Western Australia were reintroduced to the mainland, including to a predator-proof reserve in outback South Australia.

But the new study shows the surviving species that was translocated to that part of the country would never have occurred there previously.

Lead researcher Dr Kenny Travouillon made the findings after analysing skulls and DNA from tissue from specimens held in collections in Paris and London.

He said the research, which was published in Zootaxa, came to the conclusion that the western barred bandicoot was the only remaining species of the five.

The species that has been reintroduced around Australia would have originally occurred only in parts of Western Australia.

“On the mainland, that species should have only been in WA along the coast from Shark Bay to Onslow,” he said. “They should never have been brought to South Australia, but that decision was made from the old research.”

It creates a conundrum for threatened species programs that had been considering reintroducing more western barred bandicoots in other locations.

Dr Kath Tuft, the general manager of the Arid Recovery Reserve in South Australia, said there were now as many as 2,000 western barred bandicoots at the reserve.

She said what had been considered a reintroduction of the species was now technically an introduction.

But she said it was part of “the wider story of extinctions of Australian mammals, which is ongoing”.

“It’s sad but it’s also hopeful because we have had that one surviving species,” Tuft said. “It shows how much has changed in this country with our species mix. We have to redress it in whatever ways we can.”

She said the five species would still have to be formally assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and state and federal environment departments.

Travouillon said the key different characteristic of the species that originally occurred in South Australia was that it had better hearing to detect predators.

He said the larger story was about Australia’s mammal extinction record, which has been the worst in the world over the past 200 years.

“We have a much worse extinction record than we thought and we should really care for our species a lot better than we have the last 200 years,” he said.

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« Reply #5080 on: Today at 04:30 AM »

Going on a bear hunt: the animal activists signing up to 'shoot' grizzlies

Activist group Shoot’em with a Camera seeks to infiltrate a bear hunt by acquiring licenses they don’t intend to use

Amanda Holpuch in New York
19 Jul 2018 18.05 BST

Jane Goodall, the renowned conservationist, and a group of wildlife activists are some of the unexpected entrants in a lottery to hunt up to 22 grizzly bears near Yellowstone national park.

Their goal is to infiltrate Wyoming state’s first grizzly bear hunt in 44 years by acquiring licenses they have no intention of using.

“We just thought it was a really proactive and specific way to get our voices heard,” Judy Hofflund, one of the organizers of the lottery protest, told the Guardian. “We wanted to protect the grizzlies and we would agree to pay for a tag, do everything legally, and shoot them with a camera and not with a gun.”

In June 2017, the US government delisted grizzly bears as an endangered species despite the pleas of conservationists. This allowed Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to plan limited bear hunts.

And in May, Wyoming’s Game and Fish commission voted 7-0 in favor of a grizzly bear hunt.

“The bears are still so vulnerable,” Hofflund said. “It’s crazy that seven people get to decide that these bears get to be hunted so soon. That feels pretty nutty to me.”

Hofflund said she and four other women gathered in her living room 10 days ago and brainstormed how they could save the grizzlies. They devised the plan to infiltrate the lottery and within hours had created a website and social media accounts for their movement, which they call “Shoot’em with a Camera, Not a Gun”. And they arranged to place five days of advertisements in the local newspaper, the Jackson Hole News and Guide, encouraging people to register for the lottery.

The group also raised more than $28,000 online to help fellow activists who might not be able to afford the cost of the license. Those who get a licenses must pay $602 if they are from Wyoming and $6,002 if they are from outside Wyoming.

Renny Mackay, the Wyoming game and fish department’s communications director, said roughly 7,000 applications were submitted before the lottery closed on Monday at midnight. “We view this as something the public of Wyoming asked for,” Mackay told the Guardian.

The hunt is split into two zones. For the suitable grizzly bear habitat where the animals live and are monitored, up to one female or 10 male bears can be hunted. For the area the department considers an unsuitable habitat because bears can cause conflict, up to 12 bears can be hunted.

The activists’ efforts could be impeded in the suitable habitat because one hunter will be allowed to hunt at a time until the quota is reached. “They have to prove they take it seriously, that they aren’t just entering it and then walking away,” Mackay said.

Mackay was not surprised by the effort to infiltrate the lottery because the plan to hunt has been subject to significant criticism since the Obama administration first raised delisting the bears as a threatened species in March 2016. More than 650,000 people weighed in during a public comment session that followed, including 125 Native American tribes that oppose hunting the bears.

Home to 700 bears

About 50,000 grizzly bears once covered North America, but their population plummeted in the 1850s with widespread hunting and trapping. There were only 136 of these bears in and near Yellowstone in 1975, when the Endangered Species Act was signed and introduced protections for the population in all continental US states except Alaska.

About 700 bears live there now and Mackay said that the population has recovered enough that limited hunting is safe for the population.

The hunt could be held up, however, because a federal judge is due to respond next month to a lawsuit against the government’s decision to remove grizzly bears from federal protection.

One of the hunt lottery activists, Ann Smith, has raised $82,000 in support of that lawsuit and for a year has been driving an antique truck with an enormous stuffed bear holding a “Grizzly Lives Matter” sign to bring attention to the cause in her home of Jackson Hole.

Shoot’em with a Camera has also found high-profile support from Jane Goodall, who entered the lottery with no intention of using the license. “The aim with her and many others’ participation is to preserve and protect grizzly bears by limiting the number of licenses that are used to actually hunt and kill the bears,” Shawn Sweeney, the director of communications at the Jane Goodall Institute, said in an email.

Hofflund, who said she has been visiting Yellowstone national park for 50 years, said she always loved grizzly bears but was especially enchanted by grizzly mother 399, one of the most famous bears in the world.

The at least 20-year-old bear became famous after being spotted frequently with her three cubs near roadways in Grand Teton park. This accessibility has lured visitors to the park and inspired the 2015 book, Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek.

Hofflund said of her 10 to 12 grizzly sightings, she has seen 399 three times – including once when she saw a man in a crowd of people burst into tears because he was so happy to see 399 alive.

The crowds that gather to see the bears in their natural habitat are what inspire Hofflund to push for their protection.

“Those people are so excited,” Hofflund said. “I wanted those people’s voice to be heard. We all did.”

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« Reply #5081 on: Today at 04:33 AM »

Alarmed conservationists call for urgent action to fix 'America's wildlife crisis'

One-third of species are vulnerable to extinction, a crisis ravaging swaths of creatures, conservationists say in call to fund recovery plans

Oliver Milman in New York

An extinction crisis is rippling though America’s wildlife, with scores of species at risk of being wiped out unless recovery plans start to receive sufficient funding, conservationists have warned.

One-third of species in the US are vulnerable to extinction, a crisis that has ravaged swaths of creatures such as butterflies, amphibians, fish and bats, according to a report compiled by a coalition of conservation groups. A further one in five species face an even greater threat, with a severe risk of being eliminated amid a “serious decline” in US biodiversity, the report warns.

“America’s wildlife are in crisis,” said Collin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation. “Fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates are all losing ground. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to prevent these species from vanishing from the earth.”

More than 1,270 species found in the US are listed as at risk under the federal Endangered Species Act, an imperiled menagerie that includes the grizzly bear, California condor, leatherback sea turtle and rusty patched bumble bee. However, the actual number of threatened species is “far higher than what is formally listed”, states the report by the National Wildlife Federation, American Fisheries Society and the Wildlife Society.

Using data from NatureServe that assesses the health of entire groups of species on a sliding scale, rather than the case-by-case work done by the federal government, the analysis shows more than 150 US species have already become extinct while a further 500 species have not been seen in recent decades and have possibly also been snuffed out.

Whole classes of creatures have suffered precipitous drops, with 40% of freshwater fish species in the US now vulnerable or endangered, a third of bat species experiencing major declines in the past two decades and amphibians dwindling from their known ranges at a rate of about 4% a year. The true scale of the crisis is probably larger when species with sparse data, or those as yet unknown to science, are considered.

“This loss of wildlife has been sneaking up on us but is now like a big tsunami that is going to hit us,” said Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist at George Mason University. Lovejoy was consulted on the study and said it “captures the overall degradation of American nature over recent decades, rather than little snapshots”.

Species have been battered by the destruction of forests, prairie and wetlands to make way for mass agriculture, urbanization, roads and mining. The use of pesticides in farming is linked to the decline of key pollinators such as bees.

Meanwhile, improved transportation between states and from other countries has unleashed diseases such as fungal infections that have ravaged certain frogs and bats. Invasive species including feral hogs, nutria and emerald ash borers have torn apart wildlife habitats such as forests and riverbanks, often with little to slow them.

Climate change is a further blow, with rising temperatures, sea level rise and altered rainfall all having consequences for species as diverse as bears, which are finding certain foodstuffs hard to come by, and monarch butterflies, which have seen their numbers drop by about 90% in recent decades and which are considered acutely sensitive to changes in weather patterns.

“Species are living in smaller patches of habitat and not interacting with other members,” said Erle Ellis, a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland. Ellis has co-authored research on how the world is moving toward its sixth great mass extinction event.

“Extinctions are ramping up, and if that continues it will be one for the history books for the whole planet. The world is getting very humanized and I’m very concerned about the cost to biodiversity. It’s a challenge that will face us throughout this century and beyond.”

The conservationists’ report calls for a major funding boost for recovery plans drawn up by states within the US. By “dramatically ramping up investments in proactive state-based conservation”, the US can stem and even reverse its species losses, the report states, pointing to success stories such as the reintroduction of Canada lynx to Colorado, wood bison to Alaska and the bolstering of trout populations across 17 states.

There are about 12,000 species with recovery strategies across various US states, although wildlife conservation has typically suffered from funding shortfalls at the state level. The federal Fish and Wildlife Service was initially targeted for a budget cut under the Trump administration, although Congress recently handed it a modest increase in funds.

“The states and counties are very uneven in their capacity so ideally you’d get some federal leadership,” said Lovejoy. “What’s quite promising is that there are civil society organizations who really care about this stuff. At some point the American public will wake up.

“When you look at the trends of extinctions, it’s easy to get discouraged. The good news is that living things like to make more of themselves. Give them a chance and they will recover. Thank God for sex.”

US Fish and Wildlife wouldn’t comment directly on the report. A spokeswoman for the agency said: “The ultimate goal of the Endangered Species Act is recovery. The greatest chance we have of achieving that goal is by working with diverse partners, including states and private and non-profit organizations, to leverage our cumulative knowledge and resources.”

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« Reply #5082 on: Today at 04:34 AM »

Some Experts Say Icelandic Whaling Company Killed an Endangered Blue Whale


Anti-whaling group Hard to Port posted photos on their Facebook page Tuesday that activist group Sea Shepherd claims show an endangered blue whale recently killed by an Icelandic whaling company, the Australian ABC News reported Thursday.

Kristjan Loftsson, the CEO of the Hvalur hf whaling company that killed the whale, told ABC News Friday that it was in fact a hybrid of a blue and fin whale, which is not protected by the International Whaling Commission.

If the whale is a blue whale, it would be the first of its kind intentionally killed since 1978, according to BBC News.

"I know a blue whale when I see one and this whale slaughtered by Kristjan Loftsson is a blue whale," Sea Shepherd Founder Paul Watson said in a statement reported by ABC News.

Some scientists agreed with Watson's assessment.

"From the photos, it has all the characteristics of a blue whale," U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Alaska Fisheries Science Center scientist Dr. Phillip Clapham said in a statement reported by BBC News.

"Given that, notably the coloration pattern, there is almost no possibility that an experienced observer would have misidentified it as anything else at sea," Clapham said.

Arne Feuerhahn of Hard to Port, which posted the photos, said that most experts her group had consulted thought it was a blue whale, but some said it could be a hybrid.

This is also the view currently taken by Gisli Arnor Vikingsson from the Iceland Marine Institute.

"Photographs point to the fact that it's a hybrid whale and we're almost certain that it is one, but we can't be sure until autumn when we get it DNA tested," he told ABC News.

The whale's species matters in part because it would determine whether Hvalur hf faces consequences for the kill.

While there is an international moratorium on whaling, Iceland does issue permits for the hunting and killing of fin whales, which it does not consider endangered species. It does, however, agree with the international prohibition against killing blue whales, which are one of the largest creatures on Earth and can grow to weigh up to 200 tonnes (approximately 220.46 U.S. tons) and stretch 30 meters (approximately 98.43 feet), according to BBC News.

"If this is a blue whale, it would be illegal and a breach and there could be fines and perhaps the company might lose their licence to hunt whales," Feuerhahn told BBC News.

But while a hybrid catch would be better news for the whalers, it isn't much better for hybrid whales, which Astrid Fuchs from the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation told BBC News are also extremely rare.

"Since 1983, they've only recorded five of them," Fuchs said.

Blue whales were decimated by 90 percent during the 20th century, according to ABC News.

Iceland and Norway are the only two countries who persist in open, commercial whaling, though Japan also slaughters whales for what it claims are scientific reasons, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Hvalur hf has killed 21 fin whales so far this season, according to Sea Shepherd.

Humane Society International's Head of Campaigns Australia Nicola Beynon told ABC News she hoped the publicity around the recent kill would prompt the people of Iceland to turn away from the practice.

"It looks like a blue whale, but if not a blue whale then it's a hybrid. They're highly endangered animals," she said.

"It is unforgivable. We hope that the Icelandic public give their whaling group a hard time about this. The cruel and inhumane practice of commercial whaling does not belong in the 21st century, it's time to give it up," Beynon said.

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