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Dec 14, 2018, 06:52 PM
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Author Topic: ANIMAL NEWS FOR DAEMON SOULS AND ALL ANIMAL LOVERS  (Read 1049008 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #5520 on: Dec 12, 2018, 05:20 AM »

'It's medieval': why some cows are still living most of their lives tied up

A farming practice where cows are tethered and restricted to sitting or standing is still commonplace, particularly in southern Germany. Now farming groups are calling for a ban

Tom Levitt in Baden-Württemberg
Guardian
12 Dec 2018 08.00 GMT

Jürgen Weber points to a lesion on the hind leg of one of his cows, a common health problem in “tie stalls”, where the animals are kept permanently restrained in one position. His herd of 30 cows face each other in two rows inside the dim, low-ceilinged barn on the side of the family home in the town of Boxberg, in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg.

In a farming system criticised as “medieval”, each cow is held in place by a chain or strap around her neck, which restricts movement to standing or sitting. Food and water is brought to the cow, although some farmers untether the animals and allow them into a yard or on pasture for part of the day or during summer months.

German vets say keeping cows this way is a violation of the country’s animal protection laws leading to a “significant restriction of the natural behaviour of cows, lack of social hygiene and social contact with other cows”. Yet more than one third of cows in the country are still kept in this manner, particularly in southern German states such as Baden-Württemberg (30% of dairy farms) and Bavaria (60%).

“It seems strange that something from the middle ages still exists,” says Sophie Greger from the campaign group Animals’ Angels. “It’s unimaginable to modern consumers and in none of the advertising and branding.”

Weber, 50, says he has no choice; his farm is stuck in the middle of a town with no additional space to build an open barn or allow his cows outside. “I think people would prefer the cows in the field, but what should I do? I have the stable and I have the milk.”

Unlike chicken cages and sow stalls, tie stalls are not a modern invention but date back to the 19th century. Modern dairy farming started this way, with stables built adjacent to the house to provide it with heat, according to Marina Von Keyserlingk, a professor in animal welfare at the University of British Columbia. “The public may have that romantic image of a milkmaid on a stool and a cow tied up, but they don’t think that it remained tethered all day long.”

As dairy farms grew in Europe and north America, many started using free-stall systems in which the cows are untethered. The remaining tie-stall farms are small, averaging just 20 cows, which is well below the German average of 65.

Farming groups in Germany are now joining calls for tie stalls to be banned. “We demand that tethering be ended by law so that it can be replaced by more up-to-date farming methods,” the youth wing of the German Farmers’ Association said in a statement published in late August. “It is not fit for our time. We as young farmers support the principle that healthy cows need movement. It reduces the occurrence of illness of the udder and body. In addition, the movement allows the cow to build muscle and be more fertile.”

Yet the German government continues to publicly reject calls for a ban, saying it would be a “burden on small- and medium-sized farms” and that many were already moving away from the system.

Opponents of a ban argue it could force many of them out of business and accelerate the shift to large-scale dairy farms. They also say farmers know their cows individually and maintain good animal welfare. Weber had two nine-year-old cows that had been through eight lactations, for example, which is well above the typical industry average of three.

“In Bavaria people see themselves as the part of Germany with a lot of tradition,” says Marie Reinke, a vet at the German NGO Albert Schweitzer Stiftung. “Keeping cows this way is part of their way of keeping tradition. People see it as part of their identity.”

BDM, an association of German dairy farmers, says it expects officials to announce a ban within the next year. It is calling for a 10- to 12-year transition period for farmers to adapt. “In reality, 80-90% of those farms using tie stalls will be gone in the next decade, but we don’t want it to stop now because they have to earn money and a living,” says BDM advisor and dairy farmer Johannes Pfaller.

Animal welfare campaigners say that is too long to wait. “There has been a big drop in recent years as older people are dying or giving up, with children that don’t want to carry it on. We know it will end in 20 to 30 years, but why do so many more have to go through it?” says Greger.

Weber knows he will have to adapt and accepts that it would be better for the cows not to be tethered. “There are two possibilities: to build a new barn or end milk production.” Unlike some other farmers using older tie-stall systems, Weber has a 21-year-old son who wants to take over the business. “I would go work somewhere else, but my son does not want to work [elsewhere]. He says he has much more fun here and loves the cows.”

Building a new barn without tie stalls would cost Weber and his family €1.3m (£1.1m). “The bank said yes, my son said yes, but I said no. It’s a lot of money from the bank. It would take 20 years to pay back and nobody knows the milk price. That’s the big reason.”

Germany is not alone in grappling with the issue: tie stalls are common in much of Europe and north America. In Austria, more than 80% of dairy farms use tie stalls, in Switzerland it is 78% and Sweden 75%. In the US, it’s estimated to be about 40%, down from 62% in 2007.

Although not yet banned in the UK, the Red Tractor assurance scheme said it plans to phase out the method, estimating 0.3% of dairy cows in the UK are still tethered. Government rules on animal welfare in the UK state that tethered cows must be able to groom themselves, as well as being untied and allowed to exercise at least once a day.

Although the EU has no rules against the use of tie stalls, a review by the EU food safety advisors called for a ban on permanent tethering, concluding it restricted the voluntary movement and social behaviour of cows.

Denmark is one of the few countries to bring in a ban on tie stalls, which will come into force in 2020. In the 1980s, more than 85% of dairy cows were kept in tethered stalls.

It is inevitable that farmers in both Europe and north America will have to accept an end to the use of tie stalls, says Von Keyserlingk. “The older generation thought as long as [the cow] is producing milk that’s all right, but now we also want to make sure we are giving the animal a good life.

“Twenty years ago the consumer did not ask those questions, but today they and retailers will. The reasonable person does not expect them to change tomorrow but to strive to change more as we learn. They need to understand that in the long run it is not acceptable.”


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« Reply #5521 on: Dec 12, 2018, 05:22 AM »


'Drastic reductions' of Australia's northern bettong population reported

Scientists call for species to be listed as critically endangered after finding range reduced by 70%

Lisa Cox
Guardian
12 Dec 2018 17.00 GMT

Researchers are calling for urgent measures to save the northern bettong from extinction after a five-year study found just two remaining populations of the animal in the wild.

The research, led by WWF Australia working with the Queensland government and scientists from James Cook University, has recommended state and federal governments look to establish insurance populations for the small marsupial known as the “rat kangaroo”.

Northern bettongs are endemic to far north Queensland and their numbers have declined dramatically since European colonisation.

Studies from the 1980s suggested the animal could be found in four areas – Mount Windsor, the Carbine tableland, Lamb range and Coane range.

The project team for the latest population study used trapping and 587 sensor cameras to search for the species in nearly 100,000ha of the wet tropics.

The results, published by WWF on Thursday, only found northern bettongs at Lamb range and Mount Spurgeon in the Carbine tableland, with no trace of the species detected at either Mount Windsor or Coane range.

The project team said this meant the number of distinct populations had halved and that the total land area the animals occupied had fallen by about 70% – from 500 square kilometres to 145 square kilometres – in the past three decades.

They estimate there are at most 2,500 animals left in the wild and that only the population at Lamb range could be considered stable.

“It is clear from the results of this project that northern bettong populations have suffered drastic reductions over the last three decades,” the report states.

It says the decline in the species has been caused by factors including changes in climate, land management practices, predation by feral animals, habitat clearance and changed fire regimes.

The scientists have called on the federal government to upgrade the species threat status from endangered to critically endangered, and for both state and federal governments to consider options for an insurance population.

“This is a pretty alarming decline for the northern bettong,” said Tim Cronin, the senior manager of species conservation at WWF Australia. “If we don’t do something soon, we will lose them.

“Any time you’ve got a species with only one stable population left in the wild, it leaves it really vulnerable to things like a fire event.”

He said while there were risks associated with translocating animals to establish new populations, the research team believed it was necessary to explore it in this case.

It has also called for the existing populations to be properly protected and their habitat restored.

The Senate is examining Australia’s fauna extinction crisis.

Conservationists have called for better resourcing and coordination of threatened species work so that more Australian wildlife does not suffer the same fate as the Bramble Cay melomys, a tiny rodent that went extinct in 2009 after governments failed to act in time to save it.

The northern bettong project team said its study was another example of species decline that was occurring across the country.

Caitlin Weatherstone, a wildlife ecologist who worked on the project, said if the animal was lost it would have knock-on effects for the surrounding ecosystem.

The project found the marsupial played an important role in its environment because it was one of the main animals that ate truffles and dispersed truffle spores through its habitat.

Its decline could affect truffle biodiversity in these areas “with unknown consequences for plant-fungal interactions and ecosystem health”, the report said.

“If we lose that animal out of the ecosystem we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Weatherstone said. “It will affect forest health but we don’t know by how much at this point.”

A spokesperson for Queensland’s department of environment and science said about 80% of the northern bettong’s habitat was on land managed by the Queensland parks and wildlife service.

As a result of the population study, the department had produced an updated field guide for the management of fire in northern bettong habitat.

“With the department’s collaborators, JCU and WWF-Australia, DES will consider the report to determine the best way forward from this point,” the spokesperson said.

Comment was sought from the federal environment department.


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« Reply #5522 on: Dec 12, 2018, 05:24 AM »


FDA research monkeys retired and will live out their lives in Florida

Mike Wehner
BGR
12/12/2018

When U.S. citizens retire, they are required by law to consider moving to Florida. Okay, so it’s not an actual requirement, but plenty of retirees decide that they deserve the warm weather and ample sunshine that Florida offers and make the move. Apparently that luxury isn’t reserved for just humans though, as a whole crew of former FDA research monkeys will now also be retiring to the Sunshine State.

As CNN reports, a full 26 squirrel monkeys have been released by the FDA after serving their purpose as test animals for nicotine addiction research. The animals, all of whom are apparently in good health, now get to spend the rest of their days soaking up the rays and doing whatever it is monkeys do when they’re not in cages in a government lab.

Squirrel monkeys, which can live around 20 years on average, are native to the tropical regions of South America, but these particular animals were obviously far from home. They were test subjects for government research into the addictive properties of nicotine in young people, but those days are now over.

Earlier this year, the government came under intense scrutiny after a handful of the monkeys involved in the work died. The 26 retirees are the ones that survived, and their reward for their service is that they will no longer have to do the bidding of human scientists.

The animals will now be kept in a sanctuary called Jungle Friends. The founder of the facility, Kari Bagnall, thanked the FDA for giving the monkeys a chance to live out the rest of their lives in relative comfort.
“The most special thing about these particular monkeys is that they came out of the FDA, which has not released monkeys out of research in the past,” Bagnall said. “We are so happy that now the FDA is opting to retire monkeys after the research has ended. They didn’t have to do this.”
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« Reply #5523 on: Dec 13, 2018, 05:18 AM »

Geckos Can Run on Water

By James Gorman
NY Times
Dec. 13, 2018

Many insects can skate, stride or whirl around on the surface of the water. But larger animals usually have to swim.

There are a few exceptions. The famed Basilisk lizard zips along, slapping down its feet so fast that it seems to be outrunning the possibility of sinking.

Watch: https://www.nytimes.com/video/science/100000006247678/how-geckos-move-across-water.html?action=click&gtype=vhs&version=vhs-heading&module=vhs&region=title-area&cview=true&t=40

A few bird species, like Western grebes, eiders and mallards run along the water as a prelude to taking off.

That seemed to be about it, until researchers found Asian house geckos, in Singapore, apparently running across the surface of water.

They weren’t fully upright, like the basilisk lizards, but they definitely weren’t swimming. It looked like most of their body was above the water line, and they were going fast.

Their water speed was “virtually indistinguishable from their land running speed,” according to Jasmine A. Nirody.

Dr. Nirody, who will start research at Rockefeller University this coming year, and Judy Jinn, were graduate students in the lab of Robert J. Full at the University of California, Berkeley, when they decided to subject the geckos’ water running to greater scrutiny. They built a tank, acquired some house geckos and used video to document the geckos’ water running in a controlled environment so that it could be mathematically analyzed.

As they and their colleagues reported in Current Biology, geckos use both running and swimming motions.

They run on all four legs, slapping the water with their feet the way grebes and basilisks do, finishing the leg movements with paddle-like strokes that help raise most of their body above the water surface and push them forward.

They also swim, using their tails the way alligators do, in an undulation that can only be seen from above.

Also, their skin is very slippery, or hydrophobic, and that helps their bodies hydroplane as the feet and tail power them forward.

The researchers also showed that surface tension was important. When they added soap to the water in the test tank to reduce surface tension, the geckos floundered, moving at a much slower speed and failing to get enough of the body above water to hydroplane.

The soapy water struggles were apparently exhausting, Dr. Nirody said, because some of the geckos just stopped, as if the effort was just too much.

Some actually sank to the bottom of the tank and stayed underwater. They can hold their breath for quite a while, Dr. Nirody said. She speculated that this behavior might be an alternative to the fast running, which seems to be a response to fear.

If you can’t outrun them, save your strength and hide on the bottom. Smart geckos.


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« Reply #5524 on: Dec 13, 2018, 05:21 AM »


Dracula ant's killer jaws are nature's fastest mover at 200mph

Tropical insect uses lethal speed of its spring-loaded mandibles to stun or kill prey

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent
Guardian
13 Dec 2018 00.15 GMT

Move aside cheetah and peregrine falcon, there is a new contender for the title of fastest animal on Earth: the Dracula ant. Scientists have discovered that the small tropical insect can snap its mandibles at up to 90 metres a second (more than 200mph), the fastest animal movement on record.

The ants use the explosive motion to attack, stun and kill prey, which is then fed to their larvae: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9dsINb64Q0

“They’re cruising around underground and if they encounter something like a centipede or a termite they can smack them with the mandibles to kill or stun them,” said Andrew Suarez, an animal biology professor at the University of Illinois, who led the work. “They can then sting it to further incapacitate it and then they carry it back to the nest.”

The species, Mystrium camillae, was already known to have highly specialised appendages. However, scientists were able to ascertain the exact speed of the snapping motion only with the advent of high-speed video technology over the past 10 years. The scientists also used x-ray imaging technology to observe the ants’ anatomy in three dimensions to better understand how the movement works.

The observations showed that Dracula ants power up their mandibles by pressing the tips together, spring-loading them with internal stresses. Eventually, when one mandible slides across the other, each is released, in a similar motion to people clicking their fingers.

The Dracula ant’s motion is different from that seen in trap-jaw ants, which were previously considered to have the world’s fastest snapping jaws. Those ants start from an open position and suddenly snap shut like a mousetrap.

“Even among ants that power-amplify their jaws, the Dracula ants are unique,” said Adrian Smith, of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, who was a co-author of the study. “Instead of using three different parts for the spring, latch and lever arm, all three are combined in the mandible.”

Dracula ants are mostly found in the tropics in Africa and Asia. They live in large colonies underground, or inside tree trunks, so are rarely seen. Their name derives from their unusual feeding habits, which involves a form of non-destructive cannibalism. The adult ants are unable to process solid food; instead, they feed prey to their larvae and then chew holes in the larvae and drink their blood. Scientists call the arrangement a “social stomach”.

In future the team plan to make more detailed observations of the ants in action in their natural environment. “Their biology, how they capture prey and defend their nests, is still in need of description,” Smith said.

The findings are published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.


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« Reply #5525 on: Dec 13, 2018, 05:23 AM »

Seeking Clues to Longevity in Lonesome George’s Genes

The giant tortoise lived for more than a century, carrying genes linked to a robust immune system, efficient DNA repair and resistance to cancer.

By Steph Yin
Guardian
Dec. 13, 2018

When Lonesome George, the only survivor of the Pinta Island tortoises of the Galápagos, died in 2012, the news landed with a blow.

Rationally, people had time to prepare for the reality that George would one day fade away, and with him, an entire lineage. He had lived for a century or more, a common life expectancy for giant tortoises, and all attempts to mate him during his last few decades were unsuccessful.

But emotionally, it’s hard to brace oneself for the realization that something that was once there is finally, completely gone. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you ponder life, our fleeting stint in the universe and the unrelenting, forward march of time.

Similar feelings drive longevity research. Recently, a team of scientists turned to George for help in this search, mining his genetic code for clues to his long life span.

In a paper published Monday in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the researchers reported preliminary findings of gene variants in George linked with a robust immune system, efficient DNA repair and resistance to cancer. The study also sets the stage for understanding giant tortoises’ evolutionary past, which might help to conserve them in the future.

Giant tortoises helped launch the theory of evolution. When Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos, he noticed the tortoises’ shell shapes were unique adaptations to their environments. He hypothesized that natural selection was at work.

The Galápagos tortoises have since continued to be a rich source of inquiry for evolutionary scientists. Adalgisa “Gisella” Caccone, a researcher at Yale University, has spent decades studying the reptiles that are the size of upright pianos.

But years ago, Dr. Caccone hit a wall — she needed someone to help her decipher which parts of the tortoises’ DNA were functional genes, which regions were not and what the genes’ functions might be.

She received a fateful message from Carlos López-Otín, a professor at the University of Oviedo in Spain who has built a career studying cancer and aging in humans. Dr. López-Otín was interested in unlocking the genetic secrets behind giant tortoises’ legendary longevity.

Dr. Caccone loved the idea of “a conservation icon providing insights” into human health and longevity. The scientists sequenced the entire genome of Lonesome George, plus that of an Aldabra giant tortoise from the Seychelles, another extraordinarily long-lived species (one was rumored to have lived up to 250 years in captivity).

The researchers then compared the tortoise genomes with those of mammals, fish, birds and other reptiles, looking for discrepancies that could affect aging. The scientists found evidence that a mutation in a gene called IGF1R, which has been linked with longevity in humans and mice, might contribute to the tortoises’ exceptional life span.

They also discovered that the tortoises had more copies of genes related to energy regulation, DNA repair, tumor suppression and immune defense compared with other creatures. While most mammals have only one copy of a gene involved in immune response called PRF1, for instance, both tortoises had a whopping 12 copies in their genome.

Generally, having many copies of genes can allow existing functions to occur more efficiently, or provide fuel for the evolution of new functions.

The research opens the door to learning more about tortoise biology, too. Dr. Caccone plans to dive deep into the genomes to piece together how giant tortoises evolved traits like gigantism and carapace shape. Genomic data will also aid her efforts to revive two extinct species of Galápagos tortoise.

Future avenues of research will only expand as scientists sequence the genomes of more reptiles, said Kenro Kusumi, a professor of life sciences at Arizona State University.

There are many lessons to learn from reptiles. They are the closest relatives of humans that can regenerate entire body parts, a trait that could inform medical treatments.
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And many reptiles, including tortoises, can enter an inactive state that allows them to survive extreme conditions. The ability to induce similar states in humans could be useful for future space travel, Dr. Kusumi said.

“The beauty of having these genomes is that it’s a great starting point to ask questions,” he added. “Even after death, Lonesome George is teaching us things — just like his ancestors taught Charles Darwin.”

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« Reply #5526 on: Dec 13, 2018, 06:03 AM »


'Death sentence': butterfly sanctuary to be bulldozed for Trump's border wall

More than 200 species make their homes at America’s most diverse sanctuary, but construction through the reserve could begin in February

Samuel Gilbert in Mission, Texas
Guardian
Thu 13 Dec 2018 09.00 GMT

On any given day at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, visitors can to see more than 60 varieties of butterflies. In the spring and fall, monarchs and other species can blanket the center’s 100 acres of subtropical bushlands that extend from the visitor center to to the banks of the Rio Grande river, where their property, and US sovereignty, end.

“It’s like something from Fantasia,” said the center’s director, Marianna Wright. “When you walk you have to cover your mouth so you don’t suck in a butterfly.”

Today the most diverse butterfly sanctuary in the country, and other protected areas in the lower Rio Grande Valley along the US-Mexico border, are under threat. Last week, the US supreme court issued a ruling allowing the Trump administration to waive 28 federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, and begin construction on 33 new miles of border wall in the heart of the valley – and right through the butterfly center.

“Environmental tourism contributes more than $450m to Hidalgo and Starr counties,” said Wright, referring to the adjacent counties in the valley. “Many of the properties people choose to visit to see birds, butterflies and threatened and endangered species are all going to be behind the border wall. For us, the economic impact is potentially catastrophic.”

“Walls have fragmented our habitat,” said Scott Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club Borderland team. The various patches of land that provide refuge for these animals will become “less viable, with less and less places for them to go”.

A July letter sent from US Customs and Border Protection to a not-for-profit environmental group and seen by the Guardian describes the route and possible components of the project as including a 30ft-tall concrete and steel wall, roads, and a 150ft “enforcement zone” where all vegetation will be cleared.

With construction of the wall due to begin in February, people like Nicol fear that the barrier will not only destroy habitat and undermine ecotourism but also lead to an increasingly deadly border as undocumented immigrants are pushed further and further into marginal and dangerous areas.

“This is not just they will drive ocelots to extinction,” said Nicol, referring to the critically endangered wild cat found in the Rio Grande Valley. “Families trying to come into this country will be pushed into the desert to die.”

“Border walls are death sentences for wildlife and humans alike,” said Amanda Munro of the Southwest Environmental Center, an organization that works to restore and protect native wildlife and habitats. “They block wild animals from accessing the food, water, and mates they need to survive. They weaken genetic diversity, fragment habitat, and trap animals in deadly floods. At the same time, they drive desperate asylum-seekers to risk their lives in the unforgiving desert.”

For Donald Trump, the new section of the barrier is making good on a campaign promise to build a “big beautiful wall”. A barrier that will add to the nearly 700 miles of walls and fences that already exist on or near the border.

More than 200 species of resident or migrating butterflies make homes at the butterfly center over the course of the year, including the vibrant Mexican bluewing, the tiny vicroy’s ministreak and the black swallowtail, all three of which carpet the wild dill at the property with their eggs each spring. The center opened in 2003 and is the flagship project of the North American Butterfly Association.

“It’s going to cut right through here,” said Wright, showing where the wall will split the center’s property 1.2 miles from the border and cut off access to nearly 70% of its land.

Trump has expansive federal powers to construct the border wall on both private and public land. Since 2005, the Department of Homeland Security has had the power to waive numerous environmental laws in the name of national security.

And the federal government can, and has, used eminent domain law to acquire privately owned land for public use.

“We fully anticipate that they will seize the land by quick take,” said Wright, referring to a Depression-era provision of the eminent domain law that gives federal agencies the right to take property without compensation or adjudication. “Legal claims are not addressed or settled. You don’t get your day in court. You don’t get to negotiate appraisals or offers. Nothing,” said Wright.

On Tuesday, the president threatened to use defense spending if his plans to build the wall were challenged. “If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall,” Trump said in a tweet.

For Wright, this threat could mean the end of the butterfly center and enormous harm to its dozens of butterfly species and the threatened Texas tortoise, Texas indigo snake, and Texas horned lizard that are also found there.

“It is truly a sight to behold,” said Wright, looking out from the bank of the Rio Grande river.

“They are violating our constitutionally protected rights, and that should terrify everyone,” she said. “Even if you don’t care about butterflies, you should care about this.”


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« Reply #5527 on: Today at 04:56 AM »


Reindeer Numbers Have Fallen by More than Half in 2 Decades

Ecowatch
12/14/2018

It's a sad Christmas for the world's reindeer—the antlered Arctic grazers associated with all things Santa Claus. Their numbers have fallen by more than half in the past 20 years, and climate change is likely to blame.

The latest numbers come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2018 Arctic Report Card, which listed the increasing impacts of global warming on the earth's northernmost region, as EcoWatch has already reported. But the loss of Rangifer tarandus—called caribou in North America and Greenland and reindeer in Siberia and Europe—is of note because it threatens to further throw Arctic ecosystems and cultures out of whack. Reindeer are important prey for wolves and biting flies, and a key source of food and clothing for indigenous groups.

"If you look at the [top] Northern resources, that shape the culture of northern communities and aboriginal people, what they have in common is caribou and or wild reindeer, no matter where they are in the circumpolar North," Don Russell, lead author of the Report Card's essay on reindeer, told Vox.

The report found that reindeer and caribou herds have declined by 56 percent in the past two decades—that's a decrease of 2.6 million reindeer from a population of 4.7 million to a population of 2.1 million. Five herds in Alaska and Canada were particularly at risk: their populations have declined by more than 90 percent and showed no signs of rebounding. While it is normal for caribou and reindeer herds to swell and shrink, some herds are at all-time lows since record-keeping began.

"The fact that these herds are declining shouldn't be a shock—they do it all the time," Russell told Vox. "But they're at such low levels, you start to be concerned ... If we return in 10 years and [their numbers] have gone down further, that would be unprecedented."

Scientists don't know exactly what is causing the decline in herd numbers, but it is likely a variety of climate-linked factors caused by warmer summers and winters.

    Food Shortage: Caribou subsist on lichen, which grows on the ground. But warmer temperatures encourage taller plants to grow. "Warming means other, taller vegetation is growing and the lichen are being out-competed," University of Virginia environmental science professor Howard Epstein, who helped with the research behind the report, told BBC News.
    Bug Off: Warmer weather also means more insects. The caribou then spend their energy hiding from them or fending them off, instead of looking for food. "It's said that a nice day for people is a lousy day for caribou," Epstein told BBC News.
    Rainy Days: Warmer winters, on the other hand, mean more rain falls than snow. The rain then freezes into a layer of ice that the reindeer cannot break through to reach food, BBC News explained. In one incident in 2013, ice cover in Russia meant that 61,000 reindeer starved to death, Vox reported.

These factors have been shown to impact individual herds. Warmer Julys and freezing rain from September to December were shown to explain 64 percent of the variability in adult caribou cow survival in the herd in Bathurst, Canada, the report said.

Editor's note: This post has been updated for clarity. Reindeer population figures have been added to the percentages.


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« Reply #5528 on: Today at 04:58 AM »


Arabian Sea Sharks May be the Most Threatened in the World

Ecowatch
12/14/2018

Sharks, rays and chimaeras are some of the most threatened fish in the world. More than 50 percent of species in the Arabian Sea are at elevated risk of extinction due to coastal development, overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction. According to an expansive new study, spanning more than a dozen countries, species like sawfish are particularly hard hit with extinction or local extirpation.

"Populations have significantly declined," said Julia Spaet, a postdoctoral researcher at Cambridge University and a coauthor of the new study, published recently in Fish and Fisheries. Unregulated fishing and habitat degradation are largely to blame, she said, exacerbated by limited political will and regional capacity to address the problem. The new study's conclusions are based on data from fishing markets in countries around the Arabian Sea, including India, Iran, Pakistan, Oman, Yemen, Somalia and Sri Lanka.

David Ebert, director of the Pacific Shark Research Center at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, and another coauthor of the study, added that sharks in the Arabian Sea area are particularly important, because many species only live there.

The new research is part of a larger effort by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to reassess population trends for sharks, rays and chimaeras globally. Regional experts met in February 2017 to review the numbers and species of sharks caught and brought into fish markets in the region.

They found that more than 50 percent of sharks (78 of 153 species in the region) face an elevated risk of extinction, a significantly higher proportion than in other areas of the world with regional assessments. Only the Mediterranean has numbers approaching the Arabian Sea's.

Sawfish, which are actually rays, giant guitarfish and hammerheads are some of the species in the worst trouble.

Ebert said sawfish are threatened by a combination of incidental fishing and development in the coastal mangrove areas where they live. Development destroys their habitat and degrades it through pollution and increased noise. The rays are also particularly susceptible to tangling in nets intended for other species, because their snouts are prickly, long rostrums, which can easily snag. Once caught, Ebert said, sawfish are prized for their fins, which fishermen cut off and sell to the shark fin market.

"The fins are very valuable," Ebert said, adding that while fishing boats don't necessarily target sawfish, they may refocus their efforts on landing more if they find an abundant area.

Shaili Johri, a marine biology researcher at San Diego State University in California who was not involved in the study, said that species like sawfish, which live in shallower waters, are often the most heavily exploited by fishing communities as they are easier to catch.

Gone for Good

While Elbert doesn't like to throw around the word "extinct," nobody's seen the Pondicherry shark for about four decades, he said. The tentacled butterfly ray and Red Sea torpedo ray are elusive too, each evading scientists for decades in some part of their former range.

But Ebert stresses that it's possible some are still out there. Monitoring of sharks, rays and chimaeras is so poor around the Arabian Sea that it's hard to be sure. Scientists thought some chimaeras, like sicklefin ghost sharks, were rare, until they started turning up in recent records. Torpedo rays range into politically-unstable and dangerous areas, which makes them hard to consistently monitor. The new study's lead author, Rima Jabado, founder and lead scientist of the Gulf Elasmo Project—a shark research and conservation organization in the United Arab Emirates—recently described the first specimen of the Ganges shark seen in a decade, in a separate study published in The Journal of Fish Biology. But Ganges sharks look a lot like bull sharks, so they could have been around and mistaken for bulls all this time.

Improving local knowledge is key to understanding the local trends. In some areas, markets only record whether catches are sharks or rays, without specifying the species. Elbert said better identification guides for the local agents who monitor these markets is critical.

Going Deeper

As coastal species like sawfish disappear, fishermen look to deeper waters. "Most of the coastal species, or species that are found in shallower waters, are really extremely endangered," said Johri at San Diego State. "As you go towards the deeper water, you see more species that are near-threatened or of least concern. They have a low level of threat."

Not all species are doing badly. Kitefin sharks, finback catsharks and ground sharks are among a handful of least threatened species, according to the study. But overall, Johri said, this new study highlights "the need for urgent and increased conservation efforts in the Arabian Seas region, an area with the highest density of threatened shark and ray species."

She hopes more conservation effort is focused on the region. Today, it's relatively overlooked, she said, considering the grave extinction threat in the area. With weak enforcement and oversight, overfishing runs rampant, and fishing fleets are turning to desperate measures, she said, like attaching huge nets to dozens of boats and driving at high speeds through whole areas, so virtually nothing can escape.

"They catch everything in there, and they separate it out at the shore and sell it," she said.

If these practices and other indiscriminate methods continue, the situation will worsen both for conservation and fishing. "If we keep doing this, we are not only jeopardizing these species," Johri said, "but they are also jeopardizing their own trade."


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« Reply #5529 on: Today at 05:12 AM »


How Native American tribes are bringing back the bison from brink of extinction

The continent’s largest land mammal plays crucial role in spiritual lives of the tribes

Jeremy Hance
Guardian
14 Dec 2018 13.41 GMT

On 5,000 hectares of unploughed prairie in north-eastern Montana, hundreds of wild bison roam once again. But this herd is not in a national park or a protected sanctuary – they are on tribal lands. Belonging to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of Fort Peck Reservation, the 340 bison is the largest conservation herd in the ongoing bison restoration efforts by North America’s Indigenous people.

The bison – or as Native Americans call them, buffalo – are not just “sustenance,” according to Leroy Little Bear, a professor at the University of Lethbridge and a leader in the bison restoration efforts with the Blood Tribe. The continent’s largest land mammal plays a major role in the spiritual and cultural lives of numerous Native American tribes, an “integrated relationship,” he said.

“If you are Christian and you don’t see any crosses out there, or you don’t have your corner church … there’s no external connection, no symbolic iconic notion that strengthens and nurtures those beliefs,” said Little Bear. “So it goes with the buffalo.”

Only a couple of hundred years ago, 20 million to 30 million bison lived in vast thundering herds across North America. They were leftover relics of the Pleistocene and one of the few large mammals to survive the Ice Age extinction.

But less than 400 years after Columbus’ direful voyage, white settlers pushed their way west into Native American territory in so-called manifest destiny. And the US government made the fateful decision to cripple the Native Americans through whatever means necessary. One of these was the bison: the government viewed slaughtering the great herds en-masse as a way to starve and devastate Native American tribes.

Within just decades, the bison went from numbering tens of millions to within a hair’s breadth of extinction. “Fort Peck was the first to stand up and say we want to help. We want to restore these important bison back to their historic Great Plains home,” said Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains program director with NGO Defenders of Wildlife, who has worked with the tribes for years to bring the bison back.

To do so, the tribe looked to Yellowstone’s bison herd. After the slaughter of the 19th century, 23 bison survived in a remote valley in Yellowstone. Today, the herd is 4,000 strong and is seen as a vital population because it has never been domesticated or interbred with cattle, maintaining genetic purity. While so-called pure genetics of the bison are often important to scientists and conservationists, Kelly Stoner – who heads the bison program at the Wildlife Conservation Society – said the issue is more complicated among tribal groups.

“You’ll find that amongst Native Americans … the predominant attitude is ‘if it looks like a buffalo and smells like a buffalo, it’s a buffalo’. The deep, personal relationship between Native Americans and buffalo exists, and is relevant and important, whether or not a particular animal has 8% cattle genes or not,” she explained.

Still, in 2007, Fort Peck Reservation eyed Yellowstone’s herd as a potential source to build a cultural herd. Fort Peck, and many other tribes, already had a commercial herd – used for economic purposes – but now they wanted to build a second herd with conservation in mind.

But getting bison from Yellowstone national park would prove far harder than Fort Peck initially thought. Although pure bred, Yellowstone bison carry the disease brucellosis. The Yellowstone bison originally contracted the disease from cattle in the early 20th century and now ranchers and state officials fear a return. Although scientists have never recorded brucellosis jumping from bison to cattle, it is theoretically possible according to lab research.

“It’s really difficult [to pass]. It’s passed through the placenta,” explained Proctor. “You’d have to have cattle mix with bison in the spring when the bison would potentially abort their calf because of brucellosis and the cattle would have to lick [the aborted placenta]. It’s not likely.”

Still, cattle ranchers so fear the disease that they have pushed for hundreds, sometimes even more than a thousand, bison to be slaughtered every year in Yellowstone national park to keep the animals from roaming outside the park boundaries and potentially mixing with cattle. Yellowstone elk also carry the disease, but are spared slaughter since they are seen as less of a risk.

The brucellosis panic almost stopped Fort Peck from ever getting Yellowstone bison. Over six years, the tribes had to battle anti-bison legislation from the Montana congress and legal battles. The case went all the way to Montana supreme court, which the tribes won unanimously.

“The biggest roadblock is the politics in Montana,” said Robert Magnan, director of the Fort Peck tribes’ fish and game department and the buffalo program. “They don’t understand what we’re trying to do out here.”

The first Yellowstone bison finally arrived in 2012: around 60 animals in all. “There was a huge celebration; many, many people from the community came out,” said Proctor. “It was just thrilling to see.”

Two years after their arrival, Magnan said that the bison had already begun to rejuvenate the land.

“We’ve seen the ecosystem revive. Grassland birds have returned, native grasses are thriving. We welcome and look forward to the buffalos’ continued benefits to our tribal lands.”

Since then, several more deliveries have been made and the Fort Peck herd – at 340 – is among the top 10 conservation herds in the US.

But the work has only begun. In 2014, two years after the bison came to Fort Peck, 13 tribal nations – representing eight reservations both in the US and Canada – signed a ‘Buffalo Treaty’. The treaty outlined the importance of bringing back free-roaming bison to both the US and Canada. “We used to always have an empty chair for the buffalo, for the spirit of the buffalo [at the dialogues], in our talking circles,” said Little Bear, who facilitated the dialogues. “It’s hard to explain but the buffalo was basically asking us, ‘you know, I’ve been gone for 150 years, why do you want me to come back?’”

By the end of the dialogues, the tribes agreed why. “The concern was the young people hear only stories, they hear the songs, they see the ceremonies, but they don’t see the buffalo out there,” added Little Bear.

The treaty is already making good. Last year, Blackfeet Reservation, also in Montana, received 89 genetically pure bison from Elk Island in Canada. Although the Blackfeet’s Iinnii Initiative – their name for buffalo – is the youngest, it’s also the most ambitious.

The tribe is negotiating with state officials to allow these bison, which are free of brucellosis, to range freely into Glacier national park and even, hopefully, one day as north as Waterton Lakes national park and Blood Tribe Reservation Canada – which would make it the first international bison herd in over a century.

Little Bear said they are also working with the Y2Y Initiative, which aims to create a massive wildlife corridor from Yellowstone to the Yukon for wildlife such as bears and wolves.

“We talked to the Y2Y people and said ‘hey, what about buffalo?’ And [they said], ‘we never thought about it but we can include buffalo.’” This year, wild bison returned to Banff national park after being gone over 100 years. Little Bear said the tribe’s Buffalo Treaty acted as a “catalyst” for the re-wilding in Canada’s first park.

“Tribes of the northern plains are the lead in wild bison restoration right now,” Proctor said. In 50 years’ time, the conservation community hopes to have at least 10 bison herds that number 1,000 animals – the minimum, he said, needed for the bison to fulfil their ecological role (currently only Yellowstone has a herd of more than 1,000 animals).

On top of that, Proctor hopes there will be a few herds of more than 10,000 animals, a herd size which hasn’t been seen since the mass extermination in the 19th century.

“Well never see bison roaming the entire Great Plains again,” said Proctor. “We’ll never see 20 million to 30 million bison again. No one is trying to go back in time. We’re trying to go forward. We’re trying to restore this important animal where we can, where people want them, and to the level where they will help restore the natural balance.”

For any of this to happen, Native American tribes will be key. They have the land and the desire to bring back the continent’s largest land mammal. And it’s not just bison, Proctor said. They have been instrumental in conserving wolves, grizzly bears, swift foxes and black-footed ferrets among other species.

Magnan said Fort Peck’s “dream” is to have 2,500 buffalo in their conservation herd running on more than 40,000 hectares. Already the tribe has passed a resolution to purchase more land.

“It’s amazing … with limited budgets and widespread poverty, [Native American tribes] are the leader in wildlife restoration when compared to the state wildlife agency,” he said. “In reality, it was not the buffalo that left us, it was us that left the buffalo. So we have to do something.”


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