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« Reply #210 on: Dec 21, 2013, 08:18 am »

December 20, 2013

Setting the Table for a Regal Butterfly Comeback, With Milkweed

By MICHAEL WINES
NYT

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Bounding out of a silver Ford pickup into the single-digit wind-flogged flatness that is Iowa in December, Laura Jackson strode to a thicket of desiccated sticks and plucked a paisley-shaped prize.

It was a pod that, after a gentle squeeze, burst with chocolate brown buttons: seeds of milkweed, the favored — indeed, the only — food of the monarch butterfly caterpillar.

Once wild and common, milkweed has diminished as cropland expansion has drastically cut grasslands and conservation lands. Diminished too is the iconic monarch.

Dr. Jackson, a University of Northern Iowa biologist and director of its Tallgrass Prairie Center, is part of a growing effort to rescue the monarch. Her prairie center not only grows milkweed seeds for the state’s natural resources department, which spreads them in parks and other government lands, but has helped seed thousands of acres statewide with milkweed and other native plants in a broader effort to revive the flora and fauna that once blanketed more than four-fifths of the state.

Nationwide, organizations are working to increase the monarchs’ flagging numbers. At the University of Minnesota, a coalition of nonprofits and government agencies called Monarch Joint Venture is funding research and conservation efforts. At the University of Kansas, Monarch Watch has enlisted supporters to create nearly 7,450 so-called way stations, milkweed-rich backyards and other feeding and breeding spots along migration routes on the East and West Coasts and the Midwest.

But it remains an uphill struggle. The number of monarchs that completed the largest and most arduous migration this fall, from the northern United States and Canada to a mountainside forest in Mexico, dropped precipitously, apparently to the lowest level yet recorded. In 2010 at the University of Northern Iowa, a summertime count in some 100 acres of prairie grasses and flowers turned up 176 monarchs; this year, there were 11.

The decline has no single cause. Drought and bad weather have decimated the monarch during some recent migrations. Illegal logging of its winter home in Mexico has been a constant threat. Some studies conclude that pesticides and fungicides contribute not just to the monarchs’ woes, but to population declines among bees, other butterflies and pollinators in general.

But the greatest threat to the butterfly, most experts agree, is its dwindling habitat in the Midwest and the Great Plains, the vast expanse over which monarchs fly, breed new generations and die during migrations every spring and autumn. Simply put, they say, the flyway’s milkweed may no longer be abundant enough to support the clouds of monarchs of years past.

Soaring demand for corn, spurred by federal requirements that gasoline be laced with corn-based ethanol, has tripled prices in a decade and encouraged farmers to plant even in places once deemed worthless. Since 2007, farmers nationwide have taken more than 17,500 square miles of land out of federal conservation reserves, an Agriculture Department venture that pays growers modest sums to leave land fallow for wildlife. Iowa has lost a quarter of its reserve land; Kansas, nearly 30 percent; South Dakota, half.

A study published in February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed land use in five states — Iowa, Minnesota, the Dakotas and Nebraska — in the broad arc of farmland where corn and soybeans are intensively planted. Over the five years from 2006 to 2011, the study concluded, 5 percent to 30 percent of the grasslands were converted to corn and soybean fields, a rate it said was “comparable to deforestation rates in Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia.”

At the same time, farmers have switched in droves to new varieties of crops that are genetically engineered to tolerate the most widely used weed killer in the United States. The resulting use of weed killers has wiped out much of the milkweed that once grew between crop rows and on buffer strips separating fields and roads.

Roughly half of all Mexico-bound monarchs are hatched in the Midwest and depend as caterpillars on milkweed for food, according to a 2012 study that concluded that the region lost 58 percent of its milkweed and 81 percent of its monarchs between 1999 and 2010.

Said Dr. Jackson, “I can drive five hours east, five hours north, five hours south, five hours west and see nothing — nothing — but corn and soybeans.”

Beleaguered as they are, the butterflies do have one advantage: their seemingly unmatched popularity. Scientists allow that neither the butterfly nor its migration is crucial to the balance of nature. But as rallying points for conservationists and early warning signals of environmental problems, they are invaluable, backers say.

Monarch Watch’s director, Chip Taylor, decided last spring to sell milkweed “plugs” to supporters, charging $58 for a flat of 32 plants — and sold 22,000. The Natural Resources Defense Council gave him a grant this month to supply still more to 100 schools. Even the crowdfunding website Kickstarter sports a proposal to rally monarch support through an arts program.

There is no shortage of ideas. The Pollinator Partnership, a San Francisco-based organization, is pushing for federal legislation that would encourage more state highway departments to stop mowing roadsides and plant bee-friendly wildflowers and monarch habitat instead. (Some states, including Iowa, Texas and Minnesota, already plant some medians and shoulders.)

Next month, the group will publish a booklet showing utility companies how to establish monarch habitats under their power line rights-of-way. The organization’s executive director, Laurie Davies Adams, promoted aid to monarchs before the Wildlife Habitat Council, a consortium of major corporations involved in environmental stewardship.

“This is the Fortune 500 — big manufacturing and mining concerns,” she said in an interview. “I talked about pollinators and monarchs specifically, and they get it. But nobody’s acting yet.”

A few have stepped forward. Chevron added monarch habitat several years ago to a 500-acre stretch of native wetlands and prairie it maintains on an old refinery site 20 miles west of Cincinnati. Waste Management Inc. includes butterfly-friendly plantings on scores of capped landfills around the nation.

Dr. Taylor, of Monarch Watch, said he was convinced that the annual migration to Mexico can be revived; butterfly populations, he said, can fluctuate wildly from year to year as weather and habitat change. The insect’s troubles probably were as deep, or deeper, during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, he said. But so far, he said, monarch backers are mostly preaching to the choir, “and the choir’s of limited size.”

Northern Iowa’s Dr. Jackson said it would take a much larger — and speedier — effort to undo the impact of thousands of square miles of habitat loss.

“Monarchs are just like other iconic species,” she said. “Once people stop being accustomed to seeing them, they stop caring and they forget. Support drops like a ratchet.”


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« Reply #211 on: Dec 23, 2013, 06:50 am »


Italian army reservist to be prosecuted for saving cat's life in Kosovo

Barbara Balanzoni, who saved dying cat while serving as a medical officer at a Nato base, is charged with insubordination

John Hooper in Rome
theguardian.com, Sunday 22 December 2013 15.35 GMT   

A question is to be raised in the Italian parliament over the case of an army officer who was sent for trial at a military court last week for saving the life of a dying cat.

Lieutenant Barbara Balanzoni, a reservist who has since returned to her civilian job as an anaesthetist in Tuscany, is charged with gross insubordination. She committed the alleged offence while serving as medical officer at a Nato base in Kosovo.

It is claimed that, by attending to the cat, Lt Balanzoni disregarded an order issued by her commanding officer in May 2012 forbidding troops at the base from "bringing in or having brought in wild, stray or unaccompanied animals". She faces a minimum sentence of one year in a military penitentiary.

Lt Balanzoni told the Guardian she intervened after receiving a call to the infirmary from military personnel, alarmed by the noises the cat was making. She said the cat – later named "Agata" – normally lived on the roof of a hut.

"There are lots of cats on the base," she said. "In theory, they are strays, but in practice they belong there."

Lt Balanzoni said the veterinary officer was in Italy when she received the call. "Far from disobeying orders, I was following military regulations, which state that, in the absence of a vet, the medical officer should intervene."

She said she found that the cat had been unable to deliver the last of her kittens, which was stillborn, and was certain to die. "If the cat had died, the entire area would have had to be disinfected. What is more, the surviving kittens could not have been fed. So they too would have died and created an even greater public health problem."

Lt Balanzoni's trial is due to open in Rome on 7 February. Her case has been taken up by Italy's oldest animal defence association, the Ente Nazionale Protezione Animali and a question to the defence minister is due to be tabled in the Senate, the upper house of the Italian legislature, when parliament reassembles after the Christmas break.


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« Reply #212 on: Dec 24, 2013, 06:28 am »


Bottlenose dolphins off US coast hit by measles-like virus

Death toll exceeds 1,000 and morbillivirus epidemic shows no signs of abating

Reuters
theguardian.com, Monday 23 December 2013 23.16 GMT      

More than 1,000 migratory bottlenose dolphins have died from a measles-like virus along the US eastern seaboard in 2013 and the epidemic shows no sign of abating, a marine biologist said on Monday.

The death toll exceeds the 740 dolphins killed during the last big outbreak of the then unknown virus in 1987-88.

"It is having a significant impact and that is something we're monitoring closely," said Erin Fougeres, a marine mammal biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

An estimated 39,206 bottlenose dolphins populated the eastern seaboard, to a depth of 25 feet, from New Jersey to Central Florida in 2010, according to the latest NOAA census.

Scientists are trying to determine why the morbillivirus resurged this year. The dolphins, which migrate south for the winter, have been stranded or found dead on beaches from New York to Florida since June, Fougeres said. An unknown number of affected dolphins probably died offshore as well, she said.

A record number of manatees have also died in Florida waters this year, mostly from a toxic algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The commission's research institute said it documented 803 manatee deaths in state waters between 1 January and 13 December, the most for any year since record keeping began in 1974.

The morbillivirus virus outbreaks could be natural and simply cyclical, said Fougeres. "The last occurrence of this was about 25 years ago and the animals that survived that would have natural antibodies. But as those animals slowly die out and new animals are not exposed, they may not have that immunity," Fougeres said.

Theories related to global warming or pollution are being investigated "There could be underlying causes that made them more susceptible this year versus other years," Fougeres said.

Scientists in the late 1980s estimated that the morbillivirus wiped out 50% of the coastal migratory dolphins. As a result, the bottlenose dolphin was designated as depleted under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, a status it still retains.

A study released last week by NOAA showed that some dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico were gravely ill from injuries consistent with petroleum hydrocarbon exposure. The study looked at dolphin from Louisiana's Barataria Bay heavily affected by BP's Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010.


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« Reply #213 on: Dec 25, 2013, 07:10 am »

December 24, 2013, 5:00

Rooms for Rescued Dogs in Malaysia

By KERRI MACDONALD
NYT

Julie McGuire expected to walk into a soul-less, clinical environment of cages and quarantines for sick and old dogs when she went to photograph the Penang Animal Welfare Society in Malaysia.

She was stunned by what she discovered.

“It was sort of beautiful,” she said. “But also a bit tragic at the same time.”

With its makeshift walls and patchwork furniture, the 4PAWS center in Penang State’s capital, George Town, looked more like a dingy canine hotel than an animal shelter. Ms. McGuire encountered a pack of dogs in the lobby and another in the dining area. She photographed one pup in a crockpot, its mouth open playfully.

It all reminded Ms. McGuire, who grew up in Yorkshire, of the setting of an old English tale. Others may have flashbacks to “101 Dalmatians.”

Presiding over this sea of hounds was the center’s owner, Barbara Janssen, who retired to Penang from Germany in 2009. She adopted a couple of dogs. Then she took in a few more.

Now, after moving out of her apartment and into a larger, rundown property, she has about 250 stray and abandoned canines in her care. The number fluctuates as dogs are rescued and, ideally, adopted. She knows the names of all of them.

A couple of times each day, workers go from room to room, dispensing chicken liver, rice, egg and kibble for the doggie diners. Unhealthy dogs and mothers get special food, supplements and vitamins.

On weekends, 4PAWS opens its doors in fund-raising campaigns, inviting local residents to bathe the dogs, among other things.
Julie McGuire

And every day, Ms. Janssen responds to calls.

“A lot of the dogs that go there, it really is their last resort,” Ms. McGuire said. “They’re old; they need a lot of medical treatment. It’s the puppies that people seem to want.”

Either way, whenever a human arrives, canine commotion ensues.

“Everybody who’s sociable wants to see you,” said Ms. McGuire, who had to wipe clean her lens often during each visit while working on her project, “Hounds of Hope.”

In Bangalore, India, where Ms. McGuire lives with her husband, she owns three adopted dachshunds. For now, she said, three’s the limit — in addition to a street dog they feed each night. By photographing rescue dogs, she is trying to change what is, in many places, the prevailing attitude about dog ownership.

“The most loving little mutt can be the most adorable little best friend that someone can have,” she said. “Who cares if it’s got three legs, or it’s not a pedigree, or it’s blind?”

Ms. McGuire, 47, started experimenting with photography when she was a teenager. In 2001, she moved from London to New York and started shooting more regularly. But it wasn’t until she left her job and moved with her husband to Bangalore eight years ago that she started taking her passion seriously, inspired by her new home and travels in India.

That was when she noticed the dogs.

“I was just horrified when I saw the number of street dogs around Bangalore,” she said. “If a dog bites somebody on the street, then there’s always a massive call in the newspaper to kill the dogs, get rid of the dogs.”

When she began traveling regularly, Ms. McGuire started looking into the situation in other places. She found 4PAWS when she saw an online video about Ms. Janssen.

“Her life is dedicated to these dogs,” Ms. McGuire said. “She doesn’t travel. She really is the backbone of the whole place.”

People in the community seem “to appreciate what she does, and understand what she does — and there’s not a lot of alternative there,” said Ms. McGuire, who hopes her photos will also help show people how animals should, and can, be treated.

Yet there is an intentional lack of people in most of Ms. McGuire’s pictures.

“The place isn’t a people place,” she said. “It’s a dog’s place.”

Click here for a full photo essay of this kind Soul's dog hotel:

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/24/rooms-for-rescued-dogs-in-malaysia/?ref=world&_r=0


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« Reply #214 on: Dec 26, 2013, 08:49 am »

December 25, 2013

Venezuela’s Fitful Effort to Save a Scaly Predator

By WILLIAM NEUMAN and PAULA RAMÓN
IHT

MANTECAL, Venezuela — Stealing the eggs from an enraged, 10-foot crocodile is a delicate operation.

“If you don’t have your guard up, this crocodile can jump out of the water onto the sand, and in the same motion she can catch you,” said Luis Rattia, 37, who runs a hatchery at the government-owned El Frío ranch, part of a sputtering effort to save the Orinoco crocodile, the largest predator in South America, from extinction.

There were once millions of Orinoco crocodiles living along the banks of the great river, which gave them their name, and its tributaries in Venezuela and eastern Colombia.

But the fearsome animals were nearly done in by fashion. They were hunted almost to extermination from the 1920s to the 1950s to feed a worldwide demand for crocodile-skin boots, coats, handbags and other items. Today, biologists estimate that there are only about 1,500 Orinoco crocodiles left in the wild, nearly all of them in Venezuela.

The El Frío ranch, which was expropriated by Venezuela’s government in 2009, represents the hopes and the frustrations of conservationists who have worked to save the animal for years, often at cross purposes with a government that frequently views them with suspicion. Thanks in part to that disconnect, efforts to save the animal suffer from a lack of coordination and money, imperiling their already limited success.

“A properly defined program with funding and objectives doesn’t exist,” said Omar Hernández, the director of an environmental foundation called Fudeci. “The animal is in critical danger.”

When the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt traveled through the Venezuelan plains in 1800, he found crocodiles lining the riverbanks, with the largest males measuring up to 24 feet long.

José Gumilla, an 18th-century priest who wrote a natural history of the Orinoco, told of the fear the huge crocodile inspired. “It is ferocity itself,” he wrote, “the crude offspring of the greatest monstrosity, the horror of every living thing; so formidable that if a crocodile were to look in a mirror it would flee trembling from itself.”

It is easy to see what Father Gumilla was talking about. On another government-run ranch near El Frío, a large crocodile lay in the shallows of a rushing stream one recent evening, its eyes nearly shut, its mouth open in what looked like a cruel smile. With a scaly dragon’s back; spiky tail; long, white teeth; and fat, wormlike belly, it seemed like something out of a myth. Suddenly, it moved with lightning quickness, thrashing its tail and gorging on a fish that swam within range of its snapping jaws.

The first concerted efforts to breed the Orinoco crocodile were started in the 1980s by conservation-minded ranchers whose lands straddled the animal’s once extensive territory.

Then, in 1990, scientists began releasing young crocodiles into rivers on the El Frío ranch, where wild crocodiles had not been seen in at least two decades. Today, researchers estimate that as many as 400 crocodiles inhabit the ranch, forming an entirely new population that shows the species’ ability to recover if conditions are right.

“This is the great success of the program,” said Álvaro Velasco, a former government biologist who heads an independent group of crocodile specialists. “The achievement is that there were no crocodiles here, and now there is a population that can reproduce itself.”

He stood with Mr. Rattia on a recent morning at the edge of a wide lagoon on the ranch, as a large male crocodile surfaced 50 feet offshore. Mr. Velasco said that the animal, roughly 15 feet long, was about 20 years old, placing it among one of the first generations of crocodiles released here.

The program at El Frío was begun when the 153,000-acre ranch was in private hands, as part of a research station started in the 1970s that brought scientists from around the world to study the ecology of the Venezuelan plains.

During a wave of nationalizations carried out by the country’s longtime socialist president, Hugo Chávez, El Frío was expropriated in 2009. The research station was abruptly closed, and a Spanish biologist who had run it was barred from the ranch.

Now the hatchery hangs on by a thread, largely because of the perseverance of Mr. Rattia. After the government takeover, Mr. Rattia said, he was reassigned to work as an auto mechanic, something in which he had no experience. After several months, when the crocodiles began dying, he appealed to the ranch’s new managers to let him return to the hatchery.

He has been running it almost single-handedly ever since.

He has no money to replace a faulty thermostat in the incubator used to hatch crocodile eggs. When the thermostat malfunctioned last year, the incubator overheated, and dozens of eggs were destroyed. A freezer used to store meat for the animals broke about a year and a half ago and has not been replaced.

Mr. Rattia spends much of his time fishing to provide food for the animals in the hatchery, which include 155 young crocodiles and 1,300 Arrau turtles, another endangered species. Although he makes only about slightly more than the minimum wage, he digs into his own pocket to buy vitamins to supplement the animals’ food.

“They don’t see the value of this,” Mr. Rattia said. “I feel that the day I go is the day the hatchery ends.”

Officials at the Environment Ministry in Caracas, the capital, turned down requests for interviews, but the environment minister, Miguel Rodríguez, recently defended the government’s stewardship when he visited the ranch to release 45 young crocodiles.

“The construction of socialism would not be compatible if we don’t also preserve nature,” Mr. Rodríguez was quoted as saying in a government newspaper. He said that a majority of releases had occurred after Mr. Chávez first took office in 1999, suggesting that the government had given the program new impetus. Much of that activity, however, was carried out by private ranchers and foundations, conservationists said.

There are six facilities in Venezuela involved in raising Orinoco crocodiles for release in the wild. Most collect eggs laid by wild crocodiles, as El Frío does, or from crocodiles kept in small, enclosed lagoons for breeding. They incubate the eggs and raise the hatchlings until they are about a year old, when they are large enough to have a good chance of surviving on their own.

Humans continue to be the crocodiles’ greatest enemy. Poor rural residents often kill them, out of fear that they will attack people, conservationists said. They also take their eggs for food and capture baby crocodiles to sell as pets.

Conservationists said the effort to save the crocodile was undermined by the absence of game wardens to patrol the rivers where they live.

Private efforts to save the Orinoco crocodile also face serious challenges. One, on the Masaguaral Ranch, led to the country’s first crocodile hatchery in the late 1980s, and today it produces about 200 baby crocodiles a year, more than any other facility.

But the government has long been antagonistic to large landowners, casting them as enemies of its revolutionary program. After the takeover of El Frío and some other ranches, the threat of expropriation is a constant worry.

Mr. Hernández, the director of the environmental foundation, said the government had virtually cut all communication with such independent programs. He said that each year he submitted requests for permission to release crocodiles in a national park on the Capanaparo River, and that the government had repeatedly failed to respond.

“In theory, they want to do everything, but then they don’t do it,” Mr. Hernández said.

Nonetheless, the potential for public-private cooperation can be seen at another government-run ranch, called El Cedral. With financing from a private foundation started by a former Environment Ministry official, the ranch last year created a crocodile hatchery, where there are now about 90 baby crocodiles being raised in well-maintained tanks.

Pedro González, 57, who works at the hatchery, recalled how his father used to hunt crocodiles at night from a canoe, using a harpoon, the traditional method here.

“I am remaking what my father devoured,” Mr. González said.


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« Reply #215 on: Dec 28, 2013, 07:44 am »

Four new species of deep sea creatures discovered off Scottish coast

By Robin McKie, The Observer
Saturday, December 28, 2013 4:31 EST

Large sea snail, marine worm and two kinds of clam are believed to live near a cold seep vent in north Atlantic

Marine scientists have hailed the discovery of four new species of sea creature in deep ocean waters off the coast of Scotland.

The new species – a large sea snail, two kinds of clam and a marine worm – were found during Marine Scotland surveys around the Rockall plateau in the north Atlantic. Researchers are particularly excited because they believe the creatures’ home is a “cold seep” vent from which methane and other hydrocarbon gases are bubbling.

Complex habitats based on these gases are believed to build up around cold seeps just as they do around hot hydrothermal vents found in mid-ocean ridges. As a result, researchers now hope to find many other new deep-water species unique to the seabed there.

“If true, this is no less important a discovery as the much better known hydrothermal vents found in other parts of the world,” said the WWF Scotland director Lang Banks. “They would give us a unique opportunity to observe some species unlikely to be found anywhere else on the planet.”

Jim Drewery, of Marine Scotland Science, who oversaw the research on the deep water invertebrates, was equally enthusiastic. “The discovery of these new species is absolutely incredible, especially when you consider that the sea snail measures a relatively large 10cm (4ins) yet has gone undetected for decades. This is just the sort of habitat we were hoping to pick up on these surveys.”

Drewery said Marine Scotland Science had narrowed down the location of the cold seep to a small area 260 miles west of the Hebrides in the Rockall-Hatton basin. “Further research is now needed, which would involve going down to take a look at the ocean floor three-quarters of a mile underwater.”

He said he was particularly excited by the discovery of the marine worm Antonbrunnia, which is the first of its kind to be found in the Atlantic. It was discovered by Graham Oliver, an international bivalve expert, inside one of the clams he was confirming as a new species at his laboratory at the National Museum of Wales.

The sea snail Volutopsius scotiae and clam Thyasira scotiae have been named after Marine Scotland’s research vessel MRV Scotia, while the clam Isorropodon mackayi has been named after the mollusc expert David Mackay. The marine worm has not yet been named and is still being examined at the National Museum of Wales.

The discovery of the Rockall cold seep and its precious ecology has raised concerns about trawlers fishing in the region. Scotland’s environment secretary, Richard Lochhead, said the seabed around the cold seep would probably be protected as a result of the discovery of the new species.

“The area where these species were found is not currently fished and the confirmation of a cold seep is likely to result in the region being closed to bottom-contact fishing,” he said.

The International Convention on the Exploration of the Seas, an intergovernmental agency that polices fish stocks in the north Atlantic, has recommended fishing bans at three other sites around Rockall to protect rare cold-water coral, sea sponge colonies and sea fans (or gorgonians) that are being harmed by bottom-trawling.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #216 on: Dec 28, 2013, 08:48 am »


How about if we put the guns in the paws of the wolves and have them hunt the humans for two days, awarding the prize money to the wolf who kills the most fat and stupid of them ?

Judge allows wolf derby in Idaho to proceed

Environmental groups had opposed the hunt on Forest Service land, and organizers will not be required to get a special permit, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

By JOHN MILLER

BOISE, Idaho — A federal judge Friday allowed a wolf- and coyote-shooting derby to proceed on public land in Idaho this weekend, ruling its organizers aren’t required to get a special permit from the U.S. Forest Service.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Wagahoff Dale issued the ruling in Boise hours after a morning hearing.

WildEarth Guardians and other environmental groups had sought to stop the derby, arguing the Forest Service was ignoring its own rules that require permits for competitive events.

The agency, meanwhile, countered no permit was needed, concluding while hunting would take place in the forest on Saturday and Sunday, the competitive portion of the event — where judges determine the $1,000 prize winner for the biggest wolf killed — would take place on private land.

Dale decided derby promoters were encouraging use of the forest for a lawful activity.

“The derby hunt is not like a footrace or ski race, where organizers would require the use of a loop or track for all participants to race upon,” she wrote, of events that might require such permits. “Rather, hunters will be dispersed throughout the forest, hunting at their own pace and in their own preferred territory, and not in a prescribed location within a designated perimeter.”

Steve Alder, an organizer of Idaho’s derby, said dozens of people had already arrived in Salmon, Idaho, to participate. He was elated following the decision.

“We won,” Alder said. “You’ve got a lot of people who have driven from far distances to Salmon, today. A lot of motels have a lot of occupants; a lot of money has been expended for this event. It’s good for Salmon, but I don’t want to send them packing home.”

Every year, predator derbies are staged across the West and much of the rest of the country, where hunters compete to bag the most coyote, fox and other animals.

But wolves — and the notion that hundreds of armed sportsmen might head to the hills to shoot at them for cash — captured the passions of wildlife advocates after they learned of the Idaho derby.

It’s been just two years since Endangered Species Act protections were lifted, and WildEarth Guardians Executive Director John Hornung said many people believe the big carnivores still face existential threats that are compounded when they’re hunted for prizes.

“To go from that position a mere two years ago, to contest hunts, is just incredibly dissonant to groups like ours, and I think, a lot of the public. It just doesn’t make sense,” Hornung said from his office in Santa Fe, N.M., adding he believes contest hunts are “all about a scorched-earth approach to these native carnivores.”

In Friday’s telephone hearing, WildEarth Guardians’ attorney told Dale that a wolf derby taking place on Forest Service land that surrounds Salmon should be required to get the same kind of special permit as any other competitive gathering, including running races or snowmobile events.

“People are trying to kill as many animals as they can in two days in order to win the prize,” attorney Sarah McMillan told the judge.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the U.S. Forest Service countered that no permit was needed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Hurwit also said hunters could be in the woods and fields near Salmon this weekend shooting wolves and coyotes — regardless of whether their excursions were associated with a contest.

“There’s nothing to stop people who intended to participate in the derby, from going forward and taking the same action, killing coyotes and wolves, and just not participating in the derby,” Hurwit told Dale. “The derby doesn’t change hunting, hunting will happen throughout the season regardless of this lawsuit. The derby hunters will have to comply with state regulations.”

Wolves became big-game animals in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming after federal Endangered Species Act protections were lifted starting in 2011. There are annual hunting and trapping seasons.

After reintroduction in the state in the mid-1990s, Idaho has about 680 wolves, according to 2012 estimates.


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« Reply #217 on: Dec 31, 2013, 08:06 am »

Two bald eagles shot and killed near D.C.

By David Edwards
RawStory
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 8:58 EST

Police in Maryland are investigating the death of two bald eagles that were shot near Washington, D.C. in the last week.

According to D.C. Crime Stories, one of the birds was shot on Christmas day while it was feeding on a deer carcass in Brookville.

On Saturday, the second bird was found suffering from gun shot wounds at a home in Darnestown. X-rays later revealed that it had been injured with bird shot. That bird also died from its injuries.

“It’s unusual to have them so close together,” Maryland Natural Resources Police spokesperson Candy Thomson told WUSA. “But eagles get shot by accident on purpose. On most cases it’s a case of mistaken identity, people think they’re vultures or some other bird of prey.”

“In some incidences though, it’s just wanton destruction, somebody having a good time which is unfortunate,” she said.

Bald eagles were taken off the endangered species list in 2007, but shooting them is still punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail. However, a permit can be obtained from the Department of Interior to legally shoot the birds.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has encouraged anyone with information about the shootings to call 410-260-8888. Callers who wish to remain anonymous can contact the Catch-A-Poacher hotline at 1-800-635-6124.


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« Reply #218 on: Jan 03, 2014, 06:08 am »


Protect the Mozambique forest found on Google Earth, scientists say

Mount Mabu rainforest teeming with new and unique species including pygmy chameleons and bronze-colour snakes

Josh Davies
theguardian.com, Friday 3 January 2014 07.00 GMT   
   
A remote rainforest in Mozambique discovered using Google Earth has so many new and unique species that it should be declared a protected area, scientists say.

Pygmy chameleons, a bronzed bush viper and butterflies with shimmering yellow wings are among the species in the forests covering Mount Mabu in northern Mozambique.

Discovered in 2005 by scientists using satellite images, the forests, previously only known to local villagers, have proven to be a rich ecosystem teeming with new species of mammals, butterflies, reptiles, insects and plants. The mountain forests have been isolated from a much larger forest block for millennia, meaning there has been no migration between this site and the next mountain for tens of thousands of years, allowing unique species to evolve in isolation.

One such species is a golden-eyed bush viper with bronze-edged scales (Atheris mabuensis) which Julian Bayliss, a conservation scientist for Kew Gardens, found by stepping on during a survey. His team is also waiting to describe a further two species of snake. A new species of chameleon (Nadzikambia baylissi) has already been described from the site, and the researchers are also describing another. The size of a human palm, with a warm yellow chest, green eyes and a spiky crest along its back, Rhampholeon sp. are commonly known as pygmy chameleons.

Bayliss's team has identified 126 different species of birds within the forest block, including seven that are globally threatened, such as the endangered spotted ground thrush (Zoothera guttata). There are an estimated 250 species of butterfly, including five which are awaiting to be described, like Baliochila sp., a vibrant specimen which has shimmering yellow wings dusted with black. New species of bats, shrews, rodents, frogs, fish and plants are also waiting to be described.

"The finding of the new species was really creating an evidence base to justify its protection," explained Dr Bayliss, "and now we've got enough to declare a site of extreme biological importance that needs to be a protected area and needs to be managed for conservation."

In first step to making the forest an internationally recognised protected area – such as a national park – the team have submitted an application to have its importance officially recognised . This "gazetting" application has been accepted on a provincial and national level, but is currently waiting to be signed by the government.

If the application is successful, then the forest will be protected from logging concessions seeking valuable hardwoods currently threatening the mountain.

"The people who threaten Mabu are already there, and really what we're trying to do now is a race against time towards its conservation. It's getting there early enough to get the wheels in motion to make it a protected area before it's too late," said Bayliss.


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« Reply #219 on: Jan 03, 2014, 10:52 am »

Dogs poop in line with Earth’s magnetic field, says study

By David Ferguson
RawStory
Thursday, January 2, 2014 10:49 EST

A study published this week in the journal Frontiers in Zoology suggests that dogs choose to relieve themselves along a north-south axis in line with Earth’s magnetic field. The Motherboard blog reported on the study’s findings, saying that the research was carried out by a team of Czech and German scientists.

“Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth’s magnetic field,” said the research team. “Dogs preferred to excrete with the body being aligned along the North-south axis” rather than the East-west axis.

The study examined the daily habits of 70 dogs during 1,893 defecations and 5,582 urinations over the course of two years. Consistently, during times of calm electromagnetic “weather,” the dogs chose to eliminate while facing north or south.

Dogs are not the only animals that are sensitive to the Earth’s magnetism. When it comes time for them to mate, salmon use their sense of the Earth’s magnetism to find their way back to the spawning grounds where they were born. Birds, similarly, migrate along magnetic lines. Even ants have been proven to have a sense of the Earth’s alignment and to distinguish between north, south, east and west.

As to why the dogs prefer to poop facing north or south rather than east or west, that’s still a mystery.

“It is still enigmatic why the dogs do align at all, whether they do it ‘consciously’ (i.e., whether the magnetic field is sensorial perceived (the dogs ‘see,’ ‘hear’ or ‘smell’ the compass direction or perceive it as a haptic stimulus) or whether its reception is controlled on the vegetative level (they ‘feel better/more comfortable or worse/less comfortable’ in a certain direction),” wrote researchers, “Our analysis of the raw data (not shown here) indicates that dogs not only prefer N-S direction, but at the same time they also avoid E-W direction.”

The dogs did not exhibit the preference, however, when they were being walked on leashes. It was only when left to their own devices that they expressed the preference.


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« Reply #220 on: Jan 05, 2014, 07:03 am »

From the steppe to central Spain, Europe echoes to the howl of the wolf

The shepherds' ancient foe is back in numbers – and now packs are breeding a mere 40 miles from Madrid

John Vidal   
The Observer, Saturday 4 January 2014 19.22 GMT   
  
A twig snaps, a crow calls, but nothing moves in the dense pine forests of Spain's Guadarrama mountains. Vultures and eagles soar over the snowcapped peaks and wild boars roam the valleys below, as they have for centuries. But for the farmers who work this land, a threatening and worrying comeback is taking place in this timeless landscape, home to Spain's newest national park.

After an absence of 70 years, the wolf is back in the Guadarrama hills and breeding just 40 miles from Madrid.

There have been sightings for several years of lone males, but camera traps recently picked up a family of three cubs, two adults and a juvenile. To the consternation of the farmers who believed that this ancient foe had left the hills for ever, breeding packs are expected to follow. The bloody results are plain to see. In the past two months around 100 sheep and cattle have been killed near Buitrago, in the northern foothills of the Guadarrama mountains, says Juan Carlos Blanco, a wolf specialist and adviser to the Spanish environment ministry.

"Guadarrama can support two, even three, packs. We think there are now six packs within 100km of Madrid. When they arrive in a new area the shepherds do not know what to do. Then they find ways to protect their flocks with dogs or fences. It's a natural event and the wolf will not go away now," he says. "Maybe hunters will exterminate one pack, but others will take its place. Wolves are very flexible and resilient."

Spain is now a wolf stronghold. While the population had diminished to just a few packs in isolated regions in the 1960s, there are now thought to be more than 250 breeding groups and more than 2,000 individuals.

"As wolf numbers grow so does the number of attacks on animals. From 2005 there were about 1,500 attacks a year. Then in 2008 it jumped to over 2,000," says Luis Suárez, WWF biodiversity officer in Madrid. "In the past seven years 13,000 sheep, 200 goats and several hundred cows have been attacked across Spain."

In the 19th century the European wolf was almost driven to extinction as hunters made a living from the bounties paid by villagers. But conservationists are surprised at how fast wolves have returned during recent years, populating areas where they were last seen more than 100 years ago.

Wolf populations in Europe quadrupled between 1970 and 2005 and there may now be 25,000 animals, says the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They have been seen within a few miles of major cities including Berlin, Rome and Athens. Last month one was found near the Dutch hamlet of Luttelgeest, just 30 miles from Holland's densely populated North Sea coast.

They are also reportedly expanding their range in France, Germany, Poland, Scandinavia and Italy, with sightings in Belgium and Denmark. In the past 10 years, says Blanco, wolves have arrived in the Pyrenees from Italy and the Alps. "They have crossed 450km and a lot of roads to get there. So far they are not breeding there, but it's only a matter of time," he says.

In Germany, where they were hunted out of existence in the 19th century, there are now thought to be around 160 wolves in 17 packs in the state of Brandenburg. Cubs were born last year in Heidekreis in Lower Saxony for the first time in 150 years, and there were sightings in the states of Hessen and Rheinland-Pfalz.

"The wolf has been able to reclaim territory in the Alps by crossing over from Italy and it has now spread as far as the Lozère region in central France. In 2012, individuals from the Alpine population formed the first pack in 150 years in the Calanda mountains of Switzerland and four cubs were confirmed to have been born this year," says a report from the Zoological Society of London and others.
Wolves in Spain

Wolves traditionally flourish in times of political and economic crisis. Their return to Europe in the past 20 years is thought to be linked to widespread rural depopulation and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The demise of the USSR saw a near 50% increase in the number of wolves in the 1990s, as animals that had been kept under control by state-sponsored culling were left to roam unchecked and many packs crossed into sparsely populated areas of Poland, Germany and Scandinavia.

Some conservationists say the economic recession in Spain, Portugal, Greece and elsewhere has also helped them spread into new areas. "People have migrated from rural areas, allowing the wolf to reoccupy abandoned land. The recession has left less money for farmers to protect their animals, says Suárez. "More money in the economy means more money for protection. Worse circumstances in the recession have seen a progression of rural people to the cities and an increase in wolf numbers," he says.

"Land is being abandoned. The woods regrow, so there are more deer, less hunting pressure, and more food for wolves," says Peter Taylor, British ecologist and editor of Rewilding journal, who lives in the Czech Republic. "Wolves are returning to many of their old haunts in Europe and also wandering into long-forgotten territory. There are breeding pairs now in Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Alpine Italy, the Apennines and Alpine France," he says.

"Wolves have always been hated by country people, but they do not threaten people," says Blanco, who expects to see numbers continue to grow in the next decade. "We must help farmers tolerate them," he says. But the image of the wolf as a danger to be exterminated is strong in countries to which it has recently returned. Its re-emergence has pitted conservationists against farmers furious that wolves are killing their livestock.

"It leads to resentment among older people left in villages where the young have moved to the cities," says Taylor. "In contrast to lynx and bear, nobody has tried to reintroduce wolves – they just wander in. They are seldom welcome. They remind older people of hard times – a sign that civilisation is slipping backwards perhaps."

Wolves are a protected species and most countries offer to compensate farmers for the animals they kill. But many are now being hunted illegally and poisoned. Farmers and shepherds invest in fences and fierce dogs to protect their animals, says Taylor. "They have lost the habit of defending their flocks. In areas where wolves never disappeared, they have always had some losses, but they are used to protection. Farmers are more desperate because the prices they get are low."

Suárez adds: "Officially, 130 wolves have been killed [since 2005] in Spain, but the real numbers are unknown. They are being poisoned."

María Vázquez, who works with farm advice group Asaja in Aviola, helping farmers with electric fences and dogs, says: "We're not against wolves, but we need help. The number of attacks on livestock is growing."

As their populations grow, the wolves' best friends may be tourists flocking to Guadarrama and other conservation zones. The animals' presence just a few miles from city centres is proving popular with politicians and a draw to city residents. Visitor numbers to Guadarrama and other wild areas in Europe where wolves have moved in are growing fast, and governments are mostly happy to invest in modest protection measures in return for being hailed as friends of the environment.

"Their return to Guadarrama is a good thing, but for people with animals it's trouble. We are willing to pay subsidies," says Spain's environment secretary, Federico Ramos. "We have to understand that ideas about the wolf are changing. In the past they were a serious problem, but now people are sympathetic. It's not the devil; it's just an animal. We must learn to live together."

Additional reporting: Paul Evans


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« Reply #221 on: Jan 06, 2014, 06:24 am »

China crushes six tons of ivory in symbolic gesture to help end illegal trade

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 6, 2014 7:17 EST

China crushed a pile of ivory reportedly weighing over six tons on Monday, in a landmark event aimed at shedding its image as a global hub for the illegal trade in African elephant tusks.

Clouds of dust emerged as masked workers fed tusks into crushing machines in what was described as the first ever public destruction of ivory in China.

The event in the southern city of Dongguan was “the country’s latest effort to discourage illegal ivory trade, protect wildlife and raise public awareness,” the official news agency Xinhua said.

Surging demand for ivory in Asia is behind an ever-mounting death toll of African elephants, conservationists say, as authorities have failed to rein in international smuggling networks.

Experts believe that most illegal ivory is headed to China — where products made from the material have long been seen as status symbols — with some estimating the country accounts for as much as 70 percent of global demand.

Chinese forestry and customs officials oversaw the destruction, which was shown live by state broadcaster CCTV. It reported that the ivory weighed 6.1 tons and had been seized over a period of years.

“With measures like this we can still save elephants from being driven towards extinction,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of London-based conservation group Save The Elephants.

Some of the crushed ivory powder would be disposed of and some displayed in a museum exhibit, while the rest would be “preserved”, state-run China National Radio reported.

The powder can be used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.

China was in March named by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as one of eight nations failing to do enough to tackle the illegal trade in elephant ivory.

CITES banned international ivory trading in 1989, but the environmental group WWF estimates that around 22,000 elephants were hunted for their tusks in 2012, with a greater number projected for the following year. There could be as few as 470,000 left, it says.

Other countries have carried out similar exercises, with the US crushing six tons of ivory in November. The Philippines destroyed five tons of tusks in June, and Kenya set fire to a pile weighing the same amount in 2011.

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« Reply #222 on: Jan 06, 2014, 07:09 am »


Japanese whaling fleet filmed with dead minke whales in Southern Ocean

Sea Shepherd locates Japanese whaling fleet, but New Zealand disputes claim operations are in its territorial waters

Oliver Milman   
theguardian.com, Monday 6 January 2014 11.58 GMT   

Three minke whales dead on the deck of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru inside a Southern Ocean sanctuary, according to anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd. Three minke whales dead on the deck of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru inside a Southern Ocean sanctuary, according to anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd. Photograph: TIM WATTERS/AFP/Getty Images

At least three dead whales have been spotted aboard a Japanese vessel in the Southern Ocean.

New Zealand's foreign minister condemned the whaling but disputed claims by conservation group Sea Shepherd that the fleet had been operating in New Zealand’s territorial waters, in the Ross Sea in Antarctica.

Murray McCully, foreign affairs minister, called the Japanese operation "pointless and offensive", adding: "New Zealand has responsibility for co-ordinating search and rescue operations in a large area in the Southern Ocean, however these are international waters and not within New Zealand's maritime jurisdiction.'' Japan says the whale hunts are for scientific purposes.

Video shot by Sea Shepherd aircraft appears to show three minke whales loaded onto the deck of the factory ship, the Nisshin Maru. Activists say a fourth whale was being cut apart at the time of the filming, with crew members seen mopping up large pools of blood on the deck.

The organisation argues that Australia should enforce its own Antarctic territory by cracking down on whaling, which has been deemed unlawful by its federal court. However, only four countries – which do not include Japan – recognise Australia’s claim to Antarctic land and sea territory.

Sea Shepherd said the Japanese fleet fled out of the whale sanctuary without violent confrontation. There was no sign of either the HMNZS Otago, which is patrolling New Zealand’s southern waters during whaling season, nor an Australian government aircraft, which was put forward by the country's environment minister Greg Hunt in lieu of the customs vessel he promised before the election.

Jeff Hansen, the managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, told Guardian Australia that the Japanese fleet was “on the run”.

“We are keeping on their tail and they aren’t whaling at the moment so we’re happy about that, at least,” he said. “There is no need for confrontation, the number one priority is the protection of whales.”

Hansen said the minke whales killed could include some that were tagged by Australian scientists last year to measure their progress from the Great Barrier Reef down the east coast to Victoria.

Separately, 39 pilot whales were stranded overnight at Farewell Spit in New Zealand, with twelve dying initially and the remaining 27 being euthanised by authorities who said they could not be saved.

John Mason, Golden Bay Conservation Services Manager, said: "We carefully weighed up the likelihood of being able to refloat them and get them safely back out to sea. But our staff, who have extensive experience in dealing with mass whale strandings in Golden Bay, determined that due to various factors it was unlikely they could be rescued."


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« Reply #223 on: Jan 07, 2014, 06:39 am »

Activists drive Japanese whalers out of Antarctic hunting ground: Sea Shepherd

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 7, 2014 7:14 EST

Anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd on Tuesday said Japan’s fleet had been separated and driven out of its Antarctic hunting ground, declaring an early success in its campaign to disrupt the annual hunt.

The militant group said the five-vessel fleet was “in disarray” and currently not hunting whales, with the harpoon ships separated from each other by hundreds of miles and the factory ship Nisshin Maru well outside its kill zone.

“The Nisshin Maru is on the run and unable to stop and whale in its self-designated whale-poaching grounds,” Sea Shepherd said in a statement.

Japan’s fisheries agency insisted it was business as usual.

“We don’t have information on exactly where the ships are, and we would never disclose such information because it would only help Sea Shepherd campaigners spot them,” said an agency official in charge of the whaling mission.

“All we can confirm is that the Japanese research has been neither suspended nor cut short.”

Sea Shepherd has three ships on the high seas to disrupt the harpooners. On Monday said it had located all five Japanese vessels, releasing photo evidence that four whales had been killed.
Three dead minke whales on the deck of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru , on January 5, 2014

Tim Watters/Sea Shepherd Australia Ltd/AFP

Three dead minke whales on the deck of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru , on January 5, 2014

Since then the Japanese fleet has split up and their operations have been disrupted, the activist group said.

“Should the Nisshin Maru attempt to return to the whaling grounds, Sea Shepherd will be ready to once again intercept and shut down their illegal whaling operations,” it said.

Japan’s fisheries agency insisted it was business as usual.

“We don’t have information on exactly where the ships are, and we would never disclose such information because it would only help Sea Shepherd campaigners spot them,” said an agency official in charge of the whaling mission.

“All we can confirm is that the Japanese research has been neither suspended nor cut short.”

Since then the Japanese fleet has split up and their operations have been disrupted, the activist group said.

“Should the Nisshin Maru attempt to return to the whaling grounds, Sea Shepherd will be ready to once again intercept and shut down their illegal whaling operations,” it said.

The commercial hunting of whales is prohibited in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which was designated by the International Whaling Commission in 1994, but Japan catches the animals there under a “scientific research” loophole in the moratorium.

Australia has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice seeking to have its research whaling programme declared illegal, with a ruling due this year.

Siddharth Chakravarty, captain of one of the Sea Shepherd vessels the Steve Irwin, said it had been an encouraging start to the group’s 10th annual harassment campaign, which got under way last month.

“Within a day-and-a-half we have the entire whaling fleet in disarray,” he said.

High-seas clashes between the two groups are common, resulting in the 2010 sinking of the Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil.


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« Reply #224 on: Jan 09, 2014, 07:04 am »

Lion found hanging in cage at notorious Indonesian ‘death zoo’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 9, 2014 7:43 EST

A young African lion has died after getting its head caught in cables in its cage at an Indonesian zoo notorious for hundreds of animal deaths in recent years, it was announced Thursday.

The 18-month-old lion named Michael was found early Tuesday at the zoo in Surabaya, in the east of the main island of Java, said zoo spokesman Agus Supangkat.

“The lion was found hanging from the roof of his cage. He was very young and got his head stuck in cables that keepers use to open and close the cage,” Supangkat told AFP.

Supangkat insisted that the death was an accident and not due to negligence. Police were investigating its death, he added.

The incident came just two days after a wildebeest was found dead in its cage at the zoo, which has been dubbed the “death zoo” because so many animals have died there prematurely in recent years due to neglect.

Among them have been endangered orangutans, a tiger whose food was laced with formaldehyde and a giraffe found dead with a beachball-sized lump of plastic in its stomach, after eating food wrappers thrown into its pen over the years.

The wildebeest died on Sunday evening of intestinal complications.

Supangkat insisted the wildebeest had been properly fed and said it became sick after days of intense rain and humidity.

The management of the zoo — Indonesia’s biggest — has been taken over by the Surabaya city administration, but the deaths have not stopped and animal welfare groups continue to call for its closure.

African lions are found in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies them as vulnerable.

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