Argentina’s only polar bear might be moved to Canada to cure his depression
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 6, 2014 17:11 EST
Arturo has been in mourning since the death of his companion in 2012. It is summer now in Argentina, and he is exhausted from the heat. A trip to cool Canada might brighten his mood.
Such is life for an aging, depressed polar bear at a zoo in Mendoza, at the foot of the Andes in western Argentina.
On Friday, veterinarians from Canada, Chile and Argentina will determine if the 29-year-old animal is in shape to endure the long trip to Canada, where a zoo in Winnipeg has offered to adopt him.
In Mendoza and elsewhere in Argentina, no one is indifferent to the fate of the 400-kilo (900-pound) bear.
People still remember the tragic death of another polar bear, 16-year-old Winner, who passed away at the Buenos Aires zoo during Christmas 2012 as temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
Over the past 20 years, Arturo has grown accustomed to the hot summers and mild winters of Mendoza. The question now is whether he can handle Canada’s frosty winter.
Born in the United States in 1985, Arturo arrived in 1993 in Mendoza, a city of 120,000 known for its wine production.
“Despite his age, he is good condition,” said zoo director Gustavo Pronotto. He said the life expectancy of a polar bear is just over 20 years and that in captivity, they can often live to see age 30.
Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg has proposed paying for the transport costs.
Greenpeace has gathered 160,000 signatures in a campaign to transfer Arturo urgently to Canada, which it says has weather that more closely resembles what occurs in his natural habitat.
Canada is home to 60 percent of the world’s 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears, which are concentrated in the Arctic — including Russia, the United States (Alaska), Norway and the Danish territory of Greenland.
Classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is the planet’s largest land-based predator.
He will be missed…
Besides Greenpeace, everyday people in Argentina have called for the animal to be allowed to go to Canada, saying the zoo here has been negligent.
Authorities in the province of Mendoza, which owns the zoo, have given the green light to sending the bear to Canada. But they have held up the operation pending the results of Friday’s tests.
The zoo director says he understands local concern but says the bear “is not a package that one can move around like merchandise.”
“Everything depends on the health of the animal and how he can withstand a 15,000-kilometer trip,” said Pronotto, who is also a veterinarian.
“We must avoid a big mistake, like his death during the trip or upon arrival. One must evaluate the risks carefully. He is old, and this would require many hours of anesthesia.”
Out in the wild, this feared hunter lives off seals and, when food is rare, also attacks musk oxen, reindeer and small rodents.
At the Mendoza zoo, Arturo is served 15 kilos of meat per day, and all the fruit and vegetables he can eat.
He also loves honey. And if his caretakers are late, Arturo growls to draw their attention.
As the zoo’s mascot, he has an air-conditioned 35-square-meter (375-square-foot) enclosure, a 500-square-meter beach and a swimming pool in which his guards throw blocks of ice to keep it cool.
Experts say Arturo has been deeply saddened by the death in May 2012 of Pelusa, his mate for two decades, at age 30. She had several cubs, but none survived.
After her death, Pronotto says, “Arturo never emerged from his state of depression.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Review panel questions US plan to take gray wolf off endangered list
• Fish and Wildlife Service panel cites unsettled science
• Federal officials want animal off endangered list in 48 states
Associated Press in Billings, Montana
theguardian.com, Friday 7 February 2014 20.37 GMT
A proposal to lift federal protections for gray wolves across most of the US suffered a significant setback on Friday, as an independent review panel said the government was relying on unsettled science to make its case.
Federal wildlife officials want to remove the animals from the endangered species list across the lower 48 states, except for a small population in the south-west. The five-member US Fish and Wildlife Service peer review panel was tasked with reviewing the government’s claim that the north-east and midwest were home to a separate species, the eastern wolf.
If the government was right, that would make gray wolf recovery unnecessary in those areas. But the peer reviewers concluded unanimously that the scientific research cited by the government was insufficient.
That could make it difficult for federal officials to stick with their proposal as it now stands, further protracting the emotionally charged debate over what parts of the US are suitable for the predators.
“The process was clean and the results were unequivocal,” said panel member Steven Courtney, a scientist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California in Santa Barbara. “The science used by the Fish and Wildlife Service concerning genetics and taxonomy of wolves was preliminary and currently not the best available science.”
Wolves were added to the endangered species list in 1975, after being exterminated last century across most of the lower 48 states under government-sponsored trapping and poisoning programs. Hunting is already allowed for more than 5,000 wolves in the northern Rockies and Great Lakes, where protections were lifted in 2011.
A struggling population of several dozen Mexican gray wolves in the desert south-west would remain on the endangered list under the government’s plan. The south-east is home to a separate species, the red wolf, which remains highly endangered.
The release of the peer review findings opens another round of public input on a proposal that has received more than a million comments.
“Obviously we do take the comments from peer reviewers very seriously and we need to take those into account,” said a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman, Chris Tollefson.
Danish zoo sparks outrage by killing healthy giraffe
Thousands signed petition to save Marius, who was put down to avoid inbreeding and then fed to the lions
Lars Eriksen in Copenhagen
theguardian.com, Sunday 9 February 2014 09.46 GMT
A healthy young giraffe has been put down at Copenhagen zoo, despite a campaign to save it.
Protesters carrying banners gathered outside the zoo this morning and thousands of people signed a petition to rescue the giraffe, called Marius, after the Danish zoo announced it was planning to kill the animal because of European laws on inbreeding.
Other zoos, including the Yorkshire wildlife park in Britain, had offered to take it in.
But according to the Danish newspaper BT, Marius was fed some rye bread at 9.15am and was killed shortly after by a shot in the head with a bolt gun.
Live footage of his body being dissected was streamed by Ekstra Bladet, showing zoo workers wearing green rubber gloves carrying out the dissection while an announcer guided the crowd throughout the process and fielded questions. Some of the meat was due to be fed to the lions later today.
The zoo defended the decision to slaughter Marius, saying that to send Marius to another zoo would also risk problems of inbreeding, as Marius's genes were already well represented among giraffes at the zoo.
"We know we are doing the right thing," Bengt Holst, the zoo's scientific director, told Danish TV2. "The many reactions don't change our attitude to what we do. It's very important to us that we take responsibility throughout. We need to have as healthy a stock as possible so we avoid inbreeding."
Holst said some of the meat from the giraffe would be used for research and the rest for food.
As ivory poaching returns to Africa's plains, campaigners pin hopes on curbing demand
With hunting for ivory once more a concern, conservation efforts have switched to trying to influence public opinion in Asia
Daniel Howden in Nairobi
The Observer, Sunday 9 February 2014
No one could be entirely sure that the tusks – great curves of hard dentine coated in enamel – would actually burn. To be on the safe side, park wardens doused them in petrol and arranged them in a pyre. When set alight, the ivory burned fiercely, watched by Kenyan cabinet ministers, diplomats, conservationists and, most importantly, television crews and photographers, who relayed the images all over the world.
That was the morning of 18 July 1989, when a bonfire was made of 12 tonnes – or nearly £2m worth – of ivory in a spectacle designed to send out the message that the killing of elephants and the trade in their tusks had to be stopped. In the preceding decade numbers of Africa's largest land mammal had fallen from 65,000 to 17,000.
"To stop the poacher, the trader must also be stopped; and to stop the trader, the final buyer must be convinced not to buy ivory," said Daniel Arap Moi, Kenya's then president. "I appeal to people all over the world to stop buying ivory."
Remarkably, they did. And soon after that, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) placed ivory in its Appendix I, effectively creating an outright ban on the trade.
The site where the pyre was lit, two miles inside the gates of the Nairobi national park, is now marked by a grandiose stone tomb. It sits in a neglected picnic site where a scattering of concrete benches surrounds a faded sign that recounts the historic day and concludes: "As you picnic here, reflect and join Kenyans in saying never again." But for all the imploring, it has happened again. In the past five years the poaching crisis has returned in response to rising demand from newly wealthy markets in Asia.
In the Selous game reserve in Tanzania, home to one of the two largest populations of African elephants, numbers had fallen from 50,000 in 2007 to 13,000 by the end of last year. Globally, up to 100 elephants a day are thought to be poached for their tusks in a worse slaughter than that of the 1980s, according to conservationist Allan Thornton, president of the Environmental Investigation Agency, the international organisation that provided much of the evidence on which the original ban was based.
The rhino – prized for its horn, which is spuriously claimed in some cultures to have medicinal properties – is in similarly dire straits. It is in this context that up to 50 world leaders will converge on London on Thursday for a conference on the illegal wildlife trade that may represent the best hope for reversing the trend.
"Hopefully we are building to a moment similar to 1989, although the current situation is far more damaging to Africa's elephant populations," said Thornton. "Poaching and the illegal ivory trade appear to still be gaining ever greater momentum to supply the markets in China and Japan."
The 1989 ban and the accompanying publicity turned western public opinion against ivory. Within a year, the price of ivory had plummeted from tens of thousands of pounds for a carved tusk to just £1 a kilo.
Among the "range states" – countries where elephants live in the wild – there was disagreement over the 1989 ban. Several southern African nations, including Botswana and Zimbabwe, argued that stockpiled ivory, which they said had been collected from pachyderms that died of natural causes, should be sold at auction. The first of these legal auctions took place in 2002. A second "one-off sale" was sanctioned in 2007, despite fierce opposition from conservationists, who objected both to the auction and to Cites's approval of China as a bidding nation. They warned that China was in no position to control the illegal trade and that the 70 tonnes it bought would spur demand.
Peter Knights, head of the pressure group WildAid, watched what happened next. The presence of legal and illegal ivory in the market created ambiguity for consumers as well as providing cover for criminal enterprises looking to launder their supply from poachers.
"We thought we had saved the elephant and then we found ourselves at square one again," said Knights. His organisation is calling for an end to ivory sales and the destruction of existing stockpiles.
Knights believes that the 21st century equivalent of the Nairobi bonfire began in the unlikely setting of Denver, Colorado, in a warehouse on the edge of the Great Plains. It was here, at the offices of National Wildlife Property Repository, that six tonnes of ivory, seized over time from smugglers entering the US, was destroyed. It is a sign of the times that ivory is now crushed rather than burned – environmentalists had been concerned about carbon dioxide emissions.
Similar stockpiles have been crushed in the Philippines and Kenya, while Hong Kong has also agreed to destroy much of its reserve. China followed last month, feeding seven tonnes of seized ivory into a tarmac-crushing machine. But even this still represents only a fraction of existing stockpiles.
The London conference is expected to see rich nations pledge hundreds of millions of pounds to an emergency fund to finance anti-poaching efforts in the range states, but seasoned campaigners will be watching for commitments from the ivory-consuming countries.
Knights, who compares attempts to stop poaching in Africa with failed efforts to strangle the illegal drug trade in producing countries, warns that only a "demand-side" approach will work. WildAid has persuaded famous Chinese athletes such as the basketball star Yao Ming to lead a public awareness campaign to persuade Chinese consumers not to purchase ivory.
"We have tried the supply side and it clearly isn't working," he said.
Meanwhile the killing continues. There are no elephants in Nairobi national park, but a fortnight ago, only a rifle shot away from the site where the ivory was burnt, a female rhino was slaughtered – in what is supposed to be among the most heavily protected parks in east Africa.
A DEADLY TRADE
An estimated 25,000 elephants are killed each year by poachers, many of them linked to organised crime. In some places the species is close to being wiped out.
2012 was said to be the worst year ever for the illegal ivory trade in Africa.
In 2011, authorities seized more than 23 tonnes of ivory, which represented about 2,500 individual elephants killed.
A 1989 ban outlawed the international trade in ivory. Since then, countries with elephant populations have twice been allowed to sell stockpiled ivory taken from elephants that died naturally.
In the past few years, ivory has been destroyed in the US, Gabon, Kenya, China, France and the Philippines. This is now mostly done by crushing rather than burning, to avoid polluting the atmosphere.
Experts believe that the majority of ivory sold illegally – perhaps as much as 70% – finds its way to China.
Huge chimpanzee population thriving in remote Congo forest
Scientists believe the group is one of the last chimp 'mega-cultures', sharing a unique set of customs and behaviour
theguardian.com, Friday 7 February 2014 11.53 GMT
A mother chimp passing her tool-use expertise to her young: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lH6TqJbG5tw
In one of the most dangerous regions of the planet, against all odds, a huge yet mysterious population of chimpanzees appears to be thriving – for now. Harboured by the remote and pristine forests in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and on the border of the Central African Republic, the chimps were completely unknown until recently – apart from the local legends of giant apes that ate lions and howled at the moon.
But researchers who trekked thousands of kilometres through uncharted territory and dodged armed poachers and rogue militia, now believe the group are one of the last thriving chimp "mega-cultures".
"This is one of the few places left on Earth with a huge continuous population of chimps," says Cleve Hicks, a primatologist based at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who says the group is probably the largest in Africa. "We estimate many thousands of individuals, perhaps tens of thousands." A unique set of customs and behaviour is shared by the apes across a vast area of 50,000 sq km, revealing how they live naturally.
The unusually large chimps of the Bili-Uele forest have been seen feasting on leopard and build ground nests far more often than other chimps, as well as having a unique taste for giant African snails, whose shells they appear to pound open on rocks or logs. Motion-activated video cameras left in the forest for eight months also recorded gangs of males patrolling their territory and mothers showing their young how to use tools to eat swarming insects – although the footage did not confirm the lunar howls.
Gangs of males patrolling their territory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBs6HGcL3Yk
The camera traps also revealed an extraordinary range of other forest dwellers, including forest elephants, olive baboons, spotted hyena as well as red river and giant forest hogs, crested guinea fowl and aardvark. "We saw incredible amounts of wildlife on our camera traps, but we did not catch a single film of a human," says Hicks. "It remains one of the last untouched wildernesses in Africa."
One camera even recorded its own destruction as it came under attack from a leopard, but all two dozen cameras were nearly lost when poachers invaded the area and burned the researchers' camp. Only a swift two-day rescue mission retrieved the footage.
Forest elephants: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBpUxzmeknQ
Hick's team first identified the existence of the Bili chimps in 2007 but their new survey, published this week in the journal Biological Conservation, reveals a vast, thriving mega-culture. Elsewhere in Africa, human damage has fragmented the continent's chimp population from many millions to just a few hundred thousand over the last century.
However, while the chimp numbers have apparently remained stable, the numbers of forest elephants have crashed by half due to poaching. The slaughter, to feed the highly lucrative illegal ivory trade, mirrors the bloody picture across central Africa, where two-thirds of all forest elephants have been killed in the last decade. "We found the burned skulls of a mother and baby skull at a poachers camp," says Hicks.
Footage of elephant skulls, a sign poachers are venturing deeper into forests to hunt elephantshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnxHzNWGfAM
"The area is at great risk of being opened up," says John Hart, one of the team and who has spent decades in DRC at the Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation. The team's work was interrupted previously by gunmen protecting illegal gold mining operations in nearby areas but the security situation is getting worse, Hart told the Guardian. Speaking from the town of Kisangani, on the eve of returning to the forest, he said: "The Lord's Resistance Army are moving through the area as we speak. Also refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) war and armed brigands from the CAR's Seleka and opposition groups are establishing bases in the region."
The researchers fear that these increasing incursions into the virgin forest will draw in more hunters seeking to feed the enormous bushmeat trade in the Congo basin, that targets chimps and other animals. "The incredible bushmeat trade we discovered [in the southern part of the forest in 2010] was totally without precedent." Hart says, with an estimated 440 chimps being killed a year. "But with the availability of bushmeat declining elsewhere, commercial bushmeat hunters are going further and further into the forest."
The chimps are an endangered species and fully protected in DRC law. "But it is only a law on paper," says Hicks, who identifies both official security forces and militia as the source of much of the danger, as well as endemic corruption. "I think the military are giving guns to the poachers." He says the forest and the chimp mega-culture it contains are currently completely unprotected.
The prime minister, David Cameron, and Prince William are due to host the highest level global summit to date on combating the $19bn-a-year illegal wildlife trade in London next Thursday. Delegates from more than 50 nations, including all African countries, will focus on the poaching crisis facing elephants and other species, which is not only driving many towards extinction but is strongly linked to international organised crime and the poverty of many vulnerable communities. The aim is to deliver an unprecedented political commitment, along with an action plan and funding pledges, and Hicks says the Bili-Uele forest is in need of urgent help.
"It is one of the last great expanses of pristine African wilderness," he says. "Elephants have already taken a major hit and unless we can muster the resolve to protect this precious area, we are at risk of losing it forever. At the very minimum need 20 wildlife guards who are able to sweep through the forest and set up roadblocks to stop the poachers and other hunters."
Hart agrees: "It is a very significant opportunity to preserve a whole ecosystem of chimpanzees: elsewhere on this continent this opportunity just does not exist."
• You can view more camera trap videos from the Bili forest here. http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6WP1bQD2RHbhE-mnvUtg_A
***************Congo's rare mountain gorillas could become victims of oil exploration
WWF warns of environmental disaster and permanent conflict if British firm begins drilling for oil inside Virunga national park
theguardian.com, Thursday 1 August 2013 09.26 BST
Link to video: Congo's Virunga national park under threat from oil exploration – video
The Virunga national park, home to rare mountain gorillas but targeted for oil exploration by a British company, could earn strife-torn DR Congo $400m (£263m) a year from tourism, hydropower and carbon credits, a WWF report published on Thursday concludes.
But if the Unesco world heritage site that straddles the equator is exploited for oil, as the Congolese government and exploration firm Soco International are hoping, it could lead to devastating pollution and permanent conflict in an already unstable region, says the conservation body.
Congo has allocated oil concessions over 85% of the Virunga park but Soco International is now the only company seeking to explore inside its boundaries. This year Unesco called for the cancellation of all Virunga oil permits.
Soco, whose board of 10 directors have wide experience with oil companies working in conflict areas including Exxon, Shell and Cairn, insist that their operations in Congo would be confined to an area in the park known as Block V, and would not affect the gorillas.
Soco chairman, Rui de Sousa, said: "Despite the views of WWF, Soco is extremely sensitive to the environmental significance of the Virunga national park. It is irrefutable that oil companies still have a central role in today's global energy supply and a successful oil project has the potential to transform the economic and social wellbeing of a whole country.''
He added: "The park has sadly been in decline for many years officially falling below the standards required for a world heritage site. The potential for development just might be the catalyst that reverses this trend.''
However Raymond Lumbuenamo, country director for WWF-Democratic Republic of the Congo, based in Kinshassa, said that security in and around the park would deteriorate further if Soco went ahead with its exploration plans.
"The security situation is already bad. The UN is involved with fighting units and the M23 rebel force is inside the park. Oil would be a curse. It always increases conflict. It would attract human sabotage. The park might become like the Niger delta. Developing Virunga for oil will not make anything better."
"The population there is already very dense, with over 350 people per sqkm. When you take part of the land (for oil) you put more pressure on the rest. Oil would not provide many jobs, people would flood in looking for work," he said.
One fear is that the area is seismically active and another eruption of one of the volcanoes in the park could damage oil company infrastructure and lead to oil spills in the lakes. "Virunga's rich natural resources are for the benefit of the Congolese people, not for foreign oil prospectors to drain away. Our country's future depends on sustainable economic development," said Lumbuenamo.
"For me, choosing the conservation option is the best option. We can always turn back. Once you have started drilling for oil there's no turning back," he said.
But Raymond accepted that while the gorillas were safe at present, the chances of the park generating its potential of $400m a year were remote. "It would be difficult to make the kind of money that the report talks of. Virunga used to be a very peaceful place and can be again. The security situation right now is bad. The UN is involved with fighting units. Its not as quiet as it used to be."
Volcanic landscape from the ICCN Ranger Station at Rumangabo, Virunga National Park, DRC Smouldering volcanic mountains crown the Virunga national park in DR Congo. Photograph: Brent Stirton/Getty Images/WWF
According to the WWF report, complied by Dalberg Global Development Advisers, ecosystems in the park could support hydropower generation, fishing and ecotourism and play an important role in providing secure water supplies, regulating climate and preventing soil erosion.
The park, Africa's oldest and most diverse, is home to over 3,000 different kinds of animals, but is now heavily populated with desperately poor people, many of whom fled there after the Rwanda massacre in 1994.
"In all, the park could support in the region of 45,000 permanent jobs. In addition, people around the world could derive an immense value from simply knowing that the park is well managed and is safe for future generations," says the report.
"Virunga represents a valuable asset to DR Congo and contributes to Africa's heritage as the oldest and most biodiverse park on the continent," the report says. "Plans to explore for oil and exploit oil reserves put Virunga's potential value at risk," it says.
"This is where we draw the line. Oil companies are standing on the doorstep of one of the world's most precious and fragile places, but we will not rest until Virunga is safe from this potential environmental disaster," said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of WWF International. "Virunga has snow fields and lava fields, but it should not have oil fields."
In June, the Uesco world heritage committee called for the cancellation of all Virunga oil permits and appealed to concession holders Total SA and Soco International Plc not to undertake exploration in world heritage sites. Total has committed to respecting Virunga's current boundary, leaving UK-based Soco as the only oil company with plans to explore inside the park.
Last year, the UK government expressed concerns about the prospect of oil exploration within the park. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The UK opposes oil exploration within Virunga national park, a world heritage site listed by Unesco as being 'in danger'. We urge any company involved, and the government of DR Congo to respect the international conventions to which it is a signatory."
Copenhagen zoo officials receive death threats over fate of Marius the giraffe
Officials say they have received telephone and email threats after healthy giraffe was killed, dissected and fed to lions at zoo
theguardian.com, Monday 10 February 2014 16.10 GMT
Officials at the Copenhagen zoo in Denmark say they received death threats after the zoo killed a healthy two-year-old giraffe and fed its remains to lions.
Zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said on Monday that he and the zoo's scientific director, Bengt Holst, received several threats over the telephone and in emails. They quoted one email as saying: "The children of the staff of Copenhagen zoo should all be killed or should get cancer."
Warning: video contains images that some may find distressing. Link to video: Marius the giraffe dissected at Copenhagen zoo
The giraffe, Marius, was killed on Sunday using a bolt pistol, then fed to lions in front of visitors, including children.
The killing triggered a wave of online protests and debate about zoo conditions.
The zoo said it killed Marius to prevent inbreeding, and it defended the public feeding as a display of scientific knowledge about animals.
The Sochi stray dog dilemma: does the world care more about Russia's animals than humans?
Out of the many problems with the Olympics, the global outcry and outpouring of resources seems loudest to aid the dogs
theguardian.com, Monday 10 February 2014 12.41 GMT
It's hard to know where to start with the problems at the Sochi Olympics, but the one that appears to have attracted the widest worldwide outrage is the killing of stray dogs.
Even in Russia, where they have chastised western media for being on a witch hunt for bad stories, it was a Russian billionaire who stepped forward with a donation to save Sochi's dogs. Oleg Deripaska heads up several energy and commodities businesses. He's about as pro-Putin Russia as you can get, yet he didn't want to see the dogs "culled" either. Some question whether his funding for animal shelters in Sochi will extend beyond the length of the games, but it's still a big gesture that can only be read one way: one of Russia's most powerful men thinks the dog killing policy is wrong.
When news broke last week that thousands of dogs were going to be eliminated in one way or another, the Humane Society and numerous other animal rights groups mobilized their networks and offered help. There are even websites up already with detailed instructions for people around the world who want to adopt a Sochi dog.
Western media has given a lot of coverage to Russia's anti-gay policies, among other human rights abuses. There have been protests and social media campaigns calling for LGBTQ tolerance and rights. But the dog stories – with their adorable photos –stirred a level of outrage that seemed to cross greater political and geographical boundaries. And they certainly achieved faster results. It raises a quandary: do we care more about what happens to animals than other humans?
What we're seeing with Russia isn't new or unique. CNN war correspondent Michael Holmes lamented in 2008 that he could write about death, disease and suffering in Iraq (among other places), but if he included something about an animal being mistreated, the story would elicit more passionate response. He summed it up thus:
Of all the stories I have covered during my frequent trips to Iraq, most of the viewer feedback I received asked about the animal victims of war rather than the human ones. I make no judgment on that – it is just an observation.
Online, people like and support causes and charities having to do with animals almost 2 to 1 over causes having to do with just about anything else, according to a study that came out last summer. As Holmes says, it doesn't mean it's wrong, but it's notable.
Last year, researchers at Northeastern University conducted an interesting investigation to test if humans have more empathy for animals. They wrote a fake news story about a beating and then made four versions of it. The articles varied only in the type of victim that was hurt: a one-year-old child, an adult in his 30s, a puppy, or a 6-year-old dog. Participants in the study received one version and then rated their sympathy for the victim. The sympathy rankings were far higher for the dogs than adult humans (it was more even between animals and children).
I saw this tendency play out when I spent several years as an opinions editor of a newspaper in Pennsylvania. One of my tasks was to read letters to the editor submissions. Four topics stand out for generating vast and intensely worded outrage. The first was the Penn State University/Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. The second was the debate leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The third and fourth both dealt with dogs. A person left their dog in a car on a hot summer day for several hours. Someone called the police, which is how local media learned about it. The dog was taken to a local shelter, and the ex-owner received hate mail and death threats for weeks. The letters came to the newspaper, too. People couldn't wait to publicly shame the person and declare them a monster. Another time a lifestyle columnist wrote a piece about buying a dog with her kids. It was supposed to be a feel good column, but readers immediately assumed the dog was from a "puppy mill" since it came from a pet store. Again, an avalanche of outrage and death threats.
Helping animals is the right thing to do. The Northeastern researchers concluded that many people view animals as innocent and helpless, similar to children. How we treat the weakest in our society is a reflection of who we are.
I also think that aiding animals like the Sochi dogs is, in many ways, an easier problem to solve than many of the world's largest human tragedies: war, poverty, child abuse, trafficking, disease, etc. While there are some cultural differences in how we treat certain animals (note the recent dolphin culling by Japan that drew criticism from US ambassador Caroline Kennedy), we don't have to deal with as many geo-political and legal issues to help animals. To put it another way, it was pretty easy to take the dog away from the person who left it in the hot car and find it a new home. It's not as simple to remove a child from the parents or a child bride from a spouse.
Frankly, I don't want us to have any less sympathy for animals. The outpouring of support for the Sochi strays is wonderful. It's exactly the "spirit" and global mobilization we want at the Olympics. But alongside that, I wish we could raise our sympathy levels and support for other causes. We have to be careful that we aren't numbing ourselves to human tragedy.
US cracks down on illicit ivory trade to protect Africa's threatened elephants
Africa’s elephant population has fallen from millions to less than 500,000 because of illegal poaching of the animals for their ivory
Associated Press in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 11 February 2014 22.25 GMT
The United States is cracking down on the sale and purchase of ivory in hopes of curbing a surge in illicit poaching that’s threatening to wipe out elephants and other species in Africa.
The ivory ban is a key component of a new, national strategy for combating wildlife trafficking, unveiled Tuesday by the White House, seven months after President Barack Obama issued a call to action during a visit to Tanzania. In addition, the US will seek to strengthen global enforcement and international cooperation to fight an illicit trade estimated to total about $10bn per year.
“We’re seeing record-high demand for wildlife products,” said Grant Harris, who heads Africa policy for the White House’s national security council. “The result is an explosion of illicit trade and wildlife trafficking in recent years.”
Wildlife advocates are concerned that without forceful global action, elephants and rhinos face extinction. Once numbering in the millions, Africa’s elephant population has dwindled to 500,000 or less, said Dan Ash, the director of the US fish and wildlife service. About 35,000 — or nearly 10% of the remaining population — are being slaughtered each year.
The illicit industry also has significant national security implications. Because wildlife trafficking is often perpetrated by well-armed syndicates that thrive in regions with weak laws and porous borders, US security officials say it poses a global security threat, just as the US is seeking to combat growing extremism and violence in parts of Africa.
The crackdown relies on laws about conservation and endangered species that have been on the books for years, including decades-old prohibitions on importing ivory. But inconsistent implementation and lax enforcement have meant that once the ivory is in the US, domestic transactions have been essentially unregulated.
That means someone who placed an ivory chess set for sale on eBay, for example, faced little risk of running afoul of law enforcement — even if they lacked proof the item met one of the exceptions, such as being an antique.
“This legal trade has essentially provided a smoke-screen that makes it possible for this illicit trade and has made it more difficult for our enforcement officials to ferret out that crime and then prosecute that crime,” Ash said in an interview.
Under the new strategy, if someone is caught trying to sell ivory items, the government will confiscate them unless sellers can provide documentation that they are legal. Sales across state lines will be banned except for antiques — items more than 100 years old. Sales within states will also be prohibited unless sellers can show they were brought into the US before laws barring their import were put into effect.
Exports will also be banned, with few exceptions.
“For consumers, the general message going forward is buyer beware,” Ash said.
Despite the exceptions, officials said they were confident that the crackdown would result in almost a complete ban on ivory sales. The idea is that by setting a strict example, the US can spur other countries to take similar steps, driving down global demand for wildlife products and putting traffickers out of business.
Late last year, US officials destroyed more than 6 tons of confiscated ivory tusks, carvings and jewelry. Last week, France followed suit by pulverizing more than 3 tons of illegal ivory, and other nations including Gabon and China have taken similar steps.
US demand for wildlife products is surpassed only by China, where the market price for ivory is more than $1,000 a pound and has increased significantly, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
“The president and Congress have sent an unequivocal message to the rest of the world: The US will no longer tolerate the massive and senseless slaughter of wildlife or the colossal criminal profits that it generates,” said Carter Roberts, the group’s president.
Still, the fish and wildlife service won’t seek to prosecute individuals, such as those who try to sell ivory trinkets they inherited from their parents, Ash said. Instead, the agency will target its law enforcement efforts toward organized trafficking rings that profit from the illicit trade.
Last year, the government launched a sting dubbed “Operation Crash” that targeted an international smuggling ring trafficking in endangered black rhino horns.
Wildlife conservation has long been championed by former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton. After stepping down from the state department, Clinton in September outlined plans for an $80m effort to curb elephant poaching and trafficking through the Clinton Global Initiative.
Tiger Population Grows in India, as Does Fear After Attacks
By ELLEN BARRY and HARI KUMAR
FEB. 11, 2014
Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, a marksman, waiting in a national park for the tiger suspected of killing several people. Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
NEW DELHI — No one has lived long enough to describe the tiger in detail, but some things about her are known. She traverses great stretches of land in a day and is comfortable wandering deep into human territory. After killing her first three or four people, she began to eat her victims — starting rump-first, one expert said, as she would a deer.
Though it is impossible to say with certainty whether the same tiger is at fault, last weekend brought the 10th death in six weeks widely attributed to the “man-eater,” as Indian newspapers have called her.
Conflicts with humans are arising precisely in the handful of places where the endangered Bengal tiger population has rebounded thanks to careful conservation efforts, said Ullas Karanth, a wildlife biologist who runs the India program of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“These conflicts are the price of conservation success,” he said.
At the turn of the 20th century there were 40,000 tigers in India, according to the country’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, but there are now just 4,000 in the wild, prompting a broad campaign to protect tigers and the fragile forests in which they live.
But where conservation efforts have helped shore up tiger populations, the hulking, half-ton cats encroach on settlements that are unaccustomed to them. In the wake of each attack, the tigers are met with a noisy furor, instead of the subdued, systematic dragnet used by earlier generations long used to living near tigers to guide them back into the forest.
“What works, in my opinion, are like surgical operations, you need a small team of trained people on elephants to quietly allow the tiger to stay in the area,” Mr. Karanth said in a telephone interview. “Instead, mobs come, then there is a military campaign, they keep pushing the animal and make it harder and harder to catch.”
Anxiety has mounted gradually since Dec. 29, when the first victim, a farmer, was found mauled in a sugarcane field in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Around a week later, 20 miles to the north, a young man told a television crew that he was standing with his sister when a tiger “caught her by the neck and took her away, into the sugarcane.” A string of attacks continued, tracing a 90-mile journey north toward the Jim Corbett National Park, across the state border in Uttarakhand, a nature preserve that claims one of the world’s densest tiger populations and is named for a tiger hunter and conservationist.
On Sunday morning, a 45-year-old worker named Ram Charan got out of a car to relieve himself on a roadside in the Jim Corbett National Park. When his companions ran toward his screams, they found him some 60 feet into the forest, the flesh torn off his thighs. After he died, angry villagers surrounded a forestry service outpost, trapping personnel inside for some time, said Shiv Shankar Singh, the top bureaucrat from the neighboring district of Moradabad, in a telephone interview.
“They say, ‘Give us guns, and we will kill the tigress,’ ” Mr. Singh said in a telephone interview. “They say, ‘If your family members were getting killed, you would realize what kind of pain we are in.’ They are angry and afraid, so their tempers are running high.”
Trackers have gradually pieced together a portrait: The paw print, roughly five inches wide, suggests a female — a breeding one, since her canines are intact, said Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. One paw does not lay flat on the ground, suggesting the tiger is injured, Ms. Wright said. The nature of the tiger’s attacks on humans seemed to change noticeably after the first three or four attacks, Ms. Wright said, when “she realized how easy it is to kill people and that they’re actually quite tasty.”
Tigers who have become “man-eaters” must be killed, she said, but they are extraordinarily difficult to capture. “They just become like ghosts,” Ms. Wright said. “She can appear anywhere at any time in that district and take out another victim, and no one will ever see her. People might be standing next to her and she will just be a shocking blur.”
So it was for Mr. Charan, a father of four, inside the Corbett Park on Sunday. Yogesh Kumar, 37, was ferrying him from one dam to another “in a normal, jovial mood,” and when he stopped the car to wait for some colleagues, Mr. Charan jumped out to urinate. Mr. Kumar was waiting in the car when he heard Mr. Charan screaming, “Save me, save me,” and “I am killed, I am killed.”
Four hundred people and two elephants have been combing the forest since then, working in expanding concentric circles, “working to establish the identity of the individual” who attacked Mr. Charan, said Samir Sinha, field director of Corbett National Park.
He said he understood the anguish of villagers who surrounded the forestry outpost on Sunday, after Mr. Charan was mauled, but said it was too early to assume the “man-eater” had entered the park.
“It’s not just that everyone can decide to pick up a gun,” he said. “There is a due process of law which has to be followed.”
He said he believed the Sunday attack was a chance encounter, sparked when Mr. Charan surprised a resting tiger.
“Usually, when a tiger and a human meet, it is the tiger that ends up doing most of the damage,” he said. “The human being is likely to come off worse.”
Across the state border in Uttar Pradesh, gunmen have been summoned and given license to kill. Sanjay Singh, a registered sharpshooter, was summoned by the forestry service after the seventh fatal attack, and has spent three weeks in the area. He said he believed she has moved to an area so densely forested that it is impossible to ride on elephants, as tiger trackers prefer, and he and a dozen trackers are patrolling on foot, combing the forest from morning until sunset.
“Now there is no alternative except to kill her,” he said. “Otherwise she will keep on killing people. It is a very dicey game, which is very dangerous, and thrilling, as well.”
Second giraffe named Marius at risk of being put down in Denmark
Jyllands Park zoo says it may kill male giraffe to make way for female, days after death at Copenhagen zoo sparked outcry
Lars Eriksen in Copenhagen
theguardian.com, Wednesday 12 February 2014 17.30 GMT
If you are a giraffe and your name is Marius, now might be a good time to leave Denmark.
Days after the euthanasia of a healthy young giraffe at Copenhagen zoo sparked controversy around the world, a second Danish zoo has announced that it is considering a similar fate for another giraffe – also named Marius.
Jyllands Park zoo, in western Denmark, currently has two male giraffes, but has been approved to participate in the European breeding programme. If zookeepers manage to acquire a female giraffe, seven-year-old Marius will have to make way.
Like his namesake in Copenhagen, the giraffe is considered unsuitable for breeding, and the zoo said there was a high risk that Marius would have to be put down as it would be difficult to find him a new home.
Janni Løjtved Poulsen, zookeeper at Jyllands Park, said it was not clear when the park would acquire a female giraffe and that the decision on Marius's future would be taken by the breeding programme co-ordinator.
"If we are told we have to euthanise [Marius] we would of course do that," said Poulsen.
She said the park managers would not to be influenced by the wave of protests that followed the killing of 18-month-old Marius at Copenhagen zoo.
More than 27,000 people around the world signed a petition to save the Copenhagen giraffe, and zoo officials said they had received death threats after the animal was put down, dissected in front of a large crowd and fed to lions.
"It doesn't affect us in any way. We are completely behind Copenhagen and would have done the same," said Poulsen.
Jyllands Park zoo has not decided whether they would also carry out a public dissection.
Poulsen said she had been surprised to discover there was a second giraffe named Marius in Denmark. The Jyllands Park giraffe had been named after a former vet at the zoo, she said. "We thought it was amusing that there was another Marius among the giraffes when there aren't that many giraffes in Denmark overall."
Copenhagen zoo's scientific director, Bengt Holst, said their animals were not given names in order to avoid any personification.
"The zoo keepers sometimes call the animals names, and then our guests have heard the name Marius, and that has then become the individual Marius," Holst told Denmark's Radio. "But in no way is it an official name it has been given."
Rhinos to be moved from South Africa to Botswana in anti-poaching drive
Relocation of up to 100 rhinos comes after record numbers of the animals were killed in South Africa last year
David Smith in Johannesburg
theguardian.com, Thursday 13 February 2014 11.45 GMT
Up to 100 rhinos will be moved from South Africa across the border to Botswana's remote wilderness in an attempt to put them beyond the reach of rampant poaching, conservationists said on Wednesday.
The mass relocation comes after a record 1,004 rhinos were killed in South Africa last year and the failure of every measure tried so far to curtail the scourge, which is fuelled by demand for horn in Asia. The crisis is under discussion at a global summit in London on Thursday aimed at beating back the illegal wildlife trade.
The latest $8m (£4.82m) initiative was announced jointly by two conservation companies, Great Plains Conservation and &Beyond. They said each rhino would be tagged and microchipped for research and monitoring. A dedicated anti-poaching team will then work with Botswana's government to monitor the animals.
"There is a battle for Africa's wildlife raging as we speak," said Dereck Joubert, chief executive of Great Plains. "Rhinos are being poached at a rate of one every nine hours and the official number is 1,004 dead in 2013 alone.
"The unofficial number, because we simply do not find them all, is well over 1,000. Like everyone, I've been watching this desperate situation worsen, which is why Great Plains Conservation and &Beyond have decided to take action."
Joss Kent, chief executive of &Beyond, which relocated six rhinos from South Africa to Botswana last year, added: "Botswana has an excellent security system in place to protect these endangered animals and will be a safe haven for the relocated rhino.
"Translocations are fundamental to secure the ongoing survival of endangered species and this groundbreaking project aims to protect the species for future generations to enjoy. A project this size requires a strong partnership and a huge resource pool to pull it off."
The company said it would announce specific fundraising initiatives to enable tourism stakeholders, travel partners, tour operators and guests to help save the rhino.
South Africa National Parks welcomed the plan. Spokesman Isaac Phaahla told AFP: "The initiative would be a good one; we need every initiative to save the species."
South Africa is home to around 80% of the world's rhino population, estimated at more than 25,000. Most dwell in the vast Kruger national park, where more than 60% of South Africa's rhino poaching occurs.
Botswana's president, Ian Khama, is among the speakers at the London conference on the illegal wildlife trade. The landlocked southern African country can point to positive examples such as Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a reserve, where not a single animal has been poached since its creation 24 years ago.
The use of surveillance drones, the poisoning of rhino horns and the legalisation of the trade in horn have all been offered as solutions to South Africa's poaching crisis. The numbers killed have soared from 13 in 2007 to 333 in 2010, 448 in 2011 and 668 in 2012.
Ramzan Kadyrov offers to adopt second Marius giraffe facing slaughter
Chechen president tells Instagram followers he is ready to take in giraffe facing death in Denmark 'on humanitarian grounds'
Shaun Walker in Sochi
theguardian.com, Thursday 13 February 2014 16.47 GMT
To sentence one giraffe named Marius to death may be regarded as a misfortune; to sentence two would be a catastrophe, according to Ramzan Kadyrov.
The Chechen president has used his Instagram account to offer to take in the second Marius, which, it emerged on Wednesday, has been threatened with the same fate as his namesake.
Kadyrov, who has been implicated in torture and human rights abuses, is a known animal admirer and has a huge personal zoo.
He frequently posts pictures of himself on Instagram with exotic animals, and made his offer of shelter for the second Danish giraffe on the social network.
"I read the information about the fact that in Denmark they are going to end the life of another giraffe," wrote Kadyrov beneath photographs of lions eating the first Marius, which the Chechen leader said was killed for "invented" reasons.
"On humanitarian grounds, I am ready to take Marius in. We can guarantee him good living conditions and care for his health," he added.
Only days after the euthanasia of a healthy young giraffe named Marius at Copenhagen zoo sparked controversy around the world, a second Danish zoo announced that it was considering a similar fate for another giraffe, also named Marius.
Jyllands Park zoo, in western Denmark, currently has two male giraffes, but has been approved to participate in the European breeding programme. If zookeepers manage to acquire a female giraffe, seven-year-old Marius will have to make way.
Marius the giraffe Copenhagen zoo's giraffe named Marius, before he was killed, dissected and eaten by lions. Photograph: Scanpix Denmark/Reuters
The first Marius was considered useless for breeding because his genes were too common. The prospect of his death prompted an international petition that garnered more than 27,000 signatures, and controversy continued after he was killed when he was dissected in front of a large crowd and then fed to lions.
A new petition to save the second Marius currently has 3,500 signatures.
Danish zoo says has no plans to kill second giraffe named Marius
Sunday, February 16, 2014 9:44 EST
Animal lovers enraged by Copenhagen Zoo’s decision to kill a giraffe last week could barely contain their anger when a second Danish zoo said it might put down a another of the animals a few days later.
But they, and the giraffe, had a reprieve on Friday when Jyllands Park Zoo in Western Denmark said it now had no such plans, for the immediate future at least.
Copenhagen Zoo’s scientific director and other staff received death threats after their male giraffe was killed on Sunday last week to avoid inbreeding among the animals there.
Days later Jyllands Park told journalists it might be about to receive a female giraffe, and might have to kill one of its males, to stop them fighting over the new arrival.
By a coincidence, both condemned beats were called Marius.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page on Friday under the headline “problem solved”, Jyllands Park said it had now heard it would not receive a female giraffe “any time soon”.
“As a result of this we will of course keep both our (male) giraffes,” the zoo said.
The zoo said that it had never had any definite plans to move or kill the animal but had only answered questions from media based on a hypothetical situation.
“This situation now seems to be eliminated,” it said.
(Reporting by Teis Jensen; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
Bonobos, like humans, keep time to music: study
Sunday, February 16, 2014 9:59 EST
Some animals, like humans, can sense and respond to a musical beat, a finding that has implications for understanding how the skill evolved, scientists said on Saturday.
A study of bonobos, closely related to chimpanzees, shows they have an innate ability to match tempo and synchronize a beat with human experimenters.
For the study, researchers designed a highly resonate, bonobo-friendly drum able to withstand 500 pounds of jumping pressure, chewing, and other ape-like behaviors.
“Bonobos are very attuned to sound. They hear above our range of hearing,” said Patricia Gray, a biomusic program director at University of North Carolina in Greensboro.
Experimenters beat a drum at a tempo favored by bonobos – roughly 280 beats per minute, or the cadence that humans speak syllables. The apes picked up the beat and synchronized using the bonobo drum, Gray and psychologist Edward Large, with the University of Connecticut, said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“It’s not music, but we’re slowing moving in that direction,” Large said.
Related research on a rescued sea lion, which has no innate rhythmic ability, shows that with training, it could bob its head in time with music, said comparative psychologist Peter Cook, who began working with Ronan the sea lion while a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Scientists suspect that the musical and rhythmic abilities of humans evolved to strengthen social bonds, “so, one might think that a common ancestor to humans and the bonobo would have some of these capabilities,” Large said.
The addition of sea lions to the list suggests that the ability to sense rhythm may be more widespread.
Gray and Large said they would like to conduct a study on whether bonobos in the wild synchronize with other members of their species when they, for example, beat on hollow trees.
“That’s really coordination. Now, you’re talking about a social interaction,” Large said. “If your brain rhythms are literally able to synchronize to someone else’s brain rhythms, that’s what communication is potentially all about.”
Gray and Large’s research was conducted at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Florida.
Finnish reindeer sprayed with glow-in-the-dark liquid to prevent accidents
Finland's reindeer breeders hope new method will help avoid the thousands of reindeer-related accidents that occur each year
theguardian.com, Tuesday 18 February 2014 22.53 GMT
Glowing reindeer can be spotted in northern Finland thanks to a reflective spray which makes them more visible in a bid to prevent car accidents, Finnish reindeer breeders said on Tuesday.
"We are hoping that it is so useful that we can use the spray in the entire region and on all reindeer, from young to old," said Anne Ollila, head of Finland's Reindeer Herders' Association.
The association has started testing two reflective sprays on the animals' antlers so they are more visible to motorists at night.
According to Ollila, there are between 3,000 and 5,000 accidents involving reindeer every year, which are "much deadlier for the reindeer than for the drivers."
The trial period started last week, when the association sprayed the antlers of 20 reindeer in the Rovaniemi district, the capital of the Lapland region.
The animals were sprayed with two different types of reflective liquid: a more permanent one for the antlers and one that washes away for the fur.
If the test gives positive results, the association plans to spray more animals next autumn.
Lapland, one of Europe's most sparsely populated regions, attracts thousands of tourists especially around Christmas as it claims to be the "home of Santa Claus".