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COMMENTARY: For World Wildlife Day, ask your U.S. senators to support the END Wildlife Trafficking Act

March 3, 2016 Leave a comment
World Wildlife Day logo 2016

World Wildlife Day is celebrated each year on March 3. This official logo was designed by volunteers Amaya Delmas, Elena Hasnas and Stephen Bwire. Others can be seen at http://www.wildlifeday.org/content/outreach-material#Logos.

Today is World Wildlife Day. While it is certainly a day to revel in the amazing variety of animals that walk, swim, and fly on Earth, it also a day to ponder the growing threat to the survival of many of those species.

The list of iconic animals who are at risk of extinction because of humanity’s actions is shockingly long. There are too many species to mention here, but the roster of the imperiled includes all the great apes except for us, nearly all the big cats, elephants, rhinos, and sharks.

This video makes clear how poaching, in particular, threatens African elephants:

As a way of celebrating this day, the author of this blog suggests that you urge your U.S. senators to support the proposed Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act. The bill takes direct aim at poaching, which is the leading hazard to many of the wildlife species at risk of extinction as well as a danger to national security because it helps to finance terrorism.

The bill would accomplish these objectives:

  • Require the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking to work with the governments of countries affected by wildlife poaching and trafficking on an analysis of the threats each country faces, and to put together a plan with recommendations on how to address these threats;
  • Authorize a variety of assistance programs available to the Secretary of State, the USAID Administrator, and other relevant agency heads to address poaching and wildlife trafficking problems, including strengthening training for law enforcement and wildlife rangers in impacted countries, supporting capacity for investigations and border inspections, strategies to encourage community-based conservation programs, and others;
  • Promote bilateral agreements and international cooperation to combat wildlife trafficking and reduce demand for illegally traded wildlife and wildlife products; and
  • Include rigorous reporting requirements to monitor progress made on stemming the tide of poaching and trafficking in countries of concern, and to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars.

S. 2385 must be reported favorably by the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee before it can receive a vote from all senators. No committee hearing on the bill has been scheduled. If approved by the Senate, the legislation would then have to be adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives before being sent to the President for his approval.

The proposed END Wildlife Trafficking Act is supported by the African Wildlife Foundation, the Humane Society of the United States, TRAFFIC, Tsavo Conservation Group, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund.

A similar bill, the proposed Global Anti-Poaching Act, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last November.

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Chimps engage in stone-throwing pattern, study says

March 3, 2016 Leave a comment

Anyone who has seen chimpanzees in a zoo know that the African primate has a tendency to throw things at people: Rocks, for example, or poop.

Now research shows that Pan troglodytes also likes to throw rocks at trees.

stones under trees - courtesy MPI-EVA, PanAf-Chimbo Foundation

This image shows stones accumulated at the base of an African tree. They were thrown by chimpanzees. Photo courtesy Max Planck Institute, Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology; Pan-African Program: The Cultured Chimpanzee; Chimbo Foundation.

Scientists collected data at 39 sites in four African countries for 14-17 months since 2010. They used non-invasive methods, including camera traps, to demonstrate that chimpanzees engage in a behavior that involves picking up stones near or in a tree and then launching them at the tree.

The behavior is not limited to one or the other gender. The researchers concluded that males most commonly engaged in it, but females also throw rocks at trees. So do juveniles.

It is not clear why chimpanzees throw rocks at trees.

One possibility proposed by the researchers is that it is a form of male dominance display. Another is that it is an expression of chimpanzee culture.

“As the stone accumulation behavior does not seem to be linked to either the abundance of stones or the availability of suitable trees in an area, it is likely that it has some cultural elements,” Christophe Boesch, director of the Department of Primatology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said.

Chimpanzees are known to use tools such as sticks to extract fish or ants or to remove honey from hives. They also communicate with each other, including by drumming on tree roots and by vocalizing pant hoots.

Pan troglodytes is Homo sapiens‘ closest relative. An individual human’s genome is 99 percent similar to that of a chimpanzee.

Social animals who live in groups that range in size from as few as five to as many as about 150 individuals, chimpanzees are omnivorous. They are known to eat fruit, bark, leaves, and stems, as well as other mammals. Colobus monkeys are a particularly common prey animal for chimpanzees.

Pan troglodytes is an endangered species under American law. Their population is thought to have declined from more than a million at the turn of the twentieth century to as few as about 200,000-300,000 individuals at present, according to FWS.

AP0040-03

Chimpanzees, like the mother and infant pictured here, are humans’ closest living relatives. Flo, the female adult in the image, and her infant Flint were made famous when the primatologist Jane Goodall wrote of her research involving the two chimpanzees. Photo courtesy Jane Goodall Institute.

The new paper appears in the Feb. 29 edition of Nature Scientific Reports.

Video shows only known wild jaguar in U.S.

February 27, 2016 1 comment

An environmental advocacy organization released a video earlier this month that shows a jaguar wandering in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains, near Tucson. The big cat is the only one if its kind known to live in the wild in this country.

Jaguars (Panthera onca) were once relatively common in the American Southwest and had a range that extended all the way to southern Argentina.  A 1989 scientific paper concluded that hunters extirpated the big cat from the United States.

In 1997 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designated the species as endangered within the country and in Mexico, Central America, and  South America. The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers jaguars to be near-threatened throughout their worldwide range.

Panthera onca is also protected by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, that prohibits exploitation of the animal for commercial purposes.

Jaguars are smaller than lions (Panthera leo) and tigers (Panthera tigris). Females generally  reach a mass of about 75 kilograms, while males usually grow to a size as large as about 95 kilograms. Some larger specimens have been reported.

Jaguars range far, if prey is not abundant, and eat a varied diet. Crepuscular in their hunting habits, they are known to eat more than 85 other species, including armadillos, birds, caimans, capybaras, deer, fish, pacas, peccaries (javelinas), and turtles.

Of all the big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, and snow leopards are the others), the jaguar is the least likely to attack a man.

Known in the Spanish language as “el tigre” the presence of the big cat near a major American city may be bringing a smile to some faces in southern Arizona.

“Just knowing that this amazing cat is right out there, just 25 miles from downtown Tucson, is a big thrill,” Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, said.

Scientists, in first, observe female orangutan kill another female

February 23, 2016 Leave a comment
Bornean orangutan

Bornean orangutans, like their Sumatran cousins, are arboreal and depend primarily on fruit for food. Courtesy Wikimedia.

Orangutans are gentle animals. Among Homo sapiens‘ closest relatives, the arboreal red apes from Asia got their name because the humans who discovered them thought they were “people of the forest.”

They are not immune from a willingness to commit violence. Conflict among male great apes is relatively common and male orangutans will rape females. Among females, fights that cause severe injury or death are unusual.

Now researchers have, for the first time, seen a female orangutan attack and kill another female. She didn’t act alone, either. Her male consort helped.

Orangutans do not live in groups. They tend toward the solitary. But females can have overlapping home territories. In the case described in a recent paper published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, a young female basically arranged the death of an older female.

The events occurred in 2014. The younger orangutan, named Kondor, and the older orangutan, Sidony, had clashed some years earlier. This time, Kondor enlisted the help of a male named Ekko, who was not yet mature enough to have the characteristic male cheek flanges. Kondor and Ekko copulated near Sidony, then Kondor broke off the sexual encounter and attacked the older female. Ekko prevented Sidony’s escape and also bit her repeatedly. An older male eventually intervened to protect Sidony, but she suffered such extensive injuries that she died two weeks after the fight.

Orangutans are mostly fruit-eaters, though they will also eat bark, leaves, and insects. Their offspring are dependent on parents for a long time. An infant orangutan can be expected to nurse for six years and females stay with their mothers until they are teenagers.

The two species of orangutan – Pongo abelii and Pongo pygmaeus – live on Sumatra and Borneo and are among the most endangered animals on the planet.Their habitat – forest – is under assault by human demand for palm oil and both species are victimized by poaching.

The Orangutan Conservancy estimates that only about 40,000 individuals survive.

New study points to peril for ocean life

January 16, 2015 Leave a comment
ShipSpotting.com
© har

Today’s New York Times includes an article that discusses a new study with bad news about the fate of Earth’s marine life.

The study finds that human activities may be causing historically unique damage to the oceans.

“Current ocean trends, coupled with terrestrial defaunation lessons, suggest that marine defaunation rates will rapidly intensify as human use of the oceans industrializes,” the abstract of the study, published in Science, said.

The NYT piece, written by the esteemed science writer Carl Zimmer, quoted a lead author of the Science paper, Douglas J. McCauley of the University of California at Santa Barbara, as saying that the researchers’ conclusions indicate that a mass marine extinction is possible.

The basic gist of the Science paper is that the same patterns of events that have led to the extinction of hundreds of terrestrial mega-fauna are also at work in the oceans. One of the biggest threats, as on land, is industrialization.

“There are factory farms in the sea and cattle-ranch-style feed lots for tuna,” Dr. Stephen R. Palumbi, a marine ecologist at Stanford University and a co-author of the paper, said. “Shrimp farms are eating up mangroves with an appetite akin to that of terrestrial farming, which consumed native prairies and forest. Stakes for seafloor mining claims are being pursued with gold-rush-like fervor, and 300-ton ocean mining machines and 750-foot fishing boats are now rolling off the assembly line to do this work.”

The paper’s authors also discuss the likely impacts of climate change.

A more detailed analysis of the Science paper will be posted here at a later date.

Image of Atlantic Dawn factory ship courtesy ShipSpotting.com; copyright as indicated above.

White lion cubs born in Polish zoo

February 4, 2014 Leave a comment

A zoo in Poland has become the home of rare white lion cubs.

According to an Associated Press story, three of the albino cats were born to a two and one-half year old lioness at the Borysew private facility on Jan. 28.

White lions are rare. Their color reflects a recessive genetic trait and, if inbreeding is employed to produce more of them, genetic defects can result.

The animals are not necessarily a pure white in color. Their leucistic genetic state can also cause them to have a light blonde hue.Image

Photo courtesy Zoo Safari Borysew. Read more…

Monarch butterfly numbers falling

March 14, 2013 Leave a comment

The number of Monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico is dropping fast. A story in today’s Los Angeles Times gives the details.

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