Human Intervention, Hold The Judgement

A burrowing bettong, also known as the boodie, in the Australian Outback. COURTESY OF AWC

I have not acquired the book yet, but I have heard her discuss it and read an interview with her about it; the author has moved from reporting on extinction and climate phenomena to reporting on human intervention schemes that respond to those phenomena. The stories as told in the article below adhere to a claim Kolbert makes in her discussion with Ezra Klein, that as a journalist she is not in the judgement business:

Assisting Evolution: How Far Should We Go to Help Species Adapt?

An Australian project to help threatened marsupial species adapt to avoid predatory cats is among a host of ‘assisted evolution’ efforts based on the premise that it is no longer enough to protect species from change: Humans are going to have intervene to help them change.

Butterflies, Challenges & Hope

Monarchs in the early morning. They hibernate from November until the beginning of March. With warmer temperatures, they become sexually mature, mate, and begin their northerly migration.

Just for the beauty of the photographs, this is worth a visit. But there is also an audio accompaniment, allowing you to hear the butterflies. The story of the challenge their habitat faces is, like so many other stories we encounter, painful to read. But there is hope as well:

SAVING THE BUTTERFLY FOREST

Environmental destruction and violence threaten one of the world’s most extraordinary insect migrations.

Marciano Solis Sacarias,
a landowner, working at
Las Novias del Sol,
a tree-nursery coöperative.

Every November, around the Day of the Dead, millions of monarch butterflies descend on a forest of oyamel firs in the mountains of central Mexico. The butterflies have never seen the forest before, but they know—perhaps through an inner compass—that this is where they belong. They leave Canada and the northeastern United States in late summer and fly for two months, as far as three thousand miles south and west across the continent. The journey is the most evolutionarily advanced migration of any known butterfly, perhaps of any known insect. Continue reading

Late 2020 Happy Whale News

Researchers said that the blue whale song that crackled through the team’s underwater recordings was unlike any they had heard. Robert Baldwin/Environment Society of Oman

Thanks to Katherine J. Wu for this, especially for sharing the recordings of the whale song, and the musical reference for how to think about the difference between this whale population’s song and the that of other whale populations:

A New Population of Blue Whales Was Discovered Hiding in the Indian Ocean

The whales in the group seem to sing a unique song.

Weighing up to 380,000 pounds and stretching some 100 feet long, the blue whale — the largest creature to have ever lived on Earth — might at first seem difficult for human eyes and ears to miss.

But a previously unknown population of the leviathans has long been lurking in the Indian Ocean, leaving scientists none the wiser, new research suggests. Continue reading

Ancestral Plants Worth Saving

These sunflowers in San Diego National Wildlife Refuge are wild relatives of sunflowers that farmers around the world grow to produce oil. Lisa Cox/USFWS

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this summary of a recent scientific study:

Distant Cousins Of Food Crops Deserve Respect And Protection

Hundreds of native North American plants, often dismissed as weeds, deserve a lot more respect, according to a new study. These plants, distant cousins of foods like cranberries and pumpkins, actually represent a botanical treasure now facing increased threat from climate change, habitat loss and invasive species.

The crops that the human race now depends on, including grains like wheat and tree fruit like peaches, originally were selected or bred from plants that grew wild hundreds or thousands of years ago. And those ancestral plants, like the small wild sunflowers that can be found across the United States, still exist. “If you see them growing along roadsides, those are the ancestors,” says Colin Khoury, a research scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. Continue reading

One More Reason Why Native Plant Species, Not To Mention Insects, Matter

ENZO PÉRÈS-LABOURDETTE / YALE E360

As the curvy berm we started forming earlier this year, combined with 100+ newly planted trees, transition from wet season to dry season, we have been noticing an uptick in insects. While most of my early life experiences in Connecticut led me to believe that the world (or at least I) would be better off with fewer insects, I now think exactly the opposite. Last Sunday I had my first sighting of a bird (same species as our friend Daniel captured by camera in Guatemala a few weeks ago) that is likely here for some of those insects. That sighting alone would have been enough to convince me that more insects are better than fewer. Janet Marinelli‘s article in Yale Environment360 gives me more to ponder on this topic:

How Non-Native Plants Are Contributing to a Global Insect Decline

The impact of introduced plants on native biodiversity has emerged as a hot-button issue in ecology. But recent research provides new evidence that the displacement of native plant communities is a key cause of a collapse in insect populations and is affecting birds as well.

Zebra swallowtails are entirely dependent on pawpaw trees, which have leaves that are the butterflies’ larvae only source of food. COURTESY OF DOUGLAS TALLAMY

For years, Doug Tallamy sounded the alarm about the grave threat that plants introduced from abroad pose to native insects. By transforming native plant communities into so-called novel landscapes increasingly dominated by exotic species on which many insects cannot feed, the University of Delaware entomologist speculated, they imperil not only insects but also the birds and other animals that depend on insects for survival. Continue reading

Bees & Citizen Science

A rusty patched bumblebee. Nature Picture Library/Alamy

If you are a regular here you have seen plenty about citizen science. And plenty about bees. We have posted only one time previously about the intersection of bees and citizen science. Today makes twice:

How You Can Help Count and Conserve Native Bees

Honeybees and their problems get the most attention, but scientists are using tactics learned from bird conservation to protect American bees. Continue reading

Parasitism’s Charisma Deficit

The medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis, is one of the few parasites formally protected. Photograph: Stephen Dalton/Alamy

By the time I was welcoming guests to a place where they would experience them in the wild, I had become accustomed to leeches. I did not enjoy feeling them in my hiking boot or elsewhere on my body, but after a few times I stopped being freaked out by it. As unlikely as it sounds, I eventually found them fascinating, if not charismatic. I could appreciate their place in the ecosystem we were working to protect, but I could not bring myself to celebrate them in public. A photograph like the one above would not win them new friends but illustrations like the one below might help. Phoebe Weston’s article about the challenges of protecting parasites rings true:

Overlooked and unloved: how a global project could unlock the world of parasites

The tiny freeloaders may be considered disgusting by many but new research shows they are crucial in shaping ecosystems

A coloured aquatint from the early 19th century shows three women gathering leeches in a stream. Photograph: Wellcome Collection

The leech craze of the 1800s put parasites on the map. Collectors (usually women and sometimes old horses) would stand in ponds waiting for medicinal leeches to come and suck their blood. They were then picked off and sold for bloodletting.

The parasites were so popular that by the early 1900s they were nearly extinct, and there was a coordinated effort to save them. Even so, the European medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalishas been labelled as near threatened on the IUCN red list since 1996, and remains one of the few parasites with formal protections. Continue reading

Obsessively Eliminating Protections To The End

A sea bird is reflected in the water during low tide at Cardiff State Beach in Encinitas, California, U.S. October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

No special prognostication talent was required to know this was coming, if you have been paying attention for the last four years. Environmental, among other protections, have been gutted constantly since shortly after this administration’s inauguration in 2017. The only important question is how quickly some of these protections can be restored by the incoming administration:

Trump administration moves forward with gutting bird protections

The Trump administration moved forward Friday on gutting a longstanding federal protection for the nation’s birds, over objections from former federal officials and many scientists that billions more birds will likely perish as a result.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its take on the proposed rollback in the Federal Register. It’s a final step that means the change — greatly limiting federal authority to prosecute industries for practices that kill migratory birds — could be made official within 30 days. Continue reading

To Catch A Thief, Reformed

Capuchinbird - Leon Moore

© Leon Moore eBird S34151423 Macaulay Library ML 47998261

The image of the Capuchinbird above is from eBird, which we have written about many times on this platform. Denise Hruby has written a very important account of how birds are taken from tropical wilderness into captivity, who pays for it, and other important details. The bird above is apparently a favorite of one of the most accomplished thieves, and the journalist was astute enough to link to its eBird page.  To catch a feather thief is one thing. To catch a bird thief is altogether more important. To read of the possibility of the thief’s reform, different again and will take time to verify:

He Once Trafficked in Rare Birds. Now, He Tells How It’s Done.

After a chance encounter in Brazil, Johann Zillinger became one of the world’s most prolific wildlife smugglers. Three decades and two prison stints later, he says he has gone straight.

WEIDEN AN DER MARCH, Austria — On a humid evening at the airport in Fortaleza, in northern Brazil, Johann Zillinger, a wildlife trafficker, was keeping a close eye on his new hire. He had recruited the 24-year-old farmhand as a smuggler a few days earlier, promising him a free trip to Europe and $2,000 in cash. Continue reading

Major Marine Sanctuary, An Unexpected Gift Of 2020

The marine sanctuary off Tristan da Cunha will be the fourth largest in the world. Photograph: Andy Schofield/RSPB/PA

The Guardian shares some welcome conservation news from a lesser-known bit of land surrounded by plenty water-based wildlife:

Tiny Atlantic island takes giant leap towards protecting world’s oceans

UK overseas territory Tristan da Cunha’s new marine protected area will be fourth largest sanctuary of its kind

Rockhopper penguins on Tristan da Cunha will be among a wealth of marine life to benefit. Photograph: Trevor Glass/RSPB/PA

A community of 250 people on one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth has made a significant contribution to marine wildlife conservation by banning bottom-trawling fishing, deep-sea mining and other harmful activities from its waters.

The government of Tristan da Cunha, a volcanic archipelago in the south Atlantic and part of the UK’s overseas territories, has announced that almost 700,000 sq km of its waters will become a marine protected area (MPA), the fourth largest such sanctuary in the world. Continue reading

Character & Entrepreneurial Conservation

A diadem sifaka, a type of lemur, in northern Madagascar. Erik Vance/The New York Times

Erik Vance, whose work I have not seen in more than three years, caught my attention again this week. Then it was in National Geographic and from my perch in Belize his story had an obvious connection to my location. This story, in the New York Times, is read from a perch in Costa Rica. My perspective, as ever, is influenced by the search for examples of entrepreneurial conservation. I am happy to read about this one full of interesting characters, in a country I have yet to visit, where there is resonance with some of my experience in Costa Rica. Creative people, knowing that the country’s public conservation commitments have their limits, achieve remarkable conservation goals through private reserves that add to the public good. The section describing a small park with big potential could have also been written about Seth’s workplace last year:

In Madagascar, Endangered Lemurs Find a Private Refuge

Climate change is shifting the habitats of endangered species and requiring conservation scientists to think outside traditional park boundaries.

Sambava, Madagascar — Madagascar has always been one of the best places on Earth to study the natural world. Continue reading

A Few Attenborough Minutes

When he first appeared in these pages, and each of the dozens of times since then that David Attenborough has returned, it is worth at least a few minutes of attention. Click above to go to the video or below to go to the transcript:

Amid planet’s crisis, filmmaker Sir David Attenborough’s ‘vision for the future’

Filmmaker Sir David Attenborough has been documenting the natural world since the 1950s. In his latest book and film, “A Life on Our Planet,” he offers a grave and alarming assessment about the climate crisis Earth is facing. The 94-year-old Attenborough spoke with William Brangham recently as part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas. Continue reading

Hidden Camera, Tiger Tree Hug, Award

Sergey Gorshkov’s image of an Amur tiger, which won him the 2020 wildlife photographer of the year award.

Thanks to Mark Brown, Arts correspondent at the Guardian, for this:

Image of tiger hugging tree wins 2020 wildlife photographer award

Sergey Gorshkov left a hidden camera in a Russian forest for 11 months to capture the big cat

An image of a clearly ecstatic tigress hugging an ancient Manchurian fir tree in a remote Siberian forest has won one of the world’s most prestigious photography prizes.

It took Russian photographer Sergey Gorshkov 11 months to capture the moment using hidden cameras. His patience led to him being named 2020 wildlife photographer of the year by the Duchess of Cambridge at a ceremony at London’s Natural History Museum.

The image was selected from more than 49,000, with Roz Kidman Cox, the chair of the judging panel, calling the photograph “a unique glimpse of an intimate moment deep in a magical forest”. Continue reading

Think Twice About Whatever It Takes For Honeybees

A honey bee visits a blooming catmint plant in New Mexico. ROBERT ALEXANDER/GETTY IMAGES

Since Milo’s 2011 post on this topic we have paid attention to the plight of honey bees and their human keepers, and might have had a “whatever it takes” perspective on letting those human keepers find solutions to keep their colonies alive. Jennifer Oldham’s article in Yale e360 has us thinking twice:

Will Putting Honey Bees on Public Lands Threaten Native Bees?

As suitable sites become scarce, commercial beekeepers are increasingly moving their hives to U.S. public lands. But scientists warn that the millions of introduced honey bees pose a risk to native species, outcompeting them for pollen and altering fragile plant communities.

Beekeeper Dennis Cox checks his hives in Strawberry Valley, Utah in July. JENNIFER OLDHAM / YALE E360

Honey bees heavy with pollen and nectar foraged from wildflowers on Utah’s Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest collide with tall grass and tumble to the ground. They are attempting to land alongside a hive, and I watch as they struggle to stand, fly into the box, and disgorge nectar to be made into honey.

The pollinators belong to a 96-hive apiary, trucked here to Logan Canyon for the summer to rest and rebuild their population, replenishing bees lost to disease and pesticides after months pollinating California’s almond groves. By Labor Day, the yard could house 5 million domesticated pollinators. Continue reading

Lost & Found, Organized

LostFound1

Yesterday’s happy surprise is the reason for today’s look at one organization’s work to support finding lost species. If you look at the image below you will see in the upper right quadrant the species mentioned yesterday, and that find is so fresh they still have not stamped FOUND on it.

LostFound2

LostFound3Global Wildlife Conservation has created a graphic for what they consider the 25 Most Wanted species, and this colorful display is the trigger to get you hooked on helping:

In collaboration with more than 100 scientists, Global Wildlife Conservation has compiled a list of 1,200 species of animals and plants that are missing to science. GWC and our partners search some of the planet’s forgotten places and then work to protect species once found.

LostFound4

But this is about much more than the expeditions GWC is directly involved in. We’re calling on others to join the search and conduct their own expeditions for the lost species that have captured their hearts. GWC is working with teams and individuals the world over to publicize their stories of rediscovery and adventure as part of this shared campaign of hope and celebration. Read more in our FAQ and explore the partners behind the search.

LostFound5

For those of you not triggered by this display, there is also a photo of Daniel Craig holding a lost & found tortoise. He is looking you in the eye, asking you to donate. Resistance is futile.

Sleuthing The Breeding Of Rare Birds

Thanks to Audubon Magazine:

ParrottKingTHE PARROT KING
OVER THE PAST 14 YEARS, MARTIN GUTH HAS BUILT A MONOPOLY ON SOME OF THE WORLD’S RAREST BIRDS. WILL HIS SECRETIVE ORGANIZATION ULTIMATELY HELP PUT MORE PARROTS IN THE WILD, AS HE SAYS—OR PUSH THEM CLOSER TO EXTINCTION?

BY BRENDAN BORRELL | ILLUSTRATIONS BY JASON HOLLEY | SUMMER 2020

For Stephen Durand, March 16, 2018, began like most other days—with an inordinate amount of squawking. Durand lives on the Caribbean island of Dominica and oversaw the federal aviary that houses rescued parrots, including casualties of Hurricane Maria. Six months earlier, the storm had leveled large numbers of the island’s trees and stripped many more of their fruit and foliage, threatening two endemic parrot species.

ParrottKing2

Illustration: Jason Holley

The festive green Red-necked Parrot, or Jaco, and the monkish, mountain-dwelling Imperial Parrot are a source of pride for Dominicans. When their populations were at an all-time low in the 1980s, Durand helped launch an amnesty program to reclaim pet parrots for research and education. After the hurricane, he hosted International Fund for Animal Welfare veterinarians who performed surgeries under generator-powered lights. “Goal is to RELEASE back home to their wild habitat!” they wrote on Twitter that February. Four Jacos were set free and aviary staff tended to those still recuperating. Continue reading

Rewilding & The Wilder Blean Project

WilderBlean

Credit: Evan Bowen-Jones

Rewilding started featuring in our pages with a bison story in 2013, and one year later a book review made the concept clearer. Since then dozens of related stories have fueled our imaginations, and understanding of how this makes sense.

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Blean woods, near Canterbury. The Wilder Blean project aims to restore the ecosystem of the area’s ancient woodlands. Photograph: Ray Lewis/Kent Wildlife Trust

Thanks to the Guardian’s Environment editor, Damian Carrington, for bringing this new initiative to our attention:

Wild bison to return to UK for first time in 6,000 years

Release of a small herd of endangered animals in Kent is planned for spring 2022

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A herd of wild bison is seen in the Białowieża forest, Poland. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Wild bison are to return to the UK for the first time in 6,000 years, with the release of a small herd in Kent planned for spring 2022.

The £1m project to reintroduce the animals will help secure the future of an endangered species. But they will also naturally regenerate a former pine wood plantation by killing off trees. This creates a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life.

During the initial release, one male and three females will be set free. Natural breeding will increase the size of the herd, with one calf per year the norm for each female. The bison will come from the Netherlands or Poland, where releases have been successful and safe. Continue reading

Eliminating Fish From The Diet

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Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) off the coast of Madeira Island, Portugal. PAULO OLIVEIRA / ALAMY

Of all the ways to transition to vegetarianism, which I am on snail’s pace doing, I just realized that the one form of animal protein that I have completely eliminated without thinking about it is fish. I cannot remember planning on doing this, but at this moment I cannot remember the last time I ate fish. It may have been 2016. But I have been conscious of the sensation every time I am grocery shopping that I avoid the fish.

image_miniSushi was my favorite treat of a meal years ago, and while living in India we were as much pescatarian as vegetarian. But that changed with a growing awareness of the challenges related to regulating the world’s seas. So I quit eating things from it. Jennifer E. Telesca, writing in Yale e360, does not make me feel any better about this–as a data point I am exactly of zero relevance compared to the total market size–but I am gratified to see a book on a topic that will help me better quantify the reasons why exiting the market for fish is a priority:

How Global Regulators Are Selling Out the World’s Largest Tuna

The international commission responsible for managing Atlantic bluefin — prized for high-quality sushi — is failing to protect this magnificent fish. The regulators’ focus on fishing industry profits points up the need to change the way we view, and value, the lives of wild creatures.

In 2010, after years of global headlines highlighting the runaway harvest of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic Ocean, the international regulatory agency managing this endangered fish capitulated. It cut the total allowable annual catch to 12,900 metric tons, the lowest level recorded. For the world’s most valuable fish, coveted as the most succulent sushi on the planet, a return to plenty looked promising. Continue reading

Counting Turtles


Great Barrier Reef LogoAt first glance, it looks like art. As most great nature photography, whether amateur or taken by professionals, often does. But this is tech-driven professional science. Thanks to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation for this primer:

COUNTING TURTLES IS A SCIENCE

So how do you count more than 64,000 turtles at once?

With drones – and now we have the science to prove it.

Our Raine Island Recovery Project researchers are investigating the best way to count all the turtles at the world’s largest green turtle nesting area. The highly respected PLOS ONE journal has just published their findings (see the paper). Continue reading

Alladale’s Entrepreneurial Conservation Accomplishments

Alladale first came to my attention in 2017, several years after I had started reading about rewilding. It came to my attention because of an introduction, through a mutual friend, to the founder of Alladale. I recall finding his description of what he was doing as identical to our own work in entrepreneurial conservation. I cannot recall why we have only two prior links to Alladale in our pages, but here is one more, in the form of a 30 minute podcast and its descriptor page:

How to bring back a forest, and a Scotland of the past, one tree at a time

Listen to the latest episode of THE WILD with Chris Morgan!

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Scottish cow at the Alladale Wilderness Reserve.

The wind is really ripping through this valley in the remote Scottish Highlands as I’m zipping along in an ATV. I’m with highlander Innes MacNeil. He’s showing me a few remaining big old trees in the area.

The trees appear like something from a Tolkien novel — remnants of a forgotten time, like a magical connection to the past. There used to be a lot more trees like these across the Highlands. These are anywhere from 250-400 years old — and many are too old to reproduce.

“So these, we would describe them as granny pines,” MacNeil says. “The ones down here in front of us are about 250 to 300 years old, just sat in the bottom of the glen.” Continue reading