Southern Cone Rewilding

A horse and rider pull a tourist boat through the Iberá marshes

When we have linked to stories about conservation and efforts to rewild in the Southern Cone, it has been a mix of big cats and the efforts of Doug and Kris Tompkins. Our thanks to Patrick Greenfield and the Guardian for taking these themes long form:

El Impenetrable national park, home to thousands of charismatic plants, flowers and animals, including jaguars.

How to rewild a country: the story of Argentina

It began with a philanthropic couple buying a swamp but has become one of the world’s boldest experiments in restoring degraded habitats, bringing wildlife and landscapes back from the brink

Chapter one

The return of the jaguar

It took about three seconds for piranhas to devour part of her left foot, biologist Deborah Abregü recalls, as we sit waiting for pizzas to cook on an open fire in Argentina’s El Impenetrable national park. Continue reading

Friday Feel-good Photos

Scientists named the giant tortoise Fernanda, after the Fernandina Island, a largely unexplored active volcano in the western Galápagos archipelago that she calls home. Photograph: Lucas Bustamante/PA

Every now and then it is time for nature photos. First, above, is from a story that surprises, from a place we love:

‘Fantastic giant tortoise’ species thought extinct for 100 years found alive

Identification of Galápagos tortoise celebrated by scientists as a big deal for island’s biodiversity

And then there are photos unconnected to any news stories, scientific or otherwise, submitted for us to enjoy by people from around the world:

A newly hatched green iguana rests on foliage in a terrarium at the Chennai Snake Park in Chennai, India.  Photograph: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images

Two are from India, our home for seven years. Monkey business was a constant theme.

Monkeys eat watermelons during the heatwave in New Delhi, India. Photograph: Rajat Gupta/EPA

Another from a place whose name has lots of meaning for us:

A jellyfish swims off the island of Ithaca, Greece
Photograph: Cor Kuyvenhoven/Ghost Diving/Reuters

See all the other photos here.

Orchidelirium Anew

Burnt tip orchids. At least 10 vanished from a national nature reserve at Mount Caburn, East Sussex. Photograph: Katewarn Images/Alamy

Susan Orlean brought orchidelirium to our attention in 1999, shining a light on how and why these flowers inspire lots of good, and plenty of bad behavior. Orchids have been abundant in our pages over the years for various reasons, most recently due to a show; today due to criminal enterprise:

Spate of orchid thefts in England puts rare species at risk

Experts believe plants in Sussex and Kent were ‘stolen to order’

Hardy Orchid Society Replying to @HardyOrchidSoc This is what you should have seen. If you have any information that can help in the investigation please contact @kentpolice @BBCNews

A spate of thefts of rare orchids from sites in southern England has concerned scientists, who say endangered species may be at risk.

Orchid experts believe that the plants, from locations including in Sussex and Kent, may have been “stolen to order”.

Conservationists at the Sussex Wildlife Trust were dismayed last week to hear of at least 10 burnt-tip orchids missing from a national nature reserve at Mount Caburn, while in Kent the Hardy Orchid Society reported that 30 late spider orchids had been taken from a site in Folkestone.

Neil Evans, of the Hardy Orchid Society, said: “The theft represents a major loss to the population. They are only found in this country in a few sites in Kent.” Continue reading

More On Seed Banks

We have featured these banks before, but they are worthy of a more detailed inside look.

So, thanks to by Salomé Gómez-Upegui, Rita Liu and the Guardian. Their article, Seed banks: the last line of defense against a threatening global food crisis is full of images and written descriptions that put these banks in better perspective:

As climate breakdown and worldwide conflict continue to place the food system at risk, seed banks from the Arctic to Lebanon try to safeguard

As the risks from the climate crisis and global conflict increase, seed banks are increasingly considered a priceless resource that could one day prevent a worldwide food crisis. Continue reading

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers In Louisiana

Comparison of photographs taken of apparent ivory-billed woodpeckers in Louisiana from this study (A, D), with a colorized ivory-billed woodpecker, also from Louisiana (B), and a pale-billed woodpecker taken in Central America (C). Photograph: The Guardian

The title of this post should have a question mark at the end of it, or should be considered clickbait. For bird nerds this is likely not even news. But it is important in terms of natural history in general. Ivory-billed woodpeckers have been mentioned a couple of times in our pages; but the chance of seeing one these days was considered to be zero. We can now hope we were wrong about that:

Back from the dead? Elusive ivory-billed woodpecker not extinct, researchers say

An expedition to the forests of Louisiana say extinction of bird, last definitively seen in 1944, has been exaggerated

In terms of elusiveness, it is the Bigfoot or Loch Ness monster of the bird world, so rare and undetectable that the US government declared it extinct last year. But the ivory-billed woodpecker is, in fact, still alive and pecking in the forests of Louisiana, a team of researchers has claimed. Continue reading

Watching Whales, Hopefully Forever

An orca pod feeding. Iceland, one of the few countries that still hunts whales commercially plans to end the practice from 2024. Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy

Of all the dozens of times in our pages where whales are the central topic, there was once when Icelandic whaling was featured. And that story was about ending the practice of hunting these majestic animals. Today’s story–‘Meet us, don’t eat us’: Iceland turns from whale eaters to whale watchers–is the first time I have heard that travelers are the primary market for whale meat there. Strange, but true:

Reykjavik harbour. The small red boat on the right is an Elding whale-watching vessel. The blue one with a tall mast is a whaling boat. Photograph: Abby Young-Powell

The country’s plan to end commercial whaling is driven by falling demand but also a 15-year-long campaign aimed at their biggest consumers of whale meat – tourists

Onboard a small whale-watching boat making its way across the choppy waters of Faxaflói Bay, off the south-west coast of Iceland, a guide urges tourists not to eat whale meat. Continue reading

Tracking Disappearing Species

Researchers work through taxonomic keys to determine whether they had just caught a Hills’ horseshoe bat in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park.Photograph by Jon Flanders / Courtesy Bat Conservation International

Disappearing species as a topic in these pages has taken many forms. Hunters of disappearing species, less so. My exposure to this topic is limited to one project that Seth participated in. But the fact that Seth also had experience on a different type of project in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park made this article particularly of interest. Carolyn Kormann, once again, thank you:

The Hunt for a Lost Bat

The obsessive people who track down disappearing species are their own variety of rare—sparsely found across a wide geographic range, in all sorts of habitats.

In January, 2019, a multinational team of biologists set out into the rain forest of southwestern Rwanda, in search of a near-mythical bat that they thought might be extinct. Continue reading

Pythons, Bobcats & Camera Traps

A Burmese python and a bobcat facing off in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida last June, captured by a trap camera set up by the U.S. Geological Survey. U.S.G.S.

We have been posting about invasive pythons, as well as plenty of other invasive species, annually for more than a decade now. Likewise, feline wildlife has been a recurring theme. Not to mention camera traps, another theme we care about.

For a surprising overlap of those two themes, or otherwise just a very well-written story about wildlife, read Matt Kaplan’s article about how Bobcats With a Taste for Python Eggs Might Be the Guardians of Florida’s Swamp.

The bobcat eating the eggs. U.S.G.S.

Our congratulations to Dr. Andrea Currylow for the determined pursuit leading this scientific finding, and with no disrespect to pythons as a species in their native territories, in this case may the best cat win:

Cameras captured the wild feline purloining a Burmese python’s eggs, giving hope that the state’s native species are responding to a voracious, invasive predator.

The bobcat took a swipe. U.S.G.S.

The voracious appetite of the invasive Burmese python is causing Florida’s mammal and bird populations to plummet. With little natural competition to control the big snake’s numbers, the situation looks desperate. But new observations suggest that the bobcat, a wildcat native to Florida, might be able to help. Continue reading

Animal Prints & Entrepreneurial Conservation

Conservation-minded scholars hope to harness the cultural power of animal prints. Illustration by Na Kim

It is difficult to judge from Rebecca Mead’s article Should Leopards Be Paid for Their Spots whether and how the idea has a practical future, although the exemplary collaboration between Panthera and Hermes has allure. The concept has plenty of merit, from my vantage point 26 years into an entrepreneurial career that shares some common ground.

If travelers are willing to pay a premium to support the conservation of a place; if they buy things to take home because those things support artisans and farmers; and continue to buy the coffee when back home because it funds bird habitat regeneration (customers tell me via email that in addition to the coffee being excellent, this is a motivator), then why not this too:

Style-setters from Egyptian princesses to Jackie Kennedy to Debbie Harry have embraced leopard prints. Proponents of a “species royalty” want designers to pay to help save endangered big cats.

Jacqueline Kennedy, in 1962. Photograph from Getty

When Jacqueline Kennedy was living in the White House, in the early sixties, she relied upon the taste of Oleg Cassini, the costume designer turned couturier, to supply her with a wardrobe that would befit her role as First Lady, one of the most photographed women in the world. In 1962, Cassini provided her with a striking leopard coat. Knee-length, with three-quarter sleeves and six buttons that fastened across the chest, the coat was not made from a synthetic leopard-patterned fabric. Continue reading

When Fences Are Un-Neighborly

Volunteers modify a wire fence in Wyoming to allow wildlife to pass through. ABSAROKA FENCE INITIATIVE

If we take Robert Frost’s poetic license into the realm of how humans and wildlife might coexist more successfully, then the image above is powerful. Good fences might make good neighbors if they allow wildlife to migrate as needed.

A guanaco at a fence in southern Chile. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

While working in the Patagonia region of Chile, 2008-2010, I saw images like this in the photo to the right regularly. On occasion the sight would be more gruesome. Ranchers had erected fences without regard for the need of guanacos to wander.

During our seven years living in India the human-elephant relationship was often one of worshipful respect, but included too many stories of fences, or worse, as methods farmers used to protect their properties from elephant intrusions. As is the case in Kenya (see the image below) fences are unneighborly. So, we were on the lookout for creative solutions. The following article by Jim Robbins, in Yale e360, is timely and welcome in this regard.

An African elephant alongside an electric fence in Laikipia, Kenya. AVALON / UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Unnatural Barriers: How the Boom in Fences Is Harming Wildlife

From the U.S. West to Mongolia, fences are going up rapidly as border barriers and livestock farming increase. Now, a growing number of studies are showing the impact of these fences, from impeding wildlife migrations to increasing the genetic isolation of threatened species.

The most famous fence in the United States is Continue reading

Maori Tree-Saving

Tourists visiting Tāne Mahuta, the largest known kauri tree, in Waipoua Forest in New Zealand. The tree is named for a god in Māori mythology. Ruth Mcdowall for The New York Times

A former kauri ambassador blowing a conch shell near Tāne Mahuta. There’s hope among advocates that Māori-led interventions have created enough time for scientists to save the kauri. Ruth Mcdowall for The New York Times

Thanks to Pete McKenzie for this story, How Maori Stepped In to Save a Towering Tree Crucial to Their Identity, in the New York Times:

Tāne Mahuta, an ancient tree named after the god of forests in Māori mythology, is threatened by the slow creep of an incurable disease.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — In an ancient grove in northern New Zealand, the mighty conifer known as Tāne Mahuta, lord of the forest, is threatened by the encroachment of a deadly enemy. Continue reading

Why War On Wolves?

Gray wolves in Montana. DENNIS FAST / VWPICS / UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

At Yale e360 this opinion by Ted Williams is an important read:

America’s New War on Wolves and Why It Must Be Stopped

Hunting of wolves is again legal in the Northern Rockies, where running them over with snowmobiles or incinerating them in their dens is now permitted. The Biden administration must stop the slaughter of these wolves and protect their recovery from the brink of extinction.

America’s tradition of persecuting wolves has resumed. And although it’s mostly happening on federal land, the Biden administration appears singularly unmoved and unconcerned. Continue reading

New Technology For Anti-Poaching

Seized ivory tusks before being destroyed at a waste management center in Port Dickson, Malaysia, in 2019. Mohd Rasfan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Poaching has a puzzling array of culprits as well as victims, and many possible solutions. I have thought over the years that the Tiger Trail approach was replicable for this purpose. But genetic technology might scale more effectively. And with climate change overshadowing other crises, you might think this topic is past its prime, so read the comments section at the end of this article. Thanks to Catherine M. Allchin (how did we miss her prior work?) for this story, and please click through to read it in the New York Times:

It Helped Catch Serial Killers. Can It Stop Elephant and Wildlife Poachers, Too?

Scientists used a genetic investigation technique with the aim of helping turn the tide against illicit hauls of ivory and other animal parts.

Cambodian law enforcement officials received a tip from investigators in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Continue reading

Invasivorism & Reasonable Questions

Grey squirrels have driven the local extinction of the native red across much of England and Wales. Photograph: Paul Broadbent/Alamy

If you do not eat animal protein, this concept may not appeal to you. But if you allow that others who eat meat may be able to do so ethically, then read on.

If you do eat any kind of meat, then it is a reasonable question whether invasive species are fair game: Rack of squirrel, anyone? The chefs putting invasive species on the menu

Roast rack of squirrel, fondant jersey royal potatoes, carrot and wild garlic served at Paul Wedgwood’s restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photograph: Wedgwood

‘Invasivorism’ is a growing ethical dining trend but is ‘eat them to beat them’ really the answer?

From oral contraceptives to proposals to edit their DNA, efforts to control the UK’s invasive grey squirrel population have become increasingly elaborate. But a growing number of chefs and conservationists have a far simpler idea, which they see as part of the trend in ethical dining: eat them. Continue reading

Container Ships Versus Whales & Whale-watchers

Whale-watching tourism is lucrative for Sri Lanka but even the small boats are at risk from the huge tankers and container ships that use the route. Photograph: IFAW/Christian Loader

It seems a minor request, asking the companies whose ships pass through Sri Lanka’s waters to be considerate of the whales who live in those waters:

‘Giant obstacle course’: call to reroute major shipping lanes to protect blue whales

Unique colony of blue whales increasingly at risk from tankers and container ships, say marine campaigners

Scientists and conservation groups are calling for one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes to be rerouted in an effort to protect the world’s largest animal. Continue reading

Agave, Night, Nectar

Video (click image above): Mexican long-nosed bats drinking nectar from agave flowers at night. Credit: Bat Conservation International

Bats, agave, and half a minute of night-time feeding are in the video above, which is also embedded in this article by Janet Marinelli, published in Yale e360:

How Preserving Agave Could Help Save an Endangered Bat

Drought linked to climate change, along with overgrazing, is destroying the agave plants on which the Mexican long-nosed bat depends. Now, an initiative is trying to restore the balance between the agaves, the bats that feed on them, and the people who live on these lands.

Agaves blooming in Estanque de Norias, Mexico. KRISTEN LEAR / BAT CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL

At the southeast tip of a large valley in the northern Sierra Madre Oriental is the small Mexican town of Estanque de Norias, some 200 miles west of the Texas border at Laredo.

Continue reading

Hargila

 

“Hargila” Film Documents India’s Grassroots Effort to Save the Endangered Greater Adjutant Stork

A new film by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Center for Conservation Media tells the story of a wildlife photographer who travels to India intent on documenting the rarest stork on earth, but soon discovers a conservation hero and her inspiring efforts to rally a community to save it. Hargila documents the Greater Adjutant, a huge scavenging stork that was once widely distributed across India and Southeast Asia but is now mostly confined to a last stronghold in Assam, with small populations persisting in Cambodia’s northern plains region. Greater Adjutants are called “hargila” in the Assamese language, which literally translates as “bone swallower.” Continue reading

With All Due Respect To Taylor Swift

An album made entirely of endangered bird sounds beat Taylor Swift on a top 50 chart, which is as it should be:

A red-tailed black cockatoo is seen sitting on a branch with the moon behind it. The bird is one of more than 50 featured on the album Songs of Disappearance that features the sounds of many of Australia’s endangered birds. Byron Hakanson/Birdlife Australia

For most of December, Adele had the top-selling album in Australia, followed by Ed Sheeran, and then there was a collection of absolute bangers that took everyone by surprise.

Songs Of Disappearance is an entire album of calls from endangered Australian birds. Last month, it briefly perched at No. 3 on the country’s top 50 albums chart – ahead of Taylor Swift. Continue reading

Civic Responsibility, Palm Oil & Change

Forest clearance in Indonesia. Palm oil production in the country, which is one of the world’s largest producers, has been linked to deforestation. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Greenpeace

Smouldering peatland following a suspected land clearance fire in Kampar, Sumatra, in 2019. Photograph: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Palm oil has a dirty history. It causes havoc, to put it politely. May we all do our part to elect civic leaders with a keen sense of responsibility for devastation in other parts of the world, and get them to take action to reduce it. We thank Patrick Greenfield for his reporting in this article titled The UK city taking a stand on palm oil in the fight against deforestation:

A growing number of towns and villages are following Chester’s lead in helping local businesses to eradicate deforestation-linked oil from their supply chains

Orangutans, tigers, Sumatran rhinos and many other threatened species are affected by habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict that stems from palm oil plantations. Photograph: Vier Pfoten/Four Paws/Rhoi/REX/Shutterstock

From mince pies and biscuits to lipstick and soap, palm oil grown on deforested land in south-east Asia will have been hard to avoid this Christmas. The vegetable oil is found in almost half of all packaged products in UK supermarkets, according to WWF.

But a growing number of towns and cities are trying to use only sustainable palm oil, helping orangutans, tigers, Sumatran rhinos and many other threatened species. Continue reading

Is The Tiger Trail Concept Replicable?

A ranger, on the lookout for illegal poachers and loggers, logs an early-morning report before returning to the Koh Kong ranger station.

When we first learned of it, we wondered why this concept was not implemented in more locations with similar poaching problems. Now we see it:

Inside the Campaign to Save an Imperiled Cambodian Rainforest

Deep in the Southern Cardamom Mountains, former loggers and poachers have assumed new roles as protective rangers and ecotourism guides. Can their efforts help preserve a vast stretch of wilderness?

We were seated near a lush river in the Southern Cardamom Mountains, huddled over a lunch of chicken and rice, when the tip came in via text message: Someone had passed along the location of a poaching camp. Continue reading