Wednesday, March 8, 2017

50-Year-Old Tusker Killed in Kenya's Tsavo National Park

Satao II lying dead in Tsavo National Park; his tusks still intact

In 2014, a gigantic tusker name Satao fell victim to poachers in Africa's on-going poaching epidemic to meet the growing demand for ivory from Asia. This time, another majestic tusker named Satao II was ruthlessly killed by poachers in Kenya's Tsavo National Park. Satao II's death has now left just 25 of these iconic animals remaining in the world, according to Richard Moller of the Tsavo Trust. Out of these, fifteen are in Kenya. Unlike Satao, who used to hide from visitors, Satao II was described as "very approachable" and loved by visitors. Rangers found him during a routine aerial surveillance, and were able to reach him before the poachers could make off with his tusks. Two poachers believed to be responsible for killing Satao II were arrested. However, there are adverse reports about when he died. Although Satao II's death was only reported two days ago, a monthly report from the Tsavo Trust indicated that his carcass was found on January 4th. The incident was uncovered just two days after a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officer was killed during an anti-poaching incident in Tsavo National Park. He was the second to die in less than a month at the hands of poachers.
Satao I was killed in 2014; his face was reportedly sawed off by poachers

The poaching of elephants continues to go unabated, despite China placing ban on its ivory trade. There is still a continuous demand for elephant ivory, along with rhino horns, to feed the appetite of the global criminal empire. What is more shocking is that poaching of these magnificent animals has reached to the extent that they are not even safe in captivity. This was recently the case in Paris when poachers broke into a zoo and killed a four-year-old white rhinoceros for its horn. It goes to show that poachers, in general, are extremely desperate individuals who will stop at nothing to get their hands on endangered species. Therefore, it is highly crucial to revamp security measurements not just in national parks and other protected areas but also in zoos and other similar facilities that house elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species for the purpose of conservation. The threat of poaching of elephants and rhinos is also directly linked to terrorism in which notable terrorist factions like the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Janjaweed, and Al-Shabaab have been responsible for the slaughter of countless numbers of elephants to finance their crimes against humanity. It goes to show that as long as poaching goes unabated, both animal and human lives will continue to be lost.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Global Wild Tiger Population Rises By 22%

Bengal tiger in Ranthambore National Park

It is the first time in almost a hundred years that there has been an increase in the global tiger population. The number of wild tigers has risen to 3,890 in April this year from 3,200 in 2010, indicating an almost 22 percent increase. This significant increase has been credited to several factors, including increases in tiger populations of Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Russia, enhanced surveys and improved protection. Out of all the tiger range countries, India alone has recorded a rise of over 500 tigers during a period of six years and continues to be home to the highest number of tigers. According to Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, the rise of tiger populations offers a "great hope and shows that we can save species and their habitats when governments, local communities, and conservationists work together." Although the total number of tigers is 3,890, that figure could be more because Myanmar still has to announce its tiger numbers. In 2010, it had just 85 wild tigers. The "Global Wild Tiger Status" report has not included the country's figure in the global figure for this year. The updated minimum figure is accumulated from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) data and countries' latest national tiger surveys. Union environment and forests minister Prakash Javadekar indicated that Rs. 380 crores have been allocated to Project Tiger in the current fiscal year, which is an unsurpassed high and shows that the government of India is committed to tiger conservation.
Latest figures of the global tiger population
The recent global tiger population figures were released Monday on the eve of the Third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation. The three-day conference was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was the latest step in the Global Tiger Initiative that began with the 2010 Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was agreed six years ago to increase tiger numbers by 2022; a goal known as Tx2. During the conference, countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam reported on their progress towards the goal and committed to the next steps. More than 700 tiger experts, donors, managers, scientists, and other shareholders gathered at the conference to discuss tiger conservation-related issues which included landscape conservation and habitat management, tiger reintroduction, overseeing protocols, anti-poaching strategies, modern tools and technology for monitoring, resource mobilization, and networking. In addition, ministers and government officials also participated along with representatives of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which have snow leopards.
Tiger in captivity

It is indeed an amazing news that the global tiger population has increased by 22 percent in six years. However, figures indicate that India shown the highest population of tigers than any other country in Asia. This is especially true for Cambodia, China, Laos, and Vietnam which have the lowest numbers of tigers in the world. The drastic decline in tiger populations of these three countries is attributed to a wide range of factors such as indiscriminate poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, which continue to take toll on populations of wild animals throughout Southeast Asia. It is highly recommended that captive breeding and reintroduction of tigers, most notably Indochinese and South China tigers, should be implemented in these countries followed by improvement in tackling of illegal activities such as poaching and the wildlife trade. The tiger is not only considered a flagship species in India and other Asian countries, but is also considered a keystone species that plays a significant role in maintaining balance in the ecosystem of its native range. Therefore, saving the tiger and making sure that its global population continues to expand across Asia would also result in saving and ensuring the survival of other animals that the tiger shares its habitat with.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

First Contact Made with Sumatran Rhinoceros on Borneo in Four Decades

Sumatran rhinoceros

Environmentalists have recently made physical contact with the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros on the Indonesian island of Borneo for the first time in forty years. The animal was caught in a pit trap close to mining operations and plantations in East Kalimantan province, where the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) stated it was struggling to survive. The female rhino, believed to be six years old, is in a temporary enclosure and will be later transported to a safer habitat on the island. The contact came after environmentalists found out in 2013 that the rhino was not extinct in Borneo when camera traps captured images of the animals. The capture of this rhino was a combined effort between environment ministry officials, the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia, and the WWF.
Sumatran rhinoceros being lifted out of a pit trap in Borneo.

This is truly one of the biggest news for wildlife conservation. Not only that the Sumatran rhinoceros is found to not be extinct on the island of Borneo, but now it has come into physical contact for the first time in four decades. This magnificent species of rhinoceros is one of the smallest of five known species of rhinos in the world and the only Asian rhino with two horns. It is also the only living rhino with long hair and was once found throughout Borneo before its population became decimated by poaching and expansion of mining and plantation operations across the island. The WWF estimates that there are fewer than hundred of these rhinos remaining in the wild. There are only a few ample populations still existing, most of them on the island of Sumatra. This recent discovery of the Sumatran rhinoceros made via physical contact is an indication that the species must be strictly protected by any means necessary. This includes properly controlling mining and plantation operations, making sure that they do not infringe on to their habitat. Furthermore, the population of this rhinoceros, along with its relative the Javan rhinoceros, must be closely monitored as these are amongst the most critically endangered of Asian rhinos. Poaching is another threat that has driven and continues to drive these magnificent animals to the brink of extinction, and should be dealt with seriously. Indonesia is one of the few places in the world famous for its rich biodiversity. That is, new species are being discovered and even those species that were once believed to have become extinct are being rediscovered. The Sumatran rhinoceros is one of them. However, the country's biodiversity is being severely depleted due to extensive human activities and serious action must be taken to prevent any further degradation of its natural treasures.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bison to Return to Europe's Forests as Part of Massive Rewilding Project

A female European bison wearing a radio collar

The European bison is the heaviest surviving wild land animal of Europe. Like its American relative, this gigantic beast suffered drastically in the hands of people over the course of history, due to excessive hunting and loss of habitat throughout its European homeland. By 1919, it was declared "Extinct in the Wild." Thankfully, captive breeding efforts has helped it make a comeback. The current population numbers 3000, making this bison rarer than the black rhinoceros. Now, initiatives of rewilding are bringing these animals back along with other large herbivores, such as semi-wild horses and cattle bred to resemble their extinct wild relatives. As part of the efforts to bringing these majestic animals back to their former haunts, four bison were released in the Netherlands' Maashorst Nature Reserve, with four due to be released in the Veluwe region next month. In addition, another herd of twenty bison is scheduled to be released in Romania in May.
Range of the European bison (Yellow- Holocene Range; Dark Green- Historical Range; Red- Relict 20th century populations 

The European bison has long been considered one of the most majestic creatures in Europe, whose range once extended eastwards to the Caucasus. In Europe, its range extended towards the Balkans and all the way to eastern France. However, as human populations expanded, the bison was pushed further towards the brink of extinction. Captive breeding and reintroduction efforts helped this animal return from extinction, most notably in the Bialowieza Forest in Poland. Then, during the 21st century, reintroductions across Europe were made in countries like France, Germany, Belarus, etc. where the bison had historically disappeared. Such efforts have been made and continue to be made by a Dutch trust called Rewilding Europe, whose main goal is to establish at least five wild herds of hundred bison by 2022 and an overall wild population of 1000 animals by 2032. The program has so far reintroduced more than thirty bison to Romania's Carpathian Mountains, where the animal is a symbol of national pride and economic renewal. In addition, the trust is also involved in projects in bringing back wild horses and cattle which had disappeared from Europe hundreds of years ago. These conservation initiatives would not only bring back the animals that had once disappeared from Europe, but also restore the continent's biodiversity from centuries past.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

First Wolf Pack Sighted in Northern California in Decades

A still image from a video released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife showing five gray wolf pups and two adults in northern California.

In the state of California, the gray wolf population became extinct in 1924. But now, decades later, wildlife officials are celebrating the sighting of the state's first wolf pack in the northern part of the state. State and federal officials announced Thursday that a distant camera captured images of a pack earlier this month comprised of two adult wolves and five pups in southeastern Siskiyou County. Named the "Shasta Pack" after Mount Shasta, the pack was discovered four years after the arrival of the wolf OR-7 first wandered into northern California. According to Karen Kovacs of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, it was an astonishing achievement for wolves to establish in northern California only 21 years after they were reintroduced in the northern Rocky Mountains. She further added that where these wolves came from will be determined through DNA testing on scat at a lab in the state of Idaho. However, it is possible that they are a continuance of rising numbers of wolves migrating from the northeastern part of Oregon to the southern Cascade Range. These wolves have even been sighted by local ranchers, but there has not been any reports of livestock predation by wolves. Nonetheless, ranchers remain concerned about the possibility of losing their animals to wolves as their numbers rise. Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity indicated that she was more concerned the wolves could fall victims to hunters as hunting season gets in motion. Ms. Kovacs indicated that California declared wolves an endangered species last year, but the California Fish and Wildlife Department will not have a management plan in effect until the end of this year. She also added that the department has no objectives for how many wolves might one day live in California and no idea how many once lived in the state before the last individual was killed in 1924.

It is amazing to see that the gray wolf has made a successful comeback to California after decades since its disappearance in 1924. Although one lone individual known as OR-7 wandered into the state from Oregon four years ago, it did not stay for long and returned back to Oregon. This time, however, a pack of seven animals (two adults and five pups) have established in the northern California's Siskiyou County. After being reintroduced into the northern Rocky Mountains 21 years ago, wolves migrated westwards towards Oregon and Washington before reaching California where they are protected by both state and federal endangered species acts. While this is tremendous news for wildlife officials, it is of great concern for ranchers who fear of losing their livestock to the wolves. Furthermore, the wolves themselves could fall victim to human hunters during hunting season in northern California. With this new wolf pack in the state, it is crucial that the California Fish and Wildlife Department and other organizations start considering helping ranching communities in northern California by providing them with safer alternatives to protecting their livestock from wolves. Livestock guardian dogs are the best deterrent and can help minimize livestock losses without having to resort to killing wolves. In addition, hunters should be thoroughly educated about the ecological importance of wolves and how many big game animals they can hunt so that there would still be plenty of deer and other large prey for the wolves to hunt.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Scientists Discover First New Wolf Species in Africa in 150 Years

Side by side comparison of the African golden wolf (left) and the golden jackal (right).

A study carried out by a team of researchers of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have discovered that the golden jackal in Africa is in fact a newly discovered species of wolf in 150 years. National Geographic reported that the research indicates that golden jackals in Africa and Eurasia are really two different species that look similar to each other. The new species, known as the African golden wolf, is in fact closer in an evolutionary sense to wolves than to other members like coyotes, dogs, and jackals. The golden jackal and the golden wolf look nearly identical, except for a slight size difference. Earlier research showed that Africa's golden jackals may be a subspecies of wolves. Klaus-Peter Koepfli, a biologist who lead the extensive DNA analysis, was able to affirm that they are separate from the Eurasian jackal. However, instead of being a subspecies of the gray wolf, they are their own particular species. Koepfli further added that the African golden jackal lineage separated from gray wolves and coyotes roughly 1.3 million years ago. The Eurasian jackal, on the other hand, separated about 600,000 years prior to that. Now, he is proposing renaming this new wolf species Canis anthus while the Eurasian golden jackal would enjoy its current scientific name Canis aureus. When asked why the two species look very similar to each other, Koepfli explained that this morphological similarity might be due to parallel evolution driven by ecological conditions in which these animals live, especially regarding competition from other carnivore species. According to the National Geographic, both animals live in arid desert habitats which can result in small, lean bodies with light coats that do not absorb much sunlight.

It is extremely extraordinary in the world of science that a new species of organism is discovered, and it does not get any better than this recent discovery. It had previously been widely believed that the golden jackal's range extends all the way from Africa into Asia. But now, this recent finding has shown that the golden jackal in Africa is actually a newly discovered species of wolf. This is very similar in the case of the red wolf. That is, initially the red wolf was classified as a subspecies of the gray wolf but recent genetic analysis in October 2012 concluded that it is a distinct species. The African golden wolf is also different from the golden jackal by having a larger skull, and prefers to hunt for food rather than scavenge. This can be seen when it demonstrates intolerance towards scavengers like vultures. The range of the African golden wolf extends from North Africa to the Horn of Africa, covering countries from Morocco to Somalia. Its range includes Egypt, where it was widely believed that the god Anubis is a jackal-headed god. Now, with this new discovery, it seems that Anubis should be referred to as a wolf-headed god. The African golden wolf is truly an extraordinary species and one that needs to be further studied, in order to understand its unique history, biology, and anything unusual to educate this world about the significance about the Earth's biodiversity.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Zimbabwe's Famous Lion Killed by an American Dentist

American dentist Walter Palmer (left) posing with Cecil the lion.

A 13-year-old lion named Cecil was recently shot and killed after he ventured beyond the boundaries of Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. Conservationists alleged that an American dentist named Walter Palmer was responsible for the lion's demise. They further added that he had paid $50,000 to hunt and kill Cecil with a bow and arrow. The incident took place on July 6, with a professional hunting group reportedly attracting the lion outside Hwange National Park by using a dead animal for a bait. According to chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodrigues, Mr. Palmer first shot Cecil with a bow and arrow but did not kill him. He and the group tracked the helpless lion down and killed him with a gun upon finding him after forty hours. A native of Minnesota, Mr. Palmer has several photos posted on a website titled "Trophy Hunt America" in which he is shown posing with Cape buffaloes, lions, rhinos, warthogs, and other dead animals. A spokesperson for Mr. Palmer told the Telegraph that he was responsible for killing Cecil. He further added that Mr. Palmer had the appropriate legal permits and appointed several professional guides. However, one of the guides named Theo Bronkhorst, who led Mr. Palmer to Cecil, has reportedly been suspended forever from the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association for the way the hunt was conducted. The demise of Cecil not only means that the African lion population is affected, but could also lead to the demise of cubs sired by him. That is, with Cecil gone, another male lion named Jericho will most probably kill his cubs so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females to start a pride of his own.
A dark-maned lion and lioness.

There has never been any news more appalling, yet tragic than this. Cecil was a popular attraction in Hwange National Park, who was regularly visited by both tourists and park rangers for photo opportunities. One old-time visitor and former park guide who had vivid memories of Cecil is Bryan Orford, who said that Cecil had the tendency of lounging in the middle of the road and walking in front of vehicles. He even shared how he would wait for Cecil to get off the road while driving down the railway line road. What Mr. Palmer did not only affected the global lion population, but also the tourism industry of Zimbabwe. By luring Cecil out of Hwange National Park, he somehow made an example that national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and other protected areas cannot always offer protection to animals. Most animal deaths in the vicinity of protected areas occur when poachers allegedly enter such areas to conduct their illegal activities, but what Mr. Palmer did was extremely conniving. This man should be brought to justice and be given either a life sentence or the death penalty in order to make an example of what happens to anybody involved in the illegal, yet ruthless killing of endangered species and put the fear of God in such people.

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