Saturday, May 26, 2018

U.S Federal and State Government Officials Have No Right to Decide How to Manage Grizzly Bears

A mother grizzly bear and her cubs

State officials from Wyoming have recently agreed to the state's first grizzly bear trophy hunt in more than four decades, which will allow killing of 23 bears this autumn. The unified vote by the state's Game and Fish Commission came less than a year after the bear population in and around Yellowstone National Park was stripped of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The hunting season, which is set to open in September, would allow one authorized hunter at a time to harvest up to eleven bears, including one female, in a core bear habitat area outside Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks called the Demographic Monitoring Area. In addition, another twelve bears, either male or female, can be harvested outside that area. Although the bears remain protected inside Yellowstone, they are under threat of hunting when they venture outside the park area in the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. According to the state wildlife department's manager of large carnivores Dan Thompson, the management project is "conservative" and is based on years of scientific study of Yellowstone's grizzly population. The commissioners did not discuss much ahead of the vote.
Yellowstone National Park sign

Ever since federal authorities announced that Yellowstone's grizzly bears no longer need federal protection in June 2017, more than a dozen American Indian tribes and activists sued the federal government that month, asserting that removing the bears from the ESA protections would abuse tribal religious beliefs. In August of that year, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and several nonprofit conservation organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, registered a separate complaint in an effort to bring back ESA protections for the bears. Among those who forced Wyoming commissioners not to approve the hunt was Bonnie Rice of the Sierra Club indicating that the bears are "the essence of wildness and they're the soul of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Even though Yellowstone's grizzly population has recovered, conservationists are concerned about the threat of climate change and hunting could critically impact the bears' long-term survival since they have a very slow reproduction rate. Furthermore, the seeds of the whitebark pine, a tree that has been greatly affected by insects, disease and climate change, are an essential source of food for Yellowstone's grizzlies. According to Northern Rockies regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, Bart Melton, Wyoming "ignored its residents' concerns and national park supporters across the country by approving its destructive grizzly hunting plan." He further added in a statement that this hunt will "result in fewer bear sightings by visitors and increased risk for future of this species that was not so long ago at the brink of extinction."
Under Donald Trump's presidency, the future for grizzly bears and other charismatic animals of the U.S appears bleak.

I cannot think of anything more devastating than the federal government and the state government of Wyoming deciding the fate of charismatic animals like grizzly bears. Just because their numbers in places like Yellowstone have bounced back does not mean they are completely safe from harm. Climate change is threatening the survival of grizzly bears by devastating the survival of the whitebark pine trees, which the bears rely on for their survival. This hunting plan approved by Wyoming's Game and Fish commissioners will further affect the bears' survival ultimately reducing their population to the number of animals there were in 1975. I urge the state government of Wyoming to please not dictate how the Yellowstone grizzly bear population and populations of other wildlife in the state should be managed. I also urge the federal government to not decide how the wildlife of U.S should be managed. That is the job for conservation and environmental groups (non-governmental or otherwise), scientists, and researchers who have the knowledge and expertise on how to save threatened species and ensure their long-term survival. Furthermore, the federal and state governments should take the findings made by these groups and individuals into consideration and act upon it. This not only ensures survival of the species, but also keeps federal and state authorities in good terms with conservation and environmental groups.

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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Can a Conservation Project Which Released Wolves in Yellowstone Be Implemented in Scotland?

A Eurasian wolf in Sweden's Jamtland County

In 1995, wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park where they had a powerful impact on the northwestern parts of the U.S. Now, a wealthy landowner named Paul Lister wants to try a limited version of that project in the Scottish Highlands. A native of England, Mr. Lister is longing for the regeneration of Scots pine, mountain ash and alder, and return of wildlife to the highlands. When he purchased a 23,000-acre estate northwest of the city of Inverness fifteen years ago, Mr. Lister named the place Alladale Wilderness Reserve and started restoring the environment by replanting hundreds of thousands of trees in some areas and reviving dried out peat bogs in others. However, the reserve also happens to have a thriving red deer population which is hindering the replanting efforts with the animals eating young tree shoots. In addition to roughly 750 deer, Alladale is also home to a small herd of Highland cattle, foxes, and eagles. According to reserve manager Innes MacNeill, the reserve's ecosystem is unbalanced at the moment and stated that it is not the deer that are responsible for habitat degradation but people for having killed off wolves centuries ago and allowing deer to flourish without the fear of predation. He further added that bringing wolves back to Scotland would keep the deer population in check and allow young tree shoots to survive and thus continue regenerating.
Red deer herd in Scotland

However, as with the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone, this project has faced serious opposition. The main opponents against  One group called Ramblers Scotland, a charity which advocates the "right to roam" for hikers, opposed the wolves' return to Scotland, particularly in a closed-off area that people would have to pay to visit. Fergus Ewing, a lawmaker representing farmers' interests, asserted that bringing wolves back would spell disaster for farmers and their livestock. In response to his opponents, Mr. Lister stated that he intends to charge visitors to see the reserve, and the increased number of visitors would provide a significant boost to local village economies. He assured the farmers that all wolves would be radio-collared and tracked with satellites, so that if one escapes it would be quickly captured and returned to the reserve. He further added that this not a reintroduction of wolves to the wild, but a limited project in "rewilding" a 50,000-acre piece of the Scottish Highlands surrounded by an electric fence.
Manager Innes MacNeill in Alladale Wilderness Reserve

I greatly applaud Mr. Lister's efforts of reviving Alladale Wilderness Reserve's flora and fauna, especially when it comes to reintroducing wolves in order to keep the red deer population under control. I'm confident that if wolves in Yellowstone were able to dramatically change the national park's ecosystem by keeping the elk numbers in check and allowing the local flora to flourish, then it can work for Alladale. Although I'm aware that this project is not intended to reintroduce wolves to the wilds of Scotland in general, I do believe that it will serve as a model in bringing wolves back in other protected areas of Scotland. This would help reshape the ecosystems of those protected areas where there are growing populations of red deer. I believe that when it comes to bringing wolves back to Alladale, it is important to charge visitors to see the reserve because otherwise the number of visitors coming to see the wildlife would increase dramatically and that would greatly disturb the wolves, their prey, and other wildlife. In addition, Scotland's farmers should be provided with livestock guardian dogs to minimize the risk of potential livestock predation by wolves. These animals had disappeared from Scotland since the 1700s and it is crucial to bring them back in order to reshape Scotland's natural ecosystems.

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Should Join Forces With Conservation Groups to Save Mexican Wolves

Mexican wolf running in captivity
A federal judge has recently castigated the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service for not doing enough to guarantee there is a reasonable Mexican wolf population in Arizona and New Mexico. U.S District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps, in a 44-page judgment, noted frequent situations where the agency ignored the advice of "leading wolf scientists" in ratifying its own recovery plan. She further added that the agency's officials behaved in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner in deciding what to do. As part of the ruling, Judge Zipps indicated that the Endangered Species Act of 1976 shows the Congress' desire to stop and reverse the direction toward species extinction, "whatever the cost." In addition, the law wants federal agencies "to use all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which measures provided by the Endangered Species Act are no longer necessary." Judge Zipps also added that the Fish and Wildlife Service must regard "the long-term viability of the species," observing recovery needs and that the agency "must determine recovery based on the viability of species, not in captivity but in the wild." Judge Zipps touched on the goal to have 300 to 325 wolves in an area almost 154,000 square miles, comprising both Arizona and New Mexico south of Interstate 40. However, in 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service admitted that the experimental wolf population was not flourishing which Judge Zipps pointed out was due to illegal takings, pup mortality, authorized eliminations of wolves having an impact on livestock, and hunting resulting in less genetic diversity. She further criticized the agency for restricting the wolves' range to south of Interstate 40, even though the agency admitted that the area north of the highway "will likely be required for future recovery and recognized the importance of natural dispersal and expanding the species' range." The bottom line is that the recovery plan is unlikely to succeed in producing a reasonable population of Mexican wolves and Judge Zipps was not willing to depend on promises of future actions "that may never be implemented." She also refused arguments that any plan developed by the Fish and Wildlife Service should be the result of some kind of compromise with both Arizona and private individuals who have debated for a less aggressive plan for wolf reintroduction and conservation. In addition, she added that while the agency is supposed to discuss with affected parties, the law requires the Fish and Wildlife Service should "retain the authority and management flexibility to issue regulations that further the conservation of the species." The agency has been ordered to return to court in 30 days and provide Judge Zipps a due date of when it will have an improved--and legally acceptable--plan.
Range map of the Mexican wolf
I find this court ruling of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's Mexican wolf recovery plan to be of significant importance because it clearly highlights the mistakes the agency made in its attempt to save the wolves from the brink of extinction. Rather than take advice from well-known scientists specializing in wolves, the Fish and Wildlife Service came up with its own plan which did not result in having 300-325 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. Instead, it resulted in less genetic diversity of the experimental wolf population, due to threats such as hunting, "lawful" elimination of wolves that were threatening livestock, smaller litter sizes, lower birth weights, higher rates of pup mortality, and decrease in disease resistance. I believe it is highly essential that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service should form and maintain tight partnerships with scientists, researchers, and conservation groups that specialize in conservation of Mexican wolves and other endangered species in the country. The Mexican wolf is on the precipice of extinction with only around 143 animals remaining in the wild and 240 in captive breeding programs. The only way to save this wolf from extinction is through a joint partnership between federal agencies and conservation groups. This means agencies like the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service should take advice from members of conservation organizations like Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, etc.

View article here 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Is it the End of the Line for the Northern White Rhinoceros?

Sudan at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in May 2017

The world's last male northern white rhinoceros, Sudan, recently breathed life's last breath and has now vanished into history, bringing the subspecies one step closer to extinction. According to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Sudan's health had been declining lately after a severe leg infection and his condition became worse to the point that he could no longer stand up. This led to the veterinary team to ultimately put him to sleep. Sudan was captured in the country of the same name when he was two years old in 1975 and was transported to Czech Republic's Dvur Kralove Zoo. However, when the zoo started facing financial problems and its rhinos failed to breed, Sudan was relocated to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in 2009, where he had been living ever since. His caretaker, Joseph Thaida, described him as an affectionate and gentle giant who would have his picture taken with tourists and served as a focal point of publicity stunts. The most well-known was when Sudan got his Tinder profile last year to bring attention to the situation of the northern white rhinoceros and to address donations to the conservancy for research on assisted reproductive technologies for the animals. Even though he lived at the conservancy for so many years, Sudan had never reproduced and neither did two females named Fatu and Najin. It is said that one of the females is sterile while another is not physically able to carry a calf to full term. However, according to veterinarian Dr. Steve Ngulu, he and his team were able to collect some sperm from Sudan and other male rhinos. He further added that the only option to have a genuine northern white rhino calf is transvaginal oocyte retrieval. This means that fertilized eggs would be collected from the two females and inserted in a female southern white rhino, who would then carry the calf.
Sudan grazing

Although I'm heartbroken to see that Sudan has passed away after suffering for so long, I don't believe that it is the end of the line for the northern white rhinoceros. In fact, I firmly believe that it is now extremely crucial to take strong and efficient efforts to save the northern white rhino from being completely wiped out from the face of the Earth. This means collecting fertilized eggs from the two female northern white rhinos and implanting them in female southern white rhinos, so that they can carry the next generation of northern white rhinos. I am fully aware that there is a chance the two females could die and thus result in the northern white rhino to become extinct, but to save a species or subspecies from becoming extinct, you have to take that risk. The good news is that female southern white rhinos will carry and ultimately give birth to pure northern white rhinos. These females would act as surrogate mothers to the new generation until they become old enough to take care of themselves and most importantly, have babies of their own. This would help bring the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction. In addition, I also believe it is essential to take strong action against militant groups that are operating or are suspected of operating in the northern white rhino's former homeland, which includes the Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, southwestern Sudan, and Uganda. These bloodthirsty terrorists are known to finance from the poaching of rhinos' horns and elephant ivory to carry out their crimes against humanity. Therefore, it is highly essential to combat these monsters in order to save rhinos, elephants, and people.

View article here   

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Why is the U.S Federal Government Blind to the Aweful Truth Behind Africa's Elephant Poaching?

A pair of elephants in confrontation

Over three months ago, the Trump administration paused an attempt to lift the ban on importing Africa's elephants as trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe after a public outcry. But now, it appears that the administration has finally lifted the ban in secret. This was seen in an unannounced memo by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service in which the agency stated that it will favor importation permits "on a case-by-case basis." It did not explain the exact guidelines by which the permits would be judged. In addition, it is also unclear what role was played in President Trump's decision, who has publicly declared his opposition many times to lift the ban as recent as late January. However, since President Trump's decision to put that move on hold, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals judged that the Obama administration did not properly observe the rules around making a new regulation, such as welcoming public comment. The ruling also discussed a lawsuit brought by Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service directly noted the court ruling in its letter, stating that as a result it was pulling out many past Endangered Species Act findings going back to 1995. In the recent memo, the agency stated that the findings "are no longer effective for making individual permit determinations for imports of those sport-hunted ESA-listed species," including not just African elephants but also South Africa's bonteboks and lions. The agency further added that it would still use some information in those findings, whenever suitable to the examination of an individual permit application. Although it did not publicly announce, news about the agency's decision arose by various media outlets.
The Trump administration quietly made its decision to import elephant trophies from Africa.

I really don't think the federal government of the United States understands the fact that hunting wild elephants for sport in their African homeland would not help in protecting and conserving them. These majestic animals' numbers continue to decline. A census revealed that their population collapsed by roughly 30 percent from 2007 to 2014 alone. Much of the decline has been due to the insatiable demand of ivory by the global criminal empire and terrorist organizations. These factions include the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Janjaweed, and Al-Shabaab who profit from elephant ivory which helps them continue their reign of terror directed at both local people and foreign nationals. Al-Shabaab was responsible for a horrific attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi in 2013 which claimed lives of 87 people, including 19 foreign nationals. I find it extremely frustrating beyond belief that the federal government and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service do not recognize that the illegal poaching of elephants and trade of their ivory tusks is more than just a conservation issue. It is also a matter of public security on both national and international levels. I also find it equally unacceptable that President Trump is keeping this controversial issue of importing elephant trophies into the U.S behind closed doors. He does not seem to understand that behind the ruthless killing of elephants for their ivory is more carnage and bloodshed directed towards innocent African and non-African civilians. It goes to show that neither he nor his administration are in good terms with both national and international conservation groups. I urge the federal government and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its decision and actions related to this matter. Controlled hunting wild animals whose populations have plummeted dramatically in recent years will not make any difference. The main priority should be to combat the poaching of elephants and trade of their ivory tusks.

View article here       

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Cambodia's Leopards In Desperate Need of Help as Extinction Looms Over the Horizon

An Indochinese leopard in its natural habitat

The Asiatic cheetah currently numbers less than 53 in its Iranian homeland, making it one of the most critically endangered of the big cats that is on the brink of extinction. But now, there is another big cat that has and still is suffering the same fate as the Asiatic cheetah: the Indochinese leopard. A recent study has confirmed that the world's last breeding population of leopards in Cambodia is at "immediate risk" of extinction, having dwindled an overwhelming 72 percent in over five years. The research, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, was carried out in the country's Eastern Plains Landscape and disclosed one of the lowest concentrations ever documented, with a density of one individual per 100 square kilometers. It indicated that that heightened poaching, particularly extensive snaring for the illegal wildlife trade and bushmeat, is to blame for the startling decline. According to the study's co-author and Southeast Asia leopard program coordinator for Panthera, Dr. Jan Kamler, this leopard population "represents the last glimmer of hope" for the animals not just in Cambodia but also Laos and Vietnam. He urged the need to come together in action, not only in words, to suppress the "epidemic of poaching facing this gorgeous big cat and others around the globe." Another co-author, Professor David MacDonald, who is also the director of Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), added that Southeast Asia's leopards are doing "worse than people thought and are heading for catastrophe." Incited by the study's discoveries, Panthera and WildCRU are working with local and national groups to bolster efficient law enforcement and monitoring in the region, which will include the utilization of PoacherCams. A different study recently estimated that just over 1,000 breeding leopards remain in Southeast Asia, but conservationists stated that only 20 to 30 reproductive individuals remain in Cambodia.
An Indochinese leopard caught on camera trap.

I cannot think of anything more shocking and heartbreaking than what has been revealed in this study. The Indochinese leopard, like its relative the Asiatic cheetah, is teetering on the brink of extinction due to a large scale of poaching in the form of snare traps for bushmeat and the illegal wildlife trade, loss of habitat, decline in prey, and conflicts with people. I find it outrageous that the illegal wildlife trade continues to operate with impunity, bringing more and more species of wildlife in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the world closer to extinction on a global scale. I also find it extremely painful and unacceptable that Cambodia has let the tiger become extinct and is now doing the same thing to the leopard I urge the people and the government of Cambodia, as well as in rest of Southeast Asia, to wake up and promptly act upon this issue of Indochinese leopards on the verge of extinction. Otherwise, the international organizations like the IUCN will be forced to declare Cambodia's wildlife conservation, particularly of leopards, a failure just like in the case of Iran's cheetah conservation project. It is a high time to take drastic and efficient action to save both, the Asiatic cheetah and the Indochinese leopard, along with all the other species of big cats as these animals are in a desperate need of help.

View article here             

Sunday, March 4, 2018

World Leaders Should Follow Kenya's Example in Combating the Illegal Wildlife Trade

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta

Kenya's First Lady Margaret Kenyatta recently demanded a cooperative approach that embraces technology in battling the illegal wildlife trade. She pointed out that one of the biggest challenges that wildlife conservation is facing is the sophistication of the methods utilized by wildlife traffickers around the world. The First Lady was speaking at the Kenya Airways Pride Center in Nairobi's Embakasi division when she officially initiated an "awareness workshop on combating the illegal wildlife trafficking." The workshop was directed at providing training to airport and airline staff on the dangers of wildlife smuggling. While saying that wildlife conservation is becoming an increasingly important worldwide issue, the First Lady stated that focused leadership, political generosity, policies and impositions of bans have helped Kenya in recording substantial progress in battling the illegal wildlife trade. She underlined the need for a concerted approach that would utilize the complimentary efficiencies of various sectors and groups, stating that exceptional intelligence and new methods must be applied because pressure is mounting and countries continue to suffer massive losses. She further added that improvised and stronger networks must also be developed to close the loopholes that have enabled the growth of the illegal wildlife trade. As part of her pledge of commitment to supporting all those who aim to defend the future of Kenya's wildlife heritage, the First Lady applauded Kenya Airways for being among the airlines that have signed a declaration known as the "United for Wildlife International Transportation Taskforce", which is dedicated to zero tolerance against wildlife trade. She requested other agencies and organizations to join the conservation effort by signing the declaration to stop the illegal wildlife trade.

I'm very proud that First Lady Margaret Kenyatta has called for a mutual approach that embraces technology in fighting the illegal wildlife trade. It shows that she recognizes the significance of the issue and why it is extremely essential to put a stop to it. I believe that world leaders from various other countries should follow her example in an effort to stop the illegal wildlife trade from thriving. In her speech, the First Lady mentioned that stronger and better networks must be developed to close the loopholes that allowed the growth of the wildlife trade. This is highly crucial because even in countries that are committed to fight any crime against nature, there are loopholes which prevent perpetrators involved in poaching and the illegal wildlife from being severely punished for their actions. I urge the governments of other African countries and around the world to take First Lady Margaret Kenyatta's views on the illegal wildlife trade into consideration. This illicit and lucrative business is operating with impunity and requires a concerted approach amongst countries to put an end to it.

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