Sunday, December 21, 2014

Expert- Half of the Dolphins in the Florida Keys May Be at Dire Risk with Morbillivirus Epidemic

A dolphin infected with morbillivirus

One of the United States' most prominent experts on the morbillivirus Dr. Gregory Bossart recently pointed out that up to fifty percent of the Florida Keys' native bottlenose dolphin population could perish as a result of the newly discovered spread of the morbillivirus epidemic from the Indian River Lagoon. A notable example of the epidemic in the Florida Keys came on November 7 when a bottlenose dolphin washed up seriously ill on a beach at Bahia Honda State Park and died later that day. Morbillivirus, which is a disease similar to measles that is highly contagious among marine mammals, has claimed lives of more than 1,560 dolphins from New York to Florida since July 2013. It is an immunosuppresive malady that essentially renders marine mammals exposed to an array of other deadly diseases and is known to attack the lungs and neurological systems of whales and dolphins. The virus spreads through water droplets in the spray when dolphins and their relatives exhale at the surface and is transferred when the droplets fall down on other members in a pod. As a result, scientists are afraid that the virus could destroy a large part of the Keys' dolphin population because the animals are social by nature. Another worry is that the population of dolphins in the Florida Keys have not developed immunity to the virus making them more likely to die from infection. Dr. Bossart indicated that the dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon have a high rate of infection, but not a high mortality rate. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman Allison Garrett added that there have been no reports of sick or deceased dolphins since the one that died at Bahia Honda State Park. Dr. Bossart further stated that marine mammal facility managers should be extra careful because there might be other ways the virus might spread.

It is extremely essential to research this fatal disease in order to help save populations of bottlenose dolphins and other marine mammals from being further depleted. Dolphins maybe widely viewed as "star attractions" at several marine parks, but they are also wild animals by nature. Like most wild animals, they play a crucial role in the marine ecosystem by keeping the fish and other marine animal populations in check. With this ongoing morbillivirus epidemic, the dolphin population along the entire East Coast of the U.S is in dire jeopardy which would eventually lead to a local extinction. This would probably lead to other marine mammal species such as whales becoming infected with the virus resulting in a similar catastrophe. This is why it is highly crucial to meticulously research the morbillivirus disease in an effort to find cure for dolphins and other marine mammals that are immune to this life-threatening illness. Dr. Bossart pointed out that whatever is happening in the ocean water could be reflection of what is occurring on land.

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Sea Shepherd Encounters Illegal Antarctic Vessel Poaching Patagonian Toothfish and Other Rare Species

Bob Barker

Famed environmental activist group Sea Shepherd recently indicated that it had repelled a vessel infamous for poaching Patagonian toothfish and other rare species in the Antarctic waters as part of its attempts to target illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean. The Nigerian-flagged vessel, named the Thunder, was able to sail away but Sea Shepherd stated that it kept up the chase and threatened to "directly intervene in order to obstruct their continued illegal activities" if they did not notify the authorities in Australia. Sea Shepherd did not clarify on what it meant by intervening, but during ten years of provocation that successfully deterred Japanese whalers the activist group utilized all methods of hindrance, which included destroying fishing nets and even boarding boats. The group's lead ship, the Bob Barker, left Australia on December 3 and the group ambushed the Thunder in a fishing area managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), an international group. According to Bob Barker's skipper Peter Hammarstedt, he had warned the captain of the Thunder and his crew "that they have been placed under citizen's arrest." He further added that he had informed CCAMLR authorities, Australian Federal Police, and Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Sea Shepherd indicated that heightened surveillance and guarding of waters by authorities in Australia and New Zealand had improvised the situation regarding the toothfish in some areas, but added that about six illegal fishing vessels are known to function in the area close to Antarctica. Much of the illegal activities conducted by poachers occur in what the group calls the "shadowlands" of the Southern Ocean which are very inaccessible and beyond national areas of authority.
Patagonian toothfish

It is wonderful to see what kinds of tactics Sea Shepherd is implementing to snare illegal fishing vessels and maintaining commendable contact with proper authorities. This is example was recently seen in the case of the group intercepting a fishing vessel operating in the Southern Ocean. However, despite increased security and patrolling of waters in Australia and New Zealand, the threat of illegal fishing still threatens the population of Patagonian toothfish and other rare species in the ocean. This is especially seen in remote areas that are inaccessible by authorities and even Sea Shepherd itself. This is why it is very crucial to employ tactics in order to properly access into remote areas occupied by illegal fishing vessels. This can be done by apprehending crew members from such vessels and interrogating them on how their counterparts are able to access through remote areas to carry out their illicit activities. That way, activist groups like Sea Shepherds and authorities can further combat illegal fishing of rare species in waters around the world.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

China and Japan Agree to Bolster Measurements Against Coral Poachers

Chinese boats near the Ogasawara Islands

The Fisheries Agency has recently indicated that China and Japan have reached an agreement to increase measurements to prevent Chinese fishing vessels from illegally poaching coral in Japan's waters. The representatives of the two governments met in the city of Dalian in northeast China and agreed to implement a tougher crackdown and enforce harsher penalties on the culprits. The deal came when several ships assumed to be from China had been discovered poaching red coral in the waters around Ogasawara and Izu Islands south of Tokyo, prompting demands for stricter punishing measurements. The two countries also agreed to establish a hotline to improvise contact between appropriate authorities in deterring poachers, while extending cooperation to see how poached coral is sold. As part of the agreement, the number of Chinese vessels functioning in Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and Japanese vessels in China's EEZ for the 2014 fishing season will amount to 303. The catch allotment for each country's boat will be decreased by 373 tons to 9,441 tons. In addition, the countries agreed to reduce the number of Chinese vessels by 100 to 17,989 in waters that have not been marked off in the East China Sea. Japanese vessels, on the other hand, would stay unchanged at approximately 800. Furthermore, Japan has increased fines for poaching in addition to illegal fishing within its waters amidst the recent rise in Chinese coral poachers in the Pacific Ocean. The events of poaching have also resulted in arrests of Chinese boat captains.
Red coral

It is wonderful to see that China and Japan have reached a deal in tackling the threat of coral poaching. But it is especially important that both the countries should strictly stick to the components of the agreement and refrain from any loopholes that would promise poachers freedom to continue their illicit business of destroying coral. Red coral is highly valued in China for jewelry and continues to be exploited as a result of ongoing demand. In order to further prevent any red coral from being sold, China should administer crackdowns on jewelry stores suspected of selling ornaments made from red coral and factories suspected of manufacturing products from red coral. Furthermore, public awareness and education programs should be imposed to encourage regular people from purchasing jewelry made from red coral. This would provide red coral with further protection and hopefully a chance to survive for a long period of time. A similar procedure should be established regarding the battle against the illegal ivory trade, especially in China where the demand for ivory remains high and results in countless numbers of elephants being ruthlessly slaughtered for their tusks.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bangladesh Oil Spill Threatens Sunderbans Wildlife

Bangladeshi tanker sinking in the Sundarbans' Sela River

The Sundarbans region in India and Bangladesh has recently been hit hard by a devastating oil spill after a tanker carrying 92,000 gallons of furnace oil sank in the Sela River after slamming into another vessel. Local news reports indicate that it is unclear how much oil has flowed into the water, but warned that an oil slick covers the river for fifty miles. According to the Dhaka Tribune, "very little" has been done so far in dealing with the environmental disaster which spells a major threat to the wildlife making its home in the Sundarbans. Among the most iconic animals that are threatened include the Bengal tiger, estuarine crocodile, and the Irrawaddy dolphin. To make matters worse, local authorities have not decided on an oil removal plan which includes whether to use dispersants or not. The newspaper further indicated that authorities have requested local people to physically collect furnace oil from the surface of the water as it spreads through an expansive web of rivers and channels in and around the mangrove forests. A spokesperson for Padma Oil Company, which owns the sunken tanker, promised that the company would buy any oil collected by the villagers.
Map of the Sunderbans

It is absolutely devastating to see a major environmental hazard occur in the Sundarbans, which happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not only would this recent oil spill affect its status, but it has already and continues to threaten the region's wildlife which include the tiger, Irrawaddy dolphin, etc. However, it is not just wildlife that is at risk from this oil spill. Local villagers living in the vicinity of the Sundarbans are also tremendously affected by the spill. That is, many people rely on the network of waterways as a crucial source of fishing. Because of this sudden oil spill, the fish are under severe threat from suffocation and other health hazards related to oil. This means the oil spill has dramatically affected the livelihood of Sundarbans' villagers. It is absolutely necessary to take drastic steps in cleaning up the oil spill before it spreads further and further in the region and causes more damage to the environment. Furthermore, serious measurements should also be taken in preventing further oil spills in the Sundarbans. This includes changing shipping routes and thoroughly checking the conditions of tankers, boats, and other sailing vessels before letting them off into the waterways.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Poachers Exposed in the U.A.E for Soliciting Problematic Drugs Obtained from Musk Deer

A husband-and-wife duo caught on camera holding out a musk gland derived from the highly endangered musk deer. 

A recent sting operation in the United Arab Emirates has exposed a gang of poachers from India who are soliciting problematic drugs obtained from the musk deer. The perpetrators insist that their so-called medicine can treat 101 diseases, including cancer. Previously, scores of local residents had purchased these illegal medicines, paying anywhere between Dh4,000 and Dh35,000 for a bottle depending on the malady. In order to penetrate this scheme, an XPRESS team pretending to be customers contacted the gang members based in Abu Dhabi to a house in Sharjah and sought remedies for arthritis and blood pressure. The team was met with a middle-aged couple who introduced themselves as tribal people from the state of Karnataka, presented a business card with local contact information, and provided information about their illicit business and products. These products were musk glands that are only found inside male musk deer. Much of the information the couple provided to the XPRESS team was recorded on tape. In addition, the team came upon another couple from the same gang in Abu Dhabi advertising the drugs to an Indian expatriate who had chronic allergy. The couple then provided the cell phone number to another customer in Abu Dhabi who they indicated has benefited from their remedies.
Up close of the musk gland.

It is extremely appalling to see how people in the U.A.E have been "benefiting" from the so-called medicines that are derived from the musk deer which is an endangered species. The peddlers assert that their illicit products work "wonders" in curing a wide range of ailments based on the testimonials of their gullible customers. Furthermore, the poachers do not hold a valid license to sell their products. This means that like any unlicensed medications, the musk gland from a musk deer could possible long-term side effects on the users. This is why it is extremely crucial to target such peddlers selling these unlicensed and potentially life-threatening medications to save the lives of people. In addition, there should be a public awareness program directed at local residents in the U.A.E warning them about the possible dangers exhibited by musk deer glands being sold by door-to-door peddlers and educating them about how they can help authorities foil such schemes and the musk deer from being ruthlessly slaughtered for its gland.

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

U.S Refuses to Enhance Protections for Grizzly Bears in Idaho and Montana

A grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park's Hayden Valley.

It has recently been reported that federal wildlife managers have refused to increase protection for a population of grizzly bears in distant ranges of Idaho and northwest Montana that constitutes fewer than fifty animals, and which conservationists point out are going extinct. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that the bears roaming the Cabinet Mountains and Yaak River drainage in the Northern Rocky Mountains are expected to rise to the recovery aim of 100 animals without changing their rank to endangered from threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The judgment came after a Montana-based organization called Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a case against federal wildlife managers in April to order them to strengthen restrictions on logging, road construction, and other human activities on public land that constitute the bears' habitat. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service had for several years dictated that categorizing grizzly bears as endangered was authorized, but other endangered animals took precedence. The Fish and Wildlife Service printed a report last year indicating that grizzly bears ranging across the alleged Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem were decreasing at a yearly rate of roughly 0.8 percent and that the proportion of bears killed by humans either illegally or accidentally escalated by 1999-2012 compared to 1982-1998. However, in a decision printed in Friday's Federal Register, the agency stated that the bear population in Idaho and Montana has been increasing for the past several years. In addition, on Friday, the Obama administration indicated that a different grizzly bear population in Idaho's Selkirk Mountains similarly did not call for further protections, stating that the population was approaching the recovery goals of ninety animals. A government board that manages approximately 600 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park has indicated that the population has improved and should not be given federal protection.

It is very disturbing to see just by looking at the figures of grizzly bear populations and making assumptions that they are either improving or in a critical state without making any further and more closer inspections to determine the animals' population state. That is, it is crucial to investigate the prevalence of human activities in the grizzly bears' habitat and how frequently incidents of human-bear conflicts have been occurring. This was seen in the case of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to never provide any further protection for a population of grizzly bears in Idaho and northwest Montana, much to the dismay of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Although the Fish and Wildlife Service published a report last year indicating that the bear population in Cabinet-Yaak area has been decreasing dramatically, the agency decided not to provide any further protection for the bears and blindly said that their population is improving. This type of action does not help in the conservation of grizzly bears or even other animals. In order to ensure the survival of America's wildlife, it is important that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service should collaborate with other conservation groups across the country and listen to what they have to say regarding the plight of animals in jeopardy, including grizzly bears, before making any move. These animals are currently still thriving in a small portion of the lower 48 states which consist mainly of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming ever since they were completely eradicated from the entire western U.S. If the U.S wants to ensure that the grizzly bear continues to make its home in its native range, then there should be more enhanced conservation efforts like reintroducing the bear in parts of the western U.S where it had long disappeared. These include southern Rocky Mountains, the American Southwest, the entire Pacific Northwest, and even California where it is the state animal.

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Study- Killing Wolves Would Lead to More Attacks on Livestock

Gray wolf

A recent study has found that, contrary to what many people think, killing wolves does not always decrease attacks on domestic livestock. Researchers from Washington State University have discovered that for every wolf killed in the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming over the past 25 years, there was a five percent increase in livestock killing the next year. The killing of livestock only began diminishing after overall numbers of wolves were down by more than 25 percent. According to Rob Wielgus, professor of wildlife ecology and director of the university's Large Carnivore Conservation Lab, it seems that killing the alpha male and alpha female wolves allows subordinate members to start breeding which results in more breeding pairs. The breeding pairs are more inclined to attack and kill livestock because they are trying to keep the pups well-fed. Professor Wielgus further added that a previous research showed that livestock predation by bears and pumas increased when dominant male individuals were killed which enabled younger undisciplined individuals to take control of their superiors' territory. However, he did not expect to see similar results in wolves which hunt in packs and function as a strict social structure. He indicated that the moment of discovery came when researchers saw that the 5 percent increase in breeding pairs that resulted from each wolf killed matched the 5 percent in livestock killings. Acclaimed ecology professor William J. Ripple from Oregon State University stated that the study seemed to be crucial and it could eventually lead to considerable changes in wolf management if it holds up.

It is extremely interesting to see how killing a large carnivorous species of animals in order to help protect domestic livestock can have adverse side effects. This was recently discovered in the case of wolves in the U.S, which have always been in the spotlight regarding livestock predation and the ongoing conflicts between conservation groups, distraught ranchers, and the federal government. Whenever wolves prey on domestic livestock, the response has always been retaliatory. That is, ranchers would swiftly respond by killing any wolf on sight within the vicinity of their land. However, despite killing any wolves over the past 25 years, ranchers in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming continue to lose their livestock to the animals. The reason for such an unfortunate side effect was probably because the ranchers started killing wolves which appeared to be alpha males and females whose job is to keep subordinate pack members in line. When the alpha male and female wolves get killed, their deaths would allow subordinate pack members to take over and start forming breeding pairs without the approval of their superiors. This, in turn, leads to further conflicts between people and wolves and therefore contributes to more livestock predation by wolves despite retaliatory killings by ranchers. This is why it is extremely crucial to make considerable changes in wolf management, in order to ensure that ranchers and wolves can live alongside one another in relative peace. Instead of killing wolves, a better alternative would be to employ livestock guardian dogs to protect the ranchers' livestock from wolves. This practice keeps both wolves and livestock safe without either side falling victim to any predator; be it human or wolf.

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