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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Monday, July 27, 2015

Iberian Lynx Returns from the Brink of Extinction

An Iberian lynx family

An intensive conservation campaign over recent years has brought the Iberian lynx back from the brink of extinction, with 327 animals thought to be roaming central, southern, and western Spain, as well as parts of Portugal. This figure is of significant importance because ten years ago, the population of this magnificent cat was on the verge of extinction with just 90 individuals present in the Andujar and Donana areas of southern Spain. In June, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) improved the Iberian lynx's status from "critically endangered" to "endangered." In its judgment, the organization viewed the lynx's recovery as "excellent proof that conservation really works." Roughly 140 individuals have been released into the wild, with the Iberian wildcat program acquiring reintroduction methods used by German conservationists. It is said that the Iberian lynx conservation program will have received 69 million euros in funding, primarily from the European Union between 2002 and 2018. Majority of that money has gone into three breeding centers in Spain, including one in Santa Elena and one in Portugal. According to the conservation program's veterinarian Teresa del Rey Wamba, illegal poaching and lack of proper prey were major problems before the lynx's recent comeback. The key to the success of the Iberian lynx's comeback was attributed to curbing poaching and encouraging increase in European rabbit populations. This meant that the program received support from hunting federations, local governments, and private landowners.
An Iberian lynx
A lynx breeding center in Santa Elena.

An Iberian lynx being treated for its injuries.
However, not all is good news. Last year, 22 lynxes were killed by vehicles on roads. Miguel Simon, the director of the Iberian lynx conservation program, vehicular accidents indicate how the lynxes' movement has expanded as their numbers have increased. In order to tackle this issue, Simon and his team supervised the setting up of underground tunnels for the lynxes to cross busy roads. It is even planned to construct more of these custom-made tunnels. In addition, there is also a major concern about a recent outbreak of rabbit hemorrhagic disease across Europe which has been eliminating the lynxes' necessary diet since 2011 and diminishing their reproductive rate. Emilio Virgos, a lynx expert from Madrid's King Juan Carlos University, indicated that the IUCN's decision to change the Iberian lynx's status was wrong due to this threat. He warned that the number of lynxes will fluctuate drastically if the data about how the animals live, reproduce, and survive is correct and that there is a possibility of an extinction within decades.
Veterinarian Maria Jose Perez (left) and Iberian lynx conservation program director Miguel Simon (right) at a breeding center.
A young captive Iberian lynx
Map of Spain

The Iberian lynx has recently made a successful comeback due to a significant increase in its population from 90 a decade ago, to around 327 today. This is a tremendous news for conservationists and wildlife experts around the world, but that does not mean this cat is fully recovered. There is still an ongoing threat of vehicular accidents along busy roads in its native habitat, but probably the biggest matter of concern is the rabbit hemorrhagic disease. This disease is known to affect the European rabbit population, which the lynx relies on as a staple source of food. So if the rabbit population decreases, it is followed by lynx population. Increasing the rabbit population is only a temporary solution, which does not help on the long-run. It is crucial to thoroughly analyze the rabbit hemorrhagic disease and conduct research in order to develop a potential vaccine to eradicate it. This would not only save the Iberian lynx population, but also other predator populations in and beyond the Iberian Peninsula. Furthermore, the IUCN should keep in contact with conservationists, researchers, and anybody involved in the conservation of the Iberian lynx and be prepared for what information they have concerning the cat and how it can help determine its status. Population figures are not the only components that help determine a species' status. Other factors that should be considered are the species' reproduction rate and survival rate.

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Florida Panther Population Rebounds

A mother Florida panther and her offspring in Florida's Collier County.

The majestic Florida panther, a subspecies of the puma whose population was down to twenty animals in the 1970s, has recently rebounded with almost 200 animals throughout southwest Florida. While this seems like excellent news for conservationists, some officials and other local people like ranchers and hunters feel that this figure might be enough. One particular example is seen in the case of Cliff Coleman, manager of the Black Boar Ranch, who stated that a female panther and her offspring are living on his property which is a hunting preserve near the town of LaBelle at the northern end of the animals' range. Mr. Coleman, like most ranchers and hunters living in the vicinity of the panther range, lose livestock and big game animals to the panthers which affects their businesses. However, the Black Boar Ranch had earlier signed an agreement with the U.S Department of Agriculture and the Nature Conservancy, allocating a part of the hunting preserve as habitat for the Florida panther. It attaches to the adjacent properties to the north and south, forming a corridor for the panthers. Florida state wildlife officials have evaluated that there are now approximately 180 Florida panthers living on millions of acres of private and public land in the state. But after decades of protecting the animal and working to extend its habitat, they want to ratify a new policy towards the panther. Under a federal recovery plan, the Florida panther cannot be taken off the endangered species list until three populations of 240 individuals or more are settled in Florida or other southeastern states. The policy made by state wildlife officials created outrage among environmental and animal welfare groups during a recent hearing held in the city of Sarasota. At the hearing, the Florida Wildlife Commission heard from dozens of attendees who argued against this new policy stating that it would cripple the state's promise to restore the panther. At the same time, hunters and ranchers complained about how the panthers have killed big game animals on hunting preserves and domestic livestock. In addition to being the subject of debate between conservationists and ranchers and hunters, the Florida panther is also part of another dispute concerning land use and the future of millions of underdeveloped acres in Florida. After several years of development along Florida's coasts, builders and senior citizens are progressively looking to establishing new communities in the state's interior. Among these potential locations include areas west of Lake Okeechobee, which is prime panther habitat. According to Glades County administrator Paul Carlisle, more than one third of the land is under conservation means of access. He further added that designating more land for the Florida panther would affect the county's economy. In his own words, Mr. Carlisle stated that there has to be development in order to be sustainable.
A Florida panther at the Black Boar Ranch.

The increase in the Florida panther population from twenty animals to nearly 200 is certainly a significant accomplishment. However, this does not mean that anybody involved in the conservation of this endangered species should change their perspective and adopt a new plan that would spark massive outrage among conservationists and animal welfare groups. The Florida Wildlife Commission stated its intention on adopting this new policy which would oppose efforts to designate a new panther population beyond southwest Florida and that the animals may have surpassed their habitat's carrying capacity in their current range. In addition, the commission aroused another controversy earlier this year by favoring a black bear hunt. Like in the case of Florida panthers, the commission stated that black bears must have reached the carrying capacity and it is now crucial to control their population. Both of these species once ranged throughout Florida and other parts of southeastern U.S before humans decimated their populations. The main purpose of the conservation of these two species is to ensure that they recolonize parts of their historical range where they once disappeared. The Florida panther, despite its name, once ranged throughout the southeastern U.S from Texas to North Carolina before being restricted to southern Florida. Similarly, the Florida black bear once inhabited southern parts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.
Young Florida panthers in Collier County.

It is highly essential to continue the conservation efforts directed at increasing the numbers of these endangered species and identifying key hotspots inside Florida and other southeastern states where these animals once roamed. Also, in order to peacefully coexist with the panthers and black bears, conservation groups should establish wildlife corridors for these animals that pass through the peripheries of land areas designated for senior citizens. At the same time, builders should consider enhancing the security of senior citizens such that the panthers and bears are unable to infringe on their property. Similarly, ranchers should be provided with livestock guardian dogs to keep the animals away without having to resort to violent methods in protecting their livestock. The Florida panther is a keystone species and is known to be one of the few animals (if not one of the few animals) to play a crucial role in controlling the feral pig population in Florida. Without its existence, the feral pig population would continue to wreak havoc on the livelihoods of local people. Humans should also play their part in controlling the feral pig population, but it should never be done by hunting in preserves like the Black Boar Ranch. These establishments are known to house other exotic species like deer, antelopes, and wild sheep and goats that have been raised in captivity and lost their natural fear of humans. The hunts conducted in such facilities are a stark contrast to regular hunting expeditions which take place in an open wilderness, and are referred as "canned hunts." Some of the animals contained in these facilities are highly endangered or even labeled as "extinct in the wild." The Black Boar Ranch is known to house the Pere David's deer, which has been listed as extinct in the wild since October 2008. These facilities are of no help in the conservation of endangered species and species that are extinct in the wild and should be shut down and all the animals should be transferred to animal sanctuaries where they would be provided with adequate care in hopes of reintroducing them back to their native habitats.

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Red Wolf Reintroductions Suspended While Changes Contemplated

Red wolf

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has recently indicated that they will not reintroduce any more critically endangered red wolves in eastern North Carolina while they examine the usefulness of managing the only wild population of the species. The wildlife service's officials stated that none of the captive-bred wolves will be released into the wild and will continue to maintain the wild population which was recently believed to be between 50 and 75 wolves. An agreement on whether to end or correct the red wolf program has been anticipated for months as the government began to review the 30-year-old program to reintroduce red wolves into the wild. However, officials stated that they are still assembling information and hope to complete their review by the end of the year. Southeast regional director for the wildlife service Cindy Dohner indicated that it is possible that some people will say that the USFWS is avoiding carrying out recovery efforts for red wolves and at the same time there will be other people who might suggest the wildlife service is holding on too tight. One of those people is Sierra Weaver, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center based in Chapel Hill, who says that the government seems to be walking away from actively rescuing the wolves. Wildlife officials indicated Tuesday that they recently reduced their estimate of the red wolf population based on their tracking of the animals with radio collars, and not because of the major number of deaths. According to Pete Benjamin, the wildlife service's field supervisor in Raleigh, several wild offspring are born each year but the number pups differs. Earlier this year, North Carolina state wildlife officials asked the federal government to stop the program and declare the red wolves "extinct in the wild," alleging negative examination. They also stated that the wolves present problems when they roam onto private land. Conservationists, on the other hand, argue that the program has been successful and that the major threat to wolves is politics. The species' presence has been deliberated in courtrooms, at high levels of the federal government and in 48,000 public comments.
Red wolf howling

The reintroduction of the red wolf cannot remain stalled on the long-run. The population of this critically endangered species is hanging in balance as conservation groups struggle to make ends meet in successfully reintroducing it into the wild and reviving its overall population. But politics has long been hampering the efforts. The fate of the red wolf and its cousin the Mexican wolf is a conservation matter and not a political matter. Therefore, the federal government is to stay out of it. Another major issue that is also affecting the reintroduction of red wolves is the presence of coyotes in North Carolina. Historically, coyotes were not found in the state and were probably brought to the state for the purpose of hunting. Since their arrival in the 1970s, the coyote population swelled inhabiting every part of North Carolina including its eastern part. Eastern North Carolina is also where the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is located and one of the last strongholds of red wolves. Local people assert that red wolves are mating with coyotes and producing hybrids, which is another obstacle in reintroducing captive-bred red wolves into North Carolina. The state really needs to step up its efforts in eradicating coyotes and possible hybrids, in order to allow red wolves recolonize their former homeland free of natural competition. Furthermore, private landowners need to be thoroughly educated about the ecological importance of red wolves and encouraged to come up with safer alternatives in preventing the wolves from entering their property and threatening their livestock or pets. Livestock guardian dogs are the best solution in keeping red wolves and other wolves from infringing on people's property. This way, nobody would need to resort to using guns against wolves and prevent bringing farmers, ranchers, and private landowners into conflicts with wildlife officials and conservation groups.

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Chicago's Brookfield Zoo Witnesses Births of Mexican Wolf Pups

Mexican wolf pups in Brookfield Zoo

The Brookfield Zoo in Chicago has recently celebrated its first births of Mexican wolf pups. The pups were born in late May and enthralled visitors on Tuesday by running in and out of their den, following their mother around, and playing in their woodland enclosure. These youngsters represent the zoo's active cooperation in the effort to save the subspecies listed as "endangered." According to the zoo's spokesperson Sondra Katzen, the pups are four weeks old, being weaned, and taking more and more chances exploring outside with their parents - three-year-old mother Zana and five-year-old father Flint. She further added that zoo officials think there are four pups, but the size of the litter will not be definite until July when members of the staff do a wellness check on the wolves. Maggie Dwire, a U.S Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and assistant Mexican wolf recovery coordinator in the state of New Mexico, indicated that the wolves usually breed in February and March and have offspring of four to six pups in April and May. She further added that Brookfield Zoo is one of 55 zoos in the United States and Mexico actively participating in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan. Each year, representatives of the plan regulate how many pups need to be produced to keep the captive population at its destined level of about 300. Last year, they decided to make plans for twenty breeding pairs. Brookfield Zoo is one of five U.S zoos that has produced Mexican wolf pups. These pups are then contemplated for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's pup-fostering efforts in which very young pups are transferred from a captive litter to a similar-aged wild litter so that the receiving parents can raise them as their own. But in the case of pups born in Brookfield Zoo, the situation is different. That is, they were born too late in May which is later than those born in the wild and timing was not right. The Brookfield Zoo's pups will stay at the zoo until their parents hopefully produce a second litter next year. This would allow Zana and Flint, who are first-time parents, learn parenting skills while raising a second brood. In addition, some will be considered to be released into the wild depending on their genetics and predisposition. The first successful fostering of Mexican wolf pups in the wild included the litter of a female named Ernesta from Brookfield Zoo who was released into the wild and later gave birth.
Pups with their mother

Captive breeding is an essential tool when reviving populations of endangered species or even species as listed as "extinct in the wild." And it is the role of zoos and other similar facilities to actively participate in making sure that whatever species in the dire need of help reaches a figure large enough to be reintroduced into the wild. One classic example was seen in the case of the Arabian oryx which was declared "extinct in the wild" in the early 1970s. Joint conservation efforts between U.S zoos and similar facilities in the Middle East helped revive its global population and the antelope is now thriving in protected areas of its homeland. Similar efforts are currently going in the case of Mexican wolves. This recent birth of wolf pups at Brookfield Zoo has brought a sense of hope among members of the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan and other conservation groups. In addition, there are 54 other zoos in the U.S and Mexico actively participating in the plan. Hopefully, they will be able to have Mexican wolf offspring of their own in order to further increase the captive population for reintroductions into the wild and bring the Mexican wolf back from the brink of extinction.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Mother Red Wolf Legally Shot and Killed in North Carolina

A red wolf at the Red Wolf Education and Health Care Facility in Columbia, North Carolina.

A mother red wolf was recently shot and killed legally on a private property last week and now wildlife protection advocates are demanding federal authorities to care for her offspring. This ruthless and senseless killing was done by a landowner in North Carolina's Hyde County, who then reported to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service on June 17. According to Pete Benjamin, a Raleigh-based field office supervisor for the wildlife service, the female showed signs of nursing, but it is not known how many pups there are or where they might be. He further added that the offspring would have been almost weaned by now. The wolf had left the boundaries of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, where fewer than 100 people live as a preliminary effort to preserve the rare and critically endangered species in the wild. Before resorting to shooting and killing the wolf, the landowner unsuccessfully tried to capture and return it to federal land. Mike Senatore, vice president of conservation law for the Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement that the landowner did not permit federal biologists on his property to help capture the wolf. He further added that the wildlife service should not have allowed a wolf to be killed in this situation.

How can a critically endangered species like the red wolf be killed legally? What kind of a law allows landowners to kill such animals persistently living on their property? Since 2013, the red wolf population has fallen to fewer than 100 animals in more than a decade and that figure is continuously dropping as the animals are killed upon being mistaken for coyotes and seen as a threat to livestock and pets. This relationship between people and red wolves should not persist on the long-run. The main focus in the conservation of the red wolf is to conduct captive breeding, in order to repopulate the species and reintroducing it into the wild. The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is probably one of the handful of protected areas where the red wolf currently lives. But when the species starts to leave the vicinity of a protected area, it becomes a helpless victim of human persecution like most of its kind. This is especially appalling when the victim turns out to be a female with young. By killing the mother red wolf, the landowner who committed this horrendous act not only took a life but also shattered the hopes of conservation groups regarding the survival of the species. In addition, he did not even allow federal biologists to help capture the animal safely. The landowner simply had to take matters into his own hands by killing the mother wolf and depriving her offspring of parental care. This man should be tried and prosecuted severely for this ruthless killing and the law which permits people like him to persistently kill red wolves on their property should be annihilated.

Some landowners insist that red wolves leave the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to breed with coyotes resulting in hybrids which makes it difficult for ordinary people to distinguish a true red wolf from a hybrid. This can be prevented by providing and conducting education programs to the general public about the difference between coyotes, red wolves, and coyote-wolf hybrids before anyone attempts to go out to kill a coyote. Furthermore, a new law should be implemented in which violators would be imposed with a stiff fine and prison sentence for illegally killing a red wolf. Most importantly, private landowners should be strictly advised to contact wildlife authorities and other professionals if they find red wolves or anything that looks like red wolves on their property and never attempt to return the animals to a protected area. This can result in serious injury or worse to both people and wild animals. The red wolf is one of the most iconic animals in the U.S, along with the bald eagle, American bison, grizzly bear, and other majestic creatures. It is also a keystone species in its native habitat of the southeastern U.S and its role as a predator helps maintain the balance in the ecosystem.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Jane Goodall Applauds United Arab Emirates' Conservation Efforts

Dr. Jane Goodall and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed

Renowned primatologist and environmentalist Dr. Jane Goodall has recently applauded the United Arab Emirates' conservation efforts and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed's insight in laying the basis for the country's environmental protection. She stated that she was fascinated by Sheikh Zayed's foresight in captive breeding and reintroduction programs of the iconic Arabian oryx and Abu Dhabi's oak forests in Sir Bani Yas. Dr. Goodall also praised the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund's conservation efforts, which she indicated bred and reintroduced 500 scimitar-horned oryx to their native habitat in Chad. In addition, she also shared her childhood and how she went to Kenya where she met acclaimed anthropologist and paleontologist Louis Leakey. This meeting resulted to an opportunity for her to study chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park. The significance of Dr. Goodall's study of chimpanzees in Gombe indicated how there are so many ways they are like humans. That is, she further emphasized by talking about the chimps' communication, family structure, gestures, postures, and even their darker side. Dr. Goodall told the audience that she never lost hope "despite the huge number of problems we face," asserting that she strongly believes that there is still time. Other reasons for her hope are the human brain's power, which includes what is occurring in Abu Dhabi with solar/wind power and the electric aircraft project which demonstrates the pioneering spirit and modernization that can change the world.

The praise Dr. Goodall gave to the UAE's conservation efforts indicates how the country is in the forefront of preserving its local environment and the global environment. This was seen in the captive breeding and reintroduction programs of the Arabian oryx, which was once declared "extinct in the wild" in the early 1970s before making a successful comeback decades later. But what was particularly striking about her speech was that she pointed out that the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund bred and reintroduced 500 scimitar-horned oryx to a game reserve in Chad. These relatives of the Arabian oryx used to inhabit the deserts of central and northern Africa and are currently extinct in the wild, but this recent release marked the first ever reintroduction of these magnificent antelopes into the wild. This is because majority of them in North Africa and the Middle East are held in special enclosures for the purpose of breeding and reintroduction. The latest move by the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund has shed light on the future of the scimitar-horned oryx. That is, as long as conservation groups continue to breed and reintroduce this antelope into the wild, its populations would rebound like the Arabian oryx and eventually not be declared "extinct in the wild." Such efforts can be further improvised through local community outreach programs, especially in central and northern Africa. The scimitar-horned oryx cannot stay extinct in the wild forever. If the Arabian oryx was able to successfully return from the brink of extinction thanks to serious conservation efforts, then so can the scimitar-horned oryx.

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New York City Destroys Illegal Ivory

African bush elephant

At a USFWS-sponsored event in New York City, more than one ton of illegal ivory was destroyed in Times Square in an effort to increase awareness about the continuous plight of elephants, particularly in Africa where as many as 35,000 are illegally killed every year. The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), which is completely focused on the continent's conservation issues, provided its full support at the event. Its officials indicated that Times Square is one of the most well-known and exemplary intersections of the world, and by crushing the ivory there, the U.S is giving the global elephant crisis the kind of attention it deserves. According to AWF's program director Jimmiel Mandima, the destruction of ivory in New York will show that the U.S is taking forceful action against poaching and the illegal ivory trade. Furthermore, the Congress is contemplating several bills to ban the sale of ivory and halt poaching. He further added that the battle against poaching is improvising. For example, there is a growing number of countries around the world that are taking action throughout various phases of the supply series, including the buying and selling of and demand for ivory. He also pointed out that poachers in elephant range areas are becoming more cautious in their illegal activities.
Female forest elephant with calf

New York City has just joined host of other major cities around the world to express its intolerance towards the illegal ivory trade. This was shown in one of its most iconic landmarks, Times Square, where more than one ton of illegal ivory was crushed in order to send a message that nobody should sell and trade ivory and that the U.S will not tolerate the illegal ivory trade setting foot on its grounds. Mr. Mandima pointed out that as more and more countries take action towards different stages of the illegal ivory trade, the poachers in elephant range areas become more cautious in their activities. This is why it is extremely crucial to stay one step ahead of the poachers by identifying and analyzing every secretive tactic they come up with ensure the illegal ivory trade goes according to plan. One method would be to raise public awareness about the trade and encouraging the general public to refrain from purchasing ivory products and help law enforcement agencies by reporting any stores suspected of selling ivory or other products made from endangered species. Furthermore, anyone suspected of operating the global trade in ivory and other endangered species products should be given the stiffest sentence and if necessary, the death penalty. The world needs to put the fear of God in people engaged in activities related to poaching and the illegal trade in endangered wildlife. Otherwise, more and more numbers of endangered species will drop teetering to the point of extinction.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Elephant Ivory DNA to Help Authorities Hunt Down Poachers

A KWS security officer near a burning pile of 15 tons of ivory confiscated in Kenya.

A team of researchers from the University of Washington and Interpol have recently discovered through genetic proof that an astonishing part of the illegally hunted ivory was taken from only two comparatively small regions in Africa. They analyzed 1,500 DNA samples from the tusks found in 28 large ivory shipments confiscated by law enforcement officials in Africa and Asia between 2006 and 2014. Nearly all of the ivory matched elephant populations in and around Central and East Africa, indicating that most of the animals were killed in national parks, game reserves, and other areas that are created to protect wildlife. According to Sam Wasser, one of the researchers who conducted the study, the confiscations account for 70 percent of all ivory taken by law enforcement making them useful for understanding the trade as a whole. He further added that researchers know if poachers will move to a new location now that the results have been issued. A large confiscation is known to weigh about half a ton and normally worth at least $1 million or more. One of the study's co-authors and an officer with Interpol, Bill Clark, pointed out that the illegal ivory trade is a "criminal enterprise" complete with supply and demand, framework, transport of shipments, expediting, factories, and mediators. He also added that all components of any significant asset is found in the ivory industry, including banking. That is, money is known to be laundered through banks. It is hoped that the information will help African governments and international organizations direct their attention to protecting the elephants.
Elephant family with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background.

The illegal ivory trade has and is continuing to wreak havoc on the world's population of elephants. In addition to being a major ecological problem, it is also an economic problem and a threat to national security. Africa's elephants are known to be one of the prime attractions for tourists coming to the continent to view its incredible wildlife. With tourism comes foreign income which benefits Africa's socio-economic development. But as elephants and other wild animals fall victim to poaching, the tourism industry in Africa becomes heavily affected and could not benefit from international income as the numbers of tourists start to deplete. Researchers indicated that Central Africa has lost 95 percent of its elephant population to poaching. This not only means that the region's tourism industry is badly affected, but also its socio-economic growth with more and more people being pushed into living in dire poverty. The same situation is seen in Tanzania which has lost 10,000 elephants to poaching prompting organizations like the African Wildlife Foundation and WildAid to establish an anti-poaching campaign with the country's government. It is highly crucial that majority of African countries and other countries need to take serious action to stem the trade of illegal ivory. This not just means banning or restricting the sale of ivory, but more urgent measurements need to be implemented to suppress the supply of illegal ivory. Elephants are known to function as a keystone species in the overall health of Africa's forests and other habitats, which in turn provide resources for a region and oxygen for the planet. Hopefully, this research will help law enforcement agencies track down poachers and be one step ahead in the battle against the illegal ivory trade.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Study- Increasing Palm Oil Prices Could Help Save Indonesia's Tigers and Orangutans

A wild Sumatran tiger caught on camera.

A study has found that supermarkets could help save Indonesia's endangered species like the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger by raising the prices of palm oil products providing the money boosted went to the conservation of forests. Scientists indicated that by placing a price bonus on palm oil components, which equal to about half of all supermarket products, would have a major effect on protecting the surviving forests that have not been completely annihilated by palm oil plantations. The study discovered that customers would be prepared to pay between 15 and 56 percent extra for palm oil products if they knew it would help protect natural habitats in Indonesia and Africa, where palm oil plantations have spread quickly over the past twenty years. Scientists found in research on customers and a palm oil company on the island of Sumatra that the higher prices people were ready to pay for "conservation grade" palm oil more than created for the extra costs the company acquired when protecting nearby forests. The study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, evaluated palm oil plantations, nurseries, forests, and cleared land in Sumatra where large areas of virgin forests have been taken over by palm plantations due to the high expedience of the oil crop. The researchers discovered that establishing conservation efforts on areas near current forests produced the best results, with priority on land that was away from current roads which minimized the impact on company profits. They used this data to establish rules for optimum habitat conservation. According to Brendan Fisher from the University of Vermont, the study indicates how necessary it is for the palm oil industry and scientists to work together to find possible win-win solutions. Chris Carbone of the Zoological Society of London added that habitats surrounded by palm oil plantations still maintain a number of threatened species, and that it could be likely to protect and even restore wildlife in such areas at comparably low and viable economic costs without massively impacting palm oil production.
Orangutan

Palm oil production is one of the major threats to Indonesia's biodiversity. How is increasing the price of palm oil products going to help save the country's most iconic, yet endangered species? That is like raising the price of ivory, rhino horns, or other products made from endangered species that had already been killed in order to discourage the public from purchasing them and encourage them to save the remaining populations of the animals targeted by poachers to satisfy the growing demand of such animals. The palm oil production has and continues to push Indonesia's endangered species closer and closer to extinction. In fact, scientists have recently warned that the Earth has entered the sixth mass extinction. That is, non-human animal species are disappearing 100 times faster than the normal rate due to ongoing threats humans impose on the world's wildlife. These include, but not limited to the palm oil production in Indonesia. The country is famous for being one of the few biodiversity hotspots in the world, but is also home to some of the most critically endangered species such as the Bawean deer, Sumatran elephant, orangutan, tiger, rhino, and the Javan leopard and rhino. These animals live under constant fear of palm oil production and there has never been any news of either of these following species' populations making a comeback from the brink of extinction. It is highly crucial to take necessary action to prevent Indonesia's palm oil production from further decimating the country's forests and the animals inhabiting them. The eradication of any remaining forests in Indonesia would not just result in extinction of the animals, but would also increase the possibility of human infectious disease-spreading. This is because vectors like mosquitoes, sandflies, and other carriers of diseases are sensitive to small changes in temperature, humidity, and availability of breeding sites. This means that clearing forests for palm oil plantations would expose humans to these insects and the diseases they carry. This is why it is extremely crucial to take action in preventing Indonesia's palm oil production from rapidly decimating the country's wildlife.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Himachal Pradesh Forest Department to Launch Human-Leopard Awareness Campaign

Leopard

The Forest Department of Himachal Pradesh has planned to launch a crucial awareness campaign in gram panchayats, schools, and other organizations. The department plans to provide tips on how to avert chances of human-leopard conflict. Representatives have already begun the campaign in some schools in the capital city of Shimla. In addition to providing information through brochures and posters, children are being taught how to avoid and react when seeing a leopard. The process of leopard conflict outlining initiated all over Himachal Pradesh is coming close to completion. The shared boundary of Bilaspur, Hamirpur, and Mandi districts has shown the highest incidents of conflict, although it is yet to be determined if the leopard population in the region is equally high. The evaluation process of the state's leopard population is yet to be attempted ever since the previous exercise undertaken in 2004 showed the population number estimated to be roughly 785. According to Divisional Forest Officer Satpal Dhiman, majority of attacks have occurred during dusk between 6 and 9 pm which means people can be instructed to not venture out during those hours or take necessary steps while stepping out of their homes. He further added that provisional studies of the high and low-conflict areas would be accomplished to see the reasons of the conflict. Depending on the results of the studies and reasons of the conflict, the forest department will take some measures to deal with the problem. Steps will include monitoring the leopards' movements and studying their behavior patterns to see why they were attacking the people. The state government had earlier associated Mumbai-based biologist Dr. Vidya Athreya who is working on leopards to initiate the studies. In order to attempt the assignment of a scientific leopard survey, the forest department will be needing more camera traps since there are only 200 set up all over Himachal Pradesh. Furthermore, majority of these traps are set up inside national parks and sanctuaries, although there are ten in and around Shimla.
Leopard attack figures and total compensation granted

The Forest Department of Himachal Pradesh is indeed taking a major step in tackling the state's human-leopard conflict problem through an awareness campaign. This includes educating the public about what to do to avoid a fatal conflict with a leopard. In the last ten years, Himachal Pradesh saw 306 leopard attacks on people with majority of incidents taking place in districts like Shimla. Earlier, it was generally believed that Mumbai was where majority of leopard attacks are known to occur. However, because of the big cat's extensive range across the Indian subcontinent, attacks take place in any part of India. Such incidents are known to result in retaliatory killings of leopards which brings villagers and ordinary townspeople into conflict with wildlife officials. This type of hostility should not go on forever. Wildlife officials and regular people must join forces together in preventing leopard attacks or any other attacks from wild animals by coming up with safe alternatives to avoid having either the animal or human seriously injured or killed. In Mumbai for example, leopard attacks on people are a result of mismanagement of garbage which attracts stray dogs in search for food scraps. The dogs, in turn, attract leopards and when people get in the way, the outcomes are devastating. This is why it is essential to improvise the management of garbage in the Mumbai area and remove stray dogs to prevent any lethal encounters with leopards. In addition, the public should be thoroughly educated on how to avoid and react when seeing a leopard like their counterparts in Himachal Pradesh. Awareness campaigns concerning wild animal attacks should be implemented around the world in order to maintain a steady relationship between people and dangerous animals. Predatory animals like leopards perform a crucial role in maintaining the balance of nature by preying on herbivorous animals. Without their existence, ecosystems where they used to live would be changed dramatically with tremendously negative effects.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

France Raises its Wolf Cull After a Debated Attack on a 16-Year-Old Boy

An Italian wolf

In France, after twenty years since the wolf gained its foothold, there has been an ongoing dispute between farmers and environmental groups concerning the animal's impact on the country folks' livelihoods. Now, the country has been reported to increase its official cull of wolves after a rise in sheep deaths and a supposed - though contested - attack on a sixteen-year-old son of a farmer. One senior pro-wolf defender implied that the surrounding of the sixteen-year-old in the French Alps last Saturday by a wolf pack was a "hoax" executed by anti-wolf activists. However, whatever the truth, the French government is scheduled this week to announce the increase in culling of wolves by fifty percent in the next twelve months. The agriculture and environment ministers are also anticipated to lessen the rules which dictate when farmers can shoot the wolves. Environmental advocates called such a decision "grotesque", claiming that the wolf attack had been orchestrated with dogs (without the boy's knowledge) to bring refreshed pressure on the government. The supposed attack took place in the village of Seyne-les-Alpes, which is seventy miles north of Nice and close to where Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed. The farmer's son, Romain Ferrand, stated that he was surrounded by a pack of nine so-called wolves and four pups late at night when he went to check on his family's cattle. In response, he fired a shotgun in the air and the attackers retreated. He further added that they were wearing collars. According to Jean-Francois Darmstaedter, secretary general of a wildlife protection association called Ferus, the attack sounded like a hoax because the animals were wearing collars and that no wolf pups are born at this time of year.
The village of Seyne where the alleged attack on a 16-year-old son of a farmer.

The hatred towards wolves has really moved up to a whole new level through what appears to be in a devious and sinister way. A sixteen-year-old son of a farmer is allegedly attacked by a pack of "wolves" whom he described as wearing collars. Since when do wolves wear collars like their domestic descendants? Also, Mr. Darmstaedter indicated that wolf pups are not born at this time of year. These facts clearly indicate that anti-wolf activists, including farmers, probably came up with a dishonest way of pressuring and convincing the French government to allow them to hunt down wolves to protect their livelihoods. This hostile relationship dates back decades and in the 1930s, the last "native" wolf was killed in the Massif Central. However, the early 1990s saw a few Italian wolves which settled in the French Alps and are now believed to have increased to roughly 300 animals forty packs, stretching as far west as the Auvergne region and north as the Vosges Mountains. Since then, farmers have always complained about the wolves' attacks on their livestock and wanted to retaliate by killing. A law established in 2004 only allowed government sharpshooters or licensed shepherds to shoot the animals. The shepherds were permitted only if they proved that their flocks were attacked two times in three years. Last year, the official cull was nineteen out of 24 allowable animals. But now, that figure has increased following this alleged attack with no solid proof whatsoever that wolves were either responsible or not on the attack of a farmer's son.
Livestock guardian dogs like this Great Pyrenees are a much safer alternative in protecting domestic livestock from wolves.

France needs to improvise its efforts in ensuring its farmers' well-being by coming with safer alternative solutions in dealing with wolves. The best and straightforward method should be to employ livestock guardian dogs to protect the shepherds' flocks. Shooting wolves would not help on the long run, especially when farmers and government marksmen kill what could be alpha members which would cause a pack to go into disarray resulting in wolves continuously attacking livestock with no signs of stopping. Furthermore, this matter of an alleged wolf attack needs to be thoroughly investigated in order to determine if wolves were responsible for attacking the sixteen-year-old or it was a ruse to pressure the government to allow farmers and shepherds to shoot wolves indiscriminately. And if this incident happens to be a gimmick, then the perpetrators should be severely prosecuted and given a stiff prison sentence. Wolves are apex predators and their main function is to ensure the balance in an ecosystem by keeping prey populations in check. Without their existence, the natural ecosystem of France and rest of Europe would be negatively affected.

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