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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