Deforestation in South America causes extinction of 8 bird species

September 5, 2018 by  
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The Spix’s Macaw, a bird many would recognize as the star of the animated film Rio, is officially extinct. The macaw has been listed among eight bird species that have gone extinct in South America in the last decade in a new study conducted by BirdLife International . While the majority of bird extinctions are associated with island species sensitive to invasive organisms and hunting, these new extinctions are linked to a growing problem in South America: deforestation . Stuart Butchart, a scientist who lead the BirdLife International study, said that the extinctions in South America are proof that a crisis is currently unfolding in places that have historically been free of such events — and it’s all because of the destruction of natural habitats. In the past, about 90 percent of bird-related extinctions have been isolated to species on remote islands. But as Butchart points out, the new study indicates a rise in extinction events on large continents that are “driven by habitat loss from unsustainable agriculture, drainage and logging.” As it currently stands, there are more than 26,000 species on the verge of extinction. With that number continuing to rise, scientists warn that humans could usher in another global extinction event. Half of the birds that recently went extinct were native to Brazil. The Spix’s Macaw was last sighted in the wild in 2000, though the bird is being raised in captivity. Scientists hope to reintroduce the bird at some point in the future. Related: Scientists say mass extinction warning signs exist — and they can be observed today But that is not the case for many of the birds who have disappeared. The Alagoas Foliage-gleaner, the Cryptic Treehunter and the Poo-uli, for example, will never be seen again. Apart from the eight bird species that have already gone extinct, there are 51 others that are “ critically endangered .” Butchart and his team hope that their findings will promote future conservation efforts to save these bird species from becoming extinct. + BirdLife International Via The Guardian Images via Daderot and  Rüdiger Stehn

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Deforestation in South America causes extinction of 8 bird species

Mass poaching in Botswana leaves behind 90 tuskless elephants

September 5, 2018 by  
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Ninety elephants have been poached in Botswana in what is being considered one of Africa’s grimmest mass poaching sprees. The majority of the creatures poached for their valuable ivory were large bull elephants who carry heavy tusks, according to a statement by Elephants Without Borders on Tuesday. The group had been conducting an aerial survey of the animals over several weeks in tandem with Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks when it made the discovery. “We started flying the survey on 10 July, and we have counted 90 elephant carcasses since the survey commenced,” said Mike Chase, director of Elephants Without Borders. “Each day, we are counting dead elephants.” It is clear that the elephants were hunted for ivory, despite the recent revocations of new ivory imports by large markets. The killing is supplying still-open routes to Asia, where a demand for fresh ivory is bankrolling poachers up to $1,000 per kilo. The carcasses were found mutilated with their skulls “chopped open by presumably very sharp axes, to remove their tusks” according to Chase, who also noted that in some cases the trunks of the animals had also gone missing. Related: The world’s largest ivory market just banned ivory Botswana is widely considered an elephant sanctuary compared to neighboring Zambia and Angola, where the creatures “have been poached to the verge of local extinction,” Chase said. It is no surprise that poachers are now turning to Botswana, as the previous “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers has gone out the window. Moreover, rangers have been disarmed under the government of Mokgweetsi Masisi after former-President Ian Khama, who was vehement in his protection of wildlife , stepped down. Jason Bell, vice president for the International Fund for Animal Welfare , said, “Until now, Botswana’s elephant herds have largely been left in peace, but clearly Botswana is now in the cross-hairs.” Tourism Minister for Botswana, Tshekedi Khama also weighed in on the coinciding ranger disarmament and mass slaughter. “I am very concerned, it’s a huge worry … because we had been spared poaching for a long time, I think now we are realizing the sophistication of these poachers,” Khama said. “Unfortunately, sometimes we learn these lessons the hard way.” Botswana is home to the largest population of elephants in Africa , with nearly 135,000 of the majestic beasts roaming its lands. These numbers account for almost a third of all the elephants in Africa since numbers have plummeted to about 415,000 in the past decade,  according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature . “The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I have seen or read about in Africa to date,” Chase said. Related: The Trump Administration decides to allow the import of elephant trophies after all With rhinos also being targeted in Botswana — six white rhinos having been found butchered and stripped of their horns in recent months — a change in policy must be made. Government officials have declined to comment on any future plans to rectify the ranger policies or prevent future incidents. Via The Guardian Image via Letizia Barbi

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Mass poaching in Botswana leaves behind 90 tuskless elephants

Drone operators disturbing wildlife incur fines and jail time in Scotland

September 4, 2018 by  
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The number of cases in Scotland involving drone interference with animals on nature reserves has increased, causing police and wildlife experts to become “increasingly concerned” for the welfare of the protected animals. While nature reserve managers and wildlife specialists are encouraging outsiders to watch and enjoy the environment and animals in the sanctuaries, mounting numbers of injuries caused to the creatures by drones are leading Scottish lawmakers to impose fines on or even arrest individuals caught disturbing the peace. Drones are being flown inconsiderately according to Andy Turner, wildlife crime officer with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). “There have been several incidents involving drones disturbing seals at designated haul-out sites,” he said. Seals that have protective considerations during breeding season are having their pups crushed in these haul-out zones, where they tend to flee when scared into the water by drones. Related: Daan Roosegaarde reveals vision for air-purifying Smog Free Drones “Likewise, there have been anecdotal reports of drones being used to film seabird colonies and raptors,” Turner continued. “While the footage from drones in these circumstances can be very spectacular, the operator must be mindful of the effect on wildlife.” The interference with some birds , such as guillemots and razorbills, has “almost catastrophic” implications according to nature reserve coordinators RSPB Scotland . Drones that fly in too quickly cause birds to panic and dive headfirst into the cliffs or plummet into the sea. Ian Thompson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland, had a message for wildlife observers. “Watch the animals. You will get a sign if you are causing them any stress, you’ll see from their behavior,” he warned. “You might see birds take flight or suddenly lift their heads and run off or walk off. If the birds start altering their behavior, that shows that you are disturbing them, and then it is time to move a drone away.” Fines for harassing wildlife in the nature reserves can cost disrespectful droners up to £5,000 (about $6,425 USD). Alternately, severe infractions can earn individuals up to a six-month sentence in a Scottish penitentiary. Officers of the U.K. National Wildlife Crime Unit are taking the disturbances very seriously, regardless of the perpetrator. “Irrespective of whether the offender is an egg collector, boat skipper or drone operator, the possible sentences are the same,” said PC Charlie Everitt of the crime unit. “It is therefore essential that drone operators understand the law, research the legal status and behavior of any wildlife they intend to film and obtain the necessary licences to keep on the right side of the law.” Via BBC Image via Joe Hayhurst

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Drone operators disturbing wildlife incur fines and jail time in Scotland

Energy-savvy art museum is anchored atop a historic Dutch dike

September 4, 2018 by  
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Rising out of a historic dike, the new Lisser Art Museum pays homage to the landscape’s context while offering a new contemporary cultural destination in Lisse, The Netherlands. Dutch architecture firm KVDK architecten headed the recently completed project and embraced smart, sustainable solutions from the optimization of natural daylighting to gray water collection systems. Wrapped in earth-colored Petersen bricks, the modest, light-filled building feels like an extension of the forest, and ample glazing provides connection with nature on all sides. Commissioned by the VandenBroek Foundation, the small-scale museum is located in the Keukenhof, a former country estate dating from the 17th century that had featured a terraced garden with an artificial dike — unique in the Netherlands at the time. The estate was later redesigned in 1860 by landscape architects J.D. and L.P. Zocher, who transformed it into a cultural park that has since achieved national heritage status. The recently completed museum was an addition in the Keukenhof cultural park masterplan drafted in 2010. “One ingenious but also complicated strategy involved placing the foundations in the historical dike core, thereby making the museum the pivot point between a landscaped approach, the historical terraced landscape, the open sandy area and the wooded dune ridge,” the architects explained. “Intensive consultation and careful dimensioning ensured that the plan for a museum on this sensitive spot was wholeheartedly embraced by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, the government body that oversees the register of national monuments.” Related: Daan Roosegaarde uses light art to breathe new life into an iconic Dutch dike The museum comprises two main volumes, the lower of which is set into the dike — glass curtain walls emphasize and embrace the land form — and supports the upper, cantilevered volume enclosed in brick . The interior is flexible with multipurpose spaces and follow the Guggenheim principle in which visitors experience all the exhibition spaces by winding down from the highest point. In addition to natural lighting, the museum is equipped with thermal energy storage, a green roof and a gray water system for toilets. The museum depot is located inside of the dike to take advantage of the earth’s natural cooling properties. + KVDK architecten Via ArchDaily Images by Sjaak Henselmans and Ronald Tilleman

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Energy-savvy art museum is anchored atop a historic Dutch dike

Bolivia creates a nature reserve for world’s rarest macaw

August 22, 2018 by  
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The blue-throated macaw is one of the most critically endangered species on the planet – only about 300 remain in the wild. However, the birds are getting some much-needed good news. Bolivian conservation organization  Asociación Armonía has partnered with the American Bird Conservancy , the International Conservation Fund of Canada , IUCN Netherlands and the World Land Trust to create a protected nesting area for the imperiled macaw. Related: Endangered green and loggerhead turtles make Mediterranean comeback This beautiful species of macaw has been declining in population for the past century – but thanks to a 1,680 acre (680-hectare) land purchase in Bolivia, which was made possible by the aforementioned organizations, the birds are making a slow recovery. “Increasing the Blue-throated Macaw population is more likely now that Armonía has secured this important site as a reserve,” said Rodrigo Soria, Executive Director of Asociación Armonía, of the land acquisition. Previously serving as a cattle ranch, the Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Reserve was named after the late founder of the Texas-based nonprofit Bird Endowment. The nature reserve will help further Asociación Armonía’s artificial nest box program, which was launched in 2005 as a way to increase the macaws’ population. “The acquisition means that we can continue the successful nest box program without worry of changing land ownership and management,” added Soria. The site is located in central Bolivia’s Beni savanna and, in combination with the existing Barba Azul Nature Reserve, provides 28,862 acres (11,680 hectares) of protected land for its blue-winged inhabitants. Related: Lemurs are now the most endangered species of primate on the planet In memory of Rickman, the American Bird Conservancy and Asociación Armonía have pledged to match any contributions to the Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Fund  by up to a total of $100,000 in 2018. The fund aims to provide vital support for reserve management and habitat conservation to ensure the continued success of the nest box program. + American Bird Conservancy + Asociación Armonía

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Bolivia creates a nature reserve for world’s rarest macaw

Migratory barnacle geese threatened by rapidly rising Arctic temperatures

July 20, 2018 by  
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Migrating barnacle geese that lay their eggs in the Arctic zones of northern Russia are becoming confounded by earlier springs in their traditional nesting grounds, according to a study published in Current Biology . The rising temperatures in the Arctic circles caused by global warming are threatening the survival of this species, which travels more than 3,000 km, or 1,800 miles, to reach their nesting territory. The research , released in May 2018, noted that the geese habitually make the month-long journey from parts of northern Germany and the Netherlands based on a biologically coordinated schedule now jeopardized by human activity. Rapid environmental changes have caused the animals to speed up their flight plans. Related: Arctic shipping routes could threaten “unicorns of the sea” Bart Nolet, member of the research team from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and the University of Amsterdam, told NPR , “They actually depart from the wintering areas around the same date regardless of whether it’s early or late spring in the Arctic ,” because they “cannot predict what the weather is or what the season is up there from 3,000 kilometers distance.” This causes the geese to speed up their inherent migration pattern mid-flight, after they realize that the temperature is too warm. They complete the arduous expedition in only a week, leaving them exhausted. Originally, the birds used to arrive and lay their eggs just as the winter snow melted. By the time their goslings hatched, plants began to grow, resulting in a “food peak” for the animals. Now, both adult and baby barnacle geese must bear the hardships of malnourishment. Despite rushing their migration and flying “nearly nonstop from the wintering areas to their breeding grounds,” according to Nolet, the 10 days needed after migration to find food and recover from exhaustion still puts the birds behind schedule. The geese cannot lay their eggs straightaway. Instead, after their expedited journey, they must rest and forage for food to ensure their own survival and the vitality of their offspring — ultimately the determining factor in the continuance of their species. + Current Biology Via NPR Images via Gennady Alexandrov

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Migratory barnacle geese threatened by rapidly rising Arctic temperatures

Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act

May 25, 2018 by  
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Activists and scientists are concerned over the inclusion of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that could threaten the survival of the endangered Greater Sage-Grouse and Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The provision would prevent the Lesser Prairie-Chicken from receiving protection under the Endangered Species Act for at least ten years, despite evidence of population decline suggesting that the Prairie-Chicken needs to be legally protected. It would also weaken safeguards put in place to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse, while clearing away regulatory obstacles for oil and gas development. “We urge U.S. Representatives to oppose the grouse and prairie chicken rider,” Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy said in a statement . “This provision has nothing to do with national defense, will place imperiled species on the path to extinction and should be stricken.” Both species live in isolated populations that are greatly diminished from their pre-contact levels, with the number of grouse falling from 15 million to fewer than 300,000 today. The prairie-chicken population dropped 50 percent between 2012 and 2013, and its range continues to shrink. Congressional changes to the Endangered Species Act could further threaten the birds . “Endangered Species Act protection provides an essential backstop to hedge against species extinction, particularly in light of major increases in oil and gas drilling in priority grouse habitats in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Colorado ,” Holmer explained. Related: ‘Acoustic lighthouses’ could warn birds about wind turbines While a 2015 review of the status of the Greater Sage-Grouse led to more favorable protections, it did not result in its listing on the Endangered Species Act. Now, those limited protections could be rolled back by Congress . Perhaps the more impactful provision requirement is that the Lesser Prairie-Chicken not be placed on the Endangered Species list for ten years, regardless of scientific opinion. Holmer said, “Potentially the most devastating provision is the one that precludes judicial review of these listing moratoria, which prevents the public from seeking protection for these species even if they are on the very brink of extinction .” Via American Bird Conservancy Images via USFWS Mountain-Prairie (1)

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Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act

Specially structured bird of paradise feathers function like a "black hole"

January 15, 2018 by  
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Scientists have discovered that bird of paradise feathers are physically structured in such a way as to absorb nearly all light that reaches them, much like a black hole. Viewers of the acclaimed nature documentary series Planet Earth may recall the bird of paradise from its featured segment, in which male members of the species display their pitch-black feathers, punctuated with spots of vibrant color, while they dance in hopes of attracting a mate. These feathers are not simply a darker shade of black. In fact, their physical structure enables a level of near-total light absorption that is rare in the animal kingdom. Optical measurements of the bird of paradise feathers indicate that they are capable of absorbing 99.95% of light that reaches it, a similar level of light absorption to man-made ultra-black materials such as the lining of telescopes. “ Evolution sometimes ends up with the same solutions as humans,” said senior author and Yale professor Rick Prum, according to Phys.org . The super-black feathers, coupled with patches of bright color, function as an evolved optical illusion. “An apple looks red to us whether it is sitting in the bright sunlight or in the shade because all vertebrate eyes and brains have special wiring to adjust their perception of the world according to ambient light,” said co-lead author Dakota “Cody” McCoy. “Birds of paradise, with their super-black plumage, increase the brilliance of adjacent colors to our eyes, just as we perceive the red even though the apple is in the shade.” Related: Birds that escape from captivity teach wild birds how to speak (and swear) in English The difference between regular feathers and super-black feathers is found in the structure of the main stem and barbs in the feather. Where regular feather has single barbs attached to the main stem, super-black feathers have many spines that serve to create a dense thicket of feathers. “When you have no flat surfaces, the light gets completely absorbed by the feather,” said McCoy, according to Gizmodo . While these feathers are unusually effective at absorbing light , the light-absorption effect is most strong when seen from directly ahead. Still, the biologically developed super-blackness may offer lessons to engineering humans. “Sexual selection has produced some of the most remarkable traits in nature,” Prum said, according to Phys.org . “Hopefully, engineers can use what the bird of paradise teaches us to improve our own human technologies as well.” Via Gizmodo and Phys.org Images via Ed Shoales/Birds-of-Paradise Project and Yale University

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Specially structured bird of paradise feathers function like a "black hole"

Dead rabbits found at Iowa wind farm likely used to lure and kill eagles

November 2, 2017 by  
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In a story that may have come  two days late , a local landowner-farmer in Delaware County, Iowa was shocked to discover over a dozen deceased rabbits, each with their necks broken, scattered beneath wind turbines on their land. The land is leased by RPM Access, a company that owns several wind farms throughout the state. “I don’t understand who would do something like this? I really don’t,” said Linda Slobodnik, an environmental consultant for RPM Access, according to KWWL News . Slobodnik, who has stated that this act of violence is the most disturbing incident she has seen in her 10 years in the wind industry, believes the rabbits were used to lure in eagles or other birds to the turbines, likely to kill them as well. Why would someone seek to lure and kill eagles, using dead rabbits as bait? “There are a lot of anti-wind people. At this time, we are looking at new places for projects, and I am thinking that possibly someone would like us to not build another wind farm in the area,” said Slobodnik. “I think there is a lot of people who will speak against the wind turbines. I think a lot of what they do is out of ignorance,” said RPM Access Project Manager, Kevin Lehs, according to KWWL News . Despite some local resistance, Iowa has made enormous progress towards a clean energy economy, primarily through wind power , which provided more than 36 percent of all electricity used in 2016. As it stands, Iowa is the most wind-powered state in the United States . Related: The world’s first floating wind farm just switched online Although the dead rabbits were deliberately placed, it is true that wind turbines can kill local wildlife. It is estimated that 300,000 birds are killed by wind turbines each year. That may sound like a lot, but it’s important to see these numbers in context. Wind power kills 1/15th the number of birds that fossil-fuel generated power does each year. Glass buildings in cities are also frequent bird killers. And, of course, outdoor and feral cats kill hundreds of millions of birds annually. Via Elektrek and KWWL News Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Dead rabbits found at Iowa wind farm likely used to lure and kill eagles

Hundreds of mysterious stone structures discovered near ancient volcanoes in Saudi Arabia

October 19, 2017 by  
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Professor David Kennedy of the University of Oxford just discovered hundreds of mysterious structures near ancient lava domes in Saudi Arabia. Using Google Earth , Kennedy found approximately 400 stone walls that are believed to be more than 9,000 years old. Because the structures appear similar to others found in the Middle East , they have been dubbed “gates” The mysterious gates are located in the western Harrat Khaybar region of the country. According to the Bedouin, a nomadic group of Arab people, they were the “Works of the Old Men.” While there are similarities between the newly-discovered gates and others in the country, there are notable differences, as well. For instance, the gates Kennedy discovered are larger (the longest measures more than half a kilometer, the shortest is just 13 meters) and the space between them varies. Some are “almost touching” while others are “miles apart,” reports The Independent . Kennedy told Newsweek , “It is impossible at the moment to date these gates except relatively. I have argued in the article that they are the earliest of the so-called ‘Works of the Old Men’, the stone-built structures found widely in Arabia from northern Syria to Yemen , but especially common in the lava fields.” The “Old Men” are also credited with building “kites” – stone structures archaeologists say were used to catch migratory birds . They are found on top of the gates in other areas of the Middle East, signifying possible relationship. Said the Professor of archaeology, “The works known as Kites, which are certainly animal traps, may be as old as 9,000 years before present in some cases and there is one example of a kite overlying a gate. So Gates may be up to or more than 9,000 years old, which takes one back to the Neolithic .” Related: Large organic farm in Saudi Arabia switches to solar-powered irrigation Because the gates are situated on ancient lava domes (the volcanoes remain inactive), some of the structures bear traces of lava. This could prove a sufficient method to date the mysterious phenomenon. Kennedy’s findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy . Via The Independent Images via Wiley/Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy/Douglas Kennedy , Google Earth

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