Botswana elephant deaths caused by cyanobacteria

September 22, 2020 by  
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On June 18, 2020, we reported about the mysterious deaths of 154 elephants in Botswana. At the time, wildlife officials in Botswana said that the cause of the deaths was being investigated. According to a statement released by the Botswana Wildlife Conservation on Monday, it turns out that the elephants were killed by cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria is a type of algae that is found in many warm, calm waters around the world. Some species of this blue-green algae can produce toxins that are harmful to other organisms, including humans. The World Health Organization indicates that people who are exposed to cyanobacterial toxins either by drinking or bathing in infected waters may suffer symptoms including skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting and fever. At the same time, animals, birds and fish can be poisoned by the bacteria if it is available at high levels. Related: Scientists discover algae species that may affect coral reefs In May and June, concern was raised after several elephants died in Botswana in the Okavango Delta. According to Botswana officials, a total of 330 elephants died in just two months, prompting investigations into the actual causes of death. The findings have now been released after several months of tests in specialist laboratories in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada and the U.S. Although several of the elephants were found near watering holes, wildlife officials did not believe cyanobacteria to be the issue. Blue-green algal blooms mainly appear along the edges of the water, while the elephants typically drink from the center of a watering hole. Speaking in a press conference, Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ Principal Veterinary Officer Mmadi Reuben confirmed that the deaths had been caused by cyanobacteria. Reuben further noted that the deaths subsided toward the end of June, around the same time that the water pans began drying up. The elephant carcasses had tusks intact, which led officials to rule out poaching as a cause of death. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, 25 more elephants have recently died. Samples have been sent to the U.K. for testing to help determine the cause of these deaths. Scientists and wildlife officials are still looking for possible measures that could be taken to stop such deaths in the future. Via BBC Image via Herbert Bieser

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Botswana elephant deaths caused by cyanobacteria

17,000 Tiehms buckwheat, rare wildflowers of Nevada, destroyed

September 22, 2020 by  
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While most people seem to appreciate the beauty of wildflowers , somebody in Nevada clearly doesn’t. Last weekend, more than 17,000 Tiehm’s buckwheat plants, a rare wildflower, were destroyed — deliberately. Some person or people used shovels to dig up, mangle and cut buckwheat taproots, seriously impacting all six subpopulations of the flower. “This is an absolute tragedy,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Tiehm’s buckwheat is one of the beautiful gems of Nevada’s biodiversity and some monster destroyed thousands of these irreplaceable flowering plants.” Related: The Ray integrates plants and pollinators along I-85 Tiehm’s buckwheat is a controversial wildflower. Ioneer Corp., an Australian mining company, wants to build an open-pit lithium mine in southwest Nevada. Lithium is a white metal used for making the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles . The plan is for construction to begin in 2021, with the mine opening for business by 2023 and operating for at least 26 years. Ioneer Corp. expects an annual lithium production of about 20,600 tons each year . But the lowly wildflower has been a roadblock, as the mining plan would pretty much wipe out Tiehm’s buckwheat. Federal agencies have also been involved. The Center for Biological Diversity accused the Bureau of Land Management of mismanaging the species and in 2019 petitioned for protection under the Endangered Species Act . This request is currently being reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Donnelly and Naomi Fraga, director of conservation at the California Botanic Garden, estimate that the weekend’s attack has destroyed approximately 40% of the species . “This appears to have been a premeditated, somewhat organized, large-scale operation aimed at wiping out one of the rarest plants on Earth, one that was already in the pipeline for protection,” Donnelly said. “It’s despicable and heartless.” Fraga and Donnelly have recommended to federal and local authorities that the area around the remaining Tiehm’s buckwheat plants should be fenced with 24-hour security. If the survivors are stabilized, rehabilitated, propagated and transplanted, there’s still hope for this species to survive. “I was absolutely devastated when I discovered this annihilation of these beautiful little wildflowers,” Donnelly said. “But we’re not going to let this stop our fight against extinction . We’ll fight for every single buckwheat.” + Center for Biological Diversity Images via Sarah Kulpa/USFWS

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17,000 Tiehms buckwheat, rare wildflowers of Nevada, destroyed

Burmese roofed turtle is rescued from extinction

September 4, 2020 by  
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The Burmese roofed turtle has been saved from the brink of extinction. The turtle had not been seen for over 20 years, leading many conservationists to assume that it was extinct . But in 2001, one Burmese roofed turtle was spotted in markets in Myanmar, sparking interest among scientists. From this point forward, efforts to save the endangered species were put in place by scientists in collaboration with the government of Myanmar. The efforts have paid off, with nearly 1,000 of these turtles existing today. The Burmese roofed turtle is a giant Asian river turtle that is characterized by its large eyes and small, natural smile. Since the sighting of a surviving turtle in Myanmar about 20 years ago, the population of the turtles has been increased to about 1,000, thanks to serious conservation efforts. Some of the turtles have already been released to the wild, while the others are still within captivity. Related: This turtle with a green mohawk is one of the most endangered reptiles in the world These turtles were once thriving around the mouth of the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar. But by the mid-20th century, fishing and overharvesting led to a significant drop in the number of turtles. For years, the state of the species was unknown, given that Myanmar had closed its borders. Scientists could not access the country and, as a result, could not make any efforts to save the turtles. By the time Myanmar reopened its borders in the 1990s, scientists could not find any Burmese roofed turtles and began to believe that they were extinct . “We came so close to losing them. If we didn’t intervene when we did, this turtle would have just been gone,” Steven Platt, a herpetologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told The New York Times . Turtles and tortoises are among the most vulnerable species globally. About half of the planet’s turtle and tortoise species , a total of 360 living species, are threatened. The scenario is especially bad for species across Asia, where turtles and tortoises are affected by habitat loss, climate change and hunting for consumption. But the recent good news on the growing population of Burmese roofed turtles gives hope that concerted conservation efforts can continue to save more vulnerable species. Via The New York Times and Wildlife Conservation Society Image via Wildlife Conservation Society

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Burmese roofed turtle is rescued from extinction

Cuban painted snails critically endangered by illegal wildlife trade

July 29, 2020 by  
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Increased trafficking of colorful snail shells is now posing a serious threat to these species. The ‘painted snails’ are native to Cuba and are known to be the world’s most beautiful snails. These snails belong to the genus Polymita . Due to their beauty, Cuban painted snails have been sought after by collectors, who sell their shells to American and European markets. This practice has pushed the six species of Cuban painted snails to the brink of extinction. Currently, all of the six species have been classified as being critically endangered . Although there are laws that prohibit the trade of painted snails in Cuba, the illegal wildlife trade continues to threaten their existence. According to National Geographic, there is evidence that painted snails are being sold in Cuba under the watch of government authorities. Between 2012 and 2016, about 23,000 painted snails were seized on their way to the U.S. by the Cuba’s customs department. You do not need to look far to see the evidence of the snails being sold. There are many American websites that currently sell the painted snail shells and even live snails. Related: How hungry snails help to protect ecosystems from climate change The efforts to protect the colored snails are also being hampered by the locals, who collect and sell the snails to tourists. While the government has put in place a fine of up to $20 per violation, it is evident that locals have made underground ways of accessing foreign markets. Currently, some biologists and environmental conservation groups are working toward educating the locals about the importance of the painted snails. Bernardo Reyes-Tur, a conservation biologist at the University of Oriente, Norvis Hernandez, a biologist with Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, and their colleagues are leading the way in educating Cubans about the benefits of having the snails around in place of selling them cheaply. If the animals are protected, they will have more value to the locals than they have on the market. Via National Geographic Images via Thomas Brown ( 1 , 2 )

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Cuban painted snails critically endangered by illegal wildlife trade

Polar bears could go extinct in 80 years if global warming persists

July 22, 2020 by  
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In recent years, the rate of melting ice has been on the rise because of global warming . But the reduced amount of ice makes it difficult for polar bears to capture seals for food. A CNN report shows that polar bears are getting thinner and giving birth to fewer cubs as the sea ice dwindles. Now, a new study in the journal Nature has revealed that polar bears could be extinct by the year 2100 if humans do not put an end to global warming. According to the study, polar bears are being pushed to the brink of extinction because of current human practices. The study indicates that if humans continue emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the polar bears might not exist past the year 2100. Related: Climate change-induced melting of mountain ice threats global supply of freshwater Polar bears have been ranked as the largest terrestrial carnivores. But the survival of this species depends on the Arctic’s sea ice. Polar bears only feed during the Arctic winter, when the waters are frozen. They use the ice to stand on while capturing seals, stocking up on this food in the form of body fat to prepare for the summer, when the ice has melted. If the warmer summer weather lasts longer than anticipated, the polar bears are likely to die due to a lack of food supply. Péter K. Molnár, one of the study’s authors and assistant professor at University of Toronto Scarborough, explained that the polar bears use the ice because they aren’t skilled enough to swim and catch the seals. The polar bears cannot feed if there is no ice in the Arctic . According to the study, polar bear cubs are the most vulnerable, followed by the adult mothers. If the mature males lack food, they are likely to feed on the cubs. Given that polar bears are already producing fewer cubs than before, it is important to protect the offspring by ensuring that there is ice for the older bears to fish. “Ultimately, the bears need food and in order to have food, they need ice,” Molnár explained. “But in order for them to have ice, we need to control climate change .” + Nature Via CNN Image via Margo Tanenbaum

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Polar bears could go extinct in 80 years if global warming persists

Zero-waste Orford Mews to bring energy-positive homes to East London

July 22, 2020 by  
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London-based property developer gs8 has unveiled designs for Orford Mews, a pilot project for a sustainable residential development in the North East London district of Walthamstow, which is currently undergoing regeneration. Designed by architect Michael Lynas of Studio Anyo , the contemporary, nine-unit development will serve as a landmark project for energy-positive, zero-waste housing. Orford Mews is expected to achieve and exceed RIBA 2030 operational energy and embodied carbon targets. Orford Mews will consist of eight family houses and a single three-bedroom apartment on a long linear site. The project will rely on local materials and local labor wherever possible to reduce the project’s embodied carbon count and to support the community. All of the non-contaminated materials from the existing buildings in the finished development will be reused. The contemporary and minimalist design will be mainly built from timber and reclaimed brick, and it will feature sloped roofs topped with living moss. Climbing vines will also be encouraged to grow up walls to contribute to a cooling microclimate and improved air quality. Related: Dark Chalet in Utah will generate over 350% more energy than it needs In addition to greenery around and on top of the houses, residents will have access to community garden spaces designed by landscape designers at London Glades. Residents will also enjoy little, if any, utility bills thanks to the energy-positive buildings integrated with renewable energy and designed to follow passive principles for reduced energy consumption. Passive design strategies include compact massing for minimized heat loss and strategic window placement for daylight capturing and heat retention. Orford Mews will also include a multifunctional well-being space for the community, a reuse center that encourages circular living choices and a Neighborhood App developed to provide real-time energy usage stats and suggestions to reduce energy consumption. “When we set out four years ago with a goal to develop a flexible framework to build one of the most sustainable projects in the world, we chose Orford Road as the pilot to prove that if we could achieve our carbon and energy-positive , zero-waste aspirations on a site this small and constrained, then it could be viably rolled out across any size development,” said Ben Spencer of gs8. “The next stage is implementing the innovative framework we’ve created and prove that developing truly sustainably doesn’t need to mean compromising on design quality or financial viability.” + gs8 Images via gs8

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Zero-waste Orford Mews to bring energy-positive homes to East London

Climate change could lead to dramatic decline in narwhals

May 6, 2020 by  
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Climate change is affecting everybody, even narwhals. These mysterious “unicorns of the sea” may decline by 25% by the end of this century, according to a new study . Narwhals are a type of Arctic-dwelling whale found only in the cold waters of Greenland, Canada, Norway and Russia. Their population currently numbers about 200,000. In winter, most narwhals spend up to 5 months beneath the sea ice. They are recognizable by a single long, spiral tusk, which is actually an enlarged tooth. Related: Arctic shipping routes could threaten “unicorns of the sea” Researchers from Denmark, Canada, Norway, Germany and the U.K. studied tissue samples from 121 narwhals, mostly collected between 1982 and 2012. Some were killed by Inuit hunters in Greenland and Canada. Other samples came from archaeological remains from digs in Russia and northern Europe. Researchers were even able to collect tiny samples from a throne chair featuring narwhal tusks in Denmark. “They had special access to be able to drill little tiny bits of tusk from that throne,” said Steven Ferguson, an Arctic marine mammal research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and one of the study’s authors. These samples helped them learn more about narwhal DNA. Through a combination of DNA information and habitat modeling, the researchers investigated the impact of previous climate shifts on narwhal distribution and estimated what the future might hold for these creatures. Scientists confirmed that the world has three narwhal populations. Most live in two different groups off Canada’s northeastern coasts. The third population of about 10,000 lives off Greenland’s east coast, extending as far as Russia. The researchers were surprised to find that narwhals show the lowest genetic diversity in any marine mammal studied. They weren’t sure why this is. As sea ice melts because of global warming , the narwhals’ habitats will shrink, and the animals will probably move northward. But as they are crowded into a smaller habitat, they’ll become more vulnerable to human encroachment, competition for food, new diseases and orca predation. Unlike other polar mammals, narwhals are only found in very limited locales. “They really seem to have this Atlantic Ocean habitat,” Ferguson said. “So there’s an open question as to what might happen as we continue to lose sea ice.” + Royal Society Publishing Via Forbes and The Narwhal

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Climate change could lead to dramatic decline in narwhals

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