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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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

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

Trump official delays protection of endangered species at oil lobbyist’s request

April 20, 2018 by  
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A top United States Department of the Interior official appears to have used his position to delay the protection of an endangered species at the request of the oil industry. As reported by the Guardian based on acquired documents, Interior official Vincent deVito acquiesced to a 2017 e-mail from the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) asking that the Texas hornshell mussel not be placed under protection for six months in the interest of continued, uninhibited oil industry activity. While the mussel was eventually placed on the endangered species list in 2018, former Interior officials and government watchdogs have expressed concerns over the ethics and legality of deVito’s actions. Of particular concern is the Trump Administration’s seeming disregard to science in favor of political decision making. “Listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act are meant to be entirely science-based decisions that result from – in some cases – years of review by experts in the field, not political appointees,” former Interior associate deputy secretary Elizabeth Klein told The Guardian . “A delay in and of itself might not be the end of the world – but then again it very well could be for an imperiled species.” In response to criticism, Interior press secretary Heather Swift said in a statement that deVito “maintains that he simply responded with an acknowledgment of receipt on the mussel email and maintains he had no role whatsoever in the listing.” Related: New evidence shows oil and coal were central in the decision to reduce Bears Ears There’s a portfolio of instances where DeVito used his official capacity in ways that would appear to be favorable to the fossil fuel industry. For example, DeVito described his close consultation of industry lobbyists before proposing a reduction of royalty rates on offshore oil and gas from 18.75% to 12.5% – a recommendation that was ultimately rejected by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. DeVito was also influential in approving a coal project near the habitat of the endangered Big Sandy crayfish in West Virginia . “It a scientific integrity violation for a political appointee to essentially leapfrog the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process when you have an Endangered Species Act listing involved,” former career Interior scientist Joel Clement told The Guardian . Via The Guardian Images via New Mexico State Land Office and YouTube

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Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

April 20, 2018 by  
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Bottlenose dolphins typically reside in tropical or warm-temperate waters around the world — but researchers recently glimpsed a group of around 200 of the dolphins and around 70 false killer whales off northern Vancouver Island’s west coast in Canada. They said this sighting is “the only occurrence of common bottlenose dolphins recorded in Canadian Pacific waters” — and a warming trend could be to blame. In July 2017, Halpin Wildlife Research , working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Department of Environment and Climate Change , documented the dolphins and whales. In research published this month in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records , the three researchers involved said the sighting “is the most northerly record” for common bottlenose dolphins “in the eastern North Pacific .” Related: A beluga whale living with dolphins learned to “speak their language” Lead author Luke Halpin said in a statement , “The sighting is also the first offshore report of false killer whales in British Columbia. To see the two species traveling together and interacting was quite special and rare. It is known that common bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales seek each other out and interact, but the purpose of the interactions is unclear.” Warming in eastern North Pacific waters between 2013 and 2016 could be the reason for the presence of the dolphins and whales. Halpin said he’s documented warm-water species in British Columbia waters since 2014, including a loggerhead turtle and a swordfish . He said, “With marine waters increasingly warming up, we can expect to see more typically warm-water species in the northeastern Pacific.” + BioMed Central + Marine Biodiversity Records Images via Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith on Flickr and the National Park Service

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Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

This turtle with a green mohawk is one of the most endangered reptiles in the world

April 12, 2018 by  
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It’s not every day you see a turtle with a mohawk – even if that mohawk is made up of algae and not hair. The Mary River turtle is eye-catching for this stylish feature, and it is also known as a butt-breather, or a reptile that can breathe through its genitals. But this unique animal is now ranked 29 out of 100 on the Zoological Society of London ‘s EDGE of Existence Program , a list of vulnerable reptiles . According to an article from herpetologist Rikki Gumbs, the Mary River turtle can breathe through organs in its cloaca — an ability that allows the turtle to remain underwater for as long as 72 hours. Gumbs is also a lead author on a recently published PLOS One study that, according to The Guardian , highlights that reptiles such as the Mary River turtle are in trouble. According to Gumbs, “Intense historical collection for the pet trade, combined with habitat disturbance in its tiny range, mean this species is threatened with extinction .” We launched our #EDGEreptiles list yesterday, and the #punkturtle Elusor macrurus has stolen the show with its algae mohawk and unique ability to breathe through its genitals! Read more about the Mary river turtle here: https://t.co/CLfd355DQT pic.twitter.com/TYhZPyWveT — EDGE of Existence (@EDGEofExistence) April 12, 2018 Related: Turtle hatchlings spotted on Mumbai beach for the first time in nearly 20 years The freshwater turtle lives in Queensland , Australia in — as you might have guessed — the Mary River.  EDGE  explained yet another reason why the turtle is so distinct: “The only species in its genus, the Mary River turtle diverged from all other living species around 40 million years ago. In comparison, we split from our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, less than 10 million years ago.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature  also lists the Mary River turtle as endangered on its Red List. EDGE said it takes a long time for the reptiles to reach sexual maturity; they don’t breed before age 25. Dam construction is one key factor in their decline. The organization said conservation programs are now in place to protect the species. Other striking turtles that made the top 10 list include the Cantor’s giant softshell, which is among the largest freshwater turtles in the world; the pig-nosed turtle, whose nose says it all; and the Roti Island snake-necked turtle, “one of the 15 most endangered turtles worldwide.” + Top 100 EDGE Reptiles + Top 10 Most Amazing EDGE Reptiles + Mary River turtle + PLOS One Via The Guardian Image courtesy of Chris Van Wyk/Zoological Society of London

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This turtle with a green mohawk is one of the most endangered reptiles in the world

Wild tigers are returning to Kazakhstan after 70-year absence

September 8, 2017 by  
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70 years after the iconic big cats went extinct in the country, wild tigers are being reintroduced to Kazakhstan. In the past, tiger reintroduction projects in other locations, such as nature reserves in India , have been implemented in areas where tigers still live – albeit in severely diminished populations. It will be several years before the WWF-supported project is ready on the ground, as the landscape is modified and prey animals are also reintroduced. The first wild tigers are expected to arrive in 2025. If this project proves successful, it would stand as the first instance in which wild tigers have been revitalized in a region from which they had gone extinct for nearly a century. Although tigers once inhabited a vast area that included most of Asia, they have lost 90 percent of their historic range and have become isolated in scattered populations throughout the continent. Between 1900 and 2017, the global wild tiger population fell from 100,000 to 3,900. In Kazakhstan , poaching and encroaching human development have impacted both tigers and their native prey, such as the  kulkan , or wild donkey, and bactrian deer. Reintroducing these animals is only one part of the process. “[Preparing for the tiger reintroduction] means tackling poaching and illegal activities, having well-trained and equipped rangers, thriving prey populations and engaged local communities,” said Ekaterina Vorobyeva, the director of WWF-Russia’s Central Asia program. Related: China approves massive new park for endangered leopards and tigers The tiger reintroduction project, which is set to operate in the Ili-Balhash region, is also an exercise in international cooperation. “Thanks to years of close collaboration between Kazakhstan and Russian conservation experts, we have now identified the best possible territory in Ili-Balkhash for the restoration of a thriving wild tiger population,” said Igor Chestin, the director of WWF-Russia. “Our continued cooperation will be key in the successful creation of a new reserve, the restoration of rare native species and, in a few years’ time, achieving an unprecedented trans-boundary relocation of wild tigers to central Asia .” Via The Guardian Lead image via Depositphotos , others via Dmitry Teslya , Neil Turner , and  Torekhan Sarmanov

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Greenpeace releases first images of newly-discovered Amazon reef

February 6, 2017 by  
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  Feast your eyes on some of the first images ever made of a unique coral reef near Brazil that turned a lot of heads in the scientific community –  due to its diversity of new species – when it was first discovered in 2016. Sadly, these photos may be some of the last, as oil drilling nearby may damage the reef if it goes ahead. According to The Guardian , the first images of the reef were recently released by Greenpeace, after being taken off the coast of Brazil at a depth of 220 meters by the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. Discovered in in 2016, these are the first images of the 600 mile-long reef that scientists expect will reveal various new species as it is explored further. Spanning the mouth of the Amazon river , from French Guiana to Maranhao State in Brazil, scientists have already found more than 60 species of fish, spiny lobsters and stars in the reef. “This reef system is important for many reasons, including the fact that it has unique characteristics regarding use and availability of light,” Nils Asp, a researcher at the Federal University of Pará in Belém, Brazil, told The Guardian . “It has a huge potential for new species, and it is also important for the economic well-being of fishing communities along the Amazonian coastal zone.” But oil exploration is happening in the area and companies, including Total, BP and Petrobras could start drilling at any point, if they get permission from the Brazilian government. Greenpeace, unsurprisingly, is opposed to the drilling and plans to protect the reef. Related: Ancient city constructed on a coral reef remains the only one of its kind “We must defend the reef and the entire region at the mouth of the Amazon river basin from the corporate greed that puts profits ahead of the environment,” Greenpeace campaigner, Thiago Almeida told The Guardian . Via The Guardian Images via Greenpeace  

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Artists build treehouse ‘Visitor Center’ at Mexican border

February 6, 2017 by  
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Putting a sardonic, yet poignant twist to typical welcoming centers seen in national parks, Japanese artist collective, Chim?Pom has created a “U.S.A Visitor’s Center” on the Tijuana border. The treehouse shack is perched high in a tree overlooking the border wall that separates Tijuana from San Diego, California. The “Visitors Center” is a rickety wooden structure that sits precariously among the feeble tree limbs located on a family home in Colonia Libertad area. The desolate Mexican neighborhood has seen countless amounts of Mexican migrants pass through on their way to cross the border. The artist collective, (formed in Tokyo in 2005) met the owners, whose self-built house sits adjacent to the treehouse, while visiting Mexico last year. Related: Apartments made out of re-used materials pop-up in protest of the housing crisis in Munich The Japanese team installed the protest art installation last July as a metaphor of the “unreachable USA”. One of the artists in the collective, Ellie, was previously denied entry into the country when working with a Japanese TV crew. In an interview with Hyperallergic, Chim?Pom explained the inspiration behind the project, “National parks like the Grand Canyon have visitor centers to learn about places that you cannot enter. In Tijuana, there are many people who cannot enter the US. So for people like them and Ellie, this is a USA Visitor Center to think about what America is.” In clear view of the treehouse, the artists also placed a white cross on the American side of the border. With a little help from the community, Chim?Pom scaled the border wall to place the cross there as a symbolic gesture to liberty. Next to the cross, the artists dug a circular hole paying tribute to a previous installation. Both of the installations, “Libertad” and “The Ground” represent a place of “in-betweenness and uncertainty”, a state many immigrants can relate to these days under Donald Trump’s immigration ban . Both of the US-based installations will most likely be removed soon by authorities, but the Visitor’s Center is on private land, hopefully ensuring a little longevity. “Since it’s a center to view ‘Libertad’ and ‘The Grounds,’ it’s essentially like an art gallery, but once those two works are removed it won’t have that function,” Chim?Pom said. “But you’ll still be able to look over the US, and if a new wall is built, you would be able to see the construction.” + Chim?Pom Via Hyperallergic Photography via Chim?Pom and MUJIN-TO Production. Lead photo by Osamu Matsuda.

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Artists build treehouse ‘Visitor Center’ at Mexican border

Florida Republican introduces bill that would abolish the EPA

February 6, 2017 by  
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Republicans really have it out for the government agency tasked with protecting the United States’ natural resources. Late last week Florida representative Matt Gaetz – along with Republican pals from Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia – introduced HR 861 , a bill designed to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Republicans apparently view Donald Trump’s presidency as a grand opportunity to scrap the EPA . HR 861’s full text isn’t available online yet, but the Courier-Journal reports it would enable states to take over environmental regulations and oversight from the federal government. It’s unclear how this transition would occur. Related: Myron Ebell says Trump plans to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency Experts lambasted the extreme bill, saying it would incite chaos. In theory it may sound nice for states to control environmental protection , but University of Florida law professor Mary Jane Angelo noted the amount of money available to states varies wildly across America. Some citizens’ health would therefore be better protected than others, depending on a state’s wealth. She said the EPA already works with states and local governments on many environmental issues through cooperative federalism. States are also granted some flexibility on how to execute a law in ways that make sense for them. If the EPA disappeared, “decisions would have to be made on hundreds of programs.” The bill has been skewered as a flashy move that ultimately wouldn’t help constituents, absurd especially from a representative whose state faces the consequences of sea level rise maybe even in the next 10 years. Portions of southern Florida, such as Miami, could be underwater by 2025, according to some predictions . Another law professor at the university, Alyson Flournoy, said the bill “seems to be part of a wave from elected officials designed to capture headlines but not do good government.” She said, “We don’t need less government or more government. We need good government.” Via Gizmodo and the Courier-Journal Images via Tim Evanson on Flickr and USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency on Flickr

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