“You were willing to coexist, but people were not,” wrote the North Shore Black Bear Society about the bear
A wild black bear was killed after becoming accustomed to humans in Canada.
Last Wednesday, the North Shore Black Bear Society reported on Facebook that a bear they’ve encountered on several occasions this summer — whom they affectionately named Huckleberry — was tranquilized and put down by local conservation officers for being too comfortable around humans.
The North Vancouver, British Columbia-based organization wrote that the bear had been lured and allowed to eat food left out by local residents, who wanted to capture the animal on camera.
“On July 31st you were eating berries at the edge of the forest. We headed out to make sure you were not being crowded or chased by dogs. By the time we reached you, you were being followed by residents who wanted a video of you eating organics from an unlocked cart,” read the post. “Due to the crowd of people, it wasn’t safe for us to move you on. When you finished eating, you calmly walked by and left our gaze. That was the last time we saw you.”
“Later that day you were tranquilized by the Conservation Officers and taken away to be killed,” they continued. “You were willing to coexist, but people were not.”
NSBBS added that Huckleberry “showed us every time we met that you were a good-natured bear, we are deeply sorry that we couldn’t save you.” The team added, “We’ll always have a place in our hearts for you, sweet boy.”
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NSBBS representatives recalled on Facebook that they first encountered Huckleberry on July 2. During this initial meeting, Huckleberry was quick to get out of the way of humans. Their next interaction would lead to the story behind the bear’s name.
“The next time we met, you were at the roadside eating berries. As we walked you back to the forest, you stood and sniffed a garbage can,” NSBBS shared. “We used a firm tone and told you to leave — you listened. As you walked away, you left a bright pink scat full of huckleberries! We were so proud of you for eating natural foods, despite all the tempting treats residents had left available to you. From that moment, we named you Huckleberry!”
NSBBS remembered that Huckleberry would “roll” his tongue out at them to “smell the air as we walked together back to the forest” — a behavior NSBBS said showed that the bear recognized them.
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NSBBS said nearby residents admitted to allowing the “easy-going, calm bear” to pick through their garbage so they could photograph him.
“Reports started coming in of you finding easy rewards from garbage and organics carts. People admitted they allowed you to do that for a video and they neglected to move you on … a death sentence,” they wrote. “If only people had used a firm voice with you, you would have listened. Or respected you enough to not have any garbage or food scraps accessible in the first place. We did you a disservice, Huckleberry.”
By Chris Comer, Ph.D., SCIF Director of Conservation
Many readers may have seen in the news reports that the Botswana Democratic Party and President Mokgweetsi Masisi were declared the winners of general elections in Botswana recently. Some may have even clicked through and read the story but most probably do not realize the significance of this event for sustainable use and community livelihoods in southern Africa.
Prior to 2014, Botswana was among the premier destinations in Africa for both photographic and hunting safaris with healthy populations of elephants, lions, Cape buffalo, and many species of plains game. In fact, Botswana currently hosts the largest elephant population in the world with over 130,000 elephants (about 30% of the continental elephant population) according to a 2016 IUCN report. They also had a well-developed system of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) that allowed local communities and rural Batswana to benefit from their abundant wildlife resources. However, in 2013 then-president Ian Khama placed a moratorium on all hunting on state land, including by Batswana. Hunting on private game ranches continued because land tenure is privately owned. Like any such policy, the reasons for and politics surrounding the ban were complex; however, the impacts of the ban on Botswana’s wildlife, habitats, and people are quite clear (Effects of the Safari Hunting Tourism Ban on Rural Livelihoods and Wildlife Conservation in Northern Botswana, Joseph E. Mbaiwa). While the phototourism industry in the country has grown in key photographic areas (e.g., the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site), these benefits have not reached many rural communities, who live in marginal areas where photographic tourism is either very low, or not commercially viable. Elevated conflicts with wildlife—especially elephants, lions, and leopards—have profoundly affected those people. Damage to crops and property is widespread and recent years have seen increases in livestock and even human loss of life. The recently completed documentary Voices from the Frontline details many of these issues. Not surprisingly, with no income available from wildlife and few legal means to prevent damage to their livelihoods, illegal and retaliatory killing of wildlife is on the rise. SCIF conservation staff were fortunate enough to attend a meeting of community leaders in Gaborone in August and hear these concerns first-hand.
President Masisi became president in April 2018 and in May 2019 announced the intention of his government to lift the moratorium on hunting on state land for elephant and buffalo in the country. Predictably, this elicited condemnation from animal rights groups that urged the president to prioritize Western values over the needs of his country and his people. These included calls for boycotts of the lucrative phototourism industry in Botswana, potentially putting further pressure on livelihoods in rural areas. In addition to lifting the hunting ban, efforts are underway to reestablish the CBNRM system and allow rural communities to benefit from their natural resources. So far, the president has resisted pressure to maintain the hunting ban but his presidency was not certain until the results of the October general election. With the recently announced results, His Excellency President Masisi will be in office for at least five years, giving him the mandate to continue working to benefit Botswana and rural communities through sustainable use of their wildlife. Safari Club International and SCI Foundation have met with President Masisi and the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism to express our support for Botswana in these efforts. We will welcome a delegation from Botswana that includes Ministry representatives, the Botswana Wildlife Management Association, and CBRNM organizations to our upcoming African Wildlife Consultative Forum in November. Of course, the hunter-conservationists of SCI benefit from increased international hunting opportunities that come with the lifting of the hunting moratorium. More importantly, the people of Botswana will have a means to manage their wildlife and fully benefit from their abundant natural resources. Finally, conservation will benefit from sustainable use in Botswana like it does in the other countries of southern and eastern Africa.
Boasting some of the richest biodiversity in the world, Australia is estimated to be home to as many as 300,000 different species of animals. In such company, it takes a truly iconic animal to fill the role of Australia’s national animal — and the kangaroo certainly lives up to the task. Immediately recognizable are their long, powerful legs, allowing them to travel over six feet per leap, and the pouch they sport on their belly for carrying their young. But even their emblem status does not keep them safe from the whims of humans. Kangaroo skin, strong but light, has long been sought after for things like football (or soccer in the U.S.) cleats, baseball mitts, and many types of gloves. California, a U.S. state known for leading the way in animal welfare policy, was ahead of its time when it banned the sale of products made from kangaroo skin all the way back in 1971. But in 2020, an investigation discovered that some huge brands thought they were above the law. Nike and Puma have both been selling kangaroo leather products in California despite the ban!
Sign the petition today if you want Nike and Puma to do the right thing and abide by California law! Tell them to stop selling kangaroo leather products in the state, and commit to phasing out the use of kangaroo leather company-wide!
These kangaroos are ripped from the wild, stolen from their families and lush homes. The Australian government dictates that kangaroo hunting must be done with a firearm, which is cruel enough — but when it comes to the most vulnerable, like babies or adult kangaroos that are already wounded, the cruelty is amplified. These poor animals have their heads severed from their bodies, or they are painfully bludgeoned to death. The officially stated reason for this heinous method is to “destroy the brain,” and apparently any semblance of humanity. California’s law is an indirect attempt to curb this brutality. Companies like Nike and Puma disregarding said law puts pain and profit above compassion and animal welfare.
Ideally, kangaroo leather would be totally banned worldwide. With advanced technology and a wide variety of synthetic materials at our disposal, using the skin from innocent animals for our luxury sport equipment is simply outdated and cruel. But passing laws that keep these products off the shelves is the right step towards making them obsolete, and Californai did that! But statewide laws can be difficult to enforce when these companies sell to states and nations all over the world. That means that it is Nike and Puma’s responsibility to do the right thing and abide by the law! They have the time, money, and resources to do so — any noncompliance is a result of negligence, apathy, and a gross misuse of power.
If we speak out enough, we can really get Nike and Puma where it matters most — in their profits. Let’s make sure that they know we are watching, and until they decide to put animal welfare first, we won’t rest! Sign the petition and demand that Nike and Puma comply with California law, halting the sale of products made with kangaroo skin in the state, and then take it one step further by phasing out all kangaroo leather products!
NEW YORK – “Like the clear crisp notes of the Wood Thrush, today’s court decision cuts through all the noise and confusion to unequivocally uphold the most effective bird conservation law on the books–the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Sarah Greenberger, Interim Chief Conservation Officer for the National Audubon Society. “This is a huge victory for birds and it comes at a critical time – science tells us that we’ve lost 3 billion birds in less than a human lifetime and that two-thirds of North American birds are at risk of extinction due to climate change.”
United States District Court Judge Valerie Caproni ruled today that the legal opinion which serves as the basis for the Trump administration rollback of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not align with the intent and language of the 100-year-old law. In her ruling, Judge Caproni found that the policy “runs counter to the purpose of the MBTA to protect migratory bird populations” and is “contrary to the plain meaning of the MBTA”.
Today’s decision comes as a result of a series of lawsuits brought in 2018 by Audubon, several other conservation groups, and eight states.
“With today’s court decision, the administration should abandon the regulatory process it started to make this illegal bird-killing policy permanent,” said Greenberger. “With the legal basis for its actions over the past year defeated the administration should expect more defeats in court if they try to lock-in their attempt to roll back the MBTA.”
The administration is nearing the end of a regulatory process to make the legal opinion ruled on today permanent in the form of regulation. The changes overturn decades of bipartisan precedent to say that the MBTA’s protections apply only to activities that purposefully kill birds, exempting all industrial hazards from enforcement. Any “incidental” death—no matter how inevitable, avoidable or devastating to birds—becomes immune from enforcement under the law.
Judge Caproni’s response to this opinion is clear: “There is nothing in the text of the MBTA that suggests that in order to fall within its prohibition, activity must be directed specifically at birds. Nor does the statute prohibit only intentionally killing migratory birds. And it certainly does not say that only “some” kills are prohibited.”
“For decades this law has been a proven incentive to remind companies to do the right thing for wildlife,” added Greenberger.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a common-sense law that requires companies to do things like cover oil waste pits, which birds mistake for bodies of water, and implement best practices for power lines to reduce bird electrocutions and collisions, among other actions. If the administration’s legal opinion had been in place in 2010, BP would have faced no consequences under the MBTA for the more than one million birds killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
This reality is underscored by Judge Caproni’s own words from the opening of today’s ruling: “It is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime. That has been the letter of the law for the past century. But if the Department of the Interior has its way, many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence.”
Facts and figures on industrial causes of bird mortality in the United States:
About Audubon The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive.Learn more at www.audubon.organd on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.
Today is #WorldLionDay 🦁. Farming lions is big business. Cubs are bred for tourists to pet & adults are sold for canned hunts. The cubs on this South African farm are suffering from a neurological disorder & are unable to walk. Animal farms only care about 💰💰💰.#AnimalLeakspic.twitter.com/OpMf1X2cii
MR PRESIDENT: SHUT DOWN YOUR BIG CAT FACTORY FARMS!
In 2019, the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting exposed how a South African company was breeding TIGER cubs… and then selling sick tiger trophy hunts.
We also revealed that there are now a staggering 300 factory farms in South Africa breeding LIONS in cages – for trophy hunters to kill for “fun”.
The animals are shot in fenced enclosures where they have NO CHANCE of escape. Their bones are often sold onto Asian dealers for so-called traditional Chinese ‘medicines’.
In our latest investigation, we reveal how over 17,000 tigers and tiger body parts have been traded or seized over the past 5 years. Over 80% were destined for the traditional Chinese ‘medicine’ market.
The figure includes a number of tigers that were shot in South Africa by trophy hunters …
We can also reveal that South Africa now breeds LEOPARDS – so they can be shot by trophy hunters for fun, and their skins sold to traders.
Leading conservationists and politicians from around the world are backing the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting’s call to BAN this sick trade.
Now we are launching this mass petition to the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa. The South African government has just announced it is appointing a high-level ‘panel of experts’ to review its policies on breeding wild animals for trophy hunters to kill for kicks, and the terrible trade in lion bones and leopard skins.
We say: It’s time to BAN this wicked trade and CLOSE these sick Big Cat ‘Factory Farms’ NOW!
Please sign and share this petition – and help save endangered big cats TODAY!
To: Cyril Ramaphosa, President – South Africa From: [Your Name]
I call on you to CLOSE South Africa’s Big Cat Factory Farms.
Breeding lion and tiger cubs to be cuddled for cash and killed for kicks is IMMORAL. It is a stain on South Africa’s standing in the world.
It is time to end the big cat bone trade and to ban trophy hunting altogether.
Please act TODAY – for the good of wildlife, and for the good of South Africa’s reputation.
For far too long the federal government has used our hard-earned tax dollars to slaughter native wildlife on public lands. Tell your representative and senators this all-out war on wildlife and public safety must stop today. Download our advocacy kit to learn more ways you can join us to end the war on wildlife.
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A white-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) singing in Manitoba, Canada, where a new distinctive call has replaced an old one.Photograph by Glenn Bartley, Minden Pictures
Most birds have distinct calls that tend to stay the same. It’s how birders can recognize a species without seeing it. But new research shows these tunes can change.
Over the course of two decades, white-throated sparrows across western and central Canada have changed one of their songs, replacing a three-note call with a two-note one. The new tune started in British Columbia and spread east—now, most of Canada’s birds are singing it. And it’s still spreading in Quebec, more than 2,000 miles from where it originated.
Although some bird calls undergo slow evolutions, this rapid shift in a bird’s song has never been observed before, says Ken Otter, lead author of the study, published July 2 in the journal Current Biology.
“There is nothing that we know of that’s spread like this,” Otter says.
As the song sweeps west to east, ornithologists wonder what makes the song so catchy—and if the trend will continue. The finding was made possible by crowd-sourced birdsong recordings, which are uncovering patterns that may have previously gone unnoticed.
A song is born
Birdsongs are not just pleasant to listen to, they’re also rich with information, such as the health and fitness of the speaker. Like other birds, male sparrows sing to establish territory and to entice females. It’s only the males that sing certain tunes, and they learn them during a critical window early in their development.
Otter, who studies bird behavior and communication at the University of Northern British Columbia, first noticed that something was up with sparrow calls in the late 1990s. He was doing fieldwork in British Columbia, just west of the Rocky Mountains, with a colleague who usually studies eastern populations of the species.
“We were walking around… and he suddenly said, ‘Your sparrows sound weird.’” Otter hadn’t noticed it before but agreed—they did sound different.
“White-throated sparrows have this classic song that’s supposed to sound like it goes, ‘Oh, my sweet Canada, Canada, Canada,’” he explains. “And our birds sound like they’re going, ‘Oh, my sweet Cana– Cana– Cana– Canada.’”
The new song trend emerged by the 1990s in northern British Columbia, where Otter and his colleague first heard the “weird” call. From there, it crept east, moving across Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
In 2004, about half the sparrows in Alberta were singing the new doublet ending, but by 2014, every sparrow in the area had made the shift. By 2015, every sparrow west of central Ontario was singing the doublet ending. It didn’t stop there. In western Quebec, nearly 2,000 miles from where the song began, it’s still spreading.
Knowing that bird songs must be learned from others, Otter and his colleges suspected that eastern and western sparrows may be crossing paths.
In 2013 and 2016, they strapped geolocators to 50 male sparrows breeding in Prince George, British Columbia, to track their seasonal migration path and areas where they winter.
Otter says he expected the western sparrow populations to travel directly south to their overwintering areas in California. Instead, the birds crossed the Rocky Mountains, meeting up with eastern populations in the southern Great Plains of the United States, in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas. This convergence of western and eastern sparrows may act as a tutoring ground for young males, which could learn the new song before returning to their respective breeding ranges.
Using two decades of citizen-recorded data, including more than 1,785 recordings, Otter and his team were able to map the song’s spread. Charting the new song in blue and the old song in red, Otter’s maps show a cascade of blue dots crashing east from 2000 to 2019. Only a thin ribbon of red dots—birds singing the old song—still clings to the eastern edge of the country.
“It’s cool to realize that this sort of happenstance pattern of migration allowed [some sparrows] to then hear birds singing the other form of song”—and then spread—“like a viral contagion,” says Jeffrey Podos, who studies birdsong at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was not involved in the study.
Podos isn’t surprised the birds are learning from each other, but he admits that the pace at which the new song spread is “somewhat surprising.”
“It’s like a blue wave,” he says.
New variations of songs crop up constantly, but the vast majority of these aren’t picked up by other birds.
“For some reason, some birds just went deviant,” says Podos, describing the advent of the new doublet-ending song. “You figure it would have just died on the vine, but somehow other birds must have found it interesting.”
Otter and his team didn’t find that birds singing new doublet-ending songs were better at wooing mates or defending territories, so it doesn’t appear to be advantageous or deleterious. This just adds to the mystery of the song’s virality.
“The only thing that we can think of is that the females might have a preference for something that’s slightly novel,” Otter says.
It’s possible that sweeping evolutions in songs like this have happened before but went undetected. Otter’s work relied on recordings from eBird and Xeno-Canto, databases which contain birdsongs recorded and uploaded by people around the world.
Bob Planqué, a cofounder of Xeno-Canto and mathematics professor at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, says this crowd-sourced information is “a tremendous boon to academia.” One reason this model lends itself so well to studying birds, says Planqué, is that recording songs is easy and accessible. Planqué says hundreds of papers a year rely on Xeno-Canto data, which includes over half a million recordings.
Crowd-sourced science is “like having thousands of research assistants spread out across the continent,” Otter says. “It’s allowing researchers to tap into a totally different avenue of research [and] to look at this on a very big scale that was never there before.”
In the last three weeks, at least four bears were hit by cars in Yosemite, at least two of which were killed. The two bears that survived were hit by drivers going faster than the 25 mph speed limit and were seriously injured and limping. We will never know the severity of their injuries. It is important to remember that while traveling in the park, the posted speed limits are not only there to protect people, but to also protect wildlife in areas where animals cross roads. Following posted speed limits may save the life of a great gray owl as it flies across the road, or a Pacific fisher as it runs across the road, both of which are endangered species. This easy action—slowing down—may also prevent you from hitting a bear eating berries on the side of the road, or a deer crossing with its fawn. While traveling through Yosemite, try to remember that we are all visitors in the home of countless animals, and it is up to you to follow the rules that are put in place to protect them.
Have you ever noticed the signs by the side of the road that say, “Speeding Kills Bears” with the image of a red bear on them? These signs mark the locations of bears where they have been hit by a vehicle this year, or where bears have been frequently hit in previous years. We take these signs down each winter and put them up as the accidents occur, hopefully as a reminder to visitors to slow down and keep a lookout for wildlife. If you do hit an animal while in Yosemite and need immediate ranger response, you can report it to the park’s emergency communication center at 209/379-1992, or by leaving a message on the Save-A-Bear Hotline at 209/372-0322 if you believe that the animal is uninjured. You may also use the Save-A-Bear Hotline number to report non-urgent bear observations.
The House added a number of environmental measures to the budget Friday, voting to block the Trump administration from drilling in the arctic or rejecting grants for projects and studies tied to climate change.
Lawmakers voted on a series of amendments to the budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Interior on Thursday and Friday, seeking to block funding from being used to implement a number of Trump administration rollbacks.
The language includes measures to block a new policy allowing hunting tactics that make it easier to kill bear cubs and wolf pups in Alaska.
Another measure would block the administration from implementing its changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock environmental law that green groups have said President Trump is gutting. Trump rolled back the law last week, calling the act, which requires a thorough environmental review of major projects, the “single biggest obstacle” to construction.
The legislation passed by Democrats also blocks drilling in both the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA).
The Trump administration has sought to open more than 80 percent of the NPRA to drilling, while the wildlife refuge was opened for drilling through the 2017 tax cut legislation.
House Democrats have repeatedly worked to block drilling in the ANWR, passing legislation in September that was never taken up by the Senate.
The legislation includes other measures with a more bipartisan agenda, including an increase in funding to replace lead pipes and language to ensure the EPA will continue with its plans to regulate cancer-linked PFAS chemicals in drinking water.
Lawmakers also voted down a Republican effort to allow importation of elephant or lion hunting trophies taken in Tanzania, Zimbabwe or Zambia.
Consider the following six examples of why the trophy hunting of free-roaming lions is NOT sustainable – from the very countries held high by the trophy hunting industry itself as being paragons of sustainable hunting practices:
1. The Namibian government does not know how many breeding-age desert-adapted lions are left, how many territory/pride males there are, or even how many of each sex are killed during human-lion conflict. They told me so – see this article written by me. And yet each year they set trophy hunting quotas for large male desert-adapted lions. The awarding of trophy hunting quotas off the back of no relevant statistics is NOT sustainable.
2. Namibian laws permit rural livestock owners to request for the lethal removal of predators targeting their livestock – so-called ‘problem animals’. Fair enough. BUT trophy hunters are often used to perform the execution, and we know that trophy hunters want to shoot big male lions. And communities benefit financially when ‘problem animals’ are identified and taken down by hunters. Is it coincidence then that there is a large bias towards male lions amongst those lions reported as being ‘problem animals’, and consequently executed by trophy hunters?
In the last scientific research report on Namibia’s desert-adapted lions, published in 2010, the author states, when referring to six collared male lions killed by trophy hunters as ‘problem animals’: “In all six cases, however, it is arguable whether the adult males that were shot, were in fact the lions responsible for the killing of livestock.”
This gap in legislation – empowering the two beneficiaries of ‘problem animal’ execution to act as witness, jury, judge and executioner – is NOT sustainable.
3. The above report concluded: “The long-term viability of the desert lion population has been compromised by the excessive killing of adult and sub-adult males. There is an urgent need to adapt the management and utilisation strategies relating to lions, if the long-term conservation of the species in the Kunene were to be secured.”
Since then the situation has worsened as regards male lion offtake, with some areas now almost devoid of male lions. Even the last known adult male lion in the Sesfontein Conservancy was earmarked to be shot – again conveniently classified as a ‘problem animal’ – until international pressure forced the Minister to change his mind. A rapidly reducing male/female lion ratio is NOT sustainable.
4. Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota, has led a series of studies identifying over-hunting as the major reason for the steep decline in lion populations in Tanzania, the lion hunting mecca. Packer was banned from entering Tanzania for exposing corruption with regard to lion trophy hunting.
Being tagged as the cause of crashing lion populations makes trophy hunting of lions in Tanzania NOT sustainable, and the widespread use of fraud and corruption as a business tool suggests a morally bankrupt industry.
5. When 13-year-old Cecil the lion was shot in Zimbabwe, the over-riding justification was that he was ‘too old’ to breed or to successfully hold a territory (as if those are the only uses of a mature lion). Then, Cecil’s son, Xanda, was also shot by a hunter, at the age of six – and the professional hunter Richard Cooke knew that Xanda was a pride male with cubs, and lied about the situation. In fact, Cooke also led the hunt that killed Xanda’s other son – at the age of four.
So, lions of all ages are being shot, and the trophy hunting industry lies and re-invents the justifications each time to suit their need to keep the business model rolling. That is NOT sustainable.
6. Rural communities living amongst wild lions have to see meaningful and sustainable benefit from having lions in the area. Lions are often a threat to lives and livelihoods and these people have the right to expect to be compensated to behave differently. After all, the rest of the world has mostly sanitised itself of large predators.
Surely for trophy hunting to be truly sustainable, these communities must receive a significant portion of the trophy fee? A 2013 study by Economists at Large, an Australian organisation of conservation-minded economists, found that on average only 3% of money generated by trophy hunting winds up in the hands of local people.
During research for my article referred to in point one above, Namibian government officials told me that the relevant community only receives about 12.5% of the trophy hunting fee for a quota lion (US$10,000 of the ± US$80,000 fee) – and only about 1% in the case of a ‘problem animal’ hunt. The rest goes to the professional hunting operator. This is NOT fair or sustainable.
This is what we do know about lions: Populations have crashed from about 450,000 in the 1940’s to about 20,000 today – mostly due to human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss, prey base loss and trophy hunting (US Fish and Wildlife Services).
The remaining pockets of lions are increasingly isolated from other populations, and no longer able to disperse and so maintain population genetic diversity and stability. When young males flee from dominant pride males, and seek out other lions, they leave protected areas and are picked off by hunters and livestock farmers – thus preventing the vital dispersal of young lions to other areas.
The surgical removal of big male lions by trophy hunters within the context of the above is NOT sustainable in any way, shape or form – regardless of what the other causes of lion population reductions are. The trophy hunting industry claim of sustainable practises is nothing but a lie. It’s a fiercely protected justification to continue the senseless and outdated fetish for killing off Africa’s big male lions for fun and ego. The fantasies of a few rich people are taking precedence over the survival of an African icon, over the proper functioning of Africa’s wild places and over the tourism industry which brings in many times more revenue, jobs, skills enhancement and societal benefits.
The trophy hunting of Africa’s wild, free roaming lions is NOT sustainable and has to stop.
Long the face of the conservation movement, giant pandas were upgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species In September 2016. The listing change followed a 17% increase in the population in China from 2004 to 2014. There are an estimated 1,800 pandas left in the wild with the numbers increasing.
The improved status shows that the government’s efforts to help conserve the panda have been somewhat effective. But there are still obstacles to overcome, including habitat loss and the impact of the climate crisis on bamboo, the panda’s main food source.
Although the giant panda has experienced a recent increase in some habitat in China, habitat loss continues to be the primary threat facing the species, according to the IUCN. Giant pandas lived in China’s bamboo forests for several million years, but their numbers were decimated as humans cleared acres of habitat for homes and agriculture, roads and mining.
In 1988, the Chinese government banned logging in the panda’s habitat. But new roads and railways are still being built in the area. That not only clears trees, but also fragments the forests, isolating small groups of panda populations.
The panda population has as many as 33 subpopulations, and more than half of those contain fewer than 10 individuals, reports the IUNC. These small groups are often cut off from habitat, food sources, and from other pandas.
Because some of these subpopulations are so small, conservation geneticists are concerned about inbreeding in these groups. It’s often linked with decreased fertility and can impact survival rates.
But bamboo may be quite vulnerable to the climate crisis. Depending on the species, some bamboo only reproduces every 15 to 100 years. Others only thrive at certain temperatures or elevations. Bamboo makes up about 90% of a panda’s diet.
The IUCN says the climate crisis is predicted to eliminate more than one-third of the panda’s bamboo habitat in the next 80 years. As a result, they expect the panda population to decline, “reversing the gains made during the last two decades.”
Poaching was a problem in the past, as the animals were hunted for their fur. But China passed the Wildlife Protection Law, enacted in 1988 and revised in 2016, which banned the breeding, hunting, and selling of hundreds of animals including the giant panda. However, the IUCN points out that pandas are sometimes still accidentally caught in traps set out for other animals.
What We Can Do
A census in the mid-1970s found only 2,459 pandas in China, according to the WWF, which alerted the government to the species’ precarious position. Since then, the panda has been the focus of a high-profile campaign to save the species.
Since that eye-opening report, poaching has been banned, panda nature reserves have been created, and partnerships between the Chinese government and zoos around the world have assisted with breeding and research efforts.
China now has a network of 67 panda reserves, which protect more than 66% of the giant pandas in the wild and nearly 54% of their existing habitat. In partnership with the WWF, the Chinese government has developed bamboo corridors to allow pandas to more easily move to new areas, find more food, and meet more potential mates, which will also help improve genetic diversity.
Although recent population increases show that some success has been achieved, the panda still needs help. The IUCN notes that the Chinese government plans to continue to protect panda habitat and monitor population. “They recognize the challenges the future holds, and in particular will seek to address problems of habitat connectivity and population fragmentation.”
To help giant pandas, you can donate to the WWF to conserve the species and their habitats.
Norwegian Forest cat is a breed of domestic cat originating in northern Europe. This natural breed is adapted to a very cold climate, with a top coat of glossy, long, water shedding hair and a wooly undercoat for insulation.
1 of 20 One-Horned Rhinos take shelter at the higher places at the flood-hit Kaziranga National Park in Nagaonon. A total of 96 animals have died in the Kaziranga National Park in Golaghat district of Assam due to floods, the state government informed. Image Credit: ANI
2 of 20 A a wild elephant and a calf cross a National Highway at the flood affected Kaziranga National Park. “So far, 96 animals have died in the park including eight rhinos, seven wild boars, two swamp deers, 74 hog deer and two porcupines,” park officials said. Image Credit: AFP
3 of 20 A Rhino sits along the roadside as he strayed out of the Kaziranga National Park. A report from the government of Assam stated that a total of 132 animals had been rescued from the Kaziranga National Park. The park is currently 85 per cent submerged under floodwaters. Image Credit: ANI
4 of 20 “Water level at Pasighar and Dibrugarh are below the prescribed danger level. The floodwater in Numaligarh, Dhansirimukh and Tezpur are still above danger level,” the report stated. Above: A forest guard on a boat takes away the carcass of a wild buffalo calf through flood water at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora. Image Credit: AP
5 of 20 A herd of wild elephants takes shelter on highland inside the flooded Burapahar range of Kaziranga National Park. At least 79 people have died and nearly 3.6 million people have been affected in 30 districts of Assam due to floods caused by the monsoon rains and the rise in water levels of the Brahmaputra river, informed the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA). Image Credit: PTI
6 of 20 Water buffaloes stand in flood water at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora, Morigaon district. Image Credit: AP
7 of 20 Tiger in search of safer place at the flood-affected area at Bagmari village near Kaziranga in Nagaon district. Image Credit: ANI
8 of 20 Deers wade through floodwaters in a submerged area of the Kaziranga National Park, in Kanchanjuri. Image Credit: ANI
9 of 20 A one-horned rhinoceros along with her baby stands in floodwater inside Kaziranga National Park, in Golaghat district. Image Credit: PTI
10 of 20 A female rhino calf about 1-year-old, who got separated from mother was rescued from Difaloo pathar, Sukani village by the Staffs of Eastern Range, Agoratoli, Kaziranga National Park. Image Credit: ANI
11 of 20 A wild water buffalo eats tree branches standing in flood water at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora, Morigaon district. Image Credit: AP
12 of 20 A wild elephant moves towards the higher ground after the flood hits Kaziranga National Park, in Nagaon. Image Credit: ANI
13 of 20 Wild deer cross the National Highway-37 in search for safer places at the flood-affected area of Kaziranga National Park, in Nagaon District. Image Credit: ANI
14 of 20 A group of wild elephants cross the road to move towards the higher land, following the flooding in the low-lying areas of Kaziranga National Park, in Nagaon. Image Credit: ANI
15 of 20 A forest employee cuts branches of a tree for rhinoceros as a forest guard keeps vigil near one horned rhinoceros taking shelter from floods on a highland at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora. Image Credit: AP
16 of 20 A forest guard on a boat takes away the carcass of a wild buffalo calf through flood water at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora, Morigaon district. Image Credit: AP
17 of 20 A one horned rhinoceros and a calf wades through flood water at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora. Image Credit: AP
18 of 20 A herd of wild elephants takes shelter on a higher place at flooded Kaziranga National Park, in Nagaon. Image Credit: ANI
19 of 20 Forest guards patrol as one horned rhinoceros take shelter on a highland as flood water rises at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora. Image Credit: AP
20 of 20 WTI official tries to feed a rhino who is taking shelter near NH 37 in the flood-affected area of Kaziranga National park at Kanchanjuri in Nagaon. Image Credit: ANI Remaining Time -50:21
Botswana’s tourism ministry first said that it was investigating the deaths in mid-May, when 12 dead elephants were found over two weekends in the country’s Okavango Delta, Phys.org reported at the time.
By the end of May, 169 elephants had died, and that number had more than doubled by mid-June, The Guardian reported.
“This is totally unprecedented in terms of numbers of elephants dying in a single event unrelated to drought,” McCann told BBC News.
But despite the scale of the deaths, the government has not yet completed testing of the animals to determine the cause, earning the criticism of conservation groups.
“There is real concern regarding the delay in getting the samples to an accredited laboratory for testing in order to identify the problem — and then take measures to mitigate it,” Environmental Investigation Agency Executive Director Mary Rice told The Guardian. “The lack of urgency is of real concern and does not reflect the actions of a responsible custodian. There have been repeated offers of help from private stakeholders to facilitate urgent testing which appear to have fallen on deaf ears … and the increasing numbers are, frankly, shocking.”
The government, meanwhile, attributed the delay to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have sent [samples] off for testing and we are expecting the results over the next couple of weeks or so,” Dr. Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana’s department of wildlife and national parks, told The Guardian. “The Covid-19 restrictions have not helped in the transportation of samples in the region and around the world. We’re now beginning to emerge from that and that is why we are now in a position to send the samples to other laboratories.”
Taolo said the government had confirmed 280 out of 350 reported deaths and is working to confirm the rest.
Local reports indicate that animals of all ages and sexes are dying, with some spotted wandering in circles, a sign of neurological damage. The cause is likely a poison or disease, but experts are not sure which.
More than 100 elephants died in October 2019 in a suspected anthrax outbreak, Phys.org reported, but McCann told BBC News he had tentatively ruled out anthrax as the cause of the most recent deaths. Cyanide poisoning used by poachers is another possibility, but scavengers are not dying after eating the carcasses, The Guardian pointed out.
“It is only elephants that are dying and nothing else,” McCann told BBC News. “If it was cyanide used by poachers, you would expect to see other deaths.”
Botswana hosts the world’s largest elephant population at more than 135,000 animals, about a third of all the elephants in Africa, Phys.org pointed out. The Okavango Delta, meanwhile, is home to 10 percent of Botswana’s total population, or around 15,000 animals. African elephants are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Botswana was considered one of the safest countries for elephants until recently, Science Alert pointed out. But the government made a controversial decision to lift its elephant hunting ban in May of 2019, and poaching is on the rise. An Elephants Without Borders study published in Current Biology last year found that new elephant carcasses in northern Botswana had increased by 593 percent between 2014 and 2018 and that at least 385 elephants had been poached between 2017 and 2018.
Ndugu was a majestic bull who called the Kibwezi Forest home. His name means “brother” in Swahili — and the Keepers dubbed him such, as he had become like a big brother to our Umani Springs herd. The friendship was not immediate. At first, he observed the group from a distance, nothing more than a hulking shadow in the dense undergrowth. As he grew more comfortable in their presence, he moved out into the open glades where they enjoyed the salt licks and mud baths. His appearances caused much excitement among our babies, and eventually they mustered up the courage to walk right up to him.
In the course of their daily adventures, our orphans encounter many wild elephants in the Kibwezi Forest. Many friendships have been forged from these interactions, but Ndugu has a special place in our hearts. He was truly a friend to all of us, with his comforting presence and his gentle demeanor. Ndugu never hassled the Keepers or gave them any cause for alarm; it was as if he understood the pivotal role they play in this unusual herd.
Ndugu was not a perennial visitor. As is typical of bulls, who act as the scouts of elephant society, he would remain in the forest for a few months at a time before journeying on. The Keepers and orphans were delighted whenever he made his regular pilgrimage back to Umani Springs, growing more friendly with each passing year. The feeling was clearly mutual: Ndugu would often accompany the herd back to their stockades and see them off for the night. It wasn’t unusual for him to then remain in the vicinity, sometimes even sleeping outside the compound. When four of our orphans started spending nights away from the stockades and out in the forest, Ndugu frequently served as their chaperone. We can’t imagine how reassuring it must have been for the orphans to have their older friend by their sides.
The Umani Springs herd enjoyed Ndugu’s company throughout April and into May, before he disappeared once more. After an absence of three weeks, our Keepers were shocked to find him standing by the mud bath, clearly in distress. Upon closer inspection, they realised he was suffering from a seriously infected injury. They immediately alerted the SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit, and Dr. Poghon was able to walk right up to him to dart him with anaesthetic. It appeared that he had been wounded during a fight with another bull. His right ear bore a hole the diameter of a tusk, along with a deep puncture between his scapula and another injury on his left shoulder. After cleaning and massive doses of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories administered, he managed to get back to his feet, but Dr. Poghon gave him a guarded prognosis given how severe and infected his injuries were.
We continued to keep a close eye on our friend. He remained in the area, limping heavily between the forest and the glade. After dousing his wounds with mud, he would lie on the ground or give himself a gentle mud bath, which seemed to alleviate his pain. Ndugu was there when Luggard and Enkesha graduated to Umani Springs. He watched the proceedings closely, showing visible interest in the new arrivals, but it was clear he was not doing well and we could smell the sepsis setting in. Still, he remained a regal presence, standing like a statue in the mud bath and splashing water on his shoulders. Shukuru, who knows something of overcoming great physical difficulties, was clearly concerned about her friend and ventured up to his side to check on him.
She wasn’t the only one. Frustratingly and tragically, there was nothing more we could do for him at this early stage. M99, which is used to anaesthetise elephants, has a revival drug. While that remains in the bloodstream, anaesthetic can’t be used again for some time, as the revival then becomes ineffective and the elephant will never wake up. A minimum of two weeks must pass before we can even consider a follow-up treatment. As dawn broke the next day, Ndugu was still standing in the mud bath, and shortly thereafter he lay down. Hearts sinking, our team rushed to his side. It appeared he no longer had the strength to rise, so we mobilised vehicles to try to help him back on his feet. That was not to be, for just then, he took his last breath and passed away before their eyes.
Ndugu’s death affected everyone deeply. It is difficult to reconcile why such a magnificent friend should meet such a senseless end. We took him deep into the forest to his final resting place away from where the orphans frequent. It is a peaceful place, situated among the leafy trees that Ndugu loved so much.
We are glad that our orphans did not witness Ndugu’s passing. Many members of our Umani Springs herd lost their mothers before their very eyes, and we fear that seeing their friend’s lifeless form would have evoked traumatic memories. They may never know where his last safari took him or why he never returned, but they can imagine him spirited away, off on a grand adventure. Given how intuitive elephants are, however, it is likely that they realised how much he was suffering and, deep down, understand his fate.
Although we only knew Ndugu for a few years, he made an indelible impact. His life was cut short, but there is no doubt that it was a life well-lived. He was an elephant full of curiosity and empathy, an elephant who opened his heart to our unique Umani Springs herd and gave so much of himself to them.
Rest in peace, beautiful brother. You are and will always be deeply missed, but may your giant spirit watch over the beautiful Kibwezi Forest.
A Suriname toad, Pipa pipa, at the Saint Louis Zoo. Females of this species birth their young from holes in their backs.Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
Of the many ways to be born, live birth may be the most familiar to humans. We mammals deliver live, squirming babies, and we think of many other animals as laying eggs—but in reality, animals have found a variety of ways to bring their young into the world.
Live birth, also known as viviparity, is common throughout the animal world, and not just among mammals. It has emerged in fish, amphibians, insects, and arachnids, to name a few.
In fact, viviparity has evolved independently about 150 times in various animal species, including at least 115 times in living reptiles, a number three times higher than in all other vertebrates combined, says Henrique Braz, a herpetologist at the Butantan Institute in São Paulo, Brazil.
There are benefits—and drawbacks—to laying eggs and live-bearing, but these modes of reproduction aren’t an either/or proposition. Egg-laying and live-bearing are two points on a continuum, with many species straddling the middle. (Read about a lizard evolving from egg-laying to live birth.)
All mothers need to do one thing for their offspring: provide nourishment. That’s either as yolk in an egg or, for live-bearing animals, often directly from the mother’s body. (In the unique case of seahorses, it’s the father’s body that feeds the young.)
This frog’s babies erupt out of its back
Some species manage to give birth to live young, yet the mother contributes little to no food in utero. They do this by retaining the babies in eggs inside the mothers’ bodies, letting the young grow and develop using the yolk as a food source. Then, when the young are fully formed and ready to get out into the world, they hatch inside their mother as they’re being born.
This kind of reproduction, called ovoviviparity, is common among venomous snakescalled vipers, though not in most other snakes which lay clutches of eggs. There are also a number of fish—such as mollies and guppies—that reproduce this way. (Read more about how various animal groups give birth.)
One of the more surreal examples is the Suriname toad (Pipa pipa), an exceptionally flat, leaf-like amphibian from South American rainforests. During mating, the male deposits dozens of fertilized eggs onto the female’s back, and then her skin grows around the eggs, creating a surface like inverted bubble wrap. The offspring develop in these small wombs for months. Eventually they erupt from mom’s backand head into the water as little froglets, skipping the tadpole stage entirely.
Why such a strange system? Like other ovoviviparous species, the Suriname toad can give her eggs some protection by carrying them around—useful in a world full of hungry egg predators.
Most live-bearing animals provide their babies with some form of sustenance directly.
In mammals, this is common. But West Africa’s critically endangered Nimba toad (Nimbaphrynoides occidentalis) is the only frog fed entirely from its mother’s resources in utero. Female Nimba toads have a nine-month pregnancy, feeding fetal toadlets with a nutritious “uterine milk.”
There are even some viviparous moms that get creative with feeding their young during pregnancy. African tsetse flies (Glossina morsitans) carry a single larva around in their uterus, and it’s fed with a kind of “milk” secreted from a special gland. The Pacific beetle cockroach (Diploptera punctata) gives birth to fully formed, miniaturized young, after fueling them with a similar uterine elixir.
The phenomenon of fetuses dining within the womb can get even stranger. Some live-bearing caecilians—worm-like amphibians that live almost entirely underground or in stream bottoms—actually feed on their mother from the inside. There, they scrape and eat the thickened lining of her oviduct, the passageway that carries eggs from her ovary.
And it can get even more gruesome. A number of shark species host an embryonic battle in the womb, with the babies killing and consuming their siblings for sustenance.
A deeper bond
Some animals take live-bearing even further, interlacing their own circulatory system with that of their developing young, nourishing them and eliminating waste through this linkage. This can take the form of a specialized, temporary organ, like a placenta. Though placentas are typically associated with “placental” mammals such as humans, cats, dogs, and whales, these groups don’t have a monopoly on the organ.
“The organ is not actually just composed of mom’s tissues or baby’s tissues,” says Camilla Whittington, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney. Technically, any organ comprised of both maternal and fetal tissues which exchanges nutrients counts as a placenta. Even marsupials, mammals that carry their young in pouches, have rudimentary placentas. And placentas also have evolved in some unexpected groups.
For example, that sharpnose sharks (Rhizoprionodon) nourish fetuses with an organ that looks precisely like a scaled-down version of a human placenta, Whittington says. There are also some lizard species that develop a placental link with their young, though the African skink Trachylepis ivensi is the only reptile species whose embryos can actually burrow into the wall of the oviduct, approaching the degree of implantation seen in mammal pregnancy.
Worth the effort
Viviparity is clearly not all-or-nothing, but a condition in which there’s flexibility. For example some lizards and snakes are egg-laying in one part of their geographic range, but live-bearers in another. Scientists even observed one lizard lay eggs and give birth to live young in the same clutch.
But why evolve live birth in the first place? There are definitely some drawbacks.
“If you ask any pregnant woman when she’s about two weeks away from giving birth, it’s pretty hard to locomote,” says Whittington. “And you can imagine if you’re a pregnant lizard and you’re very large, it might be hard to escape predators.” (These animals spawn the most offspring in one go.)
Carrying developing young internally also raises the stakes if a mother does get eaten. At least if you’ve deposited your eggs elsewhere, there’s a chance your genetic line may survive even if you perish.
Keeping young inside longer can help protect them, though, and it allows more direct control over their developmental conditions such as temperature. That may be why cold regions host a higher proportion of viviparous species than warmer locations.
“If you live in a cold or variable climate and you just leave your eggs in the nest and walk away, there might be a risk that it’s too cold,” says Whittington.
Whatever advantages viviparous mothers gain from going through pregnancy and live birth, the ability has evolved scores of times throughout the animal kingdom—and that suggests that it must be worth the extra effort.
America’s wild animals are in danger in the very places set aside to protect them.
The U.S. Department of the Interior plans to open an unprecedented number of wildlife refuges to more hunting and fishing — totaling more than 2.3 million acres of public lands across 97 national wildlife refuges and nine fish hatcheries.
Species like mountain lions, migratory birds and black bears will have their safe havens turned into death zones.
Tell Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to rescind this plan immediately.
We’re in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction — one species vanishes nearly every hour. Opening national wildlife refuges to more hunting is exactly the kind of action that is fueling the wildlife extinction crisis.
We should be working to protect animals, not making it easier for them to be gunned down. These wild animals deserve to be safe from hunting in the very places set aside to protect them.
Chief, a white-and-orange English setter, knifes through a forest of pale-barked aspen, so thick in places the trees seem to gobble him up, the ding ding ding of his collar the only clue to his whereabouts.
These impenetrable thickets in central Pennsylvania known as the Scotia Barrens make for hard hiking. But they’re prime habitat for ruffed grouse—crow-size birds whose mottled, russet coloring blends into the fallen leaves Chief is sniffing feverishly. If he flushes out a ruffed grouse on this November afternoon, he’ll get an extra hearty pat from his owner, Lisa Williams. That’s because Pennsylvania’s official state bird is getting harder to find.
“Depending on who you talk to, the ruffed grouse is either the king of the game birds, or it’s a forest chicken,” says Williams, grouse biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, a state agency whose mission is to conserve birds and mammals for present and future generations. Hunters prize ruffed grouse because they’re canny—elusive on the ground and tricky targets in the air.
They’re native to the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes region, and large swaths of Canada. In the spring mating season, males hop onto a log and beat their wings rapidly and rhythmically in a crescendoing womp womp womp— “drumming” that carries more than a quarter of a mile,even through thick cover such as we’re tromping through following Chief’s helter-skelter lead.
But after a few hours of searching, the setter comes up short.
A male ruffed grouse in Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming, puts on a courtship display. These spectacular, elusive birds are a favorite among hunters.
A ruffed grouse perches on a branch in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. In 2005, a biologist found West Nile antibodies in birds killed at the Annual National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt, in north-central Minnesota. Crows, blue jays, and owls are some of the 300 species hit hard by the mosquito-borne disease.
Photograph by Michael Quinton, Minden Pictures (top) and Photograph by Benjamin Olson, Minden Pictures (bottom)
Between 1978 and 2000, flush rates for ruffed grouse reported by hunters in Pennsylvania declined by 2 percent, reflecting the aging of the thick, young forests the birds need for food and shelter, Williams says. But then, between 2001 and the end of 2018, flush rates plummeted by 54 percent.
West Nile virus: a mosquito-borne pathogen that dominated the news when it appeared in New York City in the summer of 1999. Many expected the virus to race through the human population as a pandemic, but the disease peaked four years later with just under 10,000 cases nationwide. The fear waned.
The virus lingered in the woods, however, spreading from bird to bird— not just ruffed grouse but more than 300 species, causing brain lesions, and killing millions of birds. “Some of our best-loved backyard birds are missing,” Williams says. Crows, owls, and blue jays are among those that have suffered severe losses to West Nile virus. Ruffed grouse numbers have fallen in states from Minnesota and Michigan to North Carolina and New Jersey, a problem exacerbated by climate change.
In Pennsylvania, Williams says, ruffed grouse declined by an estimated 23 percent between 2017 and 2018—“a horrendous year.” West Nile virus, she adds, is “a classic climate change disease.” Earlier springs in the forests give mosquitoes more time to pump out larvae, and increases in precipitation, also spurred by climate change, create more stagnant pools in which the insects can reproduce.
For all the seriousness of the situation, ruffed grouse numbers have yet to fall to a level that would trigger Endangered Species Act protections. That’s all the more reason to act now, Williams says. “The time to intervene is before you’re in that emergency-room situation. You want to do something while you still have enough animals to respond and work with.”
Following a hunch
Williams spent nearly two decades as a bat expert at the Pennsylvania Game Commission before switching to ruffed grouse in 2011. She had witnessed firsthand how white nose syndrome, a fungus that infects the faces and wings of bats, devastated local bat populations, and the more she examined ruffed grouse population information, the more she suspected that something similar was happening to the birds. But no one could say for sure, because in the early years after the virus showed up, most research focused on human health. (Read more about the killer fungus wreaking havoc on bats.)
In 2004, for example, Pennsylvania’s largest breeder of captive grouse reported that 24 out of 30 birds died during a two-week period. This prompted him to send one of the dead birds to a lab for testing, which determined West Nile virus as the cause of death. In 2005, a biologist found West Nile antibodies in birds killed at the Annual National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt, in north-central Minnesota. In 2006, experiments showed that West Nile could be particularly lethal to greater sage grouse, a relative of ruffed grouse native to the American West.
“There were all these different things that came together as I was sort of working through this hunch,” Williams says.
To get a better idea of what was going on, Williams mined information provided by hunters—an “amazing” trove going back to 1965. In Pennsylvania, ruffed grouse hunts are permitted from mid-October to the end of November, as well as for another 10 days in mid-to-late December. Each hunter is allowed to take up to two grouse a day but isn’t permitted to have more than six in the freezer at one time to prevent overexploitation of the birds.
In November 2019, I joined Duane Diefenbach, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and his English setter Chelsea, in Susquehannock State Forest, in north-central Pennsylvania. Diefenbach is one of hundreds of hunters who report to the commission everything from the number of hours they spend looking for grouse and where they search to how many times their dogs flush out birds.
When cornered, a ruffed grouse explodes out of the forest undergrowth with thunderclapping wings. So when Chelsea freezes, signaling that she’s scented a grouse, Diefenbach closes in, shotgun poised. But no bird erupts. “This is probably where the grouse was 10 minutes ago,” he says ruefully.
By the end of our outing, though, Chelsea and a younger setter named Parker have flushed out eight grouse. Diefenbach doesn’t bag a single one, though. “That’s how it goes with grouse hunting,” he says with a grin.
Eight ruffed grouse may seem a good number, but 30 years ago, a day in this forest would likely have yielded 20 or so, according to Diefenbach. “Everyone I know agrees there’s fewer grouse, and that’s because there’s less habitat…but if you’re a dedicated grouse hunter, you know that the changes over the past 10 years have nothing to do with habitat.”
To get a deeper understanding of the effects of West Nile virus on ruffed grouse, in 2014 Williams began asking hunters to mail in feathers and blood samples, which she tested for the disease. Counterintuitively, she says, in a bad West Nile year, only about 4 percent of hunted birds have antibodies that indicate previous West Nile infection. But in years when West Nile ebbs, up to a quarter of the hunted birds may test positive for antibodies. That’s because when the virus is hitting hard, exposed grouse don’t survive long enough to be shot by hunters in the fall.
Williams says this suggests that the virus’s true toll is likely even higher, because there’s no way to estimate how many ruffed grouse die from it before the hunting season begins.
Since 2014, states from Minnesota to Maine and North Carolina have followed Pennsylvania’s example and collected ruffed grouse blood samples. Most places register declines similar to Pennsylvania’s, but Maine, inexplicably, seems largely unaffected. This could be because most hunting—and 98 percent of the testing—takes place in the northern part of the state where the climate is generally cooler, says Kelsey Sullivan, migratory bird biologist at Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Or, he adds, it could be “that quality habitats reduce occurrence and increase the ability of grouse to withstand and diffuse the virus.” And Maine’s north woods are as close to paradise for ruffed grouse as it gets.
Lisa Williams has been pushing the importance of habitat for a while. And in 2019, she teamed up with Bob Blystone and Jeremy Diehl, geographic information system analysts at the Pennsylvania Game Commission, to develop a computer model to assess habitat quality. It’s called the Grouse Priority Area Siting Tool (G-PAST), and it can help wildlife managers identify the best and worst areas for conserving ruffed grouse.
G-PAST predicts, for example, that the Scotia Barrens—previously some of the best ruffed grouse habitat in the state—is unlikely to regain that status region-wide because of its low elevation (where mosquitoes tend to thrive), its flat terrain (conducive to standing water where mosquitoes breed), and its lack of proximity to existing grouse populations (which hold potential for repopulating the area). By contrast, G-PAST finds that parts of Susquehannock State Forest, where the terrain is higher, could serve as critical ruffed grouse sanctuaries.
With that information, the Pennsylvania Game Commission can target forest areas for management strategies such as cutting stands of older trees to encourage the new growth preferred by ruffed grouse, which will also invigorate more than 30 other species, including deer, bears, turkeys, and rattlesnakes.
Another way to help grouse is by adjusting the pressures people put on them. New Jersey has banned ruffed grouse hunting indefinitely and is working with Pennsylvania to create its own version of G-PAST. Both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have shortened their hunting seasons, and Ohio is considering doing the same. Hunters have been supportive of the measures.
“Grouse hunters are their own unique breed,” Williams says. “They’re highly passionate about the species, and they’re willing to give up their own recreation to try to help.”
Meanwhile, in coordination with hunters and other Great Lakes states, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, based in Saint Paul, recently started a two-year study of West Nile virus in ruffed grouse. According to Charlotte Roy, the department’s grouse project leader, the state is experiencing more frequent extreme rainfall events, which may lead to more West Nile-carrying mosquitoes.
“I think we should be aware of the impacts that we’re having on natural processes and potentially take corrective action where we can,” she says. “West Nile virus is going to be out there whether we pay attention to it or not.”
A horned screamer (Anhima cornuta) at the National Aviary of Colombia.Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
Common Name: Horned screamers
Scientific Name: Anhima cornuta
Size: About the size of a turkey
Weight: Up to seven pounds
Current Population Trend:
What is a horned screamer?
Horned screamers are the unicorns of the bird world.
Over the course of their lives, these birds grow long, white spines of cartilage in the middle of their foreheads. Some birds possess horns approaching six inches in length. No other birds on earth have anything like it.
Unlike with rams and rhinos, the screamer’s horn doesn’t seem to be a weapon, because it is only loosely attached to the skull and known to snap offonce it grows too long. In time, broken horns even grow back. This leads scientists to believe the horns serve an ornamental purpose rather than a functional one.
While the horns are harmless, the screamers are not. Each bird sports a pair of sharpened bone spurs on its wings. These are used to defend territory and battle with each other for mates. After particularly nasty encounters, scientists have even found pieces of spur broken off and lodged in other birds’ chest like shrapnel.
Aside from their strange horns, these birds also possess some interesting anatomy below the surface. Inside their bones and skin are tons of tiny air sacs that reduce the weight of these large birds, which is thought to help them soar long distances without using muscle energy. These air sacs sometimes collapse simultaneously when the horned screamer takes off, creating a loud crackling noise.
As its name suggests, this bird is also known for the loud calls it creates. The main one is described as sounding like, “mo-coo-ca,” leading some indigenous peoples to call the birds “mahooka.” This call sounds a bit like a goose, a close relative of horned screamers.
While it can take some fighting to win a mate, a horned screamer partnership can last a lifetime. The male and female spend all year together, constantly preening each other to maintain the pair bond. They also take turns incubating the eggs they create, with females tending to sit on the brood during the day and males taking the night shift. Once the chicks hatch, both parents also provide food for their young.
Relatives and conservation
Horned screamers (Anhima cornuta) are one of three species of screamers, all of which reside in the wetlands of South America. Horned screamers and southern screamers (Chauna torquata) are not considered to be in danger of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However, the northern screamer (C. chavaria) is listed as near threatened, which is thought to be due to loss of habitat in its geographic range at the northwestern tip of the continent.
Though common loons may look harmless, the territorial birds will fiercely attack any interlopers to their freshwater habitat.Photograph by Charlie Hamilton James, Nat Geo Image Collection
In July 2019 a game warden in Bridgton, Maine, got an unusual call: A bald eagle was floating lifeless in a lake. At the time, biologists suspected the animal might have been shot or poisoned by lead fishing tackle—all too common causes of death for wild birds.
According to D’Auria, a dead loon chick was found nearby, suggesting a defensive loon parent gored the eagle as it attacked the loon’s nest. This phenomenon is on the rise in New England, as bald eagles continue to bounce back from near extinction in the 1970s, she says. (Learn how a national symbol bounced back.)
Loons and eagles are also top predators in Highland Lake, competing for valuable territory.
While loons appear serene and peaceful, the waterbirds can be savage, attacking everything from Canada geese to redhead ducks to, most often, other loons.
The catch is that until very recently there probably just weren’t enough bald eagles left for scientists to witness such battles. Since being removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007, the U.S. symbol now numbers in the hundreds of thousandsnationwide; there are more than 700 nesting pairs in Maine.
The incident shows how much we have to learn about the natural behaviors of formerly endangered species, experts say.
Thanks to conservation efforts, hundreds of thousands of bald eagles now soar through U.S. skies.Photograph by George Grall, Nat Geo Image Collection
Violence of the loons
Rather than duke it out at the surface, D’Auria says a loon will dive underwater and then rocket out “like a torpedo” to stab its opponent, which is usually a rival loon.
“It’s a common part of their contesting territories with each other,” she says. ”Sometimes the injured loon can recover from it, and occasionally they don’t.”
“There’s a balance,” he says, by email. “Eagles need to eat, and loons will defend their chicks as best they can.”
Bald Eagles’ Food Fight Captured In Slow-Motion
The good news is Vermont’s loon populations have been increasing or remained steady for the last 20 years. Loons are also doing well in Maine, home to about 70 percent of the population in the U.S. Northeast, says D’Auria.
However, the species is listed as threatened in New Hampshire and of special concern in Massachusetts,due to threats such as shoreline development, fishing tackle, and climate change.
So while neither loon nor bald eagles seem to be in danger of driving the other to extinction, it does seem as if the two species are recalibrating back to how things used to be, Cooley says.
A zoo dubbed the worst in Britain is threatening to put down its animals because it is running out of money to feed the exotic breeds amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Tracy and Dean Tweedy, who own Borth Wild Animal Kingdom in West Wales, fear they only have enough money to feed more than 300 animals for a week.
The married couple say their money is running out to care for their stock and are planning ‘as a last resort’ to euthanise ‘the animals that we care for’. Married couple Tracy, 49, and Dean Tweedy (pictured) say their money is running out to care for their stock and are planning ‘as a last resort, euthanising the animals that we care for’ The zoo is running out of money to care for its 300 animals and the married couple said they are planning ‘as a last resort’ to euthanise ‘the animals that we care for’
Council chiefs ‘lost confidence’ in the ability of the zoo to operate safely following the deaths of two lynx and other animals.
In January this year, the zoo was ordered to close because it did not have trained gunmen in case of an animal escape.
But it was allowed to reopen in February before having to close again in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Ms Tweedy, 49, said many staff are on furlough and the zoo’s business relief grant of £25,000 has nearly run out.
She said: ‘We were already only scraping by financially after the long, quiet winter season.
‘We need help now more than ever. Despite everything, we are as determined as ever to not give up.’ Council chiefs have ‘lost confidence’ in the ability of the zoo to operate safely following the deaths of two lynx. Pictured, the lynx in the zoo before it escaped and was shot https://secured.dailymail.co.uk/embed/gamp-video/8352217/video-1571188.html#amp=1Ms Tweedy, 49, said many staff are on furlough due to the coronavirus pandemic and the zoo’s business relief grant of £25,000 has nearly run out It costs £3,000 a week to run the zoo and if the animals cannot be fed or re-homed, a cull of the animals has been considered. She said it costs £3,000 a week to run the zoo and a cull of the animals has been considered if they cannot be fed.
After the money runs out, the couple will have to start looking at re-homing but are considering euthanasia as a last resort.
Problems for the zoo began in late 2017 when Lilleth the Eurasian lynx escaped and was shot dead by a marksman after being found at a nearby caravan site.
A second lynx, Nilly, also died in what was described as a ‘handling error’.
A report revealed one in five of the zoo’s animals died in just one year. It was discovered that monkeys, crocodiles and a leopard also died from its animal stock during 2018.
Tracy and Dean bought the zoo for £625,000 in 2016 to start a dream new life with their family, but it has turned into a nightmare A report revealed one in five of the zoo’s animals died in just one year. It was discovered that monkeys, crocodiles and a leopard also died during 2018.Pictured, the police at the zoo when the Lynx escaped
Tracey said: ‘It would be tragic if mid Wales lost its only zoo. We work with so many local organisations on animal education and wildlife conservation that we see ourselves as a vital asset for the communit.
Tracy said many of the animals would be very hard to re-home due to licence requirements needed to look after the exotic animals.
‘We also run as a sanctuary for animals that have been rescued from the exotic pet trade. For many of these animals, we are a last resort.ADVERTISEMENTnull
‘They came here because destruction was their only alternative.
‘They would be very difficult to re-home as the licence requirements to look after these animals and provide the proper care, can be very involved and expensive,’ she said.
The couple say Westminster has announced a fund to help zoos in England but there is no similar support in Wales.
The Welsh government said it had already provided all licensed zoos with details of existing support schemes. Ms Tweedy said many of the animals would be extremely difficult to re-home due to licence requirements to look after the exotic animals The couple say the Westminster government has announced a fund to help zoos in England but there is no similar support in Wales
‘If any zoo operators have concerns about their ability to meet the needs of their animals, they should contact their local authority’s animal health team for advice without delay as they are on hand to offer support,’ a spokeswoman said.
It said its £500m economic resilience fund provided more generous support than one specifically for zoos would have.
A spokesman for Ceredigion County Council earlier said: ‘The local authority has lost confidence in the ability of the zoo to operate responsibly and safely.’
Zoos were forced to close at the end of March due to the coronavirus lockdown and many have warned their futures are in danger from the impact of the pandemic.
Andrew RT Davies, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the Welsh Parliament, said: ‘This is a dire situation that the zoo finds itself in, but I’m afraid that zoos right across Wales are in the same precarious situation and desperately need support due to the profound impact of Covid-19.
‘It’s outrageous that whilst the UK Government has taken action and given £14 million to support zoos in England the Welsh Government has still not followed suit.
‘It is high time that the Welsh Labour Government listened to the plight of our zoos and introduce the much-needed fund.’
American actor turned environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio has pledged his support for a gorilla conservation park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Virunga National Park needs $2 million (€1.8 million) in funding to stay afloat after suffering an attack in April of this year. A suspected Rwandan militia group allegedly killed 12 park rangers in the ambush. Ever since, the lack of security patrols has put the endangered mountain gorilla population at even greater risk.
“Virunga urgently needs funds to protect the endangered mountain gorilla population, to provide support to the rangers and the families of rangers who have fallen in the line of duty, and to help deliver essential disease prevention efforts,” the actor told BBC News.
“I had the great honour of meeting and supporting Virunga’s courageous team in their fight against illegal oil drilling in 2013,” he said.
DiCaprio has announced that he is donating towards the Virunga Fund via his organisation Earth Alliance. In a recent Instagram post, he wrote, “The future of Virunga hangs in the balance as it deals with the impacts of Ebola and COVID-19, and now this recent attack.”https://www.instagram.com/p/CAVVjUdlaR1/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=12&wp=743&rd=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.euronews.com&rp=%2Fliving%2F2020%2F05%2F19%2Fleonardo-dicaprio-saves-gorilla-park-by-donating-to-1-8-million-fund#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A2905%2C%22ls%22%3A1164%2C%22le%22%3A1183%7D
Other contributors to the fund include the Emerson Collective, Global Wildlife Conservation and the European Commission.
Why save Virunga National Park?
Virunga National Park is the oldest nature reserve in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world and home to the endangered mountain gorilla. In total, the park provides a habitat for several hundred species of birds, reptiles and mammals.
Two active volcanoes located in the park, Mount Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira, have helped shape its unique ecosystem. Over 3,000 species of flora and fauna have been recorded so far, including animals like the blue-headed tree agama, the African elephant and the golden monkey, which is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
There are fewer than 1,200 mountain gorillas left in the world
The Gorilla Organization is a UK-based charity working to protect our closest living relatives. Today, there are fewer than 1,200 mountain gorillas left in the world, so the charity encourages the public to adopt a gorilla for £3 a month to help save them from the threat of extinction.
They are building a ‘Gorilla safe zone’ in the DR of Congo basin rainforest by planting millions of trees. This is to help local communities and stop them entering the national parks where the last wild gorillas can survive.
Twenty thousand live bullfrogs from China that will be cooked and eaten as frog legs. Forty green monkeys from St. Kitts and Nevis for biomedical research. Three hundred giant clams from Vietnam and 30 stingrays from the Brazilian Amazon for home aquariums. null
That motley assortment is a miniscule glimpse of what the legal international wildlife trade might look like on a given day in any of the 41 ports of entry staffed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors. I routinely saw consignments like these—alongside crates filled with shampoo bottles, cucumbers, and freshly cut roses—at the Port of Newark, New Jersey, when I was a wildlife inspector, from 2004 to 2010.
At airports, seaports, and land border crossings in 2019, $4.3 billion of legal wildlife and wildlife products was imported into the U.S. Approximately 200 million live animals are imported to the U.S. annually, according to a five-year trade report: 175 million fish for the aquarium trade, and 25 million animals comprised of an array of mammals, amphibians, birds, insects, reptiles, spiders, and more. On top of that, thousands of illegally traded shipments of wildlife are intercepted each year. In 2019 alone, the agency opened more than 10,000 illegal wildlife trade investigations.
The diseases that hitchhike into the country on legally imported wildlife continue to go largely unnoticed.
But along with such a diversity of wildlife, a kaleidoscope of pathogens is also entering the country. My experience with the Fish and Wildlife Service, where I worked for 10 years, first as a wildlife inspector and most recently as a policy specialist regulating and managing the international wildlife trade, showed me that although many controls have been implemented to combat illegal trade, the diseases that simultaneously hitchhike into the country on legally imported wildlife continue to go largely unnoticed.
Importing any live animal brings with it the risk of disease—to native wildlife, to livestock, and to people. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China, theorized to have jumped from bats into humans and then spread at a wet market in Wuhan, possibly through an intermediate host, has shined a spotlight on how easily zoonotic diseases can emerge from wildlife. Indeed, an estimated 60 percent of known human diseases originated in animals, according to the World Organization for Animal Health.
Much of the public discussion around COVID-19 has focused on the potential role of the illegal wildlife trade in spreading pathogens. But as a wildlife trade specialist and conservation biologist—I studied the spread of disease among imported frogs—I’ve learned that we need to think just as critically about the risks and vulnerabilities presented by the massive legal trade, which continues to place both ourselves and the world at risk of more pandemics. null
With few exceptions, the U.S. has no laws specifically requiring disease surveillance for wildlife entering the country, and the vast majority of wild animal imports are therefore not tested. Inspectors with the Fish and Wildlife Service are the first to set eyes on an imported shipment of animals, and they’re charged with enforcing a variety of national and international laws, regulations, and treaties that focus on preventing illegal and unsustainable trade. But its mandate doesn’t extend to monitoring animal or human health. Its only responsibilities related to disease are the enforcement of rules limiting trade in certain fish and salamander species, which have the potential to spread devastating disease to other animals of their kind.
In fact, no federal agency is tasked with the comprehensive screening and monitoring of imported wildlife for disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regulates the importation of wildlife and wildlife products known to “present a significant public health concern,” focusing primarily on bats, African rodents, and nonhuman primates, Jasmine Reed, a CDC spokesperson, wrote in an email. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) intervenes only if there’s a disease risk to poultry or livestock animals of agricultural importance.
This leaves millions of animals that come into the U.S legally each year unchecked for diseases that have the potential to spill over to humans or other animals. null
The CDC insists it’s keeping an eye out. “CDC works closely with other federal agencies to ensure animals and animal products that present a public health concern are regulated,” Reed says. “Through our partnerships with international agencies, we are constantly evaluating and assessing what we and the international public health community do to detect, prevent, and control zoonotic disease threats.”
“I’m confident that our authorities are doing the best they can with the resources they have,” says Catherine Machalaba, a policy advisor for EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit focused on the connections between human and wildlife health. “But I’m not confident that’s a good enough benchmark when we’re talking about leaving the door open [to potential diseases that are] a threat to our health and security.”
About two million American bullfrogs are imported live to the U.S. from factory farms abroad each year to be eaten. Legally imported frogs have been found to carry the devastating chytrid fungus at high rates, putting all North America’s amphibians at risk. With no government agency responsible for comprehensive pathogen screening and monitoring of imported wildlife, scientists have little understanding of the range of diseases being imported.Photograph by Jonathan E. Kolby
The problem isn’t unique to the U.S.—most countries do not have a government agency that comprehensively screens wildlife imports for pathogens. “The absence of any formal entity dedicated to preventing the spread of diseases from the wildlife trade is such a chronic gap around the world,” Machalaba says. “When multiple agencies have to be called in for any given shipment, personnel is limited, and coordination is lacking, there’s bound to be gaps—a false sense of security that another agency has it covered.”
Outbreaks from legal trade
Many recent zoonotic outbreaks affecting people sprang from trade that was allowed at the time, says Lee Skerratt, a wildlife biosecurity fellow at the University of Melbourne, in Australia. null
In 2003, for example, people in six U.S. states became ill from exposure to the monkeypox virus after it entered the country in a pet trade shipment of 800 rodents from Ghana. In that shipment, African giant pouched rats, rope squirrels, and dormice carried the virus. It spread to prairie dogs held in the same pet trade facility, which were then sold to the public, starting the animal-to-human outbreak. Luckily, although human-to-human transmission of monkeypox can occur, no cases were confirmed.
Three months after the infected animals had been imported, the CDC banned the import of all African rodents into the U.S. That gave the Fish and Wildlife Service the legal power to detain shipments in violation of the ban and alert the CDC, which could choose to require quarantine, re-exportation, or euthanization of the animals.
Although this outbreak led to an import ban on African rodents, the government stopped short of doing any risk assessments to consider whether rodents from other places might also carry diseases that would require regulation, Machalaba says.
“Wildlife coming into the U.S. are sourced from many countries that are ‘hot spots’ for emerging diseases—of potential concern for human health but also posing threats to other sectors via our food systems and ecosystems,” Malachaba says.
Warnings about shortcomings
Officials have long known about the gaps in the U.S.’s regulatory system. In 2005, the National Academies of Science published a report that found a “significant gap in preventing and rapidly detecting emergent diseases” from imported wildlife.
Five years later, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which audits government spending and operations, published a report on live animal imports and diseases. It found that the Fish and Wildlife Service “generally does not restrict the entry of imported wildlife that may pose disease risks.” Furthermore, the report says, the CDC doesn’t use its full power to prevent the import of live animals that pose a risk of zoonotic diseases.
The 2010 report recommended that the CDC, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA develop and implement a coordinated strategy to prevent the import of animals that may be carrying diseases. But a follow-up assessment in 2015 found that the agencies did not take action. There simply weren’t the economic or staffing resources to make it happen, it says. null
The ability to prevent and control emerging zoonotic diseases requires an understanding of the diversity and abundance of pathogens being imported. But without monitoring and surveillance of imported wildlife, we don’t have this information, Skerratt says. “This is a problem for the wildlife trade as there is much that we don’t know, especially for diseases that could affect other wildlife,” he says.
The CDC also acknowledges the lack of research. “We need more data through risk assessments and basic research before adding any new regulations,” Reed says.
But it’s a Catch-22: For an agency to systematically collect pathogen data from wildlife imports, it would need a legal mandate from the government. But the government is only likely to do that once it has pathogen data to guide its decisions.
Pathogens passed from animals to humans aren’t the only cause for concern. Amphibian chytrid fungus, the aquatic fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, is the first disease known to infect hundreds of species simultaneously and drive many of them toward extinction. It’s so dangerous because it can jump between nearly any amphibian—a class with more than 8,000 species. It has already spread to remote protected areas around the world. From my Ph.D. research, I discovered that imports of factory-farmed American bullfrogs—nearly 2.5 million a year, more than any other live amphibian species—introduce frighteningly high numbers of chytrid-infected animals into the U.S.
The deadly amphibian chytrid fungus, introduced to the U.S. through the legal wildlife trade, has spread to native frog species across North America, even in protected areas like King’s Canyon National Park, in California. The U.S. continues to allow the import of species known to carry the disease. Photograph by JOEL SARTORE, Nat Geo Image Collection
Humans have never been part of a pandemic on the scale of that now affecting amphibians. Even tragedies such as the Black Death, in the mid-1300s, and the 1918 influenza pandemic devastated only one species of mammal: humans. By contrast, emerging wildlife diseases, notably chytrid, have been much less picky in the diversity and numbers of animal hosts they infect and kill. Imagine what it would be like if the next pandemic could infect hundreds of the world’s 5,000 species of mammals—including humans—causing many to become extinct.
The best way to minimize risk
An enormous variety of plants and animals are involved in the international wildlife trade, and many are a regular part of our daily lives: Imported seafood for dinner; timber for building homes and musical instruments; pet birds and frogs and aquarium fishes; mother-of-pearl buttons on dress shirts; medicinal plants like ginseng; cosmetic essential oils such as argan and frankincense; and even many of the orchids and cacti for home decoration. This is why ending the legal trade in wildlife seems unlikely, and why, Skerratt says, controlling disease at the source is the best way to minimize the risk to public health.
There seems to be a lack of economic incentive to create a wildlife health law in the U.S. to regulate the pathways of spread of wildlife pathogens.
Priya Nanjappa, Director of Operations, Conservation Science Partners, Inc.
Key to reducing the spread of pathogens is a “clean trade” program, in which private industry and government officials work together to implement safer strategies, according to Matthew Gray, associate director of the University of Tennessee Center for Wildlife Health, in Knoxville.
Gray says that clean trade could involve testing either before transport or at the border, so that animal health certificates could accompany wildlife—similar to what’s required for livestock. “If clean trade is not economically sustainable, government subsidies could be provided, as done often with agriculture,” he says.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to develop a program in the U.S. to monitor imported wildlife for pathogens and develop risk assessments, says Peter Jenkins, senior counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an environmental nonprofit. “We have a very good model of this, and it’s the U.S. livestock trade.” The USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Service implements a comprehensive system of veterinary services and trade controlsto reduce the risk of importing pathogens that can harm animals, including cattle, sheep, poultry and others.
Jenkins estimates such a program could be implemented for a reasonable cost, with just $2 million and six full-time government employees, a figure developed with Congressional staff in 2015 when Jenkins was lobbying to expand the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “injurious wildlife” program. “We’re not talking about a Cadillac program. We just need people doing the research, making risk-based predictions, and then operationalizing those predictions to reduce risk.”
Yet it hasn’t happened.
“There seems to be a lack of economic incentive to create a wildlife health law in the U.S. to regulate the pathways of spread of wildlife pathogens, but the COVID-19 disease highlights the consequences of our lack of understanding of these pathogens,” says Priya Nanjappa, director of operations at Conservation Science Partners, Inc., a nonprofit that provides research and analysis for conservation projects.
The lack of incentive, Najappa says, seems to stem from the false belief that if an imported disease doesn’t immediately threaten public health or agricultural animals, it’s not a major threat to economic interests. But take white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has decimated millions of bats, across several species, in the U.S. Some of these bat population crashes led to Endangered Species Act protections, which in turn place restrictions on economic activities such as logging within the species’ habitats.
The CDC, Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA did not comment on what kinds of resources the agencies would need to do additional risk assessments, implement monitoring for diseases in the wildlife trade, or whether the pandemic would prompt them to push for increased disease surveillance.
With COVID-19 aiming a spotlight on long-existing deficiencies, now is the time for the best minds in the Fish and Wildlife Service, CDC, USDA, industry and academia to come together and consider what steps can be taken to sew this hole shut, before the next animal-origin pandemic is thrust into our daily lives.
Wildlife Watch is an investigative reporting project between National Geographic Society and National Geographic Partners focusing on wildlife crime and exploitation. Read more Wildlife Watch stories here, and learn more about National Geographic Society’s nonprofit mission at nationalgeographic.org. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to email@example.com.
"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily" – George Washington letter to Edmund Randolph — 1795. We live in a “post-truth” world. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. Truth will never go away no matter how hard one might wish. Going beyond the MSM idealogical opinion/bias and their low information tabloid reality show news with a distractional superficial focus on entertainment, sensationalism, emotionalism and activist reporting – this blogs goal is to, in some small way, put a plug in the broken dam of truth and save as many as possible from the consequences—temporal and eternal. "The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." – George Orwell “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Soren Kierkegaard