‘Like nothing in my lifetime’: researchers race to unravel the mystery of Australia’s dying frogs

A white-lipped tree frog

Show captionA white-lipped tree frog. Scientists are trying to unravel the cause of thousands of frog deaths in eastern Australia. Photograph: Liam Driver/Newspix / Rex FeaturEnvironmental investigations

amp.theguardian.com

Lisa Cox

After asking for public help with their investigations, scientists have received thousands of reports and specimens of dead, shrivelled frogs

In the middle of Sydney’s lockdown, scientist Jodi Rowley has been retrieving frozen dead frogs from her doorstep.

Occasionally one will arrive dried and shrivelled up in the post.

She’ll pack them in ice in an esky to be taken to her lab at the Australian Museum, where even more samples – green tree frogs, striped marsh frogs and the invasive cane toad among them – are waiting in a freezer for genetic testing.

Rowley and her team, along with scientists at the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health at Taronga zoo and a forensic unit in the NSW department of planning, industry and environment, are trying to solve the mystery of what is killing Australia’s frogs.

Since late July, they’ve collected 1,200 records of dead or dying frogs, about 70% of them in New South Wales and 22% in Queensland.

“I know we’re dealing with our own pandemic but frogs are also dealing with a pandemic and whatever is going on right now is awful,” Rowley said.

“It’s like nothing in my lifetime that I’m aware of.”

One of the shrivelled frogs Jodi Rowley has been sent

One of the shrivelled frogs Australia Museum researcher Jodi Rowley has been sent. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

‘It’s really broken our hearts’

Rowley, a conservation biologist specialising in amphibians, is the lead scientist at the Australian Museum’s FrogID, a citizen science project that for the past four years has focused largely on recording the calls of Australia’s many frog species.

But its work shifted after Rowley did an ABC radio interview in late July to talk about dead green tree frogs that were being found around Scotts Head on the NSW mid north coast.

After that, Rowley started receiving emails about frogs in similar condition being found in other parts of the country.

A week later she and Karrie Rose, the head of Australian Registry of Wildlife Health, wrote a piece for the Conversation that asked people who spotted sick or dying amphibians to make a report through the FrogID email.

They received 160 emails in 24 hours. That’s grown to more than 2,000 since.

“It’s been quite devastating to be at the receiving end of some of these emails. I can only imagine how hard it is for the people out there who are seeing these frogs.”

Rowley at work in her lab

Rowley at work in her lab. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

One of those reports came from Yvonne Hulbert, who runs a bed and breakfast on an acreage on Macleay Island near Brisbane, where there is a thriving frog population.

Over the past few months they’ve found browning and dead frogs along their properties.

“They go a fawny beige colour then turn brown. They seem to get dry and they become emaciated and then shrivel and become skeletons,” Hulbert said.

“We recognise the same frogs and they just decline in health and size and eventually their eyes dull and they just die. It’s really sad.”

Gail Wilson-Lutter and her husband have lived in Meerschaum Vale in the NSW northern rivers for 36 years. Every night frogs would come into the kitchen via a gap in the roof.

“We keep what we call the frog-cuzzi, a little pool for them to swim in, and we love having them here because they kill spiders and pests.”

But in recent months, Wilson-Lutter noticed frogs were leaving loose skin in their little pool and others were changing colour or turning up dead.

“It’s really broken our hearts, because we love our frogs,” Wilson-Lutter says.

Too early to draw conclusions

Over the past two-and-a-half months, the scientists have collected reports of 31 different species affected in almost every state and territory.

Of those, 30 species are native – including endangered frogs such as green and golden bell frogs, southern bell frogs and the giant barred frog. The one invasive species is the cane toad.

Sixty per cent of the frogs found are green tree frogs, something likely explained by the fact they are a common species found in and around people’s homes.

The frogs that are found alive are often lethargic and emaciated, with red bellies and coloured patches on their skin.

When frogs die, they shrivel up quickly, so many have been found dark brown and withered.

Jane Hall at the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health at Taronga zoo

Jane Hall at the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health at Taronga zoo. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

“It’s exquisitely difficult to work with frogs because they decompose so quickly and are a cryptic species – meaning they’re difficult to find,” says Jane Hall, who works with Rose at the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health at Taronga zoo.

The two scientists have been conducting necropsies on frog carcasses at a pathology facility at Taronga zoo that acts as a morgue and a lab.

They dissect the frogs, looking for any indicators of disease, and take samples from their liver, kidneys, blood and stomach content if they have any.

Over at the Australian Museum, Rowley and her team are looking at the animals on a molecular level.

Much like a Covid-19 test, they swab the frogs – usually on their belly and legs – and also take a small skin sample. They then run DNA tests looking for pathogens that might indicate a virus or a fungus.

At present, the number one candidate for what has caused the mass mortality event is chytrid fungus, which has been responsible for declines of more than 500 amphibian species globally.

It is more likely to take hold during winter months, when frogs’ immune systems slow down.

Some of the tests have returned a positive result, but Rowley and Hall both say it is too early to draw conclusions.

Covid-19 lockdowns have also hampered the ability to do investigations in the field.

The freezer containing some of the samples Jodi Rowley has been sent

The freezer containing some of the samples Jodi Rowley has been sent. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

The researchers are working with a network of vets around Australia, some of whom are storing frozen frogs until they can be delivered after the lockdowns.

Others will conduct a basic necropsy and keep the rest of the carcass in a fixative to be examined microscopically later on.

Friends and family members are also storing frozen frogs that have been dropped in mailboxes by people from their communities.

Separately, a forensic team is running toxicology tests looking for things like pesticides, heavy metals or other environmental toxins.

There has been widespread pesticide use as a result of the recent mouse plague. Hall says it is unlikely to be the cause, but it needs to be ruled out.

When the lockdowns end, the scientists will have more access to more samples and locations to expand their work, do targeted surveys, and build a larger syndromic picture to work out what the common threads are.

If it is chytrid fungus, Rowley says it would be the largest such mortality event in Australia in more than a decade.

“The question then becomes why would it be impacting so much more now?” she says.

“Whether it’s to do with climate, the very cold winter, or it’s interacting with another stressor such as not enough food or pollution. It could be a new strain or something from overseas.”

Hall says there is no better example of how a pathogen can change than the current pandemic.

“Pathogens are always looking for ways they can improve how they work and move in animals,” she says.

“Chytrid can change, so we want to see if it’s the chytrid our frogs are used to being exposed to or if it’s a different kind of chytrid.”

She says another important and still to be answered question is whether the animals are dying of or withthe disease – that is, if it is just a contributing factor and other environmental stressors of recent years such as droughts, fires and climate change have played a role. Alternatively, the cause could be something else entirely, like a novel pathogen.

“Once we get more of an understanding of these things we can go to the next level and see how far it’s spread and what long-term effect it might have on vulnerable amphibian populations across Australia,” she says.

“They’re probably the best indicator of environmental health. It’s important we don’t ignore them.

“They absorb the environment through their skin so if something is off … the frogs will let us know.”

Anyone who spots an unwell or dead frog is encouraged to contact the FrogID project email on calls@frogid.net.au with the location and photos if possible.

https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/19/like-nothing-in-my-lifetime-researchers-race-to-unravel-the-mystery-of-australias-dying-frogs?__twitter_impression=true

Coalition proposes to scrap recovery plans for 200 endangered species and habitats

The Tasmanian devil

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Lisa Cox

Show captionThe Tasmanian devil is among 200 endangered species and habitats that would lose their recovery plan under Coalition proposal. Photograph: Michal Čížek/AFP/Getty ImagesConservation

The Morrison government has proposed scrapping recovery plans for almost 200 endangered species and habitats including the Tasmanian devil, the whale shark and the endangered glossy-black cockatoo populations on Kangaroo Island, one of the worst-affected areas in the 2019-20 bushfires.

Environment groups have decried the move as a backward step less than 12 months after a statutory review of Australia’s national environmental laws found successive governments had failed to protect the country’s unique wildlife.

Recovery plans are documents that set out actions needed to stop the extinction of species. Ministers are legally bound not to make decisions that are inconsistent with them.

Since changes were made to legislation in 2007 they have been increasingly replaced with what’s known as a conservation advice, a similar document but which does not have the same legal force under national law.

Guardian Australia has previously reported that fewer than 40% of listed threatened species have a recovery plan. A further 10% of all those listed have been identified as requiring a recovery plan but those plans haven’t been developed or are unfinished. Even more plans are out of date.

The federal environment department revealed last year it had not finalised a single recovery plan for threatened species in nearly 18 months and more than 170 were overdue. All listed species, including those requiring a recovery plan, have a conservation advice.

This year, the government asked the independent threatened species scientific committee (TSSC), which advises it on endangered wildlife, to review recovery plans for 914 threatened species and habitats to determine which should continue to have a recovery plan and which could just have a conservation advice.

The committee provided advice that 676 no longer required a recovery plan.

The government is responding to the committee’s recommendations in stages and on Friday published for public consultation the first tranche of 157 animals and plants and 28 ecological communities for which it proposes scrapping recovery plans.

They include the vulnerable green and golden bell frog and the spectacled flying-fox, which had its threat status upgraded to endangered after heatwaves in 2019.

Among the ecological communities is the critically endangered Cumberland plain woodland, one of the most under pressure woodlands in the country as a result of urban development in western Sydney.

It has been identified as requiring a recovery plan since 2009 but no plan has ever been finalised.

Labor’s environment spokeswoman, Terri Butler, said on Friday “Scott Morrison has given up on saving iconic Australian species.”

“The 2019-20 bushfires killed or displaced 3 billion animals and his response now is to cut 157 recovery plans.”

The Greens’ environment spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, said the government was seeking to rewrite its obligations and was “putting up the white flag on saving our wildlife and native plants”.

“Downgrading the level of obligation on the minister is downgrading the protection of our native animals and species,” she said.

“This is all about letting the minister off the hook – the Morrison government has dropped the ball on protecting our environment and wildlife and now they want to change the rules and responsibilities.”

Helene Marsh, the chair of the threatened species scientific committee, told Guardian Australia that the species and habitats the committee had assessed were those for which recovery plans had expired, were due to expire or were overdue.

She said the committee had carefully considered every plant, animal and habitat and determined that overall about 13% of the country’s wildlife required a recovery plan.

Marsh said recovery planning had been ineffective, with plans often unfunded and actions not implemented.

She said a conservation advice could be as detailed and useful a tool, could be developed more quickly, and rapidly updated after an emergency such as the bushfire disaster.

“We’ve looked at whether a recovery plan will make a difference or not and we’ve looked at every single one in great detail,” she said. “A conservation advice can be updated and in these times of fires and climate change is a much more nimble instrument.”

Marsh told Guardian Australia that the most important reforms the government could make for Australia’s wildlife would be to implement legally binding and detailed national environmental standards that were recommended by the former competition watchdog head, Graeme Samuel, in his review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

She said the committee’s recommendations on which species and habitats should not have recovery plans were based, in part, on whether they were regularly affected by development and therefore triggered the need for a development to be assessed under Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

She said the committee had recommended that species that regularly triggered the act retain a recovery plan.

However, the Cumberland Plain woodland, the golden sun moth and the striped legless lizard, which all regularly trigger the need for assessment under the act, all appear on the list of proposed habitats and animals that would no longer require a recovery plan.

Samantha Vine, of Birdlife Australia, said a conservation advice was a good foundational document but was not a robust plan to get species off the path to extinction.

The organisation is concerned about the 19 threatened birds that may no longer require a recovery plan, including the glossy black cockatoo populations of Kangaroo Island and South Australia, the northern masked owl and the Abbott’s Booby.

“We completely see where the threatened species scientific committee is coming from because they are overwhelmed,” Vine said. “But walking away from recovery plans because they’re not functioning as well as they should be is not the right approach in an extinction crisis.”

Brendan Sydes, a lawyer and policy adviser at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said recovery plans were not working as well as they should but the answer was not to abandon them all together.

“Conservation advices are not an adequate replacement for recovery plans, as they are much less rigorous in what they require and don’t have the same legal clout,” he said.

“To virtually give up on recovery planning would be a terrible admission that there is no political will to tackle Australia’s extinction crisis.”

A spokesperson for the environment department said the recommendations were based on “the best planning outcome for the individual threatened entity, and are subject to public consultation prior to any final decision being made”.

“This is the first tranche of public consultation which invites the public to provide feedback on proposed subsequent recovery plan decisions for 185 species and ecological communities,” the spokesperson said.

“Subsequent public consultation periods for lists of other species and ecological communities will be held.”

A spokesperson for the environment minister, Sussan Ley, said: “The proposed changes have been recommended by the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee and are now available for public consultation.”

https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/18/coalition-plans-to-scrap-recovery-plans-for-200-endangered-species-and-habitats?__twitter_impression=true

President Biden never fails to disappoint

Identify Raptors in Flight

www.audubon.org

By Alisa Opar

Raptors are on the move. Now is a great time to get out and see the birds of prey as they migrate south for the winter (click here for a list of 10 awesome places to watch the spectacle).

Seeing the birds on the wing is thrilling—particularly when there are large numbers of them—but it can also be frustrating to try and identify them at various angles and distances.

The challenge: Identify and age these common raptors. Some species appear more than once. Scroll down for a list of all of the species shown, and keep going for the answers.

HINT: Below are all of the species pictured.

American Kestrel

Bald Eagle

Broad-winged Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Merlin

Northern Harrier

Osprey

Peregrine Falcon

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Turkey Vulture

SCROLL DOWN FOR ANSWERS

ANSWERS​

1. Sharp-shinned Hawk, immature: Note short, stocky wings and body, long slim tail that is short for an accipiter, and small head. Plumage is difficult to see on distant birds, but 1st-years lack a rufous tone underneath.

2. Bald EagleVery distinct white heads and tails and dark overall. Very large with long, broad wings and yellow legs and bill.

3. American Kestrel: Note pale underside with orangey chest, black spots on belly two black “sideburns” on head, and blue upperwing coverts, orange tail with black tip.

4. Northern Harrier: Very distinct brilliant white underside with a black border on flight feathers. Note long, slim wings and tail, and small head.

5. American Kestrel: Note pale underside with orangey chest, black spots on belly two black “sideburns” on head, and blue upperwing coverts, orange tail with black tip.

6. Turkey Vulture: Blackish overall; reddish head can be difficult to see at a distance but white bill usually glows. Note long, broad, squared-off wings, broad tail, and modified dihedral when gliding.

7. Sharp-shinned Hawk, adult: Note short, stocky wings and body, long slim tail that is short for an accipiter, and small head.

8. Broad-winged Hawk, immature: Stocky pointed wings, large head, and short, narrow tail. Pale underside with dark streaking on sides of breast, and indistinct tail pattern with darker tip denote 1st-year. Some (like this bird) have streaks on belly similar to red-tailed.

9. Red-shouldered Hawk, adult: Note somewhat stocky squared-off wings with translucent “commas” along the primaries. Adults have bold black and white bands on wings and tail and a warm reddish underside.

10. Red-shouldered Hawk, immature: Note somewhat stocky squared-off wings with translucent “commas” along the primaries. Pale underside with buffy underwing coverts, and dark, evenly spaced streaking on body denote 1st-year.

11. Northern Harrier: Very distinct brilliant white underside with a black border on flight feathers. Note long, slim wings and tail, and small head.

12. Merlin, adult: Merlin has stockier, more sharply pointed wings, broader, shorter tail, and is “chesty” compared with kestrel. Juvenile and adult female are pale below with heavy, dark streaking, heavily “checkered” underwings, and distinct tail bands. 

13. Northern Harrier, immature: Pale underneath mostly brown flight feathers. Note long, narrow wings and tail (showing bands when spread). Head is small with owl-like facial disc.

14. Red-tailed Hawk: Quintessential broad-winged, short-tailed buteo shape. Plumage is pale underneath with dark patagial bars and bellyband. 

15. Cooper’s Hawk, immature: Pale underneath with dark streaks throughout underbody, and brown head denote 1st-year. Note long wings for an accipiter, large head, and long tail with white tip.

16. Cooper’s Hawk, immature: Pale underneath with dark streaks throughout underbody, and brown head denote 1st-year. Note long wings for an accipiter, large head, and long tail with white tip.

17. Peregrine Falcon, adult: Pale underneath with heavily streaked body, heavily “checkered” underwings, and dark head. Note very long, pointed wings, heavy body, and broad tail and head. Wingtips are less sharply pointed in a full soar.

18. Osprey: Note the dark stripe through the eye, long, dark brown wings, white underside, and a black bill with sharp hook.

19. Sharp-shinned Hawk, adult: Note short, stocky wings and body, long slim tail that is short for an accipiter, and small head.

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Leopards on special this week: Get ’em while they’re fresh! – BEN TROVATO

bentrovato.co.za

Ben Trovato 4 – 6 minutes

Dear Brian Roodt, Owner of Quality Hunting Safaris, Purveyor of Fine Animals,

I read in the Sunday Mirror that you have rhinos and leopards on special. That’s fantastic news. There’s a special on braai packs at my local Spar, but your deal sounds way better. I could do with a juicy leopard kebab right now!

You told the paper that the idea behind the promotion is to lure hunters back to Namibia. Windhoek must be overrun with animals since global travel fell off the back of the bakkie. Can I shoot them from my hotel window? More importantly, is the 20% discount just for overseas hunters or can anyone with a weapon take up your generous offer? I only have a speargun but if I can get close enough it shouldn’t be a problem. I might need help reeling in a buffalo.

You told the Mirror that hunting is vital if Namibian wildlife is to be protected from poachers. This makes perfect sense. I bet animals often run towards you begging to be shot by a decent, God-fearing white man rather than some swarthy heathen from Mozambique.

You also said the animals always have a chance of “escaping the sights” of the shooter. It’s very kind of you to give them that option. And those that can’t dodge a bullet fired from 500m away by a man disguised as a silwerbossie only have to outrun the Land Cruiser until it runs out of fuel. Can’t get fairer than that.

You say on your website that “leopard hunting is largely an exercise in patience and can last as long as 12 days”. That can’t be right. I’m not courting a woman, you know. I’d want to get in, shoot one in the face and be back in the bar for sundowners. Couldn’t you just tie one to a tree for me? Oh, right. You say you practice “ethical hunting”.

Actually, twelve days might not be so bad. I thought it involved walking. “This time is spent quietly waiting inside the pop-up blinds located near the bait drop.” Is the bait ethically sourced? Never mind. If you left the bait right outside the hide, we could just grab him while he’s snout down, bring him back to the lodge and kick him to death around the braai. Would something like that cost extra?

“If you have what it takes,” says your website, “bagging your monster tom will be an experience you won’t soon forget.” By “what it takes”, do you mean a good aim, a high-powered rifle or the requisite sociopathic tendencies? I love that you refer to a leopard as a “monster tom”, as if he’s some huge murderous ginger tomcat with an impressive set of testicles and a penchant for roaming the neighbourhood looking for fights and casual sex.

I do like the look of your rhino special. Even though your prices are only in dollars and euros, I have a good brain and with a little help managed to convert everything into rands. So, R337 000. I don’t know what this comes to after you factor in the 20% discount. I’m not that clever. Do you do returns? I might find my rhino has a grumpy face and then I’d like to shoot another at no extra cost.

I see the fee includes five days’ accommodation in the lodge. Are drinks included? I can easily finish off a quarter of a million rand’s worth of beer in five days and wouldn’t want to be charged for that as well.

Your leopard special is a bit steep at R366 000, but if it comes with chips and a complementary cocktail, I’m in. It would mean travelling to Namibia, though, so maybe not. At least the rhino special is available in South Africa.

My favourite, though, is your combo deal. I’m a big fan. When I go to a seafood restaurant, I always have the hake and prawn combo. Your hippo and croc combo sounds delicious. Do you pair it with Jägermeister? At R242 000, it’s a pretty good deal for these violent water-based creatures, even though a visually impaired toddler would be able to shoot a croc. It’s their own fault for being so lethargic. Would I be responsible for cutting off their heads and shipping them back to my place? I hope not. It looks like messy work.

Hold on, I see you also offer five of the Tiny Ten for R136 000. That’s R27 000 apiece for something small enough to fit into a Woolies bag. Now there’s a good deal! My speargun would be perfectly suited to reeling in a steenbokkie or two. This is definitely more my thing. No heavy lifting. A klipspringer will come right up to you and eat out of your hand. You could strangle him without even spilling your drink.

See you on the killing fields, boet.

https://bentrovato.co.za/leopards-on-special-this-week-get-em-while-theyre-fresh/?fbclid=IwAR2EPxCHLygxGgUTY1kLvqNmv8e6A78U3FTUXW2ieva8JotSPiGvnNk-3o8

Nearly Extinct | Five Rediscovered Birds in the Last Five Years

Bird Calls Black-and-White Warbler, Dennis W. Donohue/Shutterstock

Dan Lebbin

Perched on the brink of extinction, lost birds are among the most intriguing enigmas in the bird world. Unseen for decades or more, the existence of these birds — known only from outdated photos, drawings, or a museum specimen or two — remains a source of lingering question and doubt.

Sometimes they remain hidden in unsafe or remote areas. In other cases, the birds are overlooked, considered part of a closely related and more widespread species until scientists, in a taxonomic twist, declare them separate species. Whatever the circumstances, these birds are among the rarest of the rare. In the Western Hemisphere, at least two dozen bird species have been classified as “lost.”

Despite needle-in-a-haystack odds, researchers have rediscovered birds five times in the Americas in the last five years. These finds offer deeper insights into the lives of these mysterious birds — and a fresh opportunity to protect them from the brink of extinction.

Blue-eyed Ground Dove by Ciro Albano.

Blue-eyed Ground-Dove. Photo by Ciro Albano

Number One: Blue-eyed Beauty

In Brazil, a combination of skill and luck led to the July 2015 rediscovery of the spectacular Blue-eyed Ground-Dove, which had been lost for 75 years.

This lost bird was known only from a few scattered records in the Brazilian savanna, referred to locally as the cerrado. Over the 75 years, much of the area’s value as bird habitat was lost due to burning and agricultural encroachment, raising further doubts about the ground-dove’s existence.

That changed when a researcher, Rafael Bessa, heard a bird call he did not recognize while conducting a bird survey far to the east of the dove’s suspected range. By recording the call and playing it back, Bessa was able to photograph the bird and confirm its survival.

The rediscovery launched a race to save the remaining population. ABC partner SAVE Brasil successfully led efforts to create a protected area for the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove in February 2018, and birders can now see the dove in person.

More recently, ABC supported a conservation planning workshop orchestrated by SAVE Brasil to determine the next steps for the ground-dove. Proposed actions include additional searches and studying nesting success with camera traps. SAVE Brasil is also considering starting a captive breeding population.

With fewer than 20 birds in separate areas known, the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove’s future is not yet secure, and sustained conservation efforts are still needed to increase its population.

Táchira Antpitta. Photo by Jhonathan Miranda

Táchira Antpitta. Photo by Jhonathan Miranda

Number Two: Song from the Shadows

Roughly 60 years ago, the stubby, short-tailed Táchira Antpitta was last observed within the forests of South America. Then, in 2016, a search team supported by ABC and the Smithsonian Institution and led by Jhonathan Miranda of the Red Siskin Initiative and Provita, located the lost antpitta in Venezuela.

To find this bird, searchers consulted the notes of the collector who discovered the first one. Those descriptions led the party to the original area of discovery.

They knew the easiest way to find the Táchira, or any antpitta, was to listen for its far-carrying song. But no one knew what the Táchira Antpitta sounded like. It was only known from the collector’s notes and a few museum specimens — making the quest to find this elusive bird even more difficult.

In the field, the team heard what sounded like an antpitta, so they got to work, returning to the area again and again until, elated, they took good photographs and made sound recordings – enough evidence to confirm that this bird remains among the living.

ABC first reported the Táchira Antpitta finding in 2017, and a scientific paper containing full details of the rediscovery is in the process of being published.

Now, with the knowledge of the bird’s vocalizations, researcher Jhonathan Miranda and others hope to find more birds elsewhere in Venezuela and across the border in Colombia.

Blue-bearded Helmetcrest. Photo by Sebastian Ballesteros Caro

Blue-bearded Helmetcrest. Photo by Sebastian Ballesteros Caro

Number Three: Mountaintop Marvel

The flashy Blue-bearded Helmetcrest long languished in taxonomic obscurity, lumped with other helmetcrest species. It was last observed in 1946. During much of the time this bird remained lost, it was considered part of another, more widespread species, which meant less attention from conservationists.

Searches conducted in the 1990s and early 2000s failed to encounter the species in what’s now known to be its small range. In 2013, a scientific paper advocated splitting helmetcrest species. Shortly after, in March 2015, ABC partner Fundación ProAves launched a search and rediscovered this bird.

The Blue-bearded Helmetcrest inhabits high-altitude shrublands known as páramo, where it is closely associated with frailejón plants growing on the high peaks of Colombia’s Santa Marta Mountains.

While this area is remote, it is not untouched. Fires set to manage pastures for cattle frequently degrade the habitat. However, since the bird’s rediscovery, a nonprofit organization called the Amazon Conservation Team, has begun working with local indigenous groups, and has initiated an app-based monitoring system to better understand the distribution of this hummingbird.

Despite its rarity, the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest continues to be seen in the Santa Marta Mountains, including, most recently in January 2018, when it was spotted by a visiting birder.

Number Four: The Biggest Lost Bird Re-found

The turkey-sized, curly-crested Belem Curassow inhabits one of the most deforested regions in Brazil’s Amazon region, and had last been spotted in the wild in 1978.

Thirty-eight years later, the curassow suddenly re-appeared, when three were found in a small Brazilian zoo. The following year, in 2017, something even more exciting happened: Scientists working with local indigenous people found a pair of Belem Curassows — known as the Mytunxi in the local Tupi language — in the wild.

Although curassows are highly vulnerable to deforestation and hunting pressure, their populations can recover — even in degraded forests — if provided relief from hunting. And, fortunately, the rediscovered birds are protected within the Gurupi Biological Reserve in northeastern Brazil.

Researchers used sound recordings and photos to document the rediscovery, as reported online in the Brazilian environmental journal ((o))eco. Check out the curassow’s alarm call, which sounds like a high-pitched, space-movie laser.

The Bahama nuthatch is a rediscovered bird

Bahama Nuthatch. Photo by Tom Benson

Number Five: Bahama’s One-Island Wonder

Grand Bahama island was but one island hit by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, but it was the only remaining home for a brown-capped passerine, the Bahama Nuthatch, which was last spotted before the hurricane’s arrival. Subsequent searches of its pineland habitat were unsuccessful, and it looked as though the hurricane might have claimed the species.

That changed in May 2018, when a field crew led by Zeko McKenzie, a researcher at the University of The Bahamas-North, found, photographed, and videotaped the lost nuthatch, documenting the species’ continued survival. McKenzie was part of a search team that was supported by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the Bahamas National Trust, and others. Another team, led by ornithologists from the University of East Anglia, was looking as well. After a short while, both teams confirmed the presence of the nuthatch.

So far, at least five individuals have been counted, and ABC is considering actions to protect the rediscovered Bahama Nuthatch and, hopefully, find more of these rare birds.

Stresemann's Bristlefront. Photo by Ciro Albano

Stresemann’s Bristlefront. Photo by Ciro Albano

UPDATE: “World’s Rarest Bird” Sighted in Brazil

An individual Stresemann’s Bristlefront, one of the world’s most endangered birds, was observed in Brazil in December 2018, after months of searches had come up empty. Sightings of the bristlefront on December 12th and 14th in fragments of habitat in Bahia, Brazil, have renewed hope that there is still time to save this remarkable, ground-nesting songbird from extinction. With only one currently known individual, this may well be the world’s rarest bird — although researchers do hope to find more individuals in the near future.

Coming Soon: Rediscovered Hummingbirds

If you want to read about other rediscovered birds, check back in the coming weeks: I plan to post another blog focused on hummingbird rediscoveries from prior decades.


Daniel Lebbin is the Vice President of Threatened Species at American Bird Conservancy. He completed his Ph.D. dissertation at Cornell University in 2007 on habitat specialization of Amazonian birds. f you have an interest in searching for any of the species mentioned in this blog, or supporting expeditions to look for them, contact Dan at dlebbin@abcbirds.org.

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Reddish Egret conservation efforts may help conserve an entire ecosystem. It’s a warm, humid spring evening on South Padre Island, a thin, 34-mile-long barrier island sheltering the southernmost tip of Texas. The skies are filling with the sharp silhouettes of birds — wings, beaks, tails of all shapes and sizes — as they make their … Read More>>Next postBird News Roundup: Week of 1/14/19

Still catching up from the holidays and New Years? Take a break with our latest roundup of notable bird and bird conservation news. We’ve got updates about some of your favorite species, from Whooping Crane to Lear’s Macaw. 1. “Feisty hummingbirds prioritize fencing over feeding,” Science Daily Hummingbirds are more complicated than we thought. Their … Read More>>

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Baby Ninja Tortoises 🐢

Even A Snow Leopard At The San Diego Zoo Has COVID Now

www.yahoo.com

Maggie Clancy


Who gave the snow leopard at the zoo COVID?!

Just when you thought you knew everything there is to know about COVID-19, the new Delta variant, and ways to keep yourself and your loved ones safe (vaccinate!), this happens. An unvaccinated snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo tested positive for COVID-19. Yes, a snow leopard.

A male snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo is suspected to have contracted SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Wildlife care specialists noticed the snow leopard was coughing and had nasal discharge, prompting the team to test for the virus. Results are pending at this time pic.twitter.com/GWLc6mygmw

— San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (@sandiegozoo) July 24, 2021

Ramil, a nine-year-old male snow leopard, had caretakers concerned when they noticed he had a cough and a runny nose on Thursday, July 22.

Zookeepers took two separate tests of Ramil’s stool and confirmed the presence of COVID-19, according to a statement made by the zoo the following day.

The snow leopard is being monitored closely and does not appear to have any major signs of illness other than the aforementioned symptoms. The origin of the possible exposure is still being investigated as we continue our contact tracing efforts. pic.twitter.com/pMNJcOfrJp

— San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (@sandiegozoo) July 24, 2021

Fortunately, Ramil and his habitat-mates — a female snow leopard and two Amur leopards — seem to be doing okay. Ramil’s symptoms haven’t worsened, and so far, the other three animals have remained safe in quarantine. The exhibit is closed as Ramil recovers and the rest of the animals stay in isolation from the rest of the zoo.

In an abundance of caution, the leopard habitat will be closed to Zoo visitors until further notice. We ask that you keep our snow leopard and the incredible team of dedicated wildlife care professionals and veterinarians who serve him in your thoughts during this time. pic.twitter.com/FDDOnZBbpy

— San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (@sandiegozoo) July 24, 2021

San Diego Zoo is unsure of how the snow leopard contracted the virus in the first place, as staff members are required to wear masks and use other PPE and sanitation precautions. Vaccination, however, is not required for the San Diego Zoo staff.

Ramil isn’t the first animal to contract COVID-19 at the San Diego Zoo. In January, eight gorillas at the zoo’s interactive Safari Park contracted the virus from an asymptomatic zookeeper.

The gorillas’ infection, in conjunction with Ramil’s COVID-19 case, had the zoo again requesting experimental COVID-19 vaccinations for animals most prone to catching the virus — large cats and primates — for emergency use.

A win for science: our partners at @Zoetis, a veterinary pharmaceutical company, developed a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) that we used to vaccinate great apes at the Zoo. The vaccine was created specifically for animals. @NatGeo https://t.co/ZpM5QVD4pl

— San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (@sandiegozoo) March 5, 2021

Again, the animals made a full recovery, but like humans, we still don’t know all of the long-term effects of contracting COVID-19. Some people who have had the virus have experienced elevated heart rates for months after infection, chronic lung issues, and other ailments associated with what people are calling “Long COVID,” or Post Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC). Long COVID can affect nearly any organ in the body, have a wide and varying range of symptoms, and testing long after the initial infection doesn’t always link the lasting symptoms to COVID-19.

Great news! Our gorilla troop has made a full recovery from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans. Starting today, our guests can once again connect with these primates and learn ways they can help save this important species. https://t.co/phlrubBPhr pic.twitter.com/Gpjdxy8UAY

— San Diego Zoo Safari Park (@sdzsafaripark) February 13, 2021

Vaccinating can also help keep you and your pets safe from contracting the virus, though Dr. Anthony Fauci explained in a town hall for kids that they shouldn’t be afraid to go near their pets and can still “give your pet a big hug” and not worry about being dangerous to them.

In the meantime, make sure to be wearing a mask in public, whether you are interacting with wild animals or not, because just like Ramil, the people around you can catch COVID-19 from anyone unvaccinated, even if they aren’t showing symptoms. Let’s keep everyone safe, people and animals alike.

See the original article on ScaryMommy.com

Yosemite ranger gives heartbreaking account of mother bear calling for cub killed by driver

www.fox35orlando.com

FOX 35 Orlando

YOSEMITE, Calif. – A Yosemite National Park ranger has shared a heartfelt, heartbreaking story about a young bear that was struck and killed by a vehicle and her grieving mother that spent hours by her side hoping to wake her up.

“From behind me there’s a deep toned but soft sounding grunt. I immediately know what it is. It’s a vocalization, the kind sows (female bears) make to call to their cubs,” the ranger shared in a Facebook post on Friday, along with a powerfully moving photo of the bear standing over her cub, which the ranger estimated was just months old. 

“This bear is the mom, and she never left her cub,” the ranger continued.

yosemite bear mom baby cub

In a Facebook post on July 16, 2021, a Yosemite park ranger shared a moving account of responding to a dead bear cub and learning it was hit by a vehicle. The ranger said that the mother had been by its side for hours trying to wake her cub. (Yosemite National Park)

The post began with the ranger acknowledging how common bear killings were and how hardened rangers’ hearts have become to these calls, due to the frequency of these events. Vehicle-bear collisions have been identified as one of the leading causes of death for black bears in Yosemite.

“‘Bear hit by vehicle, dead on the side of the road.’ Sadly, it’s become routine,” the ranger wrote.

The post went on to explain the process of going into the “routine” of responding to the call, which had come in some five hours earlier.

Once on scene, the ranger went through the steps of taking care of what was expected to be the latest in a string of similar cases. 

“My job here is easy, really: find the bear, move its body far away from the road to prevent any other animals from getting hit while scavenging on it, fill out a report, and collect samples and measurements for research,” the post said. “Then I’m off on my way again with another number to add to the total of bears hit by vehicles this year—data we hope will help prevent future collisions. Pretty callous,” the ranger wrote, adding, “However, the reality behind each of these numbers is not.”

SEE ALSO: California identifies new, rare gray wolf pack

To the ranger, this case would prove to be a painful reminder that each killed bear logged into the system was more than just a number, more than just data as part of a report.

The ranger surveyed the scene, inspecting the surroundings, looking for the usual signs and scanning the road for blood that might reveal where the animal’s body was.   

“I try to remember how many times I’ve done this now and, truthfully, I don’t know,” the writer pondered, while going through the motions, and noted, “This is not what any of us signs up for, but it’s a part of the job nonetheless.” 

And then a clue caught the ranger’s eyes: a vehicle part, presumably something that was once a section of an undercarriage. The training and vast experience prompted the ranger to the next move, to search the immediate area for a bear’s still body. 

SEE ALSO: 2 San Francisco brothers set record crossing large gap on a highline in Yosemite

Two San Francisco brothers claim highline record at Yosemite

Two brothers from San Francisco say they have set a record for the longest highline ever walked in both Yosemite National Park and California. Earlier this month, they and a group of friends spent nearly a week stringing a single, 2,800-foot-long line from Taft Point west across a series of gulleys that plunge 1,600 feet. Highlining is high-altitude slacklining, in which a narrow strip of strong, nylon webbing — usually an inch wide and a few millimeters thick — is strung between two anchor points and serves as a kind of balance beam.

“I turn my gaze from the car part down the embankment on the side of the road and there it is,” the post explained. 

What the ranger found next, prompted a pause as the animal was much smaller than expected. “A cub,” the ranger shared, describing the discovery. “Its tiny light brown body laying just feet from me and the road, nearly invisible to every passerby. It’s a new cub—couldn’t be much more than six months old, now balled up and lifeless under a small pine tree.” 

This call may have hit the ranger a little harder than the others, as the lifeless body was so small. “For a moment I lose track of time as I stand there staring at its tiny body,” the writer explained, noting it didn’t take long to snap out of it and remember what needed to be done next. “…the sound of more cars whizzing by reminds me of my place and my role. I let out a deep sigh and continue on with my task.”

But first, the ranger explained of being compelled to place the small cub in a different location before getting to the “task” of the job. 

“I pick up the cub—it couldn’t be much more than 25 pounds—and begin carrying it off into the woods. I have no certain destination; I’m just walking until I can no longer hear the hiss of the road behind me,” the writer recounted. “The least I can do is find it a nice place to be laid. I lay it down in the grass protected by one of the nearby logs and sit back on the log opposite of it, slightly relieved that it looks far more in place now than when I found it earlier.”

SEE ALSO: Surveillance video shows bear wandering Oakley neighborhood, police search continues

As the ranger started getting to work, there in the quiet of the woods came a sudden and startling sound of a snapping stick. The ranger looked up to find a dark figure, its dark eyes staring back. 

“It’s another bear. Surprised, I stand up quickly and the bear runs off into the brush,” the ranger wrote, noting that the animal took a moment to look back once more before leaving completely. 

The bear did eventually get out of sight, prompting the ranger to chalk it up to being just a coincidence and speculate that the bear might have been looking for food or perhaps the area was a common crossing for others of its kind. 

But within minutes, the ranger would know that it was not just a coincidence, that the bear had intentionally and with purpose found her way there, seeking and hoping for only one thing. And the animal would return as part of that pursuit. The scene that unfolded was a powerful reminder of the important work Yosemite rangers and other conservationists do to try and protect the iconic park and its inhabitants.   

When the bear returned, the ranger would be notified of her presence by the sad, heart-wrenching sound that she made as she called for her cub.

“I turn and look in its direction and there she is, the same bear from before intently staring back at me. It’s no coincidence. I can feel the callousness drain from my body,” the writer recalled. “My heart sinks. It’s been nearly six hours and she still hasn’t given up on her cub. I can just imagine how many times she darted back and forth on that road in attempts to wake it.” 

The ranger detailed the emotional scene, explaining how the mother’s calls to her cub continue, “sounding more pained each time.” The ranger watched on saying it was impossible not to hope that in some miraculous event, the cub would wake up and respond back to her mama. “…but of course, nothing,” the writer shared. “Now here I am, standing between a grieving mother and her child. I feel like a monster.” 

And the ranger decided it was time to leave. “I get up, quickly pack my bag, and get out of there… even though my task is not done.” 

But before leaving the mother bear and her dead cub, the park worker took out a camera to document the grim scene, with hopes of turning this moment into one that would educate visitors to the park and teach them that this moment could have been prevented. 

FLASHBACK Bears struck and killed by speeding drivers in Yosemite National Park

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“Every year we report the number of bears that get hit by vehicles, but numbers don’t always paint a picture,” the writer shared. “I want people to see what I saw: the sad reality behind each of these numbers.”

And the ranger made an urgent call to those who came to the park to take in the majestic world it had to offer.  

YOSEMITE-NATIONAL-PARK-from-Ellen-Ellery-1.jpeg.jpg

(Ellen Ellery)

“So please, remember this,” the ranger pleaded, “we are all just visitors in the home of countless animals and it is up to us to follow the rules that protect them. Go the speed limit, drive alertly, and look out for wildlife. Protecting Yosemite’s black bears is something we can all do.”

yosemite-bear.jpg

File of bear crossing the road.

Visitors to Yosemite National Park can learn more about how to prevent vehicle-bear collisions by clicking here.

https://www.fox35orlando.com/news/yosemite-ranger-gives-heartbreaking-account-of-mother-bear-calling-for-her-dead-cub-asks-drivers-to-slow-down

Wolves Help The World… Hunters Don’t And Never Will

Record rise in tiger population in Manas National Park may cause infighting & deaths

www.sentinelassam.com

Sentinel Digital Desk

STAFF REPORTER

GUWAHATI: Over three-fold increase in the number of adult tigers in the Manas National Park in a decade that has created a national record in tiger conservation in the country, may also result in infighting inside the park.

Such fear and apprehension are seen among renowned wildlife activists and NGOs.

“Better management and protection measures have increased to tigers in Manas, which is a positive sign. But in coming years, the focus should be given on the management of the prey base, so that deaths due to infighting do not take place”, said Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, CEO of Aaranyak, leading wildlife protection and conservation NGO said.

The National Park once ravaged by the problem of insurgency can now boast of having 38 adult tigers. The park had only 10 adult tigers in 2010.

The 12th annual camera trapping survey conducted this year has revealed the presence of 48 tigers, of which 38 are adults, 3 sub-adults and 7 cubs in Manas. Among the adult tigers, 21 are females, 16 males and 1 unidentified sex. The extensive systematic camera trap survey was carried out for the first time in Manas Tiger Reserve covering Manas National Park, First Addition to Manas National Park and Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary-together covering a total area of 876 sq. km approximately.

The annual survey in Manas using camera-traps is led by the Field Director of Manas Tiger Reserve and supported by Aaranyak and WWF India and has been continuing since 2010 in Manas for monitoring the tigers, co-predators and prey animals, with constant support from various donors and collaborators. This year Manas is celebrating the 12th year of collaboration with Aaranyak and WWF India for the annual camera trapping survey dedicated to assessing the population status of tigers in the area.

Dr M Firoz Ahmed, scientist and head of Tiger Research and Conservation Division, Aaranyak said, “Manas is a unique landscape that offers tremendous scope for conservation of Tigers and another biodiversity in a transboundary conservation landscape. The future of conservation of the landscape lies with both India and Bhutan as the forest on either side of the international boundary complements with each other, which was proved by new understandings how individual tigers share transboundary space.”

Also Read: A 3-fold rise in Manas tiger population creates a conservation record

https://www.sentinelassam.com/amp/guwahati-city/record-rise-in-tiger-population-in-manas-national-park-may-cause-infighting-deaths-aaranyak-547457?__twitter_impression=true

Wild animals are born free, they should remain free: Virginia McKenna on why zoos should be banned

  • Virginia McKenna, 90, who starred in film Born Free said it transformed her life
  • After filming, she was horrified to learn most of the lions would be taken to zoos  
  • Her and husband Bill gave up Hollywood and dedicated lives to conservation

www.dailymail.co.uk

Helena Horton For The Daily Mail

When Virginia McKenna was asked to star in the film Born Free with her husband Bill Travers she knew it might be career-changing, but she could never have guessed it would transform her life. 

Virginia has always had an affection for animals, but it was getting to know the lions in the film that made her and Bill give up their Hollywood careers and dedicate their lives to conservation.

The 1966 film was based on the true story of wildlife conservationist George Adamson and his wife Joy, who had taken in three orphaned lion cubs and raised one of them, Elsa, to adulthood before releasing her into the wild. 

It was the most popular movie at the British box office that year and won two Oscars, but for Virginia and Bill, who played the Adamsons, it changed everything. 

‘Before Born Free we knew almost nothing about lions or the wider conservation world,’ Virginia, 90, tells me from her cottage in the Surrey Hills.  Virginia McKenna, 90, speaking from her cottage in the Surrey Hills, said starring in 1966 film Born Free with husband Bill Travers transformed her life. Pictured Virginia with lioness, Girl

‘So on the three-week voyage by ship to Kenya we spent almost all our time reading every book or article about lions we could. But it was the constant presence of George, who was the technical advisor on the film, that taught us so much – how to interpret lion behaviour, how to tell when one was unsettled or relaxed. 

‘We learned about the challenges facing wildlife, although in those days it seemed as if the natural world went on forever. I think I’m right in saying that when Born Free was made there were 100,000 to 200,000 wild lions across Africa. Today there are just 20,000. Making Born Free was the spark for us.’

Bill had starred in films with Ava Gardner and Jean Simmons while Virginia, nine years his junior, was a stunning up-and-coming actress when they first met as the leads in the play I Capture The Castle in 1954. They met again two years later after Virginia had split up with her husband Denholm Elliott and were married within a year. They went on to star in a number of films together before Born Free made them global stars. When filming finished Virginia and Bill were horrified to learn that most of the 20 or so lions used in the film would be taken to zoos and wildlife parks around the globe. Pictured: Virginia and Bill as Joy and George with some of the adorable cubs in 1966’s Born Free It made her and Bill (pictured) give up their Hollywood careers and dedicate their lives to conservation

But when filming finished Virginia and Bill were horrified to learn that most of the 20 or so lions used in the film would be taken to zoos and wildlife parks around the globe. ‘This was terrible,’ she says. ‘But we managed to save three of them, including a brother and sister and a big lion who was saved from an animal orphanage in Nairobi.’

George persuaded Virginia and Bill to stay with him and the lions in Kenya’s Meru National Park instead of returning to Hollywood, but they soon found that living with big cats could be unpredictable. ‘One day we were out walking with two young lions, Boy and Girl,’ recalls Virginia. 

‘They started to stalk a group of gazelle, and Boy kept snagging our ankles to get us to join them in the game. On our hands and knees we crept closer, but it was painful and at one stage I stood up. The spell was broken and Boy leapt at me, not in anger but more with a sense of regret that the game was over.  Soon they were campaigning for an end to wildlife in captivity, but it was an experience with Pole Pole the baby elephant that made Virginia come to the conclusion that all zoos should be shut. Pictured: The powerful Mail photo of Pole Pole reaching out to Virginia and Bill at London Zoo

Click here to resize this module One of several features the Daily Mail ran in 1983 supporting Virginia and Bill’s Pole Pole crusade, pictured

AN ELEPHANT NEVER FORGETS ITS REAL HOME

We called her name and she stretched out her trunk to us: Virginia and her husband Bill Travers (pictured) visiting Pole Pole in 1983

The phone call I received from Virginia McKenna to my office at the Daily Mail in Fleet Street on 18 October 1983, in which she sobbed uncontrollably at the death of a much-loved elephant, will be forever etched on my mind. I wasn’t to know it at the time, but it was a moment that would play a significant role in igniting the global conservation movement, helped by a Daily Mail photograph.

The Mail was supporting Virginia in her battle to have Pole Pole the elephant moved from her desolate enclosure at London Zoo to a large leafy space at Whipsnade, and had published several moving features about the elephant’s plight. From time to time Virginia and her husband Bill Travers visited Pole Pole, taking her a big bag of oranges, her favourite fruit. As soon as Pole Pole heard Virginia calling, she would stop pacing her pen, walk to the moat and extend her trunk to touch Bill and Virginia’s outstretched hands in recognition of her old friends.

As Virginia shed tears at this poignant moment, Daily Mail photographer Ted Blackbrow took what has become one of the most powerful images ever in the campaign against locking wild animals up in zoos. The photo hung on the wall of the features department at the Mail and I was looking at it when Virginia, weeping, told me the shocking news. ‘Pole Pole’s dead. They’ve killed her. And London Zoo must take the blame.’

Despite her distress, Virginia wrote a moving article about Pole Pole for the Mail which was published all over the world alongside Ted’s photograph. Thousands of messages of sympathy reached Virginia, and the zoo sustained such a bombardment of criticism it eventually closed its elephant compound in Regent’s Park and began a revolutionary reorganisation of the animals’ living spaces.

It was Pole Pole’s death that led Virginia to set up the campaign group Zoo Check, which began with an auction of personal possessions from friends in a room above the Queen’s Elm pub in Chelsea, conducted by Ronnie Corbett, that raised £2,000. Today, 37 years later and now known as the Born Free Foundation, it has 200 employees and an annual income of £5m.

‘There is no doubt the Daily Mail photograph was a catalyst for change,’ Virginia tells me now. ‘How could people fail to respond to such a deeply poignant image. An elephant never forgets… and it never forgets it was born free. It was wonderful the paper was there to record the moment, and we are grateful for it.’

Roderick Gilchrist

‘I heard a sickening snap in my ankle when I landed with Boy on top of me. Bill took off his shirt and wiggled it through the grass to distract Boy, and he managed to get the lions into the back of the Land Rover before taking me to hospital. I was in plaster for weeks, but who was the first to greet me when I came back? Boy! He came straight up to the Land Rover and stuck his massive head through the half-open window to say hello.’ 

Soon Virginia and Bill were campaigning for an end to wildlife in captivity, but it was the traumatic experience with her ‘adorable little friend’ Pole Pole the baby elephant while making the 1969 film An Elephant Called Slowly that brought Virginia to the conclusion that all zoos should be shut. 

In the film Bill and Virginia played themselves, house-sitting in Kenya, when three elephants turn up in the grounds and ‘adopt’ their new humans before returning to the wild when they leave. 

After filming Pole Pole was due to make the long journey from Nairobi to a concrete enclosure at London Zoo. Virginia begged the government to let her buy the elephant and take it to a safe place, but they would agree only if they could take another elephant from the wild for the zoo. 

‘It was shattering,’ she says. ‘We couldn’t endorse another elephant being taken from its family to go into captivity, we just couldn’t.’ 

A decade later, she and Bill mustered the emotional strength to visit their imprisoned friend a few times at London Zoo. ‘We called her name and she stretched out her trunk to touch our hands,’ she recalls. ‘It’s a moment I shall never forget. I suppose it was then that we became activists, and we campaigned for Pole Pole to go back to Africa.’ 

But the story gets worse. In 1983 Pole Pole was due to be transferred to Whipsnade in Bedfordshire, which would have more space and a herd for her to join. First she was darted with tranquillisers, but part of the needle was left in her skin and turned septic. 

‘They then kept her standing in her travelling crate for many hours and she collapsed,’ says Virginia, her voice cracking. ‘They examined her and said she’d lost the will to live. Her death is what caused all this to start.’

Sitting around their kitchen table in Surrey, Virginia, Bill and their son Will set up Zoo Check to hold zoos to account and ensure they treated wild animals properly. Zoo Check (which evolved into the Born Free Foundation) sent out a survey to investigate 340 zoos on the continent, but it was found that there were actually 1,007, meaning only just over a third were registered. 

This led to the 1999 EU Zoos Directive, requiring registration as well as adherence to conservation, welfare and education criteria. ‘Our purpose was to look at what was going on in zoos and the consequences for the animals,’ explains Virginia. ‘If no one agreed with us we would have disappeared without a trace. But we’ve just marked our 37th birthday.’

Pole Pole’s death also led Virginia to lead a campaign to stop London Zoo housing elephants, and in 2001 the zoo shut its elephant enclosure after more than 170 years. 

And just last month it was announced that legislation is being prepared that would prohibit the importation of any new elephants to UK zoos, with the existing population being allowed to die out naturally. 

It is also proposed that zoos will lose their charitable status if they fail to prove they’re doing sufficient conservation work. 

‘Zoos will never be acceptable,’ says Virginia. ‘Of course, if an animal becomes injured in the wild it has to be looked after, but you can’t then keep a wild animal out of the wild. I don’t believe in people being locked up unless they’ve done something terribly wrong. These animals haven’t done anything wrong and they’re being locked up anyway. The zoos are saying, “Hooray, the visitors are coming back,” after lockdown, but I wonder if the visitors realise that lockdown for these animals is permanent.’ Virginia (pictured) remains an irrepressible activist at 90, saying, zoos will ‘never be acceptable’ as ‘lockdown for these animals is permanent’ Virginia pictured paying her respects at the grave of the real lion, Elsa, in Kenya, which the film Born Free was based on

Virginia, Bill and Will have been one of conservation’s most influential families, with the Born Free Foundation changing the lives of millions of creatures in captivity. Ironically, it was Born Free the film, Bill’s most successful ever, that made him turn his back on stardom and concentrate on animal documentaries. 

CARRIE’S FIGHTING VIRGINIA’S CORNER

Virginia has an ally in the prime minister’s wife Carrie Johnson. Pictured: With Damian Aspinall

Virginia has an ally in the prime minister’s wife Carrie Johnson, who runs communications for the Aspinall Foundation and shares the belief that all wild animals should be returned to their natural habitat. 

Although Damian Aspinall and his family own two wildlife parks in Kent, Howletts and Port Lympne, they say that all their animals are earmarked to return to the wild. They breed populations of endangered species in large numbers so they can be released in Africa, and are responsible for the successful reintroduction of gorillas to Gabon.

Carrie has been a vocal campaigner against the neglect of animals in zoos, recently steering the Aspinall Foundation to petition for help for a sick lion languishing in Tehran Zoo.  Pictured: The sick Tehran lion

Kamran, a rare Asiatic lion, was moved there from Bristol Zoo in 2019 but contracted a disease called feline viral rhinotracheitis. The Aspinall Foundation has called for urgent medical help for Kamran, and a move to a more suitable enclosure.

Virginia is sympathetic to their views, but remains unconvinced that animals should be bred away from their natural habitat. ‘Damian Aspinall has certainly done more than most,’ she says, ‘but it’s very expensive and fraught with difficulties. I’m still in two minds.’ 

‘He did acting off and on but documentaries were what he wanted to do,’ Virginia recalls. ‘And Hollywood was all a bit too contrived for me. George’s little camp was so real. Every day was a beautiful, simple, authentic challenge. We once went with our four children for Christmas. It was surreal sitting in his mess-hut eating Christmas lunch wearing paper hats, with lions resting quietly just outside the perimeter fence.’

It was while Bill was filming documentaries about zoos in Europe that he coined the word ‘zoochosis’, to describe the unnatural behaviour exhibited by captive animals. ‘We saw great apes smearing faeces on the walls, giraffes compulsively licking the bars of their enclosure and an elephant smashing its trunk on the side of its face,’ says Virginia. ‘That’s the sort of behaviour seen by prisoners in solitary confinement.’

Realising the impact Born Free had on the public, Virginia, Bill and Will renamed their charity after the blockbuster in 1991. Virginia has coaxed celebrity friends into joining the cause, including Martin Clunes, Bryan Adams and Joanna Lumley, who was their first patron. Born Free has since led a successful campaign to ban the use of wild animals in circuses in this country as of January last year, and played a part in ending the UK’s dolphinarium industry – there were once more than 30 aquariums with dolphins here but the final tank was drained in 1993.

Yet while Born Free makes convincing arguments, the general consensus is still in favour of zoos. Proponents argue they give people a chance to become concerned about endangered species they would otherwise not know about. They have also saved many animals from extinction, including the Brazilian Spix’s macaw, star of 2011 Disney film Rio, which was declared extinct in the wild in 2018 but is now due to be returned to the wild after a successful breeding programme. All regulated zoos in Europe have to dedicate a portion of their takings to conservation, and London Zoo has improved habitats for animals across the globe, from angel sharks off the coast of Wales to the Sumatran tiger in Indonesia.

But Virginia’s son Will thinks zoos do more harm than good, and believes it’s wasteful to spend millions of pounds on state-of-the-art enclosures when the wild is crying out for investment, pointing out that some enclosures cost more than the entire wildlife budget of some African countries. ‘As an example, they built a new elephant house at Los Angeles Zoo seven or eight years ago. The old one was just under two acres, the new one is just over two acres, and it cost $14 million,’ he says. ‘That’s close to the entire annual operating budget of the Kenya Wildlife Service, which is responsible for 6 million acres of land, 35,000 elephants, 1,000 rhino and 2,500 lions. Born Free can’t accept this is the best we can do, because it clearly isn’t.’

So what would happen to the animals if all zoos were shut? Born Free’s position is that zoos should be phased out over time, giving the animals in captivity a chance to live out their natural lives or be rehomed in more humane conditions. ‘We started campaigning on circus animals in the mid-90s, and the use of wild animals in circuses was eventually ended in 2019, 25 years later,’ explains Virginia, who hopes her plans for the closure of zoos will be her legacy. ‘It’ll be challenging and we’ll need to be brave but if we truly want what’s best for the world’s wildlife then, in my opinion, zoos are not the answer.’ 

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-9761033/amp/Wild-animals-born-free-remain-free-Virginia-McKenna-zoos-banned.html?__twitter_impression=true

WildEarth Guardians scores big protections for wildlife in New Mexico

wildearthguardians.org

Agreement with USDA’s Wildlife Services curbs killing of cougars, bears, and other native species 6

SANTA FE, NM—In a major win for New Mexico’s wildlife, WildEarth Guardians settled its lawsuit against USDA’s Wildlife Services after the federal program agreed to stop its reckless slaughter of native carnivores such as black bears, cougars, and foxes on all federal public lands; cease killing all carnivores on specific protected federal lands; and end the use of cruel traps, snares, and poisons on public lands.

The settlement additionally requires public reporting of Wildlife Services’ activities in the state, including documenting non-lethal preventative measures employed by the program. These protections will remain in place pending the program’s completion of a detailed and public environmental review of its work.

The settlement agreement comes after WildEarth Guardians sued Wildlife Services in October 2020 over the program’s reliance on severely outdated environmental reviews of its work. The agreement, filed with the federal district court of New Mexico, ensures that Wildlife Services will no longer conduct any wildlife killing in New Mexico’s specially protected areas such as designated Wilderness, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, and Wild & Scenic River corridors. The program will cease using sodium cyanide bombs (M44s) and other poisons on all public lands within the state. Additionally, the program will no longer kill beavers, which are increasingly seen as critical to mitigating the effects of widespread drought.

Notably, the agreement also mandates that a program district supervisor reviews all wolf depredation investigation reports before a livestock depredation determination is made in an effort to ensure appropriate safeguards for the endangered Mexican gray wolves that inhabit southwestern New Mexico.

“It’s past time for Wildlife Services to start grappling with 21st century science showing killing wildlife in hopes of preventing livestock losses doesn’t work, is often counterproductive, horribly inhumane, and robs native ecosystems of critically important apex carnivores,” said Jennifer Schwartz, staff attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “We’re glad our settlement kickstarts this process, while affording New Mexico’s wildlife some reprieve from the government’s archaic and cruel killing practices.”

The settlement agreement, finalized on March 11, 2021, includes multiple temporary provisions that will soon become permanent parts of New Mexico law as the result of the enactment of the Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act (“Roxy’s Law”) earlier this month. Roxy’s Law—championed by WildEarth Guardians and its allies in the TrapFree New Mexico coalition—bans the use of traps, snares, and poisons, on all public lands in the state of New Mexico. While Roxy’s Law is set to go into effect on April 1, 2022, the settlement agreement ensures that Wildlife Services refrains from using these devices on public lands immediately.

“The past several weeks have seen incredible wins for New Mexico’s native wildlife,” said Chris Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “With the climate crisis, drought, and human expansion all taking a toll on our state’s biodiversity, it’s time we stop seeing wildlife as something that needs to be killed and culled and instead see it as something that deserves protection and respect.”

Wildlife Services is culpable of killing thousands of animals in New Mexico each year including coyotes, cougars, prairie dogs, several varieties of fox, and even endangered Mexican gray wolves. Per federal law, Wildlife Services must use up-to-date studies and the best available science to analyze the environmental impact of their animal damage control program on New Mexico’s wildlife and native ecosystems. Under the agreement, Wildlife Services must provide an environmental analysis of the effects and risks of its wildlife-killing program in New Mexico by December 31, 2021.

The settlement agreement also requires Wildlife Services to significantly increase its overall transparency with the public by documenting and releasing—via its state website—detailed yearly reports of its wildlife “damage control” practices. This includes the number and type of animals captured and by which method, the number of requests for assistance and the reason given (livestock protection, health and safety, nuisance, etc.), and types of non-lethal preventative measures employed by Wildlife Services or the party requesting lethal control. This type of detailed information has previously only been available through formal Freedom of Information Act requests, which typically take many months, if not years, for USDA to fulfill.

“A public reporting requirement will compel Wildlife Services to be held accountable to the general public for its actions,” said Schwartz. “We hope that this motivates Wildlife Services to employ practices in line with the values of the public and embrace the use of scientifically verified non-lethal conflict prevention.”

BackgroundWildlife Services is a multimillion-dollar federal program that uses painful leghold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and aerial gunning to kill wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds, and other wild animals. Most of the killing responds to requests from the agriculture industry.

The program reported killing more than 433,000 native animals nationwide in 2020. Nontarget animals, including pets and protected wildlife like wolves, grizzlies and eagles, are also at risk from the program’s indiscriminate methods.

Over the last five years, litigation by WildEarth Guardians and partners against Wildlife Services has resulted in settlement agreements and legal victories in Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and New Mexico, all curbing the program’s slaughter of native wildlife and making the program accountable for its activities.

Large male black bear feeding on hawthorn berries during the fall. Photo by Sam Parks.

https://wildearthguardians.org/press-releases/wildearth-guardians-scores-big-protections-for-wildlife-in-new-mexico/

A Great Loss…

UPDATE: Adoption Program Sending Wild Horses To Slaughter Challenged By Lawsuits and Lawmakers

wild horses

ladyfreethinker.org

Lady Freethinker

More than 30 legislators have sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland demanding a thorough review of the Bureau of Land Management(BLM)’s Adoption Incentive Program for wild horses and burros to ensure the iconic animals won’t continue to be sent by adopters to slaughter, in violation of the agency’s adoption agreement.

The BLM founded the adoption program, which offers a $1,000 incentive to people approved to adopt a wild horse from a gather operation, to find good homes for the animals.  

But a New York Times exposé found the agency was allowing individuals with backgrounds involving horse slaughter to adopt, and that numerous adopters had sold their rescued animals to slaughterhouses or middlemen after pocketing the taxpayer-funded stipends. The exposé also quoted an agency spokesperson saying those adopters would be allowed to adopt again.

Following the shocking report, more than 30 House legislators led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) sent Haaland a letter, denouncing the gruesome loopholes and demanding a thorough investigation and review of practices.

Haaland, during her previous time in Congress, has backed legislation protecting wild horses and burros.

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) also has threatened to sue the agency in federal court, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

AWHC’s Executive Director Suzanne Roy said the nonprofit will not sit idly by while untold numbers of federally protected wild horses and burros are sent to slaughter through a taxpayer-subsidized incentive program.

“We are prepared to take the battle over the BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program to federal court if the Interior Department continues to delay action to protect these iconic animals and abide by the congressional prohibition on wild horse and burro slaughter,” Roy said in a statement.

Nonprofit Friends of Animals also recently filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Colorado, according to the Denver Post. The lawsuit also alleges the adoption program is circumventing federal law that forbids the slaughter of wild horses and calls for an immediate, temporary halt to the program so the BLM can conduct a thorough investigation into the program’s outcomes and impact.

Congressional law has protected wild horses and burros since 1971, making it illegal to sell the animals to buyers who intend to slaughter them.

The call to action follows other legislation ramping up attention and protections for equines, including the Save America’s Forgotten Equines Act currently before lawmakers.

More than 7,500 wild horses and burros have been adopted through the incentive program since 2019, according to the BLM. The federal agency has roundups scheduled through June. 

If you haven’t already, sign our petition urging the BLM to stop these adoptions that send wild horses to a grisly end.

https://ladyfreethinker.org/update-adoption-program-sending-wild-horses-to-slaughter-challenged-by-lawsuit-and-lawmakers/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email

Take bird feeders down in D.C., nearby states, experts say – BirdWatching

www.birdwatchingdaily.com

By Matt Mendenhall

Illustration by Dzm1try/Shutterstock

Wildlife experts in Washington, D.C., and nearby states say they have not identified the cause of recent deaths of many birds in the region, but they are encouraging the public to temporarily cease feeding birds to avoid the potential spread of disease at feeders.

In late May, wildlife managers and rehabbers in Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs.

The District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, and National Park Service are continuing to work with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the cause of mortality. Those laboratories include the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Georgia Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, and the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program.

A report on the National Wildlife Health Center’s WHISPers site, which summarizes incidents of wildlife illnesses and mortality nationwide, shows 37 dead or sick birds — Common Grackles, Blue Jays, American Robins, and European Starlings — from several counties in Virginia on May 20. 

Birds congregating at feeders and baths can transmit disease to one another. Therefore, the state and district agencies recommend that the public in the outbreak area:Advertisement

  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife mortality event has concluded;
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution;
  • Avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary; and
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.

If you encounter sick or dead birds, please contact your state or district wildlife conservation agency. If you must remove dead birds, place them in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. Additional information will be shared as diagnostic results are received.

Thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey for providing this news.

https://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/news/birdwatching/take-bird-feeders-down-in-d-c-nearby-states-experts-say/?amp&__twitter_impression=true

Update on birds dying in DC

Leading Wild Horse Group Challenges Bureau of Land Management’s Mojave Desert Wild Burro Eradication Plan

americanwildhorsecampaign.org

Legal appeal cites failure to consider new research documenting key role that wild burros play in desert ecosystems

Riverside, CA (June 23, 2021) — This week, the American Wild Horse Campaign, the nation’s leading wild horse protection organization, filed a legal challenge to the  Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) plan to eradicate federally protected wild burros from three Herd Areas in the Mojave Desert in California. In an appeal to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA), AWHC challenged the legal basis for the eradication plan and said that the agency violated federal law by failing to consider new science documenting the critical role that wild burros play in the desert ecosystems where they live. 

“Wild burros are icons of the West and protected under federal law. They are also important ecosystem engineers whose removal from other desert areas has led to species extinction,” said Brieanah Schwartz, AWHC’s Director of Policy and Litigation. “We are appealing to the Interior Department Board of Land Appeals to overturn the decision to exterminate wild burros from the Centennial, Slate, and Panamint Herd Areas because it is inhumane, unscientific, and violates several federal laws.” 

The BLM’s decision to set the Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) to zero wild burros in the Centennial, Slate, and Panamint Herd Areas was implemented in the 1980s and has not been re-evaluated in the decades since. Now new research on the benefits of wild burros to the desert ecosystem, published in Science, illuminates the need for re-evaluation, the AWHC’s appeal alleges. The research shows how wild burros are boosting the availability of water in desert landscapes across the American West and how the removal of burros from similar ecosystems has caused the extinction of rare fish species.

AWHC’s appeal alleges that by not considering the new research, the BLM is violating the agency’s obligations, under federal law, to periodically review land use planning documents and meaningfully analyze all new information instead of using the environmental review process to support a foregone conclusion to eradicate the burros.

The BLM plan calls for removing all of the approximately 1,000 wild burros living in this one million+ acre public lands area over ten years. The first in a series of helicopter roundups aimed at removing the burros was conducted earlier this month, with 290  burros, including 39 foals, captured so far. The captured burros were sent to the BLM’s Ridgecrest holding pens where they will be sold or adopted through the BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program, which the New York Times exposed as a pipeline to slaughter for hundreds of wild horses and burros. 

AWHC is asking the IBLA to vacate the BLM’s decision record and direct the agency to instead meaningfully analyze the Herd Areas for redesignation as actively managed habitat for a permanent population of wild burros. 

###

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is the nation’s leading wild horse protection organization, with more than 700,000 supporters and followers nationwide. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. In addition to advocating for the protection and preservation of America’s wild herds, AWHC implements the largest wild horse fertility control program in the world through a partnership with the State of Nevada for wild horses that live in the Virginia Range near Reno.

https://americanwildhorsecampaign.org/media/leading-wild-horse-group-challenges-bureau-land-managements-mojave-desert-wild-burro

“Tiniest Baby Elephant Copies Everything His Mom Does” The Dodo Little But Fierce

Grizzly bear ‘Felicia’ and her cubs may be euthanized for being too close to Wyoming road

news.yahoo.com

Felicia walking along a weeded area with her two cubs.
Felicia walking along a weeded area with her two cubs.

Sudiksha Kochi, USA TODAY

A grizzly bear mother and her two cubs are at risk for relocation or even death after making their home near a Wyoming highway.

The bear, known as “Felicia” by Jackson Hole residents poses a threat, wildlife officials say, for her family’s proximity to a 55-mile highway in the Togwotee Mountain Pass.

People have also been spotted approaching and feeding the bears.

“Human-conditioned behavior,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a news release, could lead to aggressive bear behavior.

If park rangers aren’t able to scare the bear off the road using rubber bullets or loud noises over the next 10 to 14 days, U.S. Fish and Wildlife service says Felicia and her cubs will likely be relocated or euthanized.

Wildlife advocates, including Savannah Rose Burgess, say euthanasia shouldn’t be an option. Burgess launched a petition on June 11 to save Felicia and her cubs that has more than 34,500 signatures as of Thursday.

With her team, Burgess is also working to launch a bear ambassador program where a person or multiple people would ensure visitors are following appropriate guidelines in the presence of bears.

“We have the opportunity here to make a really impactful change,” Burgess told USA TODAY. “It is absolutely horrible to try to think of removing this animal. She’s important and she’s vital, and not just vital to her species in the reproductive sense.”

She has been in contact with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who are open to her efforts and are working with her.

Felicia, according to Burgess, has never been aggressive or charged anyone. Award-winning wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen, who has documented Felicia for over six years, also says that she is very calm and collected.

“This is more of a people management issue than a bear management issue. We need more people on the ground who are trained and educated,” Mangelsen told USA TODAY.

Yellowstone bear charges woman: National Park Service has launched investigation

‘Just didn’t seem quite right’: Bear with rare disease seems unfazed

Mangelsen and his assistant, Susan Cedarholm, are working with different entities such as the forest service and the wildlife service to come up with a solution to keep Felicia alive and other bears that may come along.

“We are all working for the same cause,” Mangelsen said.

Jack Bayles, owner of Team399 that helps fund grizzly bear education and protection, says that it is up to the person to be informed on bear guidelines. An incident happened in Yellowstone National Park where a woman disregarded park rules to stay 100 yards away from bears, and it ended up charging her.

“I think the bear ambassador program can be really effective. The wildlife brigade in Grand Teton National Park, for example, has been highly successful in managing people around these situations,” Bayles said.

Bayles said that part of keeping bears alive is respecting their boundaries.

“The bears have done nothing wrong. There just happens to be a road that goes through her territory,” Bayles said. “I think it’s incumbent upon the public to understand what their role is when they come into a grizzly habitat.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Grizzly bear Felicia, cubs near Wyoming road may be euthanized: FWS

https://news.yahoo.com/grizzly-bear-felicia-her-cubs-111502183.html?soc_src=social-sh&soc_trk=tw&tsrc=twtr

Alleged rhino poaching kingpin ‘Mr Big’ shot and killed in Hazyview – Lowvelder

HOME17JUNE2021

By Chelsea Pieterse and Kara van der BergADVERTISEMENTnull

The police have confirmed the fatal shooting of Petros Sidney Mabuza, also known as ‘Mr Big’ or ‘Mshengu’.

He was allegedly shot in Hazyview earlier today and reportedly died on his way to Kiaat Hospital in Mbombela this afternoon.

Mabuza has been in and out of the courts since 2018 on charges of rhino poaching.

In 2018 he was arrested and charged with crimes ranging from rhino horn theft to the illegal possession of rifles and live ammunition. Family of Petros Mabuza gather in the Kiaat Hospital parking lot following the news of his death earlier today.

This is a developing story. Lowvelder will keep you updated.

https://lowvelder.co.za/733921/alleged-rhino-poaching-kingpin-mr-big-shot-and-killed-in-hazyview/?pwa-amp&&__twitter_impression=true

South Africa’s rhino crisis: Poachers, magistrates and kingpins

www.standard.co.uk

Abbianca Makoni

Poachers masquerading as rangers, magistrates allegedly taking bribes from kingpins and lenient sentences handed out to ruthless criminals – this is the current state of South Africa’s rhino crisis, according to campaigners.

Strict limits on travel due to coronavirus, imposed last year, had a positive effect on keeping poachers and smugglers at bay, with just 394 rhinos poached in the country in 2021, 30 percent fewer than the year before and the lowest yearly tally since 2011.

But with gates open again, the onslaught on rhinos and corruption inside courtrooms is once again rising, according to Jamie Joseph, head of the environmental charity, Saving the Wild.

Speaking from an undisclosed location in Africa, Joseph told the Standard: “For the last decade corruption has been driving rhinos into extinction, and it’s just getting worse.

The kingpins call the shots; we run the intel, they get arrested, but then they always get bail and never go to jail

Ms Joseph alleged that kingpins were able to “rule” because of the “dirty officers and magistrates on their payroll.”

Following the campaign’s expose on how the UK’s red list could pose a threat to African conservation efforts, campaigners have told the Standard that corruption in South Africa needs serious attention as Covid restrictions continue to ease.

The country is home to 80 per cent of Africa’s rhino population, but there are only about 25,000 rhinos left and roughly 1,000 are killed every year for their horn.

But the violent and deadly trade has brewed in the country for decades–in 2007 the country lost just 13 rhinos to poaching, the next year, that number jumped to 83. By 2014, a total of 1,215 had been killed in one year and deaths are still high.

The horns are made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails, which means they can grow back. They are considered to be worth more by weight than cocaine, and so traffickers go to great lengths to smuggle it out of, or around, Africa.

Corruption

Ms Joseph, a dedicated conservationist originally born in Zimbabwe, first launched what she describes as the “Blood Rhino Blacklist” in 2017 – a list of allegedly corrupt magistrates and lawyers who she claims have taken bribes on rhino poaching and other crimes.

Her Blacklist investigations led the Ministry of Justice to suspend KwaZulu Natal Court President, Eric Nzimande.

Nzimande, who was responsible for, among other things, the appointment of presiding officers to the province’s regional courts was suspended in October 2018.

He now he faces 112 disciplinary charges, including appointing acting regional court magistrates in return for payments.

Other cases of alleged corruption in courts include the case of alleged kingpin Dumisani Gwala, who is accused of running a trafficking ring.

He was arrested with rhino horn, but has pleaded not guilty to charges of dealing in protected wildlife parts.

Donate to the stop the illegal wildlife trade, here: / ESI Media

Donate to the stop the illegal wildlife trade, here:

An eight-month intelligence-driven operation led to Gwala’s arrest in December 2014.

It was hailed a significant bust as he had been caught several times before, but the cases had either been withdrawn, or the dockets “suspiciously” went missing, according to Joseph.

The case of Gwala is still ongoing but the campaigner said his trial at Mtubatuba Court is “long overdue.”

It has been mired with controversy and back in 2017 several wildlife campaigners argued that the case needed to be moved to a different court.

The trial is now scheduled for June 28 this year after it was delayed 30 times, Joseph told the Standard.

Jean​-Pierre Roux, the former police endangered wildlife detective, who arrested Gwala, said: “We faced corruption in all facets from police involvement in criminal activities, the robbery and corruption that comes after people are confronted or arrested to the corruption with the magistrates and prosecutors.

“We had to deal with all of that.”

Mr Roux, who has faced death threats for getting too close to information, claimed that some police officers left or retired from forces due to the state of the alleged corruption.

I think proper vetting should be implemented as well as background checks. But then you must take into consideration as well, that not all criminals or corrupt officials start off corrupt but they change when they come in.

“But another issue is that those good officials or rangers are afraid of speaking up out of fear of losing their lives because they might live in the same area as the criminal. They could get killed,” he added.

On the field

Ms Joseph claims that corruption doesn’t just lie inside courtrooms in South Africa but it also takes place on the fields, where rangers should be protecting the wildlife.

Ms Joseph alleged that the greatest challenge the Kruger faces “is the enemy within.”

One bust includes that of Phineas Dinda, who is a former Sanparks full corporal in the Rangers Corps.

He was arrested in Tshokwane section in May 2019 and was found in possession of trespassing the Kruger National Park, conspiracy to commit a crime, and possession of an unlicensed firearm, live ammunition and an axe, reported the Times Live.

Dinda was convicted for 16 years.

Three other SanParks employees were arrested for poaching in October 2020, according to Ewn news.

The two security guards and another worker from the technical services division were arrested during an operation between the park and the police.

In a statement published by Gareth Coleman, the managing executive of the Kruger National Park, at the time, he said: “It is always disheartening when colleagues from Sanparks are involved in criminal activities.

“It breaks down trust amongst employees which impacts our responsibilities to act as an effective conservation authority serving the people of South Africa,” it added.

Joseph, however, argues much more needs to be done as “rangers are being forced to work with poachers masquerading as rangers.”

“The thing is, you can have all the money and all the technology and all the weapons and all the soldiers in the world. But if you lose the war on corruption, you lose the war on everything,” she added.

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/stop-wildlife-trade/south-africa-poaching-rhino-crisis-corruption-magistrates-kingpins-b940827.html

A female snapping turtle looking for a place to lay her eggs.

It’s nesting season for snapping turtles.Be on the lookout for them crossing the road, stop if you can so they can safely cross the road and if you’re a warrior like me, park your car in a safe zone, walk up behind them and wait for them to go into their shell and pick them up close to they’re back feet and be prepared for them to poke their head out and try to snap at you, but they won’t be able to reach you if you keep your hands close to their back feet, and if you come across one that’s been hit by a car, call your local wildlife sanctuary, they’re several places I can drop them off in my area, I keep an old bath towel and gloves in my trunk and gently place them on the towel, grab the ends of the towel and carry them to your car. 

Safe travels everyone!

Frightened terns abandon 3,000 eggs after drone illegally crashes on beach

www.theguardian.com

About 3,000 elegant tern eggs were abandoned at a southern California nesting island after a drone crashed and scared off the birds, a newspaper reported Friday.

Two drones were flown illegally over the Bolsa Chica ecological reserve in Huntington Beach in May and one of them went down in the wetlands, the Orange County Register said.

Fearing an attack from a predator, several thousand terns abandoned their ground nests, according to the state department of fish and wildlife.

Now, during the month when the birds would be overseeing their eggs as they begin to hatch, the sand is littered with egg shells.

It’s one of the largest-scale abandonments of eggs ever at the coastal site about 100 miles (160 km) north of San Diego, according to the reserve manager, Melissa Loebl.

With the pandemic driving more and more people to outdoor spaces, last year saw about 100,000 visitors to the Bolsa Chica reserve – up from about 60,000 the previous year, Loebl said told the newspaper.

That’s contributed not only to increased drone activity, but also to more dogs and bicycles on the trails – all of which are prohibited.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in dogs, particularly off-leash,” Loebl said. “That’s devastating for wildlife and this is prime nesting season. The dogs chase the birds and the birds abandon their nests.”

Another problem is the development of multimillion-dollar homes on the hillside at the north end of the reserve overlooking the wetlands, said Nick Molsberry, a fish and wildlife warden. While most residents respect the sensitive nature of the estuary, there are a few scofflaws, he said.

“It’s residents that sometimes feel entitled, that feel they should be able to use the land as they like,” Molsberry said. Authorities are ramping up enforcement and citing people who break the rules.

At nearly 1,500 acres, the reserve is the largest saltwater marsh between Monterey Bay, just south of San Francisco, and the Tijuana River Estuary in Mexico. About 800 species of plants and animals live at or migrate to Bolsa Chica.

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https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jun/04/tern-bird-eggs-abandoned-drone

By Creating a ‘Landscape of Fear,’ Wolves Reduce Car Collisions With Deer

A photograph of a deer walking across the road while a car approaches

www.smithsonianmag.com

Theresa Machemer

A new study in Wisconsin suggests the predators keep prey away from roads, reducing crashes by 24 percent

Each year, nearly 20,000 Wisconsin residents collide with deer each year, which leads to about 477 injuries and eight deaths annually. (Photo by Ken Mattison via Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

smithsonianmag.com
May 26, 2021

Research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences highlights an underappreciated benefit of wild wolf populations: the large predators frighten deer away from dangerous roadways, saving money and lives in the process.

According to the analysis 22 years of data, a county’s deer-vehicle collisions fall by about 24 percent after wolves take up residence there, Christina Larson reports for the Associated Press. Nearly 20,000 Wisconsin residents collide with deer each year, which leads to about 477 injuries and eight deaths annually. There are 29 counties in Wisconsin that have wolves.

“Some lives are saved, some injuries are prevented, and a huge amount of damage and time are saved by having wolves present,” says Wesleyan University natural resource economist Jennifer Raynor to Ed Yong at the Atlantic.

The study estimates that wolves save Wisconsin about $10.9 million in losses each year in prevented car crashes, which is far greater than the compensation paid by the state to people who lose pets or livestock to wolves.

“Most economic studies of wolves have been negative, focusing on livestock losses,” says wolf expert Dave Mech, who works at the U.S. Geological Survey in Minnesota and was not involved in the study, to the AP. “But wolves also reshape ecosystems in many ways, although that’s hard to measure economically.”

Most of the reduction in collisions was due to the “landscape of fear” that wolves create. Wolves tend to follow clear paths through the landscape, like streams. In an area that has been developed by humans, wolves follow roads, trails and pipelines. Deer adapt to the wolves’ presence by staying away, which would reduce the chance that they would get hit by a car.

“The icing on the cake is that wolves do this work all year long at their own expense,” says Western University ecologist Liana Zanette, who was not involved in the study, to the Atlantic. “It all seems like a win-win for those wolf counties.”

Wolves killing deer only accounted for about six percent of the drop in deer-vehicle collisions, reports Jack J. Lee for Science News. The drop in collisions didn’t just happen because wolves kill deer, so culling deerduring hunting season wouldn’t necessarily limit car collisions to the same extent as having wolves present.

The deer that the wolves do manage to kill would likely be the least risk-averse, and most likely to run in front of cars. But a detailed understanding of wolf and deer behavior would come from research that tracks the animals with collars, which was not a part of the new study, says University of Wyoming ecologist Matthew Kauffman to the Atlantic.

The research stands out from other studies of wolves’ impact on the environment because it highlights a benefit that wolves bring to the humans that live nearby. The regions that support wolf reintroduction tend to be urban, while rural communities generally oppose it. That was the case in Colorado, where wolf reintroduction narrowly passed in a vote in November. In sharp contrast, the Idaho state government recently passed a law to kill 90 percent of its wolves.

“The most interesting thing to me about choosing Wisconsin as a case study is that this is a human-dominated landscape,” says Raynor to Science News.

The estimated savings to Wisconsin are about 63 times higher than the cost of compensating people for losses caused by wolves. Raynor adds to Science News there are economic factors that weren’t taken into account in the new study, like the cost by deer to agriculture and through Lyme disease.

Adrian Treves, a conservation biologist at the University of Wisconsin, tells the AP that the study “adds to growing awareness that scientists should consider both the costs and the benefits of having large carnivores on the landscape.”

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/wisconsin-counties-wolves-see-fewer-collisions-between-cars-and-deer-180977819/#.YL14eBQzoH4.twitter

“Biden administration program sending horses to slaughter”

BIG NEWS from The President!

Montana officials kill three grizzlies after livestock attacks

www.rfdtv.com

Wednesday, June 2nd 2021, 8:32 AM CDT 2 minutes

Great Falls, Montana (AP)– Montana wildlife officials said Tuesday that state bear management specialists killed a pair of grizzly bears near Whitefish that had been involved in numerous livestock attacks, just a week after a bear was shot and killed for preying on cattle near Dupuyer.

An adult female grizzly bear was captured on Monday and its yearling captured on Tuesday in the Haskill Basin area, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said.

The bears were euthanized because of a history of killing livestock including sheep, llamas, chickens, and a goat.

An adult male grizzly bear in the Dupuyer area was killed last week after it was suspected of attacking calves across numerous ranches.

The 450-pound bear in that case was shot after repeated attempts to trap the animal failed. The bear had been seen in photos from game cameras set up where the calves had been killed.

The bear killed near Dupuyer will be provided to the Blackfeet Tribe fish and wildlife agency for distribution to tribal members for cultural purposes.

Grizzly bears are protected as a threatened species under federal law and hunting of them is not allowed. But since their populations have rebounded in Montana grizzlies have run into frequent conflicts with humans and can be killed by government wildlife agents following livestock attacks.

https://www.rfdtv.com/story/44017793/montana-officials-kill-three-grizzlies-after-livestock-attacks?fbclid=IwAR3-jA0-tZ8MzaUKXjyNWGjaTTUVpBYXJ1xyGHmyCqGR0r9E93RqQvudFrM

Today Is Your Last Day To Show Your Support USFWS’s Efforts to Return the Negrito Wolf Family to the Wild!

engage.nywolf.org

Help Mexican gray wolves by showing your support for translocating the Negrito Mexican gray wolf family to Ladder Ranch, where they can be safe and free! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USWFS) plans to move the bonded wolf family (M1693, F1728, and their young pups) onto the excellent habitat – away livestock grazing – that Ladder Ranch offers.

Currently, Mexican gray wolves within the wild population are as related to one another as full siblings. The captive population, however, is more genetically diverse. So, to address the genetic bottleneck facing the wild wolf population, the Mexican wolf Recovery Team selects captive wolves for release to capitalize on the remaining genetic potential available in that population.

Since 2016, USFWS excessively reliant on just a single strategy to release captive wolves to the wild – their cross-foster initiative. Cross-fostering is a coordinated event where captive-born pups are introduced into a similar-aged wild litter to be raised by surrogate parents. But cross-fostered pups can only eventually spread their genes to the greater population if they survive to adulthood and have wild pups of their own.

With the translocation of the Negrito pack, USFWS is allowing this family to establish a territory where there will be fewer threats presented by livestock grazing. They are also giving Mexican gray wolf M1693, a cross-foster wolf himself (from 2018) who has unique genetics, a chance to fulfill his potential in aiding in the genetic rescue of endangered subspecies!

Mexican gray wolf family

Please join us in thanking the USFWS for doing the right thing for this wolf family and ensuring they have a chance to raise their pups in the wild where they belong!

Anyone can submit a comment to USFWS Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator Brady McGee, regardless of geographic location! The deadline for public comments is May 24, 2021.

Talking points:

  • Tell USFWS you support the Ladder Ranch Reserve 2021 Wolf Translocation Plan for the Negrito Pack (M1693, F1728, and their young pups)
  • Thank them for helping this wolf family return to the wild where they belong! Tell them you support the release of bonded family groups to aid in the genetic rescue of endangered Mexican gray wolves.
  • Tell them this wolf pack will make a positive genetic contribution to the wild population.
  • Tell them the Ladder Ranch offers excellent habitat for wolves and will ensure that this young wolf family can thrive in the wild away from human activities and livestock grazing.

Please personalize your message. Nothing is as effective as speaking from the heart!

Message

Support for the Ladder Ranch Translocation Proposal

Dear [Decision Maker], As a lifelong supporter of Endangered Species Act (ESA) and someone who cares deeply for our nation’s wolves, including endangered Mexican gray wolves, I am writing to express my support for the Ladder Ranch Reserve 2021 Wolf Translocation Plan for the Negrito wolf family (M1693, F1728, and their young pups). * Personalize your message

I applaud USFWS for taking these steps, and look forward to cheering USFWS on as you proceed with your full authority to translocate this wolf family onto the excellent habitat – away from livestock grazing – that Ladder Ranch offers.

https://engage.nywolf.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=161

WildEarth Guardians scores big protections for wildlife in New Mexico | WildEarth Guardians

Large male black bear feeding on hawthorn berries during the fall. Photo by Sam Parks.

wildearthguardians.org

Agreement with USDA’s Wildlife Services curbs killing of cougars, bears, and other native species

SANTA FE, NM—In a major win for New Mexico’s wildlife, WildEarth Guardians settled its lawsuit against USDA’s Wildlife Services after the federal program agreed to stop its reckless slaughter of native carnivores such as black bears, cougars, and foxes on all federal public lands; cease killing all carnivores on specific protected federal lands; and end the use of cruel traps, snares, and poisons on public lands.

The settlement additionally requires public reporting of Wildlife Services’ activities in the state, including documenting non-lethal preventative measures employed by the program. These protections will remain in place pending the program’s completion of a detailed and public environmental review of its work.

The settlement agreement comes after WildEarth Guardians sued Wildlife Services in October 2020 over the program’s reliance on severely outdated environmental reviews of its work. The agreement, filed with the federal district court of New Mexico, ensures that Wildlife Services will no longer conduct any wildlife killing in New Mexico’s specially protected areas such as designated Wilderness, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, and Wild & Scenic River corridors. The program will cease using sodium cyanide bombs (M44s) and other poisons on all public lands within the state. Additionally, the program will no longer kill beavers, which are increasingly seen as critical to mitigating the effects of widespread drought.

Notably, the agreement also mandates that a program district supervisor reviews all wolf depredation investigation reports before a livestock depredation determination is made in an effort to ensure appropriate safeguards for the endangered Mexican gray wolves that inhabit southwestern New Mexico.

“It’s past time for Wildlife Services to start grappling with 21st century science showing killing wildlife in hopes of preventing livestock losses doesn’t work, is often counterproductive, horribly inhumane, and robs native ecosystems of critically important apex carnivores,” said Jennifer Schwartz, staff attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “We’re glad our settlement kickstarts this process, while affording New Mexico’s wildlife some reprieve from the government’s archaic and cruel killing practices.”

The settlement agreement, finalized on March 11, 2021, includes multiple temporary provisions that will soon become permanent parts of New Mexico law as the result of the enactment of the Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act (“Roxy’s Law”) earlier this month. Roxy’s Law—championed by WildEarth Guardians and its allies in the TrapFree New Mexico coalition—bans the use of traps, snares, and poisons, on all public lands in the state of New Mexico. While Roxy’s Law is set to go into effect on April 1, 2022, the settlement agreement ensures that Wildlife Services refrains from using these devices on public lands immediately.

“The past several weeks have seen incredible wins for New Mexico’s native wildlife,” said Chris Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “With the climate crisis, drought, and human expansion all taking a toll on our state’s biodiversity, it’s time we stop seeing wildlife as something that needs to be killed and culled and instead see it as something that deserves protection and respect.”

Wildlife Services is culpable of killing thousands of animals in New Mexico each year including coyotes, cougars, prairie dogs, several varieties of fox, and even endangered Mexican gray wolves. Per federal law, Wildlife Services must use up-to-date studies and the best available science to analyze the environmental impact of their animal damage control program on New Mexico’s wildlife and native ecosystems. Under the agreement, Wildlife Services must provide an environmental analysis of the effects and risks of its wildlife-killing program in New Mexico by December 31, 2021.

The settlement agreement also requires Wildlife Services to significantly increase its overall transparency with the public by documenting and releasing—via its state website—detailed yearly reports of its wildlife “damage control” practices. This includes the number and type of animals captured and by which method, the number of requests for assistance and the reason given (livestock protection, health and safety, nuisance, etc.), and types of non-lethal preventative measures employed by Wildlife Services or the party requesting lethal control. This type of detailed information has previously only been available through formal Freedom of Information Act requests, which typically take many months, if not years, for USDA to fulfill.

“A public reporting requirement will compel Wildlife Services to be held accountable to the general public for its actions,” said Schwartz. “We hope that this motivates Wildlife Services to employ practices in line with the values of the public and embrace the use of scientifically verified non-lethal conflict prevention.”

BackgroundWildlife Services is a multimillion-dollar federal program that uses painful leghold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and aerial gunning to kill wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds, and other wild animals. Most of the killing responds to requests from the agriculture industry.

The program reported killing more than 433,000 native animals nationwide in 2020. Nontarget animals, including pets and protected wildlife like wolves, grizzlies and eagles, are also at risk from the program’s indiscriminate methods.

Over the last five years, litigation by WildEarth Guardians and partners against Wildlife Services has resulted in settlement agreements and legal victories in Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and New Mexico, all curbing the program’s slaughter of native wildlife and making the program accountable for its activities.

https://wildearthguardians.org/press-releases/wildearth-guardians-scores-big-protections-for-wildlife-in-new-mexico/