Adorable and In Danger: Dwarf Sea Horses

dwarf-seahorse-extinction-endangered-gulf-of-mexicoEveryday animals are going in and out of danger and as a voiceless population they require humans to act on their behalf. The Endangered Species List is constantly being updated and changed, and sometimes that isn’t even happening quickly enough. Mostly the delay is necessary so that research and methods of approach can be developed, but is still wasting time before important action on behalf of endangered species can occur.

And this is just the case with the charming dwarf seahorse. The little aquatic oddities are ethereal and bizarre looking, strait out of a surreal painting or magical fairy tale. Every morning the seahorses greet their mate (they mate for life) with a special dance and then as most seahorses do, the females transfer their eggs to the male pouch, which hatch and produce miniature versions of the adults.

The sea creatures are only 2 inches long at most, which makes them the smallest seahorse in the Americas. The dwarf seahorse is the third smallest seahorse species in the world and the Guinness Book of World Records remarks that they are the slowest moving fish because of their size. The seahorses are found in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Coast of Florida, and the Caribbean.

It is the Gulf of Mexico where the creatures are in the most danger, although they could use protection under the Endangered Species Act as a species. They are under threat because of pollution and loss of habitat. The water in the Gulf of Mexico is degrading in quality and pollution from the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill is causing irreversible pollution. The cleanup of that tragedy has also causes pollution and loss of their sea grass habitat.

Because dwarf seahorses are habitat specialists they die when the sea grass dies. The loss of sea grass is directly related to the population of the sea horses and they are particularly susceptible to habitat loss because they have low mobility, high site fidelity, patchy spatial distribution, and complex social and reproductive behavior.

More than 50 percent of Florida’s sea grasses have been destroyed since 1950. Some areas have suffered extreme losses, which range up to 90 percent in sea grass attrition rates. The sea grass has been disappearing prior to the BP oil spill, but the spill has exacerbated the problem extensively. Dwarf seahorses are particularly vulnerable and sensitive to oil pollution, which could potentially remain in the gulf for decades to come. Not only that, but the seahorse is also threatened too by boat propellers, shrimp trawlers, and ocean acidification from global climate change. Collectors who sell them in the aquarium trade and as curios and tradition medicine also capture the fish and deplete the population.

In the 1970s the dwarf seahorse was a common species, but has been in decline since that time and presently is near extinction. The dwarf seahorse is presently threatened by four out of five factors that the Endangered Species Act requires to warrant protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity of Phoenix, Arizona is in the process of getting dwarf seahorses added to the Endangered Species list, which will afford dwarf seahorses countless protections awarded under the Endangered Species Act of the Marine Fisheries Service.

In response to the petition the National Marine Fisheries Service has agreed that the dwarf seahorse may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. It is important that this cause continue to gather support from the public, which will help sway the National Marine Fisheries Service to hasten the process and begin to protect the dwarf seahorse as soon as possible! To show your support for the plight of the tiny seahorse with gigantic problems please sign the petition that is being hosted at

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The Woes of Wolves in Wyoming

gray-wolf-pups-wyoming-endangered-delistWyoming contains the northern portion of the Rocky Mountains, which contains a significant, but dwindling population of North American gray wolves. The State of Wyoming is currently in the process of decriminalizing wolf hunting, which could result in the slaughter of countless wolves. As of May 5, 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally delisted wolves as endangered in the Northern Rockies, which allowed for the slaughter of 600 wolves in deregulated areas like Montana and Idaho. Wolves are now considered “predators” and can be shot on site.

The reworking of the law will allow for wolves to be shot on sight, brutally taped, and it will also make it legal to gas wolf dens, which will kill wolf pups. The proposal also allows for wolves to be hunted by domestic hunting dogs. The State of Wyoming is responsible for the new unregulated law. It is trying to petition the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to eliminate the federal Endangered Species Act protections in order to allow for unlimited trapping and shoot-on-sight killing of wolves. The worst loophole of the whole ordeal pertains to making it legal to kill wolves no matter how many of them are left in the state, allowing for the potential of utter extinction in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

Similar efforts have already succeeded in states like Montano and Idaho where last year anti-wolf interests won the right to hunt and kill wolves. Thus far the results have been expectedly disconcerting. There have been reports of inhumane trapping and snaring. What’s more, the wolf killers demand more aggressive wolf hunting policies, even after over six hundred wolves have been killed in Montana and Idaho in just the last year.

While wolves can be dangerous if confronted by individual humans, humans tend to do more damage to the wolf population as a whole. It has even been proven that domestic dogs kill more cattle than wolves. Independent and unaffiliated research scientists say that 2,000 to 3,000 wolves are needed for the population to become sustainable and full recovered from prior times in which wolf hunting was unregulated. The Endangered Species Act allowed for protections in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the wolf population got close to a fully recovered number.

Unfortunately that would all change if the state pushes forward with its measures. As with Montana and Idaho, where the wolf population faced aggressive reductions, the new proposal by Wyoming State would allow for widespread hunting and killing of wolves in Wyoming. Eighty-six percent of the state will allow for unregulated hunting, which excludes the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Unfortunately the protected area does not include the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, a 24,000 acre area that connects the two larger parks.

Thankfully, the Rocky Mountain Branch of Earthjustice is on the lookout. If the Fish and Wildlife Services approve Wyoming’s proposal Earthjustice is prepared to challenge the decision in a court of law. Earthjustice is requesting donations in order to prepare for the court case, but if your budget is tight right now you can do your part by signing this petition at The Animal Rescue Site.

As of July 25, 2012 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has denied the petition put forward by Wyoming, but that does not yet mean that wolves are entirely in the clear. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services demands that the state develop a “wolf management plan” which will regulate and limit the human take of wolves. They also commit that a minimum population will be maintained in the state.

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Illegal Ivory Trade Decreases Elephant Populations

If the illegal ivory trade is not stopped, the African Elephant may become extinct. Elephant poaching has been increasing since 2006 and has reached an all-time high in 2011, thanks to China’s large demand for ivory. From the years 1989-2012, the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) found 17,757 elephant product seizure reports, which is equivalent to 395,990 kg of ivory. This only covers products on record; many more elephants have been poached for their tusks.

Recently, northern Cameroon experienced a mass slaughter of elephants in Bouba N’Djida National Park. Approximately 450 dead elephants with their tusks cut off were discovered within the 220,000 hectares of land. The poachers hailed from Sudan and Chad, and had been killing the elephants from January to March of 2012.  They were heavily armed and extremely skilled.

The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has taken note of these killings and stated that poaching is “of serious and increasing concern.” Their sixty-second meeting of the standing committee, held from July 23-27, discussed Elephant Conservation, Illegal Killing, and the Ivory Trade. They found that increased poaching was reported in 19 sites in 9 countries during the past 12 months. Those countries were Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Gabon, Mozambique, the Republic of the Congo, the United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia.

CITES breaks down the causes for poaching into three levels: local, national, and global. At the local level, poaching is more common in areas of poverty. People resort to poaching because it pays well, and they have few, if any, other ways to earn a living. At the country level, weak governments who cannot, or do not, enforce anti-poaching laws experience more poaching in their states. At the global level, the demand for ivory results in higher poaching rates.

Consumer demand for ivory is the number one cause of poaching. Poachers are drawn to this occupation by money, but without demand, there would be no money to be earned. Today, China is the world’s largest trader of illegal ivory. When CITES banned the sale of ivory in 1990, the Chinese government did nothing to enforce it. A loophole allowed traders to register “forgotten” goods, which in reality had been purchased during the ban. The government even had its own share of ivory stocks. The report by the Environmental Investigation Agency provides more information on the ivory trade in China.

Other countries involved in the illegal ivory trade are located throughout Asia and Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Thailand are three of the biggest offenders, according to ETIS. These countries and others get away with illegal practices due to a lack of law enforcement and unregulated markets.

Although the ban on ivory has failed to minimize the ivory trade in Asia and Africa, it has made trade in the U.S. and Europe almost nonexistent. In the United States, it is still legal to trade ivory that was purchased before the ban (though it is difficult to distinguish when a particular ivory piece was purchased). Americans don’t desire ivory as much as the Chinese do, though, so the U.S. doesn’t have an illegal trading problem.

Even though Africa has played a regrettable role in the ivory trade, some African countries are making efforts to combat this issue. After reflecting on the massacre at Bouba N’Djida National Park, the Cameroon government has decided to acquire 2500 new game rangers over the course of 5 years, as well as establish a new national park authority. These efforts aim to deter and catch future poachers.

Gabon, a neighboring country of Cameroon, became the first central African country to publicly destroy its ivory. On June 27, 2012, Gabon’s government burned their supply of ivory in order to fight the illegal wildlife trade. The stockpile amounted to more than 1200 tusks and weighed about 4825 kg.

In June 2012, the Central African Forest Commission signed an agreement that will strengthen law enforcement against poaching. It calls for the police, customs, and judiciary to work together in order to catch poachers. More action will now be taken to find and punish these criminals.

You can also make a difference in stopping the illegal ivory trade. Don’t buy ivory products and encourage others to do the same. Also, visit the World Wildlife Fund website to learn about their campaign and various ways to take action against the illegal wildlife trade.

Elephant poaching has been on the rise in recent years. With efforts on the individual, country, and global level, elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade may be put to an end once and for all. 

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Move It, Move It…To Save the Lemurs

Ninety-one percent of the world’s 103 lemur species have recently had their statuses updated to either ‘Vulnerable’, ‘Endangered’, or ‘Critically Endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species. As part of the agency’s efforts to provide greater protection for the animals, the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission met in Madagascar (the only place lemurs call home) to discuss the current state of lemur affairs.

This news comes as a blow to a country that is already seeing its fair share of regional turmoil. Lemurs are now considered the most endangered mammals in the world; and as political unrest and social instability continue throughout the country, researchers expect the already dwindling numbers of this primate family to continue to drop.

“The results of our review workshop this week have been quite a shock as they show that Madagascar has, by far, the highest proportion of threatened species of any primate habitat region or any one country in the world,” explained Dr. Christoph Schwitzer, a world leading primatologist and Head of Research at the Bristol Zoo Gardens. “As a result, we now believe that lemurs are probably the most endangered of any group of vertebrates.”

With their beady eyes and angular faces, lemurs can certainly seem more like opossums and other marsupials rather than the primates they actually are. Lemurs, as it turns out, are some of the oldest living primates in the world. A member of the prosimians group, lemurs—like bushbabies and tarsiers—are among the most primitive of primates, separated from both monkeys and apes.

By catching a ride atop mats of flora, lemurs arrived to their eventual home of Madagascar approximately 60 to 65 million years ago. Since then they have evolved with the country, coping with everything from an extreme environment to a continuously changing society. In 2009, after a failed coup, existing conservation efforts began to deteriorate.

“Following this coup,” the IUCN said in a statement, “there has been a serious breakdown of protective measures, with two key projected areas in northern Madagascar, Masoala National Park and Marojejy National Park, both of them part of a UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] complex of World Heritage Sites.”

Continuous habitat destruction on the island, as well as a rise in bushmeat hunting, has pushed the lemurs closer and closer to the edge of extinction. Additionally, political unrest has slowed down much of the country’s necessary conservation efforts. “Political uncertainty has increased poverty and accelerated illegal logging. Hunting of these animals has also emerged as a serious threat than previously imagined,” said the IUCN in a statement.

Now that the problem has been identified, we need to find a solution. If things continue at the same pace as we are seeing now, the world can be expect to lose some of its most incredible animals: from  the popular ring-tailed lemur (a species that has seen a spike in popularity due to the Madagascar movies) to Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (the smallest primate in the world). “This new assessment highlights the very high extinction risk faced by Madagascar’s unique lemur fauna and it is indicative of the grave threats to Madagascar biodiversity as a whole, which is vital to supporting its people,” commented Dr. Russell Mittemeier, President of Conservation International. “As the forests go, so do lemurs and a host of benefits derived from them.”

To urge the government of Madagascar to provide greater protection for the numerous lemur populations, contact the Malagasy Minister of Environment and Forests, and sign the petition here.


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Hawaiian Species Added to Endangered Species List

In June, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced a proposal to add 38 endangered species native to the Hawaiian Islands under the Endangered Species Act and to re-evaluate the endangered status of two more. In April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also proposed to designate 271,602 total acres of Hawaiian land as a critical habitat, meaning that it will be protected from major alterations or damage, but will not be closed to public or government bodies, and will not require any people living on the land to sell their property. The new regulations are in response to a petition drafted by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2004 that asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list 227 species under the Endangered Species Act. The species’ protections will take effect 30 days after the government decides to list them as endangered.

The 37 plants – including shrubs, ferns, trees, and herbs – and 3 tree snails live on the islands of Moloka’i, Lana’i, Kaho‘olawe, and Maui. The species are threatened by climate change, habitat destruction, natural disasters, and invasion by non-native species of plants and animals such as pigs, sheep, and deer, which often eat the native plants. The Center for Biological Diversity reported that “The USFWS calls 15 of the plant species ‘the rarest of the rare’; they have fewer than 50 known individuals remaining in the wild. These plants are included in the mutli-jurisdictional Plant Extinction Prevention Program, which seeks to protect the species wherever examples are found.”

Critical habitats are defined as having characteristics or benefits that are vital to the survival of plant or animal species; the newly protected critical habitat encompasses land on all four aforementioned islands, which are collectively referred to as Maui Nui.

Loyal Mehrhoff, field supervisor for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, said, “The health of threatened and endangered species is linked to our own well-being. Many people depend on habitat that sustains these species – for clean air and water, recreational opportunities and for their livelihoods. By protecting imperiled native fish, wildlife and plants, we can ensure a healthy future for our community and protect treasured landscapes for future generations.”

The United States adopted the Endangered Species Act in 1973, and since then, it has issued protections for thousands of species. Its provisions have allowed more than 200 species of plants and animals to fully recover from endangerment or the brink of extinction, and it currently has 1,995 species listed (1,390 of which can be found in the United States). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration co-sponsor and manage the legislation.

The Endangered Species Act is considered highly successful, and a recent Center for Biological Diversity report titled “On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife” found that the Act is hugely beneficial to vulnerable animals. The government raises awareness of the threats that endangered species face by hosting national events at community facilities such as schools and parks on Endangered Species Day, celebrated annually on May 18.

Environmental organizations have played a large part in the success of listing species on the Endangered Species Act. Last July, the Center for Biological Diversity finalized a landmark legal settlement that requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether or not to list 757 vulnerable species on the Act by 2018. This event won protections for all 757 American species, and contributed to a 10-year effort to protect 1,000 of the country’s most threatened animals. Animals that benefited from this decision include the Miami blue butterfly, the Mexican gray wolf, and the American wolverine.

If you know of a species that deserves to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, start your own petition using these guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, advertise the petition on websites like,, or, and then submit it to the federal government.

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Bison Returned to their Ancestral Plains

bison-great-plains-ancestorsOne of the greatest losses in the ecological history of the North American plains is that of the American buffalo. During the ten-year span between 1873-1883 there were over a thousand commercial hunting outfits that hunted bison. They were killing anywhere from 2,000 to 100,000 bison per day. By 1884 American bison were nearly extinct. The iconic animal is not only in the states of the Great Plains, but also in North America as a whole.

Thankfully, a man named James “Scotty” Phillip of South Dakota prevented the utter decimation of bison. Phillip was one of the first to reintroduce bison to North America. In 1899 Phillip was the owner of a small herd, totaling a number of five bison, including one female. When Phillip died in 1911 at the age of 53 he was credited with producing an estimated 1,000 plus heads of bison. At the same time, two Montana ranchers also cared enough about the survival of the species to privately breed bison. For twenty years Michel Pablo and Charles Allard maintained the largest collection of purebred bison. Allard died in 1896 and in 1907 the United States declined his offer to purchase the herd. Instead, the herd was shipped to the Elk Island National Park in Canada, who brokered a deal with Pablo. Other herds have also been produced and maintained from the help of zoos. Unfortunately, to this day bison struggle with disease and gene problems from not having enough genetic diversity in their species as a consequence of nearly going extinct.

Recently there has been very exciting news for the bison repopulation effort. For years, many have dreamed of getting bison back out on the prairie where they belong. Earthjustice is making an effort to do just that: bring buffalo home. The program marks the first time in over 100 years that purebred baby bison are being born where their ancestors once roamed at populations reaching into the millions. The purebred baby buffs spring from bison that hid out in the high country during the 19th century slaughter. The high country they are linked to is currently Yellowstone National Park, the United States’ first national park. These offspring are among the last genetically pure bison, as most buffalo that exist today carry cow genes.

Native tribes in Montana who have tried to reestablish the herds from the Yellowstone stock have headed the effort. Unfortunately, cattle interests have blocked their efforts. But the state of Montana agreed to move 60 buffalo to the Fort Peck Indian reservation in northeastern Montana. The Fort Belknap reservation in central Montana has also requested to join the effort. The cattle industry has been fighting the issue based on the fact that bison carry a disease that can affect cattle brought in from Europe. The disease has been controlled and effectively diminished in the 20th century. Elk also carry the disease, but for some reason the Montana Farm Bureau Federation does not concern themselves with elk, and Earthjustice speculates that perhaps that is because they have a high value to hunters.

The bison that will live on the American Prairie Reserve in Montana will be freed into a 6,100-fenced hectare enclosure, where they can roam the plains freely as they once did. Unfortunately, at Yellowstone Park bison are forced into the park by strict enforcement by rangers and if they refuse to return they are killed out of fear of spreading disease to cattle. Bison are still recovering as a species from nearly going extinct over a hundred years ago. To fight Yellowstone National Park’s efforts to contain buffalo rather than preserve an important and constantly recovering species, please sign this petition at

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Shark Extinction: When Predator Becomes Prey

sharks-extinctionPeople fear sharks, but it should be the other way around: sharks are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. Since the 1970s the shark population is estimated to have declined by 99 percent. All life forms play a crucial, essential role in their environment, which is why extinction is such a pressing issue. Without sharks some species will overpopulate causing further damage to the environment. Many species of Rays and Skates will become overabundant without sharks and therefore the fish they prey on (shellfish in this case) will also become extinct, causing a chain reaction of extinction. If shark extinction happens the ocean will fundamentally change. Therefore, so will human industries that rely on the ocean.

Shark extinction pose a threat to the fragile balance of the ocean climate, but it also indicates human agency has intruded onto ocean life to a dangerous extent. Surfmeisters reports that the demand for shark products must be reduced or eliminated and the practice of hunting sharks for their fins needs to end. Besides those contributing factors, the only other way to maintain the current population is to reduce the number of sharks caught in commercial fisheries.

To add to the devastation, sharks cannot repopulate at a rate that will sustain their current population, let alone recover the numbers of their former abundance. Sharks reach sexual maturity at a slow rate which ranges from anywhere between 7 and 25 years. Once they can reproduce they can usually only have 1 to 2 shark pups a year.

As of 2008 the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) listed 50 shark species that are at a high risk of going extinct, meaning they are labeled as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable. Beyond that another 63 sharks are approaching threatened status, meaning they are labeled either Conservation Dependent or Near Threatened. Shark Savers reports that many more species of sharks may be endangered, but not enough data collection exists to truly know the extent of or rate of extinction. The ten most endangered sharks are the Pondicherry Shark, the Dumb Gulper Shark, the Ganges Shark, the Bizant River Shark, the New Guinea River Shark, the Daggernose Shark, the Striped Dogfish, the Sawback Angelfish, the Smoothback Angel Shark, and the Angel Shark. The shark species that are labeled as “Very High Risk of Extinction” are the Borneo Shark, the Speartooth Shark, the Whitefin Topeshark, the Narrownose Smoothhound, the Great Hammerhead, the Argentine Angel Shark, the Hidden Angelshark, the Smoothback Angelshark, and the Angular Angelshark.

Shark Savers reports that “the most important step in stopping the international trade of endangered species is to agree on which species are endangered.” Fortunately, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is associated with the IUCN, has formed a union of 172 countries that try to work together to ensure that trade is not further threatening the endangered species. Unfortunately, CITES only has a few sharks on their list, but in 2002 began working for better recognition of shark endangerment.

But because CITES, like many other international organizations, is merely an agreement and has no enforcement mechanisms it is important to support groups working to save sharks. 

Stop Shark Finning offers a list of petitions to various countries and communities that propose the banning of removing shark fins. Please check out the website and sign all the petitions it lists in order to save sharks and therefore all the ocean life that depends on sharks!

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The War on Wolves: What It Is, Why It’s Happening, and What You Can Do

What is the war on wolves?

Idaho has been all over the environmental news lately for what is being dubbed its “War on Wolves” (Clark). In the one year since wolves were stripped of their protection as endangered species, Idaho has killed more than 400 wolves.  The governor of Idaho, Butch Otter, specifically prioritized the delisting of wolves on the endangered species as a political goal (Gibson).  Idaho is the hot topic now, but they are only part of a larger pattern of discrimination against wolves and other predators.

Why is it happening?

Norm Bishop, one of Yellowstone National Park’s most respected biologists, was terrified of wolves as a child.  As recounted to S.K Robisch and reported in Wolves and Wolf Myth in American Literature, children’s stories such as The Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Pigs embedded in Bishop the idea of a wolf as a ferocious monster; he lived near a railroad track and would imagine the steaming train as The Wolf.  His parents had to forcefully rid him of his intense fear of wolves through getting Bishop a dog and burning a copy of The Little Red Riding Hood right in front of him (Robisch xi).  Children fearing wolves is not uncommon in many cultures.  For example, in a Russian school, when the fable of A. N. Krylov “The Wolf and the Lamb” was to be dramatized, none of the children wanted the role of the wolf (Hunt 319).  It is not surprising, then, that these children grow up with a fear of wolves that translates into a desire to kill wolves; it is the same with all predators.  In North America, the wolf was driven to the point of extinction by hunters.  Though the wolf population has begun to rebound, the attitude that got the wolves killed off is still rampant.  To protect the wolves, and ourselves from the environmental devastation that results from the eradication of predators, we must combat the idea of the demonized wolf.

In the Russian school, it’s hardly shocking that the children didn’t want to be the wolf, even in play; the Oxford English Dictionary includes various definitions of the word “wolf,” mainly with negative connotations, such as: “a person or being having the character of a wolf; one of a cruel, ferocious or rapacious disposition;” “applied to a person, etc. who should be hunted down like a wolf;” “as a type of a destructive or devouring agency, esp. hunger or famine;” “a name for certain malignant or erosive diseases in men and animals,” such as lupus. These attitudes are reflected in phrases from other European languages as well.  For example, the phrase “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” which is derived from The Sermon on the Mount in the Bible’s Book of Matthew, appears in the English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, and Hungarian languages.  The phrase “throw somebody to the wolves” has versions in English, Italian, Spanish, German, and Hungarian. The phrase “big bad wolf” appears in English, French, and Hungarian, and that’s only a small portion of negative wolf-related phrases in European languages (Hunt 320). 

When people grow up internalizing the idea that wolves are unequivocally bad, it’s rare that they turn out a conservationist; Norm Bishop is the exception, rather than the rule.  Not everyone conquers his or her fear, like Bishop did.  In William Stolzenburg’s treatise Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators, Stolzenburg poses the following question: “Do predators matter in the web of life?”  The answer is a resounding yes.  One example is a 1978 ecosystem in the Aleutian reefs in Washington state; in 1978, scientists proved that the presence of otters there “could flip an ecosystem like a switch” (62).  With otters, the reefs were rich with kelp and marine life; without otters, the system collapsed.  Stolzenburg further argues that very little sways those of the antipredator persuasion: not the overwhelming science that tells us that predators are necessary in the ecosystem, not the endangerment of species, and not popular, taxpayer vote.  For example, as recently as 2007, the governor of Idaho, Butch Otter, said publicly that he wanted all but the bare minimum of wolves (then, one hundred, as required by law, but now one hundred and fifty), to be killed; in fact, he added that he’d like “to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself” (Stolzenburg 209).  It’s likely that Butch Otter was raised to resent the wolf and taught nothing of the wolf’s value to society and the environment.  In his article “Discourse and Wolves: Science, Society, and Ethics,” William S. Lynn writes of the systematic destruction of wolves and whether or not it can be justified ethically.  Though he acknowledges the need for wildlife management and the occasional killing of a problematic predator, he argues that a 2006 case in which Wildlife Services killed a pair of wolves under suspicion of livestock hunting, leaving their eight pups to starve to death, was unethical (75).  Lynn’s overall feelings about the government’s stance on wolves can be summed up in the following quote:

Like a written or spoken narrative, the meaning of a discourse can be interpreted for its good or ill intentions, content, implications, and consequences.  Thus, when the state of Alaska justifies the aerial gunning of wolves through policy statements of dubious scientific value, we have a discourse we can read like a text and from which we can extract its meaning. So too, when gunners take to the air to kill wolves, we have an equally meaningful action on which to base our interpretations and from which to discern the values and worldviews that inform those actions. When the Alaska Board of Game continues to authorize lethal control measures against wolves, we see a social institution whose members, policies, and practices are partaking of a broader antiwolf discourse (Lynn 79).

Lynn’s point is that seemingly small, inconsequential laws add up to show an overall anti-wolf sentiment which creates a bias in legislation.

What is the result?

The result of this bias is that gratuitous laws are constructed under the guise of necessary evil and wildlife management, like Idaho’s laws that promote the near decimation of wolves in the state.  For example, in the United States, seventy thousand coyotes are legally killed per year (Stolzenburg 209).  Most of the predator killings in the United States are legally sanctioned and often government sponsored, all supported by United States taxpayers, many of whom may not realize what ideas they are implicitly supporting.  In Oregon, elected Jackson County officials hired a man whose sole purpose is to exterminate mountain lions, supposedly to protect the people – but no mountain lion attacks have ever been reported in Oregon (Stolzenburg 209).  This is merely one example of people following the proposed ideas for predator extermination that sort of sound good, despite no actual grounding in science.  This mindset leads to a larger problem: people kill predators for entertainment because of anti-predator indoctrination, just as they have done since the dawn of the Stone Age (Stolzenburg 46) while completely ignoring the long-term effects of doing so.

Even advocates of nature writing such as John Burroughs subscribe to the more common attitudes: in 1906, Burroughs wrote that fewer wolves would mean more “useful and beautiful game” (Robisch 29).  He was wrong; science proves this idea patently incorrect, and yet it prevails even to this day.  It explains “why the Pennsylvania deer hunter sees everything right and nothing wrong in a forest that’s swarming with deer yet as barren of biodiversity as a city park” (Stolzenburg 206).  In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold learns this lesson himself.  He sees a she-wolf and shoots her on site, simply because that was what he had been taught to do.  Yet, as he watched her die, he realized that he had done something very wrong.  Leopold realized what we all should: that killing predators is short-sighted and we all need to “think like a mountain” (129).

At one point, there were less than five hundred wolves in the United States, all in Minnesota (Robisch 4).  By the time poisoning was legally outlawed in the United States in 1970, gray wolves occupied less than 4 percent of their former range.  Its southeast counterpart, the red wolf, was already extinct in the wild (Stolzenburg 42).  This was the result of a wolf-killing campaign that had begun in 1630 when colonists were offered a penny per dead wolf.  In 1915, the U.S. government furthered the program by encouraging citizens to shoot wolves with rifles from both the ground and air, to trap wolves in legtraps, and to poison wolves with thallium, strychnine, cyanide and other poisons.  The peoples’ inherent fear of wolves comes out not only in the number of killed wolves, but in the methods of killing:  “Captured wolves were scalped, lit on fire, hamstrung with hunting knifes, bludgeoned with clubs, dragged to death behind horses and disemboweled by packs of hunting grounds” (Stolzenburg 43).  The wolves killed were the strongest and best genetic material; the wolves left were missing toes and eyes and had been forced to modify their pack behavior to account for humans (43).  In other words, the wolf population had been reduced not only in number but in quality.

What can YOU do to help fight against the war on wolves?

Fortunately, the situation is now a little better, after extensive efforts such as the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, which met such great opposition that some of the meetings have been called “public wolf lynchings” (Ferguson xi).  The wolf population in the United States, especially in the northern Rocky Mountain regions, has recovered enough that the wolf has been delisted from the “endangered” designation of the Endangered Species Act (Robisch xiv).  As a result, the wolf territory biomes are much healthier.  As good news as this should be, it’s not a true victory.  As Robisch states, “As soon as the wolf returned, wildcatter antiwolf laws justifying another extermination campaign were written as quickly and poorly as possible” (xiv).  Idaho is a perfect example of this.  The process of extermination-rehabilitation will keep repeating until we address the underlying problem: the demonization of the wolf.  In The Yellowstone Wolves: The First Year, Gary Ferguson says that many people responded to the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone with hope and wonder, but others viewed it as “a contemptible act—reckless, unthinking” (172).  The problem can only be combated where it begins: in children’s stories and early education.  As Ferguson puts it, “notions of the anti-wolf movement—that wolves are little more than the devil’s messengers, determined to steal children and nab every cow in sight—will eventually crumble . . . if ranchers can let go of fairy tails” (173).  If we teach children that wolves are to be respected and that they are a valuable part of many ecosystems, perhaps there will never be another widespread wolf extermination in the United States.

Making education a priority will help in the future, but there are things we can do right now.  There are tens of hundreds of signature petitions that crop up after new anti-wolf legislation is passed, and writing to your local representatives is always helpful.  Here are several petitions you can sign or letters you can send TODAY to help the wolves in Idaho and elsewhere:

Pangolins: Quietly Being Driven Towards Their Extinction

The pangolin is a scaly anteater found in Southeast Asia and several African countries. These nocturnal mammals are often found burrowing or feeding on ants and termites with their incredibly long sticky tongues (up to sixteen inches in length). Pangolins are known for their vibrant and nearly impenetrable armor-plated scales. When they are threatened, they roll into a ball and use these sharp scales to protect them. This defensive mechanism works very well against most predators, but illegal poaching and trading have been killing off these fascinating creatures at an alarming rate.

There are currently eight species of pangolin in the world; three are found in Southeast Asia and the other five are spread throughout Africa. Two of the Asian pangolin (the Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin) are listed as “endangered species” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Pangolins are being illegally hunted at such a fast rate that some species will likely be facing extinction in the near future. Pangolins are poached for several reasons, as their coat of armor is a very unique and sought after commodity in Southeastern Asia. Some people use pangolin armor to make jewelry and clothing, while others use their scales and blood to make medicine to help treat many illnesses. However, perhaps the most common cause for pangolin poaching is that their meat is considered a delicacy at restaurants in China. 

Due to their extremely high demand and tall price tag, the pangolin has been inadvertently involved in very large-scale black market trading. While not a whole lot is currently known about the illegal trades, ships have been found containing thousands of dead and frozen pangolins near Vietnam. In 2010, a logbook was discovered that recorded a single criminal syndicate’s illegal trafficking of Sunda pangolins. In a twenty-one month span, this one illegal organization had killed and traded over 22,000 pangolins.

Possibly even worse than these mass-shipments of frozen pangolins is their usage in some restaurants. According to an article from “The Guardian”, a chef from the province of Guangdong in southern China revealed shockingly brutal accounts of pangolin treatment in a recent interview. He stated that “we keep them alive in cages until the customer makes an order. Then we hammer them unconscious, cut their throats and drain the blood. It is a slow death.” Then they slice them up, boil them, and add them to a number of different dishes to be served to the customer—often times also giving the remains of the blood to take home afterwards. Even if pangolins are treated like the fascinating animals that they are, they are notorious for being difficult to keep in captivity. Even when live pangolins are confiscated, conservationists have a difficult time nursing them back to health before they can reintroduce them back to their natural habitat.

Even though poaching and trading is strictly banned in the countries within the pangolin’s range, these governments lack the funding to crack down and effectively enforce these regulations. Wildlife managements in these countries are generally weak and are unable to bring down such large criminal organizations without more power and funding. 

In addition, Chinese culture has been using the scales and blood of pangolins for medicinal purposes for centuries. This “traditional medicine,” whether it works or not, has been the norm for such a long time that the culture is unwilling to give it up. The debate that many have is that pangolin scales should be able to be legally used for medicine, but not used as meat in restaurants.

In theory, a solution to the problem could be to strictly enforce the laws against smuggling pangolins for food, yet allow a very small quota to be used for medicinal purposes. However, doing this would blur the line of what is and what is not legal. This would also allow the trading of pangolins to continue much in the same way it has for years, and would maybe even make smuggling easier. Also, pangolins are not very fast at reproducing, as they can only give birth to  one offspring at a time. This means their population is naturally at a disadvantage, and ergo, is far more vulnerable to exploitations, no matter how big or small.

The only real way to keep these creatures alive is to nip the problem in the bud and stop illegal poaching and trading altogether. If nothing is done to stop this drastic decline in the pangolin population, then both the Sunda and Chinese species may forever be extinct. Luckily, it is not too late to save them and the first step in making any sort of large-scale change is to bring awareness to the problem. So spread the word to your friends and family and if you have a little time to spare, spend a few minutes researching this crisis. A great place to start is and they can show you how you can help save the pangolin today. Another great way to learn about the problem is a short video found here.

Photo credits: (top) and (bottom)

The Obama Administration’s New Plan to Protect Spotted Owls

The Obama administration has established a plan to shoot barred owls in an attempt to promote the survival of spotted owls, whose population has been on the decline for the past 25 years. The controversial plan also involves allowing logging in areas designated as critical habitat for the spotted owl in an attempt to reduce wildfire and create job opportunities.

The spotted owl is a passive, nocturnal, woodland owl found in the Pacific Northwest including northern California and parts of southern British Columbia.  Spotted owls range in height from 18 to 19 inches on average and are known to hunt flying squirrels, wood rats, mice, and other small rodents.  Spotted owls prefer to reside in old-growth coniferous forests with high tree canopies that allow the owls to openly fly between and underneath the trees. 

The spotted owl is considered to be a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and “near threatened” under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.  Threats to the spotted owl population include habitat destruction, climate change, and competition by the barred owl.  Logging and forest fragmentation of large tracts of old-growth coniferous forests have caused habitat loss for the Spotted Owl and has also garnered the owl much publicity due to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.  Climate change could also affect the spotted owl by creating unfavorable weather conditions that could cause an increase in forest fire and insect outbreaks in the old-growth coniferous forests the spotted owl calls its home.  In addition, there has been an increase of barred owl populations which has resulted in the competition for habitat.  Given the barred owl’s more aggressive nature, the spotted owl has a decreased chance of survival in its fight to maintain its habitat.  Furthermore, barred owls are known to breed with spotted owls resulting in hybridisation.

President Obama and his administration have set forth a plan to remove hundreds of selected barred owls using both lethal and nonlethal methods in order to protect the spotted owl’s forest habitat.  These methods include shooting the targeted barred owls or capturing and relocating them, and/or placing them in captivity.  The new plan will affect millions of acres of national, state, and private forest land in Washington, Oregon, and California.  Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe believes that targeting barred owls will help to save spotted owls from extinction given evidence that barred owls are causing the decline in spotted owl populations.  However, Eric Forsman, a scientist for the U.S. Forest Service, believes that killing barred owls would make little difference, stating, “there are not enough shotguns,” and that it would be similar to trying to wipe-out coyotes.

However, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service state that the plan will be carefully directed and will rely heavily on science.  They also stated that their approach will focus on increasing food sources for the spotted owl and managing forest fires that lead to the destruction of their habitats.  In addition, an experiment reducing the population of barred owls on private land in northern California has proven to show desired results.  Furthermore, because logging will now be permitted in areas designated as critical habitat, there will be an increase in jobs. 

For 90 days, the Interior Department will be accepting comments on the new plan. To learn more about spotted owls and to see how you can help, please visit

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