Stop the Mass Slaughter of Rattlesnakes at Festival

Target: Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas

Goal: Put an end to a cruel snake slaughtering event at an annual festival.

For the 60th year, people will flock to Sweetwater, Texas to witness a bloody spectacle in which thousands of rattlesnakes held in a pit will be beheaded and skinned before their eyes. There is no reason behind this senseless killing, and it is time that this sick festival be brought at last to an end.

The Sweetwater Jaycees Festival, held by the United States Junior Chamber, says that its so-called Rattlesnake Roundup is necessary to control the “enormous snake populations” found in and around Sweetwater. However, there is no scientific backing to these claims, and once these snakes are captured, they are kept in tiny boxes without food for weeks while they await their ultimate demise during the festival’s main event.

While the event organizers claim that the festival provides a necessary boost to the local economy each year, there must be a way to encourage tourism to the area without the torturing and killing of innocent snakes. Sign this petition to demand that the Rattlesnake Roundup be ended once and for all.


Dear Governor Abbott,

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first Rattlesnake Roundup held in Sweetwater, Texas. Each year since then, thousands of snakes have died during a senseless bloodbath as part of the Sweetwater Jaycees Festival. It far past time that this sick tradition be brought to an end.

Rattlesnakes are a natural part of the environment in Texas and do not need to be ‘controlled’ through mass roundups or killings. They do not deserve to be beheaded alive and skinned for the enjoyment of onlookers. That is why we urge you to intervene and tell the event organizers that this barbaric mass slaughter has no place in the 21st century.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: H. Krisp

Don’t Hunt and Slaughter Wild Bobcats

Target: Cameron F. Clark, Director, Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Goal: Abandon plans to hunt Indiana’s wild bobcats.

Wild bobcats in Indiana may soon be slaughtered. The state’s Department of Natural Resources is proposing a hunting and trapping season for the wild breed of cat.

The wild bobcat was once an endangered species. However, its population has grown. Nevertheless, an open hunting season of the animal will surely deplete its numbers until it once again faces a crisis. All of the recovery that has been made in recent years will be erased.

The wild bobcat is a vulnerable species and must be protected. Sign the petition to demand that the state government of Indiana abandon plans to openly hunt and slaughter bobcats.


Dear Mr. Clark,

The wild bobcats of your state tell the story of conservationists’ success. Once endangered, now their population has thrived. However, your organization advocates for an open hunting and trapping season for these animals. Should this be done, all progress will be lost.

The bobcats have neither attacked pets nor humans. Even attacks on livestock are rare. There is no reason to condemn them to slaughter and set their population back to endangered status once more. I demand that you abandon plans to hunt and trap wild bobcats.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: docentjoyce

Protect Recently Discovered Penguin Colony

Target: Jim Kurth, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Goal: Protect hidden colony of penguins in Antarctica in order to save the species.

A hidden colony of Adélie penguins was recently found on the Danger Islands of Antarctica, shortly after concern swept the ecological field regarding general penguin endangerment. Approximately 1.5 million penguins were discovered, enough to help downgrade the species to vulnerable and possibly save them from impending extinction within decades.

While this discovery is extremely welcome news, scientists are concerned that the existence of this colony alone will be enough for officials to declare the species safe. In truth, the protection of the area itself is also a major factor, as such spaces can easily fall victim to climate change-related dangers or overfishing. At the present, Danger Islands are largely safe from the effects of climate change and see very little human interaction. But the continued safety of this area requires funding and focus to maintain.

The discovery of this penguin colony is only one step in protecting the species. We must support the preservation of Danger Islands as a legally enforceable marine-protected area. Sign this petition to ensure that these birds will remain safe and their population healthy.


Dear Director Kurth,

A colony of 1.5 million Adélie penguins has been discovered on the Danger Islands of Antarctica, answering the concern about the general endangerment of penguins on the continent. As of right now, the area is least suspect to climate change complications and sees very little human interaction.

But conservationists and scientists cannot rest easy. Despite the size of the colony and the safety of the area, it will not remain so without hard work and funding to ensure that Danger Islands will be a legally protected safe zone. We cannot simply assume that humans will stay away or that climate change will never touch them. You must help fund the preservation of Danger Islands as a legal safe space to protect this colony and ensure the survival of the species.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Jason Auch

Caribou in Canada Under Attack

caribouAccording to the non-profit organization Caribou & You, British Columbia’s caribou population is rapidly decreasing. The Canadian province does not have endangered species regulations like those found in the US, but leaders have begun implementation of a management plan for the declining species.

Although the plan is a step in the right direction, Canada’s largest environmental organizations fear the it is too lenient and not bold enough to save the country’s Boreal Woodland Caribou herds. The Implementation Plan admits that caribou loss is due in part to habitat loss and industrial development, but specifics on how it will reverse the animal’s decline are vague at best.

Three years ago, 500,000 hectares of caribou herd range was made exempt from construction for a five-year review period. Although this provides the caribou some protection, it is only a temporary measure protecting half of British Columbia’s caribou herds. Groups like the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) blame oil and gas exploration for the deterioration of caribou habitat. In fact, 75 percent of Canadian caribou rangeland is also part of petroleum exploration projects. Moreover, 3.5 million hectares of protected land promised by the BC government will continue to allow oil exploration, with some restrictions.

CPAWS hopes leaders will create concrete plans to protect British Columbia’s three caribou populations, the Boreal, Northern Mountain and Southern Mountain. If possible, they would like to create a new national park to protect these creatures.

Spiders Take Over Forests in Guam

What if a lack of insectivorous birds led to an incredible boost in spider populations in a single environment? Apart from being the worst place imaginable, how else would an ecological niche be affected? Biological researchers from Rice University in Texas, the University of Washington and the University of Guam have not only found that these spidery conditions exist in Guam but that jungles on the island territory contain as much as 40 times the amount of spiders as any other island nearby.

With the birds are away, the spiders have come out to play. So how was it that multiple bird species just disappeared from the country? It all started with the brown tree snake. Native to coastal areas in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the islands in northwestern Melanesia, the nocturnal brown tree snake is believed to have entered Guam by way of hitching a ride inside cargo planes sometime in the 1940s. Once on the island, brown tree snakes met no natural predators and over time began to take over.

In no time many bird species began to die off because of the snakes, and after only five decades all but two of the island’s dozen native bird species had been wiped out. Never before had research been conducted that looked at the implications caused by an invasive species in an entire forest. By studying this situation in Guam, this team was able to get a first-hand look at the effects an invasive species has on a whole island environment.

“There isn’t any other place in the world that has lost all of its insect-eating birds,” said Haldre Rogers, a Huxley Fellow in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Rice University and the lead author of the study. “There’s no other place you can look to see what happens when birds are removed over an entire landscape.”

Without the birds, the jungle grew eerily quiet and the spiders quickly got to work. In no time, webs accumulated over the jungle canopy—filling in all opens spaces, leaving anyone choosing to walk through unable to do so without the aid of a stick to help clear a path. The problem has gotten so severe that all steps are taken to ensure that brown tree snakes do not leave the island. Every year the United States spends over $1 million to search airplanes flying out of Guam to ensure the snake does not leave.

Yet, even with these measures in place, the average traveler will have a hard time locating the nocturnal reptiles. It is partially for this reason that the problem of eradicating the snakes has become so difficult. And now that the snakes have moved on to preying on lizards, one wonders what effects this new shift will have in the future. Researchers can be sure that their work here is nowhere near finished.

According to Rogers, these results “show that birds have a strong effect on spiders. Anytime you have a reduction in insectivorous birds, the system will probably respond with an increase in spiders.” The study shows that the environment is a fragile interconnected device with precise and individually working functions. When something is out of sync another will falter and then another and another until the whole finds a different way of equalizing. But what exactly be the result of such a correction can hardly be imagined.  Sometimes the adjustment can be subtle; other times, however, spiders may take over.


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American Jaguar Granted 838,232 Acres of Protected Land!

A major victory has been achieved on behalf of the American jaguar. A new proposal from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has the potential to save the animal by affording the endangered species necessary protection. Under this new agreement from the FWS, 838,232 acres of land (approximately the size of Rhode Island) in southern New Mexico and Arizona will be set aside as protected land to allow the animals to step back and away from the brink of extinction.

The land, which is considered by many to be a “critical habitat” for the large cat species, has been an area of growing concern for conservationists over the years. As the jaguars have been pushed further and further away and into an area that is only a fraction of the size its original territory, it was almost certain that current populations would not be able to keep up and remain sustainable.

“Jaguars once roamed across the United States, from California to Louisiana, but have been virtually extinct here since the 1950s,” explained Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Over the last 20 years, the CBD has spent a considerable amount of time working to bring back dwindling populations of the cat. With this decision, all the work has been well worth the wait. “Today’s habitat proposal will ensure North America’s largest cat returns to the wild mountains and deserts of the Southwest. Jaguars are a spectacular part of our natural heritage and belong to every American—just as surely as bald eagles, wolves and grizzly bears,” said Suckling.

Like other declining animal species in the U.S., jaguars have been pushed from their original stomping grounds by predator-killing programs implemented the federal government. (The gray wolf has also been affected in much of the same way.) Therefore, anytime an animal was deemed a serious threat permission was given for that animal to be killed. Thus it was that the jaguar slipped further and further off the map, and in 1997 the animal was formally listed as an “endangered species”. Only in the past two decades have the animals been able to reclaim areas of Arizona and New Mexico.

With this new proposal, the American jaguar is expected to increase its numbers to a sustainable level. Within a year, the plans should be finalized and areas of Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties in Arizona, and parts of Hidalgo County in New Mexico will be under federal protection. “You can’t protect endangered species without protecting the places they live. Species with protected critical habitat recover twice as fast as those without it,” explained Suckling. “This wild expanse of habitat is a huge boost to the return of jaguars to the American Southwest.” 

Because of the combined determination of conservationists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American jaguar may soon see a growth in population. Such effort should not go unnoticed. To express gratitude to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its decision to dedicate land to the protection of the American jaguar, please sign the petition here.


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Hantavirus Takes Over Yosemite National Park

Visitors to California’s Yosemite National Park got a bit more than they bargained for after visiting the park earlier this summer. At least eight people have reportedly been infected with the deadly hantavirus after spending time in one of the camps at the 1,100 square-mile park. And with news that a third camper (the other five are expected to make a full recovery) has died from the disease, recent visitors are expressing concern that park employees could have done more to prevent the spread of the virus and protect guests.

There is no known cure for the rodent-borne hantavirus which spreads through contact (or from breathing in air that has come into contact) with the urine, saliva, or droppings of infected animals. Upon entering the body, the hantavirus can lead to fatal diseases like the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a disease all eight of the visitors are known to have contracted. The disease is characterized by a high fatality rate–an estimated 38% of people who contract the disease will eventually die from it.

Because deer mice are a common carrier of the disease, the California Department of Public Health conducted a test in 2010, to estimate how prevalent the disease was in the park. They found that 18 percent of the mice tested from the park carried the virus. Even so, it is rare that humans will become infected with the disease; however if conditions allow, than the transmission is possible. Such was the case at Yosemite’s Curry Village area and High Sierra camps, where the infected persons were known to have camped. Scott Gediman, a Yosemite spokesperson maintains that the camps in question have since undergone a deep cleaning, and the risk is once again minimal.

But that might not be enough according to visitors. Despite the park contacting past guests about the issue, many fear that the park service handled the situation “irresponsibly,” and that sites that were known to have been infected should have been dealt with before additional campers were allowed access.  The biggest issue revolves around whether those camps and tents where the disease was present should have been off-limits to other campers before they were cleaned. For example, visitor Chris Reid, 61, visited Curry Village on August 16—the same day the park learned of the disease—and was not informed about the possible danger during her visit. Reid stated that had she known about the risk she would have left the camp.

“I can’t tell you how reckless I feel this is,” said a psychiatrist from California, another camper who visited the park this summer with his 5-month-old son. “If you have an amusement-park ride where people are dying, you don’t keep the ride open while you fix it.”

According to park officials, everything that could have and should have been done has been taken into account. “We feel that we took the most transparent approach possible,” explained Gediman. “As new information became available, we took the most appropriate.” Despite the disagreement, what can be certain is that the park must take better steps to alerting patrons of similar situations in the future. To petition the regional director of the National Park Service to develop a better emergency response plans for future crises such as this, sign the petition here.


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Shell Won’t Drill in the Arctic This Year

Earlier this month, Shell Oil announced that it will not begin drilling for oil in the Arctic this year, due to numerous problems with its equipment. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, say that the decision came after millions of petition signers and environmental activists spoke out against the drilling. The projected drilling sites are in the Chukchi Sea 70 miles off the northwest Alaskan coast and in the Beaufort Sea in northwest Canada.

“There are many reasons Shell wasn’t able to drill this year, but the big culprit is Shell’s own lack of preparedness. From not meeting its Clean Air permits to a damaged oil spill containment dome, Shell showed that it just couldn’t drill safely,” says the Sierra Club. It is clear “that the unpredictability of the Arctic environment, from sea ice to storms, makes the Arctic one of the most challenging places to work in the world.”

Shell has admitted that it is not prepared to drill in the Arctic. While testing a containment dome that would collect oil in the event of a spill, the dome malfunctioned. One of the company’s oil containment barges has not been able to obtain certification from the United States Coast Guard, due to fluid leaks and problems with safety systems and onboard stowage.

“Company officials said they will continue to drill “top holes” off the Alaskan coast through the end of this season’s drilling window, but will not attempt to reach any oil deposits this year,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

While top holes are not deep enough to reach underground oil, they can be further drilled and expanded to become oil wells in the future. Drilling in the Arctic is hazardous due to harsh and unpredictable environmental conditions, and could have massive negative effects on the environment and wildlife – including polar bears – if a spill were to occur. Additionally, Greenpeace found deep-sea soft corals in the drilling area of the Chukchi Sea this summer, but Shell has denied that its drilling operations would significantly and permanently harm the corals.

Amidst halting its oil drilling operations, Shell Oil, whose global headquarters are in the Netherlands, sued Greenpeace International (also based in the Netherlands) last week over protests by the environmental organization. Shell claims that protests conducted by Greenpeace supporters and activists have gone too far, citing a recent event in which protesters obstructed more than 70 of the company’s gas stations in the Netherlands. Shell is seeking a six-month restraining order against Greenpeace that would require all of the organization’s protests to be held more than 500 meters (1,640 feet) away from Shell’s properties or face a $1.3 million fine. The pending lawsuit will be settled soon in Dutch courts and will only apply to protests held in the Netherlands.

Environmental organizations – including the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Credo Action – have all pressured the federal government to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic. The federal government has expressed support for Shell and for domestic oil production recently, but if the United States wants to play a leading role in stopping climate change, becoming less reliant on foreign oil – or, better, oil in general – and developing forward-thinking ways of responsibly using natural resources as forms of energy, the federal government must take action and invest in cleaner energy. To express your approval for Shell’s actions in halting its drilling plans for this year, and to urge the federal government to prohibit further drilling and environmental damage in the Arctic, sign the Sierra Club’s petition and encourage your friends and family to add their names as well. 

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Sea Otters Doing Their Part to Battle Global Warming

Sea otters may be nature’s little secret weapon for battling the rise of carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere and, in turn, slowing down the effects of global warming. According to a new study out of the University of California, Santa Cruz, the mammals play a big part in allowing quantities of kelp blooms to amass and survive in open water. These kelp blooms help to reduce CO2 levels by absorbing the compound through photosynthesis and releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere.

And it all comes down to the sea otter diet: Sea urchins, a delicacy most preferred by the otters, feed voraciously off of live kelp forests. Because sea otters help to keep populations of sea urchins at bay, kelp is given a greater chance to thrive. In order to get a better idea about the impact sea otters have on kelp forests, researchers from UCSC took a look at 40 years of data concerning otter activity and kelp blooms in an area spanning from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to Canada’s Vancouver Island.

After examining the date, the researchers found that where sea otters were most populous sea urchins were less prevalent and kelp was better able to bloom. Although it is an indirect effect, it is important one nonetheless. Kelp forests where sea otters frequent are able to absorb up to 12 times more carbon dioxide then in areas with less of the furry animals. What is more, researchers also discovered that CO2 absorbed in otter-kelp areas could be worth anywhere between $205 million and $408 million on the European Carbon Exchange.

Funded by both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the full scientific report has been published in the newest (September 7) edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Chris Wilmers, an assistant professor at UCSC believes that, without a doubt, this information is significant “because it shows that animals can have a big influence on the carbon cycle.” While researchers acknowledge the largeness of this finding, it is still very safe to say that sea otters will not singlehandedly balance the atmosphere’s oxygen to carbon dioxide ratio. But knowing that animals like the sea otter have a way of affecting the greater environment can lead to greater protection of animal species around the world. “If ecologists can get a better handle on what these impacts are, there might be opportunities for win-win conservation scenarios, whereby animal species are protected or enhanced, and carbon gets sequestered,” said Wilmers.

The days of global warming speculation are over; now, the knowledge that CO2 levels are becoming much too high is a pressing issue all around the world. This new information has provided us with a new way at looking at the problem and into ways to help battle it. “Right now, all the climate change models and proposed methods of sequestering carbon ignore animals,” explained Wilmers. Climate change can no longer be ignored; and the animals that are affected by it can no longer either.


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Elephant’s Code of Communication Cracked

Scientists believe they have a better grasp on how elephants are able to make the sounds that help them communicate to one another. As one of the most vocal animal species, elephants have acquired a vast collection of calls and signals to use for as many purposes. To announce an individual’s desires and needs, to converse between partners and families, to call for mates or potential mates, as warnings of danger, or to prepare for incoming threats—these are but a few of the reasons elephants rely greatly on their ability to communicate.

In the past, researchers have dived fully into the topic of elephant communication to try and “crack the code” behind the sounds. While looking into the topic, elephant researcher Joyce Poole found that elephants use more than 70 types of vocal sounds to express themselves to their clan. Add these are just the noises that we humans are able to hear. As it turns out, much of elephant communication is carried out on a sound frequency too low for humans to hear, between one and 20 Hertz per second. These incredibly low-pitched vocalizations are known as infrasounds and can travel for miles.

With this information already largely considered, a new set of studies went underway to try and discovery how these low-registering sounds were produced. Were the infasounds produced by a set of quick muscle contractions like that of a cat purring, or were the sounds coming from air being pushed through the vocal chords like that of a human voice? After the unfortunate but natural passing of an elephant at a Berlin zoo, researchers were granted the chance to study the vocal mechanism—the larynx—firsthand.

Christian Herbst of the University of Vienna, along with his colleagues, began their process by removing the elephant’s larynx and freezing it within hours of the animal’s passing. The organ was then taken to the larynx laboratory at the University of Vienna’s Department of Cognitive Biology, where Tecumseh Fitch joined the team and authored the project. It was this collaboration between voice scientists and biologists that set the research on the correct path.

In order to test the larynx out, Herbst and researchers began to mimic the animal’s lung by blowing humid air through the larynx. The vocal folds were adjusted to “vocal ready” positions and the infrasounds were successfully produced. Because the scientists were able to replicate these sounds almost effortlessly, this shows that elephants utilize a myoelastic-aerodynamic method of communication—or, in the same way as humans. From this, the team inferred that many animal sounds off the grid from human perception are caused in the same manner.

Additionally, another (nonlinear) phenomenon became even clearer. These “nonlinear phenomena” are present when it seems that a note on the human scale of hearing is hit—remember that screaming baby on an airplane? That one. Elephants, it turns out, are able to hit these notes as well. “If I scream, it’s no longer a periodic vibration. It becomes chaotic and you can hear a certain degree of roughness,” Herbst explained. “This can also be observed in young elephants, in situations of high excitement.”


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