Landscape of Fear

A new study by Marion Valeix, Graham Hemson, Andrew Loveridge, Gus Mills, and David Macdonald have discovered that wild lions now live in fear of humans due to deadly encounters with humans.  The researchers found that wild lions have recently changed the way they behave within their natural habitat as a result of the threats posed by humans.  Lions now live in a “landscape of fear” say researchers.

Marion Valeix and her team explain that most prey are constantly watching for dangers associated with predators, which causes them to be in a continuous state of stress-watch.  This state is now also shared by high-level predators, such as the lion, when they are living amongst or near humans.  This new behavior was caught by a GPS tracking system which was monitoring the behavior of wild lions in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana.  The wild lions residing in the park are known to hunt Burchell’s zebra and wildbeest during certain seasons.  However, when the zebra and wildbeest migrate elsewhere, the lions resort to hunting livestock so as to not lose established territories.  When lions hunt livestock such as cattle, they risk encountering humans, some of whom will use firearms to scare away or kill the offending lion(s). 

Having found evidence of lions that have survived encounters with armed humans, Valeix and her team of researchers believe that this fear of humans is being instilled in other lions given that lion cubs are usually very inquisitive creatures. It is believed that cubs grow up learning to be afraid of humans through their mothers and other pride members.

Studies conducted on human-lion conflict in parts of Africa have consistently shown that humans retaliate against lions for killing livestock.  However, livestock fall prey to sickness and drought far more than to lion attacks.  Sadly, with ensuing human-lion conflict, lions may one day no longer roam the Earth.  Thus, it is imperative that a solution be found for human-lion conflict management.  Some researchers believe that an incentive or reward program should be implemented in areas where human-lion conflict occur.  Other solutions include the use of more protective enclosures, but some researchers believe that this may not be feasible due to high costs and space restrictions.  An interesting proposal made by Johan du Toit, head of the Wildland Resources Department at Utah State University, involves the use of fear to prevent human-lion conflict.  Now that researchers have found that high-level prey animals, such as the lion, can live in a state of near-continuous fear, Johan du Toit believes that this state of fear can be used to avert human-lion conflict.

For more information on this topic and to see what you can do to help, please visit http://www.lionconservationfund.org/.

Photo credit: digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/natdiglib&CISOPTR=1968&CISOBOX=1&REC=5

Jewel the Black Bear Caught on Tape Giving Birth to Cubs

This past Sunday (January 22), online viewers all over the world were given the opportunity to witness something not many humans have gotten the opportunity to do before. Deep within her den in the woods of Ely, Minnesota, momma-bear-to-be, 3-year-old black bear Jewel gave birth to at least two bear cubs in front of a live online audience.  Researchers at the Wildlife Research Institute have been installing webcams into bears’ dens in the area in order to give viewers everywhere a better insight into a very important and private aspect of the animal’s lives. 

This video comes as part of series involving the bears of Minnesota, who are no strangers to the cameras and have been followed by classrooms, fans, and researchers alike.  The idea behind this closer look is to help spread knowledge about the animals and to teach the public that the animals are not to be feared but rather cherished and protected.  And it has worked.  Public opinion has been growing in favor of these animals as their exposure increases.  “People who were afraid to visit the area because of their fear of bears now come to visit in hopes of seeing bears,” explains Lynn Rodgers of the WRI and its affiliate, North American Bear Institute. 

Jewel’s labor, which was recorded both by video and in written summary on the WRI website, first caught the attention of Den-Watchers (poised to keep an eye out on all den activities) who gave the signal that all was set to go for Jewel and her little ones on the way.  After a restless attempt at sleep, the show was on the road.  According to the site, “For the first 20 mins she seemed very restless, grooming and pushing.  Then she made the sweet grunting noises as or just before the cub was born as if she was welcoming it into the world—so moving!!”  For the time being, it is unclear whether Jewel gave birth to two or three cubs, since the camera angle has made it hard to know with certainty.   

As was mentioned, this is not the first time that Jewel and her family have been covered by webcams. Jewel happens to be the younger sister of Lily, who was first to give birth on camera to her cub, Hope, in 2010 (incidentally, sharing the same birthdate).  Hope, as you may remember was the bear who stirred up controversy last year when she was shot and killed by a hunter not far from her home.  Because of this, many Hope supporters and bear lovers petitioned to criminalize the killing of radio-collared bears living in the Minnesota forests. 

And like Hope, Lily and her young cubs have much to look forward to as their popularity spreads both at home and across the country.  “Over 500 schools are following this bear family and watching along with us.  What we do for science is having huge benefits for education.  People are watching in 98 countries and developing a whole different attitude about bears and their willingness to share the land with them,” said Rodgers.  Already, Lily has over 138,000 followers on Facebook…and if that is any indication, viewers will be sure to stay tuned.  

Photo Credit: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/02/Black_bear_large.jpg/412px-Black_bear_large.jpg

Wild Dog Attacks on the Rise

There is the possibility of another growing phenomenon with more families moving to rural areas – attacks by wild dog packs. In a string of nighttime attacks, officials in Stevens County, Washington think it is possible that several domestic dogs that live with families have begun running amok at night with one dog that could be a wolf hybrid. And not only that, the dogs seem to be killing for the sport of it rather than hunger. The pack has killed over 100 animals in the area since the killings started in late March, including goats, other farm animals, and, most recently, a 350-pound llama.

Because there have only been one or two sightings of the dogs during daylight hours, officials think that most of the dogs have regular family homes and are going out to attack at night. A resident of Deer Park, which is about 40 miles north of Spokane, was able to get some nighttime photos of some dogs by setting up a game camera, though it isn’t clear whether the dogs in the photos are the same dogs that have been involved in the attacks. One of the dogs in the photos appears to be part wolf though officials have stated that the breeds of the dogs are unknown.

Experts on canine behavior note that canine instincts run deep. Dogs, by nature, live and hunt as part of a pack rather than as solitary hunters like big cats, such as cougars and cheetahs. After a domesticated dog is exposed to the behavior of a wolf hybrid, their instincts to work as part of a pack kick in. The need to attack as an efficient unit of predators overrides any previous behavior to make independent decisions. And after the initial attack happens, the pack usually continues to attack with more viciousness and will even escalate to attacking people. In the wild, a strong predatory instinct is vital to a dog’s survival. And it is extremely difficult to breed out a genetic trait when that specific genetic trait is important for the survival of dogs.

In addition to animal casualties, there have been incidents of wild dog packs attacking people as well. In August 2009, a 77-year-old man and his 65-year-old wife were mauled and killed by a pack of wild dogs in Lexington, Georgia. Officials believe that the woman was attacked when she was out walking and that her husband was killed by the pack of dogs when he went out to search for her. Authorities who later arrived at the crime scene stated that the dogs were very aggressive toward them and had to fire gunshots to spur the dogs to leave the scene.

There is also video documentation of a woman being attacked by a pack of stray dogs in Moscow, Russia in 2010. There are a total of 10 dogs in the video with six of the dogs actively frightening and attacking the woman. Fortunately, the woman appeared to escape injuries due to a man who swung a snow shovel at them to frighten the dogs away.

As for the case of attacks in Stevens County, officials have issued recommendations for residents to take necessary steps to protect their families and animals. There are also concerns that the attacks could start escalating to include children. It’s possible that the owners of the dogs will start keeping them inside at night, which might then end the string of killings. This recent news can serve as a warning call to families in areas everywhere to keep their family companions safe indoors at night – both for their sake and for the sake of other animals.

Photo credit: Stevens County Sheriff’s Office

The Call for Deer Fencing

Many heavily populated Deer areas across the country are calling for more fencing. Not only to protect personal gardens, but to benefit natural wildlife too. It has been found that surprisingly, Deer have a major environmental impact on the surrounding ecosystem in which we live. Not only do they limit one’s ability to grow a beautiful garden. But, can damage wildflower populations and kill the various blooms that bees and other natural pollinators need for survival.

So, what are the benefits of deciding to Deer proof a garden? From a personal standpoint you will be able to grow whatever plant or flower your heart desires. Without, having to worry about Bambi munching on your prized garden. Be prepared to sit back and enjoy the numerous springtime transformations and colors.

Your insect friends will be thanking you too. Pollinators rely on flowers blooming in the Spring. Where flowers grow populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators will thrive. Adding unmatched natural beauty to your garden. In recent years, the populations of both the bumblebee and some butterflies have been on a staggering decline. Deer proofing your garden may aid in the help to restore their populations.

Worried about other natural wildlife being effected by Deer Fencing? If put up correctly, fencing should do no harm to the surrounding wildlife. Birds should be able to fly freely and snack on your gardens seeds and thriving insect populations. Squirrels should still be able to make their way unharmed to forage. With enough room left at the bottom of a fence, smaller animals should be able to slip in and out of your fence enclosures. 

As the past has indicated, that when we as humans impose on the environment the results are often negative or damaging. However, we play a large role in the ecosystems that surround our daily lives. By carefully keeping the Deer population out of our gardens, we are creating a space for other members of nature to thrive. As a natural grazer, the Deer population you are keeping out should have no problem finding other wild plant food sources to consume. Indicating, that Deer fencing can be pro-environmentally friendly for all parts of nature.

Photo Source: wdfw.wa.gov