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.

 

Photo Credit: fws.gov/international/education-zone/meet-the-species.html

Alaska Wilderness League Seeks Additional Arctic Protections

This year, the Alaska Wilderness League is making a concentrated effort to extend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and close off the area to oil drilling. The region is a center for biodiversity, housing species such as migratory birds, caribou, polar bears, wolves, grizzly bears, and muskoxen. The environmental group argues that, instead of opening the area to oil drilling, further protections should be adopted to conserve this pristine wilderness area.

The endeavor gained momentum last week when, after hundreds of supporters called Congress representatives to lobby for Congressional endorsement of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness bill, five new Congresspeople declared their support for the bill. The bill has gained the support of one Republican, making it a bipartisan proposal.

The environmental group said, “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last pristine, untouched wildernesses left in America. President Eisenhower began the bipartisan legacy of protecting this area for future generations a half century ago when he set aside 8.9 million acres as the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960. In 1980, President Carter continued this legacy by expanding the area, designating much of the land as protected Wilderness, and renaming it the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness bill, proposed by Senator Joe Lieberman (I – CT) and Representative Ed Markey (D – MA), would extend wilderness protections from the existing Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the Coastal Plain, a 1.5-million-acre expanse of land that hosts a variety of wilderness activities such as hiking, camping, and rafting. The indigenous Gwich’in population hunts for porcupine caribou here, and considers the area to be sacred. Polar bears, also native to the area, depend on the Coastal Plain and the Arctic region for breeding and hunting. These animals are sensitive to industrial activity, and human development can cause them to leave their dens and abandon their offspring. As Arctic ice melts, polar bears and other Arctic species are continually and increasingly being threatened by the effects of climate change – oil drilling would add unnecessary risk and harm to their growing list of dangers.

However, the Coastal Plain contains oil reserves, centering it in the debate over oil drilling in Alaska. The federal government and the oil industry have fought to bring oil rigs into the area, a move that would effectively disrupt the native population and damage the natural and diverse environment. To protect this area for the animals and residents, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness bill must be adopted and enforced.

“In the first half of 2012, we have seen numerous attempts in Congress to open the Arctic Refuge to drilling.  After six months of fighting legislative battles, we are determined to spend the second half of 2012 on offense for this special place,” said Lydia Weiss, campaign director for the Alaska Wilderness League.

The Arctic wildlife refuge campaign is among three campaigns run by the Alaska Wilderness League to save the Arctic, including efforts to protect the Arctic Ocean and the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska (which is not an oil drilling field, but a wildlife haven). To express your support for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness bill or any of the Alaska Wilderness League’s Arctic campaigns, visit alaskawild.org. Raise awareness by flying an Arctic-themed kite, hosting an Arctic garden party, or teach a lesson on the Arctic to your students, Girl Scouts, or Boy Scouts; take action by signing petitions to President Obama and Congress, asking them to designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which was established 50 years ago, as wilderness and to adopt it as the newest national monument.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/the4mahers/5425731313

South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary Vote Expected in Panama

This year, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will host its annual meeting in Panama, and among the top items it will discuss is the possibility of building a whale sanctuary in the south Atlantic Ocean. Later this month, representatives from Greenpeace will travel to Panama to attend the meeting, and will advocate for the whale sanctuary through creative methods.

The environmental organization plans to hold a photo exhibit and a whale-themed party in the streets of Panama City to raise awareness and garner support for the cause. An email sent by Greenpeace, which is trying to raise money from supporters to fund its actions in Panama, called the proposed whale sanctuary “one of the best opportunities we’ve ever had to protect whale populations in the South Atlantic.”

In 1938, the first whale sanctuary was established in Antarctica, but dissolved in 1955 under pressure to reinstate commercial whaling in the area. There are currently two whale sanctuaries in the world: the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which surrounds Antarctica, and the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Both ban all commercial whaling, and the proposed South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary would likely follow a similar model. The proposed sanctuary would, together with the two existing sanctuaries, prohibit commercial whaling in most of the Southern Hemisphere. Whales that live in the South Atlantic include 54 species, among them endangered southern right whales.

Whale sanctuaries allow endangered or dwindling populations of whales to recover and breed, raise awareness of the need to protect all ocean animals, and encourage marine research that does not harm the animals. Sanctuaries offer economic incentives to bordering countries, such as the chance to develop or improve their whale tourism industry. The future South Atlantic Ocean sanctuary will cover all of the Atlantic waters south of the equator and was proposed in 2001 by South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina. Australia and New Zealand have proposed a South Pacific sanctuary, but from 2000 to 2004, the plan failed to gather enough votes to pass from the IWC.

The International Whaling Commission was formed under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which was established in 1946.  The Commission is composed of 89 member states, including large portions of the Americas, Europe, and Asia. It has enforced a ban on commercial whaling since 1986, providing exemptions for native and aboriginal populations in countries such as Canada and the United States (Alaska). Because the organization is voluntary and not a binding treaty, countries are not required to follow the ban on whaling; Norway and Iceland still participate in commercial whaling, while Japan hunts the animals for scientific research purposes. Some environmentalists disagree with the allowance of scientific whaling, arguing that many of these whales are not intended for research.

In the past, populations in several countries depended on whaling for subsistence in rural environments. Now, however, many areas rely on whale-related tourism—such as whale watching tours—as a major draw to coastal towns. Japan has historically been a vocal proponent of whaling, as well as an opponent to whaling bans and sanctuaries. Although whaling is a threat to the marine mammals, pollution, oil drilling, overfishing, and climate change also put them at risk of harm.

A vote on the sanctuary was proposed at last year’s meeting on the British Channel Island of Jersey, but after delegates from Japan and other pro-whaling nations refused to vote and left the room, the action was tabled; a decision is expected at this year’s meeting. The United States and the majority of the European Union support the sanctuary. Greenpeace hopes that its actions at the Panama meeting will convince delegates to support and vote for the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/birdbrian/5199793796

Saving the World’s Most Unique Parrot

Without a doubt, the kakapo parrot is unlike any other parrot in the world.  Nocturnal and flightless, the kakapo (or owl parrot) may be one of the most ill-prepared birds if it even encountered a determined predator. What is more, the kakapo is a hefty animal—weighing up to eight pounds, more than any other parrot in the world.  Yet while it may not seem that the animal is well adjusted to living a long life, it is estimated that the animal can live to be approximately 90 years old. 

But the kakapo parrot is also in dire straits and is edging awfully close to the edge of extinction.  According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its Red List of Threatened Species, the kakapo parrot is considered “critically endangered” and without proper intervention will soon become extinct within the next couple of generations.  As of the latest count (conducted in 2009), only 124 birds were believed to be in existence—a small but promising number, judging from counts in the past.

Native to the islands of New Zealand, the kakapo’s range once spread between many of the New Zealand islands—specifically, the North, South and Stewart Islands.  Today, the kakapo has been relegated to an area a fraction of the size of its traditional home, a small sliver of the Stewart Islands.   Before the arrival of human civilization, the kakapo parrot only had to share its home with a couple species of bats, animals of little to know threat to the bird.  Without any outright threats, the kakapo had no need to develop methods of defense against conflict.

Without certain defense mechanisms, the kakapo has remained utterly defenseless against the coming colonizers (first the Polynesians, followed by the Europeans) and the animals they brought with them.  Small predatory animals, cats specifically, are largely responsible for the kakapo’s dwindling numbers.  It is estimated that each year at least half of the monitored adult birds were killed by cats on the island. 

And with breeding habits that leave much to be desired, it is no wonder why the kakapo population has dipped way below sustainable numbers.  For kakapos, breeding occurs once every two to five years…and that is assuming the conditions are perfect.  Conservationists concerned with the kakapo plight have found that while the animal generally feeds on fruits, seeds, bark, leaves, stems and roots, the birds’ favorite snack is the fruit of the rimu tree.  It was also found that in times when the rimu fruit is plentiful, mating and breeding behaviors of the kakapo spike…and are depressed when the fruit is less available.  This habit adds yet another strain to conservation efforts—protecting the fruit that fuels the birds. 

For many, it may seem that time has not played fair with the kakapo.  As the world has changed, the kakapo has yet been unable.  But as humans are largely responsible for the kakapos hardships, it seems only fair that we do what we can to protect the world’s most unique parrot.  By signing this petition, we can help urge the New Zealand government to take steps in protecting the critically endangered kakapo parrot.

 

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Strigops_habroptilus_1.jpg

Thousands of Marine Animals Found Dead on the Peruvian Coastline

Hundreds of dolphins and thousands of pelicans have been found dead on the beaches of the Peruvian coastline.  While it is not entirely rare for such a dynamic coastline to experience its fair share of animal sightings and deaths, the sheer number involved in this case (as well as the fact that a couple of different species are involved) has left scientists and government officials scratching their heads. 

Already the bodies of more than 4,450 pelicans and almost 900 dolphins have littered the country’s beaches, raising health concerns and forcing the Peruvian Ministry of Health to close many of the beaches that occupy the 1,500-mile coastline, from its capital city of Lima and northward.  In the past, similar cases of mass pelican deaths have been recorded—most notably in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 when El Nino was deemed largely to blame for warmer ocean temperatures.  And scientists believe that this year is no different.

Carlos Bocanegra, a biologist at the National University of Trujillo, believes that a warming ocean is responsible this time around—temperatures in the region have averaged 10 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius) warmer than the same time last year.  According to Bocanegra, as the water warms, populations of anchovies (the pelicans preferred meal) move to deeper water, making it harder for younger pelicans to dive down and feed.  Of the 10 dying pelicans Bocanegra examined, the digestive tracks were found to be either empty or contained the remains of fish that are not a usual part of their diets.

Further evidence that this is the case has come from fisherman in the northern region of Lambayeque, who claimed that since the end of January daily catches of anchovetas drew in noticeably less and less than the average five tons a day. 

Yet even with a clearer idea surrounding the death of the birds, the dead dolphins continue to remain largely a mystery.  Many coastal areas around the world are no strangers to dead dolphins washing up on the shoreline; however, the numbers that Peru has seen are higher than usual and thus a reason for concern.  Initially, scientists believed that this anomaly could have been a result of agrochemical runoff from rivers that introduce heavy metals and pesticides into the ocean.  However, testing has gone on to overrule much of these claims. 

What is perhaps most plausible is that the dolphins were affected by a controversial method of locating oil deposits on the ocean floor which utilizes shock waves produced by sonar explosions.  Between February 8 and April 8 of this year, BPZ Energy (a Houston-based energy company) has been conducting seismic testing in an area off the northern coast of Peru.  The company has gone on to deny claims that their work may be involved in the dolphin deaths, but conservationists are not easily convinced.

Carlos Yaipen, of the sea mammal conservation group Orca, testified at a congressional hearing that autopsies of the dolphins found that dolphins in the area suffered from internal hemorrhages, collapsed livers, and broken bones in the ears—evidence that strongly points to such sonic damage.  “In microscopic exams we found fatty tissue with a great quantity of surrounding bubbles and hemorrhages,” explained Yaipen.  “This happens when there is a strong sound in the fatty tissue, in the mandibular fat where sounds are received.”

As the quest for answers continues, one thing that remains certain is that Peru’s coastal protection programs could use some work. An economist who has worked closely with public interest groups involved with coastal preservation, Juan Carlos Sueiro, says that this mass of deaths brings attention to Peru’s lack of readiness for crises like this. “Peru doesn’t have a policy of coastal territory management,” Sueiro explained. “It is probably the most backward in the entire region. 

Many hope that this new attention on the South American country will put the pressure on the government to improve their ability to protect their coastlines by strengthening their management of the coastal territory.  To petition the Peruvian Health Ministry to do so, sign the petition here.

 

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Several_Peruvian_pelicans_in_Pan_de_Azucar_National_Park_in_Chile_September_2009.jpg

Rare California Condor Threatened by New Wind-Energy Project

For over 25 years, the California condor has been pulling itself back from the brink of extinction.  In 1987, the animal’s population was numbered at just 22 birds, but after an effective breeding program (in which all the known surviving animals were hauled to a sanctuary in order to ensure a sustainable amount of birds were bred) the California condor now numbers around 400, with at least half of these existing in the wild.  And now, as the condor begins to inhabit the areas of California’s Tehachapi region where it historically flourished, its progress is being threatened by newly proposed plans to construct another wind-energy project in the area—and environmental organizations are not happy about it.

Together the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club have filed a suit against the United States Bureau of Land Management for what they believe to be a breach of duty.  Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are required to “ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species.”  And as environmental groups are quick to point out, the proposed 300-megawatt North Sky River project will adversely affect native bird populations including the vulnerable California condors and golden eagles.

For their proof, the environmental groups point to another nearby wind-energy site, the Pine Tree Wind Farm, that has a history tarnished with a high avian fatality rate. In a 2011statement concerning the Pine Tree Wind Farm, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service points out that the “first full year of fatality monitoring resulted in an estimated 1,595 fatalities per year… [making it] among the highest fatality rates being recorded in the nation.”  So how is it that another similar (and larger) project has been green-lighted in an area already under stress?

The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club contend that the BLM did not thoroughly investigate the possible repercussions that the North Sky River project will have on the area and its bird populations before granting NextEra, the company behind the operation, permission to proceed.  In the past, this trio of conservation groups has proved valuable in reaching a compromise between renewable-energy companies and the land they utilize, permitting approximately 2,600 megawatts of clean energy since 2010.  Yet despite this positive track record, NextEra has refused to work with the organizations in order to negotiate a plan that would accommodate for both the needs of the company and the needs of the native wildlife.

Kim Delfino, program director for the California division of Defenders of Wildlife, expresses the frustration felt by many over the BLM’s decision: “NextEra Energy and the Bureau of Land Management have thrown caution to the wind with the North Sky River project by ignoring the evidence of high rates of bird kills at the nearby Pine Tree wind energy project…NextEra had the opportunity to reconfigure the project to reduce the risk to endangered California condors and golden eagles.  We’ve been left with no alternative but to resort to legal action to prevent further harm to one of the rarest animals in the country.”

It is for this reason that the case has found its way into a United States District Court.  As the Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity make their case in court, you can support their efforts by signing the petition here.

 

Photo Credit: apps1.eere.energy.gov/news/images/b-roll_tehachapi_wind_farm.jpg

Discovery of a New Hammerhead Shark Species Requires Amped-Up Protective Measures Around the World

First discovered in 2005 near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by a team of researchers at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center, the small hammerhead-like shark was considered nothing other than what it appeared to be.  However, after further genetic assessment and a closer look at its vertebrae, the university’s team led by Mahmood Shivji realized that the small shark was a different type of shark altogether. 

The shark, which still remains largely a mystery, is characterized by a wide flat head often times associated with the better known scalloped hammerhead shark.  Yet, even with the excitement that surrounds any new discovery, there is now a fear that current estimations of the scalloped hammerhead shark population may, in fact, be much lower than currently believed. As it is, in U.S. waters alone it is projected that at least 7 percent of sharks previously considered scalloped hammerheads are actually this new species. 

“It’s a classic case of long-standing species misidentification that only casts further uncertainty on the status of the real scalloped hammerhead, but also raises concerns about the population status of this new species,” Shivji explained of the recent finding.  And this new predicament could mean bad news for the already endangered animal. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the scalloped hammerhead is considered a “vulnerable” species and is listed on the organization’s Red List of Endangered Animals.  Knowing what is now known about this new hammerhead species may mean that current estimates of the original scalloped hammerhead population may be well off the mark all around the world. 

Already, the new unnamed species of shark has been spotted as far away as the southern coast of Brazil (approximately 4,300 miles away from the Florida coastline), proving that the range of the animal is rather long reaching.  Because of the many similarities between the two species, there is a growing concern that this new species may already be struggling against the same threats as its predecessor.

Current unsustainable fishing practices and trends around the world are threatening numerous shark species, including the scalloped hammerhead and its smaller cousin.  Whether they are specifically targeted for their fins or taken in as bycatch (caught in gillnets and long lines cast for fishing), populations of sharks are being killed in such great numbers as to threaten the animal with extinction. With little know about this new shark species, many involved with the issue have rightfully placed fears that the animal may become extinct long before it is ever fully understood and acknowledged by the greater scientific community. 

Shivji fears that without adequate research this outcome is extremely likely.  “It’s very important to officially recognize, name and learn more about this new hammerhead species and the condition of its populations through systematic surveys,” Shivji explained.  “Without management intervention to curtail its inadvertent killing, we run the risk that overfishing could eradicate an entire shark species before its existence is even properly acknowledged.”

It is essential to both the scalloped hammerhead shark and its “cryptic” look-alike, that the new species is further researched and identified. Without proper recognition and protection from an international animal rights organization, the fate of the animal may already be decided.  To help support further research and conservation of this new hammerhead species, ask the IUCN to get involved, and sign the petition here.

 

Photo Credit: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/Sphyrna_lewini_young.jpg 

Protecting Animals on the Global Scale

All around the world, thousands of animal rights groups work endlessly for the sole purpose of looking after the overall well-being for the planet’s very large variety of animals.  Yet, even with the work put in by each individual organization and agency, there has yet to be an acknowledgement of animal welfare on the international level.  Now however, the United Nations is being urged by numerous supporters and animals rights groups to adopt the Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare (UDAW) agreement.

The message is simple, and one that has been touted around for years—to recognize that animals are like humans in that they are capable of having emotions and feeling pain and suffering. To first see that animals are not as different from humans is the first, and perhaps hardest, step to understand.  But once it is realized, the stage is set for numerous advantages that would eventually benefit both animals and humans, alike. 

Organizations like the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), who is leading the charge in urging the United Nations to accept the terms of the UDAW, are certain that once global awareness is established pieces will then begin to fall into place that will take us to the future of animal rights and strengthen the relationship between animals and humans.  Looking at the possible good that would come from this observance, it hard to imagine why nothing like this has been done before.

According to the WSPA, the international move would be the inspiration for similar work to be done on both the national and regional scales.  This would in turn lead to the improvement of animal welfare legislation, businesses and manufacturers would evolve newer policies that would be in line with the safety of animals, a framework for animal rights legislation would be laid out in countries where little to no animal welfare legislation exists today, and an overall feeling of inter-species unity would continually “link humanitarian development and animal welfare agendas.”

In an attempt to reach the greater public, the Animals Matter campaign was launched with the hope of spreading the word to every corner of the world. What is more, this campaign has highlighted that humans, too, will see vast benefits by accepting the UDAW.  Through cases studies, the Animals Matter campaign has been able to prove that in times of disaster, livelihoods and food will be secured and protected until a necessary time.  Additionally, livelihoods will be able to stabilize once the animal populations, for which these livelihoods are dependent upon, maintain sustainable numbers. Poverty will be targeted through education, and eventually these profits will even begin to positively affect farming and cultivation.

The Preamble to the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare states:  “That animal welfare is an issue worth consideration by governments…That the promotion of animal welfare requires collective action and all stakeholders and affected parties must be involved [and]…That work on animal welfare is a continuous process.”

Already with over 2 million supporters of the UDAW—along with several animal rights organization like the WSPA, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—it is a wonder that the United Nations has not already officially adopted such an agreement. To lend your voice to the many voices of the world and urge the United Nations to formally adopt the UDAW, please sign your name to the petition here.

 

Photo Credit: t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcS3xCQ7j8QOn1WWf8mxkoTcDLGBzZnyNz9kUGaJVeSfX0Jyjd0t

Human Consumption of Marine Mammals on the Rise

Research suggests that over the past 20 years, human consumption of marine mammal species has increased.  The Wildlife Conservation Society and the Okapi Wildlife Associates conducted a three year study focusing on marine mammal fishing and consumption. The researchers examined records from fisheries concentrating on catching small whales, dolphins, and porpoises.  They also conferred with numerous researchers and environmentalists on the growing trend of consuming marine mammal species. 

Subsequently, the researchers found that since 1990, people in at least 114 countries had consumed at least one of 87 marine mammal species. These included the bottlenose dolphin,  Burmeister’s porpoise, California sea lion, Chilean dolphin, long-finned pilot whale, manatee, narwhal, polar bear, pygmy beaked whale, seal, and South Asian river dolphin.

The reason for the rise in human consumption of marine mammal species, especially in coastal areas and estuaries, is partly due to changes in fishing techniques.  These marine mammals are being caught unintentionally in fishing nets used to catch other fish.  In addition, in places like Congo, Gabon, and Madagascar, marine mammal species are being hunted for food.  In these coastal areas, marine mammals are considered viable sources of protein.  However, the Wildlife Conservation Society is helping to educate fishermen in these areas to catch sustainable fish rather than wild marine mammals.

In the United States, there are laws and regulations protecting marine wildlife.  For instance, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), protects endangered and threatened species and their ecosystems from further destruction, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) share responsibility in upholding the ESA.  Furthermore, the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the capturing or killing of marine mammals in U.S. waters or by U.S. citizens.  There are also international regulations to help monitor the trade of endangered species, including marine wildlife.  For example, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is a treaty that regulates the trade of endangered animal and plant species. 

Nevertheless, marine mammals are still at risk of being caught and killed by fishing nets intended to catch other marine species.  According to a report issued by the World Wildlife Fund – U.S., a worrying amount of at-risk species of dolphins and porpoises are being killed by fishing nets.  It has been noted that the gillnet, in particular, poses a significant risk of entrapping dolphins and porpoises.  Gillnetting involves suspending a curtain of netting using a system of floats and weights.  Gillnetting is primarily used to catch cod, salmon, and sardines, but often entraps other marine wildlife species such as dolphins, turtles, and even sharks.  Sadly, almost 1,000 cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises, and whales) die due to fishing nets and gear every day!  In addition, marine experts believe that almost 300,000 cetaceans die annually by fishing gear.

The amount of marine mammals who succumb to fishing nets can be reduced with the use of alternative fishing methods such as crab pots or installing pingers (devices that emit sounds to scare dolphins, porpoises, and whales away) near fishing nets.  And as always, education is key to raising awareness and preventing the future deaths of marine mammals due to destructive fishing practices. 

Furthermore, laws and regulations protecting marine wildlife need to be enforced.  Leading conservationists recommend that in order to stop the deaths of marine mammals, there needs to be better data on fishing practices and increased monitoring of marine mammals, especially in developing nations where there are far more small-scale, decentralized fisheries that escape monitoring.  For more information regarding destructive fishing practices and to help protect marine wildlife, visit http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/.

Photo credit: physorg.com/news173298649

Outbreak of White-Nose Syndrome Threatens North American Bat Populations

It was in February of 2006 when it was first noticed in the states. In a cave west of Albany, New York, a visitor snapped a picture of a colony of bats in the midst of their hibernation.  Around the muzzle of many of the sleeping bats was what looked like nothing more than a fuzzy patch of white.  Along the floor, lay dead bats with the similar marking on the tips of their noses.

Already existing in Europe, white-nose syndrome (WNS) had made its way across the Atlantic and into the caves of the American northwest and parts of Canada.  Since then, instances of the disease have popped up in many more caves quickly moving its way across the country wiping out massive populations of bat species including ones which are already threatened with extinction.  Among the affected species are the endangered Indiana bat, Virginia big-eared bat, Ozark big-eared bat, gray bat, and the highly common little brown bat.

Not much is known about this deadly disease, other than its fierce ability to wipe out bats.  While it is popularly believed that the disease must have been brought over from Europe, it is primarily surmised as to how it arrived in the first place. Since bats do not travel between Europe and North America, researchers have only to guess that white-nose syndrome was introduced to bats this side of the Atlantic by travelers who visited caves in both places.  While the disease is the same, the outcome is quite different—bats in Europe remain relatively unscathed. 

This sharp decline in bat numbers can have a devastating impact on the world surrounding it. A bat is “nature’s own nocturnal insect-eating machine” acting as a natural pesticide, eating thousands of insects every night.  The decline in bats would be an upset to the natural balance of the environment.  Additionally, the amount of service their eating habits provide the American farmer is phenomenal—it is estimated that this pest-eating service would otherwise cost American farmers an estimated 3 to 54 billion dollars a year!  And these numbers do not even account for their services to forestry and their ecosystem.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, since 2007 (when the New York Department of Environmental Conservation biologists first documented the WNS outbreak) more than one million bats have died from this disease…and the mystery still remains as to what exactly this disease is.  What is perhaps most tragic about this whole scenario is that these bats have no real way to combat the disease. While they are hibernating and most vulnerable, WNS spreads through the group—absorbed through their thin skin and killing them as they sleep.  “We have found sick, dying and dead bats in unprecedented numbers in and around caves and mines from New Hampshire to Tennessee,” explains the FWS on their website.  “In some hibernacula [winter quarters], 90 to 100 percent of the bats are dying.”

Unless scientists can get to the root of the disease (and quickly), these numerous species of bats will take leaping steps closer and closer to complete extinction.  For the time being, the race against time is simply that—a race.  Researchers are fighting to find just what this disease is and how to best remedy it.  But it still remains a struggle.  Funding for research into this epidemic is little and far between, leaving bat supporters struggling to get whatever federal help they can.

Groups like Bat Conservation International and SaveOurBats.org are pushing for support from the federal government and are urging members of the federal government to include research on white-nose syndrome in the 2013 budget.  A petition could even be signed on ForceChange urging President Obama to include WNS research in the 2013 fiscal year budget.

On a smaller scale, there is still much that can be done to protect these bat populations.  By pushing the Bureau of Land Management to restrict access to caves and mines (that house hibernating bats) and only allow those necessary and qualified to enter, we can hope to cut down on the likelihood that any cave visitor may carry the disease to any unaffected area.  Already the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has been the “first park in the National Park Service system to close entrances to caves on the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides because of [this] lethal fungus killing millions of hibernating bats nationwide.”

To pledge your support for bats and demand that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management continue to restrict access to caves and mines until this problem is taken care of, sign the petition here.

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