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.”

 

Photo Credit: news.science360.gov/obj/pic-day/ef37d299-6d7c-4319-ab34-4e71114d36fe/elephant-family

Rare Dolphin Ritual Captured on Film

dolphin-mourning-ritual-calf-podsIn July 2012 humans learned a little more about dolphin behavior. Captured on camera for one of the first times, a mother dolphin was spotted in the Guangxi Zhuang region of China performing a mourning ritual in which the mother carries the dead calf against rough sea currents. Little is known about the ritual, which has rarely been witnessed by human eyes. The recent instance witnessed by a boat of tourists consisted of the mother dolphin carrying her dead child, as it slipped 5 times from its mother’s back. The Guanxi Zhuang region is known for its dolphin watching tours.

Researchers have observed dolphins carrying stillborn calves or those that die in infancy. The mother dolphins have been observed to stay with their dead babies for several days. While mourning rituals are rare in the animal kingdom, surprisingly whales, elephants, chimps, and gorillas also display some sort of mourning ritual. Researchers and scientists are very wary to attribute emotions to animals, but the behavior does seem to indicate that dolphins are aware of their mortality and may even contemplate their eventual death. Dolphins are also the only species known to purposefully commit suicide. Dolphins are also highly sociable animals and travel in closely connected pods. They exhibit extreme aggression when their pod is threatened and have been known to protect other species, such as humans.

The mourning ritual is greatly speculated about in the scientific community. Many hypotheses proposed by biologists and dolphin specialists suppose a variety of reasons behind the behavior. Some suppose the mother dolphin is lifting the calf out of water repeatedly as if to help it breathe better. The dolphin is also carrying the calf out into the sea further, as if to escape further dangers found hear shore, such as boats and their deadly propellers. Some even propose that the mother dolphin knows her calf is dead and is performing a sort of burial ritual, laying her calf to rest in deeper waters.

Researcher Joan Gonzalvo of the Tethys Research Institute in Italy has observed similar scenes. He once witnessed a pod of dolphins trying to help a dying calf by lifting it to the surface and swimming around it in a frantic and erratic matter. He states, “My hypothesis is that the sick animal was kept company and given support and when it died the group had done their job.” He assumes that the dolphins knew the baby was dying and they were prepared.

It is terribly ironic and tragic that one of the very boats that carried the tourists out to sea could be responsible for the death of this particular baby calf. The calf has a large gash approximately a foot long visible across its belly. To act on behalf of dolphins that die unnecessarily, please encourage the Chinese government to enact protections for dolphins and ban their killing. The Dolphin Project via Change.org is working to protect dolphins around the world. By partnering with grassroots organizations in Singapore and Thailand they hope to prevent the all too common occurrence of dolphin slaughter. Dolphins are also notoriously captured in many parts of Asia in order to place them in aquariums and circuses and tourist programs. The Dolphin Project tries to end the poor treatment and slaughter of dolphins and also does work to rehabilitate captive dolphins. To sign their petition please visit Change.org-Stop Dolphin Slaughter.

Photo credit: noaa.gov/features/04_resources/images/dolphins.jpg

Dolphin Deaths a Result of Drugs, Investigation Finds

It was in November of last year that keepers at the Connyland marine park in Lipperswil, Switzerland, noticed a couple of their resident dolphins acting strangely in their tanks.  Within days after a controversial music festival that was hosted on the park grounds both dolphins, Chelmers and Shadow, were dead. 

While the deaths were originally believed to be related to the loud techno music or human error on the part of the park’s veterinarian’s, a recent investigation and subsequent toxicology report showed that the animals had, in fact, died as a result of ingesting buprenorphine, a heroin-like opiate commonly used recreationally at raves.

It is still unclear just how the drugs ended up around (much less in) the dolphin habitat, but what cannot be clouded is the fact that these drugs have incredibly horrendous effects on marine animals.  Unlike humans, dolphins are conscious breathers and must be actively aware of when they have to surface for air.  Opiates interrupt the process that alerts the animal that a breath must be taken.  “Even when sleeping—there is a part of the brain that automatically controls the breathing instinct in the same way as it does for people when asleep,” explains Cornelis van Elk, a Dutch marine biologist.  In dolphins, opiates effectively cut off the mechanism in the brain that alerts them of when they need to take their next breath.  When this happens, the animals become helpless and end up suffering through long-lasting and painful deaths.

Such was the state in which zoo keeper Nadja Gasser found Chelmers just five days after the concert.  “He [Chelmers] was drifting under the water and was clearly in trouble and so we jumped into the water,” Gasser explained of the scene.  “We tried to hold him.  He was shaking all over and was foaming at the mouth.”  After much trying and effort, Gasser was able to pull Chelmers out of the water with the hopes that immediate medical attention might save the animal’s now waning life.  “Eventually we got him out of the water.  His tongue was hanging out.  He could hardly breath [sic].  He was given adrenalin, but it didn’t help.  After an hour the dolphin died.”

It was this last hour that still haunts Gasser to this day.  Shadow died immediately after the event.

Animal lovers and activists are now lashing out at the Connyland and specifically its management team which allowed the concert on the grounds in the first place.  At the present time, Connyland officials have denied any instances of wrongdoing on behalf of the park and still continue to tout their park’s wild and outrageous atmosphere on their website.   Yet that is not going to be enough for the many who are now demanding that Connyland drastically change its policies and practices.

Already a petition has been started that is directed towards Nadia Conny, founder of Connyland Marine Park, demanding that she and her park provide a safe environment for animals by no longer hosting music festivals at her venue.  To lend your voice to the cause, sign the petition here.

 

Photo Credit: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/Dolphins_at_conny-land.jpg

North Carolina A Haven for Puppy Mills?

Together, The Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Rescue Team worked along with other area organizations to help rescue more than150 dogs from a puppy mill being run in Danbury, North Carolina. The Stokes County Animal Control was first made aware of the possibility of this puppy mill when the owner took 11 dogs that were in poor physical condition to a local animal rescue group. Soon after the Stokes County Animal Control served a search and seizure warrant on the person’s property on Tuesday morning, February 7th .

What the rescue teams found was an unsettling scene. The dogs were being kept in crowded cages so small they did not have enough room to move around in and had to sit in their own feces. One local news reporter even stated that there were mice eating the dog’s food as the dogs themselves were delivering puppies. The rescue workers who saved the dogs reported that most were suffering from a variety of medical conditions such as skin and eye issues. There was even a Shih tzu who had an eye infection that progressed so severely it had to be removed. It was also reported that there were some dogs who’s behavior led the rescue workers to believe they have never been let out of a cage before in their lives. The Human Society officials, when interviewed, said it was one of the worst living conditions they had seen in quite some time.

The animals were quickly moved to local animals shelters. The Stokes County Humane Society and Stokes County Animal Control will be taking in some of the rescued dogs in their shelters; however, further assistance will be needed with this great influx. Currently, the Guilford County Animal Shelter has a majority of the rescue dogs with an account of 130 of them. Nearby counties Wake and Charlotte will also be transferred dogs where they will be continuously monitored as part of the investigation. All dogs will be given the necessary medical treatment before being considering for adoption.

However, it appears that the path to recovery will not be an easy one for some of the dogs. Some are old and have gone through many births. In an interview with ABClocal, The Wake County SPCA has stated that the dogs, aside from being groomed and bathed, just need “to learn what a human touch feels like”.

At the time being, the state of North Carolina has no laws or regulations regarding puppy mills or having hundreds of animals on one’s property. Residents are free to do large-scale breeding as they please with no routine inspections and, unfortunately, this lack of regulation can result in hundreds of animals being abused and mistreated.

The owner of the private property was running a puppy mill and selling the dogs online through a now defunct website, Danriverbullies.com. The breeder was listing these dogs, mainly bulldogs and Chihuahuas, for hundreds and thousands of dollars. She has the possibility to face multiple animal cruelty charges. That being said, even though it is illegal to abuse and neglect dogs in the state North Carolina, this case shows that animal cruelty can go unnoticed without proper regulation.

North Carolina needs to take action. This is the second large-scale puppy mill bust in the last several months. Looking back even further shows that there was a puppy mill raid in 2009 where almost 300 dogs were rescued in Waye County, North Carolina from an almost identical situation found in Stokes. For a video of the dogs being saved from the 2009 raid, watch this Youtube Video.

Supporters for a regulation on large-scale breeding and puppy mills are petitioning to Senator Richard Burr and Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina. This petition’s goal is to require inspections and regulations of commercial breeders in this state. Currently, there are 37 states in the United States who have these regulations in place. With some help, perhaps North Carolina can be added to that list soon. To sign, please click here. If you wish to do more, the shelters who are housing the dogs are asking for help in the form of canned dog food, food for nursing mothers and cleaning supplies.

Photo credit: fortheloveofthedogblog.com/the-horrors-of-puppy-mills

Photo credit: townipproject09.wikispaces.com/Puppy+Mills

Cape Cod Rescuers Confounded by Flood of Stranded Dolphins

The tale begins January 12 when a single dolphin washes up on the Cape Cod shore.

It’s nothing unusual for the Massachusetts cape, whose shallow inlets, rough tides, and curved shape annually trap approximately 120 dolphins from January to April.

But as early as January 23, the dolphin count is creeping up to that number, with the toll resounding at 85. A whopping 30 washed up on January 14 alone, tipping off scientists to think that something unusual may be at play.

“These animals seem to be coming from one large group,” said Katie Moore, manager of the mammal rescue and research team at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a nonprofit group tasked with rescuing dolphins and whales found marooned on Cape Cod shores.  “They’re all of the same species, and aerial views have seen large groups of 400 animals just off the cape.”

Yet one question eludes scientists: why?

Two chief ideas are currently being tossed around to answer that question. Some scientists believe that feeding may be to blame for the high tide of dolphins in Massachusetts, but according to Moore, the empty stomachs found in dolphins that scientists dissected have rebuked that theory.

Instead, a wave of support is growing for a new theory: C.T. Harry, an assistant stranding coordinator for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, has proposed that dolphin strandings may be correlated with weather fluctuations. While correlation does not indicate causation, some scientists suggest that this year’s unusually warm New England winter could be a factor in the dolphin dilemma.

For now, as scientists scramble for a solution, volunteers scramble to rescue the dolphins. Though 61 dolphins washed up already dead, killed by injuries from the stranding, rescuers still had their work cut out for them—each marooned dolphin must be rolled onto a stretcher and then carried to a vehicle that drives it to a medical trailer. Here, researchers give dolphins ultrasounds, blood tests, and hearing tests, among other procedures.

The job isn’t your regular nine-to-five; the day is only over when all of the dolphins have been cared for and released.

At the current rate of dolphin stranding, paid scientists and volunteers alike brace themselves for a long season ahead.

Moore reflects as she monitors Cape Cod beaches in Wellfleet, MA:

“It’s just about as intense as I’ve ever experienced.”

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Bottlenose_Dolphin_KSC04pd0178.jpg

Hope’s Death Raises Questions of Animal Rights

On September 16, two days after reportedly being missing, the world famous black bear, Hope, was deemed dead after wandering into a hunter’s bait station in northeastern Minnesota. 

Hope had been filmed as part of research headed by Dr. Lynn Richards of the Wildlife Research Institute (WFI) in Ely, Minnesota.  Since her mother, Lily, gave birth to her on January 22, 2010, Hope and her family have maintained an audience of internet uses the world over in order to educate viewers on a wide variety of the everyday activities of a family of black bears. The goal has always been, ultimately, to bridge the gap between humans and bears and allow for a better understanding between the two species.

According to those at WFI, Hope went missing on September 14 after her mother and younger siblings were spotted returning from wandering into a hunter’s bait station—Hope was not with them.  Not long after, Rogers was contacted by a hunter who claimed to have killed a female bear in the area.  Since all other female bears known in the area were accounted for, Rogers knew it had to be the missing Hope. 

Since her death, conservationists and fans alike have come out in droves to show their support for Lily and her family.  “I’ve gotten calls today from several people who could hardly talk through their tears, but there’s also a lot of anger,” Rogers explains.  “It’s a highly emotional item for the Lily fans.”

But with her death comes the question of the future safety of the bears.  Currently, bear baiting is completely legal in Minnesota as a more humane way of hunting. (It goes that by baiting the bear, hunters are likelier to get a clearer shot and, in turn, avoid the possibility of critically injuring an animal and leaving it to die out in the middle of the woods.)

Yet while there are no legal repercussions for bait stations, Rogers still does not want hunters to shoot his bears:  “It’s just one more instance of us being in the middle of a groundbreaking data set and having it cut short by a hunter killing a critical bear.”

As of now, the method of simply asking hunters not to kill the bears in the study (who are identified by brightly colored radio collars worn about the neck) has not worked.  According to the WRI website, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has, for the past 10 year, requested that hunters not target their collared bears–and just during last fall 9 were killed.

WFI believes that the next step is to demand legislature that would criminalize the killing of collared bears.  Although a small step on the road to protecting all bears, the hope is that the information the bears provide will help humans gain a better insight and respect for the animals.

Rogers laments, “This is probably the most famous bear in the world…[she] lived for 602 days and during that time [she] changes a lot of lives.  [She] drew a lot of people together.”

We hope she still does.

To help protect collared bears of Minnesota, sign the petition here

Photo Credit: t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSJeLxNJ9Ta5Oitld0KJRpCLvMNyJx4CjaF4IKcXucnzu6mdyYh

Lawsuit Seeks To Prevent Wild Horse Gathers

The Wild Horse Freedom Federation (WHFF) has taken another step towards the humane treatment of mustangs. On August 24, 2011 they filed a lawsuit and a temporary restraining order against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding gathers the BLM has been performing. The BLM intended to gather 4,651 horses between January 1 and September 30 of this year, with most of the roundups occurring between July and September. The gathers cover Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Oregon and Nevada.

The WHFF lawsuit specifically seeks to halt gathers in northwestern White Pine County and southern Elko County in Nevada. In Nevada alone, 1,687 horses would be gathered, of which only 108 would be returned to the wild.

Advocates for the wild horses believe that these gathers are inhumane. The BLM uses helicopters to herd the horses; after they have initially gathered the mustangs, the helicopters fly between one quarter mile and one half mile behind the herd and let the horses move at their own pace until they near the holding pens.  The BLM holds that this is not detrimental to the horses, and that helicopters are more effective than horse riders at keeping mares and foals together as well as maneuvering the herds around large obstacles such as ravines or roads. The direct mortality rate for horses being moved this way is typically less than one percent.

While the use of helicopters to herd mustangs is a problem for some (they fly too close to the horses), it is the treatment of horses after they have been gathered that is drawing most of the criticism this time. After the horses are gathered they are kept in holding pens where they do not have sufficient water and are improperly fed. Laura Leigh, the plaintiff in the case, has personally witnessed a number of roundups over the past 18 months and has seen these behaviors repeated time and again. She stated that after seeing the horses in their natural habitat, seeing how they are treated in roundups is “a direct blow to your soul”.

Gathers are part of the BLM mission to protect resources on the range, while ensuring that the land is available for a variety of uses that are developed in a public forum. Wild horses do fit into this plan, but not at their current population. There are currently around 38,500 mustangs and burros on the range, and the BLM is seeking to reduce this to a more ideal population of around 26,600 – the land is able to support that many horses. To determine this the BLM divides the land into Herd Management Areas, which each have a specific number of horses they can support; the BLM gathers horses when they have exceeded that population.

Once the horses are gathered, a number of things may happen to them. They may be sent to long term pastures or put up for adoption. Private citizens take care of the horse or burro for one year, at which point they take over ownership from the government. Finally, some of the mustangs will be released back into the wild. The BLM sterilizes some of the mares to prevent them from having colts, an additional effort at population control.

This is not the first time mustangs have been the subject of a legal debate. In May of this year, Nevada lawmakers were mulling over a bill which would have stated that wild horses and burros are not legally considered “wildlife”, which would have stripped the animals of their water rights. The Feral Horse Committee claimed that the horses were drinking water that was meant to sustain wildlife. While the mustangs are protected under 1971s Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the bill that would strip them of wildlife status passed in the House and moved on to the state Senate before it was turned down.

Photo credit: blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/ut/natural_resources/wild_horses_and_burros/conger.Par.76632.Image.-1.-1.1.gif

New Small Mammals Discovered in Sulawesi

A survey of small mammals from a forest site on the tropical island of Sulawesi, Indonesia (pictured at left) has turned up between two and four shrew species believed to be new to science.  Although more DNA testing is needed to determine exactly how many separate species the new shrews constitute, the discovery is a reminder of how much still remains to be learned about wildlife in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia.

Researchers from McMaster University in Ontario and the Museum of Zoology in Bogor, Indonesia conducted a week-long study of small mammals on Sulawesi’s Mt. Tompotika in April of this year.  Recently released preliminary results of the study document finding four rat species previously found in other parts of Sulawesi, as well as between two and four shrews.

One of the shrews is currently classified as belonging to a known species, but further research might show the Mt. Tompotika variety to be a separate species.  The others are all new to science, and are probably found only on Sulawesi.

All of the shrews found in the Mt. Tompotika survey belong to a group known as white-toothed shrews, an assemblage of more than 160 small mammals scattered over much of Europe, Asia, and Africa.  While most white-toothed shrews live on the ground, some species frequently climb into trees.  Like other shrews they are predators, feeding mainly on insects and other invertebrates.

Because of their small size, shrews are more easily overlooked than many mammals by scientific surveys.  The discovery of at least two, and possibly up to four new species on Mt. Tompotika shows the extent to which knowledge about these creatures remains incomplete.  It is likely many more shrew species remain undiscovered, especially in tropical sites like Tompotika.

“Tompotika is a remarkably rich and distinctive place for biodiversity,” said a newsletter publication of the Alliance for Tompotika Conservation, referring to the mountain site where the shrews were found.  The conservation organization reports that this single tropical site is now known to be home to at least nine animal species that occur nowhere else in the world.  “As the area gets more scientific attention,” the Alliance says, “that number is sure to rise.”

Looking at the entire island of Sulawesi, where Tompotika is located, an even more pronounced pattern of unique and rare species emerges.  Over 60% of the mammals on Sulawesi are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world.  These range from the large babirusa—a forest-dwelling pig with spectacular tusks—to tiny and secretive mammals like the newly discovered shrews.

Yet as with most other Indonesian islands, biodiversity on Sulawesi is under severe threat.  Only about 20% of Sulawesi’s original forest cover remains, with much of the rest having succumbed to logging, mining, and agricultural development.  This means the last intact sites, like Mt. Tompotika, are especially important from a conservation standpoint.

Despite the urgency of preserving Sulawesi’s last stands of tropical forest, the island has received less attention from researchers and conservationists than nearby larger Indonesian islands.  So far the bulk of international attention to conservation in Indonesia has focused on Borneo and Sumatra—the two largest islands in the archipelago nation, which are home to highly charismatic animals like the tiger and the orangutan.

As researchers learn more about the unique plants and animals of Sulawesi, more international conservation groups may turn their attention to this extraordinary and imperiled island.  Increased efforts to protect the forests of Sulawesi will help ensure a future for hundreds of species found nowhere else, including the newly discovered shrews that can now be added to the island’s list of endemic animal life.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/artaim/4959503699/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Environmentalists Want Stricter Speed Limit For Ships To Save Whales

Due to the rise in number of accidents and collisions involving ships and whales, a group of four environmental groups have requested the US government to impose speed limits for ships traveling over California’s National Marine Sanctuaries, where whales are prominently found breeding and migrating.

The four groups, the Environmental Defense Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Pacific Environment, believe setting a speed limit at marine sanctuaries would decrease the number of collisions between ships and whales. In the 61 page document the group presented, they claim that ships traveling at a lower speed would give whales more time to react to incoming ships. Whales also have a better chance of living after a collision if ships are traveling at a lower speed. Ships traveling at a lower speed also reduces emissions and underwater noise pollution.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a branch of the Department of Commerce, is currently reviewing the petition.

Since 2001, experts say at least 50 large whales have been hit by ships, and since some incidents are not reported, that number could be much higher. Wheneve Navy ships are involved with a collision, they are required to file a report while commercial ships are not. Last year alone, at least six whales were involved in collisions, including a mother blue whale and her fetus found dead ashore in Pescadero and a humpback whale found dead off of San Pedro.

On the other hand, the shipping industry believes that more scientific evidence is needed to justify that a speed limit for ships will save whales. T.L Garrett, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, says, “It’s just premature to assume that slowing vessel speed is the solution to the ship-whale interaction issue.” If anything, ships can just change their routes and avoid traveling through marine sanctuaries.

Lower speed limits would also be unprofitable and cause delays in cargo arrivals. Although, traveling at a lower speed would decrease fuel consumption and costs, ship operators argue that the added time at sea increases operation costs. At the ports of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Long Beach, the most heavily used routes used by commercial ships cut through protected waters. Whether they abide by this speed limit or navigate around protected waters, either case is inconvenient and wastes time and money for ship operators. They feel it’s a lose-lose situation for them.

John Calambokidis, a biologist at Cascadia Research in Olympia, Washington, supports the environmental groups’ petition but also believes more evidence is needed. He believes it is more effective to change shipping routes than to impose speed limits to prevent collisions between ships and whales. Although a lower speed limit may reduce the number of injuries or deaths from collisions, he argues that the number of collisions may still remain high. Calambokdis believes collisions should be prevented altogether.

In the past, there have been many voluntary advisories issued by governments to address the concern of environmental groups for these whales. In 2007, the NOAA designated the area between Point Conception and Point Dume a “whale advisory zone” after four blue whales were killed by ships. Also, a seasonal advisory from May to December is implemented off Santa Barbara because of the large number of whales that migrate there at that time of the year.

Because they are not strictly enforced, these advisories are ignored by many commercial ships and are still found traveling at high speeds through protected waters.

In Boston, the US Coast Guard has tried reworking ship routes and claim it has has helped reduce the number of collisions between ships and whales. They propose that, if implemented off the US West Coast, they can enforce the speed limit through tracking systems, which allow the Coast Guard to look up any ship’s name, speed, and location at any time.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/aok/289739667/

Mountain Lion Tracks Spotted in Northeast Missouri

An unidentified land owner in Macon County, Missouri received quite a surprise when he happened upon large, cat prints in a muddy creek bed.  Though no one witnessed the cat, pictures of the tracks where identified as those of a Puma concolor or more commonly, a mountain lion.  The recent confirmation makes a total of seven verified mountain lion sightings in Missouri since November. 

The April 20th paw print sighting in a Northeast Missouri town called Economy, is further evidence of an influx of mountain lions spreading into the “Show Me State.”  Conservation Department’s Mountain Lion Response Team (MLRT) spokesman Rex Martensen said rainwater washed the prints away before physical viewing of the site could be achieved, however photos match those of known mountain lion tracks.  The Conservation Department reported they are not looking for the animal, but they are collecting data to help track the movement of the mountain lions.  The latest sighting corresponds with research suggesting the animals are migrating to Missouri from other states where mountain lion populations are growing.

Mountain lion’s population statistics have been one of debate for many years.  Also known as puma, cougar or panther, these graceful cats were nearly eradicated in the Eastern United States and dwindled in the Western states.  Officially, Panthers roam thirteen states:  Arizona, California, Idaho, Colorado, Florida, South Dakota, Montana, New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.  With increased sightings in other states, the animal’s official habitat range is expanding.  Many believe the reason for increased population numbers and habitat expansion is due to shifts in human thought and established hunting bans on the cats.

Mountain lions are versatile mammals living in diverse habitats from elevations of sea level to 10,000 feet and from desert to rainforest conditions.  Pumas roam territories reaching 130 square miles for males and less than half that mileage for females.  Territories often overlap and are successfully shared by the cats provided the area offers a large enough food source, primarily deer.  Once territories are established, cougars do not willingly leave.

Visual verification and paw print measurements are the main identification features used to distinguish cougars from bobcats, coyotes and dogs.  Visually, cougar males reach lengths of 7 – 8 feet from head to tail.  Their fur is short with hues ranging from orange to brown to gray.  An adult male averages 140 – 160 pounds, while a female averages 90 – 130 pounds.  At cub stage cougars and bobcats are quite similar.  Cougar cubs are born brown with black spots and dark rings around their tails and legs.  As the cub ages the spots fade, disappearing around 18 months, the tail rings fade around 9 months, while the leg rings remain until 2.5 years.  It is during the cub stage that misidentification of mountain lions most often occur.

As in the Missouri sighting, when visual verification is not an option, paw print tracks are used to verify the animal.  According to the Missouri Department of Conservation website, four identifying features are used to determine the animal.  1. Pumas have three lobes at the bottom of their pads, while dogs and coyotes have one indent at the bottom of their pads.  2. Pumas have tear-drop shaped toes, while dogs and bobcats have oval shaped toes.  3. Even at 6 months of age a puma’s prints are larger than an adult bobcat.  Typically a mountain lions will leave 3 – 3.5 inch wide tracks.  Bobcats leave smaller tracks at around 2 inches wide.  4. The last distinguishing feature is lack of claw marks.  A dog or coyote will leave claw marks, while a cougar typically does not leave a mark.

Mountain lions are beautiful cats, but like all wildlife it is important to pay attention to signs of the animal.  They strike quickly and can cause mass amounts of property damage.  Signs of puma’s should be reported to the local Conservation Department. 

Photo Credit: blm.gov/id/st/en/prog/wildlife/carnivores/mountain_lion.print.html