Category Archives: Wildlife in Danger

Mountain plover not warranted for endangered species listing

Nesting mountain plover (Photo/Fritz Knopf)

Here’s some food for thought.

The mountain plover’s populations now range around 20,000 birds left in the world. Across the globe, a very different creature, the saiga antelope, only boasts about 40,000. One of these animals is globally listed as critically endangered, and one was found not qualified for federal endangered species status. Any guesses?

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after a review of the current scientific and commercial information found mountain plover not warranted for listing, citing threats to its habitat as less significant than previously thought.

Mountain plovers are a small ground-nesting bird that rely on short-grass prairies and shrub-steppe environments in the American West for breeding habitat. Land use and habitat loss have been a primary suspect in the disappearance of the plover, an animal so good at hiding, that science is just now starting to get a better idea of how many are left. Recent research shows that rather than being pushed out by agriculture, mountain plovers are actually using farmland as a refuge during nesting season.

I want to take this as good news, but with short-grass prairie and steppe disappearing, swallowed up by energy development and overgrazing, active cropland does not sound like the most stable of refuges for a bird of small numbers, stature and a master of camouflage.  My hope is that not being listed will help avoid animosity of the animal by landowners, and perhaps even foster pride and care of the plover so that farmers will not have to contend with being the harbor of an endangered species.

Saiga Antelope, numbers around 40,000, critically endangered and rightfully so.

How many of an animal is left is not necessarily determinant of whether a species should be protected. Many factors go into the decision. But one has to wonder, what makes a population of 20,000 birds so much more stable than 40,000 of another species?

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First Photo of Fishing Cat with Baby in Wild

Fishing Cat with Kitten in Wild

Fishing cat with kitten in the wild of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. (Photo/Namfon Cutter, Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project)

 

 

The Secret Lives of Fishing Cats

 

Our resident fishing cat biologist friend, Namfon Cutter, was kind enough to give us permission to share her first-ever photo of a mama fishing cat with kitten in the wild. This is a rarely witnessed event!

With CAT in WATER, we are hoping to add to these efforts by incorporating new high-res camera-traps into the project that will bring you even more intimate views of these amazing critters.

Please enjoy this sweet moment in the life of a rare wild creature courtesy of Namfon and the Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project.

With all the support so far, we are just $124 away from our start-up goal. Thank you to everyone who has pledged. This photo is the epitome of what you are helping to protect when you do so.

We’ll keep fund raising throughout this project, as the camera-trapping is a whole other canister of film. (I know, we like the old school lingo around here.) If you’d like to help support CAT in WATER, click HERE to learn more.

 


CAT in WATER Kickstarter Launch!

Support the Kickstarter project to document them in the wild  here.

The fishing cat is up and running! We have 90 days to raise the first round of funds for the CAT in WATER expedition. Check out our Kickstarter project and watch the short video. You can also learn about all the paybacks in store for our supporters. Who wouldn’t want a care package from Thailand and the knowledge they are helping a gorgeous, wild animal in need?



Climate change leaves wolverines on slippery slope

istockphoto.com

Wolverines, those vociferous, marathon-climbing, fearless relatives of the sea otter may soon face a foe that no amount of bravery can outlast — climate change.

Climate model results from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, show wolverine habitat in the Lower 48 warming significantly from climate change during the second half of the century. The pending warmer climes threaten snow cover that is vital to the wolverine’s survival.

“It’s highly uncertain whether wolverines will continue to survive in the lower 48, given the changes that are likely to take place there,” said NCAR scientist Synte Peacock in a press release, and the lead author of a paper, which appears in Environmental Research Letters.

Wolverine Den (Photo/Wikimedia Commons,Ernst Vikne)

Wolverine Den (Photo/Wikimedia Commons,Ernst Vikne)

Wolverines dig snow dens for their kits 8 to 10 feet deep, and are specially adapted to run and hunt across the snow. Snow pack also helps preserve carrion that the wolverines rely on for sustenance throughout the winter. While about 15,000 wolverines are estimated to live across Canada and Alaska, only a few dozen are thought to still live in Montana, Wyoming and Washington State, according to the press release.

If the plight of the wolverine is not the kind of thing that gets your hair on end, there’s still reason to care. The study also found that a side effect of the loss of snow melt means big impacts for people as well. The projected lack of snow could reduce the amount of water in Idaho, western Montana and western Wyoming by as much as three or four-fold by the end of the century. Get those water-saving shower heads now.

The study is not meant to bring only doom and gloom. Researcher say this kind of analysis could help us think preventative. “This study is an example of how targeted climate predictions can produce new insights that could help us reduce the impact of future climate change on delicate ecosystems,” said Sarah Ruth, program director for the NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences in a press release.

Wolverine (Photo/U.S. National Park Service)

Wolverine (Photo/U.S. National Park Service)

A critter of unique character — to really understand what makes the wolverine such a remarkable creature, check out Douglas Chadwick’s book, The Wolverine Way. Even if you’re not a wildlife lover, this is an adventurous read that will leave you in awe of what a creature will do to survive.

NCAR Study available here.


Wildlife Mass Mortality By the Numbers

Between the news reports, Jon Stewart’s repeated references on The Daily Show and animal-costumed Saturday Night Live cast members, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the recent wildlife die-offs spinning news media and public alike into a tizzy. One thing repeatedly mentioned in these news stories is the statement from wildlife officials that mass mortality events are fairly common. Well, I decided to take a look. Below you’ll find the quick and dirty breakdown by the numbers. Warning, this might be my “Debbie Downer-ist” blog post yet.

USGS National Wildlife Health Center Mass Mortality data for 2010-present, represents only the Lower 48

72: Wildlife die-off events in the past year

29: States where these events occurred

8,560: Most deaths in one state (Minnesota), mostly waterbirds from a mix of toxins, parasites and viruses

10: Number of mass die-off events in Minnesota last year

4,300: Largest die-off event in 2010

13: Die-offs with 500+ deaths

85: Percent of total mass-mortality events that involved birds

Wildlife Mass Mortality by Animal Type

Wildlife Mass Mortality by Animal Type (by Morgan Heim)

10 Largest Mass Mortality Events 2010-Present

Approx. # Killed

Cause

Minnesota

Waterbirds

4,300

Parasites

Arkansas

Red-winged Blackbirds

3,000

Trauma

California

Northern Fulmar

2,750

Emaciation

Texas

Brazilian Free-tailed Bat

2,000

Rabies

Idaho

Tiger Salamander

1,500

Virus

Minnesota

Waterbirds

1,450

Virus

Minnesota

Waterbirds

1,200

Parasites

Florida

Vultures and Hawks

900

Drowning, Emaciation

Minnesota

Waterbirds

800

Open Investigation

South Dakota

Waterbirds

700

Botulism C

Michigan

Gulls

700

Botulism E

Other Interesting Factoids

  • Species of waterbirds appear to be the most frequent victims of mass die-off
  • Bats suffering from white-nosed syndrome were not represented in USGS data.
  • Data does not include several mass fish death events from the past year, including more than 100,000 in the Arkansas River in 2011, 20,000 menhaden in Hampton Roads, Virginia, July 2010; 100,000s menhaden on Folly Beach, South Carolina, as of January 7, 2011.
  • Also notably missing from this data appear to be wildlife mortality events from much of the Gulf Coast.

http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/mortality_events/index.jsp

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10 Largest Mass Mortality Events 2010-Present

Approx. # Killed

Cause

Minnesota

Waterbirds

4,300

Parasites

Arkansas

Red-winged Blackbirds

3,000

Trauma

California

Northern Fulmar

2,750

Emaciation

Texas

Brazilian Free-tailed Bat

2,000

Rabies

Idaho

Tiger Salamander

1,500

Virus

Minnesota

Waterbirds

1,450

Virus

Minnesota

Waterbirds

1,200

Parasites

Florida

Vultures and Hawks

900

Drowning, Emaciation

Minnesota

Waterbirds

800

Open Investigation

South Dakota

Waterbirds

700

Botulism C

Michigan

Gulls

700

Botulism E


Potentially new species of lemur found in Madagascar

Close-up of a potentially new species of fork-marked lemur discovered in Madagascar. © Conservation International/ photo by Russell A. Mittermeier

Take a squirrel-sized body, and combine it with big feet, a long tongue, and black-forked markings on the face, and you have the oddly adorable countenance of a species of lemur just discovered in Madagascar.

“This is yet another remarkable discovery from the island of Madagascar…one of the most extraordinary places in our planet” said Conservation International President Russ Mittermeier in a press release, who was the first to spot the animal. Researchers believe the species to be new to science.

Finding this cutie-pie sounds like something plucked from the chase scenes of Indiana Jones. Mittermeier and his colleagues ran through dense forest at night, following the calls of the lemur as it leapt rapidly from treetop to treetop. Catching the lemur in the beam of a flashlight, researchers were able to safely tranquilize it for closer examination.

Close-up of a potentially new species of fork-marked lemur discovered in Madagascar, October 3, 2010. © Conservation International/ photo by Russell A. Mittermeier

Limited geographic range and life in a severely human-impacted environment likely means this species – of the genus phaner – is already endangered or critically endangered, said Mittermeier.

Researchers are now working on establishing the lemur’s genetic uniqueness and learning about its life history and behavior. So far, besides getting a good grip on the lemur’s looks, researchers know that this critter’s diet consists mostly of tree gum and flower nectar, they utter loud, high-pitched calls at night and practice a head-bobbing motion that is unique to this species.

Lemurs are only found in Madagascar, a country that’s lost about 90 percent of its forests and other vegetation.

“Protection of Madagascar’s remaining natural forests should be considered one of the world’s highest conservation priorities,” said Mittermeier in the press release. “These forests are home to an incredible array of species that are a true global heritage.”


Sagebrush Ecosystem: Rising from an ancient sea

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Sagebrush country, it kind of makes you itchy and scratchy just looking at it. This is a place where every footstep crackles, and there are no forests to shelter under. You’d never realize that where you’re standing used to lie at the bottom of the ocean.

Look to your feet, the rocks and soil, and you’ll quickly see otherwise. Rocks crumble away revealing more fossil than straight rock. The remains of the ancients run thick through this ground, giving rise to a new ecosystem remarkable for its hardiness and coveted for its carbon.

Here, the faint lemony fragrance of the sage floats in on the breeze. Antelope bolt for the hills, and the  “drip-thoink” calls of male sage grouse echo across the dawn as they try to win the hearts, or at least  reproductive rights, of their ladies.

Nearby Craig, Colo., boasts the largest coal-fired power plant in the state with a 1,304 megawatt capacity. Open pit coal mines and natural gas development serve as a backdrop to rolling hay fields and seemingly endless expanses of sagebrush.

The sagebrush is not endless however. It’s shrinking faster than people know it exists. So here’s my attempt to give it some props. Even if it’s difficult to stand before the sagebrush sea in awe like you would Yosemite and Yellowstone, you can’t help but respect the wilderness that insists on living there.

This isn’t your fluffy, lush Walden Pond wilderness. This is your crawl from a dried up seabed, live where others can’t sort of wild. You fall asleep to shorts and t-shirt kind of weather and wake to 50mph winds and blizzard kind of havoc. But if you have the guts to stop your car and venture out for awhile, you’ll understand that this place fights for every moment of its existence, and it kicks ass.


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