Our links to stories in Cool Green Science have been among the most abundant of all our sources. This may be due to the publication’s commitment to finding stories that highlight positive change in our approach to understanding, respecting, protecting the environment. Here is another:
Gustavo Lozada wants to change your mind about using drones around wildlife.
Lozada, technology manager for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, knows that many people think that increasing drone use will only harass and terrify wild animals. He also knows it doesn’t have to be that way, and that drones can be a really important tool in wildlife research and protection. The videos in this blog, he hopes, will show that drones do not have to disturb the peace.
To be clear, Lozada knows that much drone use is detrimental to wildlife. He points to a recent viral video that showed a small cub trying repeatedly to scale slick, snowy slopes to reach its obviously distressed mother. The video was widely shared as showing the cub’s pluck and determination.
But researchers and animal lovers questioned that narrative, as reported in a National Geographic story titled “Viral bear video shows dark side of filming animals with drones.” The article notes that the whole reason the cub found itself in its predicament was likely because it was terrified of the drone filming it. Continue reading
Camera traps have proven valuable in the work we have been doing in Belize, India and elsewhere in the wilderness areas of the developing world. But equally important are the photos captured in areas closer to urban settlements. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s publication of these photos with the article below:
As a Nature Conservancy forester in Pennsylvania, Mike Eckley spends a lot of time assessing the health of woodlands. That means he spends as much time thinking about white-tailed deer as he does trees.
Many conservation biologists consider over-abundant deer to be an even bigger threat to eastern forests than climate change. Deer can fundamentally change the forest ecosystem, threatening everything from rare wildflowers to migratory songbirds. These deer also can cause deadly vehicle collisions, increase risk of Lyme disease, and cause significant agricultural and property damage.
Eckley educates hunting clubs and landowners on deer management issues, and recently co-edited a book on the topic. He also works to make sure the deer herd is healthy on Conservancy projects like the West Branch Forest Preserve, a 3,000-acre preserve in north central Pennsylvania. Continue reading
Thanks to TNC’s Justine E. Hausheer for this story:
Most of us are familiar with the bizarre and improbable platypus: a mammal that lays eggs, secretes milk from its skin, and defends itself with a venomous spur on its hind leg.
But the incredible little mammal wriggling in the net at my feet is all too real, and — like much of Australia’s iconic wildlife — it’s also in deep trouble. As urban development alters waterways, platypus populations are declining and their range is shrinking, putting the future of this wildlife wonder at risk.
“An Animal of All Time”
One Aboriginal story says that platypus originated from the union of a duck and a water-rat, which is rather apt. British naturalist George Shaw infamously thought the first platypus specimens sent back from Australia were a hoax, cutting the taxidermied corpse apart to try and find the stitching.
But the animal’s oddity afforded little protection from European settlers. Continue reading
Our thanks to the activists who take on the cause of endangered wild cats around the world, and to Fred Pearce and Yale e360 for bringing them to our attention:
Thank you to NPR for reporting on the good news of this census, although in full disclosure their choice of cover photos is quite disappointing and we are happy to highlight a stunning photo by Dr. Eash Hoskote, one of our regular nature photography contributors instead.
In 2010, India sought to double its tiger population by 2022. But on International Tiger Day, the country announced it met its goal four years earlier than expected.
Nearly 3,000 tigers now reside in India, that’s more than 70% of the world’s tiger population.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the 2018 All India Tiger Estimation count on Monday, attributing the figures to India’s hardworking wildlife officials and advocates.
“Once the people of India decide to do something, there is no force that can prevent them from getting the desired results,” Modi announced at a news conference. “Today we reaffirm our commitment towards protecting tigers.”
He added that India now takes the lead in being the biggest and safest habitat in the world for tigers. The population, now at 2,967, is up from 2,226 since 2014.
“There are several plants and animals out there that need our help,” Modi said. “What is it that we can do? Either through technology or human action to give them … a life so that they can add beauty and diversity to our planet.” Continue reading
We have rarely written about zoos because they are simultaneously depressing and yet have had an important influence on most contributors to our pages. Thanks to the New York Times and Charles Siebert for this article raising questions about elephants in particular at the zoo:
Despite mounting evidence that elephants find captivity torturous, some American zoos still acquire them from Africa — aided by a tall tale about why they needed to leave home.
The “Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley” enclosure at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan., is a dreamscape idyll of an elephant’s natural home: five and a half sprawling acres of tree-dotted mock savanna and a 550,000-gallon pond where boated people and wading pachyderms can nearly meet on opposite sides of a discreetly submerged barrier. All eight of the zoo’s elephants were visible when I visited on Memorial Day 2018, two years after the habitat’s grand opening, including six recent arrivals from the tiny southern African kingdom eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), the lot of them moving about with the same slow, tensile synchrony of larger wild elephant herds. Only the background flicker of cars on Interstate 235 disrupted the tableau, as well as my own occasional thoughts of far less accommodated zoo and circus elephant captives over the years, right back to the very first elephant brought to the United States.
According to historical records, it was in the early spring of 1796 that the America, a sailing vessel captained by Jacob Crowninshield, arrived in New York Harbor from Calcutta. As emphatically noted in the ship’s log kept by one of its officers, Nathaniel Hathorne (whose author son would soon add the “w” to the family name), there was an “ELEPHANT ON BOARD.” A 2-year-old female originally purchased by Crowninshield in Bengal for the bargain price of $450, she was immediately sold in New York for $10,000. Continue reading
Bear Wood near Bristol aims to spark debate about rewilding of ancient woodlands
For the first time in more than 1,000 years native bears and wolves are coming snout to muzzle with each other among towering oaks and ashes in a slice of British woodland.
European brown bears, thought to have become extinct in the British wilds in medieval times, and grey wolves – which roamed free until the 17th century – are to coexist in a project called Bear Wood near Bristol.
The idea of the scheme – which is part of Bristol Zoological Society’s Wild Place Project – is to give visitors a glimpse into life in the woods and forests that used to cover much of the UK.
The return of apex predators to both national parks and rugged, yet unprotected areas of the United States impacts conservation and regeneration of biodiversity for both wildlife and native landscape. Not surprisingly, it also creates challenges within the well established ranching community.
We’re grateful to all those who participate in the process of navigating a successful middle ground.
To bridge the divide between wolf-lovers and ranchers, the conservationist Karin Vardaman had to change many minds—including her own.
Early one morning in April, 2016, Karin Vardaman and four travelling companions woke in a motel in Siskiyou County, a rugged and remote region where rural California meets the Oregon border. They were in a town called Montague—a dot on the map that had begun, in the eighteen-eighties, as a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad. After visiting a small market to pick up breakfast and snacks, they continued on to the old community hall, a narrow, low-slung building by the railroad tracks. Large, glass-paned windows ran the length of one side; below them, murals depicted horse-drawn wagons from the area’s pioneer days. Outside, a few dozen people were gathering. Watching them, Vardaman had an uneasy feeling. Oh, boy, she thought. Here we go.
Inside, chairs were arranged in a semicircle. Vardaman stood at the center, near a screen on which a PowerPoint slide displayed the title of her workshop, “On Wolves and Livestock.” Tall and sturdy, in her fifties, she has a flowing mane of lustrous red hair, framing slate-blue eyes and a narrow face. She introduced herself to the crowd as an advocate with the California Wolf Center. The Center, she said, was sponsoring a new, collaborative project called the Working Circle, through which it hoped to find a way for cattle and sheep to coëxist with endangered gray wolves.
Before Vardaman could continue, a man in the audience stood up, interrupting her. He wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He calmly thanked her and her team: they had helped the local economy, he said, by shopping at the market. What he didn’t appreciate, he went on, was their coming into town and dictating to the community what it should and shouldn’t do about wolves. As he spoke, his voice rose in anger, and he stepped suddenly toward Vardaman; at the same moment, more than twenty other people rose to their feet. Some waved anti-wolf flyers above their heads. Others held rifle cartridges, their brass glinting in the light. They chanted, “Shoot, shovel, and shut up!”—an anti-wolf slogan. Vardaman watched as several people opened their jackets, revealing handguns.
For most of the last century, there have been no wolves in California; government-sponsored livestock-protection campaigns exterminated the state’s wolf population by 1924. But in December, 2011, a lone male gray wolf from Oregon, known as OR-7, was tracked via radio collar as he crossed into the Golden State. Slowly, over time, a few others followed. In 2014, the gray wolf gained protection under California’s Endangered Species Act; not long afterward, in Siskiyou County, two wolves were spotted by a trail camera. Today it’s thought that there are at least twelve to fifteen wild wolves in the state. This nascent comeback has opened a rancorous breach between California’s agricultural community, which fears losing livestock to wolf attacks, and its environmentalists, who have been galvanized by the idea of an iconic predator resurrected.
A version of this polarizing conflict has played out wherever wolves have reappeared, from Michigan to the Northern Rockies and Washington State. To an extent, livestock producers and wolf conservationists are divided for pragmatic reasons. If a wolf kills a heifer calf, a rancher can suffer a substantive economic hit—one or two thousand dollars, plus the loss of income from all the calves that the mature cow would’ve had over her lifetime. (Since the wolves returned to Northern California, an estimated eleven calves and cows have died in wolf attacks.) Conversely, if a rancher kills a wolf in an area where the wolf population is still recovering, it could be a significant blow to the animals’ survival.
And yet ranchers and conservationists are divided in other ways, too. Continue reading
Seth sent a few more messages, in the form of images, from Rwanda. One day soon I will describe what he is doing there, but for now the images say more than enough.
While elephants are a childhood favorite animal for Seth, he had seen Asian elephants in the wild, so that probably made seeing giraffe the charismatic topper so far.
Once zebra is added to the list of species seen, it might start feeling like all is well in the wild (even if we know it is not).
One of the few photos that had any words to explain was this one, which is to be expected of a birder in the realm of charismatic megafauna.
But of all the photos, the one that caught my eye was the one above, which I do not yet have an explanation for but it is in surrounded by the following photos which put it in some context.
That gives a hint.
This answers the question.
And this makes it crystal clear. Seth had already sent an image from an earlier field visit that he knew would catch my attention.
The origins of Organikos can be traced to a project I led in 2005 in Paraguay, where I had the idea that wild-hunted honey from the Pantanal region could share the taste of place with the world while at the same time providing much-needed cash infusion to the honey hunters and the protection of their wilderness areas. Seth knows that story and knows to send me photos of honey from wild places as a polite indication that the idea was a good one, if not original.
The beautiful herd of Asian Elephants calmly drinking from this watering hole poses no threat to any onlooker. They’re actually sculptures made from the invasive lantana, introduced to the Indian subcontinent as an ornamental shrub by the British. The harmless looking plant is a scourge to native flora, animals and people of the regions where it’s taken over, as it literally poisons its surroundings so nothing else can survive there, destroying the natural biodiversity of the area.
30 of these extraordinary, life-sized works of art have been on display in Kerala, at Kochi’s South Beach, coinciding with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The outdoor exhibit, entitled Co-Exist: Matriarchs for a Whole Earth, is on display for only until the end of February, after which it will travel to Bangalore and New Delhi. In 2020, the elephant models will be taken to England where they will be displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Parks, both in London. In 2021, they will travel by truck across the USA, where they will finally be auctioned, the proceeds of which will go to preservation of wild animals.
The project is a collaboration between multiple organizations, designers and indigenous community artisans. Members of the Ashoka Trust Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (ATREE) devised a way to safely craft with lantana as a raw material and support for the making and display of lantana elephants is through the NGOs Elephant Family, The Real Elephant Collective (TREC), and The Shola Trust.
Highlighting the cause of nature and wildlife conservation at a global scale, the Lantana elephants are part of a greater initiative to raise funds for conservation and help people and elephants live together more harmoniously.
On February 7, if you are wandering around the popular South Beach in Fort Kochi, you are sure to come across a magnificent herd of 100 Asian elephants.
If you are wondering about the possibility of such a huge congregation of these beings at one place, let us break the news.
These are beautifully sculpted life-size elephants that have been made by tribal artisans from Thorapalli in Gudalur using Lantana camara or Lantana, a toxic invasive weed.
Lantana elephants are part of a greater initiative to raise funds for conservation and help people and elephants live together more harmoniously.
“Our vision is to bring Asia’s elephants and the issues they face out of India and the shadow cast by the African ivory crisis. With Asian elephants numbering only a tenth of their African counterparts, the importance of this unique migration cannot be underplayed. The survival of a species is at stake,” says Ruth Ganesh, principal trustee and the creative force of Elephant Family.
She had conceptualised the Lantana herd along with Shubhra Nayar of TREC. Modelled on real elephants from the Gudalur-Pandalur region, in its bid to raise awareness and funds for the conservation of Asian elephants, this unique project is also clearing the harmful Lantana from the Nilgiri forests while providing livelihoods to about 70 artisans from the Paniya, Bettakurumba and Soliga communities.
With their inherent knowledge of wild elephants and their exceptional crafting skills with Lantana, these artisans are bringing life to the elephant forms, while earning a dignified income. The elephants are designed by Shubhra Nayar and Tariq T of TREC, with Subhash Gautam overseeing the process. Continue reading
When we last linked to a story about flying squirrels we mentioned that we had neglected to write about them while in Kerala. However, that was not quite correct. We did frequently mention the Malabar giant squirrel, especially in guest sighting posts. Their other common name is the Malabar flying squirrel. In its own way this animal could make you gasp when you saw one, but it was competing for attention with elephants, tigers and bears. This story, thanks to Veronique Greenwood, points to other flying squirrels that might cause a completely different kind of gasp:
While ultraviolet fluorescence is common in birds, butterflies and sea creatures, scientists haven’t often observed it in mammals.
One spring night in Wisconsin, John Martin, a biologist, was in his backyard with an ultraviolet flashlight. Suddenly, a hot-pink squirrel flew by.
It was a southern flying squirrel, a small, furry creature most active at dawn and dusk. Under most circumstances, it has a warm brown color. But in the beam of Dr. Martin’s flashlight, it sported a gaudy Day-Glo hue closer to something you might see in a nightclub or a Jazzercise class circa 1988.
“He told his colleagues at Northland College, but of course, everyone was pretty skeptical,” said Allison Kohler, a graduate student at Texas A&M University.
Dr. Martin asked Ms. Kohler, then a student at Northland, to look into it. After examining more than 100 specimens of flying squirrels across two museum collections and spotting five more squirrels under UV light in the wild, the researchers and their colleagues reported surprising results last week in the Journal of Mammalogy: The pink is real. Continue reading
When I see the name Peter Matthiessen the first thing I think of is a recording of his voice on my telephone ten years ago. I knew he would be passing nearby and had invited him to see what we were doing in Patagonia. His message was a very warm decline of the invitation.
In addition to triggering that memory, M.R. O’Connor’s essay below reminds me that my family’s subscription to the New Yorker began in 1978, possibly with the late March issue in which Peter Matthiessen’s article about the snow leopard appeared. I can trace my interest in conservation back to that, and perhaps this accounts for why that magazine has been arriving weekly for me in the mail ever since. In the meantime this interest has exposed me to books like the one to the right. Which is as good a reason as anyway to make this link the 2018 coda (for me) on this platform:
In the autumn of 1973, the naturalist and writer Peter Matthiessen and the zoologist George Schaller set out on a gruelling trek into the Himalayas. They were headed toward the Dolpo region of the Tibetan plateau. Schaller wanted to study Himalayan blue sheep; Matthiessen hoped to see a snow leopard—a large, majestic cat with fur the color of smoke. Snow leopards, which belong to the genus Panthera, inhabit some of the highest mountain ranges in the world, and their camouflage is so perfectly tuned that they appear ethereal, as though made from storm clouds. Two of them feature on the Tibetan flag of independence, representing harmony between the temporal and spiritual planes.
For Matthiessen, a serious student of Zen Buddhism, the expedition wasn’t strictly scientific. It was also a pilgrimage during which he would seek to break “the burdensome armor of the ego,” perceiving his “true nature.” After it was published, in 1978—first, in part, in The New Yorker, then as a book—“The Snow Leopard,” his account of the trip, won two National Book Awards, becoming both a naturalist and a spiritual classic. It overflows with crystalline descriptions of animals and mountains: “The golden birds fall from the morning sun like blowing sparks that drop away and are extinguished in the dark,” Matthiessen writes. But it’s also an austere Buddhist memoir in which the snow leopard is as alluring and mysterious as enlightenment itself. Continue reading
I got to know Natural Habitat Adventures while our company was operating Chan Chich Lodge in Belize. I was impressed with their guides, and with the photographic and video skills of the guests who they brought to the lodge. And all of them were deeply concerned about conservation. But I never saw anything quite like the video above. When you have nine minutes to spare, it is as satisfying as any nature footage as I have seen in a long time. I thank Jim Robbins again for this article, whose focal video about wolves fishing (to the left above) is definitely worth watching:
Yes, researchers in Minnesota have recorded wolves diving into a stream to grab a meal.
Wolves are thought of as red-meat eaters, but a team of biologists in northern Minnesota, near Voyageurs National Park, has documented a pack that often enjoys a meal of fish. Continue reading
Our cohabitation with animals on this planet is imperiled. There is no choice but to keep track of these things as best we can with art, with essays, with whatever it takes. Thanks to Rachel Riederer (again) for adding her words and links to images and videos on this topic:
During a year that saw the stripping away of environmental protections, the most resonant stories served as sombre warnings rather than warm-fuzzy generators.
I can’t count the number of animal stories that appeared in my timelines this year with comments like, “Everything is garbage, so here’s this.” There was the cat who was reunited with her family after the Camp Fire, in California, and the parrot who was adopted after getting kicked out of an animal shelter for swearing too saltily. Among the bears preparing for hibernation at Katmai National Park, a female named Beadnose became famous for being the most gloriously round. There was the baby raccoon who scaled a skyscraper in St. Paul, “Mission Impossible” style, stopping occasionally for naps in window ledges along the way. (It was trapped, released, and promptly made the subject of a children’s book.) Stories from the animal world offer reliable moments of escapism—the ones we see in viral videos are usually cute, or tame, or strange and majestic, and glimpsed from a safe distance. But the animal stories that resonated most with me this year were the ones that hinted at a more ominous trend: that we humans are encroaching on nature in ways both glaring and subtle, putting the human and animal worlds into ever more intimate, and ever more fraught, contact.
The most influential animal of the year might be the unfortunate sea turtle who got a straw stuck—really, deeply, seriously stuck—up his nose. In an uncomfortable ten-minute video posted to YouTube, a marine biologist slowly extracts the straw, which is brown and crumpled and disgusting. The turtle’s nose bleeds, and throughout the ordeal, it opens its mouth as if to bite the biologist’s hand—or howl in pain. The video, filmed in 2015, in Costa Rica, became part of this year’s debate over plastic straws and was used by proponents of straw bans to show how such a small object, used and disposed of without a thought, can cause substantial suffering down the line.
A baby bear became an overnight Internet star when it was captured in a video that looked, at first, like a sweet inspirational tale. In aerial drone footage, the cub was shown repeatedly slipping down the side of a snowy ledge and trying mightily to make its way to the top, where its mother waited. Ultimately, the cub prevailed, and the video was embraced on social media as a tribute to the power of perseverance. But then drone operators and ecologists began weighing in: the drone that took the video had likely alarmed the bears; you can see the mother bear swatting the air as the drone flies closer. The machine’s operator, in chasing the bears for footage, had potentially driven them into a dangerous situation. Suddenly, the viral cub was transformed from a feel-good fable into a cautionary tale about how humans can imperil animals just by trying to get a good look at them. Continue reading
It has been a long year since our last links to Phaidon. Following yesterday’s essay this seems an appropriate moment to renew our attention to beautiful books, this one about animals (click the image of the book to go to the source).
Don’t look too closely at this Diana Monkey – you might unnerve yourself. Captured by photographer Jill Greenberg and appearing in our book Animal: Exploring the Zoological World, with its defiant yet nervous hazel-eyed gaze, today’s Astonishing Animal stirs an uncanny sense of self in the viewer.
Greenberg’s hyperrealist style – the monkey’s white and grey fur is lit so that each single strand appears in high definition – captures incredibly emotive images of animals showing emotions and involved in gestures previously thought to be the reserve solely of humans. This portrait is one of seventy-five Greenberg has published covering thirty different primates, including species such as apes, chimpanzees, macaques, mandrils and marmosets.
Our fascination with elephants is evident throughout the history of this site, and are heartened by actions taken toward increased conservation of these magnificent animals. Relocating large African mammals to new protected areas due to either habitat loss or overpopulation has successfully been done before, but the challenges continue.
Written by Patricia Sims, Co-Founder, World Elephant Day
Each year for World Elephant Day we put a lot of our elephant conservation attention toward the ivory poaching crisis threatening African elephants, and the tourism and captivity issues that the endangered Asian elephants face. Yet the larger conservation challenge of habitat loss for both African and Asian elephants is looming. Our increasing encroachment on elephant habitat throughout Africa and Asia is putting elephants at greater risk, resulting in human-elephant conflict issues, and the demise of elephant populations and the ecosystems that they, as a keystone species, maintain.
So what are the solutions? Can moving elephants – from one location where there isn’t enough space for them – to another location where there aren’t enough elephants, help solve this issue? At the heart of this critical elephant conservation conundrum is a partnership between the De Beers Group – the world’s leading diamond company – and Peace Parks Foundation, a leading not-for-profit organization focused on the preservation of large cross-border ecosystems. They have just completed the first phase of the largest and longest translocation of elephants ever recorded in South Africa. This translocation project is called “Moving Giants.”
Thanks to Rachel Riederer for this:
One recent afternoon, I found myself spellbound by the brown bears of Alaska’s Katmai National Park, and spent longer than I care to admit watching them fishing and feasting on the sockeye salmon of Brooks Falls. Several bears stood in the water, facing the falls. They didn’t interact with each other much—at least not in a way that was legible to me—but quietly went about the business of fattening up for winter. I watched these Internet stars through a live stream popularly known as the bear cam, which provides a counterpoint to the hyper-produced prestige nature documentaries that use music, high-definition videography, and delicately placed cameras to turn wildlife activities into dramatic cinema. If “Planet Earth” is a Michael Bay production, the bear cam is not even a home movie—it’s CCTV. Continue reading