Some Climate Solutions Are Simple

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A male chimpanzee hooting in the wild forests of western Uganda. Deforestation in the country is occurring at some of the fastest rates on Earth, shrinking the habitat of this endangered species. Credit Suzi Eszterhas/Minden Pictures

Thanks to the New York Times for this refresher on the basics of climate change and what is needed that we can most easily do to counter its effects:

A Cheap Fix for Climate Change? Pay People Not to Chop Down Trees

By Brad Plumer

The tropical forests in western Uganda, home to a dwindling population of endangered chimpanzees, are disappearing at some of the fastest rates on Earth as local people chop down trees for charcoal and to clear space for subsistence farming.

Now, a team of researchers has shown that there is a surprisingly cheap and easy way to slow the pace of deforestation in Uganda: Just pay landowners small sums not to cut down their trees. Their study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, demonstrated this by conducting something all too rare in environmental policy — a controlled experiment. Continue reading

Laying Eyes on the Ocellated Turkey

Ocellated Turkey Details Photo Credits: TL: Leander Khil, TR: Seth Inman, BL & BR: Richard Kostecke

When we first met recent guest (and now contributor) Richard Kostecke at Chan Chich Lodge he shared that the Ocellated Turkey was a life list bird for him. Like many birders we’ve met here, he was thrilled by the fact that this near-threatened species is so prevalent around the lodge and throughout our 30,000 acres.

This is especially true during the past several months, when we see the parades of chicks running behind the attendant adults throughout the property.

As a parting gift Richard had sent us a link about the species from Cool Green Science, a site we frequent ourselves.

Found only on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) certainly bears a resemblance to the American wild turkey.

But it’s a different species. It is smaller and lacks the “beard” typical of the more familiar wild turkey. Its mating call is higher pitched than the usual “gobble.” The most striking difference, though, is the color.

The vibrant, almost unreal color: iridescent feathers, large spots on the tail, a bright red ring around the eye and a blue head covered with red and yellow nodules (nodules that swell and become brighter in males during the breeding season).

It’s a turkey as conceived by Dr. Seuss. Or perhaps Alexis Rockman. Continue reading

Conservation Via Valuation

When we consider that cat sightings play an important role in why our guests come to Chan Chich Lodge, this type of valuation is something we can get behind whole heartedly. Thanks again to the Anthropocene for this interesting piece of daily science. And thanks again to Panthera.org for their role in the research.

The lesson of the $300,000 bobcat

What is a bobcat worth? There’s a few ways of thinking about that question. One answer, of course, is that a bobcat’s value is intrinsic, their lives not something to signify with a price tag. Fair enough. But for the sake of discussion, and because there’s already a market for their hides, let’s run the math: in the state of Wyoming, a bobcat is worth roughly $300 dead and up to $308,000 alive. And in that vast difference is a tension — some would call it a flaw — in the way these marvelous cats, and many other species too, are presently managed in North America.

The calculations come from a study recently published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. Led by Mark Elbroch, a biologist with Panthera, the wild cat conservation organization, and also featuring researchers from wildlife advocacy group Wyoming Untrapped, the researchers totaled the revenues generated in 2015-2016 from selling trapping licenses in that state — $152,000 — and divided them by 1,160 bobcats killed, then added the average sale value of pelts. The final per-bobcat value came to $315.17.

Then Elbroch’s team turned to the example of a bobcat living along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park, where his predilection for hunting waterfowl made him popular among wildlife lovers. They surveyed 46 photographers who traveled to Wyoming in winter 2015-2016 and the outfitters who guided them. Between outfitters’ fees, money spent on food, lodging and travel, and revenues from selling pictures, the bobcat generated $308,105, or a thousand-fold increase from his worth as a source of fur alone.

The researchers don’t argue that every living bobcat in Wyoming is worth more than $300,000.

Continue reading

Elephants, Orangutans, Rhinos & Tigers–What Are They Worth To Us?

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Deforestation in the Leuser ecosystem, one of the last homes to Sumatran elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers. Photograph: Sutanta Aditya/Barcroft Images

Thanks to the Guardian:

Pepsico, Unilever and Nestlé accused of complicity in illegal rainforest destruction

Palm oil plantations on illegally deforested land in Sumatra – home to elephants, orangutans and tigers – have allegedly been used to supply scores of household brands, says new report Continue reading

Wildlife Protection And Consequences

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A wolf from a den within Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in Alaska. A study found that limiting the population of wolves outside the preserve affected those within its boundaries. Credit Drew Rush/National Park Service

Mention Alaska, and we are in. Wolves, ditto. An academic publication called Wildlife Monographs? You had us at Alaska and wolves:

Protected Wolves in Alaska Face Peril From Beyond Their Preserve

Within the 2.5 million acres of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in central Alaska, wolves and other majestic animals are protected. But animals like wolves do not respect lines drawn on a map. And a recent study suggests that efforts to limit populations of these predators outside those borders is having negative effects on wolves living within the preserve. Continue reading

“Arks of the Apocalypse”

U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory, Lakewood, Colo. photo credit: Spencer Lowell for The New York Times

Thanks again to the New York Times for highlighting the global nature of this scientific “call to arms” to save not only data, but genetic and organic material as a back-up plan for future generations. From the Svalbard Global Seed bank in Norway, to sperm banks for coral, endangered wildlife, and even glacial ice – these archives are meant to provide both a life line to the future and answers about the past.

The fragility of each project is evident as Science itself has come under attack from current public policy, which doesn’t appear to see the irony of their denial in the face of facts about climate change.

It was a freakishly warm evening last October when a maintenance worker first discovered the water — torrents of it, rushing into the entrance tunnel of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a storage facility dug some 400 feet into the side of a mountain on a Norwegian island near the North Pole. A storm was dumping rain at a time of year when the temperature was usually well below freezing; because the water had short-circuited the electrical system, the electric pumps on site were useless. This subterranean safe house holds more than 5,000 species of essential food crops, including hundreds of thousands of varieties of wheat and rice. It was supposed to be an impenetrable, modern-day Noah’s ark for plants, a life raft against climate change and catastrophe.

A few Norwegian radio stations and newspapers reported the incident at the time, but it received little international attention until May, when it was becoming clear that President Trump was likely to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement. Suddenly the tidings from Svalbard were everywhere, in multiple languages, with headlines like “World’s ‘Doomsday’ Seed Vault Has Been Breached by Climate Change.” It didn’t matter that the flood happened seven months earlier, or that the seeds remained safe and dry. We had just lived through the third consecutive year of the highest global temperatures on record and the lowest levels of Arctic ice; vast swaths of permafrost were melting; scientists had recently announced that some 60 percent of primate species were threatened with extinction. All these facts felt like signposts to an increasingly hopeless future for the planet. And now, here was a minifable suggesting that our attempts to preserve even mere traces of the bounty around us might fall apart, too.

Continue reading

Pines, Beetles & Grizzlies

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Zoe Keller

Thanks to Thomas McNamee for his opinion on these matters:

The Government Is Now the Yellowstone Grizzly’s Biggest Threat

In March 2016, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing the Yellowstone grizzly bear population from the list of threatened species. The uproar was ferocious. Conservationists, scientists, 125 Indian tribes and some 650,000 citizens expressed concern about the move.

Now the government has gone and done it anyway. Continue reading

Maternal Instinct vs Species Survival

©JOOP VAN DER LINDE/NDUTU LODGE

The more time we spend at Chan Chich Lodge the more we see the seasonality of birth patterns in the wild. There clearly seems to be a “baby season”, that starts with the cats and moves down the food chain to their mammalian prey, as well as birds. Although no photo captures, several jaguar cubs were sighted earlier in the year, followed by dozens of fawns and baby collared peccary. Even the Gallon Jug Farm has welcomed 4 baby horses to the fold, with a fifth on the way…but we’ll talk about that another day.

This unusual news from Panthera.org, an important Big Cat Conservation NGO who uses our 30,000 acres as part of their Jaguar Corridor research, perhaps makes a little bit of sense within the context of those patterns.

We thank Susie Weller Sheppard for sharing these field notes.

Earlier this week, Panthera President and Chief Conservation Officer Dr. Luke Hunter received photos from our partners at KopeLion with some astonishing content: the first-ever evidence of a wild lioness nursing a leopard cub.

Taken on Tuesday by a Ndutu Lodge guest in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the images show a 5-year-old lioness, known locally as ‘Nosikitok,’ suckling a leopard cub estimated to be just 3 weeks old. Continue reading

A Fitting Celebration Of Henry David Thoreau’s Bicentennial

Today marks the birthday noted here, and I have just read another excellent essay marking the occasion. It happens to coincide with receiving a couple of excellent photographs from Richard Kostecke, a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge who will soon be a contributor to this site. I’m confident the birthday celebrant would appreciate both the photos and the person. I am mixing things up a bit by sharing these photos with the essay, but I hope the point will be well taken:

Six years before he moved to Walden Pond in 1845 to ponder life and live deliberately, Henry David Thoreau spent two weeks canoeing rivers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The voyage was an epiphany for him. Continue reading

Come Back To Belize, Meg Lowman!

We have mentioned Meg more than once since we met her a few years ago, because our interests are aligned. Thanks to this public radio station for reminding me that Meg is due for a visit to Belize (I say wishfully) for a 20-years later discovery trip, and we will be happy to see her at Chan Chich Lodge when the time comes:

megmalaysiaFor over 30 years, Dr. Meg Lowman –Canopy Meg, has designed hot-air balloons and walkways for treetop exploration to solve mysteries in the world’s forests, especially insect pests and ecosystem health. Meg is affectionately called the mother Continue reading

Keeping Species Populations Healthy

 

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Lion cubs in Kenya. Radu Sigheti / Reuters

At Chan Chich Lodge we are aware that the half million acres of forest surrounding us are essential habitat not just for the specific jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays and jaguarundis we have the good fortune to see with some frequency. Rather, that scale of acreage is essential for species survival. We are in a large forest corridor that is increasingly rare and unfortunately fragile in other locations throughout the Americas where they still exist. We do what we do with that in mind. Thanks to Ed Yong, at the Atlantic, for this context on extinction:

Imagine if every animal and plant on the planet collapsed into a single population each, says ecologist Gerardo Ceballos. If lions disappeared except from one small corner of Kenya, the prey they keep in check would run amok everywhere else. If sparrows were no more except in one Dutch forest, the seeds that sparrows disperse would stay in place everywhere else. If honeybees became isolated to one American meadow, the flowers that they pollinate would fail to reproduce everywhere else. None of those species would be extinct per se, “but we’d still be in very bad shape,” says Ceballos. Continue reading

Spaceship Earth

We recently encountered Parley for the Oceans when Doug Aitken’s water pavilion installation came onto our radar.

Both the collaborative ethos and the focus of the cause are dear to our hearts.

Parley is the Space Where Creators, Thinkers, and Leaders come together to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of our oceans and collaborate on projects that can end their destruction.

Parley for the Oceans addresses major threats towards our oceans, the most important ecosystem of our planet.

We believe the power for change lies in the hands of the consumer – given he has a choice – and the power to shape this new consumer mindset lies in the hands of the creative industries.

Artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, fashion designers, journalists, architects, product inventors, and scientists have the tools to mold the reality we live in and to develop alternative business models and ecologically sensible products to give us earthlings an alternative choice, an everyday option to change something.

Continue reading

Tapping The Largest Animal For Science

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Ari Friedlaender, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University, deploying a multi-sensor tag on a blue whale off the California coast. Credit Jeremy Goldbogen

Camera traps, in the interest of science, and of conservation, are no longer a novelty. The story accompanying the photo above is new, for us. At first glance it looks like an act of aggression, which the history of whaling has taught us to expect. But this story has a much better outcome than the old obsessions:

How to Attach a Video Camera to a Humpback Whale

This is how you put a video camera on a whale.

Hop into an inflatable boat and head out to where they’re feeding. Stand in a pulpit with a 20-some-foot pole in your hands. Then watch and wait until you spot a whale. Plan your angle of approach with the driver of the boat. (Never approach directly from behind). Get close. Get closer. Get within 16 feet of this sea giant — which is more than twice the size of your boat if it’s a humpback — and as soon as it surfaces, tap the whale on its wet tire of a back with the pole. If you’re lucky, the detachable suction-cup on the end of the pole — which has a camera and sensors — will stick. Continue reading

The Fairest Of Fair Tigers

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A rare ‘pale tiger’ discovered in the wilds of Tamil Nadu state in India. Photograph: Nilanjan Ray

We have heard and read plenty about pale ale, which is often associated with India, but this is the first we are hearing of a pale tiger, in India or elsewhere:

Exceptionally rare ‘pale tiger’ photographed in the wild

Animal spotted by photographer in jungles of southern India may be the fairest known tiger living outside captivity

A rare “pale tiger”, whose fur conservationists say could be the fairest of any in the wild, has been photographed in southern India. Continue reading

Understanding Tapir

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Fossils of Macrauchenia patachonica, as depicted in this artist’s reconstruction, baffled Darwin. The odd mammals disappeared about 12,000 years ago. Credit Jorge Blanco

I am sure I remember seeing these in my childhood collection of books with pictures of prehistoric creatures. Like many boys, the saber-tooth tiger was a favorite, which may explain my preoccupation with the big cats at Chan Chich Lodge. When you favor cats, you get to know their diet, so creatures like these in the image above were also among those I was fascinated by, which would explain why the tapir I have seen in the forests surrounding Chan Chich are among my lifetime favorite wild animal sightings. Thanks to Steph Yin for this story:

Strange Mammals That Stumped Darwin Finally Find a Home

It looked like many different animals and, at the same time, like no other animal at all.

From afar, you might think it was a large, humpless camel. Tall, stout legs ending in rhino feet carried a body weight potentially equal to that of a small car. Its neck stretched like a giraffe’s before giving way to a face resembling a saiga antelope’s. From this face extended a fleshy protuberance, similar to a mini elephant trunk or a tapir’s proboscis. Continue reading

Yellow-bellied Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco

 

On a trip to Acadia National Park, I photographed this unusual  Dark-eyed Junco. It had a very distinct yellow belly and yellow up into the chest.  I showed the photo to the Park Ornithologist, Seth Benz, and he had this to say about it.

“It is an oddly colored Dark-eyed Junco. The yellowish underside is unusual.
I don’t know of anyone marking juncos using picric acid (which turns white feathers yellow).

Continue reading

Rich Versus Ostentatious

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Ocellated turkey / Pfauentruthuhn (Meleagris ocellata) | Detail of the side of a male individual.

I am not even a novice birder, which is strange considering that my work is primarily dedicated to birders. But birds are well placed in the pantheon of natural wonders that I worship, and a photo that I just received from a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge (a photo similar to the one above, which I have commented on before) helps explain why. During seven years in India, where the peacock is the national bird and so is in its natural habitat, I got accustomed to their ostentatious display.

Peacocks are often awkward animals, noisy and bumbly in places and at times (as when in the habitat of tigers) I have wished for silence. Those otherwise annoying behaviors are compensated for by their plumes. The colors in the image above, belonging to the ocellated turkey, are rich but only during mating would these birds ever be described as ostentatious. The more time I spend in Belize, and specifically at Chan Chich Lodge, the more I see the beauty in humble display of rich color.

Swamp Is Not A Bad Word

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The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina and Virginia has been dramatically altered over the past few centuries by human development. Rebecca Wynn/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thanks to Sarah McCammon at National Public Radio (USA) for this story:

“Drain the swamp” may be a popular political slogan, but it doesn’t always work so well in nature. Continue reading

Bayer, Bees Beware

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Researchers monitored the health of these wild bees, from the species Osmia bicornis. They nest inside small cavities, such as hollow reeds. Courtesy of Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Thanks to National Public Radio’s special forces, aka the salt, for their ongoing search for interesting news and stories related to the intersection of nature and food:

Pesticides Are Harming Bees — But Not Everywhere, Major New Study Shows

In the global debate over neonicotinoid pesticides, the company that makes most of them has relied on one primary argument to defend its product: The evidence that these chemicals, commonly called “neonics,” are harmful to bees has been gathered in artificial conditions, force-feeding bees in the laboratory, rather than in the real world of farm fields. That company, Bayer, states on its website that “no adverse effects to bee colonies were ever observed in field studies at field-realistic exposure conditions.” Continue reading