Defending Megafauna

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Perhaps as few as eighty thousand African forest elephants remain, and a new documentary explores the megafauna’s threats and defenders.Photograph Courtesy Elephant Path / Njaia Njoku

When we moved to Kerala in 2010 one of our motivations was that among the properties we would take responsibility for one was within a vast protected forest area in southern India. It was/is one of the great remaining habitats of elephants and tigers among other mammals, not to mention birds and all kinds of other life. Which is to say the ecosystem is intact enough to support apex predators and their megafauna prey, and everything around them and below them in the food chain. Which makes their viability as species possible. We networked as much as possible with scientists whose initiatives seemed relevant to our own.  Todd McGrain somehow escaped our attention until now, even though his work at the Lab of Ornithology should have caught it the way other artists’ did. Thanks to Peter Canby for pointing us here, and we have taken the liberty of inserting some of Tom’s other photos within the text below, which you can click on to go to one of his websites to learn more:

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EP_0419.jpgIn Africa, there are two kinds of elephants: savanna and forest elephants. The species diverged somewhere between two and six million years ago, with the better-known savanna elephants spreading over the plains and open woodlands of Eastern, Southern, and Western Africa while forest elephants stayed behind in the dense forests at the center of the continent. Although the two occasionally hybridize, they are widely viewed as separate species. Forest elephants are smaller, with smaller and straighter tusks. The size of their tusks, however, has not protected them from rampant poaching, because the tusks have a distinctive hue, sometimes known as “pink ivory,” that has made them particularly valuable.

EP_0634.jpgSomething about the nobility of forest elephants regularly raises concern for their extinction. The tropical forests of the Congo Basin, once considered impenetrable, are now yielding to logging roads, mines, and even palm-oil plantations. In 2013, a widely respected study by Fiona Maisels, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, found that, between 2002 and 2011, the population of forest elephants had declined by sixty-two per cent. Perhaps as few as eighty thousand remain. The story of these declining numbers is also a story of habitat destruction. Where forest elephants exist in an undisturbed state, they build networks of trails through the deep forest. These trails connect mineral deposits, fruit groves, and other essentials of forest-elephant life. In Central Africa, there are dozens of fruit trees whose seeds are too large to pass through the guts of any other animal and for which forest elephants have evolved as the sole dispersers. These trees line the forest-elephant paths. Where elephant populations are disturbed, the paths disappear.

EP_0480.jpgMatt Davis, a researcher in ecoinformatics and biodiversity at Aarhus University, in Denmark, recently published a paper arguing that we are entering a period of extinction of large mammals akin to the scale of the extinction of the dinosaurs. “We are now living in a world without giants,” he told the Guardian, and went on to detail the many ecological consequences of the loss of megafauna. When I asked John Poulsen, an assistant professor of tropical ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, if this observation could apply to the role of forest elephants, he said, “Absolutely.”

The sculptor Todd McGrain has made a name for himself, over a thirty-year career, as the creator of sculptural monuments to birds that have been the victims of “human-caused extinction.” It’s not, therefore, entirely surprising that he has directed a documentary about forest elephants, “Elephant Path / Njaia Njoku,” showing at New York’s DOC NYC film festival this Wednesday and Thursday. McGrain’s subjects have included, among others, the passenger pigeon, the great auk, the Labrador duck, the heath hen, and the Carolina parakeet. When McGrain was the artist in residence at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Katy Payne, founder of the Elephant Listening Project at the Bioacoustics Research Program, introduced him to something she had discovered: forest-elephant infrasound, which is how elephants communicate inside the forest, at a frequency too low for human ears to register. She pitched up the recordings of elephant calls so that McGrain could listen to them. “I couldn’t help but hear them as bird calls,” he told me. “It was the complexity of their language that grabbed me.” Continue reading

The Great Lakes And Unexpected Consequences Of Human Interventions

9780393355550_300.jpegI was not aware of this book until listening today to its author spend an hour talking about it. And that happened because of a radio program that I listened to during graduate school, which like most radio shows is now available as a podcast. The discussion was all about unintended ecological consequences of what seemed like smart decisions at the time, going back centuries and up to the present day.

It was interesting enough to search for more information about the book. In the process I found a book club that in turn led me to the book review that is just what I was looking for to complement the author interview:

In the oceanic depths of the Great Lakes, life and death swirl like coffee and cream. Growing up on the western shores of Lake Michigan, I knew this instinctively. The lake provided our drinking water and a place to cool off in the summer, but it also occasionally coughed up millions of small dead fish called alewives, which littered the shoreline, giving off an aquarial reek.

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Great Lakes vampires: Lampreys latch on to a brown trout.
 Credit James L. Amos/National Geographic, via Getty Images

As long as the town deemed the water’s bacteria count low enough, we kids would go swimming or fishing (though we weren’t allowed to eat what we caught). Our moms would sit on towels on the pebbled beach, misted with sweat, paging through magazines. “Do you go in?” they would ask one another, with widened eyes and a half-ironic cringe. Oh no, it was much too cold, or too polluted, they inevitably replied. Nevertheless, the lake served as the axis mundi of our little universe; when people gave directions, they were often oriented “toward the lake” or “away from the lake.” The name of our town had “lake” in it; the town next door did too. Both lay within Lake County. We were lake people. Continue reading

Mapping Earth’s Remaining Intact Ecosystems

A Xikrin woman walks back to her village from the Cateté River in Brazil. Photograph: Taylor Weidman/Getty Images

Thanks to Lisa Cox, the Guardian’s Australia correspondent for environment, for this:

Five countries hold 70% of world’s last wildernesses, map reveals

First map of Earth’s intact ecosystems shows just five nations are responsible for most of them – but it will require global action to protect them

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Map of the world’s remaining wilderness. Green represents land wilderness, while blue represents ocean wilderness. Photograph: Nature

Just five countries hold 70% of the world’s remaining untouched wilderness areas and urgent international action is needed to protect them, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have for the first time produced a global map that sets out which countries are responsible for nature that is devoid of heavy industrial activity.

It comes ahead of the conference of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt in November where signatory nations are working towards a plan for the protection of biodiversity beyond 2020.

Conservationists are calling for a mandated target for wilderness conservation that will preserve the planet’s vulnerable ecosystems. Continue reading

Charisma & Conservation

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Botanist Steve Perlman rappels into the Kalalau Valley, a biodiversity hotspot on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. COURTESY OF BRYCE JOHNSON/FLUX HAWAII

Thanks to Janet Marinelli and the team at Yale e360 for a reminder that charisma is not all that matters in decisions about conservation:

Extreme Botany: The Precarious Science of Endangered Rare Plants

They don’t make the headlines the way charismatic animals such as rhinos and elephants do. But there are thousands of critically endangered plants in the world, and a determined group of botanists are ready to go to great lengths to save them.

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The plant known as cabbage-on-a-stick (Brighamia insignis) has been grown at Limahuli Garden & Preserve on Kauai, which is within the historic range of the species. SEANA WALSH

To save plants that can no longer survive on their own, Steve Perlman has bushwhacked through remote valleys, dangled from helicopters, and teetered on the edge of towering sea cliffs. Watching a video of the self-described “extreme botanist” in actio­­n is not for the faint-hearted. “Each time I make this journey I’m aware that nature can turn on me,” Perlman says in the video as he battles ocean swells in a kayak to reach the few remaining members of a critically endangered species on a rugged, isolated stretch of Hawaiian coastline. “The ocean could suddenly rise up and dash me against the rocks like a piece of driftwood.”

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A botanist collects pollen from the flower of Brighamia insignis. NATIONAL TROPICAL BOTANICAL GARDEN

When he arrives at his destination, Perlman starts hauling himself up an impossibly steep, razor-sharp cliff 3,000 feet above the sea without a rope, his fingers sending chunks of rock tumbling down to the waters below. Finally, he reaches the plants and painstakingly transfers pollen from the flowers of one to those of another to ensure that the species can perpetuate itself. At the end of the season, he will return to collect any seeds they were able to produce. Continue reading

Forests, Deforestation & Climate Change

Trees cleared in the western Amazon region of Brazil in September 2017. CARL DE SOUZA / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

If you have been following the news recently, you may have noticed a report that indicates the urgency from climate change is greater than scientists previously thought. Everyone who cares has been digesting the science and we appreciate every effort to clarify what the science is saying. Fred Pearce, writing for Yale e360, has this:

Conflicting Data: How Fast Is the World Losing its Forests?

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Forest cut to make way for an oil palm plantation in Papua, Indonesia in April 2018. ULET IFANSASTI / GREENPEACE

The latest UN report on climate says reducing deforestation is crucial to slowing global warming. But researchers must first reconcile two contradictory sets of statistics on tree loss in order to determine whether promises made by nations to protect and restore forests are on target.

The world is losing trees faster than ever. An area the size of Italy disappeared last year. Or did it? New research suggests three-quarters of those lost forests may already be regrowing. That hardly means we are out of the woods. Fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity still needs a global campaign to reforest the planet. But it does suggest that, given the chance, nature will do much of the work. Continue reading

Science Writing, A Genre That Keeps Improving, Is The Best Way To Explain A Conservation Paradox

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Eric Nyquist

Two years of working in southern Chile taught me just enough about the complexity of this particular issue (among the many complex issues in our practice)to appreciate the article below by Emma Marris, who we already knew to be provocative, enough that she could challenge Bill McKibben two minutes into her TED talk, and does so convincingly. The primary reason I appreciate this article, is the same reason this platform has showcased the best of this genre of writers over the years. Scientists, translated into regular language we non-scientists can understand:

When Conservationists Kill Lots (and Lots) of Animals

Invasive species are sometimes trapped, poisoned, and shot in large numbers to save native species from extinction. Some scientists say the bloodshed isn’t worth it.

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Eric Nyquist

The desert of south-central Australia is crenellated with sandstone hills in shades of ivory, crimson, and apricot. The ground is littered with dead trees and tree limbs, big hunks of transparent mica, dried cow dung, and thousands of stone spearheads and blades made by the Aboriginal people who lived here for tens of thousands of years—and live here still. Around the few water holes are the doglike tracks of dingoes, wild canines that were brought to Australia thousands of years ago and are now the country’s top predators.

I have come to the Evelyn Downs ranch, on the famously remote highway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, to meet Arian Wallach, a conservationist who thinks there is too much killing in conservation. Wallach has come to this massive 888-square-mile ranch because it is one of the few places in Australia where people aren’t actively killing wild animals. Tough, outback Herefords share the landscape with kangaroos, wild horses, wild donkeys, camels, emus, cats, foxes, native rodents, dingoes, and very large antediluvian-looking reptiles called perenties. Of the animals on this list, dingoes, cats, foxes, horses, camels, and donkeys are all killed in large numbers throughout Australia—but not here. Wallach has convinced the owners to experiment with a more hands-off approach. Continue reading

Protecting Nature & Defying The Odds

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On a game drive in Akagera. Shannon Sims

Thanks to Shannon Sims for this story of a refuge defying the odds:

A Rwandan Game Park Defying the Odds

Despite modest tourism numbers, Akagera National Park is a success story in the making, particularly considering that, like its host country, it survived catastrophe.

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A velvet monkey and her baby in Akagera National Park. The Rwandan park is a success story, despite modest tourism numbers. Credit Ben Curtis/Associated Press

The road through Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda was blocked. Two giraffes had positioned themselves smack in the middle of the dirt road and were rubbing their necks together. In the car, with a driver and a guide, my cell service was long gone; there was nothing to do but sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Right around this time of year, to the east of Rwanda’s borders, in Tanzania and Kenya, big packs of tourists are stumbling over each other to get the perfect photo of a scene like this. They’re driving through protected areas like Serengeti National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in caravans of Land Rovers, each packed so tightly that peoples’ binocular straps get tangled up. It makes sense: the animal migrations that occur in this part of the world these months are rightly considered by many to be the greatest natural show on earth. Continue reading

Roots Of Biodiversity

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Alexandre Antonelli references the International Plant Names Index to identify specimens.
Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Our practice was born in Costa Rica, so we sometimes may appear partisan when it comes to celebrating the sciences related to biodiversity. Costa Rica has impressive credentials in that realm, especially relative to its size as a country. But we are very clear on the fact that it would take dozens of Costa Rica-sized biodiversity hotspots to match the scale of the Amazon region, and it is no surprise that studies like those of these scholars are carried out with Amazonian data:

The Amazon as engine of diverse life

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“Most evolutionary research focuses on how new species form. But we want to understand how whole ecosystems evolve,” said Alexandre Antonelli.
 Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

A recent study says that many of the plants and animals that call Latin America home may have had their roots in the Amazon region.

The study, co-authored by Harvard Visiting Scholar Alexandre Antonelli and an international team of researchers, says that a dynamic process of colonization and speciation led to the formation of the American tropics, which is the most species-rich region on the planet. The study is described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We were astonished to detect so much movement across such different environments and over such large distances,” said Antonelli, the study’s lead author. “Up until now, these natural dispersal events were assumed to be quite rare. Our results show how crucial these events have been in the formation of tropical America’s unique and outstandingly rich biodiversity.” Continue reading

Local Knowledge Aids Scientific Understanding

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In a perfect dovetail with yesterday’s nod to one science writer, today we nod to the contributions of ancestral ways in helping scientists better understand the life cycles of forests. Thanks to Richard Schiffman for this interview:

Lessons Learned from Centuries of Indigenous Forest Management

CMPeters_web.jpgIn an interview with Yale Environment 360, botanist Charles M. Peters discusses how, in an era of runaway destruction of tropical forests, the centuries-old ecological understanding of indigenous woodland residents can help point the way to the restoration of damaged rainforests.

Over centuries, even millennia, indigenous communities have developed interdependent systems of agriculture and forestry that are uniquely suited to the ecological requirements of the land they inhabit. Yet even today, says Charles M. Peters, the Curator of Botany at the New York Botanical Gardens, that skill and knowledge often remain unacknowledged, with some government officials and conservationists arguing that indigenous communities should sometimes be excluded from protected lands that are part of their historical territory.

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Members of the Kenyah Dayak indigenous group conducting forest surveys in Western Borneo in the early 1990s. CHARLES PETERS

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Peters — author of the recently published bookManaging the Wild: Stories of People and Plants and Tropical Forests — discusses what he has learned from 35 years of working with indigenous forest communities; explains how indigenous farming, even slash-and-burn agriculture, can actually improve forest health; and reflects on the need to enlist indigenous groups as allies in the struggle to preserve and restore tropical forests. Continue reading

Waterways, Persons & Rights

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The free-flowing Baker River in Chile’s Patagonia region. Permits for a major hydroelectric project on the waterway were revoked in 2014 amid protests. LOUIS VEST/FLICKR

Dams in Patagonia are the gift that keep on giving, in terms of awakening activism and forcing raised awareness of the value of waterways. I first mentioned my experience in Chile here. I came back to the idea a few more times. Thanks to Jens Benohr and Patrick Lynch for this reminder, and for letting us all know where this seems headed from a legal point of view:

Should Rivers Have Rights? A Growing Movement Says It’s About Time

Inspired by indigenous views of nature, a movement to grant a form of legal “personhood” to rivers is gaining some ground — a key step, advocates say, in reversing centuries of damage inflicted upon the world’s waterways.

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A Chilean energy company is seeking permits to restart the building of an unfinished dam along the San Pedro River. CARLOS LASTRA

Chile is a land of rivers. Along its narrow 3,000-mile length, thousands of rivers and wetlands bring freshwater and nutrients down from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Together, these river systems drain 101 major watersheds that support both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, ranging from arid lands in the north to blue whale nurseries off of Patagonia in the south.

Chile’s second-longest river, the 240-mile Biobío, once tumbled fast and wild through deep gorges and spectacular scenery on its way from the Andes to the sea. The Biobío was one of the world’s great whitewater rafting venues — until the 1990s, when the first of three large hydroelectric dams was built across the river. Over the past two decades, the Biobío dams have flooded more than 13,000 acres, displaced hundreds of families of the indigenous Mapuche people, turned long stretches of this once-unruly river into placid reservoirs, and caused abrupt fluctuations in water levels that have wrecked nesting habitat for native birds and disrupted the river’s natural rhythms. Continue reading

Big Cat News From India

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A tiger in the Sundarbans National Park, a protected tiger reserve, in the Indian state of West Bengal. SOUMYAJIT NANDY / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Richard Conniff, one of the science writers we most depend on for useful conservation news, shares this interview with one of our heroes from India’s big cat conservation network:

Big Cat Comeback: How India Is Restoring Its Tiger Population

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Ullas Karanth

Ullas Karanth has spent a half-century working to protect India’s endangered tigers. In an interview with Yale e360, he argues that with smart planning and the cooperation of its rural residents, the country could support five times the number of tigers it has now.

Ullas Karanth, a senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, is one of the world’s premier tiger experts and a leader in the effort to restore India’s depleted tiger populations. Raised in the South India state of Karnataka, he has spent much of his professional life studying and working to bring back tigers there, starting in Nagarahole National Park in the foothills of the Western Ghats, and then across a 10,000-square-mile region of that mountain range.

Karanth’s emphasis on scientific methods has frequently brought him into conflict with India’s forest bureaucracy, particularly over its insistence on estimating tiger populations based on footprint counts. Karanth instead pioneered the use of camera traps for population estimates based on identification of individual tigers. That method belatedly became the national standard after a 2004 scandal, when Sariska Tiger Reserve, officially estimated to have 26 tigers, turned out to have none. Continue reading

I’d Like To Spend Some Time In Mozambique

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Wild dogs, apex predators missing from Gorongosa National Park for decades, have been reintroduced and are slowly making a comeback, part of an ongoing experiment in reviving the park ecosystem after years of devastating war. Credit Brett Kuxhausen/Gorongosa Media, via Associated Press

Thanks to one of our favorite science writers, the ever-optimistic Natalie Angier, for this note of hope:

In Mozambique, a Living Laboratory for Nature’s Renewal

At Gorongosa National Park, scarred by civil war, scientists are answering fundamental questions about ecology and evolution, and how wildlife recovers from devastation.

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Baboons and sharptooth catfish in the Mussicadzi River in the park during the dry season. The baboons in Gorongosa are brazen and plentiful, as there aren’t many leopards to keep them in check. Credit Piotr Naskrecki & Jen Guyton/NPL/Minden Pictures

GORONGOSA NATIONAL PARK, MOZAMBIQUE — The 14 African wild dogs were ravenous, dashing back and forth along the fence of their open-air enclosure, or boma, bouncing madly on their pogo-stick legs, tweet-yipping their distinctive wild-dog calls, and wagging their bushy, white-tipped tails like contestants on a game show desperate to be seen.

Since arriving at the park three months earlier, as they acclimated to their new setting and forged the sort of immiscible bonds that make Lycaon pictus one of the most social mammals in the world, the dogs had grown accustomed to a daily delivery of a freshly killed antelope to feast on. Continue reading

Rewilding Croatia’s Velebit Mountains

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Davor Krmpotić
Team leader of Velebit Mountains

VelebitMap.jpgCroatia, playing in its first World Cup final today, makes this rewilding story from the Velebit Mountains, and interview with its team leader, timely:

This dramatic mountain chain, right on the Adriatic coast in Croatia, is one of the wildest areas of the whole Mediterranean. A region where wild nature is really coming back.

Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans and situated on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. It hosts two national parks, a biosphere reserve and several wonderful old-growth forests, deep canyons, ancient open lands and exciting wildlife like Balkan chamois, red deer, brown bear, wolf and lynx…

Velebit hosts a diversity of habitats

Velebit.jpgHow would you characterise your rewilding area?
Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans. The area hosts an extraordinary diversity of different habitats, from barren Mediterranean landscapes at sea level, via vast beech forest of central European type, to almost boreal systems and alpine grasslands at higher altitudes. Outside protected areas in the south and east there are several other very interesting areas also with great rewilding potential, mainly consisting of abandoned farm and grazing lands. Apart from its fantastic wildlife, Velebit is also a climber’s paradise, home to spectacular caves and breathtaking sceneries. Continue reading

Extreme Measures, No Good Outcomes

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A Mapuche gathering in Ercilla, Chile. The Mapuche are protesting the presence of agricultural firms on their land. Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

During the two years I worked in southern Chile, 2008-2010, I had the opportunity to listen to the concerns of members of the Mapuche community, and heard a deep frustration bordering on despair. Their forests were being extracted, wholesale and rapaciously and there was little to nothing they could do about it. The news here, even with the exposure I had to the situation, still shocks me. It is not good news:

‘We burned the forest’: the indigenous Chileans fighting loggers with arson

Chile’s Mapuche people are resorting to increasingly radical tactics to reclaim their ancestral land from exploitive industries

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 6.00.13 PM.jpgIt is late autumn in southern Chile, and in the region of Araucanía, the leaves have turned copper and gold. But on the road to the mist-shrouded town of Lumaco, the hills are covered with rows of charred pines.

“We burned these forests as an act of legitimate resistance against the extractive industries that have oppressed the Mapuche people,” says Hector Llaitul. “If we make their business unprofitable they move on, allowing us to recover our devastated lands and rebuild our world.” Continue reading

Compassion, Conservation & Charisma

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ILLUSTRATION BY LUISA RIVERA/YALE E360

Charismatic megafauna are impossible to resist caring about. Charismatic microfauna, or flora, less so. Yet more than two decades of experience in Costa Rica have taught us to appreciate the latter more than we did before. That is a function of science leading the way in conservation efforts in this small country, followed by a new form of tourism that we have been working in since the mid-1990s. That new form leveraged the skills of biologists as guides who provide interpretive experiences in the rainforest and other ecosystems, making a walk in the woods that much more interesting. So this story below catches my attention. It focuses on another small pioneering country that I have long studied from afar, admired, but not yet visited. Thanks to Brandon Keim and his colleagues at Yale Environment 360, for this story that motivates me to make that visit:

Do Conservation Strategies Need to Be More Compassionate?

Some scientists and ethicists are criticizing traditional conservation strategies, which they say focus on saving valued species while discounting the lives of less charismatic animals. Will these advocates of “compassionate conservation” point the way to new approaches, or are they simply being naïve?

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Volunteers for New Zealand’s Predator Free by 2050 campaign in front of predator traps, which are available for the public to borrow. NEW ZEALAND DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION

At a moment of best-selling animal intelligence books and headlines about songbird language and grieving elephants, it’s easy to forget that nonhuman minds were until recently considered — by most serious-minded scientists, anyway — to be quite simple.

Well into this millennium, animal consciousness was regularly dismissed as either nonexistent or profoundly dissimilar to our own. Animals were considered “conscious in the sense of being under stimulus control,” as the famed psychologist B.F. Skinner opined so neatly in 1974, expressing a conventional wisdom that dated to the zoological musings of Aristotle. The notion of animals as thinking, feeling beings was relegated to the edges of serious discourse.

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Signs opposing New Zealand’s use of landscape-scale poisoning campaigns to eradicate non-native predators, such as rats and weasels. ELI DUKE/FLICKR

Those days are past, buried by an avalanche of scientific findings and history-of-science critiques. More people than ever worry about the welfare of farmed animals; pets are practically citizens; and wild animals too are increasingly regarded as beings with whom people share fundamental aspects of inner life. Yet in some places, that mind-denying legacy survives — including, say a small but vocal number of scientists, ethicists, and animal welfare activists, in conservation. In their eyes, the discipline devoted to protecting Earth’s life has a certain blind spot to the animals themselves. Continue reading

Some Regrets Are Better Than Others

OaklandInstitute.pngThere is a saying, often attributed to Mark Twain (though it appears nowhere in his published writings), that history never repeats itself but it often rhymes. That quote comes to mind reading this report below by the Oakland Institute, in light of yesterday’s news from Greece. There is a rhyme with no reason that echoes between the two stories. It also brings to mind, for me, an ever-present question about the work I have done for the last two decades. Tourism, even if it is sustainable tourism development, has its downsides. So, I am always on the lookout for ways to avoid regret in projects I take on, and how they are executed. More often than not, if I sense regret it is about not having had enough impact. I prefer that to the regret of too much of this type of impact:

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Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever is based on field research, never publicly-seen-before documents, and an in-depth investigation into Tanzania’s land laws. This report is the first to reveal the complicity between Tanzanian government officials and foreign companies as they use conservation laws to dispossess the Maasai, driving them into smaller and smaller areas and creating a stifling map of confinement. Continue reading

Bolivia’s Boggling Biodiversity

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Keara valley Credit Omar Torrico/Wildlife Conservation Society

Whether or not the title is a rhetorical question does not matter; what does matter is our thanks to James Gorman, a science writer at large for The New York Times for this story about the work of Rob Wallace and colleagues at the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Is This the World’s Most Diverse National Park?

Bringing the numbers to life for the jewel in Bolivia’s conservation crown.

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Royal flycatcher Credit Rob Wallace/Wildlife Conservation Society

The credit to Mr. Wallace and colleagues for these photos alone would be worthy of a post, but the creation of such a park in Bolivia is no small wonder:

Madidi National Park in Bolivia goes from lowland to mountaintop, from 600 feet to almost 20,000 feet above sea level. It covers more than 7,000 square miles of wildly different habitats. It is, says Rob Wallace, an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bolivia, “a place where the Amazon meets the Andes.”

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Rob Wallace/Wildlife Conservation Society

“Madidi was put together on the hypothesis that it could be the world’s most biologically diverse protected area,” Dr. Wallace said. And, he said, it is — for mammals, birds, plants and butterflies. Continue reading

Moving Slowly & Avoiding Breakage

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Panthera onca. The jaguar is the king of neotropical forests, where it is the largest of the cats. Its presence at the White City indicates an extensive, thriving ecosystem. © Washington State University, Panthera, Wildlife Conservation Society, Zamorano University, Honduran Forest Conservation Institute, Travis King, John Polisar, Manfredo Turcios

When the journalist Douglas Preston shared this story, I was in the process of closing up shop in India, where we had been in residence since 2010. Kipling-induced daydreaming notwithstanding, Amie and Milo (whose photos may be the most tangible representations of the dreaminess of those years) and I never had the illusion that there were lost civilizations or any such thing in India.

movefast (1)We did have the nonstop motivation of feline-fueled conservation initiatives, and some close encounters. Those provided us a perfect counterpoint to the seemingly irresistible catchphrase that described progress in the form of disruptive technology. Haste really does make waste when it comes to ecology, anthropology, and realms of life other than economic forward-marching.

When I read Mr. Preston’s story on the first day of last year I realized that our relocation to Central America, oddly enough since it is in the hemisphere called the New World, was full of potential for all kinds of discovery of “lost” things. And my own discoveries further sensitized me to the importance of moving slowly and avoiding breakage. My posts on this platform from February through July, 2017 are evidence of the richest ecological and anthropological observations of my lifetime (so far), and that makes Mr. Preston’s update post yesterday all the more wonderful to read:

Deep in the Honduran Rain Forest, an Ecological SWAT Team Explores a Lost World

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Sachatamia albomaculata. The inner organs of glass frogs are visible through their translucent bodies. Photograph by Trond Larsen / Conservation International

A little more than three years ago, I joined a team of archeologists on an expedition to La Mosquitia, a remote mountain wilderness in eastern Honduras. For centuries, the region had been rumored to contain a lost city, known as the City of the Monkey God or the White City, and now, thanks to a combination of luck and modern technology, an ancient settlement had been found. Although it was probably not the lost city of legend, it was a very real place, built by a mysterious civilization that flourished long before Columbus arrived in the Americas. Hidden in a densely forested valley, it had never been explored. Continue reading

Butterflies Bear Bucolic Benefits

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Milkweed was first mentioned in these pages  so long ago I had forgotten their importance to Monarch butterflies, a seemingly perennial topic for our contributors. So thanks to Margaret Renkl for keeping that tradition going in her Monday op-ed, and reminding us in the process that while it is not all good news out there, it is also not all bad news:

Monarchs in My Garden, at Last

NASHVILLE — I was pretty proud of myself the spring I planted my first organic garden. It was the mid-1980s, and I was a first-year graduate student in creative writing, a program entirely unrelated to horticultural mastery. But I had taken a college course in environmental biology, and I knew the basics: The more chemicals you use in a garden, the more chemicals you’ll need in the garden. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, more reliable than the seasons.

At my house, companion planting — marigolds in between the broccoli, tomato vines encircling the spinach — would repel bugs the natural way. Any lingering pests would be dispatched by beneficial insects like ladybugs and praying mantises. One evening I watched happily as cabbage white butterflies flitted over silvery broccoli leaves. Those little white butterflies pausing in the gloaming on the water-beaded broccoli made for a tableau of bucolic harmony. Continue reading

Fishes, Fishing & Fishermen, Reviewed

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Book covers left to right: Fishes in the Fresh Waters of Florida, Fly Fishing for Redeye Bass, and Born to Fish

Thanks to Mathew L. Miller for an honest take on these three books:

Review: Fishing and Conservation

The mayflies are hatching, river levels are dropping and the evenings are getting longer. It’s the most wonderful time of year for those of us in North America who love to fish.

And if you can’t be out fishing? Well, you can always read a fish book. Here are three great new reads: a biography of an obsessed angler turned conservationist, a how-to book about overlooked species that need some attention, and an invaluable reference guide.

I have no interest in competitive fishing, and even less in books by and about celebrity anglers. I find most of them to be self-congratulatory and poorly written. So I’d normally have little inclination to read a book about a record-breaking striped bass angler, one who gained fame by appearing on the show Shark Tank.  Such a book would also appear to be a poor fit for a conservation blog. Continue reading