The Tragedy Of The Commons, Rhino Edition

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Martin Saavedra

It is a brutal story, and we thank Cathleen O’Grady for telling us about The Price of Protecting Rhinos in the long form narrative such a complex topic deserves:

Conservation has become a war, and park rangers and poachers are the soldiers.

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Martin Saavedra

Hsst!” hisses Charles Myeni. “Leave space!” Silently, the men in his anti-poaching unit spread out as they move through the bush in single file, leaving a few feet between them.

Myeni explains his command to me: If a rhinoceros poacher attacks us and we’re all neatly squished together in a line, he whispers, they “can take us all out, one-one-one-one. We’re all gonna die.”

Is he serious? His sardonic half smile is difficult to read. He may just be trying to scare me, the city-dwelling white girl tagging along on his morning patrol through South Africa’s Somkhanda Game Reserve. But I still stick as closely as I can to him and his automatic rifle. Continue reading

Questions, Answers & Plans For Managing Environmental Challenges

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Experts have identified oceans as a key battleground in the fight to protect humanity’s natural ‘life support system’. Photograph: Christian Loader/Alamy

The plan provides one possible answer, its execution is an important question:

UN draft plan sets 2030 target to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction

Paris-style proposal to counter loss of ecosystems and wildlife vital to the future of humanity will go before October summit

Almost a third of the world’s oceans and land should be protected by the end of the decade to stop and reverse biodiversity decline that risks the survival of humanity, according to a draft Paris-style UN agreement on nature.

To combat what scientists have described as the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, the proposal sets a 2030 deadline for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and wildlife that perform crucial services for humans.

The text, drafted by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is expected to be adopted by governments in October at a crucial UN summit in the Chinese city of Kunming. It comes after countries largely failed to meet targets for the previous decade agreed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010. Continue reading

Bees, Almonds & Futures

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Dennis Arp stands for a portrait near a colony of honeybees outside Rye, Arizona. Photograph: Caitlin O’Hara/The Guardian

Bees are not finding the near future any brighter than the recent past. Thanks, as always, to the Guardian for keeping us apprised on this topic:

‘Like sending bees to war’: the deadly truth behind your almond-milk obsession

Bees are essential to the functioning of America’s titanic almond industry – and billions are dying in the process

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Adam Arp, Dennis’s son, works outside Rye on 8 May 2019. Photograph: Caitlin O’Hara/The Guardian

Dennis Arp was feeling optimistic last summer, which is unusual for a beekeeper these days.

Thanks to a record wet spring, his hundreds of hives, scattered across the central Arizona desert, produced a bounty of honey. Arp would have plenty to sell in stores, but more importantly, the bumper harvest would strengthen his bees for their biggest task of the coming year.

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Beehives stand stacked along a blooming almond orchard near Shafter, California. The bees pollinate many crops, including almond trees in February, and are essential to the food chain. Photograph: Ann Johansson/Corbis via Getty Images

Like most commercial beekeepers in the US, at least half of Arp’s revenue now comes from pollinating almonds. Selling honey is far less lucrative then renting out his colonies to mega-farms in California’s fertile Central Valley, home to 80% of the world’s almond supply. Continue reading

Do Not Wait

Citizens of the USA have not much right to tell Australians what or how to think about climate change, and certainly not at this precise moment. On the contrary, scenes coming from Australia might well get Americans immediately wondering:

What Will Another Decade of Climate Crisis Bring?

2019 has been called the year we woke up to climate change. Australia’s wildfires are yet more evidence that it’s time we started acting like it.

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Illustration by João Fazenda

Last week, thousands of people in the Australian state of Victoria were urged to evacuate their homes. “Don’t wait,” the alert warned. Bushfires were burning across the state; so large were some of the blazes that, according to Victoria’s commissioner of emergency management, they were “punching into the atmosphere” with columns of smoke nine miles high. The smoke columns were producing their own weather, generating lightning that, in turn, was setting more fires. Some time after residents received the evacuation warning, many of those in the most seriously affected region, East Gippsland, which is a popular tourist destination, received another alert. It was now too late to leave: “You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive.” Continue reading

Big Cats, WWF & The Guardian’s Coverage

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A jaguar captured by a camera trap on the island. The WWF researchers plan to set more traps in 2020. Photograph: WWF Brazil

Jaguar and other wild cats, big and small, have been a topic of interest on this platform since we began back in 2011. We have also featured many stories where WWF is the hero, carrying out important work that needs support. Phoebe Weston somehow escaped our attention until now, so special thanks to the Guardian for maintaining their commitment to quality coverage of nature and environmental issues, which I depend on for my daily exercise in awareness:

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A jaguar resting on a tree on Maracá-Jipioca. The WWF hopes to collar two more cats next year.
Photograph: André Dib/WWF Brazil

A thriving population of jaguars living on a small, unspoilt island off the coast of the Brazilian Amazon has learned to catch fish in the sea to survive, conservationists have found.

The Maracá-Jipioca Ecological Station island reserve, three miles off the northern state of Amapá, acts as a nursery for jaguars, according to WWF researchers who have collared three cats and set up 70 camera traps on the remote jungle island.

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A jaguar caught on camera with a fish in its mouth. Photograph: WWF Brazil

Although jaguars have previously been spotted catching fish in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands, this is believed to be the first evidence the elusive creatures have been jumping in the sea to catch prey.

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A three-toed sloth, a flock of flamingos, and a toco toucan, all inhabitants of the Maracá-Jipioca Ecological Station reserve. Photograph: André Dib/WWF Brazil

“This is the first time that behaviour has been spotted in the Amazon,” said Marcelo Oliveira, senior programme officer at WWF Brazil, who is leading the NGO’s first jaguar-collaring research. Continue reading

Farms & Non-Farms For Our Future

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Critics note that flawed strategies have encouraged tree farms, such as this oil palm plantation in Costa Rica. SHUTTERSTOCK

Richard Conniff explains why tree farms, like the one pictured above, are not part of the solution to climate change, whereas abandoned ancient farms like the one picture below may be part of the solution:

Could Abandoned Agricultural Lands Help Save the Planet?

Agriculture’s global footprint is decreasing — more land globally is now being abandoned by farming than converted to it. This, some researchers contend, presents an opportunity for ecological restoration that could help fight climate change and stem the loss of biodiversity.

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The town of Castro Laboreiro, Portugal, where former grazing lands have reverted to nature. ANTONIO LOMBA/FLICKR

People have lived in Castro Laboreiro, where northern Portugal borders Spain, long enough to have built megaliths in the mountainous countryside and a pre-Romanesque church, from 1,100 years ago, in the village itself. But the old rural population has dwindled away, leaving behind mostly elders yearning for their vanishing culture. Continue reading

117 of 314 Bird Species, As Urban Murals

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Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

A couple years ago we linked to a story about urban murals and now, progress:

Where Birds Meet Art . . . After Dark

Greater Sage-Grouse by George Boorujy

Greater Sage-Grouse by George Boorujy
Location: 3920 Broadway, New York, NY 10032

The Audubon Mural Project is a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and Gitler &_____ Gallery to create murals of climate-threatened birds throughout John James Audubon’s old Harlem‐based neighborhood in New York City.

Pinyon Jay by Mary Lacy

Pinyon Jay by Mary Lacy
Location: 3668 Broadway, New York, NY 10032

The project is inspired by the legacy of the great American bird artist and pioneering ornithologist and is energized by Audubon’s groundbreaking report “Survival By Degrees.” Audubon’s scientists have found that climate change will threaten at least half of all North American birds with extinction, and that no bird will escape the impacts of climate-change-related hazards like increased wildfire and sea-level rise. The project commissions artists to paint murals to call attention to this problem, and it has been widely covered in the media, including The New York Times.

On the website where Audubon features these murals you can click through to see the individual stories of each, including lots of interesting species information:

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Clockwise from top left: Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, John James Audubon, depiction of Russell Lee’s 1941 photo of Chicago, Magnolia Warbler, James Lancaster’s hand, and Tree Swallow. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Endangered Harlem by Gaia

Location: 1883, 1885, and 1887 Amsterdam, New York, NY 10032 Continue reading

Are We Willing To Do What It Takes?

Thanks to John R. Platt, by way of EcoWatch, for this:

Could inventing a better air conditioner help to save species from extinction?

It’s an idea so crazy it just might work — and it’s just one of many new and innovative conservation initiatives in development around the world to help stem the tide of biodiversity loss. Continue reading

Crowd-Sourced Data from the Deep

Female sand tiger shark observed on the wreck Aeolus in (a) September 2016 and (b) 10 months later in July 2017. In the older photograph (a), fishing gear is visible in the mouth of the shark (inset). SPOT A SHARK USA BY TANYA HOUPPERMANS.

A great example of how data crowd-sourced from Citizen Scientists is helping to improve understanding of shark populations and behavior.

Female Sand Tiger Sharks Love Shipwrecks… Really.

Site fidelity – the tendency to return to a particular area – isn’t exactly new in a species of shark (e.g. reef sharkslemon sharks, even great white sharks). But that place is usually some sort of habitat… not a over 100-feet (34 meter) deep shipwreck. However, that is exactly the case for female sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) off the coast of North Carolina!

Sand tiger sharks, also known as grey nurse sharks or spotted ragged-tooth sharks, are found globally in subtropical and temperate waters. Despite looking quite scary due to their tooth grins that never quite close, they are a slow-moving shark that are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A grey colored shark with reddish-brown spots throughout its body, they feast on a variety of animals such as a fish, crustaceans, squid, skates and even other sharks!

In September 2016, a citizen scientist wasn’t surprised to see an individual female sand tiger shark while scuba diving on the Aeolus shipwreck. Continue reading

Big Cats Of The South, Present & Future

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 A Brazilian soldier swims in the Negro river holding Jiquitaia, a two-year-old jaguar that was adopted by the military command of the Amazon. Jiquitaia was rescued as a cub after hunters killed his mother. Photograph: None Mangueira/AP

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A jaguar in the Yasuni national park, Orellana, Ecuador. Photograph: Lucas Bustamante/NPL

Ecuador is mentioned in the title but is not the only country where deforestation is putting at risk the survival of one of the big predator species in the hemisphere. Thanks to Kimberley Brown, writing in the Guardian, for her reporting from our neighborhood to the south on one of the animals we have featured the most in our pages over the years:

Ecuador’s vanishing jaguars: the big cat vital to rainforest survival

Industries such as coffee and cacao have devastated the jaguar’s habitat, but its dwindling numbers leave a delicate ecosystem hanging in the balance

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Jaguars are found across South America. This one was photographed deep inside the Nouragues Natural Reserve, in French Guiana. Photograph: Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF France

Across the American continent, from the north of Mexico to Argentina, the jaguar has long been revered for its strength and power. But in some parts of Ecuador, the largest cat in South America is increasingly at risk as roads, mining and agriculture take over the rainforests.

The loss of habitat is the biggest threat to jaguars in Ecuador, particularly along the coast, where more than 70% of the original forest cover has been lost. The vast majority of this destruction has taken place over the last 50 years with the expansion of the logging and agriculture industries, including coffee, cacao, palm oil and bananas, one of the country’s largest agriculture exports. Continue reading

Botanists Sleuthing, For Science & Conservation

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Quindío wax palms cover the hillsides of Colombia’s Tochecito River Basin. Before sequoias were discovered in California, the wax palm was considered the world’s tallest tree, with some growing 200 feet high.

The botanists who do this kind of work are heroes to us:

Stalking the Endangered Wax Palm

Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm, is endangered. Now, with decades of guerrilla war in retreat, scientists are rediscovering vast forests and racing to study and protect them.

By Photographs and Video by 

In 1991 Rodrigo Bernal, a botanist who specializes in palms, was driving into the Tochecito River Basin, a secluded mountain canyon in central Colombia, when he was seized by a sense of foreboding. Continue reading

Time To Make Lemonade

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A purple urchin at Bodega Marine Lab in California, which is running a pilot project to remove purple urchins from the ocean floor, restore them to health, then sell them as premium seafood. Photograph: Terry Chea/AP

With invasive species, sometimes the only thing to do with such lemons is make them tasty:

Sea urchin population soars 10,000% in five years, devastating US coastline

Voracious purple urchins in waters of California and Oregon pose threat to kelp forests and risk upending delicate ecosystems

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An aerial view of one of the last remaining kelp forests near Elk, California, on the Mendocino county coast, which has lost more than 90% of its bull kelp in less than a decade. Photograph: Terry Chea/AP

Tens of millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have already chomped their way through towering underwater kelp forests in California are spreading north to Oregon, sending the delicate marine ecosystem off the shore into such disarray that other critical species are starving to death.

A recent count found 350m purple sea urchins on one Oregon reef alone – more than a 10,000% increase since 2014. And in northern California, 90% of the giant bull kelp forests have been devoured by the urchins, perhaps never to return.

Vast “urchin barrens” – stretches of denuded seafloor dotted with nothing but hundreds of the spiny orbs – have spread to coastal Oregon, where kelp forests were once so thick it was impossible to navigate some areas by boat. Continue reading

Citizen Science Deepdive

By collecting images and GPS data from citizen divers, scientists can get a better sense of the health of the entire Great Barrier Reef. (Damian Bennett)

Citizen Science has been a common thread for us on this site, linking creatures of land, sea and air as subjects of study. Marine Ecosystem citizen science has especially  fascinated us in terms of the creative thinking applied to problems of invasive species.

The collaborative goal of documenting such a vast ecosystem as the Great Barrier Reef, and using creative solutions to combat threats to this wonder of the natural world is inspiring, to say the least.

Massive Citizen Science Effort Seeks to Survey the Entire Great Barrier Reef

Only about 1,000 of 3,000 individual reefs have been documented, but the Great Reef Census hopes to fill in the gaps

The majority of individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef have not been directly surveyed. (Damian Bennett)

In August, marine biologists Johnny Gaskell and Peter Mumby and a team of researchers boarded a boat headed into unknown waters off the coasts of Australia. For 14 long hours, they ploughed over 200 nautical miles, a Google Maps cache as their only guide. Just before dawn, they arrived at their destination of a previously uncharted blue hole—a cavernous opening descending through the seafloor.

After the rough night, Mumby was rewarded with something he hadn’t seen in his 30-year career. The reef surrounding the blue hole had nearly 100 percent healthy coral cover. Such a find is rare in the Great Barrier Reef, where coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 led to headlines proclaiming the reef “dead.”

“It made me think, ‘this is the story that people need to hear,’” Mumby says.

The expedition from Daydream Island off the coast of Queensland was a pilot program to test the methodology for the Great Reef Census, a citizen science project headed by Andy Ridley, founder of the annual conservation event Earth Hour. His latest organization, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, has set the ambitious goal of surveying the entire 1,400-mile-long reef system in 2020.

“We’re trying to gain a broader understanding on the status of the reef—what’s been damaged, where the high value corals are, what’s recovering and what’s not,” Ridley says. Continue reading

Slow Down On Tuna

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A new study finds that tuna harvests, including of some species considered “vulnerable,” have increased by an astonishing 1,000% in the last 60 years — a rate that some scientists warn is unsustainable. NiCK/Getty Images

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this warning:

We’re Pulling Tuna Out Of The Ocean At Unprecedented — And Unsustainable — Rates

If you’re in the mood for a tuna poke bowl or an old-school tuna niçoise salad, here’s a tip: Don’t hit up the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland. It has been nearly six years since chef Jonathon Sawyer became a “tuna evangelist” after attending a meeting of like-minded chefs at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was there that he made the decision to forgo tuna — both in his personal life and on the menus at all four of his restaurants.

It wasn’t always easy. Turning down the chance to eat famed chef Eric Ripert’s mouthwatering thin-sliced tuna over a foie gras torchon took some Superman-like strength, but for Sawyer, the mission is an important one. He’s not trying to get people to give up tuna altogether. Rather, he’s trying to raise awareness of the sheer quantities that are coming across our collective plates and serve as a gentle warning that all that fish is coming from a limited resource.

It turns out that his effort is hitting a seafood sustainability bull’s-eye. Continue reading

A Different Kind Of Getting Clear

A flock of red-winged blackbirds over Long Island, N.Y.CreditCreditVicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Moment, via Getty Images

Thanks to the authors of this op-ed for a bit of clear thinking:

The Crisis for Birds Is a Crisis for Us All

The mass disappearance of North American birds is a dire warning about the planet’s well-being.

By John W. Fitzpatrick and 

Dr. Fitzpatrick is the director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dr. Marra is the director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative.

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Steve Maslowski/Science Source, via Getty Images Plus

Nearly one-third of the wild birds in the United States and Canada have vanished since 1970, a staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.

The disappearance of 2.9 billion birds over the past nearly 50 years was reported today in the journal Science, a result of a comprehensive study by a team of scientists from seven research institutions in the United States and Canada.

As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent. Continue reading

Saving Sea Snakes

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An olive sea snake, Aipysurus laevis, is returned to its home in Shark Bay, western Australia. Blanche D’Anastasi

Devi Lockwood, who we first linked out to years ago, and only once, has finally reappeared with an awesome story. We look forward to seeing more like this:

She Studies Sea Snakes by the Seafloor

Sea snakes are the most diverse group of marine reptiles in the world, but they are poorly understood and threatened by development. Blanche D’Anastasi is among the scientists working to save them.

SeaSnakesSix to eight million years ago, a snake related to swamp snakes or tiger snakes slithered into the sea. Over evolutionary time, descendants of that snake developed flattened paddle tails, an ability to breathe through the skin and a valve to stop water from entering the lungs. Today these creatures live their entire lives in the water. Clad in spots, triangles and stripes, they undulate across coral reefs or meadows of sea grass.

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An olive-headed sea snake caught by Ms. D’Anastasi. Blanche D’Anastasi

There are some 70 species of sea snakes in the world; they live in the Indian and Pacific oceans, in water less than 600 feet deep. Half of all species can be found in Australia, and they are particularly visible during their mating period, in July and August.

But sea snake populations have been declining rapidly for the last 20 years worldwide, as a result of climate change, pollution, fishing, habitat loss, mining exploration and disease. Although sea snakes are the most diverse group of marine reptiles — they outnumber sea turtle species by 10 to one — less is known about their ecology than that of any other group of reptiles.

This is because the research is difficult. If you want to find a sea snake, you have to go out searching for one.

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Tara Fullston

Blanche D’Anastasi, a sea snake researcher at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, travels to remote regions like Exmouth Gulf, on the country’s northwest coast, to find sea snakes in the wild. Sometimes she scuba dives or snorkels, but the most efficient technique is to be towed behind a boat while wearing a snorkel. When she spots a snake, Ms. D’Anastasi dives down to catch it in a bag. Continue reading

Co-habitation Questions Down Under

A platypus in Tasmania. Photo © Klaus / FlickrJustine E. Hausheer

Thanks to TNC’s Justine E. Hausheer for this story:

Can Platypus Persist Alongside People?

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.

Urban platypus habitat. Photo © Justine E. Hausheer / TNC

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.

A painting by of a platypus by John Lewin, 1808. Photo © State Library of New South Wales / Wikimedia Commons

But the animal’s oddity afforded little protection from European settlers. Continue reading

Our Favorite Form Of Prospecting

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Expedition members sprint to flush Slender-billed Flufftails, among the world’s most elusive birds, in a marsh in Bemanevika reserve. Photo: Tristan Spinski

Bioprospecting, a topic we have not posted enough about, came to our attention in the mid-1990s through Costa Rica’s National Institute of Biodiversity. Kimon de Greef, writing for Audubon Magazine, offers an inside view of a prospecting expedition in one of the most wondrous, and at-risk natural habitats on the planet:

Scientists Race to Uncover the Secrets of Madagascar’s Treasure-Filled Forests

The rediscovery of a long-lost duck spurred the creation of two protected areas in the country. Now researchers are scouring these spots for other endemic species before it’s too late.

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With only a few kilometers to go during day-long to Bemanevika, challenging road conditions forced the group to disembark from the two Toyota Land Cruisers and push them through the deep mud. Much of the terrain required the forest technicians to utilize the wench, which they fastened to tree stumps to wind the vehicles up the muddy mountain roads. Photo: Tristan Spinski

We had come this far and now we were stuck, dug in on a dirt track high above the plains. It was monsoon season in Madagascar, and thunderstorms had laid waste to the deeply rutted road. Already we had traversed seemingly unnavigable passes on our way to the remote northern mountains, mud churned to slurry by each passing set of wheels. Almost 24 hours later, this slope flanked by agave plants had defeated us. Our drivers took up shovels: There were ruts to flatten, boulders to excavate and heave into the bushes. As the workers toiled, cicadas hissed from the treetops.

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Map: Mike Reagan

For the field biologists I was accompanying, this breakdown of rural infrastructure held great promise. They were on their way to survey some of the island’s last remaining virgin rainforests—shrinking havens of exceptional biodiversity, including some of Earth’s rarest birdlife. “There’s definitely a correlation with how hard it is to get in,” said John Mittermeier, an expedition leader, ornithologist, and geography Ph.D. student at Oxford University, “and how likely you are to find new stuff.”

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Clockwise from top left: Spearpoint leaf-tail gecko; Andreone’s tree frog; Compsophis fatsibe snake; Boophis goudot frog; Calumma nasutum chameleon; Spinomantis nussbaumi frog. Photos: Tristan Spinski

Now a cry went up among the team. A snake was moving its way through the undergrowth, and with abandon they leapt after it. Luke Kemp, the herpetologist on the expedition, crouched beside the bushes, poking around but coming up empty. “It’s like an addiction,” he told me. “I can’t stop.”

The biologists had congregated from four countries, united by a relentless, even maniacal fascination with wildlife. They wore faded shirts from scientific conferences and were never without their binoculars. Instead of making small talk, they discussed bird calls and sampling methods, animated by purpose and shared expertise. In unison, like meerkats, Mittermeier and the other two birders swung their binoculars from side to side, trying to glimpse what sounded to them like an endemic robin. The two entomologists swept the air with butterfly nets; they would not hesitate, when their hands were full, to pop wriggling insect specimens between their lips. Continue reading

Tiger Census as Bright Star

 

photo credit: Dr. Eash Hoskote

Tigers and other megafauna felines have frequently held pride of place on this site, beginning long before our company was based in India.

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.

Census Finds Nearly 3,000 Tigers In India

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

Conservation via Changing Perspectives

The manta ray tourism model in Peru is helping to protect rays and their habitat. Photograph: Martin Strmiska/Getty Images

The correlation between the success rates of ecotourism as a conservation tool and the “charisma quotient” of a particular species may be stating the obvious, but the giant manta is one such example.

It’s especially gratifying when the strategy takes engaging the next generation in the process.

How Peru fell in love with a sea giant worth far more alive than dead

The giant manta ray is at risk in the Pacific ocean, but the rise of ecotourism is changing attitudes among local fishermen

Fishermen heading out to sea off Peru’s northern coast keep a keen eye on the turquoise waters below them, hoping for a glimpse of the elusive giant manta ray gliding by.

Nowadays the boats are taking tourists rather than nets. The fish they once caught are now in decline, and the fish the visitors want to see now are worth far more alive than dead.

This wildlife-rich stretch of the eastern tropical Pacific shared with Ecuador is home to one of the largest populations of the world’s biggest ray – the giant manta – and the local community, led by marine scientist Kerstin Forsberg, is trying to conserve the creatures.

These ocean-going giants are targeted for their gill plates, used in Chinese medicine, or, more commonly in Peruvian waters, they become entangled in fishing nets. With a wingspan that can measure as much as nine metres across, the giant manta rays have declined by up to a third globally and are classified as vulnerable on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“This species was really overlooked in my country,” says Forsberg, 34. But that is no longer the case in Zorritos, a village arranged along a stretch of Peru’s west-facing Pacific coastline.

In eight years, Forsberg has changed the mentality here towards the mantas. She has helped create a fisherman’s association focused on ecotourism encouraging local and foreign visitors to observe or even swim with the rays. The Guardian spotted rays leaping out of the sea and swimming close to the boat on one of these trips.

“People here now get excited about giant manta rays. Before, they didn’t even notice that they existed,” Forsberg says. “Now if the manta ray gets entangled in their nets, fishermen start releasing them and report on it excitedly. They’re happy to mention it to their peers.” Continue reading