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Extinctions

Animal life Extinctions

Dec 7th 2016

Thousands of snow geese have died in Montana, after a huge flock of them were forced to land in the polluted waters of an open pit mine, according to The Guardian. Environmental affairs manager for the mine, Mark Thompson, described the aftermath as “700 acres of white birds” lying dead in the pit.

The flock had been flying south for the winter when a snowstorm compelled them to hide out near the mine on November 28th, with geese continuing to try to land there ever since. The final death toll has yet to be calculated by federal officials, but many experts agreed that the number will be significantly higher than the 343 that died in 1995, which resulted in environmental efforts to keep birds safe from toxic water.

Some officials with the mine have estimated that as many as 10,000 snow geese landed in the toxic waters on Nov. 28th.

 “I can’t underscore enough how many birds were in the Butte area that night,” Thompson said. “Numbers beyond anything we’ve ever experienced in our 21 years of monitoring by several orders of magnitude.”

Workers for Montana Resources have attempted to use noise makers, spotlights, and similar techniques in order to discourage birds from landing on the water. Company officials estimate that around 90% of birds are being saved by these efforts, but it is unclear whether these techniques were in effect on Nov. 28th.

27 Oct

Natural world in danger of collapse

The number of wild animals living on Earth is set to fall by two-thirds by 2020, according to a new report, part of a mass extinction that is destroying the natural world upon which humanity depends. The Living Planet Index, compiled by researchers from WWF and the Zoological Society of London, shows that vertebrate populations are set to decline by 67% from 1970 levels unless urgent action is taken to reduce humanity’s impact. The collapse of wildlife is, with climate change, the most striking sign of the Anthropocene, a proposed new geological era in which humans dominate the planet. Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF, said: “Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems, as we know them today, will collapse.”

March 11th

The mass slaughter of rhinos has increased for the sixth year in a row, according to grim new figures from international researchers.

At least 1,338 of the iconic animals were killed for their horns in Africa last year.

This is the greatest loss in a single year since an intense wave of poaching began recently.

Since 2008, as many as 5,940 rhinos have been killed although scientists fear that could be an underestimate.

The findings were compiled by researchers from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The losses come despite a drive to fight poaching gangs by strengthening patrols, harnessing satellite technology and boosting intelligence-gathering.

Feb 23

Poachers kill between 25,000 and 35,000 elephants every year in Africa, according to activists. One report said that more elephants are being killed than are being born. Half a kilogram of ivory can reportedly sell for as much as $1,500 on the black market.

Rhinos

Almost 95 per cent of the world’s rhinos have been killed by poachers in the last four decades. A total of 1,175 were killed in South Africa in 2015, down from 1,215 in 2014. More than 4,000 rhino horns have been smuggled out of Africa since 2011.

Tigers

Tigers are primarily killed to supply underground black markets with organs, pelts and bones — they are highly regarded in eastern medicine even though claims of their healing powers have been repeatedly disproved. Tiger penis is used in soup as an aphrodisiac.

Pangolins

Pangolins, scaly anteaters, are poached for their meat and because it is believed in Asia their scales have medicinal qualities. A single pangolin can be priced between $1,000 and $7,000.

Jan 13th 2016

Let's stop extinctions.

The killing of elephants by poachers, just for their ivory tusks is a long established programme which has been reducing the number of elephants for many years, the best way to control the poachers is to reduce the demand and international laws have been introduced in order to implement this.

The killing of wild rhinoceros by poachers is another problem, they do this and make vast profits because Chinese medicine claims powdered rhino horn is an aphrodisiac, veterinary medicine has now developed a type of poison that can be injected into the rhino horn where it spreads through the structure. It does no harm to the rhinoceros, but when the poisoned mixture is consumed, it makes the misguided individual very sick.

December 15th 2015

The blue whale is the largest animal on the planet it is a protected species, but one of its main dangers is being struck by a ship, it is particularly vulnerable when it is feeding on the grill in a busy shipping channel such as the one San Francisco were lots of big container ships regularly visit.

  Although commercial whaling of the blue whale is now banned, its population is so small that any further mortalities may severely impact on the survival of the species. It is still subject to a number of threats including ship strikes, noise and chemical pollution, and net entanglement. The remote distribution of some blue whale populations probably makes them less vulnerable to human impacts than some other cetacean species, but local populations that inhabit waters with significant levels of human activity, such as the Gulf of St. Lawrence, may be particularly vulnerable to these threats.

Conservation: Hunting of the blue whale was banned in 1966, although some illegal soviet whaling persisted for several years after. No blue whales have been deliberately caught since 1978. However, this protection almost came too late for the blue whale, and recovery has been extremely slow. Only in the last few years have there been signs that numbers may be increasing. Today, there are an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 blue whales surviving worldwide, which represents around 3 to 11 percent of the total pre-commercial exploitation population. All international trade in the blue whale is further prohibited by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or the Bonn Convention).

            The blue whale occurs in a number of Marine Protected Areas throughout its range that is aimed at protecting the whole marine ecosystem, as well as whale sanctuaries in the Antarctic, Indian and Southern Oceans. Several countries have also implemented research and conservation programes for this species, much of which is coordinated by the International Whaling Commission, and these include identifying areas of critical habitat, investigating species abundance and distribution, and mitigating the threats to the species. - See more at: http://savenaturesavehuman.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/blue-whale.html#sthash.blGI2VX0.dpuf

June27th

Some bad news

Dolphin Infant deaths

A mother dolphin will pass on her toxicity through nursing to her newborn increasing the infant death rates by 50%

This week’s post will delve into the feeding and reproductive ecology of bio-accumulation, in addition to discussing the interesting adaptations that marine mammals have evolved to cope with bio-accumulation effects in their environment.

Feeding Ecology

In the North Pacific, you can find two different groups of orcas, “resident” type and “transient” type. The diet of the residential type consists of fish, typically salmon. The diet of the transient type, though, is mostly other marine mammals like dolphins and seals.

A study found that organo-chlorine levels, particularly DDT, was 25 times higher in transient types than in resident types. So even within the same species, we see differences in toxin accumulation levels because of a change in one ecological component: diet.

The reason for this is because fish are lower on the food web than marine mammals. In apex predators like marine mammals, or even predatory fish like tuna, we see higher levels of metal and organo-chlorine accumulation than in animals lower on the food web like krill or small fish such as sardines.

Reproductive Ecology

One of the biggest problems with bio-accumulation, especially with regards to organo-chlorines and mercury, is the effect that it has on the young.

Marine mammals all have a thick layer of fat, which we call blubber. It is used for a variety of purposes, but one of the main functions is energy storage. Because of the lipophilic nature of organo-chlorine molecules, all of these toxins ultimately get stored in the blubber.

During lactation, when the female dolphin is providing milk for her calf, this blubber is what is used to produce milk. However, not only does the fat from the blubber end up in the milk, so do the toxins.

A study was done in Sarasota, Florida, which showed that mortality (dolphins dying) of bottlenose dolphin first born calves was all the way up to 50%. However, subsequent calf mortalities dropped down to 30%. Essentially, all of the mother’s lifetime organo-chlorine burdens (most marine mammals do not reach sexual maturity until around 8-10 years of age) were offloaded into her tiny first born calf’s mere few weeks of life. As a result, many first born died. But when the same mom gave birth to calves after that first calf, the calves were much healthier, since they didn’t have to carry the lifetime accumulation of toxic burdens of the female the way the first calf did.

A success story

Bears in USA

The American black bear (Ursus americanus), which was heavily diminished by overhunting, habitat loss, and fragmentation in the past century, is making an impressive comeback in parts of North America—particularly the East. An estimated 800,000 black bears roam the continent, slowly returning to many of their old haunts.

Three success stories highlight the resurgence of the up-to-600 pound (270-kilogram) omnivores, the government Department of the interior announced in May that Louisiana's black bears may be pulled from the Endangered Species List, where they've sat since 1992. Years of legal protection, better habitat, and a reintroduction program have helped boost the population from as few as 200 animals to some 750 or more.

In Florida, an extensive new survey shows bear numbers have doubled, to some 1,200 animals, in one area and increased by almost a third in another since 2002.

And in Maryland, bears have rebounded strongly, with 1,000 adults now living in two western counties. That's due to longtime laws in Maryland and surrounding states that protect the species, plus the growth of more bear-friendly landscapes—for example, young forests have matured into trees that produce more food, like acorns, hickory nuts, and cherries.

American black bears are doing well all over.

Harry Spiker

Biologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources

"We've been seeing high reproductive rates with low infant mortality," a sign of plentiful resources, says Harry Spiker, a biologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

In the United States, black bears are still only present in about half of their historic range (see map below), compared with Canada, where the mammals still roam at least 95 percent of the lands they previously occupied, according to a 2014 study.

Still, "American black bears are doing well all over," Spiker says: Scientists believe there are now more black bears in North America than there were when the settlers arrived in the 1600s.

Living With Bears

Pick a U.S. state where black bears ever lived, and their history will go something like this.

"When settlers came here we had bears in every county," says Maryland's Spiker. "But one thing settlers do is clear land. They needed space and resources for the charcoal industry, agriculture, and ship-building." And they took it.

People saw bears as competition, and feared them. "So they killed them indiscriminately." But most of the damage, he says, was from that habitat loss—which affected other species, too.

Despite such challenges, "bears clung on by their toenails in western Maryland," where the steep terrain made it more difficult for people to log forests. The animals disappeared from other parts of the state, where logging was more widespread.

"Now that our habitat has recovered, middle Appalachia has some of the best bear habitat in the country. So we expect the growth trend to continue," Spiker says.

It's inevitable, then, that bears and people are going to be seeing more of each other. For one, bears are crossing major roads more frequently—vehicular collisions are now their biggest killers—and they have no qualms about entering the suburbs to raid a bird feeder, a bag of dog food on a porch, or an overflowing trash can, among other tempting treats.

"Bears will try every possible space where they can find food. That means they'll duck into town for a meal, which will lead to challenging situations," says Stephen Herrero, a bear ecologist at the University of Calgary has written extensively on human-black bear interactions. The problem will persist until people learn how to better store their edibles.

But once they do, "I think it's an acceptable risk, for the rewards of knowing these amazing animals are out there, and knowing your environment is healthy and capable of supporting them.

If growing bear numbers sound threatening, consider this: Even with a population of 800,000, black bears attack fewer than 25 people a year and kill around 2. That's not to diminish the impact of those tragedies, but statistically speaking, bears aren't our enemies.

Careful Hunting

Coexisting with bears means management by hunting—a controversial but effective way to keep a wild bear population from growing too fast. In 2004 in Maryland, for example, after 51 years of protection, the animals became fair game. Limited permits are available to hunters through a lottery.

In fact, 32 of 41 states where bears have been spotted currently have a hunting season. But giving the okay to kill "doesn't mean suddenly there's an open season on bears," cautions wildlife biologist Maria Davidson, 

In her state, "when they do go off the [Endangered Species] list, there will be no real change to the protections they enjoy."

Louisiana, like many states, has bear-management areas. Data will show if and when any area can sustain a harvest, she says, but "maintaining the viability of the bear population will always be our priority."

A lot of hunters share that priority and the fees they pay fund most state conservation efforts. Private landowners, too, are involved, putting property into conservation easements to help stitch together fragmented habitat. This powerful joint effort has gotten bears back to where they are now, Davidson says.

Don't Play Dead

Meanwhile, if you're not out hunting bears, but sense one is following you, what should you do?

"Never play dead," says Herrero. "Act aggressively, stand your ground. If you're in a group, stay together."

If the bear does attack, "any weapons, bear spray, that's the time to think about using them."

Remember, though, that "having a bear follow you in the forest doesn't usually mean the end."

Vaguely comforting words to those of us with bears moving in next door.

But then this on the same day

Japan and whaling The Japanese whaling industry is sinking further and further into scandal, debt and corruption. Money meant for victims of the 2011 tsunami was siphoned off for the whalers, activists risked years in jail while officials took bribes and illegal meat and now even other countries are taking Japan to court.

Japan’s whaling fleet sails at the end of every year to the Southern Ocean to kill whales in an internationally designated whale sanctuary. The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary has been in place since 1994. The very same year Japan announced it would  increase its catch of whales there  – all in the name of science, they claimed. Over the years thousands of whales have been killed in the sanctuary.

Three quarters of the world’s remaining whales can be found in the southern hemisphere and the myth of scientifically studying the whales is yet another deceit of the whaling industry


Over the last twenty years Greenpeace has sent numerous ships to the Southern Ocean and activists have regularly put themselves between the harpoons and the whales. But in recent years a more concentrated campaign focused in Japan has begun to see major change in the perception of the whaling programme at home, despite it coming at great risk and cost to campaigners who where threatened with 10 years in jail for exposing corruption in the whaling programme

It was not until after the Greenpeace campaigner’s conviction that the Fisheries Agency of Japan admitted that at least five officials had been involved in illegally taking whale meat as bribes and for profit. We are still waiting for the full scale investigation of the whale meat scandal.  

We are also still waiting for the whaling industry to pay back to money it took from the 2011 tsunami relief fund. The Japanese whaling programme costs Japanese taxpayers 1.2 billion yen every year - that's about €10 million or US$12 million - just in direct subsidies. It loses money every year and in 2011 US$30million was diverted by the government from the Fukushima recovery fund to pay off whaling industry debtors.

In 2012, even more money was being promised to the whaling industry by the government of Japan, even though the number of whales caught is going down, sales have dropped 30% and the number of tonnes of old meat being stockpiled is going up.

And if the government is not spending money on the whalers directly, it is spending money on buying membership and votes at the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Over the years numerous countries have joined the IWC after being coached and funded by Japanese government and whaling officials, in order to try to sway the decisions in favour of a resumption of commercial whaling.

Not surprising then, that in 2013 Australia – despite being one of Japan’s closest trading partners – took Japan to the International Court of Justice  over its whaling programme. A key argument by Australia is that if all nations were allowed to abuse the scientific whaling allowance in the original rules of the IWC from 1946, at the same rate as Japan is, then more than 80,000 whales would be being killed every year. Why should there be one rule for Japan and a different one for everyone else?  We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.


June 21st

Humans could be among the victims of sixth 'mass extinction', scientists warn

Posted Sat at 12:53pm

Photo: The report's authors said evidence suggested "we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event". (Cougar Studio: Flickr) Related Story: Why do men exist? Scientific study offers an explanation Related Story: Threatened animals to be reintroduced into 'predator-free' NSW parks Map: United States

The world is embarking on its sixth mass extinction with animals disappearing about 100 times faster than they used to, scientists warn, and humans could be among the first victims of the next extinction event.

Not since the age of the dinosaurs ended 66 million years ago has the planet been losing species at this rapid a rate, a study led by experts at Stanford University, Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley said.

The study "shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event," co-author and Stanford University professor of biology Paul Ehrlich said.

And the study, which was published in the journal Science Advances on Friday and described by its authors as "conservative", said humans were likely to be among the species lost.

"If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover and our species itself would likely disappear early on," lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico said.

The analysis was based on documented extinctions of vertebrates, or animals with internal skeletons such as frogs, reptiles and tigers, from fossil records and other historical data.

The modern rate of species loss was compared to the "natural rates of species disappearance before human activity dominated".

It can be difficult to estimate this rate, also known as the background rate, since humans do not know exactly what happened throughout the course of Earth's 4.5 billion year history.

For the study, researchers used a past extinction rate that was twice as high as widely-used estimates.

If the past rate was two mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years then the "average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 114 times higher than it would be without human activity, even when relying on the most conservative estimates of species extinction," the study said.

"We emphasise that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity's impact on biodiversity."

The causes of species loss range from climate change to pollution to deforestation and more.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 41 per cent of all amphibian species and 26 per cent of all mammals are threatened with extinction.

"There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead," Professor Ehrlich said.

The study called for "rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already-threatened species, and to alleviate pressures on their populations - notably habitat loss, over-exploitation for economic gain and climate change".

Extinctions of any form of life is why human beings are not doing this planet any good, we are slowly destroying its ability to support life, atmospheric pollution is making life difficult for many people.

In lots of cases scarce species are driven into extinction, and the only thing we can be proud of is that there are scientists collecting and storing DNA.

There are some examples where a species has been brought back from the brink of disappearing .

Better communication is making the general public more aware of the problem so maybe we can have more hope for the future.

June 19th 2015

Kazakhstan – An aerial survey conducted as part of a national monitoring program earlier this year estimated that the saiga antelope population numbered approximately 250,000 animals prior to this mass die-off, which has therefore halved the total population in about one month.

Preliminary analysis indicates that a combination of environmental and biological factors is contributing to this catastrophic event, which has seen four large birthing herds of the critically endangered Saiga antelope wiped out since mid-May this year. Primarily mothers and calves are among the carcasses; not a single animal has survived in the affected herds.

At the request of Kazakhstan, the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) dispatched an emergency mission last week with experts from the Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom and the Food and Agriculture Organization to assist on the ground with post-mortem examination, analysis and to contribute to a working group.

According to information received from the members of the CMS expert mission, it is becoming clear that two secondary opportunistic pathogens, specifically Pasteurella and Clostridia, are contributing to the rapid and wide-spread die-off. However, the hunt for the fundamental drivers behind the mass mortality continues since these bacteria are only lethal to an animal if its immune system is already weakened.

The animals die within hours of showing symptoms, which include depression, diarrhea and frothing at the mouth.

“They get into respiratory problems, they can’t breathe easily. They stop eating and are extremely depressed; the mothers die and then the calves are very distressed and then they die maybe one or two days later,” said Richard Kock from the Royal Veterinary College in London.

While mass mortality events are not unusual for the saiga antelope, they typically affect far smaller numbers of animals, on the order of about 10,000 saigas. The magnitude of this event, therefore, is unprecedented, given the population’s large size.

Conservationists have made great progress with Saiga in recent years, due to international efforts to reduce poaching and monitor their populations. This die-off is a severe setback to the conservation effort because it has wiped out four of the six calving herds in the largest remaining – and best protected – saiga antelope population, in central Kazakhstan.

Steffen Zuther, head of the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan (ACBK), was monitoring calving in one of the herds containing thousands of affected animals.

“Over two days  [in the herd I was studying] 80% of the calving population died,” he told the BBC.
The whole herd then died within two weeks.

By Fred Pierce  June 18th

The meek may, as the Bible says, inherit the Earth. But the spineless are going extinct. While vertebrate species like mammals and birds are mostly surviving the human-dominated epoch of Anthropocene better than expected, invertebrate species are disappearing in droves.

Some 7 per cent of non-marine animals may already be gone, according to a new assessment.

Conservationists have estimated that up to 100 species are disappearing from the planet every day because of human activity – a biological catastrophe amounting to a sixth mass extinction, the biggest since the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

But the evidence of actual extinctions has been thin. Only around 800 species have been recorded as extinct so far, out of the 1.9 million species we have named.


Now Claire Regnier of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and colleagues, say this is because few researchers are tracking invertebrate extinctions, which account for some 99 per cent of species diversity.

They have investigated databases, museum collections and expert assessments to estimate losses in land snails – one group of invertebrates with relatively good records. They conclude that around a tenth of the 200 known species have probably disappeared.

Alarming losses

Because there are many endemic snails on small islands where extinction is more likely, land snails may not be typical of other invertebrates.

But allowing for this, they think we have probably already lost 7 per cent of land animal species.

That means an estimated 130,000 previously recorded non-marine animals have disappeared from the Earth since we described and classified them.

Other analysts welcomed the study. "This is an important paper," says Julian Caley of the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences in Townsville, Queensland. It suggests that other invertebrate taxa are likely to have been experiencing extinction on higher levels than we know about, he adds.

Ben Collen of University College London says the same approach could produce quick and informative results for other invertebrate taxa, too.

But, while the estimated percentage losses are alarming, they don't answer the continuing conundrum of how many unnamed and unknown species the planet has – species that may disappear before we even know they exist. Estimates in recent years have been as high as 100 million, although that figure seems unlikely.

After a detailed study of insects, researchers at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, this week put the number of insect species on the Earth at between 2.6 and 7.8 million, many millions less than once thought.

And in March, a world study of marine species cut the known list from 418,000 to 228,000, after eliminating massive duplication. One sea snail turned out to have 113 different scientific names.

Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1502350112

Perhaps the most famous of all animal stories is the case of the Dodo, this was a large flightless bird found on the island of Mauritius by Dutch Sailors in 1590.

Being very tame and easy to catch it was hunted and eaten in vast numbers, so much so that by 1670 it was no longer seen on the island.

The Dodo caused great interest all over the world and the fact that it no longer existed made humans realize that it was not a good idea to wipe out any species, this is when people’s first started to be concerned with the process of distruction.

There have been some success stories, the American bald eagle is growing in numbers and wolves have been allowed in some parts of America because they realize that they were an essential part of the ecosystem

There are scientists that are concerned with DNA that have collected specimens from lots of species that are considered endangered and these are now preserved in museums and laboratories in various countries around the world.

We are of course discovering new species in their hundreds every year, but preventing a reduction is not about maintaining the total number.

It is more about making sure that we as humans make every possible effort to preserve the great diversity of life that exists on our planet, our unique planet, to this date we have no evidence that life exists anywhere else in the vast universe.

In my opinion it is extremely unlikely that we will ever communicate with extraterrestrial beings, and the main reason for this is time, the earth has been habitable for millions of years that it is only in the last century that we’ve been able to communicate off planet.

One century is just the blink of an eye in terms of time in the universe, civilizations come and go and we may or may not inhabit this earth for a few more centuries.

This is probably true of aliens civilizations no matter where they are, it is inconceivable that their blink of an eye will coincide with ours.

Fortunately with modern communication systems these dangerous situations can be monitored easily and warnings issued by local government, civil defense, police, local radio and television.

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