Two rhino poachers die in high-speed chase after crashing into goat

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog

A pair of suspected rhino poachers died last Wednesday after they were involved in a high-speed pursuit from police and game rangers before crashing into a stray goat.

According to a report from Zimbabwe’s Nehanda Radio, two suspected rhino poachers in Beitbridge died on their way to the Bulawayo United Hospitals after they were involved in an accident while being pursued by police and game rangers during a high-speed chase.

The accident happened on June 12 at the Bubye Valley Conservancy on the outskirts of Beitbridge.

The story emerged when two other suspects – James Mauto and Celestino Shate – appeared before Beitbridge resident magistrate and facing charges of unlawful hunting of a specifically protected animal in violation of the Parks and Wildlife Act, according to Nehanda Radio. They were remanded and are currently in custody until June 28.

According to Nehanda Radio, Mauto and…

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Scientists shocked by Arctic permafrost thawing 70 years sooner than predicted

  • Ice blocks frozen solid for thousands of years destabilized
  • ‘The climate is now warmer than at any time in last 5,000 years’
A cemetery sitting on melting permafrost tundra at the village of Quinhagak on the Yukon Delta in Alaska.The scientists’ findings offer a further sign of a growing climate emergency.
 A cemetery sitting on melting permafrost tundra at the village of Quinhagak on the Yukon delta in Alaska. The scientists’ findings offer a further sign of a climate emergency. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared.

A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilised the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia.

“What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university, told Reuters. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.“

With governments meeting in Bonn this week to try to ratchet up ambitions in United Nations climate negotiations, the team’s findings, published on 10 June in Geophysical Research Letters, offered a further sign of a growing climate emergency.

The paper was based on data Romanovsky and his colleagues had been analysing since their last expedition to the area in 2016. The team used a modified propeller plane to visit exceptionally remote sites, including an abandoned cold war-era radar base more than 300km from the nearest human settlement.

Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognisable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier.

The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks – waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.

Torn between professional excitement and foreboding, Romanovsky said the scene had reminded him of the aftermath of a bombardment.

“It’s a canary in the coalmine,” said Louise Farquharson, a postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the study. “It’s very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region and that’s what we’re going to look at next.“

Scientists are concerned about the stability of permafrost because of the risk that rapid thawing could release vast quantities of heat-trapping gases, unleashing a feedback loop that would in turn fuel even faster temperature rises.

With scientists warning that sharply higher temperatures would devastate the global south and threaten the viability of industrial civilisation in the northern hemisphere, campaigners said the new paper reinforced the imperative to cut emissions.

“Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it’s happening before our very eyes,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. “This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonise our economies, and immediately.”

Greenland Temps Soar 40 Degrees Above Normal, Record Melting of Ice Sheet

The Extinction Chronicles

Aerial view of icebergs on Arctic Ocean in Greenland. Explora_2005 / iStock / Getty Images

The annual Arctic thaw has kicked off with record-setting ice melt and sea ice loss that is several weeks ahead of schedule, scientists said, as the New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, there is open water in areas north of Alaska where it is rarely, if ever, seen, the Washington Post reported.

The accelerated ice melt in Greenland was caused by an usual weather pattern, where high-pressure air lingered, bringing warm air up from the south, which pushed the mercury 40 degrees Fahrenheit above normal temperatures. Add to that continuously cloudless skies and snowfall that is well below normal, and the conditions were ripe for melting across most of the ice sheet.

Last week, Greenland lost 2 billion tons of ice or about…

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What is climate change?

The Extinction Chronicles

What you need to know about greenhouse gases and global warming

Climate change encompasses a range of atmospheric variants, including rising temperatures, extreme weather events and natural disasters such as wildfires and floods. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

There has been debate recently about whether climate change should actually be called a “climate crisis” or “climate emergency.” Whatever the description, scientists have been observing changes in our environment for years. Here’s a look at some of the key concepts.

Climate change and global warming — are they the same thing?

Not exactly. Global warming refers to rising temperatures, which is only one aspect of climate change. Climate change is a broader umbrella term that captures the effects of greenhouse gases, but these gases affect more than just warming temperatures, said Laura Coristine, a conservation biologist at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

Climate change…

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A Listicle by the Center for Biological Diversity

The U.S. government is in charge of saving and protecting more than 1,622 animals and plants on the endangered species list. Over the past four decades, the Endangered Species Act has saved 99 percent of the species under its care from extinction. The Trump administration, however, threatens to undermine that success through a deadly combination of drastic budget cuts, policy changes, neglect and abandonment of programs that have proven worthwhile. Here are the 10 species mostly likely to be driven extinct by the Trump administration.

Download a PDF of this listicle.

African elephant1. African Elephant
Endangered Species Act protected since 1978

African elephants are highly intelligent and social animals. They display grief, altruism, compassion and self-awareness. Elephants rely on their long-term memories, coupled with seasonal cues, to travel vast distances in close-knit herds to find water and food throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Tragically, these elephants — Earth’s largest land mammals — are being slaughtered for their ivory tusks at rates that are causing severe population declines across the continent. Habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and political instability pose additional and significant long-term challenges to the elephants’ survival.

Trump effect

Despite plummeting populations, the Trump administration is slashing $1 million from the African Elephant Conservation Fund, which provides financial support for essential protection activities, especially anti-poaching efforts. And in November 2017, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reversed an Obama administration ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.


Chinook salmon2. Upper Columbia River Spring-run Chinook Salmon
Endangered Species Act protected since 1999

In the Pacific Northwest, salmon are cultural icons. They are critical to the region’s ecosystem, returning ocean nutrients to rivers that benefit both people and wildlife.Chinook, also called “king” salmon, are the largest salmon species, with adults often exceeding 40 pounds. Once found in abundance, hydropower development and irrigation diversions, along with water storage and commercial salmon harvest, threaten the species’ existence. There is now a high risk they will go extinct.


Trump effect

Despite the chinook’s critically imperiled status, the Trump administration is eliminating funding for the Washington Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group, which supports statewide salmon recovery efforts including habitat restoration and hatcheries. The administration’s budget also eliminates funding for Long Live the Kings, a nonprofit working to restore wild salmon and support sustainable fishing.


Florida grasshopper sparrow3. Florida Grasshopper Sparrow
Endangered Species Act protected since 1986

The Florida grasshopper sparrow is generally recognized as North America’s most endangered bird. Only a few inches long and weighing barely 1 ounce, these nonmigratory ground-dwellers are found only in Florida’s dry prairie. Today, more than 90 percent of these prairies are gone, lost to pastures, citrus, sod and pine farms. In just two decades, the population declined by nearly 95 percent. Before Hurricane Irma in September 2017, it was projected that there may be as few as 10 females in the wild for the 2018 breeding season. Now that number is likely lower.

A captive breeding program was initiated in 2014 to give the birds a chance at survival. The program has been instrumental in the fight to save the Florida grasshopper sparrow from extinction.


Trump effect

The Trump administration has eliminated critical federal funding for this program. It’s unclear where or how the program will raise enough money to continue operating. Without these funds, the Florida grasshopper sparrow will likely go extinct in the near future.


Whooping crane4. Whooping Crane
Endangered Species Act protected since 1967

The whooping crane is one of the rarest — and tallest — birds in North America. Standing 5 feet tall with a wingspan of 7 feet or more, the crane has become a nationally recognized symbol of endangered species. The population was once widespread, but due to hunting and habitat destruction the last migrating flock plummeted to just 15 birds before it was eventually protected in 1967. Today there are only about 500 whooping cranes left in the wild. Scientists have long recognized the risk that all or most of these birds could be wiped out from a single event such as a hurricane, disease outbreak, toxic spill or prolonged drought.

To help save the whooping crane from extinction, a captive breeding program was created at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland in 1966. At that time, just 42 birds remained. Viewed as a model of wildlife conservation, for 51 years the program successfully bred whooping cranes for release into the wild, helping establish additional populations to ensure the bird’s survival.


Trump effect

Federal funding for the $1.5 million breeding program was cut in October 2017 and all full-time employees were assigned new duties. The Patuxent whooping cranes will either join the wild flocks or be shipped to other breeding centers or zoos in the coming year, dealing a death blow to this successful captive breeding program.


Oahu tree smail5. Oahu Tree Snail
Endangered Species Act protected since 1981

Oahu tree snails have been described as the “jewels of the forest” because of the colorful patterns of their shells. The snails were once so abundant and popular that their shells were used in Hawaiian folklore and lei and other ornaments. Sadly, up to 90 percent of Hawaii’s 750 known terrestrial snails have already been lost to extinction. The entire genus of the Oahu tree snail — which consisted of roughly 41 different species of tree snails found only on the island of Oahu — is highly endangered and at least half of the species are believed to be extinct.

Today, only 11 of the 41 Oahu tree snail species can be found. One is down to only a single individual. The primary threats are habitat loss and predation by introduced animals such as rosy snails, rats and chameleons. The Snail Extinction Prevention Program (SEP) was created to protect Hawaii’s most at-risk snail species, including the Oahu tree snail. This program utilizes captive propagation, emergency field actions and reintroductions into the wild.

Trump effect

The Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate the federal competitive State Wildlife Grant Program, cut general endangered species recovery funding and prioritize delisting species rather than preventing extinctions will make it even harder to save these snails.


Hawaiian tree cotton, or koki‘o6. Hawaiian Tree Cotton, or Koki‘o
Endangered Species Act protected since 1984

The koki‘o, or Hawaiian tree cotton, is one of the rarest, most spectacular trees in the world. Growing to a height of nearly 33 feet with star-shaped leaves and large red flowers, it is extremely endangered in its native habitat on the Big Island of Hawaii. Hawaii’s dry forests have decreased by almost 90 percent. Today, only four wild koki‘o trees grow in the remaining habitat. Hawaii’s Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP) and the state of Hawaii are working to save the last of the Hawaiian cotton trees and hundreds of other plant species that have fewer than 50 individuals. Before PEPP, Hawaii was losing approximately one plant species every year. Since its creation in 2003, PEPP has not let any of the 238 plant species under its care go extinct, including the koki‘o. 


Trump effect

The Trump administration has proposed cutting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget by 8.6 percent overall, and the agency cut PEPP’s budget by 50 percent. Additional cuts are also expected for 2018.


Puerto Rican parrot7. Puerto Rican Parrot
Endangered Species Act protected since 1967

The bright green Puerto Rican parrot — recognizable for its red forehead and white-ringed eyes — was once widespread and abundant in the island’s old-growth forests. By the late 1600s, there were approximately 1 million birds. However, after decades of habitat destruction and poaching, along with recent natural disasters like hurricanes Irma and Maria, the population has plummeted. There are only about 500 left, mostly spread across captive-breeding and release facilities and wild populations in El Yunque and the Rio Abajo state forests. Most of the wild population in El Yunque — about 50 to 55 birds — remains unaccounted for after Hurricane Maria.

As with most of the critically endangered species on this list, the parrot is being saved by a variety of federal programs aimed at preventing extinction.


Trump effect

Proposed budget cuts to endangered species recovery programs will reduce funding for critical efforts like captive propagation and habitat restoration. In addition, the Trump administration’s most recent request for hurricane relief was only $44 billion — half of what Congress is expected to provide — and delays the full funding request for Puerto Rico aid. The Trump proposal would have provided no funding to restore any wildlife refuges in Puerto Rico and no funds to address impacts from the hurricanes on endangered species like the Puerto Rican parrot.


Red wolf8. Red Wolf
Endangered Species Act protected since 1967

Red wolves are some of the most endangered carnivores in the world. The wolves were once widely distributed throughout the southeastern United States. But they were nearly exterminated due to fear they might kill livestock. The population fell so precipitously that in 1975, 17 red wolves were put into a captive breeding program to stop extinction. But in 1980, red wolves were declared extinct in the wild. The captive breeding program eventually got the wild population up to 130 wolves in 2006.

Unfortunately, the population began to decline and crashed in 2014. At the beginning of 2016, only 45 red wolves remained in the wild. Mismanagement, illegal killing and hybridization with coyotes are the main threats to red wolves.


Trump effect

Instead of strengthening protections, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its support of red wolf recovery and stopped releasing captive wolves into the wild. The agency has even issued permits to landowners allowing them to shoot and kill red wolves on their property. Under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — who voted against protections for endangered species 100 percent of the time during his congressional stint — the future of the red wolf is bleak.


North Atlantic right whale9. North Atlantic right whale
Endangered Species Act protected since 1970

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered of all large whales and can weigh up to 150,000 pounds and grow as long as 48 feet. A long history of human exploitation, coupled with recent threats like entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes and seismic oil and gas surveys, has made current population trends so dire that experts predict the whale could vanish within 20 years. Only about 450 right whales remain. Seventeen were killed in 2017 after being hit by boats or tangled in fishing gear. Of the remaining population, as few as 100 are breeding females.

Trump effect

Despite the urgent need for increased recovery efforts, the Trump administration is slashing the National Marine Fisheries Service’s protected resources budget by $5 million and completely eliminating funding for the Marine Mammal Commission — an independent, science-based oversight agency that has been instrumental in right whale conservation efforts. On top of that, the Trump administration is pushing for expanded oil and gas drilling in areas that include prime right whale habitat.


Laurel dace10. Laurel Dace
Endangered Species Act protected since 2011

The laurel dace is a small red and black fish that is on the brink of extinction. Named after the laurel bushes that grow along streams in Tennessee’s Cumberland Mountains, the fish is found in only three creeks and threatened by drought, water pollution and invasive species. It desperately needs recovery money for captive propagation, landowner outreach, land acquisition and conservation easements. Due to the Southeast’s ongoing severe drought, by the end of 2016 the species was on the cusp of extinction, so some fish were rescued from drying pools and taken to the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute to prevent the species from being lost forever.

The laurel dace, along with dozens of other Southeast species, could be saved with adequate recovery funding.


Trump effect

The Trump administration is not providing enough resources to fully fund the recovery of the laurel dace and other unique species that are facing imminent extinction due to lack of funding for recovery efforts.


Elephant culling and hunting is a throwback to defending slavery

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog

We have to pursue co-existence and shared benefits rather than a crude utilitarianism that wilfully endorses cruelty.

When I read Ron Thomson’s response to my article questioning the wisdom of reintroducing elephant trophy hunting to Botswana after a five-year moratorium, I was reminded of British abolotionist William Wilberforce’s opponents who defended the Atlantic slave trade on the grounds that it was a “necessary evil”.

John Pollock, who penned the epic Wilberforce biography, wrote:

“A Grosvenor uncle of Wilberforce’s young friend Lord Belgrave spoke third, arguing that the Trade was nasty but necessary; in Dolben’s summary: ‘…The wisest thing we can do is to shut our eyes, stop our ears and run away from the horrid sounds without enquiring about it, or words to this effect’.”

I invite Thomson to read the biography, as he might find echoes of this defence of slavery…

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Hungry polar bear seen wandering the Russian city of Norilsk

By Gianluca Mezzofiore and Nathan Hodge, CNN

A hungry and exhausted young polar bear was spotted wandering in the suburbs of the Siberian industrial city of Norilsk this week, hundreds of miles from its usual habitat.

This is just the latest recent sighting of a bear in a Russian urban area, but the last time a polar bear appeared near Norislk was more than 40 years ago, Anatoly Nikolaichuk, head of the Taimyr Department of the State Forest Control Agency, told Russian state news agency TASS.

“He is very hungry, very thin and emaciated. He wanders around looking for food. He almost doesn’t pay attention to people and cars,” Oleg Krashevsky, a local wildlife expert who filmed the animal close up, told CNN. “He is quite young and possibly lost his mother.”

“He probably lost orientation and went south,” Krashevsky added. “Polar bears live on the coast which is more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) away from us. How he got to Norilsk is not clear.”

Sea ice across the Arctic is rapidly retreating due to climate change, forcing the bears to travel farther to find food.

Local residents were warned to be careful entering the tundra zone of the Talnakh region, where the bear was seen, according to an announcement from the local civil defense and emergency situations ministry on TASS.

The animal was first seen by a group of teenagers, who filmed it and posted the video on Instagram, Krashevsky said.

“I saw it was not fake and raised the issue with local authorities,” he said. “As an expert on bears, I went to look for him … I found him in the middle of the day.”

Local news site NGS24.RU on Wednesday quoted Andrei Korobkin, the head of the state department of wildlife protection, as saying that experts would be arriving from Krasnoyarsk to examine the bear and determine possible symptoms of exhaustion or physical trauma.

The specialists will bring provisions as well as medicine to restore the bear’s health, NGS24.RU reported.

Polar bears are on the International Red List of Threatened Species and in the Red Book of Russia of endangered species. Citing experts, TASS said there are 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears in the world. In the north of Krasnoyarsk, a vast administrative region in Siberia, the bears inhabit the coast and islands of the Arctic Ocean, the agency added.

In April, a starving polar bear was spotted in the village of Tilichiki in the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, also hundreds of miles from its usual habitat.

In February, the remote Russian archipelago of Novaya Zemlaya declared a state of emergency over what local authorities described as an “invasion” by dozens of the hungry animals.

Seaweed feed additive cuts livestock methane but poses questions

The Extinction Chronicles

June 17, 2019
Penn State
Supplementing cattle feed with seaweed could result in a significant reduction in methane belched by livestock, according to researchers, but they caution that the practice may not be a realistic strategy to battle climate change.

Supplementing cattle feed with seaweed could result in a significant reduction in methane belched by livestock, according to Penn State researchers, but they caution that the practice may not be a realistic strategy to battle climate change.

Asparagopsis taxiformis — a red seaweed that grows in the tropics — in short-term studies in lactating dairy cows decreased methane emission by 80 percent and had no effect on feed intake or milk yield, when fed at up to 0.5 percent of feed dry-matter intake,” said Alexander Hristov, distinguished professor of dairy nutrition. “It looks promising, and we are continuing research.”

If seaweed feed…

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Leaving microbes out of climate change conversation has major consequences, experts warn

June 18, 2019
University of New South Wales
Leading microbiologists have issued a warning, saying that not including microbes — the support system of the biosphere — in the climate change equation will have major negative flow-on effects.

More than 30 microbiologists from 9 countries have issued a warning to humanity — they are calling for the world to stop ignoring an ‘unseen majority’ in Earth’s biodiversity and ecosystem when addressing climate change.

‘Scientist’s warning to humanity: microorganisms and climate change’ was published today in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology. Professor Rick Cavicchioli, microbiologist at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at UNSW Sydney, has led the global effort.

With their statement, the researchers are hoping to raise awareness both for how microbes can influence climate change and how they will be impacted by it — calling for including microbes in climate change research, increasing the use of research involving innovative technologies, and improving education in classrooms.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are the lifeforms that you don’t see on the conservation websites,” says Professor Cavicchioli.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change.

“However, they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and not considered in policy development.”

Professor Cavicchioli calls microbes the ‘unseen majority’ of lifeforms on earth, playing critical functions in animal and human health, agriculture, the global food web and industry.

For example, the Census of Marine Life estimates that 90% of the ocean’s total biomass is microbial. In our oceans, marine lifeforms called phytoplankton take light energy from the sun and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as much as plants. The tiny phytoplankton form the beginning of the ocean food web, feeding krill populations that then feed fish, sea birds and large mammals such as whales.

Sea ice algae thrive in sea ice ‘houses’. If global warming trends continue, the melting sea ice has a downstream effect on the sea ice algae, which means a diminished ocean food web.

“Climate change is literally starving ocean life,” says Professor Cavicchioli.

Beyond the ocean, microbes are also critical to terrestrial environments, agriculture and disease.

“In terrestrial environments, microbes release a range of important greenhouse gases to the atmosphere (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide), and climate change is causing these emissions to increase,” Professor Cavicchioli says.

“Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen — so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) and plants — that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.

“Climate change also expands the number and geographic range of vectors (such as mosquitos) that carry pathogens. The end result is the increased spread of disease, and serious threats to global food supplies.”

Greater commitment to microbe-based research needed

In their statement, the scientists call on researchers, institutions and governments to commit to greater microbial recognition to mitigate climate change.

“The statement emphasises the need to investigate microbial responses to climate change and to include microbe-based research during the development of policy and management decisions,” says Professor Cavicchioli.

Additionally, climate change research that links biological processes to global geophysical and climate processes should have a much bigger focus on microbial processes.

“This goes to the heart of climate change, so if micro-organisms aren’t considered effectively it means models cannot be generated properly and predictions could be inaccurate,” says Professor Cavicchioli.

“Decisions that are made now impact on humans and other forms of life, so if you don’t take into account the microbial world, you’re missing a very big component of the equation.”

Professor Cavicchioli says that microbiologists are also working on developing resources that will be made available for teachers to educate students on the importance of microbes.

“If that literacy is there, that means people will have a much better capacity to engage with things to do with microbiology and understand the ramifications and importance of microbes.”

Trump prepares to bypass Congress to take on Iran

The Extinction Chronicles

But the administration is looking to pressure the clerical regime, not fight it, a senior official said.

The Trump administration and its domestic political allies are laying the groundwork for a possible confrontation with Iran without the explicit consent of Congress — a public relations campaign that was already well under way before top officials accused the Islamic Republic of attacking a pair of oil tankers last week in the Gulf of Oman.

Over the past few months, senior Trump aides have made the case in public and private that the administration already has the legal authority to take military action against Iran, citing a law nearly two decades old that was originally intended to authorize the war in Afghanistan.

In the latest sign of escalating tensions, National Security Adviser John Bolton warned Iran in an interview conducted…

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