WILD WHITE STORK CHICKS HATCH FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OVER 600 YEARS

Wild White Stork Chicks Hatch for the First Time in Over 600 Years

In an incredible historic event, five white stork chicks have hatched in the United Kingdom for the first time in over half a century. The last record of white stork chicks hatching in the wild in the UK was in 1416 on the roof of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

In April, five eggs were observed in a nest, and in May, The White Stork Project announced that all the baby storks had successfully hatched at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex.

“After waiting 33 days for these eggs to hatch, it was extremely exciting to see signs that the first egg had hatched on May 6,” said Lucy Groves, a project officer for the White Stork Project. “The parents have been working hard and are doing a fantastic job, especially after their failed attempt last year. These are early days for the chicks, and we will be monitoring them closely, but we have great hopes for them. This is just one step towards establishing this species in the South of England. It may be a small step, but it is an exciting one.”

White Stork Project@ProjectStork

We are excited about the news of the first white stork chicks in hundreds of years.

They are only recently hatched & take 60 days to fledge.

We are asking that people give them the space needed at this critical time & do not disturb the nesting sites at @KneppSafaris

Photo credit : Brad Albrecht
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Nested in a large oak tree, the family is doing well, and the vigilant parents have been observed regurgitating food to feed their new arrivals.

The mother stork is from Poland and came to the project in 2016, and her mate is believed to be one of the 20 or so transient storks that fly to the country every year.

“This stunning species has really captured people’s imagination,” Groves added, “and it has been great following the sightings of birds from the project during the period of lockdown and hearing about the joy and hope they have brought to people.”

The White Stork Project is a joint venture between wildlife conservation groups and private landowners. It aims to restore the white stork population to at least 50 breeding pairs in southern England by 2030.

White House faces suit on order lifting endangered species protections

White House faces suit on order lifting endangered species protections
© Getty Images

An environmental group on Tuesday said it will sue the White House if President Trump doesn’t walk back an executive order that waives endangered species protections along with a host of other environmental laws.

The Thursday order from Trump relies on emergency authority to waive the requirements of a number of environmental laws, arguing the U.S. needs to fast-track construction projects to fight the economic fallout tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

The order could be a boon to controversial projects that have lingered while agencies undertake environmental reviews, ranging from pipelines to oil and gas drilling to highway construction.

But the suit from the Center for Biological Diversity argues the Trump administration is violating laws that allow for sidestepping environmental review only in fast-moving emergencies like an environmental disaster.

“Congress made the deliberate decision not to elevate general economic activity and ordinary infrastructure projects above the interests of imperiled species but, rather, to ‘afford’ listed species ‘the highest of priorities’ even above the ‘primary missions’ of federal agencies,” the Center wrote in its letter of intent to sue.

The letter follows guidelines requiring a 60 day notice before filing a suit.

“President Trump has used his lawful executive authority to expedite infrastructure projects and the economic recovery while protecting the environment, and CBD is misreading the plain text of the order to push a radical, Green New Deal-like agenda,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email, using an abbreviation for the Center.

The Trump administration has taken a number of steps to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

The Thursday order also lifts environmental review required under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act — all of which Trump argued was necessary.

“From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays,” Trump wrote in the order. “The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.”

However, numerous legal experts have expressed concern over the use of emergency authority by the White House, and additional lawsuits are likely.

“Trump’s authoritarianism seems to reach deranged new levels every week,” Kierán Suckling, the Center for Biological Diversity’s executive director, said in a release.

“The president’s not above the law. Inciting federal agencies to violate the Endangered Species Act is part of a pattern he’s displayed throughout his presidency. He’s encouraging officials to ignore the rules and obey his whims,” he added.

Rachel Frazin contributed. 

When a woman said she saw a wolverine on a Washington state beach, a wildlife official didn’t believe her

A wolverine was spotted on May 23 by Jennifer Henry in Long Beach Peninsula.

(CNN)When a woman told a wildlife official she thought she’d seen a wolverine on the beach of Washington state’s Long Beach Peninsula they didn’t believe her.

The elusive creatures live in remote mountainous areas and any sightings — let alone on a beach — are rare, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Then she showed them a picture. In the May 23 snap, a furry animal with distinctive markings appears to be eating the carcass of a marine animal that washed ashore.
Jeff Lewis, a mesocarnivore conservation biologist with the WDFW, told CNN about the encounter and that he confirmed the animal was indeed a wolverine. There are only around 20 of the mammals in the entire state, according to WDFW. They are usually roaming in the remote mountainous areas of the North Cascades not on the sandy beach.
A stock photo of a wolverine.

The mysterious wolverine is the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family and it can resemble a small bear with a bushy tail. The animal is stocky with short, rounded ears, small eyes, and large feet that are useful for traveling through snow, according to WDFW.
Scientists believe there are only 300 of the species left in the contiguous US, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit animal conservation organization. Due to trapping and habitat loss the wolverine population has been dramatically shrinking, according to the center.
“It’s special and noteworthy,” Lewis said about the sighting. “Before we had to take people for their word. It’s easier to document this now since everyone has a phone and a camera.”
A wolverine was spotted on May 20 by Jacob Eaton in Naselle.

A wolverine was also seen on May 20, walking down a road in Naselle, a town east of Long Beach Peninsula, Lewis said. An observer captured two pictures of it and submitted them to Lewis for confirmation.
“Given the oddball nature of these observations,” Lewis said. “It seems likely this is the same animal.”
While the animal does look like it is on the smaller side, Lewis said, it is normal for wolverines to strike out on their own. The age and gender of the animal are unknown. He added that juveniles disperse to find new homes away from relatives.
“I worry about this one because it is in an area way more densely populated then where it is used to,” he said. “My concern about it most is it can get hit in the road or someone might shoot it.”
Lewis said he hopes more people are able to document the animal’s travels which will give researches more insight into its unusual movement. Also if hair is left behind by the furry animal that will help researches collect DNA on it. Residents can submit photos by calling their regional wildlife office. Lewis said the animal isn’t a threat to humans.
People do not need to worry about it,” he said. “Just enjoy seeing it go by.”

“What Are We Fighting About?” 9th Circuit Hears Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Delisting Case

May 20, 2020

|

Louisa Willcox

 Court hearings over the fate of grizzlies have always made me nervous, and the one on May 5th was no exception. For the second time in ten years, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on whether or not Yellowstone grizzlies should be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The future of Yellowstone’s bruins rests upon whether or not this panel upholds a 2018 order issued by Montana District Judge Dana Christensen to restore endangered species protections for the Yellowstone population.

My throat tightened when Judge Andrew Hurwitz asked: “What are we fighting about here?” The answer has more to do with morality and compassion than it does with legal technicalities. And the question deserves to be examined in light of three decades of court battles over Yellowstone grizzlies – battles that I’ve watched from a front-row seat.

First, some context. The panel’s hearing capped a legal dispute that has raged for the past three years over whether endangered species protections for the Yellowstone bear should be stripped. A final ruling is expected in the next several months. At issue is whether management authority should be turned over to the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana – states that plan to kill more bears, including by trophy hunting.

The hearing was surreal because the federal government had already conceded defeat, agreeing with the plaintiffs that the US Fish & Wildlife Service (the Service) needed to step back and analyze how delisting Yellowstone’s bears would affect recovery of grizzlies in other nearby populations. In another example of legal arcana, grizzlies in the more robust population around Glacier Park, as well as in the Selkirks and Cabinet-Yaak, are considered part of the “remnant.”

Judge Hurwitz was justifiably confused by the fact that federal lawyers were demanding the Court’s precious time to contest what seemed an uncontested issue, asking: “Is there anybody in this case who doesn’t think the remnant shouldn’t remain listed? Tell me what we’re fighting about if everybody agrees the remnant should remain listed.”

Department of Justice attorney Joan Pepin, who represented the Service, agreed but then dodged, asking the court to narrow the scope of Christensen’s ruling to give the agency maximum “flexibility.” Pepin doth protest too much, I thought.

So what was this hearing about anyway?  In a word: Wyoming.

What are We Fighting About? Wyoming and State Management

I have no doubt that Wyoming led the charge into the 9th Circuit. Indeed, for the last three decades, Wyoming Game and Fish (WGF) Department has spearheaded the fight to wrest control over managing grizzlies from the federal government.

So it was hardly surprising to see Wyoming’s attorney, Jay Jerde, presenting arguments on behalf of intervenors that included Idaho and — tellingly — the NRA, Safari Club, and livestock organizations.

Like me, Jerde has gotten grizzled during the many years he’s contested management of Yellowstone bruins. But his age-worn tune hasn’t changed: “the bear is recovered, we are the professionals, and federal management of endangered species violates state sovereignty over wildlife.  Give us the keys to grizzly bear management.”

I first heard this mantra in 1992, when WGF Director Pete Petera tried to bully the Service into delisting Yellowstone grizzlies. But Wyoming (in concert with Idaho and Montana) had begun agitating to remove ESA protections as early as 1985 when Yellowstone grizzlies were at their nadir of only a few hundred bears. The states’ zeal may seem baffling unless you consider their longstanding financial dependencies on hunters, their belief that large carnivores are part of a zero-sum competition for elk, their blind devotion to hunting, and their obsessive quest for power.

Delisting would allow the states to unleash a lethal regime on Yellowstone’s grizzly bears, exacerbating recent population declines triggered by the climate-driven loss of whitebark pine— a source of food that had been (and in some places still is) a staple of Yellowstone bears. There is little doubt that state management would push bears in this ecosystem back to the precipice they narrowly escaped only because of federal intervention under the ESA.

Nonetheless, Jerde requested that the Court reject Judge Christensen’s order in its entirety and reinstate the Service’s 2017 rule that had delisted grizzlies and triggered the current round of litigation.

Importantly, Wyoming would not have had its day in court if the Service, the Defendant in the case, had declined to appeal Christensen’s ruling. Having seen plenty of tantrums by Wyoming Game and Fish officials over the years – including threats to walk away from grizzly bear management entirely if the Service did not rush to delist – I could just imagine the drama behind the scenes that led to the federal government’s half-hearted appeal. (It should be said that the Service shares the states’ delisting agenda, but with a more civil demeanor and, sometimes, a tad more sense).

At a fundamental level, this hearing was about little more than the federal government giving Wyoming a stage to throw another fit — in front of a different audience.

But, for the grizzly, the stakes could not be higher.

Washing Dishes: Binding or Voluntary?

On behalf of WildEarth Guardians, Matt Bishop of Western Environmental Law Center addressed the threats posed by long-term genetic isolation of Yellowstone’s grizzly population. In his relisting order, Christensen had found that the government had not adequately addressed this issue, noting that the Service had “illogically cobble[d]” together studies to demonstrate that the population’s isolation was no longer a threat to the species’ continued survival.”

Bishop reinforced his conclusion, saying: “Not a single (scientific) paper has said that grizzlies are OK in the long term.”

Scientists are increasingly concerned about the century-plus isolation of Yellowstone grizzlies, which is especially worrisome given the population’s relatively small size. Out of a population of 740 or so animals, only a couple hundred can potentially breed. In the long term, geneticists believe that this is a recipe for disaster, and argue that the best solution is to reconnect Yellowstone to other grizzly bear populations. Experts also maintain that relocating grizzlies to Yellowstone from other populations is a move of last resort.

In recent years, grizzlies have been expanding westward from Yellowstone and southeast from the Northern Continental Divide, raising hopes for natural connectivity. But Bishop warned that hunting grizzlies on the ecosystem’s periphery would reverse this progress.

In response to questioning, Pepin said that the Service would consider translocating grizzlies to Yellowstone to augment genetic diversity if Northern Rockies populations did not reconnect naturally. But she did not commit the government to any course of action to address the problem.

Bishop made the case for binding rather than discretionary commitments. He got the only smile of the day from all three judges when he used the analogy of negotiating with his teenage daughter over washing the dishes: would she do what he asked or just consider the request?

Clearly, a win on this issue could boost prospects for reconnecting grizzly bear populations in the Northern Rockies, including recolonization of the vast Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem that grizzlies are just now rediscovering.

Paper vs. Real Bears and the Counting Problem

Jerde was especially worked up over the lower court’s decision regarding management of bear mortality if new methods are adopted to count bears — an issue called “recalibration.” Judge Christensen had found that future changes in methods for estimating population size could result in creating “paper bears” and allow state managers to kill hundreds more bears by using different but convenient statistical gimcrackery.  The Service can change methods, he ruled, but it must ensure that management of mortality is prudent and precautionary.

During deliberations in 2016 over the Service’s draft delisting rule, both the former Director of the Service, Dan Ashe, and former Yellowstone Park Superintendent, Dan Wenk, had raised concerns about the consequences of creating paper bears. Both were called to heel by higher-ups catering to state interests.

Jerde claimed that methods for counting bears would not change for the “foreseeable future.” But federal scientists have repeatedly stated that they will soon unveil a new method – a fact that 9th Circuit Judge Paul J. Watford echoed, saying: “There are strong indications in the very near future a new population estimator will be adopted.”

The most likely method on the horizon would almost certainly boost bear numbers by a substantial amount. If benchmarks for managing mortality are not correspondingly “recalibrated,” the states would have free rein to kill literally hundreds of bears. Due to weak post-delisting monitoring, a major drop in the population would probably not be detected in time to reverse course.  Even if problems were detected, would be no binding mechanisms to correct them. More on this later.

What We Need to Keep Fighting About: Climate Change and Dead Bears

Because the hearing focused narrowly on procedural and jurisdictional issues, the most critical and immediate threats to Yellowstone’s bears — climate change and unsustainable bear deaths — did not come up, although the Court could consider these issues given that they are amply covered in written briefing materials.

This Court is no stranger to the threats posed to Yellowstone’s grizzlies by climate change. In fact, climate change had been front and center in litigation over a previous attempt to delist Yellowstone grizzlies in 2007.  The 9th Circuit Court upheld a 2009 order by District Judge Donald Molloy to reinstate ESA protections on the grounds that the Service had failed to consider the impacts of the climate-driven collapse of whitebark pine – and had even lied about the severity of the problem.

As I listened to the hearing last week, I could not help but reflect on the previous 9th Circuit hearing during 2009. For me, a highlight from that earlier give and take was a question posed by Judge Susan Graber: “Isn’t it true that female grizzlies produce fewer cubs after years of poor whitebark pine seeds?”

True indeed – and the kind of question that you would expect a mother to ask, not to mention someone invested in understanding the science relevant to grizzly bears. It was also true that, by 2009, a mountain pine beetle outbreak unleashed by a warming climate had killed over 70% of Yellowstone’s whitebark pine, making every year a poor year for seed crops.

These forests have continued to succumb to beetles and an introduced pathogen called white pine blister rust, while the terrible consequences have become increasingly clear. Pepin’s dismissal of any negative effects arising from loss of whitebark pine was hardly surprising given that the government has spent millions of taxpayer dollars during the past ten years attempting to paper over the threat posed to grizzlies by climate change.

Since losing in court, government researchers funded by the Service have produced more than a dozen narrowly focused publications with an overt partisan spin designed to bolster the case for delisting. Virtually all of this research relied on impenetrable models, flawed assumptions, faulty logic, and data that the government tenaciously hides. Their conclusions? Bears are omnivores (no kidding), and dandelions and ants are great substitutes for calorie-rich pine seeds. (Really?)

Government models notwithstanding, grizzlies have not been faring well. Resourceful bears have been compensating for the losses of pine seeds by seeking out other high-calorie foods, largely in the form of meat. In a trend I would not have predicted a decade ago, bears are increasingly predating on cows and scavenging elk meat left by big game hunters. Learning that the sound of a gunshot can be a dinner bell, bears are mixing it up with hunters in contests that grizzlies typically lose. Today, conflicts with hunters and livestock producers have replaced conflicts over garbage and human attractants as the leading causes of grizzly bear deaths.

Shattering Records of Grizzly Deaths

The death toll reflects these changes. Between 2015 and 2018 grizzly bear deaths shattered previous records — in a population that has been flatlined for nearly 20 years. What is particularly disturbing is that in 2018 eleven deaths were listed as “Under Investigation” for possible poaching. This unprecedented spike occurred just one year after Yellowstone grizzlies were delisted. As has been documented elsewhere, removal of protections was perhaps construed by some people as tacit permission to unleash a personal vendetta against bears.

Not surprisingly, the deaths exceeded the government’s thresholds of allowable mortality during 2015-2018. Mortality limits are one of the very few standards that were included in the Service’s 2017 delisting rule — and it matters given that excessive human-caused deaths helped land the bear on the endangered species list in the first place.

According to the delisting rule, if allowable limits are breached two years in a row, bear managers are supposed to do something. But they have not even admitted to a problem.

Interestingly, starting in 2015, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, charged with keeping mortality records, stopped reporting on whether thresholds were breached. You can figure this out for yourself by scrutinizing the Study Team’s annual reports, but it’s complicated. The point is that managers may have no clue they have a problem.

In fact, that seems to be the case. At a recent meeting of Yellowstone grizzly bear managers, a Committee charged with investigating how human-grizzly bear conflicts might be reduced erroneously claimed that “grizzly mortalities are below threshold.”

As numbers of grizzly bear deaths mount, the population is at a tipping point.  And our climate will almost certainly continue to warm, with worsening consequences for bears. Models show that we are likely to lose army cutworm moths, another staple food for Yellowstone grizzlies that has, for now, picked up some of the slack left by dead whitebark pine. Moths rely on alpine flower nectar, but as tundra migrates off the top of the mountains during the next century, moth habitat will disappearBerries are expected to decline too. These losses will likely prompt grizzlies to continue foraging closer to people, with predictable results.

Although the 9th Circuit may not rule on these issues, the fight over climate change and its impacts on bears will not end any time soon.

What Could Have Been: Adequate Regulatory Mechanisms

During the hearing I found myself staring at Chief Judge Sidney Thomas’ mug shot on the Court’s home page and thinking about his role ten years ago in the decision to keep grizzlies protected. With Judge Graber he had served on the panel that upheld Judge Donald Molloy’s finding regarding whitebark pine. However, two out of the three judges on the panel (Graber and Tallman) over-turned Molloy’s finding that post-delisting regulatory mechanisms were not adequate to maintain the population because they were not binding.

In dissenting with his colleagues, Judge Thomas wrote: “There is not a single federal or state law or regulation that provides a means for enforcing the [Conservation] Strategy’s mortality standards. Rather, if the grizzly population becomes threatened, the agency is to review the situation and call a committee meeting. And that only occurs if the mortality limits are exceeded for at least two years.

The Service’s reliance on voluntary action is contrary to law. … Good intentions are not rules of law. Unenforceable aspirational goals are not regulatory mechanisms. Promises to monitor, review, and convene committees do not satisfy the statutory requirement.”

He agreed with Molloy who wrote: “The majority of the regulatory mechanisms relied upon by the Service — the Conservation Strategy, Forest Plan amendments, and state plans — depend on guidelines, monitoring, and promises, or good intentions for future action. Such provisions are not adequate regulatory mechanisms when there is no way to enforce them or to ensure that they will occur.”

Molloy also took aim at the government’s “damn the torpedoes” approach to delisting – an approach that has not changed in the intervening decade.

As Matt Bishop described, post-delisting plans are still built on a quicksand of promises. I am not alone in thinking that the fight over grizzlies today would be less ferocious if the government had adopted binding regulations along with mechanisms to trigger corrections should problems arise.

Parenthetically, Molloy and Thomas are both Montanans — born, raised and educated in the state. Christensen, who was appointed to the seat on the United States District Court for the District of Montana that was vacated by Molloy, went to law school at the University of Montana and has lived in Montana since 1976. Could it be that living in a state where you are likely to rub shoulders with wildlife managers offers special insights into how grizzlies might be managed?

I am reminded of a day, years ago, when I overheard another federal judge, also from Montana, say to an attorney: “you know, I don’t know why you would ever trust the states with the grizzly.”

Touché.

Of Commonsense and The Court of Public Opinion

No matter what the 9th Circuit decides, this will not be the Court’s last word about the bear. After Pepin conceded that there would likely be opportunity for further judicial review, Judge Mary Schroeder dryly noted: “I am sure of that.”

Still, litigation is always a roll of the dice. For decades, we have been relying on lawyers to save the Yellowstone grizzly from doom. They have been remarkably successful, but leaning too hard on lawyers is a dangerous game – and why I have a knot in my stomach and my well-washed fingers crossed.

We have long needed to take this fight to the court of public opinion. To address the current crisis, we need to strengthen law enforcement and improve coexistence practices. There is no lack of ideas or expertise on this front. Since 1991 bear managers have produced numerous reports containing detailed recommendations, many related to reducing numbers of hunter- and livestock-related conflicts. Few have been comprehensively implemented, largely because of insufficient funding, courage, and political support.

Reducing conflicts between bears and people is not something we should be fighting over, but rather a commonsense win-win solution.

We can also do more politically. We can ask our representatives to support the Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act sponsored by Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). The bill would ban trophy hunting and protect grizzlies for their ecological and cultural values. It would also guarantee Native American Tribes a role in conserving and managing the grizzlies that many Tribes consider to be sacred. Moreover, many Tribes have legal claim to lands where grizzlies could be recovered, including substantial areas that could reconnect existing populations.

Reform of state wildlife management is also increasingly important. The numbers of people who value wildlife for intrinsic reasons are climbing at the same time that hunter numbers are dropping. More and more, the public is demanding that state managers protect wildlife for its own sake, rather than for hunting. (I have written about this complicated issue here and here.) More practically, we need to provide financial and other incentives for state agencies to serve the broader public interest, not a well-heeled minority of hunters and ranchers who have been driving the states’ “damn the torpedoes” approach to grizzly bear management.

After thanking the bear’s devoted lawyers one more time, there is a lot we can do right now for grizzlies, including giving them more space and more compassion. We also need to make our governments accountable and worthy of our trust. Ultimately, how we manage grizzlies in their last refuges in Yellowstone and the Northern Rockies is a measure of who we are. Are our hearts big enough to keep grizzlies in our midst?

You can listen to the May 5th 9th Circuit court hearing here.

DENR official sees revival of native monkey farming amid global virus contagion

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is looking into the population boom of an “aggressive” disease-carrying native monkey species in Banton, Romblon, following the reported jump of the ape population in the island municipality.

DENR Assistant Secretary Ricardo Calderon said a team was sent by him to conduct preliminary investigation in the area and verified the report.

“We have already sent a team on the island and we verified the report that there was indeed an increase in the number of monkey population on the island,” Calderon reported.

The Philippines’s long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis philippensis) is a subspecies of the crab-eating macaque. Aside from being a potential carrier of a deadly virus such as Ebola, they are also known to be very aggressive as they tend to be protective of their troop.

Although there are still no recorded, or reported unprovoked attacks on the human population, so far, these monkeys that became highly dependent on food handouts by tourists sometimes go out to raid houses for morsels.

In Romblon, Calderon said, there are reports that they are not only raiding houses but are destroying farms—targeting small banana and cassava farms, including those planted by subsistence farmers.

With the increasing number of monkeys on the island, Calderon said the DENR is now mulling over to start issuing special permits that will allow the capture of these monkey for research and development and purposes.

“Monkeys are usually exported for purpose of scientific research to produce a cure to diseases, or vaccines, because monkeys are closely associated with humans,” he said.

In the Philippines, he said, there are at least seven monkey farms with special permits to breed native species of monkeys.

“These monkey farms suddenly stopped operation because of the reported spread of the Ebola virus disease several years back, but their permits are still active,” he said, adding that he believes that with the increasing demand for a live specimen for the conduct of scientific research, these farms would soon revive their captive breeding program.

The DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) allows farming of monkeys, recognizing their important role in scientific research to fight deadly viruses that could cause global pandemic, such as the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

These farms are strictly regulated.

“They export the progeny, or the offspring of captive monkeys, to laboratories conducting scientific research in search of vaccines,” Calderon said.

He said that while the DENR-BMB also issues special permits for wild animals as pets, monkeys are discouraged because of the threat of the Ebola virus. Monkeys may be imported and exported under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES.

A signatory to CITES, the Philippines strictly adhere to its policy to prohibit the export of species on the endangered list. Native monkeys in the Philippines are considered a “least concern species,” which means they do not qualify as threatened, or near threatened.

“So far, there’s one permit application that I came across with for harvesting monkeys,” Calderon said.  Before issuing a special permit, the DENR-BMB looks into the conservation status and conduct a background investigation of the applicants, he added.

Usually, these applicants work for monkey farms whose business is to breed monkeys and sell the offspring, usually to foreign buyers, Calderon said.

This fish is ‘king of the reef.’ But high-end diners may change that.

The luxury live reef fish market threatens the humphead wrasse. Could its unique “eyelashes” help save it?
7 Minute Read
By Danielle Beurteaux

PUBLISHED March 20, 2020

It’s the king of the coral reefs. The humphead wrasse, fittingly named for the bump on its head, can grow to six feet long, weigh up to 400 pounds, and live for 30 years.

Also known as Napoleon wrasses, these giants are things of beauty, with diamond patterning, varying green, blue, and yellow scales, and distinctive “eyelashes”—black diagonal lines behind each eye. The fish live in tropical waters of nearly 50 countries, from the coast of East Africa to the Pacific Ocean.

But they’re disappearing because of their reputation for being delicious. They’re considered a luxury food in Hong Kong, where per capita fish consumption is among the highest in the world, according to the marine environmental nonprofit Bloom Hong Kong.

Fishing for humphead wrasses has intensified in recent years. In 2004, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which sets the conservation status of species, upgraded the fish from vulnerable to endangered. Also that year, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), the body that regulates cross-border commerce in wildlife, set more stringent regulations to protect the species from overexploitation. Many countries where humpheads are found have banned their trade, but Indonesia—whose waters encompass about a fifth of the humphead’s range—allows 2,000 to be exported each year, a number some experts worry is too high.
© NGP, Content may not reflect National Geographic’s current map policy.

Humphead wrasse can be found in the Coral Triangle, as well as on coral reefs throughout much of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
SOURCE: WWF

Yvonne Sadovy, a professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Swire Institute of Marine Sciences and co-chair of the IUCN’s grouper and wrasse specialist group, says it’s unknown how many humpheads remain in the seas or what their rate of decline has been. What is well known is that the ecologically important Coral Triangle, encompassing a significant part of the humphead’s range, is threatened by overfishing.

Unlike elephants, humphead wrasses don’t get a lot of publicity, but they’re “in probably a worse state of trouble,” says Colman O’Criodain, the World Wildlife Fund’s policy manager for wildlife. Sadovy, who led recent humphead wrasse population surveys, says the fish were so scarce that “we were really quite shocked.” She also hears from divers and biologists that they no longer see mature humpheads in the wild.
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The fact that humpheads are scarce in the wild, despite protections, is evidence of illegal fishing and trading, but ascertaining the scale of the illegal trade is very difficult. Online trading platforms such as the Chinese ecommerce sites TMall and Taobao can facilitate illicit trade, Sadovy says. Social media, chat rooms, and WhatsApp groups, make it “much harder to detect,” O’Criodain says.

The lack of tracking for humpheads motivated Sadovy to create a tool that could be used by both authorities and the public. In what would be a first for fish, facial recognition technology uses the fish’s unique eye marks to determine if a humphead was imported legally. Working with a developer, she created Saving Face, a smartphone app that would enable diners, restaurateurs, and endangered species enforcement officers to compare a photo of a humphead wrasse for sale at a restaurant or market to photos in a database of legally imported humpheads.

The app is still in the testing phase, Sadovy says. She hopes Hong Kong will help promote the app and that it will empower people to be consumer watchdogs and help stop the selling of illegal fish. She says a growing number of restaurants in Hong Kong are intent on offering only legally sourced species that aren’t compromised in the wild, while consumers themselves are becoming more aware of beleaguered species they should avoid eating.

For the app to have a real impact on the illegal trade, Hong Kong would need to have enough inspectors at its ports to photograph each imported live wrasse to register in the app’s database. Further, there would need to be widespread adoption of the app by restaurateurs who buy the fish from wholesalers and restaurant diners. Then if the app does raise questions about the legality of a fish, app users would need to take it upon themselves to report the lack of facial matches to endangered species enforcement officers, who would need to prioritize following up on those reports.

The Hong Kong government needs to make more effort to educate and raise awareness among the public, the hospitality industry, and seafood traders, Sadovy says. “I think there’s a real need for education.”
From Indonesia to Hong Kong

Indonesia not only exports wild-caught humpheads but also ones raised in captivity, in the remote Anambas Islands and Natuna Islands. In 2018, for the first time, the country established an annual export quota of
40,000 for ranched humpheads. These are fish taken from the wild as juveniles and raised in pens. As with the wild fish, they’re shipped live, mostly to Hong Kong, to be kept in tanks in markets and restaurants until they’re sold for a meal (or die of other causes). This flood of humpheads into the market has made enforcement even more difficult, both because of the sheer number of fish and because there’s no way to distinguish between wild and ranched humpheads.

O’Criodain is worried that ranching may worsen the plight of these endangered fish. He says removing pre-reproductive-age wrasses from diminished wild populations may compromise their ability to rebound and that Indonesia doesn’t fulfill the CITES rule that trade in ranched humpheads is permissible only if it won’t undermine wild populations.
“There’s nothing about the overall size of the population and whether the take of these juveniles is sustainable in relation to that overall size,” he says. CITES also requires that a certain number of ranched fish be returned to the wild to bolster diminishing populations, but according to O’Criodain, Indonesia hasn’t declared its intent to do that.
Picture of a humphead wrasse swimming over coral reef

A facial recognition app is being developed that uses the humpheads’ eye markings to help distinguish between legally and illegally traded fish.
Photograph by David Doubilet, Nat Geo Image Collection

The Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, which oversees the trade in humphead wrasses, did not respond to requests for comment.

Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department issues fish import permits, manages trade in CITES-listed species, and carries out shipment inspections. Every Hong Kong humphead wrasse retailer must have a possession license, and it’s prohibited for vendors to buy and sell the fish from each other. But if humpheads are smuggled in with shipments of other fish they resemble—groupers, for example—they’re not officially documented.

As detailed in a 2016 report Sadovy cowrote for Traffic, a nonprofit that tracks the wildlife trade, the number of humpheads offered in Hong Kong’s markets and restaurants exceeds the official, legal number.
Additionally, CITES records show that thousands of ranched Indonesian humphead wrasses are simply disappearing. In one instance, 8,000 ranched fish (with the proper CITES export permits) left Indonesia but never showed up anywhere else. “That disappearance means, because Hong Kong is quite good at reporting imports, that they’re going straight into mainland China and not being reported,” Sadovy says.

At present, the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department is more intent on checking vessels suspected of carrying drugs or goods such as cigarettes, smuggled in to avoid customs duties, than illegal wildlife, says Sophie le Clue, environment director with the Hong Kong-based nonprofit ADM Capital Foundation. She says inspectors generally search for illegal wildlife only if they’ve been tipped off ahead of time; then they call in the Endangered Species division of the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department for law enforcement action.

Officials from the department declined requests for an interview but sent an extended statement. Among other things, they said that “Hong Kong is committed to the protection of endangered species [and] takes vigorous enforcement actions together with the Customs and Excise Department in combating smuggling of Humphead wrasse to ensure that the trade in Humphead wrasse is in accordance with CITES and local legislation [and] conducts inspection on local market from time to time and appropriate enforcement action would be taken if any irregularity is spotted.”

The Endangered Species division itself doesn’t have an investigative body. Neither it nor Customs and Excise likely has enough staff or resources to inspect and track all shipments of live fish, says Stanley Shea, Bloom Hong Kong’s marine director.
’Saving Face’ for saving fish

Sadovy says the Saving Face app will be available at no cost. Here’s how authorities and the public will be able to use it: When legally imported fish with proper documentation arrive in Hong Kong, Endangered Species division personnel will photograph them and upload the photos to a database connected to the app. When enforcement officers or diners want to check the legality of a humphead, they can take a photo of the fish and, using the app, ascertain whether it matches one recorded in the database. If it doesn’t, they can use the Endangered Species division’s public reporting phone line to alert authorities.

According to Sadovy, a pilot project tested in the spring of 2019 showed that the app had a 70 percent match accuracy rate. She and the developer are now working on improving the accuracy rate, as well as enabling a desktop and cloud version that would make the system useful for high-volume import inspections. They plan to launch this in June.

Despite the limited number of Endangered Species division inspectors, Sadovy says the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department has committed to using the app to process all labeled imports of live wild humphead wrasses. Ranched wrasses, however, make up the majority of imports, and it’s far from clear whether Hong Kong would have the staff to process those as well in the future.

Anil Jain, professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, whose biometrics lab developed a facial recognition system for primates, says the tool is promising but imperfect. Environmental factors such as cloudy water or bad lighting can affect image quality and compromise accuracy.

Eventually, with sufficient data, Sadovy envisions that the app could be used as a tool to combat trafficking of other wildlife besides humphead wrasses. “If there’s enough sample data,” she says, “enforcers could use this for all sorts of imports.”

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/03/facial-recognition-humphead-wrasse-disappearing/

Our Endangered Species Need This Law to Survive.

By latest estimates, over 1 million species are in danger of disappearing globally. Much of this is due to biodiversity’s arch-enemy, climate change. But there is another culprit that is also picking off our earth’s beautiful animal species one by one – the lucrative and illegal wildlife trafficking trade. Many of these animals end up part of the tourism industry like the orcas and dolphins of SeaWorld to which Expedia still sells tickets. Other animals, on the other hand, are not so lucky.

Animals like lions, tigers, chimpanzees, gorillas, and many more are the targets of organized crime syndicates that trade in their flesh and bone, killing them in unsustainable numbers and selling them for souvenirs, trinkets, and “medicine.”

Passing this bill could help endangered animals. Sign to ask the U.S. Congress to do so.

It is paramount that governments like the United States create strong legislation that works against these organizations and the destruction they cause. One such remedy could be the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act. The RAWR Act was introduced in May of 2019 and would empower the United States State Department to offer financial rewards in exchange for information that leads to the disruption of the multi-billion dollar wildlife trafficking trade. Since the bill’s introduction by U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Jeff Merkley, it has lingered in the Senate chamber. Meanwhile, the House acted swiftly and passed it in July.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough to make it law. Now, in order to make it a reality, both the Senate and House will have to reintroduce the bill for the 2020 session. Last year’s delay in the Senate is worrying. This is a bill that could save millions of animal lives and help stem the global extinction crisis but it was allowed to fizzle out. Will there be movement this year?

It is more important than ever to strengthen our nation’s laws against trafficking and that’s why the RAWR Act is so crucial.

Tell Congress you support this important bill and that it must be reintroduced and passed this year without delay. Please sign the petition and tell them to do so today.

Lawsuit Lands Fatal Blow on Pro-Trophy Hunting Council

After a lawsuit by NRDC and partners—represented by Democracy Forward—the Department of the Interior told a federal district court in New York last week that no future meetings of the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC) will take place, bringing an end to the controversial council. “The Council will not meet or conduct any business again, it can no longer be renewed, and there is no plan to establish another committee with a similar mission or scope in the future,” reads the government’s brief. The Trump administration has also allowed the IWCC’s charter to lapse, meaning it can no longer use taxpayer dollars to convene.

As you may recall, former Interior Secretary Zinke created the IWCC in 2017 to advise “on the benefits international hunting has on foreign wildlife and habitat conservation.” To ensure the Council looked only at the benefits of trophy hunting—not its many drawbacks—the administration, in violation of federal law, stacked the IWCC almost exclusively with individuals with a vested interest in making it easier to hunt and kill imperiled species and import their heads, hides, tusks, feet, and other body parts into the United States. By doing this, it excluded the very scientists, economists, and experts in wildlife conservation whose input is crucial if the council is to provide the department with balanced and credible recommendations.

Our lawsuit, filed in August 2018, alleged that the Council violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires federal advisory committees to be “well balanced” and “in the public interest.” We alleged that (1) the IWCC’s membership was  not “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed by the advisory committee;” (2) the IWCC was not governed by “appropriate provisions to assure that the advice and recommendations of the advisory committee will not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest, but will instead be the result of the advisory committee’s independent judgment;” and (3) the IWCC failed to give timely notice of public meetings or make materials available before or on the date of the meeting.

And things only got worse as the IWCC got going. Council meetings were predominated by presentations on the merits of trophy hunting, to no one’s surprise. And, as Interior conceded in its brief on Friday, the Council secretly offered policy recommendations to Secretary Zinke and withheld those recommendations from the public. Over the course of the IWCC’s existence, evidence also emerged that the government was holding secret meetings (i.e., meetings that were not disclosed to the public) with Council members. Each and every one of these actions is illegal under FACA.

While this is a certain victory, a court ruling is still required to block the Interior Department from relying on the harmful recommendations, reports, and advice produced by the Council over the past three years and five meetings.

Wildcats ‘to return to England’ after long absence

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-england-devon-50522462/wildcats-to-return-to-england-after-long-absence

Scottish wildcats were bred at a special facility in Devon over the summer.

It is believed they became extinct in England when one was shot in the North in 1849.

They last record of wildcats in southern England was in the 16th Century, said the Devon Wildlife Trust.

If the breeding project continues successfully they could be returned to the English countryside.

Palm Oil in Snack Foods Could Be Destroying the World’s “Orangutan Capital”

Picture a rhinoceros in the rainforest, add a herd of elephants, families of orangutans swinging through the treetops and tigers prowling the understory, and there is only one place in the world you could be.

Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem is one of Earth’s most ancient forest ecosystems, a laboratory of life’s potential where the alchemy of evolution has been allowed to experiment, uninterrupted for millennia. And the results are astounding. Green upon green, vines hanging from towering old-growth trees, moss growing on ferns growing on bromeliads… you get the picture.

It is the kind of place one imagines primeval nature to be wild, abundant, impenetrable.

With more than a century of proud conservation history responsible for its continued existence, the province of Aceh where the Leuser resides is, against all odds, a sparkling ecological jewel standing in stark contrast to the devastated landscape that surrounds it. Most of the rest of Sumatra — once known as Indonesia’s “Emerald Island” — and sadly much of the rest of lowland rainforests across Indonesia, too, have been exploited and denuded by wave after wave of scorched Earth, industry, colonial extraction and modern-day corrupt corporate greed. What has already been lost is incalculable, but here, in this special place, remains a rare opportunity to stop the cycle of destruction and protect a globally valuable treasure before it’s too late.

A palm oil refinery
A Musim Mas palm oil facility on the edge of the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia.
NANANG SUJANA

The Leuser Ecosystem is considered the heart of Southeast Asia’s rainforest region, which, alongside the Amazon and the Congo Basin, is one of only three tropical forest regions on Earth. The beating heart of the Leuser is the lowland forests and peat swamps of the Singkil-Bengkung region. This area is part of the last remaining healthy peat swamp ecosystem in western Sumatra. This lush jungle contains some of the world’s richest levels of biological diversity.

The lowland peat forests of the Leuser Ecosystem deserve the highest levels of protection for multiple critical reasons. Dubbed the “orangutan capital of the world,” this region is home to the highest population densities of critically endangered orangutans anywhere. This includes a special, culturally distinct subpopulation of a few thousand individuals in the Singkil-Bengkung region, which demonstrate social structures and tool-using behaviors unique from all other orangutan populations. These forests are also home to some of the healthiest remaining breeding populations of highly imperiled Sumatran elephants, rhinos and tigers.

The health of the Leuser Ecosystem’s Singkil-Bengkung landscape is internationally significant because its deep, carbon-rich peatlands are among the most valuable and effective natural carbon sinks on Earth. Conversely, when drained, cleared and burned for conversion to palm oil plantations, this soil type is transformed into a carbon bomb that emits catastrophic levels of pollution into the atmosphere.

Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the area’s rich natural resources as the basis of their livelihoods. Downstream villages are already suffering severe, sometimes deadly threats from devastating floods, landslides, and the loss of subsistence resources like fish and forest products as a direct result of the rapid rates of deforestation caused by palm oil. Communities also continue to suffer due to the loss of access to their customary lands that have been taken over by palm oil companies, without their consent, and failures of the government to take decisive action to resolve conflicts and restore to communities the rights to their lands.

The Acehnese people have fought for over a century to protect the integrity of the Leuser Ecosystem’s extraordinary forests, and in the past decade the Leuser has become internationally famous for its intact expanses of verdant trees and its stunning wealth of imperiled wildlife species. But also over the past decade, more than 18,000 hectares of forests within the Singkil-Bengkung region have been cleared, leaving roughly 250,000 hectares of rainforests remaining — and this area decreases each and every year due to deforestation and the drainage of peatlands.

RAN conducted a series of undercover investigations in 2019 due to the alarming destruction of peat forests occurring within the lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem. The field research was conducted to determine if the forest clearance was being driven by major snack food brands, even though these brands had adopted policies years ago to end deforestation in their supply chains.

The results of the investigations are definitive. Palm oil is being grown illegally inside the nationally protected Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve, and it is being sold to mills that provide the palm oil used to manufacture snack foods sold across the world by Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mondelēz, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars and Hershey.

These mills are located immediately next to areas of illegal encroachment into the Leuser Ecosystem and lack the necessary procedures to trace the location where the palm oil they sell is grown, a key requirement for complying with the No Deforestation, No Peatlands, No Exploitation policies to which all of these brands have publicly committed.

Progress has been made by some companies implementing their No Deforestation policies. Brands like Unilever and Nestlé, for example, have begun the process of increasing supply chain transparency by publishing the mills they source from, but they have not yet achieved traceability to the plantation level, so they remain unable to offer certainty as to exactly where the palm oil they consume was grown. The findings of these investigations clearly show that paper promises are not enough to keep the forests from falling.

The Leuser Ecosystem at large, and the Singkil-Bengkung region in particular, still offer a rare and fleeting opportunity to get it right and avoid the devastating mistakes made throughout so much of Indonesia in the past. It remains possible here to prevent the destruction of habitat that drives iconic wildlife species toward extinction, to avert the human suffering from inevitable floods and landslides caused by deforestation, and to end the reckless burning of carbon-filled peatlands contributing to the climate crisis.

The international attention resulting from the release of this latest report has helped to pressure the brands to respond and take further action, but the high stakes and urgent threats to the Singkil-Bengkung demand more bold, decisive action to ensure that the area receives permanent protection.

Tell General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Mondelēz, Mars, Hershey, Unilever and PepsiCo to cut ties to illegally produced conflict palm oil and stop the deforestation in the Leuser Ecosystem.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.