Southern wildlife in jeopardy as giant tegu lizards invade Georgia and Florida

REIDSVILLE, Ga. — An invasive, giant, and dangerous lizard is creeping its way through southeast Georgia and beyond.

The Argentine black and white tegu lizards are originally from South America, and now they are wreaking havoc on wildlife throughout the South.

Daniel Sollengberge, senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia wildlife, said they never knew there was a population established in the wild until recently.

Tegu lizards are known to eat anything that they want, especially the eggs of other reptiles. 

Tegu lizards are known to eat anything that they want, especially the eggs of other reptiles.

“We presume that the animals started as the result of escaped or released pets in the area… there really common in the pet trade,” Sollengberger said.

After over a dozen sightings of the lizards in southeast Georgia, Tegus have become known as an invasive species particularly in Toombs and Tattnall counties.

Map showing the two southeastern counties that have been invaded by Tegu lizards. 

Map showing the two southeastern counties that have been invaded by Tegu lizards.

Georgia Southern professor, Dr. Lance Mcbrayer studies the evolution of lizards and leads the U.S Geological Survey team.

“Already in 2020 we’ve caught five animals at this site right here,” Mcbrayer said.

The lizards can grow up to four feet long. As the number of lizards in southeast Georgia continue to increase, the geological survey team is racing to put down traps.

The traps are placed about 100 meters apart and members of the Geological team check them daily.

One trap in southeast Georgia that is set up to capture Tegu lizards. 

One trap in southeast Georgia that is set up to capture Tegu lizards.

Daniel Haro is a part of the geological team and works in the field about three to four times a week. “In general, right now, we have 85 and we’re going to get to 90… so, this week I’m hoping to place five more,” Haro said.

According to Georgia wildlife, the lizards don’t attack people unless provoked. However, with their strong jaws and sharp teeth, they will eat anything they can put in their mouth, especially eggs.

Crews hold Tegu lizards that was captured years ago. 

Crews hold Tegu lizards that was captured years ago.

“Whereby they’re damaging our gopher tortoise populations or bobwhite quail populations or turkey populations…the animal walks around and it hunts up nests on the ground,” Mcbrayer said.

On top of that, tegu lizards can lay up to 40 eggs, and once they hatch, they will be around 6 to 10 inches long.  “That’s our real concern… that there could be a very rapid increase in the number of tegus in just a few years,” Mcbrayer said.

The crew in southeast Georgia has not caught a juvenile tegu yet but, “all the habitat and the size of the animals we’re catching suggest that they’re reproducing – so that’s a problem,” Mcbrayer said.

The U.S Geological survey team works to capture Tegu lizards in Reidsville, GA. 

The U.S Geological survey team works to capture Tegu lizards in Reidsville, GA.

Tegu lizards have established themselves as invasive species in Florida, too. “There’s at least three populations in Florida… the north side of the Everglades…one inland in St. Pete from Tampa … and now one in the Panhandle,” Mcbrayer said.

Map shows areas in Florida that have been impacted by Tegu lizards. 

Map shows areas in Florida that have been impacted by Tegu lizards.

The population of lizards in the South could spread rapidly because, unlike most lizards, Tegus move around.

“These animals can walk several miles in a day. They could walk 10 or 12vmiles just in a day or two,” Mcbrayer said.

As the population of lizards continues to grow, Mcbrayer says the lizards will spread if they aren’t stopped.

“These animals can be trapped or hunted humanely in safely,” Mcbrayer said. “We encourage anyone to do that to remove these animals from the wild.”

What you should know about Washington’s murder hornets

Despite a swarm of worried calls, officials say humans don’t need to panic just yet.

Asian giant hornet perched on human finger

An Asian giant hornet from Japan is held on a pin by Sven Spichiger, an entomologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, May 4, 2020, in Olympia. The insect, which has been found in Washington state, is the world’s largest hornet, and has been dubbed the “murder hornet,” a reference to its appetite for honeybees and a sting that can be fatal to some people. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

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In the hours after the New York Times published an article Saturday about an invasive hornet with a potentially lethal sting, the Washington State Department of Agriculture didn’t see too many emails from concerned residents. But by the time public engagement specialist Karla Salp checked her phone after a virtual church service Sunday morning, she realized it was going to be an all-hands-on-deck type of day.

“It’s been just totally insane here,” Salp said Monday. “I’ve worked here since 2015 and this far exceeds anything that I have ever dealt with in communication. We just had another outreach person start today, bless her heart … so she’s definitely experiencing a little bit of baptism by fire.”

The New York Times first covered the Asian giant hornet’s presence in Washington in December, but the Department of Agriculture has been sharing identifying information with the public at least since publishing a revised invasive species pamphlet in October. The first of two dead detected specimen in Washington state was reported late last year near Blaine in Whatcom County.

But the most recent news of “murder hornets” has captured international attention and monopolized the waking hours of insect, forestry and agriculture professionals in the ground zero state of Washington.

There are plenty of reasons to fear this hornet: It’s big, it turns its preferred forest floor habitat into landmines of underground hives, it can sting multiple times, and it can deliver seven times as much toxin per sting as a honeybee and can pierce a bee suit. About 50 people die in Japan from Asian giant hornet stings every year, hence the nickname.

 

Entomologist Chris Looney, of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, with a dead Asian giant hornet for scale.

Entomologist Chris Looney of the state Department of Agriculture, with a dead Asian giant hornet for scale. (Department of Agriculture)

Entomologist Chris Looney of the state Department of Agriculture, with a dead Asian giant hornet for scale. (Department of Agriculture)

Salp and others say they appreciate the hundreds of emails, calls and sighting reports; The department hosts an Asian Giant Hornet Facebook group that nearly tripled in size after the New York Times article dropped. But those involved in the study and eradication of these hornets in Washington state say that for most people the panic far outweighs realistic concerns, at least for now.

So far, none but the original two specimen reports have turned up positive identifications. Salp says the most popular species misidentified as Asian giant hornets are European hornets (which aren’t known to exist in Washington); cicada killers; yellow jackets; or bumblebees. The Department of Agriculture offers education around bumblebee identification to prevent people from killing them in error.

With most Americans sheltering during the pandemic, the murder hornet has clearly struck a nerve.

Todd Murray, director of the Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Program Unit at Washington State University, says he thinks the “murder hornet” nickname is driving interest. “Note to self: Stick ‘murder’ in front of it and it sure gets attention,” Murray says.

He and his colleagues are fielding a couple of dozen media requests a day. “It’s interesting because in the entomology community, there’s some strong feelings about the stigma around wasps and hornets,” he says, ”so there’s been backlash within our own community about the term.”

‘We don’t need to freak out’

With only two confirmed hornet sightings, only a few groups of people have reason to be afraid right now, experts say. “We don’t need to freak out, you know, but it is a serious concern for our state,” Salp says.

“This isn’t an issue that we need to panic about, especially in light of the pandemic,” adds Murray. “But I think there’s a benefit of being aware of what it’s like to live in a global economy, a global environment, where we have people and products constantly moving across the world. And we are bound to get hitchhikers like this one ⁠— and in Washington state it’s become all too common for new insects to be introduced. Early detection is really critical.”

To the best of the state’s knowledge, the hornet hasn’t been seen outside of Whatcom County: The two sightings that were verified were near Blaine. A hive was also eradicated in Nanaimo in British Columbia after a specimen was discovered in August 2019. “If you live outside of those areas, I would have less concern, but still have an awareness and then definitely be thinking about your connection to those areas” says Justin Bush, executive coordinator with the Washington Invasive Species Council. For instance, if you live along Interstate 5, that could be a pathway for accidental hornet trafficking by semitruck or RV. “But naturally, if they fly, the spread is a little bit slower than that,” Bush says.

Asian giant hornets on a field notebook.
Dead Asian giant hornets rest on a field notebook. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)

Murray says that he would definitely be aware if he were in Blaine in semiforested conditions or where forest meets open fields.

Salp says Washington’s honeybees and the beekeepers and farmers who depend on them for honey and pollination have more serious reasons to be alarmed. The Asian giant hornets’ appetite for honeybees is enormous. The hornets take over beehives, chewing off the bees’ heads before feeding on their bodies. “They will defend that hive as their own, and if you try to approach or get them out of your hive yourself, you have a very high probability of being stung,” Salp says. The hornets can chew through more than 40 bees a minute and destroy a hive in 90 minutes.

With American honeybees already disappearing at an alarming rate, the invasive hornet further endangers the $20 billion sector of the U.S. farming industry that honeybees support. (A 2014 state report found bees in 2012 “added billions of dollars in harvest value to Washington’s economy, including nearly $3 billion from tree fruit and berries. The bees themselves added nearly $4 million from honey sales, but their chief value is as pollinators.”)

Murray says beekeepers are likely to be the first people to encounter the hornets this year if there’s an active population, but that might not be clear until late summer or early fall, when the hornets engage in their bee-killing sprees.

Ann Potter, a conservation biologist and insect specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, says she’s not aware of the hornets’ impacts on insect species other than honeybees, “but certainly there must be…. It’s unlikely to feed on only one species.” She notes that the European honeybees raised by beekeepers may be more vulnerable to hornets than also-declining native bees because they live in large colonies. (Japanese honeybees, on the other hand, protect themselves by cooking the Asian giant hornets alive.)

People allergic to wasp, bee, or hornet stings are vulnerable as well: Asian giant hornets carry more venom per sting than local bees and wasps. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 2 million Americans are allergic to these types of stings, and approximately 50 people die every year from allergic reactions from them.

However, anyone who works or enjoys outdoor recreation should at least be aware and able to identify and report the giant hornets, Salp says ⁠— “not because Asian giant hornets are going to come after you, but [because] if you see them, we definitely want to know about it.”

“We don’t know how they’re going to interact with [our] environment,” Murray says. “We really don’t want this hornet to establish here in the Pacific Northwest because we really don’t know exactly how much it will impact our ecology and agriculture and, honestly, our daily life.”

Don’t panic — yet

Murray says he would be more concerned if people submitted sightings of the hornet over a much broader area than where they’ve been spotted, but he says there’s no reason to think it’s present elsewhere in the state yet. That means 2020 will be a critical year for trapping hornets and educating the public.

“The challenge is we don’t really know exactly how widespread it is for sure,” Salp says. Washington is home to vast amounts of the deep forest habitat the hornets prefer, and they are excellent fliers. Murray says some data show the hornets can forage up to 5 miles from their nesting site.

Europe has been dealing with the invasion of a similar species called the yellow-legged hornet since at least 2004: Thought to have arrived in bonsai tree shipments, the hornets have yet to be eradicated. Murray says honey production has decreased by up to two-thirds in Europe.

The only way to eradicate the bees, Salp says, is to track them back to their hives through live trapping, tagging and release because the colonies are almost always underground.

Murray says he’s “pretty optimistic” the hornet can be eradicated because the state was able to note its presence in December with the public’s help. “If we ignored this problem, each year that we get generation turnover, it would be likely significantly more difficult and very expensive to try and eradicate this,” he says.

Asian giant hornet traps
Asian giant hornet traps can help people document specimens safely. The Department of Agriculture doesn’t want people to attempt to trap live hornets. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)

For people hoping to help the department take advantage of this critical window, Salp says the public should make sure to share and reference information only from reliable sources like Washington State University or the Department of Agriculture. They should submit possible sightings to the department via its web app with complete identifying information. Murray says if you see a live one, run and note your location for later. The Washington Invasive Species Counci’s Bush recommends sending photos, a GPS location and contact information in case someone with the state needs to follow up.

“With invasive species, especially ones that are relatively new [and high priority], a high percentage [of identifications] are going to be inaccurate,” Bush says. “And that’s OK, because the 1% or less than 1% [of IDs] that are accurate could help avoid millions if not billions of dollars of impact, that could potentially not be reversible.”

Murray says identifying an Asian giant hornet is easy. The Pacific Northwest is home to few large, flying insects. “The person that first detected it saw it come into a hummingbird feeder and it sure was obvious on its own. Some of our native beetles might get that large, but these look strikingly different.”

People in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Jefferson and Clallam counties can also sign up for volunteer trapping, which Bush says is best done in June and July. The Department of Agriculture got state and federal funding for the trapping project, but there’s still limited capacity, Salp says. The pandemic is complicating tracking efforts as well. In-person trainings in Western Washington were canceled. There were also plans for specimen drop-offs at WSU, but now samples can be taken only by mail until stay-at-home restrictions are lifted.

“Between the beekeepers, the volunteers and our own staff, the project is moving forward — [but] this is all frankly kind of one big experiment,” Salp says. “The more folks that we have out there helping trap for them, the greater our chances of finding them and then eradicating them.”
Useful resources: 

⁠— How to identify Asian giant hornets

⁠— How to trap Asian giant hornets

⁠— How to submit Asian giant hornet sightings to the Washington State Department of Agriculture

Jane Goodall calls for global ban on wildlife trade and end to ‘destructive and greedy period of human history’

Stop the Wildlife Trade: The renowned conservationist says we are putting economic growth ahead of environmental protections and destroying our children’s future

The coronavirus pandemic may have grounded Dr Jane Goodall but she is putting her time in lockdown to good use – by calling for a global ban on wildlife markets linked to the outbreak.

The renowned conservationist, 86, who typically travels 300 days a year, has pivoted to making calls, recording podcasts and videos around the clock, relentlessly pushing her lifelong message of protecting the natural world.

She told The Independent: “I have never been busier in my entire life, except perhaps the last days of trying to get my PhD thesis written.”

In the 1960s, Dr Goodall’s research on the behaviour of chimpanzees in Tanzania discovered that our closest living relatives were a lot more like us than previously believed – they have their own personalities, can use tools, mimic each other and grieve for the loss of friends.

For decades, she has urged the world to respect nature, a message that has never been more acute in the face of the coronavirus that had led to more than 98,000 deaths and 1.6 million confirmed cases around the world, also decimating the global economy.

Environmentalists told The Independent last month that the coronavirus would not be the last pandemic to wreak havoc on humanity if we continue to ignore links between infectious diseases and destruction of the natural world.

Zoonotic diseases – those transmitted from animals to humans – cause 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million deaths each year around the world, according to the National Institutes of Health. The spread of diseases such as HIV, Ebola, Sars, Mers and Zika are also believed to have originated in animals.

Dr Goodall, along with fellow activists and the UN’s acting executive secretary on biological diversity, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, are calling for restrictions on wildlife trafficking and the sale of live animals at “wet markets”. The coronavirus outbreak is believed to have originated at such a market in Wuhan, China, where wild animals were sold, and made the jump to humans from animals kept in close proximity.

Dr Jane Goodall in Gombe, Tanzania

“As we destroy the environment, animals are living in smaller and smaller spaces, and viruses are transferring from one animal to another,” Dr Goodall says.

“Then there’s wildlife trafficking and the handling of wild animals. They are kept crowded together with people in the meat markets. Not just in China, but across many parts of Asia and also with the bushmeat trade in Africa.

“The awful thing is that this has been predicted. People knew it was coming, they talked about it but nobody did anything.”

She adds: “We have moved into this destructive and greedy period of human history where we are destroying the environment and putting economic growth ahead of environmental protections, even though we are thus destroying the future for our own children.

“Now we see this resulting in this current pandemic, which is having a horrific effect on the planet.”

Dr Goodall says she hopes the pandemic will inspire international action.

“I’m hoping that governments around the world will cooperate with the facts and that there will be a global ban on all of these markets, trafficking and eating of wildlife.

Orphans Kudia and Ultimo hug each other at the JGI Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo

“But we also have to remember that some of these epidemics have started with viruses jumping from domestic animals in awful intensive farms, where the conditions are horrendous, with crowding and poor hygiene.

“It’s not just wildlife, it’s the way that we treat our domestic animals, too.

“Science has now admitted what as a little girl I learned from my dog. Animals, like us, are sentient. They can feel fear and despair. They have personalities and are amazingly intelligent.

“When we talk about wildlife trafficking, we just think, ‘Oh, that’s wildlife’. But it’s millions of individuals who can suffer, feel pain and despair.

“We need to respect the natural world. We can’t go on and on taking natural resources for economic development on a planet with finite natural resources.

“If we go on treating animals the way that we are, that is going to hit back on us, as it has.”

In an op-ed this week, Dr Goodall wrote: “This is a global trade, and every country and individual must do its part to create more comprehensive legislation to protect wildlife, end illegal trafficking, ban trafficking across national borders, and ban sales (especially online). And we must fight corruption that allows these activities to continue even when they are banned or illegal.”

Dr Goodall, who was created Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2003, says individuals, too, can play a role.

“Some people are raising moneys to help NGOs keep going. We are trying to protect chimpanzees in Africa because they can catch [Covid-19] from us and they are endangered.

“Our Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) people are wonderful – they’re rising to the challenge. Many people giving even small donations makes a big difference to our teams in the field to get the proper testing kits.”

It is crucial that any bans on markets and trafficking take into account the people in different parts of the world whose livelihoods and diets currently depend on wildlife, Dr Goodall says.

Jane Goodall searches with binoculars to find chimpanzees in Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve

“If we suddenly close everything down, as there has been a demand to the United Nations, we have got to think of how these people rely on wildlife and find alternative ways for them to make a living.”

The JGI’s Tacare programme helps communities move away from wildlife trade. “It’s our method of community-based conservation. It’s very holistic but it includes helping people find alternative ways of making a living without destroying the environment,” Dr Goodall says.

“There’s a microcredit program where groups, mostly women, can take out tiny loans to buy a few chickens and sell the eggs or have a tree nursery and sell the saplings, for example.

“It’s what people want, not what we impose upon them. The only criteria is that it’s got to be environmentally sustainable.”

The coronavirus pandemic has amplified the devastating consequences that can unfold when we don’t respect boundaries with nature.

In the US, Donald Trump has rolled back environmental protections, withdrawn the country from the Paris Agreement on climate change and overhauled the Endangered Species Act, which environmentalists say puts more wildlife at greater risk of extinction.

Dr Goodall is not optimistic that Mr Trump will change his views on protecting the environment, even in the wake of the coronavirus.

“I kind of doubt it. I don’t know, it should do,” she says. “But our prime minister in the UK is also pushing economic development ahead of environmental protections. The same is true in Brazil and Tanzania.

“It’s not just President Trump, but he sort of hits the media because he sometimes says some very strange things.”

But there are some leaders that give cause for optimism, Dr Goodall says.

“Leaders of countries like Costa Rica and Colombia and a couple of African countries are taking very firm steps to protect the environment. More and more European and US NGOs are doing what they can to help.”

She adds: “What I’m hoping is because of the shutdown worldwide, many places are now seeing unpolluted air.  I think a lot of people living in the cities have never known what it’s like and now they’ve got experience.

“I’m hoping that there will be a groundswell of people who are so horrified at the thought of going back to polluted skies that the sheer numbers will force governments to change their policies.”

Since 1991, she has encouraged young people to protect the natural world through her youth scheme, Roots & Shoots.

Dr. Jane Goodall with a group of Roots & Shoots members in Salzburg, Austria

“Roots & Shoots is now in 65 countries, and my vision is to have the programme everywhere. That’s just a dream, but on the other hand, it began with 12 high school students, and since then hundreds of thousands of young people have been through the programme. Each group of Roots & Shoots chooses three projects to make the world better: One to help people, one to help animals and one to help the environment.

“Many of them are now in influential positions, and they hang on to the values that they acquired. Their message is every one of us makes an impact every single day and we can choose what sort of impact, unless we are living in desperate poverty – in which case we just do what it takes to stay alive.”

At a time when there is so much despair and anger from young people about the future because of climate change and environmental destruction, Dr Goodall tries to offer hope from her own experiences.

“I lived through the second world war when I was a little girl. It was very grim. We were then fighting a physical enemy, and this is an invisible enemy but the results are sort of the same. We never knew where the bombs were going to fall, which houses would be destroyed, which of our friends would be killed, and that’s a little bit the same now. But we came through it.

“I was in New York at the time of the fall of the Twin Towers, the 9/11 terrorist attack. It seemed like the end of the world but we got through that.

“There’s this indomitable human spirit you can see all around the world in communities helping each other. ​

“I’ve seen so many wonderful stories of people helping each other, taking food around and making themselves available for telephone calls from lonely, frightened people.”

She adds: “I myself have started reading children books so that they can get these stories while they’re forced to be at home and sending out video messages of encouragement that we will get through this – we must not give up, and let’s do our bit.”

The coronavirus, Dr Goodall says, may alter how she spreads her message.

“It may force change. I imagine when the airlines start flying again they may have to put their fares up so it may not be possible to do as much flying as I did.

“I look on it as practice for the time when my body says, ‘No Jane, enough, we‘re not going to allow you carry on like this’. Because it’s very exhausting, all the travelling I was doing.

“However, we have to get the message out that we’ve got to change but let’s have hope that we’re going to come out of this better people.

“We have to push our politicians in the right direction that we want.”

Wild animals are reclaiming cities and streets during coronavirus lockdown

Afoot and light-hearted, they’re taking to the open road.

Amid the global lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus, striking images taken in South Africa’s popular Kruger National Park — which has remained shut since March 25 — show a pride of some 15 lions napping in the middle of an empty paved road.

CNN reports that on any typical day, this area would be packed with tourists on safari excursions. But that doesn’t mean that the travelers would get to experience this sight.

“This lion pride are usually resident on Kempiana Contractual Park, an area Kruger tourists do not see,” the park tweeted Wednesday. “This afternoon they were lying on the tar road just outside of Orpen Rest Camp.”

That isn’t the only atypical sight.

“Lying on the road during the daytime is unusual because under normal circumstances there would be traffic and that pushes them into the bush,” Kruger spokesman Isaac Phaahla tells CNN. “They just occupy places they would normally shun when there are tourists … People should remember that [Kruger] is still a largely wild area and in the absence of humans, wildlife is more active.”

It isn’t just Kruger that’s shut down. Despite initially announcing a 21-day lockdown for the country, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in early April that he would extend the quarantine at least until the end of the month.

Enlarge Image
Monkeys in India sit outside during quarantine.AFP via Getty Images

This isn’t just a sight limited to South Africa. Worldwide, with the coronavirus keeping humans inside, wild animals have taken to the streets to have their own play — even in cities. People in New Delhi have spotted monkeys looking for food in an alleyway lined with closed shops. In Venice, Italy, clear blue canals have lured swans and fish before tourists return in gondolas.

Here’s a look at some more.

You goat to be kidding me

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Mountain goats roamed Llandudno, Wales, as people remained inside under coronavirus-related lockdown.Getty Images

In the north of Wales, herds of wild mountain goats have claimed the empty streets of Llandudno as their own. Known as the Great Orme Kashmiri goats, they typically live on a nearby hill that looks over the town, rarely heading into it. North Wales police reportedly said the agency received a call about the wandering herd — which had been grazing on people’s hedges and gardens — but there was no need to intervene.

“We are not aware of officers attending to them as they usually make their own way back,” the police said.

Mountain goats take over Welsh town

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A purrfect match

More locally, 50-year-old Latonya “Sassee” Walker — who’s cared for Canarsie’s wild cat population for a decade, has doubled the number of cats she looks after. She told The Post that typically she cares for four colonies of feral cats. But with many elderly folks stuck inside, she’s taken on more. She brings the cats dry food, wet food and water, predicting she’ll spend more than $600 this month because with restaurants shut, there’s no garbage for them to eat. She’s even brought them in to be spayed and neutered.

“The cats have no clue what’s going on because nothing has changed for them,” she says. “It’s not in my DNA to see a cat suffering and not do anything about it. I’m equipped to make a cat’s life better, so I’m going to.”

March of the penguins

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This penguin, named Wellington, got to meet a Beluga whale at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.SHEDD AQUARIUM via REUTERS

In March, with Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium closed to the public, penguins got the opportunity to explore their home thanks to no human visitors wandering about.

“Without guests in the building, caretakers are getting creative in how they provide enrichment to animals,” the aquarium told the Chicago Tribune. “Introducing new experiences, activities, foods and more to keep them active, encourages them to explore, problem-solve and express natural behaviors.”

With the aquarium closed to humans, penguins take opportunity to explore and visit other animals

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That means some penguins got to meet other aquarium inhabitants. One of them, a penguin named Wellington, saw Shedd’s Amazon Rising exhibit, looking around at the fish tanks with his head spinning in wonder. The fish even looked back.

“The black-barred silver dollars also seemed interested in their unusual visitors,” the caretakers tweeted.

While India Is On Lockdown, Olive Ridley Turtles Start Nesting On Odisha Coast

From pollution levels reducing drastically to now marine life being able to breathe in peace, it seems like the coronavirus lockdown is seriously helping nature recoup.

TWITTER/@_HARIKRISHNAN_S

Olive Ridley sea turtles have come ashore for mass nesting at the six-kilometre-long Rushikulya beach of Odisha’s Ganjam district in the last five days and it’s owing to the coronavirus lockdown.

These rare sea turtles are renowned for their mass nesting and come to Indian shores and Odisha’s coast every nesting season; the areas are their largest nesting site in the region. According to the Odisha Wildlife Organisation ( OWO), nearly 50 per cent of the world population of these rare turtles come to Odisha’s coast for nesting.

On March 22 at around 2 am, 2,000 female Olive Ridleys started coming out of the sea to the beach, Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Amlan Nayak, told The Hindu. 

Ankit Kumar, IFS@AnkitKumar_IFS

ARRIBADA ~Spanish Word – means ‘Arrival’ 🐢
Refers to mass-nesting event when 1000s of Turtles come ashore at the same time to lay eggs on the same beach.
Interestingly, females return to the very same beach from where they first hatched, to lay their eggs.
🏖️ Olive Ridley Turtle

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The Imperative of Ending Wildlife Crime

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
STORY HIGHLIGHTS

There is no international legal framework for cooperative global and national action to catch and punish serious wildlife criminals, nor is there an agreed definition of wildlife crime.

This is despite the devastating impact it has on wildlife, local communities, national economies, security, public health and entire ecosystems, and its links to HIV Aids, Ebola, SARS, MERS and now COVID -19.

The time has come for a new global agreement on wildlife crime.

Reports that the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak originated from illegally sourced wildlife, including pangolin, has given a new sense of urgency to ending wildlife crime. Wildlife crime is not new, yet, remarkably, there is no global legal agreement addressing it. This is despite the devastating impact it has on wildlife, local communities, national economies, security, public health and entire ecosystems, and its links to HIV Aids, Ebola, SARS, MERS and now COVID -19.

We are not talking about subsistence poaching, which is a separate and distinct issue to be resolved locally, but rather, large-scale criminal activity organized transnationally and fueled by corruption. A recent World Bank report estimates the value of illegally traded species at US$200 billion, when all wildlife, including fish and timber not listed under CITES are included.

Saving wildlife, and, as we now see, ourselves, means stopping an illegal commerce that shifts thousands of tonnes of contraband, worth billions of dollars and leaves death, destruction, and instability in its wake. Ending wildlife crime requires a new level of international cooperation that assures criminals feel the long arm of the law. The time for bold action is now.

No longer a tenable solution

Currently and by default, we have turned to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a trade-related conservation convention from the 1970’s, to serve as the de facto legal instrument for combating serious wildlife crimes. The problem is that CITES wasn’t designed to deal with wildlife crime. It was meant to regulate wildlife trade to avoid over-exploitation of threatened species.

While a critically important trade convention, it was never designed to fight crime. CITES has its limitations. It only applies to species listed in its appendices – that is 36,000 of the world’s eight million species – and to the cross-border movement of specimens. It doesn’t require illegal trade to be criminalized, nor does it apply to poaching. However, in the absence of any alternative, over the past decade, CITES has been leveraged to crank up the fight against illegal wildlife trade.

Even with its limitations, CITES has had some success in this regard. It led the creation of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) in 2010[i], which was welcomed by CITES Parties in 2013[ii]. In parallel to the Consortium, the UN General Assembly passed a first-ever Resolution on Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade in 2015, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) released the first-ever UN World Wildlife Crime Report in 2016. Over the years, CITES has seen the deeper engagement of police and customs agents, and action by key industry sectors, including financetransport, and tourism.

Yet, a serious underlying problem remains, one for which we are now paying a heavy price. There is no international legal framework for cooperative global and national action to catch and punish serious wildlife criminals, nor is there an agreed definition of wildlife crime. This inhibits global enforcement efforts and jeopardizes the lives of park rangers, creates insecurity and undermines conservation schemes. It robs local communities of their resources and it elevates the risk of future disease outbreaks like COVID-19.

Transnational wildlife crimes deserve the attention of the criminal justice system and deployment of their resources.

Given the scale and seriousness of wildlife crime and its grave implications for countries, their ecosystems and species, and for humanity overall, it can and must be dealt with by police, prosecutors and the judiciary – not by individuals such as conservationists or park rangers acting alone. We need an unequivocal political message, supported by the right legal framework, that organized, transnational wildlife crimes deserve the attention of the criminal justice system and deployment of their resources.

We must move with the times

The time has come for a new global agreement on wildlife crime.

This agreement can be housed under the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNCTOC), as has been done for other serious crimes such as human trafficking. Such an agreement should oblige countries to prohibit the import of any wildlife[iii], supported by criminal sanctions, unless the importer can prove it was legally obtained[iv].

This idea was put forward at the recent ‘End Wildlife Crime’ event at the House of Lords, which promoted a new agreement on wildlife crime that criminalizes the importation, distribution and consumption of illegally sourced wildlife. What is proposed is not unlike the approach taken in some countries, such as in the US under the Lacey Act, and what some countries have in place for certain timber imports.

Doing things differently requires us to take a fresh look at historic approaches to conservation and question their ongoing efficacy in a changing world. Making bold but necessary changes will prove difficult and stir up resistance. But the status quo won’t do; nor will incremental changes. It’s abundantly clear that we need to scale up the fight against the transnational, organized criminals who are stripping countries bare of their precious wildlife and creating havoc locally and globally. To stop them we need to get police and prosecutors hot on their trail.

Global responses to biodiversity loss must move with the times and if we can blend taking a hard line against transnational organized criminals, while opening up new opportunities for local communities in and around biodiverse-rich areas, then we will not only end wildlife crime but see wildlife, ecosystems and local communities thrive.

[i] A consortium of CITES, INTERPOL, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Customs Organization and the World Bank.

[ii] I was pleased to chair ICCWC from 2020-2018.

[iii] Meaning any animal or plant, terrestrial or marine.

[iv] Under the national laws of the source country.

The Imperative of Ending Wildlife Crime

The Imperative of Ending Wildlife Crime

JOHN E. SCANLON

John E Scanlon AO, Special Envoy, African Parks (Secretary-General of CITES 2010-2018)

24 March 2020

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
STORY HIGHLIGHTS

There is no international legal framework for cooperative global and national action to catch and punish serious wildlife criminals, nor is there an agreed definition of wildlife crime.

This is despite the devastating impact it has on wildlife, local communities, national economies, security, public health and entire ecosystems, and its links to HIV Aids, Ebola, SARS, MERS and now COVID -19.

The time has come for a new global agreement on wildlife crime.

Reports that the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak originated from illegally sourced wildlife, including pangolin, has given a new sense of urgency to ending wildlife crime. Wildlife crime is not new, yet, remarkably, there is no global legal agreement addressing it. This is despite the devastating impact it has on wildlife, local communities, national economies, security, public health and entire ecosystems, and its links to HIV Aids, Ebola, SARS, MERS and now COVID -19.

We are not talking about subsistence poaching, which is a separate and distinct issue to be resolved locally, but rather, large-scale criminal activity organized transnationally and fueled by corruption. A recent World Bank report estimates the value of illegally traded species at US$200 billion, when all wildlife, including fish and timber not listed under CITES are included.

Saving wildlife, and, as we now see, ourselves, means stopping an illegal commerce that shifts thousands of tonnes of contraband, worth billions of dollars and leaves death, destruction, and instability in its wake. Ending wildlife crime requires a new level of international cooperation that assures criminals feel the long arm of the law. The time for bold action is now.

No longer a tenable solution

Currently and by default, we have turned to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a trade-related conservation convention from the 1970’s, to serve as the de facto legal instrument for combating serious wildlife crimes. The problem is that CITES wasn’t designed to deal with wildlife crime. It was meant to regulate wildlife trade to avoid over-exploitation of threatened species.

While a critically important trade convention, it was never designed to fight crime. CITES has its limitations. It only applies to species listed in its appendices – that is 36,000 of the world’s eight million species – and to the cross-border movement of specimens. It doesn’t require illegal trade to be criminalized, nor does it apply to poaching. However, in the absence of any alternative, over the past decade, CITES has been leveraged to crank up the fight against illegal wildlife trade.

Even with its limitations, CITES has had some success in this regard. It led the creation of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) in 2010[i], which was welcomed by CITES Parties in 2013[ii]. In parallel to the Consortium, the UN General Assembly passed a first-ever Resolution on Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade in 2015, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) released the first-ever UN World Wildlife Crime Report in 2016. Over the years, CITES has seen the deeper engagement of police and customs agents, and action by key industry sectors, including financetransport, and tourism.

Yet, a serious underlying problem remains, one for which we are now paying a heavy price. There is no international legal framework for cooperative global and national action to catch and punish serious wildlife criminals, nor is there an agreed definition of wildlife crime. This inhibits global enforcement efforts and jeopardizes the lives of park rangers, creates insecurity and undermines conservation schemes. It robs local communities of their resources and it elevates the risk of future disease outbreaks like COVID-19.

Transnational wildlife crimes deserve the attention of the criminal justice system and deployment of their resources.

Given the scale and seriousness of wildlife crime and its grave implications for countries, their ecosystems and species, and for humanity overall, it can and must be dealt with by police, prosecutors and the judiciary – not by individuals such as conservationists or park rangers acting alone. We need an unequivocal political message, supported by the right legal framework, that organized, transnational wildlife crimes deserve the attention of the criminal justice system and deployment of their resources.

We must move with the times

The time has come for a new global agreement on wildlife crime.

This agreement can be housed under the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNCTOC), as has been done for other serious crimes such as human trafficking. Such an agreement should oblige countries to prohibit the import of any wildlife[iii], supported by criminal sanctions, unless the importer can prove it was legally obtained[iv].

This idea was put forward at the recent ‘End Wildlife Crime’ event at the House of Lords, which promoted a new agreement on wildlife crime that criminalizes the importation, distribution and consumption of illegally sourced wildlife. What is proposed is not unlike the approach taken in some countries, such as in the US under the Lacey Act, and what some countries have in place for certain timber imports.

Doing things differently requires us to take a fresh look at historic approaches to conservation and question their ongoing efficacy in a changing world. Making bold but necessary changes will prove difficult and stir up resistance. But the status quo won’t do; nor will incremental changes. It’s abundantly clear that we need to scale up the fight against the transnational, organized criminals who are stripping countries bare of their precious wildlife and creating havoc locally and globally. To stop them we need to get police and prosecutors hot on their trail.

Global responses to biodiversity loss must move with the times and if we can blend taking a hard line against transnational organized criminals, while opening up new opportunities for local communities in and around biodiverse-rich areas, then we will not only end wildlife crime but see wildlife, ecosystems and local communities thrive.

[i] A consortium of CITES, INTERPOL, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Customs Organization and the World Bank.

[ii] I was pleased to chair ICCWC from 2020-2018.

[iii] Meaning any animal or plant, terrestrial or marine.

[iv] Under the national laws of the source country.

This article was written by John E Scanlon AO, Special Envoy, African Parks (Secretary-General of CITES 2010-2018).

Top 10 Reasons Why the Trump Administration is the Worst Ever for Wildlife

 Jim Cumming

In tonight’s State of the Union address, it is likely that President Trump will talk about national security, immigration, job growth, and infrastructure. But there is little chance that he will address other vital issues of our time, including climate change, wildlife conservation, and clean water.

“It’s clear that the Trump administration fundamentally does not value wildlife, wild places, clean air and water and a livable climate,” said Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark. “Rather than build on America’s extraordinary conservation legacy, this administration has placed the power of the federal government at the disposal of those who seek to exploit and degrade our land, water, air, wildlife and people.”

According to The New York Times, the Trump administration has rolled back more than 95 environmental regulations, often citing them as burdensome to the fossil fuel industry and other big businesses. Of the many anti-environmental actions taken by this administration, the following 10 policy changes have been most detrimental to wildlife and the places they live:

1. Imperiled Species: The Trump administration finalized its sweeping rewrite of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations that undermine the conservation of threatened and endangered species in August 2019. The Department of the Interior’s new regulations will eliminate key protections for threatened species, weaken bedrock consultation requirements, open the door to burdensome and inappropriate cost-benefit analyses that risk politicizing the ESA’s science-based listing process, and much more. Learn More.

2. Migratory Birds: The administration proposed formal regulations to cement into law a hotly disputed legal opinion declaring that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) does not need to protect migratory birds from harm caused by industrial activities. This has dramatically undercut the law’s ability to conserve birds. Learn More.

3. National Monuments: In December 2017, President Trump signed proclamations that decimated two national monuments in Utah – Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante. And the president’s threat of downsizing or reducing protections remains for as many as eight other national monuments around the country. Learn More.

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Black-footed Ferret

Image Credit

J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

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Snowy Owl

Image Credit

Jim Cumming

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Bears Ears National Monument

Image Credit

Bob Wick/BLM

4. Marine Life: The Trump administration has reversed direction and permitted the use of seismic air guns for gas and oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. The practice, which can kill marine life and disrupt fisheries, had previously been blocked by the Obama administration. Learn More.

5. Clean Water: The administration revoked a rule recognizing federal responsibility to protect for streams that provide clean drinking water and wetlands that provide sanctuary for wildlife. This reversal was formalized in the Waters of the United States, or “WOTUS” rule in January 2020. Learn more.

6. Public Lands: The Trump administration opened 9 million acres of western public land to oil and gas drilling by weakening habitat protections for the greater sage-grouse, an imperiled bird known for its elaborate mating dance. This move is now only temporarily deterred by an Idaho District Court injunction blocking the administration’s “Energy Dominance” agenda. Learn more.

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Humpback whale breaching

Image Credit

Raj Das

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Whiteoak Canyon Shenandoah National Park

Image Credit

N Lewis/NPS

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Sage grouse

Image Credit

Jennifer Strickland/USFWS

7. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Responding to a sneaky legislative rider passed in Congress in 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is preparing plans to lease the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil and gas industry. This destructive, illegitimate program is being rushed through, ignoring key scientific evidence and the law.  BLM’s actions could jeopardize the survival of an indigenous culture, wildlife and the future of the most imperiled polar bear population in the world. Learn more.

8. Climate Change: In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that cripples our ability to take action on the global threat of climate change. This was quickly followed by an effort to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, among dozens of other climate change policies revised, reversed and dissolved under this administration.  In January, the Trump administration proposed rules that would allow federal agencies to ignore climate impacts of their actions in environmental reviews. Learn more.

9. Border Wall: In December 2019, Congress unveiled $1.4 billion in funding to build the border wall. When built, a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico will fragment vital ecosystems and landscapes, threatening wildlife and people. Thousands of scientists from around the world agree that building a border wall will be devastating to North America’s biodiversity. Defenders has requested U.S. Supreme Court review of federal court rulings that have allowed the Trump administration to waive dozens of environmental, health and safety laws to speed construction of border wall. Learn more.

10. Evaluation: The Trump administration targeted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in January 2020 in order to fast track development and infrastructure projects like highways and pipelines. NEPA ensures that federal agencies publicly evaluate the environmental effects of their actions. Rolling it back will only expose the American people and environment to serious harm and dirty our water, clean air and environment. Learn more.

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Sheenjek River, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Image Credit

Alexis Bonogofsky/USFWS

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Polar bears

Image Credit

Cheryl Strahl

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Ocelot

Image Credit

Aussieanouk/stock.adobe.com

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Bison Calf walks on road in Yellowstone National Park

Image Credit

Jacob W. Frank/NPS

Reversing and weakening regulations to fossil fuel development and other damaging impacts has been a hallmark of President Trump’s economic agenda. Defenders and partners are fighting every day against the Trump administration’s actions that imperil wildlife, degrade habitat and threaten communities. We’re in the courts. We’re tracking policy. We’re making sure citizens are aware. But with 10 mon

Helicopter gunners to kill Grand Teton park mountain goats

Because shotguns will be blasting from helicopters to kill mountain goats in Grand Teton National Park during the coming week, a temporary area closure for the public is being implemented in the central part of the park.

The closure is slated for Sunday through Jan. 12 and is bounded on the south by the South, Middle, Grand Teton, Mount Owen and Teewinot Mountain peaks; on the west by the park boundary; on the east by the western shores of Jackson, Leigh, String and Jenny lakes; and on the north by Rolling Thunder Mountain and Eagle Rest peaks.

“No public access will be allowed in the area during this time,” the park said in a news release. “Signs will be posted at main access locations.”

The park was given the green light to remove the non-native mountain goats from the Teton Range in November. The purpose is to protect the isolated native bighorn sheep in the range.

The park estimates that the bighorn sheep herd is at about 100 individuals.

The mountain goat numbers have grown to about the same size in the last few years and compete with bighorn sheep for food resources and can be a threat by transmitting disease.

“In order to aid in the conservation of a native and vulnerable population of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the Teton Range, the National Park Service is implementing a recently finalized management plan to remove nonnative mountain goats from the park via lethal and nonlethal means,” the news release said.

The park said “helicopter-based lethal removal efforts” will begin on Monday depending on the weather conditions and finding the animals. Qualified ground-based volunteers will not be used this winter, in order to expedite the operation, according to park spokesperson Denise Germann.

“Timing of the activities is planned when park visitation is low and will be concentrated in the area between Cascade and Snowshoe canyons where the majority of the mountain goats are located,” the park said.

The mountain goats migrated into the Teton Range from the nearby Snake River Range after they were transplanted there to provide hunting opportunities.

“The mountain goat population is currently at a size where complete removal is achievable in a short time. However, the growth rate of this population suggest that complete removal in the near future may become unattainable after a period of about three years,” the park said.

For These Vampires, A Shared Blood Meal Lets ‘Friendship’ Take Flight

Common vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus), such as this group day-roosting in a cave in Mexico, can form cooperative, friendship-like social relationships.

B.G. Thomson/Science Source

Vampire bats might have a nasty reputation because of the way they ruthlessly drink their victims’ blood, but these bloodthirsty beasts can be both generous and loyal when it comes to their fellow bats.

Captive common vampire bats will share their food with hungry bat companions, and forge such a bond that they continue to hang out with these buddies once they’re released back to the wild, according to a newly published study in the journal Current Biology.

“Bats are very maligned, and vampire bats are the most maligned of the bats,” says Gerald Carter of The Ohio State University, who is also a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. “What I study about them often makes people think about them in a more positive light.”

Common vampire bats don’t actually suck the blood of their victims, which are usually livestock like horses or cows. Instead, the bats make little cuts with their razor-sharp incisors and lap at the bleeding wounds.

Bats need to lap up about a tablespoon of blood every night, Carter says. If they miss two nights, these small bats get very weak, and missing three nights might mean death.

A desperate vampire bat, however, can find help in its home roost, where neighbors who did manage to drink blood are often willing to share food by regurgitating some of their last blood meal.

“The females will do this for their offspring, but they also do it for adults, including unrelated adults,” Carter says. “What’s particularly interesting about this species is these non-kin food donations.”

Carter has been studying this in captive bats for years. “We don’t need to train them to cooperate with each other,” he says. “We can just take a bat, deprive it of food for a while, put it back. And then see who is willing to share food with it. And we can just do this repeatedly over time.”

This research has shown that bats can develop social bonds with certain individual bats based on reciprocal food sharing.

“We could see that during the time the bats are in captivity that some of their relationships are getting stronger,” Carter says. “Almost certainly, there were some bats that were forming new relationships in captivity.”

He and his colleagues wondered if these social bonds were real or just something that emerged in the artificial environment of the lab because these bats were forced to hang together.

They decided to do an experiment using 23 female bats that had been captured from a large hollow tree. These bats, and their social connections, had been closely observed for nearly two years in captivity. Over that time, social grooming and food sharing increased within the group. The scientists tagged the bats with special sensors and released them back into the wild, along with a control group of 27 female bats from the wild that were also given sensors.

A team of researchers took common vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) that had been in captivity and from the wild and tagged them with tiny sensors. The bats’ social interactions were then tracked for eight days.

Sherri and Brock Fenton

The sensors, lighter than a penny, were stuck onto the bats using surgical glue, says Simon Ripperger, a visiting scientist at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin. “They do not report the exact location,” Ripperger says. “They do report who they are with.”

Every two seconds, he explains, the sensors searched for the presence and relative proximity of all the other tagged bats. This information got sent to shoebox-sized recording stations located at the roost and at a known foraging site. Researchers tracked the bats, and their social interactions, for eight days.

The sensors, which were attached to the bats using surgical glue, could determine how close the tagged bats were to other tagged bats.

Simon Ripperger

What they found is that bats with strong histories of cooperation in the lab continued to spend time together out in the wild. “These relationships that have been forming in captivity, they seem to persist,” Ripperger says.

“The relationships are in the animals’ minds, and they’re not just a byproduct of the environment,” says Carter, who adds that other animals such dolphins, elephants and nonhuman primates also seem to have “complex individualized relationships” with others.

Whether to call these relationships “friendships,” though, is controversial.

“I’m very reluctant to use that word to describe it, and I don’t even like it when it’s in in quotes,” says Joan Silk of Arizona State University, who has studied social bonds in primates. “The bats can’t tell us how they feel, which is a really big problem in trying to figure out what’s going on with the animals. So do animals have friends? I think the answer is, I don’t know.”

Still, in nature, some creatures clearly can form social bonds based on mutual preferences of the individuals. “These strong social bonds play an important role in the lives of these bats and probably in the lives of many social animals,” Silk says.

“I think animals probably do integrate many experiences over time and build up a kind of ‘trust’ with different individuals,” Carter adds.

His research team has been expanding its tracking studies using the special sensors, also putting them on cows to see whether the tagged bats share the bloody wounds they make on these animals with other bats.

“This is a whole aspect of the behavior of vampire bats that people have just sort of looked at anecdotally,” Carter says. “That’s pretty exciting for us right now.”