Trade in CITES-listed snakes is dominated by commercially purposed pythons.•
Live snakes are mainly exported by Ghana, Indonesia, Togo and Benin, and imported by China and the USA.•
Traded snakes are increasingly reported as being sourced from captivity rather than the wild.•
Potentially invasive snake species are heavily traded as pets.•
Traded venomous snakes are mainly wild-caught, potentially increasing snakebite risk.
Trade in venomous and non-venomous snakes can negatively impact wild snake populations and may drive snakebite risk for people. However, we often lack sufficient trade data to identify where the potential risks for snake population decline and snakebite are highest. Currently, the legal, international trade of 164 snake species is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). We analyzed CITES-listed snake trade from 1975 to 2018 using the recently released shipment-level CITES Trade Database to identify spatiotemporal trends of snake trade and generate insights regarding snake conservation and potential public health risks from snakebite. Commercially purposed pythons dominated the global snake trade, comprising 38.8% of all traded snakes. Live snakes were mainly exported by Ghana, Indonesia, Togo, and Benin, and imported by China and the USA. Venomous snake trade comprised 10.8% of all traded snakes, and over 75% of wild-sourced venomous snakes came from Indonesia. Although traded snakes in recent years are increasingly comprised of captive-bred animals, the majority of snakes are still wild-sourced (> 60% between 2015 and 2017), including IUCN-listed species, with potentially detrimental impacts on conservation status. Further, the CITES Trade Database reveals geographic regions where venomous snakes are sourced from the wild, posing potential risks to snake catchers, traders, and pet owners. The database also documents the movement of non-native snake species through trade, with implications for conservation of native species. This study represents the first global analysis focused specifically on CITES-listed snake trade using the CITES Trade Database.
A Piping Plover glares at Jones Beach, Long Island, N.Y. A couple of these endangered birds have reappeared in Chicago.
Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond/Getty Images
Monty and Rose met last year on a beach on the north side of Chicago. Their attraction was intense, immediate, and you might say, fruitful.
Somewhere between the roll of lake waves and the shimmer of skyscrapers overlooking the beach, Monty and Rose fledged two chicks. They protected their offspring through formative times. But then, in fulfillment of nature’s plan, they parted ways, and left the chicks to make their own ways in the world.
Monty and Rose are piping plovers, an endangered species of bird of which there may only be 6,000 or 7,000 in the world, including Monty, Rose and their chicks. They were the first piping plovers to nest in Chicago in more than 60 years.
After their chicks fledged, they drifted apart. Rose went off to Florida for the winter, and Monty made his way to the Texas coast. They’d always have the North Side, but were each on their own in a huge, fraught world.
And then, just a few days ago, Monty and Rose were sighted again, on the same patch of sand on which they met, matched and hatched their chicks last year. Montrose Beach on the North Side of Chicago. (The name predates their romance, by the way.)
“They’re both back, and it’s kind of amazing!” Tamima Itani of the Illinois Ornithological Society told the Chicago Tribune.
Leslie Borns, the steward of the Montrose Beach Dunes, told us, “Monty and Rose survived the winter and their long migration, and returned to this one place in the world. It’s so amazing.”
Louise Clemency, a field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says the couple has already picked up where they left off — or as Ms. Clemency phrased it, “engaging in courtship behavior.”
That means scraping in the sand, not sending a text message that says, “Hey, you up?”
An Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist has placed a cage over the nest of Monty and Rose. It doesn’t afford much privacy, but does protect them and any new fledglings from predators like gulls or coyotes, or for that matter, certain members of the city council.
In these times when so much has to be closed, the care so many humans have taken to care and provide for a couple of small birds is a kind of reassuring signal. Life goes on. Love finds a way. Family sustains. The fate of two small piping plovers still amounts to something in this crazy world.
Eyewitness account plus scavenged elk carcass indicates likely presence of multiple wolves in northwest Colorado
MOFFAT COUNTY, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say an eyewitness report of six large canids traveling together in the far northwest corner of the state last October, in conjunction with last week’s discovery of a thoroughly scavenged elk carcass near Irish Canyon – a few miles from the location of the sighting – strongly suggests a pack of gray wolves may now be residing in Colorado.
“The sighting marks the first time in recent history CPW has received a report of multiple wolves traveling together,” said CPW Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke. “In addition, in the days prior, the eyewitness says he heard distinct howls coming from different animals. In my opinion, this is a very credible report.”
After learning about the scavenged elk carcass, CPW initiated an investigation which is still ongoing. At the site, the officers observed several large canid tracks from multiple animals surrounding the carcass. According to CPW wildlife managers, the tracks are consistent with those made by wolves. In addition, the condition of the carcass is consistent with known wolf predation. (Photos below)
“The latest sightings add to other credible reports of wolf activity in Colorado over the past several years,” said Romatzke. “In addition to tracks, howls, photos and videos, the presence of one wolf was confirmed by DNA testing a few years ago, and in a recent case, we have photos and continue to track a wolf with a collar from Wyoming’s Snake River pack.
Romatzke says from the evidence, there is only one logical conclusion CPW officials can make.
“It is inevitable, based on known wolf behavior, that they would travel here from states where their populations are well-established,” he said. “We have no doubt that they are here, and the most recent sighting of what appears to be wolves traveling together in what can be best described as a pack is further evidence of the presence of wolves in Colorado.”
Romatzke adds CPW will continue to operate under the agency’s current management direction.
“We will not take direct action and we want to remind the public that wolves are federally endangered species and fall under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. As wolves move into the state on their own, we will work with our federal partners to manage the species,” he said.
The public is urged to contact CPW immediately if they see or hear wolves or find evidence of any wolf activity. The Wolf Sighting Form can be found on the CPW website.
Mutilated orangutan bodies discovered near palm oil plantations captivated public attention throughout 2018 in Indonesian Borneo. One hundred and thirty bullets shot from close range riddled one orangutan carcass. Seventeen bullets were found in another decapitated orangutan. Conservation workers observed signs of torture in a third body discovered near a newly opened palm oil plantation.
A video of an orangutan battling a bulldozer clearing forest in Borneo for palm oil went viral in international media last year. Months later, Iceland banned an animated anti-palm-oil ad featuring a lost, orphaned orangutan finding her way into a human home. In 2019, Norway pressured Indonesia, the world’s largest producer and exporter of palm oil, to adopt more sustainable harvesting practices by reducing its palm oil imports from the country, but did not ban palm oil itself. With the exception of Norway, the world’s countries have remained either relatively quiet, or completely uninformed about, Indonesia’s growing environmental crisis and various animal rights violations.
Deforestation and habitat destruction are rampant in Southeast Asia, mainly due to palm oil production. The region alone produces 87 percent of the world’s palm oil, which can be found in snack foods. The 18 million hectares of palm oil plantations in Borneo have destroyed more than half of the island’s rainforests, leaving wildlife (and especially orangutans) vulnerable to abuse and death.
Indonesia’s forests face varied and complex pressures. A combination of palm oil production, hydroelectric project development and infrastructure development is driving habitat loss. To slow global deforestation rates, the United Nations in 2015 dedicated Goal 15 of its Sustainable Development Goals to “life on land.” National targets for conservation in Indonesia focus on increasing biodiversity and halting illegal wildlife trafficking by 2020. As we head into 2020, considerable work remains unfinished. One clause of Sustainable Development Goal 15 explicitly calls upon all countries to “take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classified Bornean orangutans as critically endangered in 2016. Orangutans are still being hunted as intruders on palm oil plantations, despite protective regulations being in place since 1985. An estimated 104,700 orangutans survive in Borneo today, down from a population of 230,000 in 2007.
In the last 20 years, palm oil producers have slashed orangutan habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia by more than 80 percent. The toxic, hazardous phenomenon of transboundary haze — seasonal air pollution from burning forests in Indonesia and Malaysia that crosses international borders to affect up to six countries in Southeast Asia — is a result of slash-and-burn practices to clear plantations. In 2015, the World Bank Group reported smog levels over 1,000 on the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) in Indonesian villages near the slashed-and-burned clearings. A PSI level ranging over 300 is considered hazardous for humans and animals.
Indonesia’s forests are being decimated for palm oil production at an alarming rate. The area of Indonesian forest burned by palm oil producers for clearing just in 2015 was more than 26 times the area of forest destroyed by all the California wildfires of November 2018.
A narrow strait separates Indonesia from Singapore, my home. Since the haze doesn’t respect international boundaries, schools and institutions in Singapore began distributing protective breathing masks in 2015. Throughout September and October of this year, the air pollution was so thick that simply going outside caused watering eyes and burning throats. With haze this suffocating in Singapore, I began to wonder what is happening across the water where the forests blaze. To find out why Indonesian forests continue to burn year after year and why an endangered species is still being killed, I embarked upon several months of investigative reporting to speak with Indonesian conservationists directly.
Standing at the Receding Borders of Indonesia’s Demarcated Forests
The Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP), based in Jakarta, Indonesia, works at the front lines, campaigning against habitat destruction in Borneo, rescuing and releasing orangutans, and actively protesting palm oil companies. One of Indonesia’s most dogged activist groups, COP hijacked the 2013 Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in Medan, Sumatra, by barging in on the meeting dressed in orangutan costumes. In the 20 minutes that elapsed before the police removed the activists, they disrupted the conference and paraded around a banner urging onlookers to boycott the palm oil companies present at the meeting. Leading COP’s habitat campaign efforts is Paulinus Kristianto from Kalimantan, Borneo. Deforestation is a deeply personal issue for Kristianto, an Indigenous Dayak. Kristianto, a videographer by trade, documents what’s happening in Kalimantan to educate the Dayak people and the world.
The Dayaks share the forests with orangutans; the Dayak people well understand that their fates are intertwined. “When I see the Dayak tribes, my family, lose the forest, we can’t do anything. We try to fight and the companies send us to jail,” Kristianto told Truthout. “So, I must go to fight. It comes from my heart. I must prove to the people what’s happening is bad.”
The Dayaks are witnessing the end of their way of life. Indigenous cultures in Borneo are being threatened by the deadly trifecta of palm oil extraction, hydroelectric development and commercial logging. Kristianto embraces the danger and sacrifice that his videography and activism entail. On his journey as a conservationist, he recounts, “The first year, I said, these are my adventures; the second year, I said, this is my work; the third year, I said, this is my life. When you see the eyes of the orangutan, there’s no escaping.”
COP dispatched Kristianto to Central Kalimantan in 2015 to save animals endangered by the slash-and-burn fires blazing across palm oil plantations. Uncontrollable flames spread throughout Borneo, including to West Kalimantan where Kristianto lives. “My house was in the peat area. I was in Central Kalimantan trying to stop the fire but I couldn’t get to my home,” Kristianto told Truthout. “The same moment I was in the fire there, my grandfather called me to say, ‘Linus, your house is burning. But it’s okay; our family is okay. Don’t worry about it; I’ll stop the fire here.’ He told me we will build the house again. My battery died, and at night I finally went back into town and charged my phone — and there was a text from my mother saying that my grandfather died [in the fires], just two hours after calling me.”
When Kristianto finally reached his home, days later, there were only ashes where his wooden house once stood. He vowed to quit his conservation work to be with family, but his surviving family members and colleagues urged him to not let his grandfather’s death be in vain.
Kristianto continues campaigning against habitat destruction by palm oil plantations that encroach into the rainforest and investigating crimes against wildlife. According to Kristianto, “We’re just like firefighters. If there’s a problem, we go there. I don’t know much about the data of how many orangutans are in the forest. But if you ask me how many died there, I can tell you.”
Dayaks are committed to protecting their forests, and their own communities by extension. A misleading study claims that orangutan populations are in decline due to hunting by Dayaks. Supporters of palm oil production widely cite this dated survey, published in 2011 with the assistance of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, to justify their destructive activities. The survey, which observed kill rates by Dayaks to be higher than expected, does not align with Kristianto’s lived experiences. “In all my seven years of conservation work, I’ve never seen an orangutan killed because of hunting by Indigenous people,” he said. “Villagers are not causing the spike in orangutan mutilations and murders.” According to Kristianto, palm oil companies are killing the orangutans; their incentive is to protect their private, commercial property from “agricultural pests.”
Palm Oil Costs an Arm and a Leg — Literally
Some palm oil companies place bounties on orangutans in an effort to minimize the damage that orangutans inflict on their crops. As plantations continue to encroach upon orangutan habitats and destroy their sources of wild fruits, the primates resort to eating palm oil fruit to survive. Over the last decade, companies have been offering payments of up to USD $100 to villagers and workers who bring back a severed orangutan foot, hand or head as evidence of a killing.
Indonesian law states that it is illegal to kill an endangered species like an orangutan; doing so could result in up to five years in jail and a fine of USD $7,400. Despite some arrests of individuals, the Indonesian legal system has never handed down a full sentence commensurate with the crime. Only one notable case of a Malaysian-owned palm oil company went to trial in 2013. The company was found guilty of paying two of its workers to kill orangutans. The plantation manager and the two workers were found guilty. Despite COP campaigning during the trial for a full sentencing, the manager and two workers all spent eight months in jail and were fined less than a third of the maximum fine stated by the 1990 Conservation of Biodiversity and Ecosystems Law.
Kristianto performed the autopsy of the orangutan who in 2018 was found with 130 bullets lodged in his body. He determined that the orangutan not only was shot at extremely close range, but also suffered in this wounded condition for three days before dying. Officials found the orangutan near PT Wana Sawit Subur Lestari’s newly opened plantation. Police convicted the perpetrator, but the punishment was a mere seven months in jail.
In 2018, the federal government of Indonesia issued a moratorium on the opening of new palm oil plantations. However, local governments that ignore the moratorium and continue to allow the establishment of new plantations face no consequences from the federal government. Palm oil companies that already hold local permits can still establish new plantations. Abetnego Tarigan, former executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment and a senior adviser to the Indonesian president, has a unique perspective on the government’s stake in palm oil. “The strategy to maintain the position of Indonesia in the palm oil sector is to improve productivity,” Tarigan told Truthout. “So the moratorium is actually a way to improve the palm oil sector by increasing productivity.” According to Tarigan, the federal government is encouraging palm oil producers to focus more on regenerative agricultural practices to expand production, rather than continuing to destroy virgin forest.
Tarigan agrees that the federal government’s moratorium on new plantations by itself is not enough to curb palm-oil-driven deforestation, and says that stricter reviews of palm oil development permits are crucially needed. “It’s public knowledge that many permits are released to bribery without the support of an environmental impact assessment or disaster risk,” he said.
According to the World Bank, the agriculture industry employs about 30 percent of the Indonesian workforce, with the palm oil and pulp-and-paper industries being key constituents of the sector. Palm oil surpassed oil and gas as the biggest component of Indonesia’s Gross Domestic Product in 2016. Even Kristianto, who has seen first-hand the devastation caused by palm oil, declares himself not to be anti-palm oil. “Palm oil is still needed in Kalimantan,” he says. “So many places are isolated, and palm oil companies build infrastructure.”
Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) Director Jamartin Sihite pulls all threads of human development into the picture. “You cannot talk conservation with hungry people. Give people a way to find an alternative livelihood. It’s so complicated with poverty alleviation, rescue and release, monitoring and combating fires,” said Sihite.
In 2011, BOSF was unable to release a single rescued orangutan, as there was insufficient suitable, safe habitat available. Sihite told Truthout that after unsuccessfully lobbying the Indonesian federal government to protect more forest to facilitate the rescued orangutans’ release, BOSF approached local governments. BOSF and local governments in Kalimantan reached an agreement to permit the group to buy the licenses of logging companies (valid for 60 years) and pay property taxes for land suitable for orangutan release. The foundation now has 557 orangutans in rescue and rehabilitation centers around Kalimantan.
Conservation Means Rebuilding Forests, Not Cages
For those orangutans fortunate enough to be rescued from habitat destruction and protected from hunters, the journey back to the forest is not guaranteed. The Wildlife Rescue Centre (WRC) in Yogyakarta (also referred to as Jogja), Java, Indonesia, supports the COP’s program to rehabilitate and release orangutans. The WRC cares for orangutans, macaques, sun bears, gibbons, eagles, monkeys, cassowaries and many more animals rescued from illegal trade or poaching.
Habitat conservation does not always lead to rescued animals’ full rehabilitation and release, however. Many of WRC’s orangutans and other animals are too old to be released back into the wild and must remain in captivity as permanent residents.
For rehabilitated animals, habitat for release is scarce. “Right now, it’s hard to find a habitat to release the animals,” said Ignatius Prasetyadi, volunteer coordinator for the WRC. “For example, most of the national parks [in Indonesia] are already full of eagles, and eagles are territorial, so we almost can’t release more [rescued animals]. The forests are overfilled and conservation centers are at maximum capacity. The solution isn’t to make more cages, but to build enclosures, sanctuaries and mini-forests.”
Sihite, the BOSF director, is motivated to get orangutans back into the trees, climbing in their natural environment. “You go to rehabilitation centers and see the big orangutans who have already spent 15 years in the cage. You see their eyes. They look empty. No hope; it’s like a loss of soul. I work so hard, not for the baby eyes, but to get these orangutans out of the cage,” said Sihite.
If these orangutans are not killed by bounty hunters, they still provide lucrative sources of income for wildlife poachers. Many of the orangutans in rehabilitation have traumatic former lives as pets or in circuses. The gruesome 2003 case of Pony, who was kept as a sex slave on a palm oil plantation, demonstrates how long these abuses have been going on.
While the global public is becoming more aware of deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade, the sophistication of wildlife poachers’ methods is also increasing. WRC Jogja Director Rosalia Setiawati is well aware of the tricks that illegal traders use, including systems of ringtone codes and burner phones, to stay one step ahead of law enforcement. Until the global demand for palm oil and exotic animals is extinguished, any real progress toward wildlife conservation goals will likely continue to be nullified by the work of poachers.
Deforestation endangers orangutans; it also affects other animal and plant species that don’t receive much or any media attention. “If you lose orangutans, you lose the 40 types of plants that are grown through their digestive systems,” Setiawati said. Sihite agrees, calling orangutans “the gardeners of the forest.”
Boycotting Palm Oil Is Not Enough
Every day spent steadfastly boycotting palm oil is a day in which 25 orangutans worldwide are still killed due to habitat destruction. Large manufacturing companies, whether compelled by government policies or not, must eradicate unsustainable sources of palm oil from their supply chains in order to save the orangutans. All countries that import palm oil need to ban the ubiquitous commodity as a first step to rehabilitate damaged forests, conserve wildlife and put an end to orangutan killings.
More than a decade ago in the U.K., Friends of the Earth campaigned against palm oil for a year. Activists protested outside storefronts to pressure Tesco and other major retailers to develop a framework for certifying sustainable palm oil production as such. Creating this distinction in the marketplace is another first step toward raising consumer awareness about the hazards of non-regenerative palm oil production.
Kristianto would be more than happy to put himself out of a job if palm oil companies radically alter their production practices to prioritize wildlife conservation. “Conservation is not about how much we rescue the orangutans,” he said. “It’s about how much people care about them. Conservation is successful when you don’t have to rescue them anymore.”
The imperative to save the orangutans presents a predicament for Indonesia’s government, which is attempting to balance frenetic economic development with a dire need for species and habitat conservation. Partnerships among government entities, industry participants and conservation groups are essential to saving the orangutan, Indonesia’s national gem, along with the hundreds of other animal and plant species endangered by habitat loss.
Sihite offered this analogy about the urgent need for cooperation: “Everybody has their own part to play. Nobody is bigger than the other,” he begins. “But sometimes it’s not about resources, it’s about the willingness. We work together like an orchestra. How can you say the violin is better than the piano? The piano is more expensive than the violin, but in the orchestra, all have the same role to play in order to make a symphony nice to hear.”
But what if the piano is not playing its part? Orangutans have yet to benefit from the harmony of a concerted, nationwide conservation effort to protect their rapidly dwindling species.
With wolf pack supporters planning on Tuesday to submit more than 208,000 signatures supporting a November 2020 ballot measure calling for the reintroduction of wolves to Colorado, voters could soon hear a pitched howling over wolves for most of next year.
“This is our last opportunity to do it right and to restore the balance,” said Rob Edward, whose Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund has been collecting signatures since June for a 2020 ballot measure — now called Initiative 107 — that directs the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to craft a plan to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado by the end of 2023.
The group needs about 124,000 valid signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Their deadline to collect them is Friday.
As the group transitions from harvesting signatures to swaying voters, opponents of wolf reintroduction are girding for battle. And it’s a new type of fight for opponents of wolf reintroduction, who in other states across the West and Great Lakes region have lobbied wildlife commissioners — not voters — to oppose reintroduction. The Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition is strategizing a first-ever public campaign, seeking to educate voters on potential negative impacts of introducing the wolf to the state.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want wolves brought into Colorado. We just can’t sustain another predator in this state,” said Denny Behrens, co-chair of the Stop the Wolf Coalition.
The coalition has gathered resolutions from 10 counties opposing reintroduction of wolves in the state. It has found high-profile supporters like Greg Walcher, the former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
In a statement announcing his support for the coalition and its fight against Initiative 107, Walcher said seeded wolves in Colorado could “decimate other important wildlife, and their impact on rural areas could be devastating.”
Colorado is the last battleground for restoring wolf populations after more than 40 years of federal and state efforts to introduce wolves in the Southwest, Northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions.
In Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona and around the Great Lakes, wolf reintroduction was directed by wildlife officials following the federal Endangered Species Act that has protected gray wolves since 1983. A ballot measure in Colorado — the missing link connecting wolf populations between Mexico and Canada — would mark the first time that voters, not federal laws, directed state wildlife officials to restore wolves.
“Conservationists and biologists have been working with the Fish and Wildlife Service and different agencies for years, trying to convince them to do this in Colorado, and we keep running up against a brick wall,” said Edward of the direct-to-voters appeal for wolves.
There are about 5,500 wolves spread across nine U.S. states right now, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Department of the Interior in March proposed removing the gray wolf from protection, citing its growing population.
The proposal has drawn the ire of wolf advocates who fear delisting could lead to more wolf hunting and trapping in some areas. Advocates submitted more than a million comments opposing the suggested removal of endangered species protection for wolves.
Opponents don’t care about wandering wolves. They do not like the wolf advocates’ plan to introduce at least 20 to 30 predators to Colorado, which could grow to a population of 250 or more wolves over the course of a decade. Behrens said the idea that wolves would remain on the West Slope “is pretty absurd.”
“They will travel great distances. You will have wolves in Woodland Park and Estes Park. You are going to have wolves all over the place in a matter of years,” he said. “Why would you take a wolf from Canada where it roams free and bring it down to Colorado and turn it loose with almost 6 million people and think there’s not going to be any conflict? There will be conflict from day one, and it’s not fair to the wolf to do that.”
Edward, with the wolf fund, points to growing wolf populations in places like Yellowstone National Park, where millions of annual visitors have not had conflicts with wolves since reintroduction there in the 1990s.
“This is just not an issue. Western Colorado is 70% public land, so it’s not going to be developed and full of people,” Edward said.
Opponents of the wolf reintroduction plan say the flow of out-of-state money into the wolf reintroduction effort shows “this is not a Colorado campaign,” Behrens said.
“Less than 1% of the money they’ve raised has come from Coloradans. That’s pretty telling,” Behrens said.
Edward said since most of western Colorado is federal land, it’s not surprising that people from all over the country support efforts to restore wolf populations on public lands.
“It is perfectly appropriate for people from across the country to donate to this campaign,” said Edward, who served on a wolf advisory group in 2005 that ultimately recommended that the state’s wildlife commission oppose reintroducing wolves.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife has not voiced support or opposition to the ballot proposal, but in 2016 the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission adopted a resolution affirming the wolf advisory group’s recommendation opposing the intentional release of any wolves in Colorado.
A fiscal note from Colorado Parks and Wildlife — obtained via an open records request by the Stop the Wolf Coalition — shows that after planning costs, implementation of the wolf reintroduction plan would cost $4.1 million, including new wildlife biologists and payments to ranchers who lose livestock to wolves. The cost for the first eight years of the reintroduction effort, which CPW estimated would involve 45 released wolves over a five-year span, would be $5.7 million.
With what could be the country’s final battle over wolves now shifting toward Colorado voters, both sides say they have the support to win.
“As far back as 1993 and 1994, we have polling showing that people on the Western Slope support recovery by a majority margin,” Edward said.
Once “a full-blown education campaign” reaches voters, Behrens said, “we will see a huge input of funding from Coloradans who don’t want this.”
Who knew orcas were so playful, so full of affection, so constantly touching one another?
New footage taken by drone as well as underwater stunned researchers who spent two days with the southern resident orca J pod off the British Columbia coast, including with the newest baby, and more time with northern resident killer whales in B.C.’s Johnstone Strait. The footage taken during three weeks in August and early September was filmed in collaboration with the Hakai Institute, a science research nonprofit.
“It took our breath away,” said Andrew Trites, professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries Department of Zoology and director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Trites is co-lead researcher on a study that over five years is taking a close look at resident killer whales and their prey.
The drone footage was gathered non-invasively, with the camera hundreds of feet above the whales, who did not seem to even know it was there, Trites said. Combined with underwater microphones, tracking devices used to follow adult chinook, and underwater footage, a spectacular new look into orcas and their day-to-day life in the wild is emerging.
The big standout so far is just how much the orcas touch one another, something not as visible from a boat.
“We like to think we are hardened research scientists, but it tugged at our heart strings,” Trites said, “Especially the mum and calf.”
In that footage, a northern resident baby is nuzzled by its mother and slides all along its mother’s body seemingly just for fun, and playfully tail slaps its mom on the head.
“These drones are opening up avenues of their lives we have never seen before,” Trites said. “The same way we hug our kids and hug our friends, touch furthers those bonds. That’s the power of touch, and here we have killer whales reminding us of that — who would have thought?”
J pod’s new baby whale, J56, also was seen near the mouth of the Fraser River toting a salmon around in her mouth for two days, even though she is only 3 months old and entirely feeding on her mother’s milk. Is she teething? Or learning how to how to act like a grown-up killer whale?
The core question the investigators are exploring is whether southern residents can get enough chinook salmon — their preferred prey — to eat in the Salish Sea. Data could help answer the question of why for the past three years the southern residents have not been coming back as usual to their core foraging areas in San Juan Island and B.C.
ABOUT THIS SERIES“Hostile Waters” exposes the plight of Puget Sound’s southern resident killer whales, among our region’s most enduring symbols and most endangered animals. The Seattle Times examines the role humans have played in their decline, what can be done about it and why it matters.
The southern residents also are thinner on average than the northern residents and have been steadily declining in population, to just 73 animals, while northern residents have been slowly growing in population to more than 300. Like the southern residents, the northerns eat only fish, preferable chinook, but their core habitat while far smaller has more abundant fish runs, and cleaner, quieter water.
By observing both populations and their prey, researchers hope to compare their foraging conditions and hunting behaviors and learn whether it is more difficult for the southern residents to capture prey. “One of the conclusions is, yes, there is a food problem,” Trites said. “But we have to be able to answer that with not just an impression or belief, but with data.”
The “charges represent the state’s largest seizure of turtles in recent
history,” the FWC said in a statement on Friday.
More than 4,000 turtles comprising a range of native species were illegally
captured and sold over six months, the commission said. The turtles were
worth $200,000 on the black market.
“The illegal trade of turtles is having a global impact on many turtle
species and our ecosystems,” said Eric Sutton, the FWC’s executive director.
Two suspects have been charged for smuggling thousands of turtles and
selling them illegally.
After receiving a tip in February 2018, the FWC launched an undercover
investigation where they discovered a ring of traffickers who were selling
wild turtles to reptile dealers and distributors.
The suspects had taken so many turtles from targeted habitats that
populations were depleted, the commission said.
“Wild turtle populations cannot sustain the level of harvest that took place
here,” said Brooke Talley, the FWC’s reptile and amphibian conservation
coordinator. “This will likely have consequences for the entire ecosystem
and is a detriment for our citizens and future generations.”
The skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the most endangered
species of sea turtles, was found in possession of the suspects.
The suspects sold the turtles for cash and marijuana products, the
commission said. Both suspects face a variety of poaching-related charges.
While the turtles were sold in Florida, they were sold to buyers who shipped
them overseas, specifically in Asia where they were bought as pets.
Depending upon the species, the commission said the poached turtles sold
wholesale for up to $300 each and retailed for as much as $10,000 each in
“Over 600 turtles were returned to the wild, two dozen were quarantined and
released at a later date, and a handful were retained by a captive wildlife
licensee since they were not native to the area,” the commission said.
“We commend our law enforcement’s work to address the crisis of illegal
wildlife trafficking,” said Sutton.
A wolf from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is released on Isle Royale in
September 2019. The island now has 17 wolves, up from two a year ago. Photo
courtesy National Park Service.
ISLE ROYALE – One year into its effort to reestablish the wolf population on
Isle Royale, the National Park Service and its partners have a problem: Some
of the new wolves died and nobody knows why.
Since the Park Service began its relocation efforts in September 2018, 19
wolves have been transplanted from Minnesota, Ontario, Canada and Michigan’s
Upper Peninsula. Three of the wolves have died, the most recent on Sept. 15.
Another wolf left the island for mainland Ontario on an ice bridge in
The number of wolves on the archipelago in Lake Superior is now 17: nine
males and eight females. Before the repopulation efforts began in fall 2018,
there were only two island-born wolves left roaming the island.
As the Park Service follows the progress of the newly relocated wolves, it
is also trying to ensure more wolves don’t die so soon after being
transported to the island.
Mark Romanski, division chief for natural resources at Isle Royale, said at
this point the Park Service doesn’t have many answers.
When dealing with wild animals, Romanski said it’s not unexpected that some
will die after being transported because the process of capturing and
relocating the animals can be stressful for them.
“And although we do everything we can to quickly handle the animal and get
them out to the island, of course, each animal is different,” Romanski said,
“and so they handle stress differently or maybe their capture event was
different or different combinations of circumstances.”
The Park Service has now changed its procedures so that the time between the
capture of a wolf and its release on the island is less than 24 hours,
instead of 36-48 hours when the effort began, Romanski said.
Dean Beyer, Wildlife Research Biologist with the Michigan Department of
Natural Resources, helps capture wolves that would make good candidates for
Beyer said that wildlife capture and relocation is something that scientists
can’t totally control and that death is sometimes part of the process. He
said it is important to minimize risk for animals when they’re captured and
handled by members of the DNR.
“We do everything we can do on the front end,” Beyer said. “So we develop
capture plans and all the people involved in the work have gone through
extensive training in terms of how to capture and handle animals and how to
chemically immobilize them.”
He also said that all the DNR’s plans are reviewed by wildlife
One possible factor in the deaths may be a phenomenon called capture myopathy, a complex physiological process that involves high levels of stress resulting in damage to muscle tissues. The breakdown in the muscles
can release toxins in the bloodstream which may result in shock, or damage
to organs such as the kidneys.
Michelle Verant, a veterinarian for the National Park Service stationed out
of Fort Collins, was tasked with monitoring the wolves while they were
transported to Isle Royale.
She said that there wasn’t evidence of capture myopathy in the first wolf
that was tested by the Park Service, but said that doesn’t necessarily rule
“And then this final wolf, thankfully we were able to collect that carcass
pretty quickly and it is currently at the National Wildlife Health Center
getting a full necropsy,” Verant said. “And we may get some evidence there
to suggest whether capture myopathy was involved.”
Here’s what the National Park Service knows about the death of three wolves
transported to Isle Royale:
The first wolf, a male from northeast Minnesota, died in October 2018, about
one month after being transported to the island. The Park Service wasn’t
able to retrieve the carcass until a week after the wolf died because it
didn’t have personnel on the island.
The carcass of the wolf was sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in
Madison, Wis., where they performed a necropsy. The lab determined the wolf
died of pneumonia, but the Park Service doesn’t know how the wolf contracted
The second wolf, a male from mainland Ontario, likely died in early April
2019, after being transported to Isle Royale in late February. The Park
Service wasn’t able to retrieve the carcass from the swamp it was in until
May, at which point the carcass was too far decomposed to send in for
Romanski said there wasn’t external evidence of the wolf getting into some
kind of fight, though the Park Service doesn’t ultimately know what happened
The third wolf, a female from the Upper Peninsula, likely died on Sept. 15
when a mortality signal was sent from its collar. It had been moved to the
island on Sept. 13 and was recovered by Park Service staff on Sept. 17.
The carcass was submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center for
necropsy Sept. 24.
A group seeking voter approval to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado says it has collected around 168,000 signatures to get the question put on the ballot.
That number is more than the 124,000 signatures needed to make the ballot, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, the primary backer of the initiative, told The Center Square. The group is aiming for 30,000 more signatures before it needs to submit them to the Secretary of State’s Office for verification by mid-December.
The Colorado Restore Gray Wolf Population Initiative would require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPW) to create and execute a plan to restore gray wolf populations on designated lands west of the continental divide.
Wolves hunting elk in the Rocky Mountains. Courtesy National Park Service.
“When we succeed in safely restoring wolves to their home in Western Colorado, we will have closed the missing link and restored the gray wolf’s historical range from the High Arctic to Mexico,” RMWAF says on its website.
If passed, implementing the initiative would cost (CPW) over $344,000 in fiscal year 2021-22 and over $467,000 in fiscal year 2022-23, according to a legislative fiscal impact statement.
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, a parallel group to the action fund that educates on wolf restoration in the state, is backed by the Sierra Club Colorado, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Endangered Species Coalition, among other environmental groups.
The Stop the Wolf Coalition, which is made up of several farming, livestock and hunting groups, opposes the initiative, citing potential damage to livestock and wildlife, diseases, and overcrowding in the state.
“Forced wolf introduction is not only a disastrous idea that will impact our wildlife, livestock and Colorado’s growing population,but it’s also not fair to the wolves,” the coalition’s website says.
“A forced introduction of wolves to Colorado would cost untold amounts of taxpayer dollars, redirect already limited wildlife management resources and would have a significant negative economic impact to the state,” said Blake Henning, chief conservation officer for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “In Colorado, you are dealing with about a third of the land mass of the Northern Rockies’ states but almost double the human population. A forced reintroduction would trigger the potential for real issues in the state.”