The chance to comment on how Washington’s gray wolves should be managed once they are no longer a state endangered species has been extended until Nov. 15.
This gives people more time to submit input, especially those in rural areas without internet service, according to a news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The postrecovery management plan requires public comment before the state can move forward.
The public can provide input through 5 p.m. on Nov. 15. After that, the next opportunity will be in late 2020 when WDFW evaluates actions, alternatives and impacts related to long-term wolf conservation and management.
“The current plan the department uses to guide wolf conservation and management was started in 2007 and developed over five years, specifically to inform wolf recovery. Because wolves are moving toward recovery in Washington, it is time to develop a new plan,” WDFW wolf coordinator Julia Smith said in a news release. “This is just the start of the process, so if you don’t get your input to us by Nov. 15, there will be more opportunities in 2020.”
An online survey and online commenting are also available online. There is also a comment form that can be printed and mailed to the department or general comments can be mailed to Lisa Wood, SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, WDFW Habitat Program, Protection Division, P.O. Box 43200, Olympia, 98504. Comments submitted via mail must be postmarked by Nov. 15.
BILLINGS, Mont. — US wildlife officials rejected petitions Thursday to protect Yellowstone National Park’s storied bison herds but pledged to consider more help for two other species — a tiny, endangered squirrel in Arizona and bees that pollinate rare desert flowers in Nevada.
Wildlife advocates have campaigned for decades to halt the routine slaughter of bison migrating out of Yellowstone to reach their winter grazing grounds in Montana.
The burly animals, also known as buffalo, once numbered in the tens of millions before overhunting reduced them to just a few small herds.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service rebuffed calls for special protections for Yellowstone bison in 2015 but was forced to reconsider under a US District Court order issued last year.
Wildlife service spokeswoman Jennifer Strickland said there’s no scientific information showing bison should be treated as a threatened species.
The park’s slaughter program, along with hunting of the animals in Montana, is meant to prevent the spread of the disease brucellosis, which can cause bison, elk and cattle to abort their young.
“The overall numbers of bison are stable despite culling and the presence of brucellosis,” Strickland said, adding that the park has as many bison as it can hold.
Darrell Geist with the Buffalo Field Campaign said the government’s decision ignored the fact that one of the park’s two major bison herds has been in steep decline, which Geist said could have implications for the herd’s genetic health.
The so-called central herd declined from more than 3,500 animals in 2006 to 847 in 2017, according to park biologists. Yellowstone’s northern herd grew from about 1,500 bison to almost 4,000 over that time period.
Regarding the Mount Graham red squirrel of eastern Arizona, officials agreed to consider whether more habitat protections are needed. Weighing a mere 8 ounces, the squirrels are found solely in the Pinaleno Mountains.
Fires, roads and developments including a University of Arizona telescope complex have impacted the squirrel’s range. An estimated 75 remain in the wild.
Wildlife advocates contend the squirrels’ only hope is the removal of the telescopes, some nearby recreational cabins and a bible camp in the area.
“It’s an incredibly precarious situation,” said Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued government officials last year to force a decision on the group’s 2017 petition for more habitat protections. “If you want to try to have these animals survive you have to remove those structures.”
In Nevada, officials said the Mojave poppy bee faces potential threats from grazing, gypsum mining, recreation and competition from honeybees. Its survival is closely linked to two rare desert poppy flowers in the Mojave Desert.
Federal law allows citizens to petition for plants and animals to get protections under the Endangered Species Act.
The positive finding on the petitions for the poppy bee and red squirrel means officials will conduct more intensive reviews before issuing final decisions.
A 275-kg male grizzly bear was struck on killed on the Trans-Canada Highway.
by: Cathy Ellis
A large male grizzly bear was struck and killed on the Trans-Canada Highway on provincial lands last week.
Provincial wildlife officials say a large 275-kg male grizzly was reported dead in the highway ditch on Wednesday evening (Aug. 28) near Jumpingpound Creek – the third large male grizzly to be killed in that area in the past five years.
“It’s a real drag because we’re trying to reduce mortality, and highway mortality is problematic,” said Jay Honeyman, human-wildlife conflict specialist with Alberta Environment and Parks.
“The volume of traffic these days on the Trans-Canada is quite heavy, even during the week and in the evenings,” he added.
“It’s really challenging for bears to cross that highway without having some kind of an incident. I guess it’s not a surprise that we’re having these incidents with all the traffic.”
Historically, Alberta is estimated to have had between 6,000 and 9,000 grizzly bears. Grizzlies once ranged across the whole of Alberta, across Saskatchewan and into Manitoba.
When extensive DNA research determined Alberta’s population had dipped to about 700 individuals, the grizzly bear was declared a threatened species in Alberta in 2010. The count is being updated.
Most grizzly bear deaths are caused by humans, including poaching, being mistaken for a black bear during the black bear hunting season, self-defense and accidents such as being struck on roads.
The most up-to-date figures provided the Alberta government show that 207 grizzly bears died at the hands of humans between 2008 and 2017. The most human-caused deaths for any one year was recorded in 2016, at 29.
In those years, more than half of the human-caused grizzly bear deaths were due to poaching and accidental deaths on roads and railway. There have been 57 known poaching cases and 63 accidental in the past 10 years.
The Alberta Wilderness Association has concerns about the ongoing high numbers of human-caused grizzly bear deaths.
“Human-caused mortality continues to be a problem,” said Joanna Skrajny, a conservation specialist with AWA.
“Human contact and human incursion into grizzly bear wildlife habitat is the main reason why they are dying.”
Skrajny said the fact that three large make grizzlies have died in that area of the Trans-Canada Highway in the last few years suggests an obvious start is a study to determine if a crossing structure may be warranted.
“In situations where we keep coming into contact with grizzlies and they keep dying, we have to reassess what we’re doing,” she said.
AWA is waiting on an update of the status of the grizzly bear population in Alberta, as well as updated grizzly bear mortality numbers for 2018 and 2019.
Skrajny said high numbers of human-caused mortality could mean it’s hard for a grizzly bear population to regulate itself.
“It means we’re not doing a good job of keeping their habitat safe,” she said.
“Even if grizzly bears are coming in from B.C. where some of the numbers are higher, they’re coming here to die in the end and that means we’re not doing our job properly.”
In addition to bears dying on provincial lands, two grizzly bears have died in Banff National Park this summer.
A male grizzly was struck and killed by a semi-trailer on Highway 93 South just after midnight on June 4, about one kilometre south of the Trans-Canada Highway heading up the hill towards Storm Mountain.
On June 22, Parks Canada was forced to kill an injured and emaciated young female grizzly bear. It’s believed a vehicle struck the bear on the highway 10 days earlier. The yearling, its sibling and mother were on the wrong side of the fence meant to keep wildlife off the highway.
Meanwhile, Honeyman said six black bears have been killed on the roads in this area of the province this summer – four on the Trans-Canada Highway, one on the 1A and one of Highway 40.
“We’ve also had a couple of confirmed strikes where we don’t know if the bear survived or not,” he said.
AMBATONDRAZAKA, MADAGASCARIndris, at two feet tall the largest of Madagascar’s lemurs, are big sleepers. The primates awaken two or three hours after sunrise, forage for leaves high in the canopy during the day (amid frequent naps), and choose their spot for the night well before dark.
Photographer Adriane Ohanesian recorded calls of the indri—the largest of Madagascar’s scores of lemur species—on the trail between between the mining community of Ambodipaiso and Antsevabe, which serves as the access point to sapphire mines in the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor.
On our trek into the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, a protected area known by its French acronym, CAZ, photographer Adriane Ohanesian, translator-guide Safidy Andrianantenaina, and I often heard their calls. The sound, a bit like someone blowing a trombone for the first time, can carry up to a mile through the dense forest.
Left: Mine boss Laurence Asma shows gemstones the team of about 20 men she employs found in the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor (CAZ).
Right: Red fabric tied around a tree on the trail leading to a mining site marks a doany, a
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PHOTOGRAPH BY ADRIANE OHANESIAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
We were hiking deep into the CAZ, a 1,470-square-mile stretch of rainforest joining two national parks that enables lemurs and other animals to mingle their populations, maintaining the genetic diversity that’s essential to their survival. Our goal was to witness firsthand the effects of illegal gem mining on some of the last remaining habitat for wild lemurs.
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Our immediate destination, though, was the makeshift village of Ambodipaiso, a staging place for illegal sapphire mines that have turned parts of the CAZ into scarred, treeless wastes. Sapphires were discovered here seven years ago, and by 2016, tens of thousands of Madagascans had flooded in, illegally uprooting trees and diverting streams in hopes of finding gemstones to help lift them out of poverty. (Madagascar ranks 161 in the world in human development, according to the United Nations Development Programme, and 70 percent of its people live in poverty.)
A hundred million dollars’ worth of sapphires and other gems were smuggled out of Madagascar in 1999 alone, according to the World Bank. (This remains the most reliable study; recent estimates suggest the value today is about $150 million a year.) Most of the gem mining is done illegally in reserves, says Christoph Schwitzer, co-vice chair of the Madagascar primate specialist group with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the organization that sets the conservation status of animals and plants. The CAZ and other reserves, he says, “don’t receive anywhere near adequate protection on the ground.”
Madagascar has the third-highest rate of biodiversity on Earth, after Brazil and Indonesia. Eight of every 10 of its plants and animals are endemic. It has 300 species of reptiles and 300 of amphibians, 99 percent of them found nowhere else. Chameleons: 62 species. And along with the nearby Comoro Islands, Madagascar is the only place on the planet that’s home to wild lemurs—fully 113 species, the newest identified just last year.
The charismatic animals are a magnet for roughly 250,000 visitors a year who directly account for more than 6 percent of the country’s GDP and 5 percent of its jobs. Yet nearly all the lemur species are endangered—38, including indris, critically—and 17 have already gone extinct. Now conservationists and primatologists are gravely concerned about the effects of gem mining on remaining lemur habitat, as much as 90 percent of which has been lost to tree clearing and human incursion.
“Gems mining can be a significant driver of habitat loss,” Schwitzer says. “It can break a protected area relatively quickly.”
“People don’t care if it’s a strict protected area,” Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Schwitzer’s co-vice chair with the IUCN’s Madagascar primate specialist group, told me before I arrived in the country. “They just go—and massively—to extract stones, and nobody can stop them. It’s linked with corruption and poverty, and the laws are not really enforced. Without forest,” he added, “the lemurs cannot survive. There is no long term.”
Left: The tree canopy in Ranomafana National Park is home to 12 species of lemur, including one, the golden bamboo lemur, found only here.
Right: An indri, the largest of the remaining lemur species, clings to a tree in
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PHOTOGRAPH BY ADRIANE OHANESIAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Government protections for Madagascar’s forests date to the 1700s, when King Andrianampoinimerina outlawed cutting live trees for firewood. But beginning in the late 1800s, French colonists began intensive logging to make way for export crops. Within several decades, some 75 percent of the country’s old-growth forest had been razed. In 1927, the French banned lemur hunting and created the first nature reserve in the African region, but by 1990, 30 years after Madagascar’s independence, half the remaining forests had gone.
In 2003 then President Marc Ravolamanana began a dramatic expansion of protected areas, quadrupling their acreage by 2016. Nevertheless, the eastern rainforest that encompasses the CAZ, with its indris and many other lemur species, kept contracting. From its original prehuman 27 million acres, it had shrunk to less than 10 million acres by 1985. Since then, according to research by Lucienne Wilmé, national coordinator for Madagascar at the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization, deforestation in some parts has been accelerating.
Madagascar is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries. But its more than 100 species of lemurs, along with countless other endemic animals and plants, are threatened by forest clearing for gem mining, logging, and farming. In some protected areas, illegal mines are squeezing lemurs into ever shrinking rainforest patches.
Tree cover loss,
Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor (CAZ)
Kianjavato Ahmanson Field Station
(trading hub for gems from the CAZ)
Ankeniheny- Zahamena Corridor
TROUBLE FOR LEMURS
Already some 90 percent of lemur habitat in Madagascar has been lost. Lemurs need contiguous forest for their populations to mingle, crucial for genetic robustness and long-term survival. Fragmentation of the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor (CAZ), which connects surrounding parks and protected areas, by unlawful sapphire mining puts indris and other species at risk.
CLARE TRAINOR, TAYLOR MAGGIACOMO, NG STAFF
SOURCES: PROTECTED PLANET; GLOBAL FOREST WATCH;
In 2012, Madagascar’s government, acknowledging that it didn’t have either the money or the manpower for effective environmental protection, engaged Conservation International, a Virginia-based environmental nonprofit, to manage the CAZ. Although clearing of old-growth trees for agriculture, logging, and mining has been banned since 2015, half of one percent of Madagascar’s vestigial protected forests are disappearing every year, according to Eric Rabenasolo, director general of forests for Madagascar’s Ministry of the Environment, Ecology, and Forests.
Exactly how much clearing is for gemstone mining isn’t knowable because it occurs almost entirely under the blanket of the “informal economy”—jobs and activities not regulated by government. Gem deposits are shallow and easily uncovered, making identifiable industrial-scale operations unnecessary.
Local people switch opportunistically among mining, farming, and other kinds of work, so it’s impossible to ascertain how many people are involved in illegal mining. One estimate, published a decade ago in The Journal of Modern African Studies, by Rosaleen Duffy, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield, in the United Kingdom, put the figure at as many as half a million. That would make illicit gemstones Madagascar’s second largest employer after agriculture.
It was shortly before dusk when we arrived in Ambodipaiso. Although the village is far from any public water supply, power line, or cell phone tower, hundreds live here, providing goods and services for area miners, portering gear, and themselves digging for gemstones.
Left: Items for sale at a small shop in Ambodipaiso include beans, grains, and dried fish. Porters heft goods—including 110-pound bags of rice—14 miles over steep, muddy trails to supply the hundreds of miners in the area.
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PHOTOGRAPH BY ADRIANE OHANESIAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
That night Andrianantenaina and I bunked in a tiny shelter made of sticks, and Ohanesian slept in a tent. Before dawn I was roused by crowing roosters, banging pots, and a crying baby. I wondered if these sounds bothered the snoozing indris. When the darkness lifted, I emerged to see a woman feeding two lemurs a banana.
Méline said she bought them from a hunter who had killed their mother for meat. She’d named one, a common brown lemur, Bridola, and the other, a black-and-white-ruffed lemur, Roki. The IUCN lists brown lemurs as “near threatened.” Black-and-white ruffed lemurs are “critically endangered.”
Méline runs a shop with her husband, selling everything from rice and garlic to ramen and amoxicillin. “I have maybe four customers a day,” she said. “We don’t make any profit.”
In the forest, her lemurs would be eating young leaves, flowers, fruit, and insects, but Méline feeds them mostly bananas and rice. I noticed that the fur on their tails was sparse, indicating a dietary deficiency, according to Patricia Wright, a professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University, in New York State, and executive director of the university’s Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments. That bad diet would cause their premature death, Wright said.
Deforestation from mining, said Wright, is “a cascading problem” for lemurs, because “if they’re in a small fragment of forest, they’re not going to have enough to eat.” A family group of two to five indris needs about 20 acres of forest, and groups of other lemur species need up to a hundred acres to survive. For lemur populations to remain stable, the forest must be contiguous—lemurs are largely arboreal and won’t cross broad stretches of open ground to connect with other groups to find mates. They rely on various trees for food, and removing just one tree species can cause other trees and vegetation in the area to die off.
As more trees are cleared, lemur groups come into contact with one another, sparking fights for resources—another ledge in Wright’s cascade. And, she said, mine clearings make lemurs even more vulnerable because people don’t have to go so far into the forest to hunt them.
One man I spoke to in Ambodipaiso, Banjindray Elys D’Antoine, said he used to eat lemur when he worked in mines south of the CAZ. The meat is tough, he said, and must be boiled for a long time, then fried. I asked him how it tastes. “Like a cat,” he replied.
From Ambodipaiso, Ohanesian, Andrianantenaina, and I—accompanied by two off-duty police officers hired for security—set off on the seven-mile trek to the largest gem mining area in the CAZ. Local people jokingly call the site Tananarive, the French name for Madagascar’s capital, Antanarivo.
Within half an hour we heard the now familiar whoop of indris. Orchids grew in profusion beneath the thick canopy of trees, some as tall as a hundred feet, and on the path, we saw giant millipedes and a worm as long as my arm.
Four miles on, we came to Bemainty, where some 80 people live with no running water, electricity, sanitation, health care, or communications. Village leader Randriamatody (who like many Madagascans uses one name) told us about the night in 2016 when criminals attacked the village, stealing money that had been collected as fees from passing miners and killing Bemainty’s previous headman.
“Nothing like this happened here before the mine,” said a woman named Farah, who told us she’d been injured in the attack. Mining in the area, she said, brought the village “no advantage. All I got was this scar on my forehead.”
After two more hours on the trail, we came down a hill, and Tananarive opened up before us—a wasteland of mud, small shacks, and holes in the ground. Evidently, most of the sapphires here had already been extracted. Many miners, we were told, had returned home or gone to Ilakaka, a mine site some 400 miles to the southwest near Isalo National Park; others had gone to a new mine in the CAZ about 80 miles away near the village of Lakato. But some artisanal mining was still under way at Tananarive.
After a patch of trees is cleared, a log is laid across a nearby stream to divert it toward the target area. Water washes away the top layer of dirt, and a team of four or five miners gets to work digging. It can take several weeks to excavate a pit perhaps 30 feet in diameter and 12 feet deep. When the hole is about three feet deep, groundwater rushes in and is suctioned out with a mechanical pump. The excavated soil is washed through a sieve, which traps small stones that are examined for gems.
We met three young men, Mbola, 30, Soasite, 25, and Zanry, 20, who were noisily engaged in this final task. Soasite shoveled dirt from a pile onto a screen atop a wooden supporting structure. A hose attached to a pump in the diverted stream spewed water onto the dirt. The other two then shoveled the mud back up to the hose to be washed through the screen again. Mbola and Zanry wore empty rice bags with cut-out armholes to protect their clothes from the splashes. Mud covered their faces. The trio laughed constantly, and Andrianantenaina explained that they were having fun at the foreigners’ expense. During the half hour or so that we watched them work, they found no sapphires.
Almost none of the thousands-of-dollars-a-carat value of sapphires goes to the miners.
On the slope above, a woman called out to us. It was Laurence Asma, wearing leggings under a denim skirt, flip-flops with a U.S. flag motif, and a long-sleeved t-shirt that read “precious lovey dovey” in sequins. Her pet common brown lemur, Ani, crouched on her shoulder.
Asma said she’d moved here two years ago from Toliara, a city in the southwest. She said she runs several small mines at Tananarive that employ 20 men, down from the hundred miners who worked for her in 2016, at the peak of the sapphire rush.
“Too much stones here before,” she said. “Now, little.” Nevertheless, she said she intended to stay in Tanarive a bit longer. “I wait. I wait for Allah. Sometimes he bring me big stone, and I take to my village.” Her biggest find so far had been a sapphire that earned $3,500, a fortune in a country where the per capita income in 2016 barely nudged above a dollar a day. She split the proceeds evenly among the team of four or five who found it.
Left: Gem dealer Mohammed Murshid displays uncut sapphires in his home in Ambatondrazaka, the center of the trade in precious stones from the CAZ.
Right: A mud-splattered man holds part of a plastic jerrycan used to remove mud and
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PHOTOGRAPH BY ADRIANE OHANESIAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Asma said she has a Sri Lankan backer in Antananarivo who sends money over the Orange mobile money network to buy rice for her employees and fuel for her three pumps. Every few weeks she travels to the capital to sell him the gemstones her team has found. The Sri Lankans, she said, “sell to Thai people, Dubai people.” Somebody, she added, gets a good price, but, no, she doesn’t, she said with a laugh.
Sri Lanka has been a source of sapphires for 1,500 years, and Sri Lankans, who have developed unrivaled expertise in grading, cutting, polishing, and trading the gems, dominate the trade in Madagascar. Murshid Mohammed, 29, is a dealer in Ambatondrazaka, the nearest substantial city to the CAZ and the main trading center for sapphires mined there. He says a high-quality blue sapphire of 25 carats from Tananarive costs him 300,000 Madagascar ariary—about $90.
A few months ago I saw a five-carat sapphire, cut and polished but not heat treated, listed online by a Florida jeweler for $19,600. Because of the way the international gem market works, almost none of the thousands-of-dollars-a-carat retail value of sapphires goes to the miners of Tananarive, and very little to local mine bosses like Asma.
Meager though her take is, Asma considers herself lucky to be running a relatively successful operation. “Too many people no eat three times” a day, she said. “You have no stone, no job.” She blames the government for failing to attend to the needs of Madagascans. “My president no good,” she said, referring to Madagascar’s leader at the time, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who was voted out of office last November.
“I WAS ANGRY”
Given both the seriousness of the threats to wildlife in Madagascar’s protected areas and the government’s lack of capacity for robust enforcement, grassroots groups have stepped into the breach. Elected members of volunteer community-based forestry organizations known as VOIs are now managing protected areas under the aegis of Conservation International and other environmental nonprofits.
After saying goodbye to Asma, we hiked back to the village where we’d left our car and drove to Moramanga, 70 miles to the southwest. We wanted to talk to Jean Yves Ratovoson, a VOI vice president accused of killing 10 critically endangered lemurs—nine indris and one diademed sifaka—in the CAZ. Police arrested Ratovoson, 51, early last year at a hunting camp near Andasibe, and he was in prison in Moramanga awaiting trial. If convicted, he faces four years in prison.
Ratovoson and I talked in the prison warden’s office. This was his first arrest, he said. He was a farmer, and he and his wife, a schoolteacher, have nine children.
He said he went on the hunt because he was angry. He had stood for election to the post of vice president of the Firaisankina VOI “to improve my community,” he said. But during patrols of the portion of the CAZ under the VOI’s stewardship, Ratovoson discovered that large-scale illegal logging was occurring, and he couldn’t get anyone to do anything about it. “Five trucks a day were coming out loaded with wood,” he said. “Pretty much the whole [area] was cut.”
He said he reported the logging to Conservation International’s director of the CAZ, Hantanirina Ravololonanahary. “They came to the forest to see but did nothing,” Ratovoson said. He paused, then said, “Why are people cutting trees not sent to jail like me? The law is the same.”
So when an acquaintance approached Ratovoson proposing that he join a lemur hunt in the CAZ, he said he figured, why not? “I thought, if they can [cut trees], then I will not have any problem. I knew hunting lemurs is bad, but I was angry about this situation.”
A letter Conservation InternationaI’s Ravololonanahary sent to Joanita Ndahimananjara, Madagascar’s environment minister at the time, describing action the organization took following the arrest makes no mention of the illegal logging report Ratovoson said he’d sent Ravololonanahary before the alleged lemur hunt.
Conservation International told me that Ravololonanahary wasn’t available for an interview and instead referred me to Tokihenintsoa Andrianjohaninarivo, the organization’s regional biodiversity scientist in Toamasina, a city on the east coast. I phoned and asked what happens when a report of tree cutting comes to Conservation International from VOI officials.
“We report to local authorities and organize a patrol to see the facts,” she replied. Then I asked about Ratovoson’s allegation that Conservation InternationaI’s director of the CAZ knew about his report of tree cutting and failed to act.
There was a long pause.
“Conservation International is the manager of the protected area but has not the ability to put people in jail,” Andrianjohaninarivo said. “All we have the right to do is talk to the forest service, and then they have to react. We have reported to authorities every infraction, but most of the time they’re not able to respond for lack of budget, or their people are somewhere else. If we don’t have the support of the authorities, we can’t do anything.”
When pressed, spokesperson Jenny Parker McCloskey later acknowledged that Conservation International had received a report of logging from members of the VOI with which Ratovoson was involved but that Ratovoson was not among those who made the report. She said Ravololonanahary referred the matter to officials in the forest service, who did not respond to repeated requests to verify that they had in fact received Conservation InternationaI’s report.
Andrianjohaninarivo’s explanation seems plausible. Police who arrested Ratovoson hoped to go after his accomplices, who’d fled during the raid, but the police chief, Yvan Randriamiarana, told me they lacked the necessary resources. The village where the suspects lived was some way up a dirt path, and they had no means of getting there, he said. “We don’t have a car or motorcycle. We have 10 gendarmes in Andasibe, and we should have at least 15 because the area is vast and the population is high.”
Given that the alleged lemur crime was by a VOI leader, says Steig Johnson, professor of anthropology at the University of Calgary and co-vice chair of the IUCN’s Madagascar primate specialist group, this incident “is particularly demoralizing. There’s a fundamental lack of adequate training and engagement with some of these communities. Nobody wins just if someone is prosecuted for the crime—we need to get at the root cause of this kind of wildlife crime in these communities.”
I asked a VOI volunteer, Abraham Rajotonirina, how the CAZ can be protected if its protectors themselves are hunting lemurs? It was Rajotonirina who, during one of the regular patrols he conducts looking for signs of illegal activity, had come across Ratovoson’s hunting camp. He reported it to a VOI vice president, Toto Jean Etienne, leading to Ratovoson’s arrest.
“Maybe someone needs to pay us to protect the forest,” he replied. “We’re working for free, but we do that because we love the forest. We need a better road so tourists can come and love the forest also.” With money, he said, the community would be able to pay “people to go out as scouts.” (A similar program in Tanzania, called TACARE, is showing results, bolstering local communities while conserving vital chimp habitat.)
After returning to the United States, I spoke with Vincent Pardieu, a gemologist who in 2016 brought the Tananarive sapphire rush to the industry’s attention with a presentation at the Gemological Institute of America, in Carlsbad, California. The institute identifies and evaluates stones and trains gemologists. Since 2012, Pardieu has been spreading the messageto the gem industry that illegal mining in Madagascar is not harmful to lemur habitat.
“Fake news” was how he characterized reports emphasizing sapphire mining’s ill effects.
“I could hear lemurs every morning—that’s proof lemurs are still alive,” he said, referring to a trip he took to Tananarive in 2017. “If lemurs are being attacked by miners, I don’t think you’ll hear them.” He insisted that despite news reports of deforestation around the site, “miners are not destroying the forest. They’re too busy mining—why would they go chop the forest? Again, a very good example of fake news.”
People in Madagascar are really suffering, and mining is a huge part of their livelihood.
Around 3,000 ravens are hunted each year, which has lead to a serious decline in their numbers, reports RÚV.
Ravens are hunted because of the damage they can cause to crops and other bird species due to them feeding on eggs. Unlike many other bird species, however, there is no designated hunting season for Ravens and they can, therefore, be hunted freely all year round.
Kristinn Haukur Skarphéðinsson, a bird expert from the Environment Agency of Iceland said that actions need to be taken to preserve the species.
Needs to be protected
In the late ‘80s there were around 13,000 ravens in the country, but since then the numbers have rapidly dwindled.
“The ravens are threatened because their numbers have declined steadily for decades, and if nothing is done then there will be very few left in the future,” said Kristinn. “They are on the vulnerable list and will probably remain so.”
He claimed that the agency will meet with the Björt Ólafsdóttir, the Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources later in the month to reiterate its view that Icelandic ravens should be protected, if they are to survive as a species.
The mythical bird
Throughout history the raven has been considered the holiest and most revered bird in all of the Nordic countries. Óðinn had two, some of the first settlers used them to find shore and sometimes they were even seen as gods.
But who cares about history and cool animals, right?
Since 1975, grizzly bears have been on the federal Endangered Species List, offering them protection against hunters. But now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing grizzlies from the list, effectively bringing open season to trophy hunters who want to shoot the bears for ‘sport.’
If the proposal goes through, management of grizzly bears will go to the states in the Greater Yellowstone Region: Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. All three states have said that they are open to big-game hunting, and that they will only review the bears’ status if hunting leads to a significant and documented decline in the bear’s population. (There were 136 grizzlies in the wild when they were originally put on the Endangered Species List; today, there are 700.)
Allowing the hunt isn’t just bad for the bears who face slaughter — it could also have a drastic effect on the Greater Yellowstone Region as a whole. Grizzly bears are a crucial part of the local ecosystem, and keep prey populations in check.
Plus, the bears boost the local economy—the tourism industry in the Greater Yellowstone Region is worth $1 billion, with many visitors coming expressly to see large predators like grizzlies.
Please help stop the bloodshed. Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that grizzly bears must remain on the Endangered Species list, keeping them safe from sport hunters and poachers. Sign now and let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service know that you want grizzly bears to be protected so they can live their lives in peace!