By Crisco 1492 [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Hundreds of baby ring-billed gulls tumbled from rooftops, facing certain death, just as summer arrived. An intense heatwave arrived too, with projections by meteorologists that 2018 would be the hottest year on record. A new study came out reporting that bad news for anther gull species, the Heermann’s gull. Finally, a friend of mine, a bear biologist, had his paper outlining declines in the southernmost population of polar bears published.The same week all of this was happening, I was still hearing how the American president remained in denial about global climate change. We call it that because the deniers can’t get their heads around the idea that global “warming” does not mean that there are no cold days or record-breaking cold spells. I suspect the only polar bear Donald Trump may have seen would be in a zoo or maybe in his son’s trophy room, and yet he says they’ve never been in better shape. Of course, he lies – continually, I know – but why do people believe him?
As reported here on February 15, ring-billed gulls are in decline in Ontario. They often nest on flat rooftops, but don’t jump off! The gulls were from one to four weeks old. Toronto Wildlife Center sent out a distress call for help as they were overwhelmed with baby gulls. The wildlife rehab community responded, but why was it happening in the first place? The roofs were so hot that the birds were being burned alive.
Burning baby gulls are a symptom of a world in trouble.
Heermann’s gulls are beautiful gray gulls with white heads that are found along the California and Mexican coastlines. Researchers analyzed their population growth using models employing “normal” and high oceanic sea surface temperature (SST) conditions. Normally, there was about a 4% population growth rate, but with increasingly warm SST events, the predicted population growth goes down to a negative 15%. The gulls do fine even though there are high SSTs every four or five years – the historic figure – but now that warm SSTs are dramatically increasing, more gulls will die than are hatched, which is a route to endangerment.
That’s a tad esoteric, but then there is that study of the world’s most southerly polar bears, intensely surveyed over many years. It found that the number of bears in James Bay and the southern end of Hudson Bay has declined 17% – from 943 to 780 – in the past five years. That’s a trend, and it supports all of the other news emerging, especially here in Canada, for the simple reason the higher the degree of latitude the more pronounced the effects from climate change.
My point is that this happened only in the first week of summer. How long can the deniers remain in denial? I hope it’s not until their own feet burn and, like those baby gulls, they have nowhere to go, because unlike those gulls, rescue will not happen.
A furry, cat-size carnivore called the Humboldt marten is struggling to survive in an area sprouted with marijuana farms, and now California wants to protect the adorable creature by declaring it an endangered species.
The state’s declaration would apply only within state lines and wouldn’t offer federal protections.
A member of the weasel family, the Humboldt marten (Martes caurina humboldtensis) lives deep inside the redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The elusive animal was once thought to be extinct, but it was rediscovered in 1996. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 95 percent of the marten’s habitat has disappeared due to deforestation. [In Images: 100 Most Threatened Species]
There are two populations of Humboldt martens remaining: a group of about 100 in Oregon, and another group of about 200 in northern California, right where cannabis cultivation is booming, The Guardianreported. In Humboldt County, California, where the martens are found, there are an estimated 4,000 to 15,000 cannabis cultivation sites, The Guardian reported. That’s in addition to the illegal operations and “trespass grows” on public or tribal lands, The Guardian reported.
Cannabis cultivation is likely the biggest reason for the Humboldt marten’s decline, The Guardian reported. Not only are forests cleared to make room for farming, but many cannabis farmers also use rodenticides that make their way into the forest food chain, killing anything that eats rodents, including the martens. Live Science reported on a similar story in January about spotted owls (Strix occidentalis) in this same region of California that are dying after eating prey killed with toxic rodenticide left out by marijuana farmers.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reviewed a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the California-based Environmental Protection Information Center asking the state to list the animal as endangered. The marten is currently classified by California as a species of special concern, but a status review from the CDFW found that listing the species as endangered is warranted, The Mercury News reported. The final determination is expected to be made in August, The Mercury News reported.
Physicist Stephen Hawking died today at the age of 76. In the latter stages of his illustrious career, Hawking devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to issuing warnings of future threats—from the perils of climate change and nuclear war through to artificial superintelligence and alien invasions. And for this he was often ridiculed. But here’s the thing: Hawking was right—and it would be incumbent upon all of us to heed his advice.
When Hawking wasn’t talking about Euclidean quantum gravity, naked singularities, or radiation seeping from black holes, there’s a good chance the Cambridge Lucasian Professor of Mathematics was doing his best Chicken Little impersonation, telling a global audience that the sky above would soon give way, should we choose to keep ignoring it.
For Hawking, there was no shortage of ways in which the sky could fall. Early in his career he warned us about comets and asteroids, but by the mid-aughts he began to focus his attention on self-inflicted wounds. In 2006, at the age of 64 and with virtually nothing left to prove, Hawking posed the following open question online: “In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?” Over 25,000 people chimed in with their own opinions, with many asking Hawking for his own advice. “I don’t know the answer,” he replied. “That is why I asked the question.”
That same summer, and in another sign of his mood shift, Hawking told a news conference in Hong Kong that life on Earth “is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.” This time around, however, he volunteered an answer to the problem: colonize other planets or perish.
Hawking’s view of humanity had turned grim, and by 2010 he was warning of alien invasions, saying, “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.” In her 2012 book, Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work, author Kitty Ferguson wrote about the physicist’s view of computer viruses and why he thought they were a new form of life. “Maybe it says something about human nature, that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive,” said Hawking. “Talk about creating life in our own image.”
More recently, Hawking began to voice his concerns about artificial intelligence. In 2014, he famously said that AI was our “worst mistake in history,” and he signed an open letter warning of AI risks, alongside like-minded public figures including SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, physicist Sir Martin Rees, and biologist George Church. “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand,” he wrote in an Independent op-ed with computer scientist Stuart Russell and physicists Max Tegmark and Frank Wilczek. “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.” A year later, he added his name to an open letter calling for a ban on autonomous killing machines.
It sucks to hear, but he was right. We’re in big trouble. And we need to do something about it.
Last year, for example, Oxford’s Global Priorities Project listed asteroid impacts, global warming, artificial intelligence, and global pandemics among humanity’s most pressing near-term risks. With the shifting geopolitical climate, we have no choice but to worry—yet again—of nuclear war. Hawking’s view of malevolent aliens may have violated popular conceptions of friendly extraterrestrial visitors, but he was right to be terrified. At the same time, there’s no shortage of potential existential risks in our future, whether it be from a poorly programmed artificial superintelligence, a nanotechnology-powered apocalypse, or a retreat into a dystopian totalitarian dark age.
Of course, Hawking didn’t come up with these threats from thin air, nor was he the only one making such warnings. He just happened to be exceptionally vocal about it, and because of his extraordinary reach, he was able to communicate his message to a large global audience. That’s why he got branded as a Chicken Little, and why we became so inclined to associate these doom-and-gloom scenarios exclusively to him.
The best way to honor Hawking’s legacy, in my opinion, is to take inspiration from his admonitions and his persistency. He may have sounded misanthropic at times, but his warnings came from a good place. Despite the physical hardships he had to endure for so many years, Hawking never gave the impression that he gave up on his own life, and by virtue of his ceaseless warnings, he never gave up on humanity either.
Yes, the future looks scary—but as Hawking reiterated time and time again, the worst thing we can do when threats appear on the horizon is to plant our heads firmly in the ground.
Borneo has lost more than 100,000 orangutans in the space of just 16 years as a result of hunting and habitat loss, according to a new report.
Logging, mining, oil palm, paper, and linked deforestation have been blamed for the the diminishing numbers.
However, researchers also found many orangutans have vanished from more intact, forested regions, suggesting that hunting and other direct conflict between orangutans and humans continues to be a chief threat to the species.
Scientists find new orangutan and it is already endangered
The report published in the Current Biology Journalfound more than 100,000 of the island’s orangutans vanished in the period of 1999 to 2015.
“Orangutans are disappearing at an alarming rate,” said Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager at the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).
“Their forests homes have been lost and degraded, and hunting threatens the existence of this magnificent great ape.
“Immediate action is needed to reform industries that have pushed orangutans to the brink of extinction. UK consumers can make a difference through only supporting brands and retailers that buy sustainable palm oil.”
Around half of the orangutans living on the island of Borneo, the largest island in Asia, were lost as a result of changes in land cover.
Where not to visit if you love animals
Researchers said the Bornean orangutan’s survival is dependent on forging successful alliances with logging companies and other industries and raising public awareness of the issue.
Looking at predicted future losses of forest cover and the presumption orangutans are ultimately not able to stay alive outside forest areas, the researchers predict that over 45,000 more orangutans will be lost in the space of the next 35 years.
Large-scale hunting is leading to a decline in the diversity of waterbirds in the state, say researchers.
Spotting a bar-headed goose, a Eurasian spoonbill or a painted stork in the wetlands of Tamil Nadu is becoming increasingly difficult because of the rampant illegal hunting of waterbirds. The hunting, at scales not mapped before, is triggered by demand from the market for wild meat and not subsistence hunting by a few, a new study by researchers at the Nature Conservation Foundation in Mysuru has found.
The researchers studied 27 wetlands in Tamil Nadu’s Kancheepuram district and interviewed 272 hunters over six months. Recording around 53 waterbird species across the wetlands during eight months of fieldwork in 2013 and 2014, they found that 47 species were being hunted, especially large and medium-sized birds. They also held that the hunting had contributed to a decline in the diversity of species found in the region, especially medium-sized insectivorous birds.
The study, based on a survey of hunters, concluded that the illegal hunting of waterbirds was market-driven and had grown in scale in the last 10 years. This contradicts previous findings by researchers that hunting is usually taken up by certain communities on a small scale purely for subsistence. Around 73.5% of the respondents reported monetary gain as the primary motive for hunting, sport and subsistence being the other reasons.
“The conclusions were in contrast to what we expected,” said Ramesh Ramachandran, an MSc student in wildlife biology and conservation at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bengaluru, who undertook this study as part of his dissertation. “We thought this was a traditional practice that had been there for hundreds of years. But it is a total commercialised mafia.”
The hunting of wild animals driven by a demand for wild meat, which is seen as exotic by some in the richer strata of society, is documented in some other parts of the country, particularly the tribal belts of Central India and the North East, but this research shows the same trend prevailing in Tamil Nadu as well.
Policeman to conservationist
Before taking up wildlife conservation studies, Ramachandran was a policeman in Karnataka and a member of a special cell tracking wildlife crime. “Because of his background, he brings an interesting viewpoint to conservation,” said KS Gopi Sundar, his mentor and scientist at the Cranes and Wetlands Programme of the Nature Conservation Foundation.
Ramachandran narrowed down his area of study to Kancheepuram, which has a large number of lakes and waterbodies, including two protected bird sanctuaries – Vedanthangal and Karikili.
His police training helped him track down communities that hunted wild birds and traded in their meat. He said he worked at winning their trust before presenting them with the questionnaire for the study. With a team of wildlife enthusiasts and informants, he visited them several times to get them to participate in the study.
At the end of their research, the team found that 92% of the hunting was done using locally crafted single-barrel muzzle-loading guns. A hunter on average went out four or five times a month and each trip yielded around 21 birds, which earned him an average monthly income of around Rs 13,000. The most commonly traded meat was that of the pond heron.
Around 71% of the respondents reported an increase in the demand for waterbird meat for consumption over the past decade. And the study found two distinct markets existing for the wild meat. It was sold at a fixed time slot, between 6 pm and 8 pm, to buyers who specifically sought it out. The remaining meat then made its way to restaurants and roadside food stalls near liquor shops where it was sold at much lower rates.
Around 75% of the hunters interviewed reported that they supplied birds to 426 eateries in the area. However, out of the 681 eateries surveyed, only eight acknowledged serving wild waterbird meat.
“It is significant that there is a market at work which sustains this trade and it stays under the radar,” said Ravinder Singh Bhalla of the Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning in Tamil Nadu. He added that hunting as a paid hobby was more prevalent than documentation suggested, since it was usually kept under wraps.
“What is remarkable is how this practice has stayed undocumented for what appears to be decades,” said Bhalla. “It would be too simplistic to attribute this to collusion by authorities alone. Social exclusion and lack of economic opportunities combined with cultural practices clearly have a role to play in this choice of livelihood by the hunters.”
Among the waterbirds that are being hunted are many migratory species, which India is bound to protect under the international Convention on Migratory Species. “Yet these are being sold on national highways,” said Ajith Kumar of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “A suitable method should be devised for controlling this, not just by forest officials harassing these communities and putting a few of them behind bars.”
Neglected field of study
The study has also brought to light the lack of research on wetland ecology, which Gopi Sundar claims is an extremely nascent science.
“Serious work that asks important questions has been largely missing,” the Nature Conservation Foundation scientist said. He pointed out that the majority of large waterbirds are found outside protected areas whereas much of ecological research is focused on protected forest areas.
So far, studies in the area of wetland ecology have dealt with ecological parameters such as the size of water bodies and vegetation, and their relationship with the populations and diversity of birds. This study is the first to have gathered information on hunting practices and factored these into trends of community structures and counts of bird species in each wetland, the researchers said. “This kind of analysis has never been done anywhere in the world,” said Gopi Sundar.
Javan rhinos used to roam widely throughout southeastern Asia, but poaching and habitat loss has reduced their numbers and range immensely. Today, they are only found in Ujung Kulon National Park, on the Indonesian island of Java. New research suggests they may be even more vulnerable to extinction than thought.
In the largest survey to date, researchers placed motion-activated cameras at nearly 200 locations throughout the park. After analyzing the large amount of video collected, they determined that only 62 Javan rhinos remain in the wild. These few live in low-lying areas that could be inundated by a tsunami, researchers write in a study describing their findings, published in the journal Conservation Letters .
By virtue of their location, such an event is likely in the not-too-distant future; The rhinos happen to live in a tectonically and volcanically active neighborhood. Just to the south of Java, the Australian plate slides beneath the southeastern corner of the Eurasian plate, creating a deep trough called the Javan (or Sunda) trench. This area is prone to earthquakes, like the one that created the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Researchers calculate that if the same size wave hit western Java, which could’ve happened if the tsunami occurred slightly to the southeast, it would “have put most, if not all, rhinos at risk from drowning,” write the authors.
And a tsunami of this size—reaching a maximum “run-up” of 48 meters (155 feet) above sea level—would not be necessary to cause serious damage. The researchers conclude that a tsunami that made it to 10 meters, or 33 feet, above sea level would threaten 80 percent of the rhinos’ territory. Such a tsunami will probably occur in the next 100 years, says corresponding author Brian Gerber, a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University.
The park also happens to sit about 50 miles from one of the world’s most fearsome volcanoes: Anak Krakatoa. It is the “offspring” of the Krakatoa volcano which erupted in 1883, the most cataclysmic in modern history, the reverberations of which were felt around the world. Anak Kratoa, which means “childs of Krakatoa,” has been growing from the destroyed remnants of this volcanic island ever since. If it erupts before 2040 scientists estimate it could create tsunamis that reach up to nearly 70 feet above sea level. If it erupts after then, the waves could rise to heights of almost 100 feet.
For this reason, a second population of Javan rhinos needs to be established to increase the likelihood of their survival, Gerber says. It also underscores the importance of protecting the animals from being poached for their horns, which are incorrectly thought to have medicinal value. The rhino horn trade is responsible for the depletion of rhinos around the world, including the mainland subspecies of the Javan rhino, the last of which was poached in Vietnam in 2009.
The “study provides good momentum for our efforts to save the Javan rhino, considering that we are racing against time,” says Arnold Sitompul, conservation director of World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia, who wasn’t involved in the paper, in a statement. “We need the social and political will to move things forward and establish additional populations.”
The world is short one more species this week — and, sadly, others like it may be soon to follow.
WIKIPEDIAOn Wednesday, the Atlanta Zoo announced that a 12-year-old frog named Toughie, the last known Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog left in existence, had been found dead in the enclosure where he lived by himself.
Just two years later, Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frogs could no longer be found in the wild.
ATLANTA ZOODespite the best efforts, those breeding programs aimed at preserving frogs proved fruitless. By 2009, the last female Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog died in captivity, followed by another male in 2012. From that point forward, Toughie was all that was left.
“Here we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act this year, and the Tea Party wants to tear it limb from limb,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s really a sad testament to how out of touch the Tea Party has become with the American people, and how beholden they are to industry special interests that are more interested in profits than saving wildlife, wild places and a livable future for the next generation.”
Contrary to the preposterous—yet increasingly popular—belief that gas-guzzling, beer-can-tossing hunters are concerned environmentalists, hunting has been and continues to be the primary cause of extinctions world-wide. Even the plight of non-“game” animals, like the California condor, the country’s largest and perhaps most critically endangered bird species, stems from the same root cause that has led to the decimation of so many other species: hunting.
By the end of the nineteenth century, that darkest of times for wildlife in North America, rampant hunting had led to the extinction of the great auk, the passenger pigeon, two subspecies of elk and the near-total extinction of bison, pronghorn, trumpeter swans, bighorn sheep and a myriad of other coveted species. Meanwhile, scavengers like condors were collateral damage in the frenzied campaign to rid the continent of its native carnivores.
Together with ravens and vultures, condors were senselessly shot on sight by trigger-happy ranchers mistaking the huge birds for predators—an ignorance that continues to this day. Moreover, those scavengers, along with eagles, hawks and other raptors, perished from eating poisoned meat intended for wolves, coyotes, bears and cougars.
Incidental poisoning is an ongoing threat plaguing condors right up to this day. Like so many other egg-laying species, their population suffered another major setback from the widespread use of DDT during the mid-20th Century. That toxic chemical was finally banned, but the great birds continued to perish. By the time it was determined they were also dying from lead-poisoning as the result of scavenging the carcasses of animals killed with lead-based bullets and buckshot, the condor population was down to an all-time low of only 22 individuals.Thanks to concerted efforts, their numbers have increased nowadays and lead-based ammunition has been banned from the condor’s most critical habitat. But the 400 surviving birds are still threatened by the illegal use of lead shot and bullets, in addition to other anthropogenic pressures, like power lines and wind turbans.
California condors have a life span of up to 60 years (longer than most human carnivores, prior to the discovery of statin drugs). And though they may appear ungainly on land, once a condor has worked his or her way up to a proper elevation, they can glide for miles without ever flapping a wing and sometimes attain speeds of 55 miles per hour, at elevations of 15,000 feet.
More proof that hunters aren’t really environmentalists: condors are still shot as pests or for target practice, and many “sportsmen” continue to oppose a nationwide-ban on lead-based ammo.