Our world has become a very rough neighborhood in recent years, with scientists and conservationists saying that the Earth is currently undergoing the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals and species going extinct at up to 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate.
However, on rare occasions, we’re reminded that perhaps it’s not too late for everyone—perhaps the reports of an animal species’ demise were premature, even if that species remains in grave danger.
Such is the case in Taiwan, where a rare species of large cat, the Formosan clouded leopard, has been spotted in the wilderness by a number of people across the archipelago’s southeast, according to Taiwan News.
🔥 This is a Formosan clouded leopard from Taiwan, it was thought to be extinct until it was spotted this week. The last time it was seen was 1983 pic.twitter.com/ijme0W7VvQ
The Formosan clouded leopard hadn’t been officially sighted since 1983 and was declared extinct in 2013.
The leopard had been spotted prowling in the countryside near Taitung County’s Daren Township, where the area’s Paiwan tribal authorities had formed indigenous ranger groups to patrol the region and guard sensitive areas.
According to Taiwan News, the rangers spotted the leopard–known as Li’uljaw and holding a sacred status for locals–suddenly climbed a tree before scrambling up a cliff to hunt for goats. Another group witnessed the Asian cat dart past a scooter before quickly climbing a tree and disappearing from sight.
The significance of the find is striking for locals, who held tribal meetings in Alangyi Village to determine how best to move forward.
Tribal members of the village hope to halt hunting in the area by outsiders, while village elders are lobbying Taiwanese authorities to end logging and other activities that harm the land.
The Formosan is known to be quite agile and vigilant, eluding human attempts to trap or otherwise capture it.
Professor Liu also noted that in past investigations of the leopard’s whereabouts, he encountered hunters from the indigenous Bunun people who admitted capturing the animal on several occasions in the late 1990s. However, they burned the bodies for fear of violating Taiwan’s Wildlife Conservation Act.
From 2001 to 2013, a team of Taiwanese and U.S. zoologists surveyed the region but failed to sight the animal once, prompting the declaration that the Formosan clouded leopard had officially gone extinct.
Historical records of the rare cat date back to around the 13th century, when indigenous people brought the leopard’s pelts to trade at the busy markets of port cities like Tainan. It is believed that Japanese anthropologist Torii Ryūzō, in 1900, was the only non-indigenous person to have actually seen a live Formosan clouded leopard.
There is hope for the survival of fin whales and mountain gorillas after conservationists announced both species have been pulled back from the brink of extinction.
After decades of persecution by whaling vessels and poachers, modern efforts to protect these mammals appear to be working as their numbers have started to recover.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) maintains a “red list” to monitor the status of the world’s wildlife, and in its latest update both whales and gorillas have shifted one step further away from becoming new entries on the long list of species wiped out by humanity.
After a recent WWF report revealed 60 per cent of monitored animal populations had been obliterated in the space of decades, the announcement shows concerted international action can yield results.
Previously listed as endangered, fin whale numbers have roughly doubled since the 1970s when an international ban on commercial whaling was introduced. The population now stands at 100,000 mature individuals.
There has also been a marked improvement in western populations of grey whales, which are no longer considered critically endangered.
Dr Randall Reeves, chair of the IUCN cetacean specialist group, said it was “a relief” to finally see these populations on the rise.
“These whales are recovering largely thanks to bans on commercial hunting, international agreements and various protection measures. Conservation efforts must continue until the populations are no longer threatened,” he said.
In central Africa, anti-poaching patrols and the concerted removal of snares has helped boost mountain gorilla numbers from 680 individuals a decade ago to over 1,000 now, the highest figure ever recorded.
The IUCN has therefore reclassified the apes from critically endangered to endangered, crediting this small but significant victory to collaborative efforts that have spanned the nations where they reside.
However, they noted that despite the success of this subspecies, the eastern gorilla species to which it belongs remains critically endangered, and the future survival of these apes is still on a knife edge.
“Coordinated efforts through a regional action plan and fully implementing IUCN best practice guidelines for great ape tourism and disease prevention, which recommend limiting numbers of tourists and preventing any close contact with humans, are critical to ensuring a future for the mountain gorilla,” said Dr Liz Williamson of the IUCN primate specialist group.
However, the good news from the IUCN was tempered by reports that overfishing and illegal logging are sending species in parts of the developing world spiralling into decline.
Lack of sustainable fisheries and a boom in demand mean that 13 per cent of the world’s grouper fish are now threatened with extinction, and 9 per cent of the fish in Lake Malawi, according to the IUCN’s latest assessment.
Meanwhile illegal logging has fuelled a 15-fold increase in trade in the Vene timber tree, which the IUCN says is now endangered.
With some nations still holding out on a total whaling ban, and companies accused of fuelling the destruction of rainforests home to orangutans, tigers and rhinos, conservationists are clear that despite some successes urgent international action is needed to end the mass extinction of wildlife.
WWF has called for a “global deal” in the mould of the Paris climate agreement to save nature, and an ongoing UN biodiversity summit in Egypt presents an opportunity for decisive action.
“The recovery of species like mountain gorilla, fin whale and Rothschild’s giraffe demonstrates once again that with sustained, long-term conservation action, we can not only prevent extinctions, but also achieve considerable population recoveries,” said Dominic Jermey, director general of the Zoological Society of London.
“As the world’s governments convene in Egypt to continue discussions around forging a new and ambitious strategic plan for biodiversity, we hope that these examples will embolden countries to make strong commitments that will put the world’s wildlife on a path to recovery.”
Legislation led by Rep. Sean Duffy Would Enable Trophy Hunting, Snaring of Small, Recovering Population of Wolves
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives will conduct floor debate on H.R. 6784, the so-called “Manage our Wolves Act” led by U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI-07). The legislation would short-circuit multiple federal court rulings against premature de-listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and put Congress in the position of cherry-picking the species it wants off the endangered species list. The measure, which may likely pass the lower chamber, is scheduled for a vote of the full House on Friday morning and the debate can be viewed here.
Gray wolves, virtually eradicated between 1850 and 1920 during westward expansion, have had a slow walk back from near extinction. For decades, federal and state governments executed ruthless and effective predator control programs – a slaughter that stands alongside the massacre of bison as the most wanton chapters in the history of American wildlife management, and they’ve only recently began to recover.
“We’re shocked and dismayed that Congress would return to work and make killing endangered wolves its first order of business,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action. “It has half a dozen animal welfare bills with 218 cosponsors, but instead chooses to act on a special-interest bill with four cosponsors that is a priority for a handful of trophy hunters and ranchers. It’s so disappointing to see my fellow Republicans in the House show such disregard for animal welfare and to leave such a merciless legacy.”
Wolves now occupy habitat in about 10 states with an estimated population of only 5,000 in the lower 48 states – covering millions of square miles of space. These endangered icons play a critical role in their native ecosystems, in checking the growth of prey populations, restoring stream flows, and reducing flooding and bank erosion. Wolf predation helps maintain healthy deer populations, lowering the frequency of deer-auto collisions and prevalence of crop losses. They mitigate impacts on vegetation and bring vitality to entire ecosystems that saves private citizens and governments tens of millions of dollars a year, while also generating millions in tourism yearly.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming – Yellowstone’s wolves are back, helping revive parts of the ecosystem that changed drastically when this top-of-the-food-chain predator was killed off nearly a century ago. But Yellowstone is still not 100% back to normal – and it may never be.
“You put the predator back, that’s great, but conditions have changed so much in the intervening decades that putting the predator back is not enough to restore the ecosystem,” said Tom Hobbs, a Colorado State University ecology professor. “There’s not a quick fix for mistakes like exterminating apex predators.”
It’s a sign of both the promise – and the limitations – of a multi-decade wildlife recovery effort. The reintroduction of the wolf nearly 25 years ago to the country’s first national park has brought change: Overpopulated elk herds have thinned, allowing some willow and aspen groves to return and thereby creating better habitat for songbirds and beavers.
But even as this ecosystem shows signs of recovery, a complete restoration is nowhere to be found.
“In some places, I don’t expect a full recovery of the ecosystem,” said Bill Ripple, a distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, who started working in Yellowstone in 1997. “It’s going to be a mixed bag for the longer term now in coming decades.”
Yellowstone’s vanishing wolves
The park radically changed after humans exterminated the gray wolf from Yellowstone in the mid-1920s due to predator control efforts. Elk herds ballooned over the next 70 years, overgrazing vast tracts of land and trees such as willow and aspen. Fewer trees sent the songbird population into decline. Beavers lost their food source and the lumber to build their dams. The lack of those dams caused streams to erode, making them deeper and not as wide and further degrading the conditions willow need to grow.
Today, nearly 25 years after wolves were reintroduced into the park, the top predators have helped parts of the ecosystem bounce back. They’ve significantly reduced elk herds, opening the door for willow, aspen, beaver and songbird populations to recover. But the wolves haven’t been a silver bullet for the ecosystem as a whole.
“This idea that wolves have caused rapid and widespread restoration of the ecosystem is just bunk,” Hobbs said. “It’s just absolutely a fairytale.”
Yellowstone’s partial recovery has set off a heated debate in academia over how much bringing back an apex predator, such as the wolf, can help restore a devastated ecosystem. It’s one with consequences stretching from the U.S. to India and Africa, where naturalists have pinned their hopes on keeping fragile ecosystems as intact as possible by avoiding the elimination of lions, tigers, sharks and other top predators.
“Maintaining intact ecosystems may be easier than fixing them after you’ve lost some of the parts,” Hobbs said.
Fewer elk, more songbirds
Most ecologists agree that Yellowstone has rebounded some. When Doug Smith, Yellowstone National Park’s wolf biologist, first arrived in 1994 shortly before wolves were reintroduced, some willow and aspen trees only came up to his knees. “Now I can’t see through it,” he said. “It’s like a forest.”
But the trees aren’t coming back in every corner of the park: In many spots willow groves haven’t returned. Because willows need beaver to keep the streams from eroding and beavers need the willows to build their dams, it’s rather hard for both to come back simultaneously and in large numbers, said Hobbs, whose team has been conducting a long-term willow growth study in the park for 17 years.
The decrease in elk hasn’t allowed willows to recover because the streams changed significantly when wolves were absent.
“It doesn’t really matter very much whether they’re being browsed or not. They don’t have adequate habitat to thrive,” Hobbs said. “The conditions that changed while wolves were absent created conditions that made it very difficult to restore willows.”
Grizzly population rebound
It’s not all about the wolves, even if they get the most attention. Over the past several decades, the number of other carnivores like the grizzly bear and mountain lion have also climbed, multiplying the impact of the top predators on the ecosystem.
“As a scientist, the challenge is to figure out how much ecological change since wolf reintroduction is attributable to wolves and how much of that change is due to other forces,” said Dan MacNulty, an associate professor at Utah State University who studies the ecology of wolves and elk in the park.
How large the wolf’s impact on the Yellowstone ecosystem is difficult to tease out in part because of nature’s complexity and capacity for frequent change, he said. But money also plays a large role: It is difficult to adequately monitor all the potential drivers of change when funding for long-term research is so limited, he said.
“One of the grand challenges in ecology is to understand the consequences of predator removal and restoration in large-scale systems like Yellowstone. But the resources aren’t there. That really limits our power to know what’s going on,” he said. “A key reason why there’s so much scientific disagreement is that we haven’t been able to take all the necessary measurements over a long enough time and over a large enough number of organisms to come up with a more definitive answer.”
Despite all the disagreement, most ecologists say removing predators today would be a mistake.
“The way ecosystems put themselves back together after such a problem is still something that scientists are trying to understand,” Ripple said. “The lesson is let’s not let things get as bad as they did with 70 years without wolves.”
But there’s an even broader question that needs to be addressed: Can we restore apex predators and coexist with them?
“There’s not many places in the rest of the United States where this is happening,” Smith said. “There are lessons here that we can do this on human-dominated landscapes in other places, but I don’t know because it might involve more wolves, cougars and bears, and right there you have a problem because people have trouble living with those three carnivores.”
This undated file photo provided by the National Park Service shows a grizzly bear walking along a ridge in Montana.
National Park Service
An amendment to prevent the relocation of grizzly bears to Washington’s North Cascades has passed the U.S. House. The move is opposed by conservation groups, which say more grizzly bears are needed in the state.The amendment, proposed by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., would deny funding for the U.S. Department of Interior to transport grizzly bears into Washington. Newhouse said this amendment was important to his constituents who are concerned about the possibility of another predator so close to home.
“We saw that (Interior) was determined to move forward, regardless of what the opinions of the people who would be most impacted,” Newhouse said.
Newhouse said he felt it was necessary to “take positive action” to make sure that the Interior Department was not able to bring in grizzly bears.
“I’m hearing from an awful lot of people that are expressing grave concerns about having grizzly bears literally in their backyards,” Newhouse said.
To that end, he said he’s working with officials in the Interior to schedule more public comment opportunities in the Okanogan area. These would be in addition to earlier public comment periods around the state that focused on options the federal government could take to reintroduce grizzlies to the North Cascades.
There are fewer than 10 grizzly bears in Washington’s North Cascades. Biologists say if something isn’t done now, grizzlies will soon be gone from the area. They say grizzlies are important to the area’s ecosystem.
Records from the Hudson’s Bay Company indicate there were once thousands of grizzlies in the state. In the mid-1800s, records indicate trappers traded nearly 4,000 grizzly hides through forts in the area — although all of those pelts may not have come from the North Cascades. Biologists say there was a healthy population of grizzlies at one time. The bears were wiped out from fur trading, hunting and habitat fragmentation.
The federal government is in the middle of drafting options for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades. The controversial plans range from doing nothing to transporting varying numbers of bears from areas like Canada and Montana.
“(The North Cascades) is the only place outside the Northern Rockies that wildlife officials have said is wild enough for grizzly bear restoration in the Lower 48 — the only place,” said Chase Gunnell, spokesman for Conservation Northwest. “If we’re going to have grizzly bears into the future, we can’t just have them around Yellowstone or Glacier National Park. We need to diversify the population. And the Cascades are it.”
Gunnell said this amendment wouldn’t necessarily prevent the federal government from continuing to study the various options for grizzlies in the North Cascades — it would only prevent funding to the Interior Department for transporting grizzlies.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaking on March 23, 2018, about the restarted re-introduction process for grizzly bears in Washington’s North Cascades. Looking on is Karen Taylor Goodrich, the superintendent of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said during a surprise visit to Washington that he was “in support of the great bear” and moving forward with a careful process to decide what to do with grizzlies here.About that process, Zinke said, “I’m not going to make a prejudgment, but I can tell you the winds are very favorable,” Zinke said.
Gunnell said Newhouse’s amendment is skirting an open, public process, which is expected to present a draft decision by the end of this year. Gunnell said he’s concerned about the precedent this would set, with Congress members “pulling on the purse strings” of wildlife officials.
“Our Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service and other wildlife professionals are the ones best suited to address endangered species issues,” Gunnell said.
The bill includes funding for the U.S. Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency and Forest Service. It also includes measures to:
– Remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List in the Lower 48 by 2019;
– Fund wildland firefighting and prevention programs at $3.9 billion, with an additional $500 million for Forest Service fire suppression operations. It also includes $655 million for hazardous fuels management;
– Urge the Forest Service to find funding for upgrades to facilities at the North Cascades Smokejumper Base in Winthrop;
– And encourage the Forest Service to better monitor grazing permits near riparian streams that could affect threatened or endangered species.
The Interior Department funding bill now heads to the U.S. Senate.
Our planet is sick–you can call it a biodiversity crisis, the Sixth Mass Extinction, or the un-weaving of the great web of life–and its getting sicker by the minute. That’s why a holistic approach to healing this once vibrant and thriving heavenly body is the only sure way to save her.
While environmentalism usually addresses stand-alone issues (like what color to paint the town so the bats aren’t kept awake), it seems “conservation” isn’t called into play these days until a species of plant or animal is on its last legs.
For example, the re-introduction of locally nearly extinct grizzly bears to Washington’s North Cascades—hailed by the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke as a “conservation success story”—is practically a too-little-too-late band-aid sort of tactic employed long after destructive human activities like hunting, trapping and even poisoning have pretty much wiped them out, and subsequent human expansion has gobbled up their habitat.
I hate to tell Secretary Zinke, but “conservation” is something you should do before a species is down to its last estimated or imagined 10 individuals. Admittedly, I did come across some enormous tracks and scat in an avalanche chute in a trail-less valley within the heart of the North Cascades that, having not seen its maker, I attributed to either Bigfoot or a grizzly bear. But that was over 35 years ago, and I haven’t heard of too many sightings of either of them since then.
Single-issue actions and single-species, feel-good fixes only address small parts of the much bigger picture—first we need to curb the expansion of the one species at the root of all the Earth’s most pressing problems—namely, us.
Undeniably, Homo sapiens would have to go by the way-side for all the other life here on this planet to once again flourish, but that seems a small price to pay for finally putting things right and atoning for the many trespasses of the past. If humans are anywhere near as smart as they see themselves (or make themselves out to be), they’ll act now to right these countless wrongs and simply decline to reproduce, thereby eventually eliminating the one species that currently has this place so off-kilter and out of whack. With our species bowing out of the competitive breeding picture, it will take only a few lifetimes before the Earth is back on track to claim once again her living crown of glory.
Oh, I know it ain’t gonna happen, since humans will never willingly relinquish the Earth to its rightful owners. You’re more likely to see Bigfoot and a grizzly bear on unicycles juggling leprechauns, but we can always have pipe-dreams, can’t we?
Enjoy your ignorance people, because when we finally snap out of it, it’s going to be a rude awakening.
Hunting animals that stand out from the crowd because of their impressive horns or lustrous manes could lead to extinction, according to a study.
Research predicts that removing even 5% of high-quality males risks wiping out the entire population, for species under stress in a changing world.
Animals prized by trophy hunters for their horns, antlers or tusks usually have the best genes, say UK scientists.
Removing these could push a species over the edge, they warn.
There is intense global debate over trophy hunting. Some argue that it should be banned or restricted, while others say it can provide valuable revenue for conservation.
Dr Rob Knell of Queen Mary, University of London, who led the research, said the assumption that so-called selective harvesting is not especially threatening to a population of animals does not take into account recent work.
”Because these high-quality males with large secondary sexual traits tend to father a high proportion of the offspring, their ‘good genes’ can spread rapidly, so populations of strongly sexually selected animals can adapt quickly to new environments,” he said.
”Removing these males reverses this effect and could have serious and unintended consequences.”
Human hunting is different from natural predation in that big-game trophy hunters target large animals, usually males.
They may be awarded prizes for killing animals with exceptionally large antlers, horns or manes.
And illegal poaching of animals such as elephants for the ivory trade also targets animals with the biggest tusks.
Using a computer simulation model, the scientists were able to predict the impact of selectively targeting males on the basis of their secondary sexual traits.
”If the population is having to adapt to a new environment and you remove even a small proportion of these high quality males, you could drive it to extinction,” said Dr Knell.
”You’re removing the genes from the population that would otherwise allow the population to adapt.”
In the past, human hunting has led to the extinction of many animals, from the zebra-like Quagga, which was once common in Southern Africa, to the Tasmanian tiger of mainland Australia and Tasmania.
Hunting is still legal in many countries; trophy hunting takes place over a larger area in Sub-Saharan Africa than is conserved in national parks.
In the US and Canada, there is also a lucrative trophy hunting industry, for the likes of deer and big-horn sheep.
Some argue that revenue from trophy hunting can support conservation efforts and local livelihoods.
The scientists said age restrictions that allow males to breed before being removed could reduce the impact of trophy hunting.
This is already recommended with some species, such as lions.
“When properly regulated trophy hunting can be a powerful force for conservation which is why we’re suggesting a different management approach as opposed to calling for a ban,” said Dr Knell.
The study is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
According to a new study, hunting the most impressive animals weakens a species’ ability to survive in the face of environmental changes.
By Stephen Leahy
Trophy hunters, as well as poachers who “harvest” the big males—antelopes and deer with the largest horns and antlers, elephants with the longest tusks, or lions with the most impressive manes—are putting those species at greater risk of extinction with climate change.
That’s the finding of a new study published today by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, England, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. “Trophy” animals tend to be the most evolutionarily fit and possess the high-quality genes a population of animals need to adapt quickly to a changing environment, says evolutionary ecologist and lead author Robert Knell. “They also father a high proportion of the offspring. But if they’re killed before they can spread their ‘good genes’ around, this reduces the overall fitness and resilience of that population.”
When environmental conditions change—a shift in seasonal rainfall or warmer temperatures—the risk of extinction increases dramatically, even with a healthy population of animals apparently unaffected by trophy hunting, Knell says.
This can happen even with an annual harvest rate as low as 5 percent of the high-quality males. With environmental change now a reality across the globe, the study shows that some animal populations facing even relatively light hunting pressure are more vulnerable to extinction than is generally believed, Knell says.
This also means poachers are even more of a threat since they target big males but also indiscriminately kill any individual they believe will profit them, he says.
The study also shows that restricting the take to older trophy males means that they will have had time to spread their good genes around, which should help populations adapt to environmental changes.
“When properly regulated, trophy hunting can be a powerful force for conservation, which is why we’re suggesting a different management approach as opposed to calling for a ban,” Knell says.
In an email Rosie Cooney, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which sets the conservation status of species, called the study interesting, “with obvious relevance to trophy hunting management, highlighting that there may be a need under climate change scenarios to shift to age restrictions as a basis for management.”
“This study matches up with the empirical work we’ve done on bighorn sheep in the Rocky Mountains,” says David Coltman, professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta. Coltman’s studies have shown that decades of trophy hunting have resulted in a 20 percent decline in the size of ram’s horns in today’s sheep.
We also know that sheep with the biggest horns produce the largest offspring, and losses of them all contribute to a decline in the fitness of the overall population, Coltman says.
Horns aren’t ornaments. They’re a signal of fitness. The biggest horns that trophy hunters crave are likely found only on the highest-quality individuals, he says. This is an example of human selection leading to artificial evolution.
Hunters argue that the funds from their hunts—estimated to be anywhere from $132 million to $436 million in Africa annually—gives local communities an incentive to protect wildlife as well as fund conservation efforts and community development. Many conservation groups, on the other hand, argue that oftentimes the fees trophy hunters pay are actually siphoned away by corruption and mismanagement.
The latest trophy hunting controversy came on November 14, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would be lifting the ban on trophy imports of elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia. There was an intense backlash, and within three days President Donald Trump tweeted that the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, would reevaluate the decision. In a follow-up tweet he wrote, “[The department] will be “hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of elephants or any other species.”
Sustainable sport hunting is important for raising conservation revenue in many areas, but this study tells us we must be mindful of our evolutionary impact, said Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, England, in an email. “As always, conservation is more complex than it can appear.”
The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.
On April 19 of this year, five major wildlife protection groups petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to list the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) as an endangered species. As the petition asserted, “the giraffe has suffered a major reduction in population size across its range primarily due to habitat loss, commercial overutilization, and severe poaching, and such decline continues unabated.”
If the Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to list the giraffe, a set of legal tools will become available to protect this iconic species. But how would listing in the U.S. help this African mammal, whose population numbers in the wild have dipped below 100,000?
EXTINCTION IS FOREVER
While extinction can be a natural process, the current rate of extinction is anything but. Scientists estimate that at least 99 out of 100 species extinctions in the world today are the result of human action. Although people rarely intend to drive species into oblivion, as with the giraffe, they do so through the destruction of habitat, poaching and legal hunting. As the petition notes, “[g]iraffes once occupied much of the savanna and savanna woodlands of Africa…. [It] has undergone a 36 to 40 percent population decline over the past 30 years.”
More than a century ago, scientists began to notice the disappearance of once prominent species around the world. TheAmerican passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet and the Great Auk—once well-established in North America—disappeared. Other species like the American bison and many kinds of whales had once played central roles in important ecosystems but had been reduced to small remnant populations.
“If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
What would you say to a child who saw a giraffe in a book and asked where giraffes lived? Would you be comfortable saying they’re all gone?
ROOTS OF REGULATION
In 1964, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) began tracking the conservation status of species on its “Red List.” Although the IUCN provides information only about the status of species, this is the first step in helping to limit extinction because it allows conservation efforts to be directed where they’re most needed.
A few years later in the United States, the federal government began keeping an official list of species in danger of extinction—what we call endangered species—and species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future—threatened species.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, goes further than just identifying imperiled species. Under its terms, listed species are protected from actions “authorized, funded or carried out” by the federal government that may jeopardize their continued existence or adversely affect their essential habitat. Species members are also protected from direct harm by any person. Commerce in species protected by the ESA is generally a crime.
The purpose of the ESA is the “conservation” of protected species. In practice, that means bringing the species back to the point where it no longer requires the protection of the ESA. The law’s goal is not to preserve tiny populations on the brink of extinction but to recover species populations that are resilient enough to survive the bad luck which is so often part of living on the planet.
Listing is the public, administrative process whereby a species can become entitled to protection under the Endangered Species Act. It centers around one question: Is this creature or plant in danger of extinction? At the listing stage, the federal government can consider only scientific evidence in making its decision. Anyone can initiate the listing process via petition.
There are now 1,382 species of animals listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered; 711 live largely within the borders of the United States. For these species, the federal Endangered Species Act can help preserve habitat, require “consultation” on projects that need federal approval and make most hunting illegal.
AMERICAN LISTING FOR AN AFRICAN ANIMAL
The giraffe, of course, is not native to the United States. How would ESA listing help it? The habitat destruction and overharvesting that threaten the giraffe aren’t happening within U.S. borders.
The answer lies in the role the United States plays in buying and selling giraffe parts. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service database, over the past decade Americans imported more than 21,000 giraffe bone carvings, more than 3,000 skin pieces and 3,744 hunting trophies. If many people want giraffe parts, the demand can be too high for survival of the species. Heightened demand for giraffe products can encourage people to hunt illegally—for example, taking more giraffes than limits allow or hunting in places where it is not permitted.
Around the world, markets for species parts are sometimes driven by traditional uses—things like carving ivory or using certain animal parts in traditional medicines. New uses fuel demand too; think of newly wealthy businessmen in Vietnam consuming rhino horn mixed with water or alcohol to show how rich they are. Sometimes, the two can converge: An increase in consumption of shark fin soup has been tied to a traditional celebration dish being served by more people as China’s middle class grew.
Listing on the ESA would require the federal government to limit imports of giraffe parts into the United States and would therefore help curtail global demand. The ESA cannot ensure habitat protection or require other countries to take affirmative conservation action to protect the giraffe. But listing in the U.S. would limit one important threat in which Americans do play a role.
File photo – Don Colgan, Head of the Evolutionary Biology Unit at the Australian Museum, speaks under a model of a Tasmanian Tiger at a media conference in Sydney as seen in this May 4, 2000 file photo regarding the quality DNA extracted from the heart, liver, muscle and bone marrow tissue samples of a 134 year-old Tiger specimen (R) preserved in alcohol. The last known Tasmanian Tiger died in 1936 after it was hunted down and wiped out in only 100 years of human settlement. (Reuters)
Multiple reports of Tasmanian Tiger sightings are starting to flow in from everyday citizens in Australia. Several people have recently claimed they’ve spotted the animal, which isn’t a tiger at all — and, despite looking very much like a species of dog, isn’t of canine lineage either — but a carnivorous marsupial. Spotting an interesting creature in Australia isn’t exactly a rare occurrence, but there’s one problem with these reports in particular: the Tasmanian Tiger is supposed to be extinct.
The last known Tasmanian Tiger was captured in its native Australia in 1933 and lived for a few years in a zoo before dying, and its death has long been thought to be the final nail in the species’ coffin. Australians have occasionally claimed to have spotted the dog-like animals over the years, but the sightings were typically rare and attributed to nothing more than misidentification. That’s all changed now, as several “plausible sightings” are beginning to give life to the theory that the animal never actually went extinct at all.
Now, scientists in Queensland, Australia, are taking action in the hopes of actually finding evidence that the Tiger is still around. If confirmed, it would be an absolutely monumental discovery, considering the animal’s history. The team plans to set up cameras in areas where reported sightings have taken place in the hopes of confirming the claims.
In the late 1800s there were actually bounties on Tasmanian Tigers in Australia, and the creatures were hunted to the brink of extinction before any action was taken. By that point, the species was thought to be doomed, and when the last captive animal died it was assumed that was the end of the road. Now, it appears that might not be the case after all.