Defaunation—the loss of species or decline of animal populations—is reaching even the most remote and pristine tropical forests. Within the tropics, only 20% of the remaining area is considered intact, where no logging or deforestation has been detected by remote sensing. However, a new study publishing May 14 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, led by Ana Benítez-López from Radboud University, the Netherlands, predicts that even under the seemingly undisturbed canopy, hunting is reducing populations of large mammals by 40% on average, largely due to increased human accessibility to these remote areas.
Overhunting, as opposed to deforestation, is undetectable by remote-sensing techniques, and to date, there were vast understudied areas in the tropics where hunting impacts on mammal communities were unknown. In this study, the authors have projected for the first time the spatial patterns of hunting-induced mammal defaunation in the tropics and have identified areas where hunting impacts on mammal communities are expected to be high.
Predicted hotspots of hunting-induced defaunation are located in West and Central Africa, particularly Cameroon, and in Central America, NW South America and areas in SE Asia (Thailand, Malaysia and SW China). Predictions were based on a newly developed hunting regression model, based upon socio-economic drivers, such as human population density and hunters’ access points, and species traits, such as body size. The model relies on more than 3,200 abundance data estimates from the last 40 years and included more than 160 studies and hundreds of authors studying approximately 300 mammal species across the tropics.
These defaunation maps are expected to become an important input for large-scale biodiversity assessments, which have routinely ignored hunting impacts due to data paucity, and may inform species extinction risk assessments, conservation planning and progress evaluations to achieve global biodiversity targets.
Craig Packer is the director of the Lion Center, a research and conservation center at the University of Minnesota. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
(CNN)Lions eat people. In fact, they eat them all the time. And although the news last week focused on a suspected rhino poacher who was eaten by lions after being trampled by elephants, the story may tell us more about the hazards of poverty than about nature taking vengeance against the sins of mankind.
In southern Tanzania, lions attacked nearly 900 people in a 15-year period starting in the 1990s, and two-thirds of their victims died. The motive? Humans make a decent food source. These lions, who had lost most of their normal prey to habitat damage and human population growth, instead began consuming bush pigs, a native species that is also a serious and nocturnal crop pest.
To protect their crops, subsistence farmers had to sleep in their fields at harvest time. Lions followed the pigs to the fields, and some learned to add sleeping farmers to their diet.
A similarly desperate situation has persisted for many years in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, which is located along the border with the much poorer nation of Mozambique. Impoverished Mozambicans seeking employment in South Africa have continuously attempted to cross Kruger Park on foot, and hundreds have ended up victims to Kruger’s many lions.
I once met a Kruger ranger who had recently performed a routine inspection of a dead lion in the middle of the park. Its stomach contents included a human hand.
In recent years, Kruger has attracted another type of illicit foot traffic: As home to one of the largest remaining populations of rhinos, it has drawn record numbers of poachers. From the point of view of a poor family in Mozambique, a single rhino horn is the equivalent of a year’s salary. The risks of getting caught by rangers, trampled by elephants or eaten by lions may seem insubstantial compared to the opportunity to feed your entire family for a whole year.
Not all rhino poachers are poor villagers — the trade in illegal animal parts can attract a broad section of corrupt society, including drug dealers and gun traders. And while I don’t know if last week’s suspected poacher was acting out of desperation or greed, the fact that he was on foot implies a similar dilemma as a Tanzanian farmer who must choose between the near certain loss of his sole crop of the year versus the risks of a lion attack.
So, when I read about the death of the Kruger rhino poacher, I thought first of the poverty that drives so many people toward danger. Add in Mozambique’s overwhelming humanitarian disaster caused by last month’s Cyclone Idai, and there’s even more reason to ask what drove this man into the park in the first place. The combination of rhino poaching, elephant trampling and man-eating lions may have captured the attention of the moment, but this man wasn’t the first — and he won’t be the last.
In the industrialized world, we view lions and elephants with affection and an enduring sense of awe. But all-pervasive poverty is the root cause of the conservation crisis in Africa — land is increasingly scarce, elephants trample crops and lions kill livestock and people.
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals aim to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. If this lofty ambition were actually to be achieved, we might one day be justified in considering a trampled poacher to have received his just deserts, but until then, let’s also consider the possibility that his death might signify a much larger problem.
The apocalypse has a new date: 2048.That’s when the world’s oceans will be empty of fish, predicts an international team of ecologists and economists. The cause: the disappearance of species due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change.
The study by Boris Worm, PhD, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, — with colleagues in the U.K., U.S., Sweden, and Panama — was an effort to understand what this loss of ocean species might mean to the world.
The researchers analyzed several different kinds of data. Even to these ecology-minded scientists, the results were an unpleasant surprise.
“I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are — beyond anything we suspected,” Worm says in a news release.
“This isn’t predicted to happen. This is happening now,” study researcher Nicola Beaumont, PhD, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, U.K., says in a news release.
“If biodiversity continues to decline, the marine environment will not be able to sustain our way of life. Indeed, it may not be able to sustain our lives at all,” Beaumont adds.
Already, 29% of edible fish and seafood species have declined by 90% — a drop that means the collapse of these fisheries.
But the issue isn’t just having seafood on our plates. Ocean species filter toxins from the water. They protect shorelines. And they reduce the risks of algae blooms such as the red tide.
“A large and increasing proportion of our population lives close to the coast; thus the loss of services such as flood control and waste detoxification can have disastrous consequences,” Worm and colleagues say.
The researchers analyzed data from 32 experiments on different marine environments.
They then analyzed the 1,000-year history of 12 coastal regions around the world, including San Francisco and Chesapeake bays in the U.S., and the Adriatic, Baltic, and North seas in Europe.
Next, they analyzed fishery data from 64 large marine ecosystems.
And finally, they looked at the recovery of 48 protected ocean areas.
Their bottom line: Everything that lives in the ocean is important. The diversity of ocean life is the key to its survival. The areas of the ocean with the most different kinds of life are the healthiest.
But the loss of species isn’t gradual. It’s happening fast — and getting faster, the researchers say.
Worm and colleagues call for sustainable fisheries management, pollution control, habitat maintenance, and the creation of more ocean reserves.
This, they say, isn’t a cost; it’s an investment that will pay off in lower insurance costs, a sustainable fish industry, fewer natural disasters, human health, and more.
“It’s not too late. We can turn this around,” Worm says. “But less than 1% of the global ocean is effectively protected right now.”
Worm and colleagues report their findings in the Nov. 3 issue of Science.
SOURCES: Worm, B. Science, Nov. 3, 2006; vol 314: pp 787-790. News release, SeaWeb. News release, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Known for their distinctive long necks and spotted patterns, giraffes are one of nature’s most iconic and awe-inspiring wild animals. The discovery of four unique giraffe species now indicates an urgent need for international conservation efforts to save these majestic animals.
Over the past three decades, Africa’s giraffe population as a whole has declined by 40% with less than 100,000 individuals remaining in the wild today. Compare that to our worldwide human population which expands by over twice that amount each and every day, and you can begin to understand the scope of the issue.
Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent in the world. As is the case almost everywhere humans are found on Earth, rapid human population growth disrupts and displaces the ranges of wild animals, leading to habitat loss.
Poaching is also a contributor to a decline in overall giraffe numbers.
As a single species, giraffes were classified as “vulnerable” in 2016. However, since giraffes were recently discovered to belong to four genetically and geographically distinct species with nine subspecies, “vulnerable” status does not effectively communicate the dangerously low numbers of giraffe subgroups.
Today, the Masai giraffe species (G. tippelskirchi) population has just 32,050 individuals. The southern giraffe (G. giraffe) has just 52,050 including two subspecies: the Angolan giraffe (G. g. angolensis) and the South African giraffe (G. g. giraffe).
Some giraffe populations need immediate protection, including the endangeredreticulated giraffe (G. reticulata) with just 8,700 individuals in existence. It is estimated the northern giraffe species (G. camelopardalis) has just 5,195 individuals in the wild, including the West African giraffe (G. c. peralta) subspecies and the critically endangeredKordofan (G. c. antiquorum) and Nubian (G. c. Camelopardalis) subspecies.
Now, five wildlife protection groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its failure to list northern giraffes under the Endangered Species Act, arguing that the listing of the northern giraffe species crucial for the subspecies’ survival.
Listing northern giraffes would not mandate the habitat protections granted to domestic species, however, it could drastically cut down on poaching by regulating international and interstate imports and exports of giraffe trophies and body parts.
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THERE’S AN ENTIRE industry built around dieting. Most of its products are intended to help people lose weight, gain muscle, or live longer.
But as the global human population steadily climbs, scientists are scrambling to devise a diet plan that can feed 10 billion people by 2050.
A new report, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, claims to do just that. It recommends a largely plant-based diet, with small, occasional allowances for meat, dairy, and sugar. The report was compiled by a group of 30 scientists from around the world who study nutrition or food policy. For three years, they deliberated with the intent of creating recommendations that could be adopted by governments to meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population.
“Even small increases in the consumption of red meat or dairy foods would make this goal difficult or impossible to achieve,” a summary of the report states.
The report’s authors reached their conclusions by weighing different side-effects of food production. They included greenhouse gases, water and crop use, nitrogen or phosphorous from fertilizers, and the potential for biodiversity to take a hit should a region be converted into farmland. By managing all these factors, the report’s authors say climate change-inducing gases could be reduced and enough land could be reserved to feed the world’s growing population.
Under the report’s conclusions, meat and sugar consumption around the world should drop by 50 percent. Who eats less meat and where will vary, says Jessica Fanzo, a report author and professor of food policy and ethics at Johns Hopkins University. Meat consumption in the U.S., for instance, would have to go down and be replaced by fruits and vegetables. But other countries already facing poor nutrition could incorporate meat into roughly three percent of their diet.
Hares are cannibals and eat meat, surprising photos reveal
“We’ll be in dire straits,” if no action is taken, says Fanzo.
Following a vegan trend
Recommendations to scale back meat consumption aren’t new. Just this past October, a study published in the journal Nature set similar guidelines for reducing meat and sugar consumption.
What’s different about this new report, says Fanzo, are the steps outlined to put such a change into place.
Branded what the authors call a “Great Food Transformation,” it outlines strategies that range from the least active, simply sharing information, to the most aggressive, eliminating consumer choice.
“I think it’s hard for people on a daily basis because the incentives and political structures that are in place don’t make it so easy,” says Fanzo. Shifting what sort of agricultural practices receive subsidies is one tactic for overhauling the food system, the report outlines. That would change the relative prices of foods, and thus build in consumer incentives.
Whether a plan like this could actually grow legs around the world is a different story, says Fanzo.
“With the current [presidential] administration, I just don’t think anything is going to move,” she notes.
Greg Miller is the chief science officer for the U.S. National Dairy Council. In addition to citing health benefits of milk like calcium and vitamin D, he cautions against transforming America’s food landscape.
“You have a million people whose lives depend on dairy,” Miller says of those who work on farms or are otherwise employed by the dairy industry.
“We could get there with the right incentives and the right policies,” Miller says of making dairy farming more sustainable. “Subsidies are needed for better technology right now. [Small-scale farmers] don’t have additional income to do some of the things that could be done.”
Better breeding has created cows that are capable of producing more milk for instance, and better tracking systems can monitor an animal’s food intake and activity.
Lingering emissions debates
Not all experts are convinced that plant-based diets are a food security panacea. Frank Mitloehner, an animal scientist from the University of California, Davis has been vocal about his view that meat has been disproportionately linked to climate change emissions.
“What concerns me the most is that, while livestock has an impact, the report makes it sound as if it was the leading source of the impacts. By far the use of fossil fuels are the leading source of carbon emissions,” says Mitloehner.
According to the EPA, burning fossil fuels for industry, electricity, and transportation comprises the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is nine percent of emissions and livestock roughly four percent of that.
Mitloehner also disagrees with the method used by the council to determine the amount of greenhouse gases produced by livestock, saying too much weight was given to methane during calculations. Compared to carbon, methane stays in the atmosphere for a relatively short amount of time. Scientists debate how long exactly, but studies have shown methane plays a large roll in warming oceans.
Reducing food waste
Though the report’s dietary guidelines are receiving criticism, its push to reduce food wasteis being more widely received. In the U.S. alone, nearly30 percentof all food is wasted.
Strategies to reduce waste are outlined for both consumers and producers in the report. Better storage technology and contamination spotting could help businesses reduce the amount of food that’s thrown out, but educating consumers is also touted as an effective strategy.
It’s a daunting prospect for many—changing eating habits and reducing food waste. But Kathryn Kellogg, author of the book 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste, says she gets by with just $250 a month.
“There’s so many creative ways to use our food to prevent waste, and I feel like most people just don’t know about them,” she says. She cites knowing how to cook each part of a vegetable and being constantly aware of the food in her fridge as some of her most effective habits. (Learn more about so-called zero-waste families.)
Kellogg, however, lives in California near neighborhoods with accessible farmers markets. For other communities living in so-called food deserts—regions where grocery stores or markets aren’t readily available—accessing fresh fruits and vegetables can be more difficult.
“All the actions we recommend are available now,” says Fanzo. “They’re not ‘pie in the sky’ future technologies. They’re just not done at a large scale.”
The report’s commissioners will hold launch events in more than 30 countries around the world starting Thursday. They plan to appeal to international organizations like the U.N. as potential enforcers of their new guidelines.
PINEDALE, Wyo. (Reuters) – Hotter, drier conditions have led to more severe wildfires in Yellowstone National Park, while growing numbers of visitors have harmed everything from prized hydrothermal features to its famed grizzly bears, the park said in a report on Monday.
FILE PHOTO: A bison walks in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, U.S. on August 10, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
Average temperatures in Yellowstone, which has been designated as both World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve sites by a United Nations panel, are exceeding historical norms even as climate change is blamed for a string of fires that have increased in size and which last longer, according to the study.
The 60-page “The state of Yellowstone vital signs and select park resources, 2017” report is one of just four compiled in the past decade. They are designed to track one of the largest, nearly intact temperate ecosystems in the world.
Yellowstone is celebrated for geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, as well as forests, mountains, meadows, rivers and lakes considered a crucial sanctuary for the largest concentration of diverse wildlife in the Lower 48 states. The report shows it has seen warmer summers with less moisture and shorter winters in recent years.
At Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest of the park, for example, the average annual daily minimum temperature has increased by 3.9 degrees Fahrenheit from 1941 to 2016 even as total annual precipitation has for the most part been below the long-term mean of 15.3 inches and snowpack has generally declined, scientists found.
Researchers noted an increase in the size of wildfires that impact vegetation and degrade air quality and said the future holds more of the same.
“If climate trends continue along their current trajectory, fires within the park will continue to be larger (and) burn for longer durations,” according to the report.
The millions of visitors who flock to Yellowstone each year from around the globe are behind a trend that includes vandalism to unique thermal features.
The thermal features have been subjected to everything from a drone crashing into one of them to crowds surging onto fragile grounds surrounding the features.
And while the grizzly population in the Yellowstone area is considered stable at roughly 700 bears, humans engaged in such pastimes as driving, hiking, camping and cycling can disrupt bear activities and even contribute to their deaths.
Yellowstone, most of whose 2.2 million acres sit in Wyoming but which also encompasses portions of Idaho and Montana, saw a record 4.2 million visits in 2016 and recorded its second busiest year in history in 2017.
Depending on whom you believe, Anthony Kennedy’s retirement either means that Roe v. Wade will definitely be overturned — or else that it will probably be overturned (but definitely chipped away at).
Regardless, one thing is certain: If the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority takes the right to reproductive autonomy away from the American (female) people, the vast majority of the U.S. electorate will be displeased. A new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that 67 percent of voters do not want Roe v. Wadeoverturned. Opposition is overwhelming among Democrats and independents. But, in another sign that the congressional Republicans do not actually represent the consensus views of their constituents, some 43 percent of GOP voters want Roe upheld (the percentage of Republican Congress members who’d be willing to espouse that position in public is in the single digits).
What’s more, an analysis of Cooperative Congressional Elections Study data by the progressive think tank Data For Progress recently found that there is no state in the country where banning abortion in all circumstances has the support of even one-quarter of voters.
In the run-up to the 2016 election, polls showed that nearly half of Trump voters approved of Planned Parenthood. Shortly after Trump’s victory, that organization convened a series of focus groups with such voters, to understand how they could square their support for reproductive health care with voting Republican. Michelle Goldberg reported on the results on Slate:
In several focus groups, the moderator asked if people expected Trump to veto a defunding bill, and most hands went up. The new mother in Harrisburg pointed out that Trump avoided social issues in the campaign: “That was never Donald Trump’s platform.” Said a Phoenix man in his 30s: “I think this is coming from the bible-thumper mentality. I don’t see Trump having that mentality, but [Mike] Pence, Paul Ryan, those guys, it’s like they call up God from their cellphone. They’re so out of touch with reality.”
Conventional wisdom holds that this Supreme Court opening will help Republicans in November midterms by energizing religious voters. And there’s likely some amount of truth to that. But it’s worth remembering that these religious voters want things that the vast majority of Americans — and a significant number of Republicans — do not.
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.
More than 41 million Americans find themselves at risk of going hungry at some point during the year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. New research suggests the country could feed all 327 million Americans — plus roughly 390 million more — by focusing on plants.
If U.S. farmers took all the land currently devoted to raising cattle, pigs and chickens and used it to grow plants instead, they could sustain more than twice as many people as they do now, according to a report published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Set aside your cravings for cheeseburgers, bacon and chicken wings for a moment and consider the argument made by Ron Milo, a systems biology and sustainability researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and his coauthors.
The researchers examined Americans’ eating habits and agricultural production in the years 2000 to 2010. For their calculations, they used a U.S. population of 300 million (in reality, it grew from 282 million to 309 million during that period, according to the Census Bureau).
With the help of computers, they figured out how to remove beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs from the American diet and replace them with plant-based foods that were “nutritionally comparable.” That means the replacement foods had to provide the same amount of calories, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals without increasing fat or cholesterol — and they had to do it using the smallest amount of land possible.
Here’s what they found:
Imagine an area of land that can produce 100 grams of edible protein from plants. If you take that same amount of land and use it to produce eggs instead, you would end up with only 60 grams of edible protein — an “opportunity food loss” of 40%, the study authors found.
And that was the best-case scenario.
If that land were used to raise chickens, it would produce 50 grams of protein in the form of poultry. If it were devoted to dairy cows, it would provide 25 grams of protein in the form of milk products. If that land became a home for pigs, they would provide 10 grams of protein in the form of pork. And if you put cattle there, you’d get just 4 grams of protein in the form of beef.
Milo and his colleagues then scaled up their results to see how many more Americans could be fed by making each of those changes.
Eliminating eggs and replacing them with plants that offer the same nutrients would make it possible to feed 1 million additional people.
At the other end of the spectrum, swapping plants for beef would result in enough food to “meet the full dietary needs” of 163 million extra people.
In the middle were dairy (getting rid of it would result in food for 25 million more people), pigs (cutting them out would feed 19 million more people) and poultry chickens (without them, farmers could feed 12 million more people).
If beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs all were replaced by a nutritionally equivalent combination of potatoes, peanuts, soybeans and other plants, the total amount of food available to be eaten would increase by 120%, the researchers calculated.
To put that in perspective, the amount of food that’s currently wasted due to things such as spoilage and inefficient production methods is between 30% and 40% of what U.S. farmers produce.
“The effect of recovering the opportunity food loss,” the authors wrote, “is larger than completely eliminating all conventional food losses in the United States.”
That’s not to say there wouldn’t be a few downsides. Although a completely plant-based diet would provide more nutrients overall, consumption of vitamin B12 and a few other micronutrients would decline, the study authors noted.
The economic effects of eliminating all livestock-based agriculture are also unknown, they added. But two of the plusses include better health (which should reduce medical costs) and fewer greenhouse gas emissions, they wrote.
Even if you’re not ready to go vegan, Milo and his colleagues have certainly served up some food for thought…
[I have a thought, how about we go vegan AND REDUCE our population.]