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Archive for the ‘Biodiversity’ Category

Japan Pulls Slowly Back from the Bloody Business of Elephant Slaughter

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 5, 2016

(Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

Though China has earned much of the blame for the massive slaughter of elephants across Africa over the past decade, Japan has been an equal partner in this continuing environmental crime—and a stubbornly determined one. When delegates to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted in October to close all domestic ivory markets, Japan obstinately declared that it was not subject to the decision. Japan’s minister of the environment publicly denied that his country’s extensive ivory industry, largely devoted to the production of hanko—personal stamps, or seals, used in lieu of a written signature—trafficked in poached ivory.

But developments over the past few months suggest that this resistance may be weakening. In November, Hankoyo.com, one of the larger online retailers of ivory hanko, announced it would no longer sell ivory, and specifically cited the need to end poaching in Africa as the motive. Two other hanko retailers—Toyodo and Shoeido—have also announced an end to ivory sales.

Many others, including Yahoo Japan—described as “the world’s largest online dealer of elephant ivory,” have yet to follow. But the pressure to extend the movement against ivory appears to be growing both from the international community and at home in Japan. In the past, said Masayuki Sakamoto, executive director of the Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund, neither the government nor the press was

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Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sampling The Pleasures in a Single Patch of Forest

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 4, 2016

(Photo: Knopf)

(Photo: Knopf)

by Richard Conniff/Wall Street Journal

When Richard Fortey, a paleontologist, popular writer and television presenter, retired a few years ago after a long career at the Natural History Museum in London, he took it as a chance to “escape into the open air.” No more specimen rooms, no more staff meetings. The proceeds from a TV series proved just enough to purchase 4 acres of “ancient beech-and-bluebell woodland” in the Chiltern Hills, near his home in the London suburb of Henley-on-Thames.

In the past, Mr. Fortey had undertaken ambitious schemes, like a sprint across four billion years of evolution for his 1997 book, “Life: An Unauthorized Biography.” Now he set out to explore “a tiny morsel of a historic land.” The previous owner had divided off pieces of Lambridge Wood, part of an old estate, and the buyers—including a retired virologist, a professional harpsichordist and a founding member of the band Genesis—each separately purchased a piece “to prevent the wood from being felled or turned into housing.”

indexFor Mr. Fortey, his patch, dubbed “Grim’s Dyke Wood,” became a place to sit on a log, eat a bacon sandwich and contemplate mosses, a predatory fungus, crane flies, springtails, an “almost elephantine” weevil and whatever else passed by, or just stood still, through each season. In “The Wood for the Trees: One Man’s Long View of Nature,” he tells the story from April of one year through March of the next.

This sort of thing—the microcosmic exploration of one farm, forest or village—is almost a genre in the British Isles, dating back at least to Gilbert White’s 1789 “Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne.” Thankfully, Mr. Fortey doesn’t pretend to be treading virgin territory either in literature or in his forest. But he makes the genre a fine playground for his characteristic blend of wide-ranging curiosity, deft observation and deep research.

His heart is in the intimate examination of nature, but he pursues this passion without sentimentality. “The wood,” he writes, “is not eternal—it is a construct, a human product. It was made by

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Posted in Biodiversity | Leave a Comment »

What Trump’s Triumph Means for Wildlife

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 11, 2016

As a brown bear lunges for fish, a gray wolf waits for scraps in Alaska's Katmai National Park. (Photo: Christopher Dodds/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

As a brown bear lunges for fish, a gray wolf waits for scraps in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. (Photo: Christopher Dodds/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

For people who worry about the nation’s (and the world’s) rapidly dwindling wildlife, the only vaguely good news about Donald Trump’s election might just be that he doesn’t care. This is a guy whose ideas about nature stop at “water hazard” and “sand trap.” Look up his public statements about animals and wildlife on votesmart.com, and the answer that bounces back is “no matching public statements found.” It’s not one of those things he has promised to ban, deport, dismantle, or just plain “schlong.”

More good news (and you may sense that I am stretching here): Trump is not likely to appoint renegade rancher and grazing-fee deadbeat Cliven Bundy to head the Bureau of Land Management. When Field and Stream magazine asked Trump early this year if he endorsed the Western movement to transfer federal lands to state control (a plank in the Republican platform), he replied: “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.”

This was no doubt the real estate developer in him talking, but his gut instinct against letting go of land will surely outweigh the party platform. “We have to be great stewards of this land,” Trump added. “This is magnificent land.” Asked if he would continue the long downward trend in budgets for managing public lands, Trump said he’d heard from friends and family that public lands “are not maintained the way they were by any stretch of the imagination. And we’re going to get that changed; we’re going to reverse that.”

This was apparently enough, in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s upset election, for Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, to suggest that

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Posted in Biodiversity, Business Behaviors, Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Man Who Invented Modern Ecology

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 9, 2016

Given four minutes, this film by Patrick Lynch at Yale says a great deal about G. Evelyn Hutchinson, who founded the science of modern ecology, largely by studying a lake just outside New Haven:

Among his many other influences, other writers made Hutchinson’s work the basis for the Gaia Theory, the popular idea Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biodiversity | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Maggots for Bambi: Endangered Florida Deer Face a Gory Attack

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 7, 2016

Key deer--& sparing you the sight of maggots for Bambi. (Photo: Steve Waters/'Sun Sentinel'/MCT via Getty Images)

Key deer–& sparing you the sight of maggots for Bambi. (Photo: Steve Waters/’Sun Sentinel’/MCT via Getty Images)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

Let’s face it: Key deer, a slightly smaller, stockier subspecies of the common white-tailed deer, had plenty of problems to start with. Only about 800 of them survive, confined to a few small islands in the Florida Keys. You could whip through their entire habitat in about 10 minutes on Route 1, and plenty of motorists do, incidentally killing about 150 of the deer every year. They’re on the endangered species list.

Sound bad? Early this week, it got much worse.

Staff at the National Key Deer Refuge found deer infested with maggots of the New World screwworm fly, an invasive species that hasn’t been seen in this country in half a century. The flies have a nasty habit of laying their eggs on open wounds, and when they hatch, the maggots feed by digging corkscrew holes into the flesh of the host animal.

“They’re in as gory Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biodiversity, Cool Tools, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Killing Off The Wildlife Is Just a Slow Way to Kill A Forest

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 3, 2016

(Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

In the aftermath of bushmeat hunting, pet trade harvesting, habitat fragmentation, selective logging, and other human intrusions, forests and national parks can still look surprisingly healthy. They may even feel like beautiful places for a walk in the woods. But these forests face what researchers in one recent study describe as a “silent threat” due to the rapid decimation of wildlife almost everywhere in the tropics. Without wildlife, forests rapidly deteriorate, losing their value for carbon storage and becoming unsustainable.

That’s because tropical forests, particularly in the Americas, Africa, and South Asia, are primarily composed of tree species that depend on animals to disperse their seeds. This is especially true for the tall, dense canopy trees that are best at carbon storage, a critical factor in climate change calculations. For instance, in a Smithsonian Institution research forest on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal, roughly 80 percent of canopy trees produce large, fleshy fruits. A ravenous cacophony of animals zeroes in on these trees as the fruit ripens.

In a healthy forest like Barro Colorado, the customers may include monkeys, big pig-like tapirs, large rodents like the agouti, toucans with their long, colorful bills adapted for snatching fruit, and a long list of hungry birds, fruit bats, and other species. After these happy diners have eaten

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Posted in Biodiversity | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

How China Could Lead the World in Getting Reforestation Right

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 16, 2016

A site in Sichuan that's part of the world's largest reforestation project. (Photo: Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images)

A site in Sichuan that’s part of the world’s largest reforestation project. (Photo: Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart

What if you undertook the world’s largest reforestation program but planted the wrong trees? That’s what China’s been up to.  Since 1999, it has spent $47 billion planting trees on 69.2 million acres of abandoned farm fields and barren scrubland.

That’s an area almost equivalent to New York and Pennsylvania combined—and should be great news in an era of worldwide deforestation. Moreover, from China’s point of view, the program has succeeded at its original purpose, controlling soil erosion. But the vast majority of the new forests consist of only a single tree species, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications. That is, China has been creating tree plantations—monocultures, not forests—and with nonnative trees. That choice has sacrificed one of the major benefits of healthy forests: diversity of plants and wildlife.

The study, led by Princeton University researchers, puts an optimistic spin on these findings. The coauthors argue that China could

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Posted in Biodiversity, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

After 500 Million Years, Doomed to Decorate Toilet Tanks

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 2, 2016

A chambered nautilus off Palau, Micronesia (Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

A chambered nautilus off Palau, Micronesia (Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

Humans have for centuries coveted the chambered nautilus for its elegantly spiraled shell. But too much beauty can be a dangerous gift. We buy nautilus shells in unbelievably huge numbers, with the United States alone importing 789,000 of them during one recent five-year period, mostly to gather dust as knickknacks. As a result, chambered nautilus populations appear to be crashing in their deep-sea Indo-Pacific habitat.

Later this month, a conference in South Africa will take up the question of what to do about it. Four nations, including the United States, have proposed protecting the nautilus under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. A CITES II listing would not ban the trade but would sharply limit it, according to Frederick Dooley, an evolutionary physiologist at the University of Washington.

The Center for Biological Diversity has also petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the chambered nautilus under the Endangered Species Act, which would completely end imports. (The nautilus is found in American Samoa, a U.S. territory. But its range extends from Indonesia to the Philippines.)

Dooley, coauthor of a recent review of nautilus biology, says he has seen nautilus shells being sold by the basketful in Hawaii tourist shops for as little as $4.99 apiece. If someone has bothered to polish the shells to bring out their pearliness, the price may go up to $9 apiece. “They mostly end up being stuck on

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Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Christmas in August: Give to These Wildlife Groups Now

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 13, 2016

One cause worth your donation (Photo: Craig Taylor/Panthera)

One cause worth your donation (Photo: Craig Taylor/Panthera)

 

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

Most writers wait until the Christmas season to put together their recommendations for charitable giving. But the trouble with that timing ought to be obvious: In December, most people are broke or about to be broke. They’re also a little crazy. In August, on the other hand, life is fat and slow, and there’s time to think about our own lives and what we can do to make the world a better place. With that in mind, I’m going to offer a few recommendations for giving, with my usual focus on wildlife.

First, though, let’s talk about two candidates for this year’s charitable giving purgatory: The World Wildlife Fund is in many ways a great organization, but it has a long history of paying too much attention to marketing. That tendency showed up this year when a WWF vice president put out an announcement, widely reported in the press, that tiger populations were on the increase for the first time in a century. Too bad it was totally bogus. Sorry, but the folks at the top need to put wildlife conservation first and fund-raising somewhere down the list. Hoping to see you next year.

My other newcomer in purgatory is Ducks Unlimited. I’ve recommended it in the past for its single-minded focus on increasing populations of wildfowl. But, hey, save your money. Late last year, DU fired a staffer who had the nerve to take on a prominent donor. Media muckety-muck Jim Kennedy, chairman of Cox Enterprises, was trying to block public access to the Ruby River, which runs through his Montana ranch. But defending public access is one of the core beliefs at DU, and Don Thomas, a longtime contributor to Ducks Unlimited magazine, called out Kennedy for his hypocrisy. DU promptly fired Thomas while praising Kennedy as “a dedicated DU volunteer.”

Where should you send your money instead? Let’s start with

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Posted in Biodiversity, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Miracle Drug Saves People But Buggers The Environment

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 5, 2016

Ivermectin is bad news for dung beetles. (Photo: George Grall/'National Geographic'/Getty Images)

Ivermectin is bad news for dung beetles. (Photo: George Grall/’National Geographic’/Getty Images)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

See if you can spot the pattern here: Widespread reliance on the herbicide Roundup has pushed the monarch butterfly to the brink of extinction. Neonicotinoid pesticides stand accused of knocking down populations of honeybees and other pollinating insects. The veterinary drug diclofenac has killed off 99.9 percent of the vultures in India. Now it looks as though ivermectin, long hailed as a miracle drug, may be doing the same thing to dung beetles everywhere.

Yep, it’s definitely a pattern: Companies find some alleged wonder product and move it to market as quickly as possible, with a tight focus on profits and no regard (or responsibility) whatever for the inadvertent side effects.

The dung beetle story has gotten relatively little attention, perhaps because people have the idea that these funny little feces eaters exist only in Africa and only to help clear the landscape of gargantuan elephant droppings. There are 5,000 dung beetle species, and they do their humble work on every continent except Antarctica. And if you think dung beetles don’t matter pretty much everywhere, try imagining a world neck-deep in

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Posted in Biodiversity, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »