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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘captive breeding’

Our Love for Exotic Pets is Emptying Forests and Oceans

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 7, 2018

(Photo: FLIGHT Protecting Indonesia’s Birds)

by Richard Conniff/Scientific American

Conservation biologist David S. Wilcove was on a birding trip to Sumatra in 2012 when he began to notice that house after house in every village he visited had cages hanging outside, inhabited by the sort of wild birds he had expected to see in the forest. Nationwide, one in five households keeps birds as pets. That got him thinking, “What is this doing to the birds?”

Wilcove, who teaches at Princeton University, made a detour to the Pramuka bird market in Jakarta,

White-rumped shama (Photo: Shanaka Aravinda)

Southeast Asia’s largest market for birds and other wildlife, from fruit bats to macaques. “It was this sort of Wal-Mart-size space filled with hundreds of stalls,” he recalled recently, “each stall of which was filled with

hundreds of birds. An awful lot of them were in very poor condition, with signs of disease, feathers frayed, behaving listlessly–or thrashing around in their cages, because a lot of these are wild birds that are not at all suited to living as caged birds.” Some were species that even zoos with highly trained professional staff cannot maintain in captivity; they would die soon after purchase, “the cut flower syndrome,” he remarked.  “It was really a shocking site. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Research by Wilcove and his colleagues subsequently linked demand for birds in Indonesia’s pet marketplace to the decline of numerous species in the wild. Prices in the pet market, they suggested, in a 2015 study in Biological Conservation, can even serve as an alarm system for species declines that might not show up in field studies until years later, if at all:  When the average price for a white-rumped shama, a popular species in Indonesian songbird competitions, shot up 1500 percent from 2013 to 2015, the shift tipped conservationists off for the first time that these birds were vanishing from the wild.

Follow-up field studies in Indonesia by co-author Bert Harris, now at the Rainforest Trust, found no trace of shamas even in seemingly intact habitats where they should thrive, such as in national parks and in forests five kilometers from the nearest roads.  Buyers were paying especially high prices for distinctive island populations, some of them likely unrecognized species or sub-species. The pet trade, said Wilcove, thus has “the potential to drive species to extinction even when they have suitable habitat, and drive them to extinction without anyone being aware of it.”

The problem isn’t just about birds.  Nor is it limited to Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

Captive Breeding No Help Where Housecats Are Free to Kill

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 29, 2014

(Photo: Rob & Ann Simpson/Getty Images)
(Photo: Rob & Ann Simpson/Getty Images)

My latest, for Takepart:

In tales of the cat and the rat, society has almost always taken the side of the cat. That has largely continued to be the case in Key Largo, Fla.—with disastrous results for wildlife. The Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge there is one of Florida’s last remaining stands of hardwood hammock forest and home to two highly endangered mammal subspecies—the Key Largo wood rat and the Key Largo cotton mouse.

Right next door to the refuge is a gated community called the Ocean Reef Club, largely developed since the 1960s. Many of its wealthy residents believe they have a right not just to let their own cats roam free but also to feed and care for stray or feral cats in the area. The home owners have maintained that cats do no damage and that roaming free is simply natural for cats. Camera traps have repeatedly shown the cats climbing onto the wood rats’ nests, waiting, and leaping to the attack. Even talking about the effect of house cats on native wild rats has, however, become such an emotional issue that a new study in the journal Biological Conservation carefully avoids ever even mentioning the word “cat.”

Instead, University of Florida wildlife ecologist Robert McCleery and his coauthors focus on the elaborate efforts people have made to save the wood rat from extinction, in spite of the cats. Their results suggest that what had seemed to be the best hope for recovery—a captive breeding and release program—may offer no hope at all. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began taking wood rats from the wild in 2002, to establish the first Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »