strange behaviors

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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Posts Tagged ‘defaunation’

To End Bushmeat Hunting, Let Them Eat Chickens

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 18, 2017

(Photo:Jeannie O’Brien/Flickr)

by Richard Conniff/The New York Times

The idea that the humble chicken could become a savior of wildlife will seem improbable to many environmentalists. We tend to equate poultry production with factory farms, downstream pollution and 50-piece McNugget buckets.

In much of the developing world, though, “a chicken in every pot” is the more pertinent image. It’s a tantalizing one for some conservationists because what’s in the pot there these days is mostly trapped, snared or hunted wildlife — also called bushmeat — from cane rats and brush-tailed porcupines to gorillas.

Hunting for dinner is of course what humans have always done, the juicier half of our hunter-gatherer origins. In many remote forests and fishing villages, moreover, it remains an essential part of the cultural identity. But modern weaponry, motor vehicles, commercial markets and booming human populations have pushed the bushmeat trade to literal overkill — an estimated 15 million animals a year taken in the Brazilian Amazon alone, 579 million animals a year in Central Africa, and onward in a mad race to empty forests and waterways everywhere.

A study last year identified bushmeat hunting as the primary threat pushing 301 mammal species worldwide toward extinction. The victims include bonobo apes, one of our closet living relatives, and Grauer’s gorillas, the world’s largest. (The latter have recently lost about 80 percent of their population, hunted down by mining camp crews with shotguns and AK-47s. Much of the mining is for a product integral to our cultural identities, a mineral used in

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Posted in Environmental Issues, Food & Drink | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Spy in the Sky Against Pirate Fishing

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 23, 2015

Bluefin tuna (Photo: Franco Banfi/Getty Images)

Bluefin tuna (Photo: Franco Banfi/Getty Images)

On a large monitor in a room in Harwell, England, the planet Earth rotated against a black background. Brightly colored dots bunched up against the shorelines of the continents, with other points scattered across the oceans. It looked like something from the latest James Bond film. In fact, those dots represented the location of nearly every known fishing vessel now at sea, monitored in close to real-time by satellite.  The visualization—it’s not quite reality yet—was part of an ambitious new program that its backers believe will be the best tool yet for ending the scourge of pirate fishing.

“Outside of the military, we are not aware of any project that will bring so many layers of information together and bring so many stakeholders together to end illegal fishing,” said Tony Long, director of the Ending Illegal Fishing Project for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “Project Eyes on the Seas,” he said, will shine “a quicker and brighter spotlight” on illegal fishing.  The project, a collaboration between Pew and Satellite Applications Catapult, a company established through a British government initiative, will begin monitoring two Pacific regions on a pilot basis and gradually spread worldwide over the next three to five years.

That may be just in time. A study published last week in Science warned that,

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Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Why We Need to Save Wildlife to Save Ourselves

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 24, 2014

Cone snail shells: Not just something pretty to look at.

Cone snail shells: Not just something pretty to look at.

Midway through the new special issue of Science, about the global loss of wildlife, my heart caught on this idea: We now live with a steady, imperceptible loss “in people’s expectations of what the natural world around them should look like,” and “each generation grows up within a slightly more impoverished natural biodiversity.” It’s not just about elephants, rhinos, and other iconic species disappearing. It’s about the decline of everything.

When children go outdoors today—to the extent that they go outdoors at all—they see 35 percent fewer individual butterflies and moths than their parents would have seen 40 years ago, and 28 percent fewer individual vertebrates—meaning birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.  It’s not quite a silent spring, just one that is becoming quieter with each passing year, insidiously, so we hardly notice. The Science authors dub this phenomenon “defaunation.” I prefer to think of it as “the great vanishing,” but either way it’s bad news.

Why don’t we do something about it? Wildlife conservation suffers under a misguided notion that it is a boutique issue. “Animals do matter to people,” according to one article in the Science special issue, “but on balance, they matter less than food, jobs, energy, money, and development. As long as we continue to view animals in ecosystems as irrelevant to these basic demands, animals will lose.”

That need not be as hopeless as it sounds, because the authors go on to remind us in alarming detail just how utterly

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Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »