Frontline Dispatches – February 2021 Vol. III, No. 2
VIDEO: ‘Living with Snow Leopards: Sainaa’s Story’ is a glimpse into the life of herders in the remote Yamaat Valley of Mongolia, and how conservation now benefits communities and leopards alike. Instead of killing the cats to protect their livestock, the women are partners in the Snow Leopard Enterprise, which helps them earn money. (Here’s more snow leopard footage.)
DNA helps tackle Indian rhino poaching, say researchers of the Rhino DNA Indexing System-India (ScienceDaily), who created a genetic database for Asian rhinoceros across India and identified 406 unique individuals. With these genetic signals, law enforcement can trace seized rhino horns to their breeding populations.
Elephants vs. people. In Sri Lanka, elephants have lost 16% of their range since 1960, but they still live in 60% of the country; and people inhabit 70% of elephant range. Thus separating people and elephants is impossible, and mitigating conflict is the only way to save elephants. The country’s 2019 elephant survey appeared in Oryx just last month.
People and elephants must co-exist in Sumatra, too. Conflict with crop-raiding elephants is a serious problem in Indonesia also, where elephants are critically endangered and habitat is shrinking. Mongabay.com covered the story last month.
There may be only 500 Nilgiri tahr, an endangered mountain ungulate, in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve in India’s Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot. Researchers counted 422 individuals in 28 groups and estimated the total tahr population in the area to be 510 in 35 groups—perhaps 25% of the global Nilgiri tahr population. Oryx published the study last month.
700 wild falcons were illegally captured and smuggled out of Pakistan last year to buyers in the Arabian Gulf, reported AFP on January 4. The Pakistan Falconry Association says the country desperately needs a sustainable wildlife conservation program.
Video: Watch 365 days of wildlife. A long-running trail camera at the edge of a beaver pond south of Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota captured more than 7,000 20-second videos of wolves, bears, whitetail deer, raccoons, herons, mink, fishers and more, including a biologist. This six-minute compilation (screen grab above) is from EarthTouch News Network.
Wolves spreading across northwest Wyoming conflict with mountain lions. Predation has reduced the elk population around the National Elk Refuge, sometimes pushing wolves to prey directly on mountain lions, their competitors, The Wildlife Society reports. Data show that wolves had a 400% greater impact on cougar populations than human hunting did, reducing the regional number of lions by 48% over 17 years.
Bald eagle recovery is a success in New Jersey. Thanks to the 1972 ban on the insecticide DDT and exhaustive efforts by NJ’s Dept. of Environmental Protection and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation, at least one nesting pair has been confirmed in each of the state’s 21 counties and a record 36 nests have been counted statewide, reported the West Milford Messenger on January 7. In 1980, New Jersey had just a single nesting pair of bald eagles.
Crack a cold one for conservation. Mother Road Brewing Co., in Flagstaff, has partnered with Arizona Game & Fish to create a limited-edition Conserve and Protect Golden Ale, in an eye-catching yellow can adorned with pronghorn antelope (KTAR calls them deer in this story). Part of the “green” this golden ale brings in will go to conservation, as with last year’s Mother Road-AZGFD collaboration, an ale to benefit desert tortoises and red squirrels. Bottoms up.
Viva los lobos! Nine Mexican gray wolves—adults Kawi and Ryder and their seven pups—will soon be released into northern Mexico as part of a project headed by the Albuquerque BioPark and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, KRQE reports. Mexican gray wolves have been bred in captivity and released into the wild before, but this will be the first international release. The pack is currently learning how to hunt at a “wilding school” south of Mexico City.
Video: One of Yellowstone’s seven wolverines caught on camera. Wolverines are one of the rarest species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. They are usually most active from April to October and den up during the winter, making this January sighting (screen grab above), reported by the Idaho Statesman, even more noteworthy. The camera has been active since 2014, when biologists set it to look for cougars.
‘Midwestern bird soars off endangered species list,’ PBS NewsHour says. The interior least tern was delisted after 35 years of conservation efforts; populations now exceed 18,000 across more than 480 nesting sites in 18 states. Their numbers dropped in the early 20th Century due to unregulated market hunting (for their feathers) and construction along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers that wiped out shoreline habitat.
The financial strain of COVID-19 leads to more wild-animal trafficking. In Mexico, the number of federally protected animals seized by law enforcement has increased by 660%. Mexico News Daily reports that turtles are the main species being trafficked.
Working Dogs for Conservation, aka WD4C, uses dogs to help wildlife researchers locate seemingly impossible targets such as one distinct species of fish in a fast-flowing mountain stream. Compared to that, sniffing out elephant ivory or bear scat is child’s play. National Geographic covered the program on January 6. Meanwhile, Smithsonian magazine reported on Labrador retrievers named Ernie and Betty White that have been trained to detect invasive New Zealand mud snails in Wisconsin waterways. Only one-eighth of an inch long, the snails are nearly impossible to find, but they multiply quickly and drive out native species. The dogs pinpoint snails with 75% accuracy.
‘One of the Pandemic’s Big Winners: Hunting’ is the headline of a December 13 Wall Street Journal article. Reversing decades of declines due to demographic and lifestyle changes, the lockdown has given more people time to try hunting and to explore the outdoors while many vacation options are closed off. US hunting and fishing license sales are up more than 12% and 14% respectively, which results in more funding for conservation agencies. The Washington Post reported that nearly every US state has seen “a moderate-to-massive spike in hunting” during the pandemic and that states are making plans to keep new hunters engaged.
VIDEO: How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers. The African pangolin, or scaly anteater, is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The scales on its body are used in traditional Chinese medicine, in the mistaken belief that they have healing properties. BBC Africa filmed this take-down of smugglers and then veterinarians’ attempts save the animal’s life. (The bottle-fed pangolin is from the video.) Also from the BBC: Meet the Pangolin.
Scimitar-horned oryx and addax numbers continue to rise in Chad’s Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve. The Sahara Conservation Fund reported almost 350 free-range oryx from a source population of 200 released since 2016. Addax too experienced a significant rise in births last year.
Almost 600 elephants returned to Virunga National Park in the Congo from Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, reported Mongabay.com in December. They joined about 120 elephants already in the 790,000-hectare (2 million acres) park. Virunga closed in May because of the pandemic, which caused financial damage but apparently brought the elephants back to an area that had been “mostly devoid of wildlife.”
Civil war killed 90% of large animals in Mozambique’s Gorongosa Park. Now, after 30 years of intensive conservation, animal populations in the 1,500-square-mile (388,500 ha) park have recovered. Some were reintroduced, but most rebounded from remnant post-war populations, says a December report in ScienceDaily—“There are few places in the world that have seen such a dramatic reset.” See also Africa Geographic’s Gorongosa photo essay.
Gorongosa Park’s conservation zone grew by 1.1 million acres (.45 million ha) in December when Gregory Carr—the American philanthropist who partnered with Mozambique to restore Gorongosa—agreed to extend protections around the park to create a “mountains to mangroves” wildlife corridor. In November, Gorongosa had released a female leopard from South Africa in hopes it will mate with a male that had moved into the park in 2018. “If the park is going to have a couple of hundred leopards someday,” Carr told The New York Times last month, “they’ll need a place to live.”
Elephant ivory from a Portuguese ship wrecked in 1533 en route to India revealed habitat use and genetic diversity of elephants. DNA analysis found that the 100-plus recovered tusks came from more than 17 different herds of West African forest elephants. The report appeared on ScienceDirect.com in December.
Trail cameras ‘captured’ 71 leopards in South Africa’s Western Cape province from 2011–15. Using the resultant density figures of 0.35 to 1.18 cats per 100 square kilometres (38.6 sq mi), scientists calculate that the Western Cape supports 175 to 588 leopards, the last free-roaming large carnivores in the province. The study appeared in Oryx in January. In Malawi, researchers have estimated leopard densities in Kasungu National Park at 1.9 adults per 100 square kilometres.
Counting elephants from space with satellites saves time, labor and money, removes human bias and opens up previously inaccessible areas, claims a new study in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation. The pilot project was conducted in South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park.
Oil & gas test drilling began in northern Namibia, reported NS Energy on January 11, amid concerns for the impact on the Kavango-Zambezi River Basin and its rich wildlife. To continue, ReconAfrica—the license holder to explore 2.5 million hectares (6.3 million acres) in Namibia’s part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area—must apply for a certificate to the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism by February 5. Public alarm has been widespread at stakeholder meetings. Mongabay.com also reported on the project in December.
Last month’s Dispatches gave an incorrect figure for the value of hunting to South Africa. The item should read: In 2019, 7,523 foreign hunters visited South Africa, down from 8,522 in 2018 and 16,394 in 2008. In hunting fees alone, this generated R1.374 billion, or $95 million—a drop of $38 million from 2018. The data is in the recently released 2019 South African Professional Hunting Statistics.
Video: Red-billed oxpeckers and rhinos have a mutual relationship: The birds get ticks to eat and the rhinos benefit from pest control. The bird in the screen grab is about to duck into a sleeping rhino’s ear.
Wolf conflict issues are growing across Europe as the predators’ range spreads. European law does not allow culling, so wolf reproduction and survival rates are high. German researchers have analyzed how wider distribution of wolves could impact the European Union’s legally binding conservation goals.
A hedgerow briefing from the UK’s Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust explains the value of these closely planted wild bushes or trees to the landscape and wildlife.
57 million pheasants and partridges were released in the UK in 2016, according to some estimates, and possibly 61 million in 2018. Another study used different methods to arrive at an average of 34.5 million gamebirds released per year. Private estates stock the birds for shooting clients. The fact sheet of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust has the details.
An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone has been declared across England, Scotland and Wales to help prevent the spread of bird flu. All poultry—commercial flocks, a few backyard birds, gamebirds in captivity—now come under a range of bio-security precautions, reported the William Powell Sporting Agency in November.
Many insect populations are crashing and need urgent conservation and in-depth monitoring across the UK. “What the Science Says,” an online resource of the UK’s Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, discusses insect conservation on farmland in this January 9 Briefing Sheet.
Dept. of Unintended Consequences, Chapter XXVI: What’s worse: tourists or eagles? When COVID-19 shut down bird-watching on a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea, eagles swooped in instead and wreaked havoc on the murre breeding season. Anthropocene covered the story last month.
The 8th World Conference on Mountain Ungulates will take place in Italy in September 2022, per the IUCN Caprinae Specialist Group website. Gran Paradiso National Park, in collaboration with Abruzzo Lazio and Molise National Parks, will organize the conference as part of the celebrations of their 100th anniversaries.
Biodiversity is collapsing in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Along Israel’s coast, water temperatures have become too high to allow most endemic marine species to survive or even reproduce. However, tropical species that enter from the Suez Canal are thriving. The University of Vienna announced the findings on January 7.
Germany confirmed 103 cases of African swine fever in the Brandenburg state in just the first two weeks of 2021. So far, a total of 506 ASF-positive wild boar have been found across the country, reports the German Hunting Association Newsletter.
Moose teeth were coveted by the Stone Age people of northern Europe, per a January article in ScienceDaily. The incisors were worn as pendants on strings of fiber or sinew. The craft of the thousands of moose-tooth pendants found in the graves of hunter-gatherers who lived 8,200 years ago indicates a homogeneous and hierarchical culture.
SOUTH & CENTRAL AMERICA
Pablo Escobar’s hippos are eco-engineering Colombia’s Magdalena River Basin—and threatening people, too. At current reproduction rates, a study in Oryx in January predicts 400 to 800 of the non-native “megaherbivores” by 2050. The hippos escaped from the private zoo of the drug kingpin, who was killed in 1993, and now require “appropriate management.” (Above, a Colombian hippo begging handouts from tourists.)
Video: A trail camera caught a jaguar killing an ocelot at a waterhole in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve. It’s a rare glimpse of “intra-guild predation”—killing a competitor. In this case, the two cats appeared to be jockeying for access to the water. Mongabay.com aired the cat fight last month.
Bolivia’s ‘super rare’ Chacoan fairy armadillo has been photographed. The near-mythical culotapado inhabits the Gran Chaco forests of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay; the population is likely quite small. Mongabay.com broke the story in December.
Video: Gran Iberá Park in Argentina’s Corrientes Province saw three jaguars—a mother and two cubs, above—rewilded in early January, reported Fundación Rewilding Argentina. The park—709,717 hectares, or 1.75 million acres—was established in 2018 by Tompkins Conservation.
Southeast Australia is overrun with deer. The state of Victoria has announced its Sustainable Hunting Action Plan (part of a larger initiative called Protecting Victoria’s Environment—Biodiversity 2037) to reduce “the devastating environmental impacts of the state’s wild deer population.” The Australian Deer Association projects that, to make a dent in the region’s estimated one million deer (growing at 15% per year), hunters will have to take 225,000 animals annually.
Economic sanctions harm the environment, notes a recent report in Advancing Earth and Space Science. Such political clamp-downs, meant to change the behavior of rogue states, instead often have significant unintended environmental, health, justice and human-rights impacts on their citizens.
The World Conservation Congress will take place in Marseille on Sept. 3 – 11. Originally scheduled for last June, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s annual global gathering was postponed due to the pandemic.
Star power is undermining wildlife, according to a January 15 article in The Guardian. Animal-protectionist groups, supported by celebrities, are pressuring the UK and US to ban trophy hunting. But Dr. Amy Dickman, a lion conservationist from Oxford University, writes “suggesting trophy hunting is driving species to extinction and banning it will make things better is false. I am unaware of any species where current trophy hunting is the primary threat to their persistence. The major threats are overwhelmingly habitat loss, poaching, prey loss and conflict with humans—all of which will be worsened if land used for trophy hunting is converted to agriculture or settlement.” Dickman and other scientists have received death threats in the debate.
Hey, no more selfies with apes. IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is warning scientists, students and minders to stop publishing photos of themselves cuddling with nonhuman primates. Whether on social media or book jackets, such images may prompt people to “do terrible things and try to make them pets,” which affects the species’ survival as wild animals. Science published the warning last month, along with these guidelines for “Responsible Images of Primates.”
A unified global program to track thousands of animals launched late last year: Project ICARUS, International Cooperation for Animal Research from Space, is monitoring everything from bats to rhinos to blackbirds through solar-powered tags attached with superglue. Each one sends data to the International Space Station, which then beams it back down to Earth. The goal is to follow wild animals continuously, over their lifetimes, noting their location, physiology and microclimate. The story appeared in the January 20 New York Times Magazine. [Ed. note: Scott Waller’s Amur tiger-prey study attached ICARUS tags to wild boar, but the pigs chewed them off within a week. “Still some work to do before they’re ready for boar,” Scott reported.]
Tied for warmest year on record: 2016 and 2020. Continuing Earth’s warming trend, the global average temperature in 2020 was 1.84 degrees Fahrenheit (1.02ºC) higher than the baseline 1951-1980 mean. Details appeared last month in ScienceDaily.
The warmest oceans, too. China’s Institute of Atmospheric Physics reported in January that it had found the highest ocean temperatures worldwide, from surface level to a depth of 2,000 metres, or 6,500 feet, since 1955. Due to the ocean’s delayed response to global warming, this trend will persist for several decades at least.
Cold War spy satellite photos show how the planet has been changed in 50 years. From The New York Times, January 5: Some 850,000 high-resolution photos taken by the US Corona Project, surveilling the Soviet Union during the 1950s and ‘60s, are being analyzed to track Earth’s evolving ecology, from forest cover in Europe to penguin colonies in Antarctica, termite mounds in Africa to cattle grazing trails in Central Asia. “A time machine for Earth’s surface,” one researcher called it.
See the Wildlife Conservation Society’s top photos of 2020. Ten images come from the Bronx Zoo and the other 10 from WCS scientists around the world. This one shows a humpback whale lunge-feeding on schools of menhaden with New York City in the background.
New Additions to the Conservation Frontlines Library February 2021
|Smith Adam Francis, Bongi Paolo & Ciuti Simone||2019||Non-invasive measurements of physical traits in wildlife: Photogrammetry applied to deer antlers||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Species Assessment|
|Smith Adam Francis, Bongi Paolo & Ciuti Simone||2020||Remote, non‐invasive photogrammetry for measuring physical traits in wildlife||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Species Assessment|
|Smith Adam Francis (Thesis)||2019||Non-invasive measurements of physical traits in wildlife: photogrammetry applied to deer antlers||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Species Assessment|
|Richardson Heather||2020||A new approach to conservation is less about walling wildlife off in nature reserves, and more about adapting our world to suit animals.||Conservation & Wildlife Management|
|Dahlseid Matt||2020||Hunting tags help bring back New Mexico’s bighorn sheep||Sustainable Use|
|Main Douglas||2020||A behind-the-scenes look at Texas’ exotic animal ranches||Sustainable Use|
|Roosevelt Simon||2020||Defining Modern Hunting||Hunting: Fair Chase, Culture, Arts|
|Bixby Kevin||2020||Why Hunting Isn’t Conservation, and Why It Matters||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Hunting: Fair Chase, Culture, Arts|
|Angier Natalie||2021||How This Spot (in Mozambique) Got Its Leopard||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Sustainable Use|
|Brady Kristyn||2020||15 Conservation Stories That Defined 2020||Conservation & Wildlife Management|
|Brown Meaghen||2020||Soulcraft: Words and wisdom from two Montana runners||Sustainable Use|
|Duporge I, Isupova O, Reece S, Macdonald DW & Wang T||2020||Using very‐high‐resolution satellite imagery and deep learning to detect and count African elephants in heterogeneous landscapes||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Species Assessment|
|Schaap Fritz (Spiegel International)||2021||The Modern-Day Bounty Hunters of South Africa||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Rural Communities|
|Duda Mark Damian (Responsive Management)||2020||Attitudes Toward Elk Among EBCI Members and Visitors, and the Economic Impact of Having Elk on the Qualla Boundary||Species Assessment|
|Watkins Tate (PERC)||2020||Enhancing the Public Lands Recreation Fee System||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Citizen Conservationists|
|Watkins Tate & Smith Jack (PERC)||2020||A Better Way to Fund Conservation and Recreation||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Citizen Conservationists|
|Nash John||2021||The Rise of the Eco-Greenshirts||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Sustainable Use|
|Miller JH et al.||2021||Historical Landscape Use of Migratory Caribou: New Insights From Old Antlers||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Rural Communities|
|O’Bryan Christopher J et al.||2020||The importance of Indigenous Peoples’ lands for the conservation of terrestrial mammals||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Rural Communities|
|Bosaletswe Calistus (Oxpeckers)||2021||‘Gold rush’ as Botswana meets appetite for lion goods||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Hunting: Fair Chase, Culture, Arts|
|Braczkowsk iAlexander Richard et al.||2021||Why paying people to tolerate wildlife is not the magic bullet for conservation||Rural Communities|