Frontline Dispatches – January 2021 Vol. III, No. 1
Watch a drone swarm re-plant a forest. A Seattle company is using programmed heavy-lift drones to plant seedlings after forest fires. Advanced mapping technology allows the eight-foot drones to drop the seeds (packaged in growth medium) in areas best suited for tree growth. The company claims it has cut the time it takes to get new trees into the ground from three years to three months and is already at work in fire-ravaged California and Oregon.
Gigantic highway overpasses for wildlife. Last month, according to an article in EcoWatch, Texas opened the largest highway crossing for wildlife in the US, a $23 million bridge long enough to span a six-lane highway. And in Utah, officials are seeing animals use their overpass sooner than expected—recent footage shows moose, bears and smaller mammals safely crossing Interstate 80.
Alaska’s Pebble Mine permit was finally denied by the US Army Corps of Engineers, killing plans to build the massive copper and gold project, reported Politico on November 25. The Corps ruled that the mining company’s plan to deal with the vast quantities of rock and other fill that would be displaced “does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines.” John Shively, CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, said he would appeal the decision.
Bison are back on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation. The Sicangu Lakota Oyate people recently released 100 bison, per a December 10 Mongabay.com story, through the Interior Dept.’s Bison Conservation Initiative to put genetically pure bison herds back on prairie landscapes. The Sicangu Lakota hope to grow the herd to 1,500 animals in five years.
Hunting-tag sales help bighorn sheep in New Mexico. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that auctions for the tags (required to hunt sheep) raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. The money goes to the state’s bighorn sheep enhancement program to pay for biologists, captive breeding, helicopter surveys, disease testing and more.
Aerial mapping of Hawaii’s reefs reveals conservation needs. Researchers from Arizona State University have undertaken the most detailed survey of Hawaii’s live coral cover, reports a December 14 story on Phys.org. The findings could affect shoreline development, which can impact coral reefs. But data also show some corals resisting human and climate disturbances.
Five Coloradans paid $13,229.77 restitution for killing three elk. Three adult and two juvenile poachers recently pled guilty to wildlife crimes committed in November 2019, Out There Colorado reports. Three of the five were hunting without licenses, two elk carcasses were abandoned, and shots were fired from a public road; all are crimes. Anti-poaching initiatives are essential for wildlife conservation and management.
Saguaro National Park in Arizona will expand. The US House of Representatives voted to extend the park by more than 1,200 acres. This would add protected habitat for rare species like the gray hawk, yellow-billed cuckoo, giant spotted whiptail lizard and lowland leopard frog. National Parks Traveler reported that the expansion was part of an omnibus bill that Congress was attempting to vote on just before Christmas.
New college programs could build hunter numbers. MeatEater reported on December 2 that college students, especially those in wildlife studies, are the ideal group to offset declining hunter numbers in the US and Canada. (Hunting and fishing fees cover the bulk of fish & game agency budgets.) Students are open to trying new things, motivated to harvest their own food and diverse in gender and race. The number of students who enter college wildlife programs with hunting experience has shrunk to less than 40%.
Americans are turning to nature during COVID-19—especially women. Researchers from the University of Vermont reported that outdoor activities—including watching wildlife, gardening and nature photography—have increased by at least 50% during the pandemic, with women more likely than men to participate. Respondents reported better mental health and wellbeing outdoors and appreciated nature’s beauty along with opportunities to exercise.
Monarch butterflies unify countries. The Chicago PBS affiliate reported in November that area residents who spent the summer monitoring food sources for monarch caterpillars got first-hand reports when the hatched butterflies reached their wintering grounds in Mexico. The World Wildlife Fund’s monarch conservation program used aerial images to observe butterfly winter colonies. The US, Mexico and Canada are trying a unified approach to ensure the monarchs’ survival.
And for hockey fans . . . US Fish and Wildlife Service with the save. NBC Sports reported that National Hockey League goaltender Braden Holtby was delayed at the US–Canada border in November because he didn’t have permits for his two pet tortoises, Honey and Maple. After the export paperwork was expedited, Holtby’s wife Brandi tweeted her appreciation for the USFWS agents’ help. Bringing pets across international borders is one thing; illegal wildlife trafficking, however, is something else entirely.
Central & South America
An ‘ancient Sistine Chapel’—thousands of Ice Age paintings stretching across nearly eight miles of cliff—has been discovered in Colombia’s Chiribiquete National Park. The extraordinary art is painted in red iron-oxide pigments and shows extant and extinct animals, warriors or hunters dancing or celebrating, numerous handprints and geometric shapes. Both The Guardian and Smithsonian Magazine reported the find.
The arctic fox, the European mink, Mediterranean monk seal, North Atlantic right whale and polar bear are now among Europe’s most endangered mammals. At least 1,677 European species are threatened with extinction, according to IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, including more than half of Europe’s trees and about one-fifth of amphibians and reptiles. Pollinators are also declining—one out of 10 European bee and butterfly species is in trouble. As of 2015, 36 European species have gone extinct, including many freshwater fish and a salmon, a snail unique to Greece and North Macedonia and a purple flower called the Pensée de Cry.
But the European bison has edged back from the brink, according to a BBC News report. Europe’s largest land mammal was almost wiped out, but numbers have now risen to 6,000+ in wild herds across the continent. The IUCN said the recovery of the European bison and 25 other species demonstrated “the power of conservation” but the growing list of extinct species “is a stark reminder that conservation efforts must urgently expand.”
The clandestine bushmeat market in . . . Brussels? was the subject of a recent paper in SpringerLink. The authors interviewed central and west African expats in Belgium’s capital and concluded that the consumption of smuggled bushmeat is driven by a desire to remain connected to their home countries.
The ban on lead shot over wetlands in Europe is set to begin on January 31, 2023. Following criticism from FACE, the European Federation for Hunting and Conservation, about a lack of “legal certainty,” the European Commission recently said that the definition of wetlands should be interpreted “proportionately” and that further guidelines might be issued.
Golden jackals have been confirmed in the Netherlands, most recently near the German border, according to DNA research just announced by the Dutch Mammal Society.
German hunters harvested 88,000 nutria in 2019-20, 42% more than the previous year, reported the DJV, German Hunting Association. The semi-aquatic South American rodent is now found all over the world. Attempts to control its rapid spread include developing recipes, including nutria nuggets, introduced at the Wild Food Festival in Dortmund.
The black-necked pheasant in Greece’s Nestos Delta is the last indigenous pheasant population in Europe. In 2017, the World Pheasant Association, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Hunting Federation of Macedonia and Thrace launched a six-year plan to conserve it.
The European Federation for Hunting and Conservation has released a report titled “Europe’s Huntable Birds: A Review of Status and Conservation Priorities” that highlights the links between hunting and habitat conservation, monitoring, research and communication.
An Aegean island will become a carbon laboratory when VW and Greece launch Project Lighthouse. The island of Astypalea—340 kilometres (210 mi.) southeast of Athens, with some 1,400 residents—will become a “model for climate-neutral mobility.” The island will switch to electric vehicles and renewable power generation and then test “smart mobility solutions and technologies.” Energy will be primarily generated locally from solar and wind.
Denmark is shuttering its oil industry for good as part of the world’s most ambitious climate goal, to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions 70% by 2030 and its oil and gas extraction to zero by 2050. Denmark is the EU’s biggest oil producer. France and New Zealand have announced similar moves and now pressure is on the UK for a comparable bold stroke. The Guardian reported the story on December 5.
New Zealand has confirmed 7,481 tahr kills on public lands this season. Per the national Himalayan Tahr Management Plan, to protect its alpine ecosystems New Zealand should have no more than 10,000 tahr across the 706,000 hectares (1.74 million acres) of the tahr feral range. From 2016 until autumn 2019, tahr numbers were estimated to be approximately 34,500; during the fall of 2019, hunters culled about 11,000 animals. There has since been another breeding season, natural mortality and a yet-unknown tahr tally from recreational hunting along with the 7,481 tahr culled from helicopters by government hunters.
Rowley Shoals, western Australia, has the oldest known reef fish, according to SmithsonianMag.com. Since 2016, researchers studying the impact of rising temperatures and human exploitation on coral reefs have caught a sea bass that was 79 years old and an 81-year-old midnight snapper, as well as nine other fish that were more than 60 years old. Growth rings on fish otoliths, ear bones, can be counted, just like rings in tree trunks.
‘He was a stick, she was a leaf; together they made history.’ Leaf-insect males are slender and sticklike and have wings; females are green and broad and ribbed. At the Montreal Insectarium, a clutch of wild-caught eggs from a leaf insect from Papua New Guinea hatched into spindly black nymphs—but one grew into a leaf-like female, the other two into males. What had been thought two species (Phyllium and Nanophyllium) turned out to be one, solving the century-old mystery of the missing Nanophyllium females. Previously, only males had ever been found. The story and photos ran in The New York Times on December 1.
The last official sighting of Voeltzkow’s chameleon was in 1913. Now an expedition to northwestern Madagascar has rediscovered the species and provided the first description of the colorful females, reported Africa Geographic on November 16.
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. The report notes that “there is still a significant level of public concern around [South Africa’s] policies, legislation and practices associated with [iconic] species, especially in terms of animal welfare and wellbeing.” [Ed. note: We assume that most of the 489 lion “trophies” in the 2019 statistics—valued at $4.68 million—were “captive bred.”]
The Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation–SA met on November 25, reported Game & Hunt Daily. Sisa Ntshona, CEO for SA Tourism, told the group that South Africa’s wildlife needs to be “wild” to attract foreign visitors; Kruger Park ranger and Associated Private Nature Reserves executive Richard Sowry presented a talk called “Responsible Resource Use: Are you practicing holistic conservation, or not?”
Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park is growing shade coffee and other agro-forestry crops to rebuild its forests, according to a lengthy interview on Mongabay.com. The venture employs local people and benefits wildlife from bats (including a species new to science) to elephants. The coffee and other products are sold internationally. [Ed. note: We recommend Speak for the Trees dark roast.] Agro-forestry is the planting of crops like coffee and cashew nuts among other woody perennials such as rainforest trees—which also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, to help slow climate change.
And in mid-December, the Gorongosa Restoration Project and the United Nations Human Settlements Program signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work with local communities on sustainable development and balanced growth in order to conserve the park’s biodiversity.
Namibia’s tolerance of CITES’ ban on ivory trade is being tested, the Minister for Environment and Tourism told the National Elephant Conservation and Management Plan workshop. Funds that could be generated by trade in ivory, he said, are severely compromised by animal-rights groups with influence at CITES. The report appeared in The Namibian on November 19.
The costs and benefits of elephants influence local attitudes, reports a paper in Conservation Science and Practice. Surveys in Zimbabwe show that 92% of rural community members are unwilling to engage in “conservation activities” because they see no financial or other benefits from elephants.
Saving cheetahs from temptation. In Namibia, most cheetahs live on private farmland, where they sometimes prey on cattle calves. New research has identified “communication hubs” of cheetah territory, where the cats meet to exchange information. By moving their cattle herds out of these cheetah hotspots, farmers can reduce livestock losses by more than 80%.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s latest report is now available. In 71 pages, it details EWT’s remarkable work across Southern Africa to conserve threatened species (from carnivores and raptors to amphibians, cranes, reptiles and many plants) and entire ecosystems while working with and benefitting local people.
‘Murder hornets’ held at bay? On the heels of the discovery of Asian giant hornets, which can destroy honeybee colonies, in Washington State comes a report in PLOS ONE that Vietnamese bees use dung as a defense against the hornets. Biologists from Wellesley College found that to protect themselves against giant hornet raids, the bees dab animal feces around their nest entrances.
Vaccination is the only way to protect Amur tigers from a new extinction threat, canine distemper virus. More abundant species of the Russian Far East, like martens, badgers and raccoon dogs, are the source of the infection, say Cornell University researchers in a new paper in PNAS. They suggest that an injectable vaccine is the only viable solution for tigers. [Ed. note: Amur tiger prey species are the subject of a Conservation Frontlines Select Study.]
Understanding traditional Chinese medicine could be the key to protecting the pangolins, tigers, rhinos, lions and other species that are threatened by “medicinal consumption,” according to University of Queensland-led researchers. They recommend working with users and suppliers to find sustainable solutions. See “Understanding Traditional Chinese Medicine to strengthen conservation outcomes,” in People and Nature on Nov. 25.
Heatwaves and droughts on Mongolia’s semi-arid plateau have soared in the past two decades with nasty implications for the future. The change also means trouble for atmospheric conditions across the Northern Hemisphere. Science Daily ran the story on November 27.
Hobbyists threaten Indonesia’s rich bird life. Indonesia has 16% of the world’s bird species and is the global epicenter of the wild-bird trade. An estimated 84 million birds are held in cages on the island of Java alone and trapping these birds is behind the Asian Songbird Extinction Crisis. A British Ecological Society study finds that hobbyists, up to 7 million households, poses the greatest threat to Indonesia’s avian biodiversity.
A markhor permit made $85,000 in Pakistan at auction and a second one $82,000, while two more hunting permits, for different reserves, sold for $65,000 and $64,000. Ten ibex permits—also for the December ’20 – April ’21 season—brought $3,000 each. Last year’s top price for a markhor permit was a record $150,000; the price drop this year is blamed on the pandemic. UrduPoint reported on November 25 that, since 1990, 74 markhor tags have generated $3.898 million for rural communities and $0.974 million for the provincial government. At the same time, conservation efforts have increased the markhor population from approximately 960 animals to 5,500.
Markhor numbers also have increased in several other Pakistani community conservancies and Chitral Gol National Park in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, finds a new study in the American Journal of Natural Sciences. The report adds that trophy hunting has generated more than $5 million in income.
Pakistan now regulates the pursuit of houbara bustards in Sindh Province, reported Arab News on November 27. The new law includes a falconry code of conduct and stipulates that falconry parties pay $100,000 to hunt 100 of the rare desert birds over a 10-day period. Pakistan’s Falconry Association says that the new regulations will help local communities and conservation efforts, but WWF-Pakistan wants bustard permits to be be granted based on population numbers confirmed by research.
Satellites are watching over habitat. New algorithms that process satellite images are capable of detecting habitat destruction anywhere on earth—and then calling the cops. The “automatic habitat loss detector” technology was described last month in Anthropocene.
Do wildlife-trade bans help—or hurt? Many conservationists believe that CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is a valuable tool that allows nations to control trade in endangered wildlife. But others say that CITES should work to ensure that the wildlife trade meets people’s needs while also safeguarding nature—that forbidding the sale of ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, etc. only spurs illegal activity and makes things worse. Read “Are wildlife trade bans backfiring?” in The Knowable.
Could private investment finance conservation? Most of the money for protecting wildlife and habitat comes from governments, philanthropists, NGOs and the public, but conserving Earth’s ecosystems requires hundreds of billions of dollars more. A new report—“Innovative Finance for Conservation”—explores how private investment could boost conservation. Environmental sustainability guides more and more investments; sustainable funds in the US currently hold more than $9 trillion.
Forests are co-ops of ‘unfathomable scale and complexity’ that exchange resources and depend on “mother trees” to the point where they appear to be single organisms. Such partnerships also permeate grasslands and tundra—wherever there is terrestrial life. This radical understanding of plants as social creatures has enormous implications for conservation: “Everything is connected. Absolutely everything.” The New York Times Magazine carried the lengthy story in early December.