In Borneo, hunting emerges as a key threat to endangered orangutans

Humans target the apes for food, or to prevent them from raiding crops, scientists say

12:00PM, FEBRUARY 15, 2018
orangutan mom and baby

COUNT DOWN  From 1999 to 2015, numbers of orangutans on the island of Borneo declined by nearly 150,000 individuals, a new study estimates.

Over those 16 years, Borneo’s orangutan population declined by about 148,500 individuals. A majority of those losses occurred in the intact or selectively logged forests where most orangutans live, primatologist Maria Voigt of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues report February 15 in Current Biology.

“Orangutan killing is likely the number one threat to orangutans,” says study coauthor Serge Wich, a biologist and ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University in England. Humans hunt the forest-dwelling apes for food, or to prevent them from raiding crops, the investigators say. People also kill adult orangutans to steal their babies for the international pet trade.

Between 70,000 and roughly 100,000 orangutans currently live on Borneo, Wich says. That’s substantially higher than previous population estimates. The new figures are based on the most extensive survey to date, using ground and air monitoring of orangutans’ tree nests. Orangutans live only on Borneo and the island of Sumatra and are endangered in both places.

Still, smaller orangutan populations in deforested areas of Borneo — due to logging or conversion to farm land — experienced the severest rates of decline, up to a 75 percent drop in one region.

Satellite data indicate that Borneo’s forest area has already declined by about 30 percent from 1973 to 2010. In the next 35 years, Voigt’s team calculates that further habitat destruction alone will lead to the loss of around 45,000 more of these apes. “Add hunting to that and it’s a lethal mix,” Wich says. But small groups of Bornean orangutans living in protected zones and selectively logged areas will likely avoid extinction, the researchers say.

Dwindling presence

In Borneo, areas of high orangutan densities per square kilometer declined from 1999 to 2015.


The Endangered Species You Have Never Heard of and May not Care About.

Canadian Blog

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative

Published 01/16/18

The welcome arrival of Volume 7 of the Handbook of Mammals of the World last week, hot off the press, reinforced my view that most animal protectionists and conservationists share a bias in favor of the “charismatic megafauna,” like pandas, whales, apes, and elephants, which precludes knowledge of both just how incredibly diverse the animal kingdom is and how many species are at risk due to the accelerated rates of endangerment and extinction we now see.

The book covers just nine families of rodents. Volume 6 covered the rest, plus the lagomorphs (rabbits, hares, pikas).

Of the 14 species of birch mice, one is endangered, one vulnerable; of 35 species of jerboa, one is vulnerable; of the five species of tree mouse, one is vulnerable; of 28 species of muroid mole-rat, two are endangered, one vulnerable; of the 68 species of Nesomyids, including pouched rats, climbing mice, and fat mice, one species is critically endangered, seven endangered, and one vulnerable; of the 765 species of Cricetid rodents, including hamsters, voles, lemmings, and new world rats and mice, 20 species are critically endangered, 32 species endangered, 40 species vulnerable, and 15 extinct since 1600; of the 816 species of Murid rodents, including “true” mice, rats, gerbils—all of them native entirely to the eastern hemisphere—15 species are critically endangered, 52 species endangered, 60 species vulnerable, and 14 species extinct since 1600. All of this is determined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Many species have various subspecies, or relatively discreet geographic variations—in one case 50!—among which there may also be vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, and extinct forms. And, there are dozens of species that are currently listed as “data deficient” or “not assessed,” that may be vulnerable to extinction, or may be endangered, but we just don’t know enough about them to say.

Other species, like the house mouse, are hugely adaptable and incredibly abundant over vast regions, both as a native and as an introduced exotic species. Many, justifiably or not, are thought of as verminous, even dangerous. The largest—the muskrat—is prolific, widespread, and killed in huge numbers for its fur with no threat to the survival of the species.

The odd endangered species, like the salt-marsh harvest mouse of California, have their champions, but, even so, obtaining protection for an endangered mouse or rat is often, at best, difficult.

Most of us just don’t know that there are such creatures as the Armenian birch mouse, giant root rat, sandy blind mole-rat, or Moroccan gerbil.

Many of these species are known by a single specimen, or very few; we know only that they exist. More species doubtlessly remain to be discovered, and the whole issue of their conservation is clouded by changing views as to their classification and their names.

But, like the iconic whooping crane, cheetah, or Javen rhinoceros, they’re out there and deserving of our concern.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,

US Senator Proposes Ending Protections for Mexican Gray Wolf

US Senator Proposes Ending Protections for Mexican Gray Wolf 
The Associated Press

FILE – In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a Mexican gray wolf leaves cover at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro County, N.M. Mexican gray wolves which once roamed parts of the American Southwest and northern Mexico would be removed from the list of federally protected species under legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake. The Arizona Republican introduced the measure last week. He’s a critic of the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan that was adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November, calling it a regulatory nightmare for ranchers and rural communities. (Jim Clark/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP, File) The Associated Press

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press

A wolf that once roamed parts of the American Southwest and northern Mexico would be removed from the list of federally protected species under legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake.

The Arizona Republican introduced the measure last week. He’s a critic of the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan that was adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November, calling it a regulatory nightmare for ranchers and rural communities.

“I plan to continue my efforts to push for real recovery that takes into account the needs of the local stakeholders most impacted by this policy,” Flake said in a statement Monday.

The legislation calls for the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if a population of fewer than 100 wolves has been established in the species’ historical range along the Arizona-New Mexico border. If so, the predator would be considered recovered and removed from the endangered list.

Management of the wolves would be turned over to state wildlife agencies in Arizona and New Mexico once the Fish and Wildlife Service makes a determination.

An estimated 113 wolves roam parts of Arizona and New Mexico, according to the most recent data. Members of the wolf recovery team will be conducting a new survey in the coming weeks.

There have been unsuccessful legislative efforts in the past to limit protections for the Mexican gray wolf, but environmentalists say Flake’s bill is an attempt to sidestep the Endangered Species Act.

“It should be the job of scientists, not politicians, to determine when a species is recovered,” said Bryan Bird, the Southwest program director for the Washington, D.C.-based group Defenders of Wildlife.

Environmental groups have pressed for years for more captive wolves to be released into the wild, but ranchers and elected leaders in rural communities have pushed back because the predators sometimes attack domestic livestock and wild game.

In 2016, the U.S. Interior Department’s internal watchdog said the Fish and Wildlife Service had not fulfilled its obligation to remove Mexican gray wolves that preyed on pets and cattle.

The new recovery plan, which was adopted following decades of legal challenges and political battles, calls for management eventually to revert to the states but not until the population averages 320 wolves over an eight-year period. In each of the last three years, the population would have to exceed the average to ensure the species doesn’t backslide.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Two wolves shot dead in Eastern Washington

Wildlife officials so far have no leads for suspects. Conservation Northwest is offering a $10,000 reward for information in the wolf killings.

Two wolves in Eastern Washington were killed in November, likely the victims of poaching.

The wolves were both females. At least one was killed in Stevens County.

According to state officials, the wolves were collared by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The collar on one of them had stopped working and wildlife officers checked the last known coordinate. They found the wolf shot dead.

“This is beyond sad and disappointing. We work so hard on a fair wolf recovery process that includes everyone so that there’s local acceptance. So many interests have put so much into this effort. But one bad apple can do so much damage. It’s an unjust irony that the term ‘lone wolf’ is applied to mass shooters,” said Conservation Northwest Executive Director Mitch Friedman.

The wolves are members of the Smackout and Dirty Shirt packs.

WDFW currently has no leads for suspects. Conservation Northwest is also offering a $10,000 reward for information about the killings.

Sumatran tiger survival threatened by deforestation despite increasing densities in parks

Excerpt from release:  Tigers on the neighboring islands of Java, Bali, and Singapore went extinct in the 20th century, prompting new anti-poaching efforts to prevent the same fate for the subspecies on Sumatra.
Those efforts have largely been successful.The density of (Sumatra’s) tigers has
increased over last two decades and their numbers are twice as high in unlogged forests, the study found.
But the study also found that well-protected forests are disappearing and are increasingly fragmented: Of the habitat tigers rely on in Sumatra,
17 percent was deforested between 2000 to 2012 alone, erasing any gains to the tigers’ chance of survival, the study authors wrote. Habitat destruction for oil palm plantations was a leading culprit of deforestation.
Full release

US Senate Quietly Passes Alaska Oil-Drilling Bill

  • The 19.6-million acre refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife

    The 19.6-million acre refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife | Photo: Reuters FILE

“It’s outrageous that the oil lobby and their allies in Congress are trying to destroy the crown jewel of America’s wildlife refuge system.”

Late Saturday the United States Senate passed a Bill that will allow oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – an area which has been protected since 1960.

Arctic Nations Meet in Alaska Under Climate Change Concern

Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski, managed to get a narrow 52-48 vote for the Bill – a part of the tax reform legislation – to pass.

The 19.6-million acre refuge is located in northeastern Alaska and is home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife, but also billions of barrels of crude oil underground.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will authorize the sale of oil and gas leases in a section of the ANWR on Alaska’s coastal plain that faces the Arctic Ocean.

Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, expressed displeasure with the passing of the bill, stating that “sacrificing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has absolutely no place in a tax bill” adding it was “outrageous that some politicians will do anything to sneak this sell-out past the American people”.

“It’s outrageous that the oil lobby and their allies in Congress are trying to destroy the crown jewel of America’s wildlife refuge system after nearly four decades of bipartisan support for protecting it,” Williams continued.

“Fortunately, this fight isn’t over, and we are committed to fighting this legislation every step of the way.

But, the resources committee head held an opposing perspective regarding the area.

“This small package offers a tremendous opportunity for Alaska, for the Gulf Coast, and for all of our nation,” Murkowski said, according to The Washington Examiner.

“We have authorized responsible energy development in the 1002 area.”

One committee member, Senator Maria Cantwell, told The Washington Examiner before the vote: “We don’t think this has been a fair and open process. The only way they have been able to get any place on this issue is to throw away the regular process.”

Namibia: 57, 000 sign petition against Elephant hunting

Namibia: 57, 000 sign petition against Elephant hunting


About 57 508 people across the world have signed a petition for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to stop the hunting of desert elephants in Namibia.

Iris Koch from Esslingen, Germany, started the online petition on website.

She stated in the petition that Namibia’s desert elephants are iconic and highly endangered.

These animals are among the rarest creatures on this and have adapted to extremely arid desert conditions.

“These animals are among the rarest creatures on this and have adapted to extremely arid desert conditions.
Unfortunately, their extraordinary status makes them a preferred target for trophy hunters, and even though they are survival experts, desert elephants don’t stand a chance against the rifles of hunters,” she stated.

She added that they are horrified that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has sold three more permits for the hunting of desert elephant bulls in the Ugab region.

Koch said the small population in that area is on the brink of extinction, adding that the elephants left in the Ugab area in 2016 had gone down to 30, declining drastically year by year.

“A shocking five out of five newborn calves died, three adult females were lost, while the total number of breeding bulls in the Ugab river region amounted to five,” she said.

She noted that they were under the impression that desert elephants have been designated as a top priority for protection by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

World’s Rarest Penguin Population at Its Lowest in 27 Years


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

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Nearly half the breeding population of endangered yellow-eyed penguins on the island sanctuary of Whenua Hou (Codfish Island) in New Zealand have vanished, according to a recent survey.

The animals — also known as “hoiho” in Māori — are known as the world’s rarest penguins and are only found in New Zealand.

Only 14 nests were found on the island compared to 24 last year, the survey from the Department of Conservation revealed. Since the island is predator-free with limited human access, terrestrial influences are unlikely to be the cause, the department pointed out.

Forest & Bird, a Wellington-based conservation nonprofit, is blaming the commercial fishing industry for the loss, suggesting that the animals were most likely caught and drowned in the nets of fishing trawlers.

“Unlike previous years where disease and high temperatures caused deaths on land, this year birds have disappeared at sea,” said Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague in a statement. “There is an active set net fishery within the penguins’ Whenua Hou foraging ground, and the indications are that nearly half the Whenua Hou hoiho population has been drowned in one or more of these nets.”

Only three percent of the commercial trawlers had official observers onboard to report penguin deaths. Incidentally, Forest & Bird noted that all the recorded deaths came from the small percentage of boats that did have observers.

“It’s simply unbelievable that almost every penguin killed in the set net fishery was killed on a boat that had an official observer onboard,” Hague said. “As a first step, [the Ministry of Primary Industries, which oversees the fishing industry] needs to get more of their observers onto set net vessels and prioritize putting cameras on set netting boats.”

“Responsible set netters need to ask the question of their fellow fishers — why is it that the only recorded by-kill of penguins appears to be on monitored fishing vessels?” he asked.

The environmental group is urging government action and for the fishing industry to agree an immediate set of actions to eliminate the risks from set netting in the penguins’ feeding areas.

“We are asking [the Department of Conservation] and [the Ministry of Primary Industries] what they intend to do to save our hoiho from extinction, because at current rates of decline we are on track to lose hoiho completely from mainland New Zealand. We have also written to the Minister of Conservation, expressing our concern,” Hague said.

“This bird is so special that it appears on New Zealand’s five dollar note,” Hague said. “The critical information about the Whenua Hou catastrophe should not have been held back from the public. Instead we need honest conversation with New Zealanders spelling out the actions that will be taken to prevent it happening again.”

The yellow-eyed penguin is not faring any better elsewhere in the country. According to the Guardian, there are just 1,600 to 1,800 of these penguins left in the wild, down from nearly 7,000 in 2000. They face wide-ranging threats from climate change to disease.

“While nest numbers are similar to last year from Dunedin northwards, there are declines further south,” said Department of Conservation Threatened Species ambassador Nicola Toki. “The estimate for the total southern east coast based on current counts is around 250 nests, down from 261 a year ago. This number is of concern given historically there were between 400-600 breeding pairs and the current number is the lowest for 27 years.”

Recent yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho nest counts on mainland New Zealand indicate a continued decline in numbers in some areas: 

Why Can’t We Protect Elephants?

Elephants, with their wondrous size, need vast amounts of food and space. A group crossing a farmer’s field can do enough damage to bring about both economic ruin and their own consequent demise.CreditAlex Majoli/Magnum Photos

Lately I’ve been haunted by a photo. In it, a mother elephant and her babyare running across a road in West Bengal, India. The mother has her head down and ears forward, heading for safety in the trees. A ball of fire clings to her right foot; her tail appears singed. The baby’s hind legs are engulfed in flames. In the background, a crowd of men is running away, some pausing to gape and jeer over their shoulders. They are the reason for the fire. They have thrown firecrackers and balls of flaming tar at the animals. The image, taken by Biplab Hazra and chosen by the Indian conservation group Sanctuary Asia as this year’s winner of its annual wildlife photography contest, is titled “Hell Is Here.”

Where elephants go, unfortunately, hell seems to follow.

Over the past two decades, the global populations of both Asian and African elephants have declined precipitously because of poaching, habitat loss caused by human encroachment and subsequent conflicts resulting from the crowding together of people and very large animals.

As part of an international effort to curb poaching and protect elephants, the Obama administration tightened restrictions on the domestic sale of ivory and on legal commercial hunting in Africa. In 2014 it implemented a ban that prohibited Americans from importing trophies from hunts in Zimbabwe.

On Thursday the Trump administration announced that it would lift the banand earlier this month said it would allow trophies from Zambia as well. Hunting advocacy groups and the National Rifle Association celebrated the decision. It was not too difficult to imagine that the president’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., would also cheer this change — they have hunted elephants for sport in the past. Don Jr. even posed in Zimbabwe in 2011, ammunition slung around his waist, holding up the tail he had cut off a dead elephant lying behind him. Criticism of the decision was swift from other corners, however. Perhaps swift enough to give the president pause: Late Friday, he tweeted that he was putting the “big game trophy decision on hold” for further review.

I hope a review convinces him to let the ban stand because the last thing elephants need is more people shooting them. Between 1979 and 1988, more than half of Africa’s elephant population was killed for the ivory trade, some 700,000 animals. After widespread outcry, bans were put in place and conservation efforts strengthened, and elephant populations slowly recovered into this century, when, conservation advocates say, China’s ascendant middle class began fueling a rising demand for ivory with price seemingly no object: $1,000 for a pair of chopsticks, hundreds of times that for a whole carved tusk.

Continue reading the main story

Between 2002 and 2011, 62 percent of African forest elephants vanished, and between 2007 and 2014, the numbers of savanna elephants dropped by nearly a third, with tens of thousands killed each year.

Poachers, increasingly soldiers and members of rogue militias from the Central African Republic and Sudan, among other countries, shoot elephants with automatic rifles, on foot or from helicopters. They poison water holes, killing tuskless animals as collateral damage. They kill park rangers who get in their way and swell their own ranks with kidnapped villagers. Income from the sale of the tusks is used to buy weapons and prolong gruesome human conflicts. Organized crime syndicates make fortunes bringing ivory to market, mostly in East Asia.

Like many people, I have loved elephants since I was a small child. And I am afraid for them. There is a real possibility that elephants will vanish in the not distant future.

Elephants draw charisma from their wondrous size, but that brings vulnerability, too. They are large targets in every way. They can’t dart away into the underbrush to hide from bullets; they need vast amounts of food and water, and space to roam. A group of elephants obliviously crossing a farmer’s field in Africa or Southeast Asia can do enough damage with their huge feet and foraging trunks to bring about both economic ruin and their own consequent demise. But the elephants in Mr. Hazra’s photo had not accidentally trampled anyone. Their attackers weren’t seeking profit, nor were they wealthy trophy enthusiasts like the Trump sons or the founders of GoDaddy and Jimmy John’s, who appear to have all been willing to pay between $25,000 and $60,000 to kill an elephant and take home pieces of its body. The men in West Bengal burned the animals for pleasure.

Those who kill and torment elephants seem to experience the animals’ size as a provocation. The attendant desire to gawk and jeer at elephants brought low is an old one. In 1903, to cite one famous example, an Asian elephant, Topsy, was publicly executed by a combination of poison, electrocution and strangulation on Coney Island. Edison Manufacturing Co. sent a film crew to document the event, and so it lives on. Topsy’s death has been viewed more than 760,000 times on YouTube.

All this despite the fact that we know elephants to be among the most intelligent and emotionally complex animals on the planet. Elephants play, mimic, use tools, and communicate with a wide vocabulary ranging from blasting trumpets to low frequency rumbles that can travel miles. Within their close-knit matriarchal herds, they cooperate and make group decisions. They seem able to recognize, even predict, distress in other individuals and to offer assistance.

A sliver of hope for elephants emerged last year when China, by far the biggest consumer of ivory, announced it would ban its domestic trade. This long-sought reversal was the result of sustained foreign pressure and shifting internal attitudes, nudged along by personal pleas and educational campaigns from celebrities such as Yao Ming and Prince William.

What could justify the commercial hunting of threatened animals? The general answer is that the proceeds from the hunt — the huge fees people in search of these trophies fork over — can go to conservation.

Whether or not such an argument is morally persuasive, the implementation of such a system requires a stable host country where corruption is kept in check and conservation programs are effective. Elephant trophies can legally be taken from South Africa, for example, but the 2014 ban reflected the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s conclusion that Zimbabwe had not demonstrated its hunts were furthering the preservation of the species. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s longtime dictator who is currently under house arrest after a military coup, reportedly dined on elephant meat for his birthday two years ago. His attitude toward his country’s wildlife is best described as pay-for-slay.

Hell is here, for elephants.

US to allow imports of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe, Zambia

(CNN)US authorities will remove restrictions on importing African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

That means Americans will soon be able to hunt the endangered big game, an activity that garnered worldwide attention when a Minnesota dentist took Cecil, perhaps the world’s most famous lion, near a wildlife park in Zimbabwe.
A US Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said the move will allow the two African countries to include US sport hunting as part of their management plans for the elephants and allow them to put “much-needed revenue back into conservation.”
Critics, however, note the restrictions were created by the Obama administration in 2014 because the African elephant population had dropped. The animals are listed in the US Endangered Species Act, which requires the US government to protect endangered species in other countries.
“We can’t control what happens in foreign countries, but what we can control is a restriction on imports on parts of the animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
The number of elephants in the wild plummeted 30% overall between 2007 and 2014, despite large scale conservation efforts. In some places it has dropped more than 75% due to ivory poaching.
In 2016, there were just over 350,000 elephants still alive in the wild, down from millions in the early 20th Century.
Iconic African elephant population on the brink

 Iconic African elephant population on the brink 05:49

Pacelle, who opposes the decision, told CNN it means “elephants minding their business are going to be gunned down by rich Americans.”
Safari Club International, a worldwide network of hunters, cheered the announcement.
“We appreciate the efforts of the Service and the US Department of the Interior to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife,” SCI President Paul Babaz said in a statement.
Attenborough: Poaching 'will rest heavily' on humanity

Attenborough: Poaching ‘will rest heavily’ on humanity 01:11
But the decision was met with outcry from animal-rights advocates, including Chelsea Clinton, a longtime proponent for elephant conservation. The daughter of former President Bill Clinton and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton once called elephants her “great passion” in a 2016 Politico profile and, together with her mother, unveiled a $80 million partnership through the Clinton Global Initiative in 2013 to help end the ivory poaching crisis.
“Infuriating. Will increase poaching, make communities more vulnerable & hurt conservation efforts,” she tweeted Thursday, linking to a report from the Humane Society of the United States.
President Donald Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric are themselves big game hunters. Photos posted in 2012 by the website Gothamist show Donald Jr. holding an elephant tail. The website says the photos were from a 2011 hunt in Zimbabwe.
When Donald Jr. addressed the photos at the time, he did not deny their authenticity or where they were taken. “I can assure you it was not wasteful,” he posted on Twitter, adding, “The villagers were so happy for the meat which they don’t often get to eat.”
Pacelle, of the Humane Society, noted that corruption in the Zimbabwean government was a concern when the US banned trophy imports from the nation in 2014.
Zimbabwe is currently in a leadership crisis, after the military seized power this week and placed President Robert Mugabe under house arrest.