Captive red wolf at Species Survival Plan facility, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (Tacoma, WA). (Photo by B. Bartel, USFWS)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The only wild population of endangered red wolves is unsustainable and could be wiped out within years after dwindling to a few dozen, government officials said in a report Tuesday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review of the species’ status estimates that only about 40 wolves remain in the wild in eastern North Carolina, down from a peak of about 120 a decade ago.

“The population cannot recover from their losses and overcome mortality resulting in a steadily declining population,” the review states, predicting these wild wolves could vanish in as little as a decade.

Another 230 wolves live in zoos and wildlife facilities in what’s considered a more stable captive population.

Conservationists contend the wild decline is due to neglect by federal officials who have halted releases of captive-born wolves and other efforts to bolster their numbers, such as sterilizing coyotes that compete for territory. Last month, conservation groups asked a federal judge to order those efforts to resume, saying it’s not too late to save the wild wolves.

Leopoldo Miranda, an assistant regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the review draws on research showing the habitat won’t support the wild population without heavy human intervention. Miranda said the agency spends about $1 million each year on the wolves, more than any other endangered species in the Southeast.

“The conditions conducive to self-sustainability are not present at this time in eastern North Carolina,” he said in a phone interview.

Still, a chart released in a related federal report shows the leading causes of death for the wolves are man-made, with more than 80 dying from gunshot wounds over an approximately 25-year period ending in 2013. Vehicle collisions caused about 70 deaths during the period. The leading natural cause, health-related problems, accounted for nearly 60 deaths.

The main purpose of the five-year review was to evaluate the wolves’ endangered species status, which it says should be maintained. It noted scientists have disagreed in recent decades about whether the red wolf represents a species unto itself, a subspecies or a more recent hybrid. The wildlife service said it will continue to recognize the species even as Congress has called for further study into its genetics.

The review said government officials are continuing to develop their plan for the red wolves and would release more details later. The federal agency plans to take public comments this summer.

Once common across the Southeast, the red wolf had been considered extinct in the wild as of 1980. Releases of captive-bred wolves started in 1987.

Sierra Weaver, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, disagreed with Miranda’s contention that the environmental conditions aren’t right for the wolves, noting they numbered 100 or more for a decade at the peak of the recovery effort.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is not taking the action that is required to recover the species, and indeed these documents indicate that they’re going to continue down that path,” she said in a phone interview.

Weaver is one of the lawyers leading the lawsuit seeking to improve recovery efforts. Weaver argued in the March legal filing that the Fish and Wildlife Service shifted away from successful management strategies in the past five years because of pressure from a small but vocal group of landowners.

Some landowners argue the wolves are nuisance animals that frequently wander onto their property.

Ron Sutherland, a scientist with the Wildlands Network conservation group, said he’s disappointed that Tuesday’s review describes the wolf population as unsustainable without acknowledging detrimental steps by the government.

“They stopped releasing new wolves from captivity, they stopped managing coyotes, and they’ve sat back and watched as gunshot mortality shredded the red wolf population,” he said in an email.



Earth’s mammals have shrunk dramatically, and humans are to blame
 April 19 at 2:00 PM

Within a few hundred years, a new study says, the domestic cow might be Earth’s biggest animal. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Life on Earth used to look a lot more impressive. Just a little more than 100,000 years ago, there were sloths as long as a giraffe is tall, monstrous bears whose shoulders were six feet off the ground, and Bunyanesque beavers that weighed as much as an NFL linebacker. But over time, all of these creatures disappeared in a manner so rapid and so mysterious that scientists still can’t fully explain what went down.

Did an asteroid discharge the mega-beasts, similar to the one thought to have snuffed out the dinosaurs? Or was it widespread climatic change or a plague of new diseases? Did our penchant for hunting play a role?

It’s likely that a combination of factors led to a planet-wide demise in sizable mammals as the Ice Age came to a close. But a study published Thursday in the journal Science provides evidence that the major drivers were humans and other hominids.

“We looked at the entire fossil record for 65 million years, in million-year increments, and we asked the question, ‘Is it ever bad to be big?’ ” said lead author Felisa Smith, a paleoecologist at the University of New Mexico. For most of evolutionary history, the answer was no — larger body mass did not make an animal more likely to go extinct, she said. “For 65 million years, it didn’t matter what size you were.”

That is, until a new kind of predator arrived on the scene: Homo erectus. Around 1.8 million years ago, hominids that had long been dependent on plants became hominids that were “heavily and increasingly dependent on meat as a food source,” Smith said.

As these tool-wielding team hunters spread out from Africa, large-mammal extinctions followed. If you’re going to spend time and energy on a hunt, these early humans and their ancestors probably believed, it’s go big or go home.

“You hunt a rabbit, you have food for a small family for a day,” Smith said. “You hunt a mammoth, you feed the village.”

It’s also possible that hominids actively targeted the mightiest creatures for other reasons — out of fear, perhaps, or perceived competition for prey. In modern times, human conflict with large animals is often about their taste for our livestock, as with wolves and lions, or their destruction or consumption of our crops, as with elephants and orangutans.

But something about substantial animals makes them more vulnerable to population collapse, said William Ripple, director of the Global Trophic Cascades Program at Oregon State University. For starters, there are usually fewer of the big animals, at least compared with the little guys.

“Their life history traits, such as reproduction rates and maturity rates, are much slower,” Ripple said. “Big animals don’t reproduce as fast as small ones.”

As hominids dispersed, the average body mass of mammals in Eurasia dropped by about half over the course of 100,000 years, Smith and her colleagues found. In Australia, the average mammal body mass today is just one-tenth what it was before 125,000 years ago.

North America was late to the game, as far as extinctions went, with most of its massive mammals surviving up to the very end of the Pleistocene. But when they did go, they went fast, a phenomenon Smith says might have to do with the invention of more-effective, long-range hunting weapons by Homo sapiensand the disappearance of all rival hominids. All told, after the dust of extinction had settled, the size of North America’s average mammal dropped from 216 pounds to about 17 pounds — the size of a bobcat.

Brett Crawford, top, and Matt Fair deconstruct the vertebrae of a woolly mammoth skeleton at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington in 2014. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

To see what might happen if this shrinking trend continues, Smith presumed that all animals now listed as endangered or threatened would eventually go extinct and then removed them from the data.

Blue whales? Gone. Elephants? Poached out of existence. Polar bears? Glug, glug, glug.

Go down the line, and within a few hundred years you wind up with a planet where the most substantial mammal is none other than the domestic cow.

Ripple, the ecologist, is unsurprised. He has published numerous papersfinding that large mammals are at a disproportionate risk for extinction.

“I think this paper is a significant contribution to what I call the ‘downsizing of nature,’ ” he said of the new study.

Of course, several animals make a living by preying on larger creatures, Ripple said. Gray wolves can take down an elk; killer whales have been seen dispatching gray whales.

“So it may be that humans have evolved to do that,” Ripple said. “But nowadays, we have well over 7 billion humans on planet Earth. And 7 billion humans have a huge impact.”

While the new paper focuses on mammals, Ripple said the same size-selective pressures are bearing down on the world’s grandest fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds. And we’re only now starting to understand what consequences this might have for the ecosystems all around us.

An elephant grazes in the Mara Triangle in southern Kenya. African elephants are the world’s largest land mammal today. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Scientists view many of the largest animals as ecosystem engineers. Elephants have a habit of tearing down trees in their quest for greens, helping maintain open environments such as the savanna. Mammoths probably interacted with their environment in much the same way, which is why the prairie-like habitat that used to stretch from Spain to China is called the “mammoth steppe.”

Smaller animals will hoof it straight up a hill, creating a vertical game trail, Smith said. Bulkier animals must curve their way up an incline, making switchbacks and long, meandering depressions. The difference in these paths can affect erosion, water dispersal and the distribution of vegetation.

“So even something as simple as how they walk through the environment can change everything,” Smith said of big animals. Cows’ ecosystem services, she notes, are no match for those of elephants.

Evidence that hominids have been dooming large species for nearly 2 million years could be read as an excuse for modern humans and all the animals we’ve pushed onto the Endangered Species List. But Smith said there’s a difference between then and now.

“Now we’re at a point where we can be aware of it,” she said.

And we have a choice: Are we going to keep killing them off for food, clothing and talismans, or are we going to break with hominid tradition and find ways to coexist with the behemoths that remain?

Read more: 

Dire wolves were real. Now someone is trying to resurrect them.

This 250,000-year-old tool was used to butcher a rhinoceros

Waterfowl species to brink of extinction?

IANS . New Delhi | Update: 13:09, Sep 14, 2017


Crossing national and international boundaries, millions of migratory birds descend on India to avoid the extreme winter chill in their native habitats. Many of them never return to their breeding grounds, say ornithologists.

The reason: They are exposed, largely in non-protected wetlands, to illegal killing and trade.

Scientists, mainly from Mysuru’s Nature Conservation Foundation, during their fieldwork in 27 wetlands in Tamil Nadu’s Kanchipuram district, estimate that at least 1,700 waterbirds, mainly large- and medium-sized, are hunted every year in each wetland. They say hunting is widespread from December to April, the peak season of winter migrants.

“This translates to hundreds of thousands of waterbirds being killed every year across India in non-protected wetlands. Such a high scale of hunting was unknown previously, and is not sustainable,” Ramesh Ramachandran, a Research Associate with the Cranes and Wetlands Programme of the Nature Conservation Foundation, told IANS.

In Tamil Nadu alone, the winter migrants include the ruff—a medium-sized wading bird that breeds in marshes—common sandpiper, great cormorant, common teal, red-crested pochard and the common pochard.

“All of these migratory species are falling prey to poaching,” he said.

Policeman-turned-conservationist Ramachandran is the lead author of the research paper titled “Hunting or Habitat? Drivers of Water Bird Abundance and Community Structure in Agricultural Wetlands of Southern India” published in the journal Ambio this year.

“Out of the 53 species recorded in different wetlands during the study, we found 47 species with local hunters,” he said.

The hunted birds are largely sold to local food outlets.

Co-author K.S. Gopi Sundar, also with the Nature Conservation Foundation, said illegal hunting practically affects all of the bird species in the wetlands.

As a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, the inter-governmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation of wetlands and their resources, India’s responsibilities include providing protection to all migratory waterfowls.

Most of the migratory species use the Central Asian Flyway, and India is a signatory to the international agreement to conserve migratory birds of prey.

“Several of the migratory species using the Tamil Nadu wetlands are known to breed in Russia, though the intention of the study was not to confirm the breeding grounds of the birds that poachers were hunting in Tamil Nadu,” said Sundar, who heads the Cranes and Wetlands Programme.

He told IANS that the study was not able to confirm if there was more hunting in the wetlands around protected areas compared to the wetlands away from these areas.

“There is a need to revise our current policies and action to conserve the waterbirds. Several mammals like leopards and hyenas and most waterbird species are not confined to protected wetland reserves or in wetlands that occur inside forest reserves,” Sundar said.

The vast majority of wetlands in India occur outside protected areas and so the majority of waterbirds are not protected by strict protocols followed within the protected areas.

“We need to think much more comprehensively about waterbird conservation. Plans should include and involve stakeholders such as panchayats, farmers and other such people in whose lands waterbirds are found,” Sundar said.

“We also need to think beyond site-based conservation approaches and urgently start considering landscape-scale approaches. These approaches require to be at spatial scales that match the ecology and movements of the birds.”

Surprisingly, the movement patterns of most of the birds in India are yet unrecorded.

“The policy will require to be general at this point in time to ensure that we safeguard our waterbirds,” Sundar added.

Sundar and his team also recorded illegal bird poaching in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

“We recorded hunting in 100 per cent of the wetlands during a recent survey we carried out in southwestern Uttar Pradesh. The scale of hunting was not as large as is in Tamil Nadu,” he said.

In another study on unprotected agricultural wetlands in Maharashtra, the team uncovered illegal hunting in over 60 per cent of the wetlands.

“I have also witnessed hunting in several wetlands of southern Rajasthan and around Bengaluru. The hunting is very widespread in the unprotected wetlands of the country and that it is likely the single-most important threat to waterfowl in the country today,” Sundar said.

Around 70 per cent of 272 hunters that Ramachandran and his team interviewed in Tamil Nadu reported a decline in bird species, especially large-sized, in the past decade.

The noticeable declining species are the bar-headed goose, Eurasian spoonbill, glossy ibis, painted stork, Indian black ibis and the spot-billed pelican.

The study says hunting remains one of the least studied aspects of bio-diversity conservation in India. Contrary to assumptions, hunting is driven by market demand and not subsistence.

“We estimated an average monthly income of Rs 12,524 ($196) per hunter earned through hunting,” says the study.

The pond heron was observed to be the most commonly traded bird species.

The other large waterbirds included the black-headed ibis, Asian openbill, Eurasian spoonbill, glossy ibis, great egret, painted stork and the spot-billed pelican.

The Tragic Story of America’s Only Native Parrot, Now Extinct for 100 Years

By Kevin R. Burgio

It was winter in upstate New York in 1780 in a rural town called Schoharie, home to the deeply religious Palatine Germans. Suddenly, a flock of gregarious red and green birds flew into town, seemingly upon a whirlwind.

The townspeople thought the end of the world was upon them. Though the robin-sized birds left quickly, their appearance was forever imprinted on local lore. As author Benjamin Smith Barton wrote, “The more ignorant Dutch settlers were exceedingly alarmed. They imagined, in dreadful consternation, that it portended nothing less calamitous than the destruction of the world.”

You and I know that the birds weren’t a precursor of mankind’s demise—but in a way, there was impending doom ahead. These birds were Carolina parakeets, America’s only native parrot. Exactly 100 years ago this February, the last captive Carolina parakeet died, alone in a cage in the Cincinnati Zoo, the same zoo where the last captive passenger pigeon, named Martha, died four years earlier. The last “official” wild Carolina parakeet was spotted in Florida just two years later.

Why did these birds go extinct? It remains a mystery. Given that parrots today are at greater risk for extinction than other major bird groups, is there anything scientists can learn from the Carolina parakeet?

Unraveling Parakeet Mysteries

Over the past six years, I’ve been collecting information about where the Carolina parakeet was observed over the last 450 years.

The extinct Carolina parakeet, mounted on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.Wikimedia CommonsCC BYI spent hours upon hours reading historical documents, travel diaries and other writings, ranging from the 16th century all the way into the 1940s. I’ve often become lost in the stories surrounding these parrot observations—from the first accounts of Europeans exploring the New World, to the harrowing tales of settlers traveling the Oregon Trail in the 1800s, to grizzled egg hunters scouring the swamps of Florida in the early 1900s.

I also dug through natural history museum collections, looking at what many would just see as just some old, dusty, creepy dead birds. But I see them differently: beautiful in their own way, each with a story to tell.

My goal was to unravel some of the lasting mysteries about the Carolina parakeet—like where it lived. Historically, people used to determine a species range by plotting the most extreme observations of that species on a map, drawing a polygon around them and called it a day. Because of this, people long thought Carolina parakeets lived from upstate New York all the way to Colorado and down to the Texas coast.

But birds are often seen in areas where they don’t normally go. For instance, the range of the snowy owl—like Hedwig of “Harry Potter” fame—doesn’t really extend all the way to Bermuda, though one was once spotted there.

The historic distribution of the extinct Carolina parakeet. The green area represents new understanding of where the eastern subspecies lived. The blue is where the western subspecies lived. The red line is based on a range map for the species published in 1891.Ecology and Evolution (2017)CC BYWhat’s more, scientists don’t know what really drove these parakeets to extinction. Some thought it was habitat loss. Some thought it was hunting and trapping. Some thought disease. A few even thought it was competition with nonnative honey bees for tree cavities, where the parakeets would roost and nest.

Thanks to the data I compiled as well as cutting-edge machine learning approaches to analyze those data, my colleagues and I were able to reconstruct the Carolina parakeets’ likely range and climate niche. It turned out to be much smaller than previously believed. Generally, their range extended from Nebraska east to Ohio, south to Louisiana and Texas. The eastern subspecies lived mostly along the southeastern coast from Alabama, through Florida and up to Virginia.

We were also able to confirm the longstanding hypothesis that the parakeets in the northwest part of their range migrated southeasterly in the winter, to avoid the blistering cold of the Midwest.

Why It Matters

In a world that faces extinction on a scale not seen in the past 65 million years, some of you may wonder: Aren’t there more important things to study?

While this may seem rather minor, some scientists consider the Carolina parakeet one of the top candidates for “de-extinction.” That’s a process in which DNA is harvested from specimens and used to “resurrect” extinct species, not unlike “Jurassic Park” (but way less action and decidedly less Jeff Goldblum).

If someone were to spend millions of dollars doing all of the genetic and breeding work to bring back this species, or any other, how will they figure out where to release these birds? Given the effects of climate change, it’s no longer a given that scientists could release birds exactly where they used to be and expect them to flourish.

Whether or not de-extinction is a worthwhile use of conservation effort and money is another question, best answered by someone other than me. But this is just an example of one potential use of this type of research.

In many ways, the history of the Carolina parakeet’s decline parallels the history of American growth over the course of the 19th century. All that prosperity came with many terrible costs. As the U.S. expanded and remade the landscape to suit its needs, many native species lost out.

Today, parrots face a serious threat of extinction. Parrot diversity tends to be highest in areas around the world that are rapidly developing, much like the U.S. during the 19th century. So whatever lessons the Carolina parakeet can teach us may be crucial moving forward.

I continue to study Carolina parakeets, and other recently extinct species, in the effort to hear and relate these lessons. As cliche as it is to say, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

Zinke backs grizzly bear recovery in N. Cascades


Zinke Coming To Washington To Talk Grizzly Bear Recovery

This undated file photo provided by the National Park Service shows a grizzly bear walking along a ridge in Montana.

This undated file photo provided by the National Park Service shows a grizzly bear walking along a ridge in Montana.

National Park Service

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is heading to the North Cascades Friday to speak on reintroducing grizzly bears in that part of Washington. His agency had previously suspended controversial efforts to bolster the bears in the area.

Scientists think there are fewer than 10 grizzly bears left in Washington’s North Cascades.

The federal government looked at options to help the population. They’ve ranged from a do-nothing approach to reintroducing grizzlies to the area.

The plans proved controversial. After public meetings across Washington, the government was in the midst of reviewing nearly 127,000 public comments.

Then in December the Interior Department abruptly halted the program. The media advisory about Zinke’s visit to Washington did not elaborate on what he would announce, other than to say he will “provide remarks on the grizzly bear restoration efforts.”

Grizzly bear numbers have been drastically reduced in Washington from over-hunting and habitat loss. Biologists say the bears could become extinct in the North Cascades if nothing is done.


Connelly: Interior secretary surprises conservationists
Friday, March 23, 2018

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in a surprise to conservationists, announced on Friday in Sedro-Woolley that he supports the restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades ecosystem of Washington.

“Restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades ecosystem is the American conservation ethic come to life,” said Zinke, a former Montana congressman.

“We are managing the land and the wildlife according to the best science and best practices. The loss of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades would disturb the ecosystem and rob the region of an icon. We are moving forward with plans to restore the bear to the North Cascades, continuing our commitment to conservation and living up to our responsibility as the premier stewards of our public lands. ”

 Surprising words from the Trump administration’s point man in cutting 2 million acres out of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

“I’m as astounded as anyone but he’s not said a single word I don’t agree with,” Mitch Friedman, longtime leader of Conservation Northwest, messaged a friend.

Friedman joked that the theme could be: “Making the North Cascades great again.”

Idaho moves ahead with possible grizzly bear hunting season

Idaho officials have started the process of opening a grizzly bear hunting season this fall that would allow the killing of one male grizzly.

The Fish and Game Commission in a 7-0 vote March 22 directed the Department of Fish and Game to gather public comments on the possible hunt.

The department will use those comments to draft a possible grizzly bear hunting season for the commission to consider in May.

“There would be a lot of interest in the possibility of a grizzly season,” Commissioner Derick Attebury said after the meeting. Attebury represents the portion of eastern Idaho where the hunt would occur.

The process for making comments and possible public meetings haven’t been announced.

About 700 grizzlies live in Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Montana doesn’t plan to hunt grizzlies this year, while a proposal in Wyoming would allow the killing of up to 24.

Wildlife advocates and Native Americans have filed lawsuits to restore Endangered Species Act protections for the bears and prevent the hunts.

“It’s disappointing that another state is moving in the direction of hunting grizzly bears,” said Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. The group is a plaintiff in one of several lawsuits seeking to restore protections for Yellowstone grizzlies.

The formula for the number of bears that can be hunted in each state involves a region surrounding Yellowstone National Park called the Demographic Monitoring Area. The number of bears for each state is based on how much land area is in the monitoring area. The number of bears allowed to be hunted in total is based on mortality studies of bears. The end result is that this year, officials say, Idaho can hunt one male bear and Montana six male bears. Wyoming can hunt 10 male bears and two female bears.

A much larger region includes additional bears not within the monitoring area. Wyoming’s proposal allows the killing of 12 bears in that additional area.

Toby Boudreau, Idaho Fish and Game assistant wildlife chief, said Idaho wasn’t looking at hunting in that area this year.

Santarsiere questioned Idaho’s ability to hunt one male bear with no females allowed, noting hunters could mistakenly kill a female.

Boudreau said most hunters would be inclined to hunt male bears. He said any inadvertent killing of a female would be subtracted from the following year’s hunt allotted to the three states. Boudreau said the killing of multiple female bears could possibly shut down hunting seasons.

“Whatever your feeling about grizzly bears,” Boudreau said, “this is one of the West’s greatest conservation stories. It’s a pretty small timeline that we’ve actively managed grizzly bears to a point where (hunting) is even a possibility.”

If hunting seasons occur in Idaho and Wyoming this fall, they would be the first since grizzlies received federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Federal officials lifted those protections last year.

World’s last male northern white rhino dies

By Joshua Berlinger, CNN
FILE PHOTO: The last surviving male northern white rhino named 'Sudan' is seen at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia: The last surviving male northern white rhino named 'Sudan' is seen at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya, June 2017. The world�s last male northern white rhino has died, leaving only two females of its subspecies alive in the world.World’s last male northern white rhino diesGallery by Reuters

The world’s last male northern white rhino has died, leaving only two females left to save the subspecies from extinction.

The 45-year-old rhino named Sudan had been in poor health in recent days and was being treated for age-related issues and multiple infections.

A veterinary team made the decision to euthanize Sudan after his condition deteriorated significantly, the conservation group WildAid announced Tuesday.

Sudan lived in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, surrounded by armed guards in the days leading up to his death to protect him from poachers.

“He was a gentle giant, his personality was just amazing and given his size, a lot of people were afraid of him. But there was nothing mean about him,” said Elodie Sampere, a representative for Ol Pejeta.

Researchers were able to save some of Sudan’s genetic material in the hopes of successfully artificially inseminating one of the two females left, Sampere said.

It is with great sadness that Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Dvůr Králové Zoo announce that Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, age 45, died at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on March 19th, 2018 (yesterday).

“We can only hope that the world learns from the sad loss of Sudan and takes every measure to end all trade in rhino horn. While prices of rhino horn are falling in China and Vietnam, poaching for horn still threatens all rhino species,” said WildAid CEO Peter Knights.

Rhinos are targeted by poachers, fueled by the belief in Asia that their horns cure various ailments. Experts say the rhino horn is becoming more lucrative than drugs.

In addition to round-the-clock security, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy also put radio transmitters on the animals and dispatched incognito rangers into neighboring communities to gather intelligence on poaching.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY NICOLAS DELAUNAYA caregiver calms Sudan, the last known male of the northern white rhinoceros subspecies, on December 5, 2016, at the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Laikipia County -- at the foot of Mount Kenya -- that is home to the planet's last-three northern white rhinoceros.As 2016 draws to an end, awareness of the devastation of poaching is greater than ever and countries have turned to high-tech warfare -- drones, night-goggles and automatic weapons -- to stop increasingly armed poachers. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at the African Black market, rhino horn sells for up to 60,000 USD (57,000 euros) per kilogram -- more than gold or cocaine -- and in the last eight years alone roughly a quarter of the world population has been killed in South Africa, home to 80 percent of the remaining animals. / AFP / Tony KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images): A caregiver calms Sudan — the last known male of the northern white rhinoceros subspecies — in 2016 at the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Laikipia County, at the foot of Mount Kenya. © TONY KARUMBA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images A caregiver calms Sudan — the last known male of the northern white rhinoceros subspecies — in 2016 at the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Laikipia County, at the foot of Mount Kenya. 

Old and frail

At 45, Sudan was elderly in rhino years and suffered from problems associated with age.

During his final years, he was not able to naturally mount a female and suffered from a low sperm count, which made his ability to procreate difficult.

His daughter Najin, 28 and granddaughter, Fatu, considered young by comparison. Najin could conceive, but her hind legs are so weak she may be unable to support a mounted male.

Sudan made headlines last year when the Tinder dating app named him the “most eligible bachelor in the world” in a campaign to raise funds to save the subspecies.

The western black rhino was declared extinct seven years ago as a result of poaching. All five remaining rhino species worldwide are considered threatened, according to the conservation group Save the Rhino.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that Sudan was a northern white rhino.

Federal judge in Missoula speeds up grizzly lawsuit ahead of fall hunting seasons

Grizzly bear

A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in 2011 in Yellowstone National Park. A proposal introduced in the Wyoming Legislature seeks to impose a wildlife conservation fee at Yellowstone.

A federal district judge derailed a docket full of legal preliminaries about removing the grizzly bear from Endangered Species Act protection on Tuesday, in hopes of getting the whole matter decided before Wyoming and Idaho open grizzly hunting seasons this fall.

“I don’t think we always make our best decisions, our best briefs or our best arguments in the context of emergency injunctive relief motions,” U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen said in Missoula. “It’s not efficient to deal with issues of this importance in the context of restraining orders.”

In a ruling from the bench, Christensen denied the federal government’s request to delay proceedings in six lawsuits challenging the delisting of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. He also rejected requests by three different groups to decide the case based on technicalities. And he ordered all parties to put their sprawling arguments into a single set of briefs for a hearing in August.

Tuesday’s hearing brought together federal lawyers representing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service against the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Humane Society of the U.S., Wild Earth Guardians and an independent attorney from Chicago. On the sidelines, lawyers from Safari Club International, the National Rifle Association and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation also sought intervener status in the case.

FWS delisted the roughly 700 grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park on July 31, 2017, while leaving protections in place in five other grizzly recovery zones. The next day, a Washington, D.C. appeals court overturned the delisting of gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes Region. That case warned FWS that it couldn’t remove Endangered Species Act protections from one distinct population segment without showing how the decision would affect other protected wolf populations.

Four months later, FWS officials published a request in the Federal Register asking for public comment on whether the Great Lakes wolf decision might affect Greater Yellowstone grizzly delisting. Christensen found that confounding.

“How is this public comment period somehow going to shed any light or give any assistance at all with the issues in this lawsuit?” Christensen asked U.S. Department of Justice Attorney Coby Howell. “When we’re talking about the application of a circuit court opinion, that’s a decision I’m going to have to make. How is public comment going to help me out?”

Howell replied that FWS needed until at least April 30 to analyze the comments and then either add more findings to the existing delisting rule or start the process of withdrawing it. Doing so would ensure the court had a fully prepared agency rule to consider, he said.

But the government’s opponents pounced all over that idea. Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien called the delay request an opportunity “to cook up justifications to prop up a decision they’ve already made.”

“Meanwhile, Wyoming will be turning 24 grizzly bears into rugs and wall hangings,” O’Brien said. Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department has proposed allowing hunters to kill up to 24 grizzlies starting in some areas on Sept. 1. Idaho’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has proposed a fall hunting season for one bear. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials decided not to hold a 2018 grizzly hunt.

Additionally, the grizzly management rules in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming allow much more leeway for farmers and ranchers to kill grizzlies threatening their livestock than the ESA permitted. That means grizzlies and their advocates could suffer harm every day that the court delays a final decision on whether to put the bears back under ESA protection.

Christensen said he was not pre-judging the case when pointing out that both sides acknowledged the reduced protections grizzlies had under state management. Given that and the lack of justification for the FWS public comment review, he denied the government’s request for a delay. But then he went further.

“There’s only one of me and an army of you,” Christensen said to the roomful of attorneys. Pushing the deadlines closer to a potential hunting season would invite last-minute requests for restraining orders and injunctions.

“I’ll do anything I can to avoid that,” Christensen said. “You’d be writing briefs when you’d rather be with your kids at the end of August. And I’d be getting out emergency orders, opposed to logically and methodically proceeding with the case. I want to proceed in a manner we all agree with, leading to a hearing and ultimately a decision.”

The bird flu is killing the Queen’s swans

London (CNN)Bird flu has killed at least 30 swans from Queen Elizabeth’s flock, with more expected to succumb to the disease, UK officials say.

“We are currently at the river recovering bodies of the dead swans,” said David Barber, the official responsible for the Queen’s swans. “This is the first time in my 24 years as Swan Marker that bird flu has hit the Thames — naturally, we are all very upset about the situation.”
An alert was initially sent to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) by Swan Support, a rehabilitation center, after they noticed several of the animals near the Queen’s residence at Windsor Castle, west of London, appeared to be ill.
“We found a few dead swans, but we find dead swans all year round,” Wendy Hurmon, director of operations at Swan Support, told CNN. “But then we noticed that some of the other swans did not look very well and we thought ‘something is not right here.'”
After seven swans died in the Queen’s flock, which is actually called a bevy, their remains were analyzed and five were confirmed to have the disease, DEFRA said.
On January 18, DEFRA introduced an Avian Flu Prevention Zone that makes it a legal requirement for anyone who keeps a bird to follow strict protocol and advice to prevent the spread of the disease.
“We are continuing to see cases of bird flu in wild birds across the country which is why, if you keep birds, it is absolutely essential that you do all you can to protect them and help prevent the spread of the disease,” UK Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens said in a statement.
Although bird flu is an illness that usually only affects birds, an outbreak in China in October 2017 left 460 people sickened with the disease.
However, scientists said the risk of human-to-human transmission is low.
Barber confirmed to CNN that the outbreak is unlikely to affect the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Windsor in May.

Bald eagles suffering from lead poisoning

Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center near Saegertown has admitted four eagles with high lead toxicity levels in recent weeks. Three have died.

SAEGERTOWN — Bald eagles in Pennsylvania are protected from hunters but not from the lead in hunting ammunition.

Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center near Saegertown typically treats two or three eagles each year for lead poisoning. But in recent weeks, the center has admitted four adult bald eagles, two of which still had the metal in their stomachs. As of Thursday, only one of the birds was alive and was in “guarded” condition.

“We’re doing our best but it is difficult for birds to come back from lead toxicity levels this high,” said Carol Holmgren, Tamarack executive director and wildlife rehabilitator.

Since 2009, the nonprofit in Crawford County has admitted 71 bald eagles. Twenty-five tested positive for lead poisoning and four, not counting the bird now being treated, have survived, Holmgren said.

The most recent lead-poisoning patient to arrive was a 30-year-old bald eagle, assumed to be male, and nicknamed “Kiski” for the township in Armstrong County where it was found Sunday. The bird was taken to Tamarack on Monday.

Holmgren said the center has a special machine to test blood lead levels and this bird’s results were higher than the machine can read. She knows it’s a long shot to treat bald eagles with such high lead toxicity but Tamarack still tries.

“Morally, ethically, it’s worth it,” Holmgren said.

Treatment involves the administration of drugs, which can require a team of four people, including a main eagle handler, Holmgren said.

She said it’s “gut-wrenching” to see these beautiful birds “deathly ill in a very unpleasant way.” The lead harms their internal organs, she said.

Although no longer listed as endangered at the federal level, bald eagles are considered protected in Pennsylvania and can’t be hunted here.

In 1980, the commonwealth had a known nesting population of only three pairs of bald eagles, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Fueled by a reintroduction program in the 1980s, the nesting eagles had increased to more than 270 pairs in 2013, according to the Game Commission.

Bands on Kiski show the bird’s age and that it was banded in Dauphin County. It’s believed the bird was brought to Pennsylvania from Saskatchewan as part of the reintroduction effort. The eagle has already survived being hit by a car, for which it was treated in 2012, Holmgren said.

The Game Commission cited the pesticide DDT and its effect on bald eagle reproduction as the primary reason the birds had declined. DDT use was banned in the United States in 1972.

While it’s good that the bald eagle population is rebounding, more birds also means more eagles suffering from lead poisoning, Holmgren said.

She doesn’t blame hunters, some of whom she said are wonderful conservationists.

“I think respectful education is what’s key,” Holmgren said about finding a solution to the lead problem.

She said the most obvious is to use non-lead ammunition. When that’s not possible, she said, it’s important to dispose of mammals killed with lead bullets or pellets in such a way that eagles and other predators and scavengers can’t find and eat remains that contain lead fragments.

Research indicates that the birds are ingesting the lead found in them, Holmgren said. Bald eagles are foragers that will scavenge mammal carcasses, according to the Game Commission. Holmgren said the birds could be eating the remains of deer, woodchucks and other mammals that have been killed with lead ammunition. The eagles could also be eating ducks that have swallowed lead sinkers or been killed with lead pellets.

“It’s lead they have digested that’s really hitting these birds hard,” Holmgren said.