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Posts Tagged ‘endangered’

Saving the Stork

stork-festival-vyn

Photo: Gerrit Vyn at Living Bird.
A conservation army of women has worked hard to revive the population of an odd endangered stork, the Greater Adjutant. The work is tied to Aaranyak, a nonprofit focused on biodiversity in northeast India.

As I was trying to decide if you’d be interested in another initiative that might be on hold because of Covid-19, I read the article more carefully and saw something that confirmed it is merely experiencing a pause. “When the entire nation of India was placed into lockdown in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, public festivals were canceled, but the hargila army still celebrated the storks by making Greater Adjutant face masks.” 

Hargila? Greater Adjutant? The story of an inspiring Indian conservationist comes from Arundhati Nath at All About Birds.

“Dr. Purnima Devi Barman carefully balances her feet as she clambers down from an 80-foot-tall bamboo platform. She’s been scanning the treetops above the village of Dadara in northeastern India, looking for the giant stick nests of Greater Adjutants — huge storks named for their stiff-legged, almost military gait.

“These tall, majestic birds were once widely distributed in wetlands across India and Southeast Asia. … The Greater Adjutant is now confined to the northeastern state of Assam, their last stronghold. Elsewhere, small populations persist in Cambodia’s northern plains. The species is endan­gered, one of the rarest storks in the world. …

“In study­ing this species, Barman has noticed a change in the storks’ behavior. Greater Adjutants are now increasingly leaving the rural wetlands where they have historically nested and becoming village dwellers.

“Through her tireless work with Aaranyak, Barman has empowered an army of local women to make another big change happen. Once scorned, the storks are now wel­comed and celebrated in the villages — and people who once destroyed Greater Adjutant nests now care for the birds like their own children. …

“Greater Adjutants can be smelly neighbors. They bring rotting flesh to their nests to feed hatchling storks, and they rain smelly droppings down on villagers’ gardens. People in the Assamese villages of Dadara and Pacharia, where the storks are most common, tended to see the huge birds as a bad omen, a plague. They were even willing to chop down magnificent old trees in their backyards to get rid of stork nests.

“One day in 2007, Barman watched in horror as nine baby storks fell to the ground when a villager chopped down a nest tree. When she tried to stop the vil­lager, she was taken aback by his anger. …

“As other villagers gathered around her at the fallen nest tree, she asked for their help in taking the baby storks to a rescue center at a nearby zoo. … They laughed at Barman, ridiculing her and asking if she wanted to eat the baby birds on her way home. It was an inci­dent that could have discouraged her from enlisting locals in an effort to save the storks. But instead, Barman marks it as a turning point that led to a lot of good and necessary change.

‘I realized that it wasn’t the people’s fault,’ she says now. ‘They were com­pletely unaware about the ecological significance of the endangered stork.’ …

“She made a huge personal sacrifice, stepping away from her PhD studies to dedicate herself to shifting people’s attitudes. Barman started by reaching out to several women in the villages, speaking to them about the importance of these birds and their dwindling population.

“She chose women as a first point of contact for her conservation outreach effort, because she felt the women in these villages don’t often get a chance to weigh in on social issues. And within their families, women can serve as the gatekeepers.

“A big part of Barman’s conservation challenge was access to nests, with Greater Adjutants nesting atop trees on private land, in people’s yards. By striking up friendships with the local women, who were mostly homemakers, Barman figured she could gain permis­sion to enter their premises and work to save the storks. She organized activities such as cooking competitions to attract women to her meetings.

“The meetings were a hit, and they gained a big following. Today Barman has organized a group of more than 400 local volunteers in what she calls the ‘hargila army.’ (In Assamese, Greater Adjutants are called ‘hargila,’ which literally translates as ‘bone swallower’ because the storks sometimes swallow whole bones.)” More at All About Birds, here.

adds a bit more on Barnum at the Better India. “Fondly referred to as the ‘Hargila Baideu’ (Stork Sister) by the local community for the work she has been doing for the birds, Purnima has dedicated her life to protect the Greater Adjutant. …

” ‘My grandmother instilled my love and passion for nature. But it was during my Master’s studying ecology and wildlife biology, when my professors spoke of the endangered Greater Adjutant Stork, which were then nowhere to be seen in my grandmother’s paddy fields. I volunteered at Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based non-profit wildlife conservation organisation, but saw that people’s interest was restricted to glamourous species like the rhino or tigers. So, why shouldn’t I work towards protecting the Greater Adjutant Stork,’ says Purnim.” More here.

By the way, this week I’m drinking a vey nice loose-leaf tea from Assam, home of the Greater Adjutant. Upton Teas has a huge selection, and they ship fast.

Map: Jillian Ditner. Greater Adjutant image: Amol Marathe/Macaulay Library.

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Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press
“The Maine Lobstermen’s Association said about 30,000 miles of rope has been removed from the ocean’s surface,” the
New York Times reported last year. That’s important for saving the lives of the remaining right whales, but it won’t be enough.

This morning, three Blue Jays were arguing over something they thought was good to eat in my backyard, and I got to thinking about how my attitudes are evolving as from the kitchen window I watch creatures come and go during the pandemic.

It occurred to me that the Blue Jays don’t know it’s my backyard. They don’t even have a way of registering the information. Nor, for that matter, do the baby skunk, the possum, the chipmunks, the squirrels, the cardinals, or the numerous rabbits.

Perhaps we’re all just a bunch of critters using this space for now.

That’s my prelude to a post on the conflicting interests of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and the lobster fisherman.

Some lobster fishermen are doing their bit to live in harmony with nature. Karen Weintraub reported on this issue at the New York Times late last year, after a right whale well known to scientists was found dead.

“Marc Palombo has been fishing lobster for 41 years, and he wants fishermen who come after him to be able to do the same. That’s why he’s testing a new type of fishing gear that, along with other efforts in New England and Canada, is being designed to avoid harming North Atlantic right whales. …

“This year [2019], about 10 have been found dead, but that number is uncertain. Not one of the nearly 30 right whale deaths in the last three years has been attributed to natural causes, said Philip Hamilton, a research scientist with the New England Aquarium, which maintains a catalog of North Atlantic right whales. Mr. Hamilton blames climate change, which has driven the whales northward in search of food.

“Over the last decade, warming in the Gulf of Maine has driven zooplankton, which the whales feed on, northward into Canada’s waters. As the whales follow, they are swimming across fishing and shipping lanes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they are vulnerable to being struck by ships or entangled in fishing lines — often long lines of rope connecting buoys at the surface with traps at the bottom.

“ ‘The only way to save the right whale is to have all stakeholders, including industry, at the table collaborating on proactive solutions that will protect them while ensuring the future of the lobstering industry,’ Patrick Ramage, director of Marine Conservation, for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said in a statement.

“Fishermen, like Mr. Palombo, and others have been testing new equipment, like ropeless gear, to protect the passing whales, and their fishing livelihood. …

“ ‘We know that entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with ships are killing these ocean giants,’ Megan Jordan, spokeswoman for Oceana, an international advocacy and conservation organization, said via email. ‘Reducing the amount of vertical lines from fishing gear in the water and requiring ships to slow down can help save North Atlantic right whales from extinction.’ …

“In Canada, a multipronged effort to protect the North Atlantic right whales is underway. After 17 whales were killed in the 2017 fishing season, including 12 in Canada’s waters, the Canadian government initiated a three-year research project. …

“For example, snow crab fishermen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence use rope that can withstand 14,000 pounds of force, Mr. Cormier said. His team is testing rope that breaks below 1,700 pounds, a weight that would allow a whale to free itself. …

“[Meanwhile,] the Maine Lobstermen’s Association recently pulled out of an agreement to reduce the number of fishing ropes in the water by 60 percent. The association’s executive director, Patrice McCarron, said the deal treats Maine lobstermen unfairly, because their fishing gear has not been the cause of any of the whale deaths in the last five years. She also said almost 30,000 miles of floating rope have been replaced with line that sinks.

“Mr. Palombo and collaborators at the New England Aquariumare testing a ropeless system that would leave lobster pots attached to a spool of rope at the bottom of the sea rather than to a buoy on the surface. A few days after setting his pots during a testing, Mr. Palombo headed back to the area and pushed a button on his boat that sent an audio signal to the spool. The rope rose to the surface where it took only a few minutes to retrieve.

“ ‘It’s pretty gratifying,’ he said about testing the ropeless system. ‘We’re the adventurers, we’re the people that are breaking the ground.’ ” More here.

In January, David Abel at the Boston Globe reported on delays in new regulations: “Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for protecting the critically endangered species, had planned to issue the regulations last year. But they were delayed after months of criticism from the region’s powerful lobster industry, which is worried that new requirements could be harsh and expensive.”

I sure am hoping for compromises that take everyone’s concerns seriously, including the whales’.

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Photo: NewsBeat Social/Youtube
“Seven years after conservation groups started a breeding program to save the Myanmar Roofed Turtle, 60 were released into the country’s river system,” says
Science Times.

Anytime a creature thought to be extinct makes a comeback, it gives one hope that other things can come back. We really shouldn’t minimize the importance of, say, the little fish called the snail darter that was the focus of a big fight. We never know what aspect of a biodiverse world will benefit us in the future. And, besides, we need metaphors.

I loved this story about a comeback for a rare turtle in Myanmar.

Liz Kimbrough reports at Mongabay, “Once considered extinct, the Burmese roofed turtle (Batagur trivittata) was brought back from the brink by an ambitious conservation program.

“Now, almost 30 years after its rediscovery in the wild, scientists have [published] photos and descriptions of hatchlings and eggs, as well as some background information about the conservation of the species [in] the journal Zootaxa by scientists from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Myanmar, Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), Global Wildlife Conservation, and Georgetown University.

“The Burmese roofed turtle is the second-most critically endangered turtle in the world. Once abundant, hunting and overexploitation of eggs has driven the population to near-extinction, with only five or six adult females and two adult males known to exist in the wild today.

“The species was presumed extinct until 2001, when researchers found the shell of a recently killed turtle in a village along the Dokhtawady River in Myanmar. Shortly after, a U.S. turtle collector found a living turtle at a wildlife market in China.

“Encouraged by these findings, researchers conducted field surveys to find the wild populations. After following locals’ descriptions of ‘duck-sized eggs,’ the researchers found living turtles in two separate rivers in Myanmar. However, the population had collapsed to a whisper. …

‘The biggest threat is that there are so few left in the wild and so if there’s an accident we’ve lost a big chunk of the population,’ Steven Platt, first author of the study and WCS associate conservation herpetologist for Southeast Asia, told Mongabay.

“ ‘Otherwise its mostly fishing. I worry about them getting entangled in fishing gear and drowning. And if we didn’t monitor, the eggs would be collected.’

“More than half of the world’s turtle and tortoise species are now threatened with extinction. Loss of habitat is their biggest threat globally, but turtles also face dangers from the pet trade, overconsumption for food and medicine, fishing, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.

“In an effort to bring the Burmese roofed turtle back from the brink of extinction, WCS and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) in collaboration with the Myanmar Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry began a program to ‘headstart’ the species in 2007. Researchers and technicians collected eggs from wild turtles for a captive-breeding program. …

“The captive population is now approaching 1,000 turtles, and the species appears to be in little danger of biological extinction. The goal is to eventually release them back into their wild habitat in the Chindwin River.

“In 2015, WCS and TSA reintroduced some male turtles back to the wild, but reintroduced turtles can be hard to follow and locate in the river when the wet season rolls in, Platt says. For now, the team is trying a different strategy, keeping some of the turtles in floating cages in the river as a ‘soft release’ of sorts. The hope is that once the turtles become acclimated to the area they can be released and won’t stray too far.

“ ‘River turtle conservation is really difficult,’ Platt said. ‘Tortoises can move about a kilometer, or, normally just stay within a few hectares of where we release them, but these turtles, once they’re in the river, they can go up or down for several hundred miles if they just keep swimming.’ ”

Read more at Mongabay, here. And hope for other comebacks.

Photo: Myo Min Win/WCS Myanmar
Burmese roofed turtle shown moments after emerging from an egg collected from a sandbank along the Chindwin River and incubated at a facility in Limpha village, Sagaing region, Myanmar. See Platt et al.

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PRI’s The World has an in-depth international focus I don’t find at other radio shows. Although the program is available nationwide, it’s produced at WGBH in Boston, and I listen to it there (weekdays at 3).

Yesterday’s show included some cool research by Duke University’s lemur center, a fascinating place I visited when Suzanne was on her high school tour of colleges.

The story was not about lemurs, however. It was about a rare critter scientists hadn’t seen in 50 years, the Somali sengi, popularly but imprecisely called the “elephant shrew.”

Amanda McGowen reported at The World, “The Somali sengi is a tiny mammal that looks almost like a mouse, but with a long, trunk-like nose, sort of like an aardvark.

“[For] 50 years, a sighting of this sengi had not been recorded by scientists — until now.

“A team of American sengi experts and Djiboutian ecologists rediscovered the elusive Somali sengi after a research expedition to Djibouti in 2019. Their findings were published in the scientific journal PeerJ [Tuesday].

“Houssein Rayaleh, a Djiboutian research ecologist and conservationist on the expedition, said that ‘people living in Djibouti never considered the sengis to be “lost,” ‘ but that ‘the new research brings the Somali sengi back into the scientific community, which is valued,’ according to the BBC.

“ ‘They’re unique in a lot of ways,’ said Steven Heritage, the lead author of the study who is a research scientist at the Duke University Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina. …

“Sengis, Heritage explained, have flexible noses that they use to pick through leaf litter for food, as well as enormous back legs that allow them to run up to 18 miles per hour or more. They also have a monogamous mating system, where a male and female bond for life.

“Sengis are closely related to aardvarks, elephants and manatees. Though they’re commonly called elephant shrews, Heritage explained that the name has largely fallen out of favor among scientists because sengis are not really shrews or elephants.

“To find this particular species of sengi, the team drew on the knowledge of its local members, including Houssein Rayaleh, a bird expert at Association Djibouti Nature, as well as interviews with people in the areas where they were searching.

‘When we would go to these field sites, we would often interview locals. … They’d say, “Oh yeah, that animal is over there in those rocks, and this mouse animal is over here in this more flat area,” ‘ Heritage said. ‘Incorporating that local knowledge was invaluable.’ …

“The researchers used a combination of oatmeal, peanut butter and Marmite to lure sengis into live box traps so they could be observed.

“ ‘[It’s] this super smelly concoction of bait,’ he said. ‘You can imagine if you’re a small mammal that lives in essentially a desert, rocky environment, you’ve never smelled anything like that before. So you’re going to go check that out and see what’s going on.’ …

“Heritage said generating knowledge about rare or ‘lost’ species helps keep the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species up to date. He called the list a ‘barometer of the health of the biodiversity on our planet.’ “

More at The World, where you can also listen to the radio report.

Photo: Steven Heritage
The rare Somali sengi, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, is a relative of the elephant and the aardvark. 

 

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Photo: Sinclair Miller/Maryland Zoo via the Washington Post
A wheelchair fashioned out of Legos helped this Eastern box turtle, shown in 2018, to recover from a broken shell.

For your delectation today, I offer you two turtle stories. The Washington Post apparently has a thing about turtles, and that’s great. I do, too, remembering fondly long-ago box turtles in Rockland County, New York.

In the first report, Dana Hedgpeth, describes a clever use of Legos to repair the shell of a badly damaged turtle.

“A turtle that had been injured and had a customized wheelchair built for it from Legos has been released into the wild. [The] male Eastern box turtle had been in the care of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. … With a transmitter on its back, officials said they’ll be able to keep tabs on it in its native habitat.

“The turtle’s tale started two years ago when it was found by a zoo employee in the park and brought to the facility. The turtle had a badly broken shell and underwent surgery that involved placing metal bone plates, sewing clasps and surgical wire to keep its shell held together.

“Ellen Bronson, senior director of animal health, conservation and research at the zoo, said … ‘We faced a difficult challenge with maintaining the turtle’s mobility while allowing him to heal properly,’ Bronson said.

“Garrett Fraess, who was a veterinary student and in a clinical rotation at the zoo, said at the time that it was key to ‘keep the bottom of the shell off the ground so it could heal properly.’ …

‘They don’t make turtle wheelchairs,’ Fraess said, so he and a team sketched a customized wheelchair. He sent the sketches to a friend in Denmark who is a huge Lego fan, and she made a wheelchair for the turtle.

“The wheelchair worked because the Lego frame surrounded the turtle’s roughly grapefruit-size shell, and with plumber’s putty it attached to the edges of the upper shell, which got it off the ground and allowed it to move its legs, according to Fraess. …

“The turtle used its Lego wheelchair through the winter and spring of 2019 until ‘all of the fragments were fused together and the shell was almost completely healed,’ according to Bronson. Then they took off the wheelchair and the turtle underwent ‘exercise time’ to build up strength. …

“The zoo has done a project to monitor Eastern box turtles at the park since 1996. They’ve recorded, tagged and released more than 130 wild turtles. The work is used to help conservationists see how the turtles, which are native to Maryland, are doing in an urban setting.” More.

The second article, by Karin Brulliard, is about returning the rare Kemp’s ridley turtle and green turtles to the sea at Assateague, Maryland, a place that (along with Chincoteague) I associate more with Marguerite Henry and her children’s books about miniature wild horses.

“Seven months after washing up on the shores of Cape Cod, Mass., No. 300 stoically scanned the powdery beach while being held aloft by Maryland’s second-highest elected official.

“It was hardly the strangest thing to befall the young Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, a Gulf of Mexico native, since the animal found itself in cool northern waters in November. Its body temperature plunged, making it too lethargic to swim. It was scooped up by volunteers who found it near-dead on shore. It was trucked to Baltimore, then warmed by aquarium workers who named it Muenster and treated its pneumonia.

“The turtle swam in a pool with other injured turtles named for cheeses, and swam some more, not knowing that outside, pandemic-related shutdowns were delaying its return to the Atlantic waters now before it.

“Soon, Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R), jeans rolled up to his knees, placed the turtle into breaking waves as beachgoers cheered this glint of hope at a time of tumult on land. And without a look back, Muenster became the first of 10 Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles to paddle forth on this late June morning into an ocean. …

“Six of seven sea turtle species are threatened or endangered, their populations driven down by development of the beaches where they nest, pollution of the waters where they forage, fishing nets and lines that accidentally catch them, and hunting and trade. But even against that dim backdrop, the trends for those that swim U.S. waters look fairly positive, according to one recent study: Endangered species protections have helped six of eight populations rise.” More.

Lt. Gov. Rutherford of Maryland cares about turtles? That can only be a good thing.

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Photo: NOAA
Aerial image of Granny J2 (right) and a juvenile orca, J45, chasing a salmon in September 2016. Ultimately J2 captured the salmon and presented it to J45.

Being a grandparent himself, my husband recently took note of some research on grandmothers in the animal kingdom and judged it blogworthy. This version of the story appeared online at King5News.

Michael Crowe reports, “A team of researchers have found having a young orca’s grandmother around improves survival of the offspring. A study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tests the ‘grandmother effect’ in Southern and Northern Resident killer whales off Washington state and British Columbia. …

“The study used decades of photo census records of the two populations to study survival of individual whales and connected family groups through observation. And they found if a grandmother whale died, it reduced the survival of her ‘grandwhales’ in the two years following her death.

“ ‘The statistics showed they were healthier and lived longer when they had a thriving grandmother,’ said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network.

“Dr. Deborah Giles, a killer whale researcher at the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology, said the study confirmed decades of observations.

“ ‘They’re incredibly socially bonded animals,’ Giles said. She said it’s a fascinating relationship, because whales can live decades after they cease reproducing – killer whales have evolved one of the longest post-reproductive spans outside humans.

“She recalled an aerial photo of J2 (also known as ‘Granny’) from 2016 sharing fish with J45 – her apparent great-grandson. J45’s mother had recently died, and he was not yet old enough to thrive without support. Though J2 was thin and towards the end of her life, she helped the younger relation.

‘It sticks out to me, because this is an animal in here late 80s, maybe old as early hundreds,’ said Giles. ‘She’s clearly trying to keep that fish in the pathway of her relative so he’ll eat it. …

” ‘She could have eaten that fish in one bite, but she chose to corral it toward him so he’d grab it.’

“The study also notes the importance of grandmother whales in lean salmon years when the female leaders serve as ‘repositories for ecological knowledge.’ …

“ ‘The grandmothers have that long perspective, the multi-decade look at where the salmon have been, the nooks and crannies,’ said Garrett. ‘… So they’re constantly in that role of guide, mentor, teacher. They share not only their food, but their traditions, their ways.’ …

“There are 73 Southern Resident whales we know of, Giles said, and of that, there are just four grandmothers remaining – one in J pod, one in K pod, and two in L pod. She worries that these grandmothers will only become more important to the endangered Southern Resident killer whales’ survival. …

“Garrett also hopes deeper knowledge of the whales’ behaviors will encourage people to help protect them.

“ ‘I think the study helps people learn more detail, more higher resolution if you will, of how they live and who they are,’ he said. ‘They really are individuals with their own identities, their own roles, their own place in their societies and in their families. And the more we get to know them in that kind of intricate detail, the more we feel close to them, and want to help them in any way we possibly can.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Shutterstock
Another name for the orca is killer whale.

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Photo: Zion National Park
California condor chicks No 1,000 and 1,001 hatched in May this year, signalling a success for the species.

They are ugly and mostly unloved. But today, when so many creatures are going extinct, one can only rejoice to see that these guys are coming back. They are California Condors.

Maanvi Singh writes at the Guardian, “Nestled among the red-rock cliffs of Zion national park and the Grand Canyon, California condor chicks No 1,000 and 1,001 blinked into this world. Their birth signalled success for a decades-long program to bring North America’s largest bird back from the brink of extinction.

“As a result of hunting, diminishing food and dwindling territory, the number of birds in the wild numbered just 22 in the early 1980s. Lead poisoning was also a major killer, caused by inadvertently ingesting bullets that hunters left inside dead animals that the enormous birds, which have a wingspan of 9.5ft and weigh up to 25lb, scavenged for food.

“Facing imminent extinction, the few remaining wild birds were placed into a captive breeding program in 1987 and slowly released back into the wild starting in the early 1990s. Biologists estimate that the 1,000th and 1,001st chicks hatched in May this year, but they were only able to confirm their existence over the past several days, because the raptors build their nests inside caves carved into steep, sometimes inaccessible cliffs. ‘You know, condors can be secretive,’ said Janice Stroud-Settles, a wildlife biologist at Zion National Park in Utah. …

“The 1,000th hatchling’s parents were both born in captivity, and the mother has already lost two chicks. Her firstborn probably died – as many baby condors do – in an initial, unsuccessful attempt to fledge (AKA fly) the nest. …

“ ‘We’re hoping this chick will successfully fledge once it’s old enough to fly – sometime in the fall,’ Stroud-Settles said, noting that the nesting site she chose has a large ‘porch’ area where the growing chick can practice flapping before taking its perilous first flight. …

“But the species is still classified as critically endangered by the IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] and faces multiple threats, including the ongoing menace of lead poisoning.

“A law that went into effect this month has made it illegal to use lead ammunition to hunt any game in California. In Utah and Arizona, however, conservationists have taken a different approach. Because a straight ban could alienate hunters, conservationists are encouraging locals to reduce their use of lead bullets through a voluntary program. …

“The total living population of California condors now numbers more than 500, with more than half in the wild. The oldest bird being tracked in the condor restoration program is 24, but researchers estimate that California condors can live up to 70 years. They are very gregarious animals who get together in large groups and ‘like humans, tend to mate for life,’ noted Stroud-Settles.”

If this bird can be brought back from the brink of extinction, maybe all sorts of things threatened by human ignorance can be brought back, too. Elephants, butterflies, insects, trees. Maybe even — dare one hope? — our wobbling democracy.

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Wayne Hathaway
The endangered Piping Plover is a species that actually benefited from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — at least on Fire Island.

It’s a ill wind that blows nobody good, as they say, and the ill wind of Hurricane Sandy seems to be a case in point. As devastating as it was along the East Coast, there are reasons why an endangered shore bird benefited on Fire Island, a place I spent many youthful summers. Annie Roth has the story at the New York Times.

“The wrath of Hurricane Sandy’s powerful winds and violent storm surge left considerable damage across New York and New Jersey in October 2012. But for one tiny bird, the cataclysmic storm has been a big help. …

“The piping plover is a small, migratory shorebird that nests along North America’s Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast. The species, which is listed as endangered in New York State and threatened federally, has been the focus of intensive conservation efforts for decades. But on one island that was heavily damaged by the big storm, the piping plover population has increased by 93 percent, [as Katie Walker, a graduate student in wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech] and colleagues reported in the journal Ecosphere. …

“Fire Island, a 32-mile-long barrier island off the southern coast of Long Island that is popular with vacationers, was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy. The storm washed sand and seawater across the island, flooding homes, flattening dunes and breaching the island in three places.

“Sand deposited from Fire Island’s oceanside onto its bayside created a number of new sand flats. Some areas were also breached by seawater but most were filled by the Army Corps of Engineers shortly after the storm as part of the recovery effort. …

“Piping plovers like to nest on dry, flat sand close to the shoreline, where the insects and crustaceans they feed on are easily accessible. But over the past century, coastal development and recreational use of shorelines have vastly reduced the amount of waterfront property available. …

“For the past three years, the majority of new and returning plovers chose to nest in habitats generated by the storm. And now, for the first time in nearly a decade, Fire Island’s population of piping plovers is growing. …

“Barrier islands like Fire Island are known as early successional habitats, which means they require regular disturbance events to keep their ecosystems in check. Under normal circumstances, Fire Island would experience disturbance events on an annual basis. However, engineers have gone to great lengths to stabilize the island, and now only powerful storms like Sandy are able to have a significant impact on the island’s ecosystem.

“ ‘Barrier islands are very dynamic systems, they don’t stay the same from one year to the next. The species that inhabit them there are adapted to these changes, so if we try to keep these systems static, we are going to lose these species,’ said [Jonathan Cohen, assistant professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, who was not involved with the study].

“Last year, 486 pairs of piping plovers nested along the shores of New York and New Jersey, approximately 10 percent of which did so on Fire Island. If current trends continue, the two states may soon reach their recovery goal of 575 breeding pairs set out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: David Tipling/Getty Images
The nightingale’s song has been inspiring writers for more than a thousand years, but today most people have only recordings.

I’m reading one of the Narnia books to my younger grandson (The Horse and His Boy), and naturally some of the cultural references are to author CS Lewis’s England. We turned to our North American bird book when a nightingale was mentioned, and no nightingale was there. I’ll be showing him this story.

Patrick Barkham reports at the Guardian, “The nightingale has virtually disappeared from Britain over the past 50 years, its population plummeting by 93% to fewer than 5,500 pairs. But now a chorus of nightingale events are being arranged by artists, musicians and filmmakers to raise awareness of the plight of one of the country’s most celebrated but endangered birds.

“Birdsong was played on phones [in April] as the street artist ATM spent the day painting a nightingale in a gallery on the square, and more than 750 people attended a concert [of musicians performing] with amplified nightingale song.

Let Nature Sing, a track of pure birdsong including the nightingale, has been released by the RSPB to highlight the loss of more than 40 million birds from the UK in 50 years. …

“Its song was played in Berkeley Square as ATM painted a nightingale on the tailplane of a Wellington bomber at an event organised by the makers of a new documentary, The Last Song of the Nightingale.

“In 1924, the BBC’s first live-to-radio broadcast featured the cellist Beatrice Harrison playing a duet with a nightingale recorded in her garden in Surrey. The BBC continued this annual tradition until 1942, when the broadcast was famously abandoned when microphones picked up the sound of Wellington and Lancaster bombers en route to attack Germany, and the radio engineers realised the sounds could forewarn Hitler. …

“[Folksinger Sam] Lee said the nightingale was the most inspiring of musicians.

“ ‘For me it’s pure song,’ he said. ‘It’s an animal that is so utterly at one with music and the environment and using all the tropes and articulation and emotional capacity of a human musician, in the shape of a tiny brown feathered being.’ …

“Lee will rework the classic song ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ at a free Extinction Rebellion event in the square, after which the audience will be encouraged to disperse through the streets of London with the nightingales’ song playing on their phones.

“Lee said … ‘At this rate we’re going to lose our nightingales, and so many species are in massive decline. We have to start celebrating these species and the arts are a very important way of brokering awareness and creating an agency for change.’ …

“ATM said he was convinced that nightingales did once sing in Berkeley Square. ‘It’s all about whether there was dense scrub in the square and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one singing here 150 years ago.

“ ‘I lived in Berlin and the nightingale’s song was a common sound. Unfortunately the modern ethos of park-keeping is lawns and open spaces. People are frightened of the impenetrable places the nightingale needs.’ ”

More.

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Photo: Arcenio Lopez
Erika Hernandez, of the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project in California, is a Radio Indigena DJ.

As languages spoken by small communities disappear, overwhelmed by other languages, it’s encouraging to read that the digital media that’s part of the problem is also part of the solution. As is radio.

Ludwig Hurtado has the story at NBC News. “Josefino Alvarado, a California farm worker, describes his typical morning picking blueberries at a Ventura County farm.

“As the sun beats down on him and his fellow workers, a crackle of static hums at their feet. ‘Hola mi gente,’ (Hello, my people) a voice calls out from the radio’s speakers in Spanish. Then, ‘tanìndíí,’ which means ‘good morning’ in Mixteco.

“On this farm and most of the farms nearby, workers have their radios tuned into the same station: 94.1, Radio Indígena. … The community-run station boasts 40 hours of original programming every week, broadcasting music and talk shows in a handful of indigenous languages, as well as Spanish programming too.

“The station is a welcome cultural lifeline for thousands of farm workers who speak Mixteco or other indigenous Central American languages.

“ ‘Listening to it is a point of pride,’ Alvarado, who is a frequent listener, said. While he only understands Spanish and Mixteco, he often will listen to some of Radio Indígena’s shows in Zapoteco, Triqui, and Nahuatl. Even if he doesn’t understand them, he said he’s proud to hear the languages being kept alive on the airwaves.

“Alvarado, who moved to the U.S. in 1997, was born and raised in the city of Oaxaca in central Mexico, where he and his family learned Mixteco as their first language. Although Mixteco has come into the national spotlight thanks to the Academy Award-winning film, Roma, the language is still virtually unknown to the general population. …

“Due to economic and cultural pressure in Mexico, many Mixtec communities are shifting to Spanish. UNESCO considers almost half of Mixteco’s 50 dialects to be either severely endangered or at risk of endangerment.

“According to the 2010 census, over 685,000 Latinos in the U.S. identified themselves as American Indian, up from around 400,000 in 2000. But experts agree that the actual number of indigenous Latinos in the U.S. is much higher than estimated because many don’t report to the census due to stigma and immigration status. …

“ ‘There’s a lot of radio stations in Oxnard, but they just play music,’ said Roberto Jesús, who listens to the show every morning as he drives to work, getting informed about the news and about his legal rights as an immigrant. … In the U.S., Mixtecs face barriers because of their limited English and sometimes limited Spanish. This leaves many of them vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination.

“Radio Indígena is hosted and run by the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), a nonprofit organization formed to provide health outreach, humanitarian support and language interpretation to this underserved and often unnoticed community. …

“Radio Indígena started when organizers saw a void in the city of Oxnard, but [Arcenio Lopez, executive director of MICOP and Radio Indígena] said that the station has listeners from all over the country and world, since the episodes are available to stream online. …

“Delfina Santiago and Carmen Vasquez co-host a show on Radio Indígena every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Even though they don’t get paid for their work, the two spend lots of time during the week preparing for their program, ‘Al Ritmo De Chilena,’ which is an educational program that delves into the history of different indigenous cultures for each episode.

Santiago and Vazquez say that the digital age has played a role in keeping their language alive and keeping folks connected to one another, in a world where they might otherwise feel alone. Indigenous Mexican music can be found on YouTube and SoundCloud. …

“ ‘We’ve already lost three languages in Oaxaca,’ Santiago lamented. ‘They’re gone.’ ”

More here.

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Photos: Niijang Xyaalas Productions
Actor Tyler York performing in
SGaawaay K’uuna. Actors had to learn a vanishing language in order to understand their lines in this film about one of Canada’s First Nations.

We’ve had a number of posts about vanishing languages, languages spoken by few people because younger generations are choosing to (or be forced to) speak a language used more widely. Nowadays it’s usually English that leads to not only the loss of a native language but the way of life it represents. As Brian Friel said in his play Translations, about the Irish language and culture, “it can happen that a civilization can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of fact.”

Dalya Alberge wrote in March at the Guardian about a new film shot in a disappearing language.

“Plenty of films are somewhat incomprehensible, but a forthcoming movie is in a language that only about 20 people in the world can speak fluently. With subtitles, audiences will be able to understand a feature film titled SGaawaay K’uuna, translated as Edge of the Knife. …

“It is in two dialects of the highly endangered Haida language, the ancestral tongue of the Haida people of British Columbia. It is unrelated to any other language, and actors had to learn it to understand their lines.

“The film is playing an important role in preserving the language, its director Gwaai Edenshaw said. He told the Guardian:

‘I know that, if our language is this far gone, statistically it’s supposed to be over. But that’s not something that we’re willing to accept.’

“The Haida are an Indigenous First Nations community whose traditional territory is Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), an archipelago of forested islands off the west coast of Canada.

“Edenshaw said most of the fluent Haida speakers were in his Haida Gwaii homeland. … He added that the community generally lives off the sea and makes dugout canoes and houses from local red cedars. Noting that their numbers were ravaged by smallpox and other diseases in the 19th century, he said a former population of tens of thousands has dwindled to a few thousand today. …

“More than 70 local people worked on the production, with Haida speakers taking incidental roles, weavers creating the costumes and other craftspeople making props. … It is part of a wider push to preserve the Haida language, including a new dictionary and recordings of local voices. …

“2019 is Unesco’s Year of Indigenous Languages, ‘to preserve, support and promote’ them worldwide. Mark Turin, associate professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia and a specialist in endangered languages, told the Guardian that about half of up to 7,100 languages worldwide were ‘severely endangered’ and would likely cease to be used as everyday vernaculars by the end of this century unless action is taken. …

“He pointed to recent research that shows a correlation between indigenous language sustainability and decreased youth suicide within indigenous communities: ‘Speaking your indigenous language [has] public health implications.

” ‘This film – which I’ve watched and loved – has done something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, using a feature movie as a process of language revitalisation.’

More here.

Actors in a film based on a legend of the Haida people of British Columbia had to learn the Haida language to understand their lines. The movie has subtitles.

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Photo: Masswildlife
American chaffseed has been found in Massachusetts after 50 years, and nature-lovers are cheering.

Maybe finding a plant that was thought to be extinct in Massachusetts doesn’t rate high with you amid all the distressing things happening in our world, but I will take good cheer where I can find it. And botanists are certainly excited.

Steve Annear reports at the Boston Globe, “State wildlife officials and local botanists are sprouting smiles after the ‘Holy Grail’ of plants was discovered this summer, a ‘jaw-dropping’ find that puts to rest a decades-long search in Massachusetts.

“According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, in July, Rhode Island botanist Doug McGrady located an abundance of the plant ‘American chaffseed’ growing on a relatively small patch of land on Cape Cod.

“The discovery is particularly exciting because American chaffseed has been listed as a federally endangered species since 1992 — and it hasn’t been seen in Massachusetts in more than five decades, officials said. …

“ ‘There are historic records of American chaffseed along coastal plains from Massachusetts to Louisiana,’ they said. ‘But populations declined over time due to habitat loss and fire suppression.’

“After McGrady found the plant, MassWildlife staff visited the site to further confirm that it was, indeed, American chaffseed. While there, they counted over 2,600 stems, officials said. …

“The plant is currently listed as growing in New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. …

“In a video posted on MassWildlife’s Facebook page … State Botanist Bob Wernerehl can be seen crouching down in front of a patch of American chaffseed, as he explains the significance of the plant.

“ ‘In Massachusetts this rare plant is so rare it has never been seen since 1965, despite numerous attempts to search for it,’ Wernerehl says. ‘So this is a brand new find of this very rare and special plant.’ …

“He said when botanists went out to the site where the plant was found — an area he can’t divulge because it’s endangered — the population was ‘really good.’

“ ‘It wasn’t just a meek little population hiding out. It was pretty big,’ he said. ‘They look healthy, and they should theoretically reproduce and continue good solid population numbers over time.’ ”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Next up for lost species: How about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Stranger things have happened.

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Photo: Honolulu Museum of Art
“Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast No. 1,” 1939, by Georgia O’Keeffe.
 

Who knew that the great Southwest artist Georgia O’Keeffe also painted Hawaii? I myself was surprised to read the report at the New York Times of a new exhibit showcasing the artist’s Hawaii art.

William L. Hamilton writes, “Finding out Georgia O’Keeffe had a Hawaiian period is kind of like finding out Brian Wilson had a desert period.

“But here it is: ‘Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaiʻi,‘ 17 eye-popping paradisal paintings, produced in a nine-week visit in 1939, and now on display at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, through Oct. 28.

“It is the first time the largely unknown group has been shown together since its original exhibition in 1940 at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery, An American Place, in New York. In addition, there are two oil sketches never before exhibited. And not a bleached skull in sight.

“As with previous shows on artists — including Frida Kahlo and Claude Monet — the Garden has also mounted a living display of the subjects depicted in the artworks, and more. In the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory are over 300 tropical plant types, representing the three major groups of flora in Hawaii. …

“[The] air is palpable in the humidly colored, freshly amplified palette of her paintings of hibiscus, wild ginger, pink ornamental banana, and the sea and landscapes in the library gallery, with its muted gray background, as meditatively sensual as a Hawaiian open-air church.

“That air also hangs, warmly spiced, in the Conservatory, with a profuse display of the natural exoticism of the islands that goes well beyond the painter’s depiction. …

“ ‘Every single portrait she painted — the heliconia, calliandra — they’re all imported,’ Todd Forrest, the Garden’s vice president for horticulture and living collections, said of O’Keeffe’s output. ‘That’s the sort of flora people have in their mind’s eye when they think of the islands.’ …

“Missing from her vision, as eager to absorb the overwhelming newness of the place as she was, were Hawaii’s true nobility: the hundreds upon hundreds of native species that exist nowhere else. To its credit, the Conservatory has represented them too, a group rarer to see than even the paintings. …

“O’Keeffe, of course, is an art world star, one of the first of the 20th century’s artists singled out for celebrity. Her larger-than-life flowers are famous too. Since 1924, she had studied and depicted them — gone to the startling heart of them — with her original style. …

“She was already a celebrity in 1939 when at 51, self-created and self-confident, she was asked by N.W. Ayer & Son, a Philadelphia advertising agency, to travel to the islands to produce two print-ad images for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, later Dole. Not known for commercial work, O’Keeffe had completed a commission in 1936 — what would be the largest of her flower paintings — for the Elizabeth Arden Sport Salon in New York. …

“ ‘What she wanted was an adventure,’ [Honolulu Museum of Art deputy director Theresa Papanikolas] said. …

“ ‘Many of the native plants are endangered and therefore they can’t be shipped,’ explained Francisca Coelho, who designed the edenic installation. The Garden worked with the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii, which provided cuttings and seedlings of natives legally transportable. …

“And there are tiny groves of pineapples. O’Keeffe cavalierly neglected to paint any while she was in Hawaii on Dole’s dime. Her sponsors had to send her a pineapple when she got back to New York. Ignoring that, she painted a pineapple plant from her memory of being in the fields — a budding fruit guarded like a queen by its threatening wreath of swordlike leaves and fire-colored dirt.

“ ‘I laughed so hard,’ said Christine Gentes, who was visiting the Garden from Chicago with her daughter and sister. ‘She did it for an ad, and turned it into a painting. I mean, she really resisted. Artists never like to do that kind of work.’ ”

Lots of great pictures here and here.

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Photo: Drew Fellman
Ben Kilham, of the Kilham Bear Center in New Hampshire, seen with a giant panda at Panda Valley in Dujiangyan, China, in the  IMAX film Pandas. Oh, to be that guy at that moment!

I loved the picture above and thought I’d like to have that kind of connection to a Giant Panda. But as Cristela Guerra reports at the Boston Globe, if you work with pandas, you learn that they have a strong bite for chomping bamboo and you should expect to get bitten.

Guerra starts with the backstory of a promising new research effort. “In New Hampshire, Ben Kilham’s work with black bears has earned him a couple of nicknames, including ‘the bear whisperer’ or simply ‘Papa Bear.’

“In Chengdu, China, Hou Rong’s research into giant pandas has earned her a nickname as well: ‘Panda Mom.’

“Their cross-cultural collaboration is the focus of a new documentary called ‘Pandas,’ [which opened] at the New England Aquarium on April 6. …

” ‘Pandas’ presents breathtaking, panoramic views of China around the mountains of Sichuan where the nonprofit Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding is located. There, a group of scientists raise endangered giant pandas in captivity with the hope that one day they’ll be able to introduce them into the wild.”

Kilham’s techniques, honed with black bears in New Hampshire, “involve taking captive-born bear cubs for walks through the woods, where they follow Kilham like a mother bear. …

” ‘That’s what the mother bear does; she is their protecting force,’ Kilham said of the training method. ‘For pandas, it works the same way.’ …

” ‘I had trouble learning in school,’ Kilham says in the documentary. ‘But I could read nature the way other people read books. I don’t teach bears how to be bears. The knowledge is already inside them.’ …

“Inspired by Kilham’s techniques, the scientists at the Panda Base begin to test the abilities of captive-born panda cubs to see if one has what it takes for a journey into the wild. This means a whole lot of footage of adorable, roly poly baby pandas being bottle-fed, pushed down a wooden slide, and wrestling with researchers. …

“ ‘For bringing a captive-born animal whose mom is also captive-born, whose grandparents are also captive-born into the wild, my biggest consideration is [the panda’s] vigilance.” said [wildlife conservation biologist Jake] Owens. ‘How alert they are, how aware they are about potential dangers.’ …

“ ‘All young animals need to have is some sort of mother figure,’ Kilham said. ‘What you’re giving the cubs is an opportunity to learn. If you just put them out there by themselves, they’re unable to go anywhere.’ ”

More here. And check out the movie trailer here.

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Photo: Kathryn Scott Osler/Denver Post via Getty Images
Black-footed ferrets are the most endangered mammal in North America. Scientists in Montana are trying to save the ferrets by saving their main food source, prairie dogs.

Never doubt the power of a research report written in elementary school. Maybe I would have become interested in conservation anyway (my mother headed up a local conservation group for years), but a report I wrote in 6th grade about the devastation to birds caused by fancy hats pre-WWI made me pay particular attention to birds. John, an environmentalist today, really got into the cause of endangered black-footed ferrets when he wrote a report on them in elementary school.

Although once-threatened birds like the snowy egret and the great egret have been saved, the black-footed ferret, alas, is still endangered. At National Public Radio, Nate Hegyi reports on how scientists are addressing the problem today.

“In central Montana, drones are dropping peanut butter pellets on prairie dog colonies. It’s part of an effort by biologists to save North America’s most endangered mammal — the black-footed ferret (or as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls it, the BFF).

“Prairie dogs make up the vast majority of a BFF’s diet. Save the food and you save the ferret, biologists wager. …

“Kristy Bly, a senior biologist with the World Wildlife Fund, [said] there are only about 300 black-footed ferrets left in the wild, and they depend almost entirely on prairie dogs to survive. And protecting the prairie dog population is beneficial to species beyond the ferrets.

” ‘Prairie dogs are Chicken McNuggets of the prairie, where so many species eat them,’ Bly said.

“But in recent years, prairie dog towns across the American West have been exposed to a deadly disease called sylvatic plague. While it’s treatable in humans, sylvatic plague can wipe out entire prairie dog towns in less than a month. And that means no more food for endangered black-footed ferrets.

“So Bly, [Fish and Wildlife biologist Randy Matchett] and a team of scientists and engineers have spent this year vaccinating prairie dogs in central Montana against the plague using drones.

“Drone pilots fly the machines across the prairie, dropping blueberry-sized pellets about every 30 feet. They are flavored to taste like peanut butter, and prairie dogs love peanut butter. The kicker is that they’re laced with a live vaccine that protects them from the plague. …

“By the end of [one] day, they hope to expose more than 4,000 prairie dogs to the vaccine. Past field trials have shown that prairie dogs living in vaccinated areas survive waves of the plague.

” ‘Without [the ferret], do we really have a complete ecosystem?’ Bly asked. ‘You start taking those pieces apart, it’s like a domino effect. When we have ferrets on the landscape the piece of the puzzle that is the American prairie all fits.’ ” More here.

I like the idea of using drones this way. Makes me wonder if the technique could be adapted to handle the overabundance of deer in areas suffering from tick-borne disease. Couldn’t a deer contraceptive in salt pellets be scattered by drones? Just asking.

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