Posts Tagged ‘endangered’

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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Photo: eGuide Travel
The highlands of Papua, New Guinea, are among the isolated places that linguists search for speakers of dying languages.

I’ve blogged before about linguists and others who are trying to preserve languages spoken by only a few people. The belief is that there is intrinsic value in such endangered languages and that they are key to understanding cultures. Recently I saw that one group is focusing on a particular manifestation of rare languages — their poems.

Fiona Macdonald writes at the BBC about the Endangered Poetry Project.

” ‘They fly to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea and there they take a bus for three days and then they hike over a mountain and then they take a canoe and then they get to this little bay with 300 people,’ ” she reports, quoting Mandana Seyfeddinipur, head of the Endangered Languages Archive at London’s SOAS [School of Oriental and African Studies]. …

” They are ‘PhD students of 25 with a digital camera, a digital audio recorder and solar panels.’ …

“ ‘They live with the communities for months at a time, and develop social relationships, and talk to them and record them, and then they come back and they give me this SD card. … ‘The only record that we have of this language is in this tiny SD card.’ …

“The newly launched Endangered Poetry Project aims to tackle [language] loss at another level. ‘Languages are dying out at an astonishing rate: a language is being lost every two weeks,’ says the National Poetry Librarian Chris McCabe. ‘And each of those languages has a poetic tradition of some sort.’ …

“The project has issued a call-out to members of the public, asking for poems written in an endangered or vulnerable language. ‘In the first week, we’ve had over a dozen submissions in about 10 languages,’ says McCabe. ‘That includes poems in Breton, and poems in a dialect of Breton called Vannes. We’ve had a poem in Alsatian, and the Sardinian dialect Logudorese. We’re interested in these variations in language in different places as well, which can often be markedly different from the established language. …

” ‘You get a focus on place – in poems we’ve received from Sardinia, for example, there’s a focus on the mountain range there,’ says McCabe. ‘It shows you where people felt drawn to for inspiration in the landscape. Also, the style of a lot of Gaelic poems is very lyrical, and often uses repetition, a lot like a song. In that poetic tradition, you see how the division between poetry and music is quite slight – they often cross over between one and the other. The poetry tells us a lot about what kind of artistic experience people like, as well as what’s important in their geography.’ ”

Lots more here. Very interesting stuff.

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Here’s a new one. Certain rats, with their renowned sense of smell, are being used in the fight against traffickers of endangered species.

The unusual rats had previously been tapped for tasks such as identifying who has tuberculosis and needs treatment. And as I noted a year ago, they have also been successful at sniffing out land mines.

Now, according to Oliver Milman the Guardian, “An elite group of African giant pouched rats will be used at ports, initially in Tanzania, to detect illegal shipments of pangolins – the world’s most trafficked animal, which has been pushed towards extinction due to the trade in its scales and skins …

“The US Fish & Wildlife Service is spending $100,000 on a pilot project that will train rats to detect the illegal items and learn to communicate this to their human handlers. The rats, which can grow up to 3ft long, have poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell. …

“The Fish & Wildlife Service said it hoped that the foray into the investigation of wildlife smuggling would be the first stage of a ‘much larger project to mainstream rats as an innovative tool in combating illegal wildlife trade.’ …

“The money for rat training is part of a larger $1.2m package that will provide funding for law enforcement in Cambodia, forest patrols to reduce tiger poaching in Indonesia and sniffer dogs to unearth illegal shipments of saiga antelope horn.”

More here.

Photo: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images
African giant pouched rats like the one seen here are being trained to investigate illegal wildlife trafficking.

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Photo: We Believers

Here’s some good news from Elyse Wanshel at the Huffington Post. It seems that there is an alternative to the plastic six-pack rings that endanger sea turtles and other marine life when trash gets into the ocean.

Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida, has created edible six-pack rings that feed, rather than kill, marine life if the rings end up in the ocean and an animal happens to eat it. The rings are created from beer by-products during the brewing process such as barley and wheat and are completely safe for humans and fish to eat. The rings are also 100 percent biodegradable and compostable, which just ups the product’s sustainability game. …

“The only drawback is that edible six-pack rings are more expensive to produce. But the company hopes that customers will be willing to pay a little more in order to help the environment and animal life. …

“The Ocean Conservancy’s 2015 Ocean Trash Index — which enlisted 561,895 volunteers to pick up 16,186,759 pounds of garbage — also offers a few staggering facts. It cites plastic as among the most common trash item ingested by sea turtles in 2015. Volunteers found 57 marine mammals, 440 fish and 22 sharks, skates and sting rays entangled in plastic. The index also explains that littering isn’t the sole culprit for plastic in the ocean. Plastic can also be blown by the wind from a trashcan or dump, end up in a storm drain and then travel through pipes into the ocean. Facts like these makes a concept like edible six-pack rings seem vital.

“ ‘We hope to influence the big guys,’ Chris Goves, Saltwater Brewery’s president, said. ‘And hopefully inspire them to get on board.’ ” More here.

If more breweries join up, the cost to create the rings would go down. Sounds like a worthy idea for a little consumer pressure.

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Here’s a guy who didn’t just ring his hands when he learned that a magnificent butterfly species was endangered in his part of California; he decided to do something about it.

Zachary Crockett reports at Vox, “It begins its life as a tiny red egg, hatches into an enormous orange-speckled caterpillar, and then — after a gestation period of up to two years — emerges as an iridescent blue beauty. Brimming with oceanic tones, the creature’s wings are considered by collectors to be some of the most magnificent in North America.

“For centuries, the California pipevine swallowtail — or, Battus philenor hirsuta — called San Francisco home. As development increased in the early 20th century, the butterfly slowly began to disappear. Today it is a rare sight.

“But one man’s DIY efforts are starting to bring the butterfly back.”

Tim Wong, a 28-year-old aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, tells Crockett, ” ‘I first was inspired to raise butterflies when I was in elementary school … We raised painted lady butterflies in the classroom, and I was amazed at the complete metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult.’ …

“Years later, he learned about the pipevine swallowtail — which had become increasingly rare in San Francisco — and he made it his personal mission to bring the butterfly back.

“He researched the butterfly and learned that when in caterpillar form, it only feeds on one plant: the California pipevine (Aristolochia californica), an equivalently rare flora in the city.

” ‘Finally, I was able to find this plant in the San Francisco Botanical Garden [in Golden Gate Park],’ Wong says. ‘And they allowed me to take a few clippings of the plant.’

“Then in his own backyard, using self-taught techniques, he created a butterfly paradise.”

Read more here. It sure takes persistence.

Here’s hoping an elementary school project in 2016 will lead to the rescue of another endangered species down the road.

Photo: Tim Wong (@timtast1c)

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Racing against the clock, the last fluent speaker of a Native American language records folktales and creates a dictionary.

Jia Tolentino writes at the website Jezebel, “Marie Wilcox, an octogenarian Native American woman from the San Joaquin Valley in California, was born on Thanksgiving in 1933; she grew up in a one-room house with the grandmother who delivered her and spoke her native Wukchumni …

“In this 10-minute mini-doc from the Global Oneness Project, via NYTLive, Marie talks about speaking primarily English to her children, who worked alongside her in the fields for a good part of the year. She started learning Wukchumni when her sister started speaking it again in an attempt to pass the endangered language on to each their kids.

“ ‘I was surprised she could remember all that,’ her daughter says. ‘She just started writing down her words on envelopes. … She’d sit up night after night typing on the computer, and she was never a computer person.’

“ ‘I’m just a pecker,’ says Marie. ‘I was slow.’

“She decided to make a dictionary. ‘Not for anyone else to learn — I just wanted to get it together.’ …

“According to a New York Times piece on this documentary from 2014:

Before European contact, as many as 50,000 Yokuts lived in the region, but those numbers have steadily diminished. Today, it is estimated that fewer than 200 Wukchumni remain.”

Watch the short film Marie’s Dictionary, by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, here. I found it moving.

Photo: Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

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Is the New England cottontail no longer in trouble? I guess, as David Abel suggests at the Boston Globe, it depends on who you talk to.

“The threatened New England cottontail — the region’s only native rabbit, made immortal in The Adventures of Peter Cottontail [by Thorton Burgess] — appears to be making a comeback.

“Federal wildlife officials [are] removing the cottontail from the list of candidates to be named an endangered species. It’s the first time any species in New England has been removed from the list as a result of conservation efforts. …

“Wildlife officials said the bark-colored rabbits, which have lost nearly 90 percent of their dwelling areas to development, are benefiting from an increasing effort to protect their habitat. …

“The rabbit, which has perky ears and a tail that looks like a puff of cotton, has been the victim of development that has wiped out most of the region’s young forests. … Unlike its abundant cousin, the Eastern cottontail, the New England species relies on the low-lying shrubs of young forests for food and protection from predators, such as raptors, owls, and foxes. …

“Some environmental advocates worry that the federal government may be acting prematurely in removing [New England cottontails] from the list of candidates for endangered status …

“It has never been easy to galvanize concern for the cottontails, given how much they look like the nonnative Eastern cottontails. Those rabbits, brought to the region by trappers in the 19th century, have flourished because they have better peripheral vision than the native bunnies …

“ ‘People think they’re everywhere,’ Scott Ruhren, director of conservation for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, said of the local cottontails. ‘But like every species, they are important and deserve a place on the New England landscape.’ ” More here.

Photo: Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe
A New England cottontail bred in a refuge in Newington, N.H., was penned Thursday in advance of its release.

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