After almost a decade of no precipitation, 10mm of rain caused an entire desert in South Africa to bloom. Rare species in Richtersveld National Park awoke and flowered for the first time in nine years, only to be stolen for the illegal plant trade, The Guardian reported. Plant poaching is not new, nor is it unique to the area; but, pandemic-inspired houseplant purchases have exacerbated the issue worldwide.
According to Pieter van Wyk, a botanist and nursery curator at Richtersveld, the World Heritage Site is the world's most biodiverse desert. With its unique geology, including the world's oldest mountains, and location creating a perfect ecosystem for many plants to thrive, more than 3,000 plant species exist in a relatively small area, including 400 endemic to the region, The Guardian reported. Many of these are prized succulents that fetch high prices on the black market. Some species are so specialized they only grow in one valley or on one mountain top. There are even cases where an entire species lives in an area smaller than a soccer field, "so a poacher could render a species extinct in a morning," The Guardian noted.
"In regards to rare, more than half of the plants from the region were not rare, but are now becoming rare" due to environmental and human factors, van Wyk told EcoWatch.
Van Wyk adds how demand is high and supply is low, especially for charismatic and endangered species, making the black market quite profitable. South African plants such as those in Richtersveld are sold to distant places by crime syndicates who subcontract the actual theft to desperate locals and even tourists, he said.
"People [here] don't have work... People are desperate for money and food, willing to make quick money," van Wyk explained. Due to increased interest in rare plants, "now syndicates pay several months' worth of salary to locals for plants which, in the end, are being sold in Asia and Europe, as well as America, for values that could sustain a family for years in Namaqualand."
Van Wyk noted that the appeal of the black market continues to grow because ethical and legal nurseries can take five to 15 years to build up enough stock for retail sale, while it can be difficult dealing with export regulations and obtaining permits.
He told The Guardian that plant poaching in South Africa might eclipse the country's lucrative rhino horn industry. The nursery curator fears that many iconic species may go extinct within his lifetime, having already witnessed massive losses within the last five years, The Guardian added. This is mainly due to poaching and habitat loss from farming, mining and the climate crisis, van Wyk told EcoWatch.
The botanist also warned that the global-local crime cycle has caused locals to poach more than what is asked of them. "The quick money-making scheme has gone viral amongst locals who are now removing plants without having buyers, causing large-scale destruction with many plants eventually being thrown away," van Wyk told EcoWatch.
He warned that this biodiversity loss will have a greater impact on general ecology, ecosystem health and climate regulation. "This has a severe impact on humans as well, as [this area] eventually will become uninhabitable, and probably soon," van Wyk said.
Plant poaching itself is not a new crime nor limited to South Africa. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) defines the act as the illegal removal of rare and endangered plants from their natural habitat. Plants are stolen without regard to laws and regulations created for their protection, and theft can occur either on government land or private property.
In a 2020 "buyer beware" warning for Venus flytrap plants, FWS asked collectors to help stem poaching of the popular potted plant. Endemic to North and South Carolina, wild populations of the carnivorous plant are in serious decline. Habitat loss and alteration are the primary threats, but poaching causes enough damage that it was declared a felony in 2014.
Another article by The Guardian highlighted how the quarantine-fueled gardening craze around the world is also spurring plant poaching in the Philippines. Carnivorous pitcher plants and those used to cultivate bonsai became especially popular, and these and other endangered species are being dug up from forests and mountains in record numbers, according to the article.
Iconic saguaro cacti are another wild plant now threatened with extinction due to climate change and poaching. Saguaros grow slowly, taking 50 years to reach three feet tall, A Natural Curiosity reported. The cacti don't typically begin to grow their famous arms until they are at least 70 years old, and can live around 150 years. Coveted amongst collectors, the cacti sell for up to $100 a foot. But saguaro poaching has escalated to the point where individual wild plants are now microchipped to track and deter poaching.
Although not as widely publicized as animal poaching, removing plants from nature has an "equally large effect on the vital balance needed to maintain healthy ecosystems," A Natural Curiosity reported. The article also covered an issue facing small rosette succulents in California. These succulents prevent erosion on rocks and cliffs where few other plants can survive, and removing them for houseplants destabilizes the entire ecosystem base. And that's exactly what is happening due to pandemic plant demand.
As plants such as monsteras, hoyas and succulents gained popularity on social media, poachers have been enlisted to source them no matter the consequence, A Natural Curiosity found.
FWS offered a few tips to rare plant collectors to help avoid buying poached or stolen plants:
- Examine the entire tray. Nursery-propagated or tissue-cultured plants will have uniform sizing. Poached plants are more likely to vary in size.
- Examine the soil. Nursery soil is uniform, often with sterile peat moss. Mixed gravel and sand in soil is a tip-off.
- Look for other species growing in the same pot. Weedy pots are another indication that the plants were taken from the wild.
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In January of 2019, a concerned citizen in Marion County, Florida noticed something strange: Someone was trapping flying squirrels.
The anonymous tipster notified the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), launching a 19-month investigation that uncovered an elaborate flying-squirrel trafficking operation in which up to 3,600 of the protected animals were captured and sold as part of the international illegal wildlife trade.
"Wildlife conservation laws protect Florida's precious natural resources from abuse," the investigation's section leader Maj. Grant Burton said in an FWC press release Monday. "The concerned citizen who initially reported this activity started an investigation that uncovered a major smuggling operation. These poachers could have severely damaged Florida's wildlife populations."
The investigation has so far uncovered seven suspects. Together, the group has racked up 25 felony charges including racketeering, money laundering and scheming to defraud.
"With the exception of one individual, all those involved have been arrested, so we felt it was the right time to highlight this case," FWC spokeswoman Shannon Knowles told the Miami Herald.
The arrests took place between April and August of this year and include four men from Florida and two men from Georgia. In addition to targeting flying squirrels, the Florida suspects also caught and sold protected freshwater turtles and alligators, FWC said.
All told, the poachers set at least 10,000 squirrel traps throughout central Florida over a three year period.
The operation worked roughly like this:
- Poachers set traps for squirrels in several Florida counties.
- The captured squirrels were sold to a wildlife dealer in Bushnell, Florida who laundered the wild squirrels through a licensed business that claimed they were bred in captivity.
- South Korean buyers would buy the squirrels from Bushnell and have them driven to Chicago.
- In Chicago, the squirrels' true origin was further concealed, and a wildlife exporter would send them to Asia without knowing they had been obtained illegally.
- When the operation grew larger, drivers from Georgia would help transport the squirrels from Florida to Chicago in rental cars.
The Bushnell wildlife dealer earned at least $213,800 in illegal proceeds, and the international retail value of the stolen squirrels will probably surpass $1 million, FWC estimated.
Despite their name, flying squirrels do not actually fly, the Miami Herald pointed out. Instead, they glide between trees. They are one of many small, exotic mammals that have become popular pets in South Korea and other parts of East Asia, University of Florida in Gainesville wildlife ecology and conservation associate professor Steve Johnson told The New York Times. They are also sometimes featured in cafes where patrons can interact with cute animals.
However, Johnson pointed out that flying squirrels were not well-suited to domestication.
"I don't see the point at having a gnawing, nocturnal rodent as a pet," he said.
In their natural habitat, however, they are an important meal for owls and rat snakes. Johnson thought their absence could have an impact on their predators, but also noted that they reproduced quickly and that their population would likely rebound now that the poachers have been apprehended.
There are financial incentives available that make it easier for homeowners to invest in solar energy systems, including a number of solar tax exemptions at the state and local levels. These solar tax exemptions can vary by location and may include relief from sales taxes, property taxes and more.
In this article, we'll discuss which tax exemptions are available to homeowners who invest in renewable energy systems in each state, as well as the federal solar tax credit. Read on to learn more, or fill out the form below to get a free, no-obligation quote from a solar installer near you to see how much can save on a solar panel system.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on for and is not intended to provide accounting, legal or tax advice.
Solar Sales Tax Exemptions
Solar sales tax exemptions are a common financial incentive designated by state governments. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are currently 25 states that offer a solar sales tax exemption.
What does this mean, exactly? Most states levy a tax on consumer purchases, which can range from 2.9% to 9.5%. With a solar sales tax exemption, these taxes are waived on purchases of solar panels, solar batteries and other forms of solar equipment. Naturally, this can reduce the total purchasing cost considerably, making a solar investment a bit more affordable.
For example, if your state has a sales tax of 6% and you purchase a solar panel system for $16,000, you'll end up paying $16,960 in total. If your state has a solar sales tax exemption, however, you'll only pay $16,000.
Solar Property Tax Exemptions
The Solar Energy Industries Association notes that 36 states currently offer a property tax exemption for homeowners who install residential solar systems.
Here's what this means: A solar panel installation typically results in a significant increase in your property values. (On average, homeowners see a solar-related property value increase of about 4.1%.) In states that have renewable energy property tax exemptions, homeowners whose property values rise are protected from a comparable increase in property taxes. In other words, the worth of the home goes up, but homeowners do not have to pay anything more come tax time.
Solar Tax Exemptions: State By State Breakdown
Different states have different laws when it comes to sales and property tax exemptions for solar installations. To learn about the tax incentives available in your area, check the table below:
|State||Solar Property Tax Exemption*||Solar Sales Tax Exemption*|
|Alabama||No exemption||No exemption|
|Alaska||Local exemptions||No sales tax|
|Arizona||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|Arkansas||No exemption||No exemption|
|California||100% exempt until 1/2/2025||No exemption|
|Colorado||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|Connecticut||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|Delaware||No exemption||No state sales tax|
|Florida||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|Georgia||No exemption||No exemption|
|Hawaii||100% NHL only||No exemption|
|Idaho||No exemption||No exemption|
|Illinois||Special assessment||No exemption|
|Indiana||100% exempt||No exemption|
|Iowa||100% exempt for 5 years||100% exempt|
|Kansas||100% exempt||No exemption|
|Kentucky||No exemption||No exemption|
|Louisiana||100% exempt||No exemption|
|Maine||No exemption||No exemption|
|Maryland||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|Massachusetts||100% exempt for 20 years||100% exempt|
|Michigan||100% exempt||No exemption|
|Minnesota||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|Mississippi||No exemption||No exemption|
|Missouri||100% exempt||No exemption|
|Montana||100% exempt for 10 years||No state sales tax|
|Nebraska||Exemptions only for systems over 100 kW||No exemption|
|Nevada||Exemptions only for certain systems over 10 MW||No exemption|
|New Hampshire||Local exemptions||No state sales tax|
|New Jersey||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|New Mexico||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|New York||100% exempt for 5 years||100% exempt|
|North Carolina||80% exempt||No exemption|
|North Dakota||100% exempt for 5 years||No exemption|
|Ohio||Exemptions in Cincinnati and Cleveland||100% exempt|
|Oklahoma||No exemption||No exemption|
|Oregon||100% exempt||No state sales tax|
|Pennsylvania||No exemption||No exemption|
|Rhode Island||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|South Carolina||No exemption||No exemption|
Exemption of either $50,000
or 70% of total property value
|Tennessee||Tax value no more than 12.5% of installed cost||100% exempt|
|Texas||100% exempt||No exemption|
Exemptions only for systems
over 2 MW
|Vermont||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|Virginia||Local exemptions||No exemption|
Exemptions only for systems
up to 10 kW
|Washington DC||100% exempt||No exemption|
|West Virginia||No exemption||No exemption|
|Wisconsin||100% exempt||100% exempt|
|Wyoming||No exemption||No exemption|
*Accurate as of time of publication.
Federal Solar Tax Incentives
In addition to these state-specific incentives, there is also a federal tax incentive that is available to all Americans who invest in solar power. The solar investment tax credit (ITC) is currently valued at 26% of the total solar installation cost, meaning homeowners can essentially deduce 26% of that up-front cost.
This tax credit covers:
- The cost of solar panels
- Labor costs for installation
- Additional solar equipment, like inverters, wiring, etc.
- Energy storage devices, including solar batteries
- Sales taxes paid for eligible solar installation expenses (in states that do not have sales tax exemptions)
Note that the federal tax credit is available for all homeowners who purchase a system, whether they buy it outright or finance it with a solar loan, but it is not available to those who lease solar panels.
Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Tax Exemptions
Are solar panels exempt from sales tax?
In states that have a solar sales tax exemption, yes, the purchase of solar panels is shielded from sales tax. Currently, at least 25 states offer a solar sales tax exemption.
Is solar sales tax exempt in Texas?
No, Texas solar incentives do not currently include a sales tax exemption.
Is solar exempt from property taxes?
Currently, there are 36 states that offer solar property tax incentives. Take a look at the chart included above to find out whether your state offers a solar property tax exemption. Some municipalities may have local property tax abatements as well, so property owners considering going solar should check government websites for additional information about incentives and rebates.
Are solar roofs tax deductible?
Your solar roof shingles can be claimed via the federal solar investment tax credit, allowing you to deduct 26% of your total clean energy system costs.
Do solar panels decrease property taxes?
Solar projects usually increase residential property values, which in some states may actually mean an increase in property taxes. However, in the 36 states that offer a solar property tax exemption, an increase in home values does not result in an increase in property taxes.
Nicknamed the "Green Nobel Prize," the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize recognizes grassroots activists from six continents who have moved the needle on environmental issues their communities face. This year's recipients led the charge on environmental justice, wildlife and rainforest conservation, plastic pollution, dams and coal projects.
"These phenomenal environmental champions remind us what can be accomplished when we fight back and refuse to accept powerlessness and environmental degradation. They have not been silenced — despite great risks and personal hardship — and we must also not be silent, either. It takes all of us," Susie Gelman, vice president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in a press release.
Here are the six everyday environmental heroes and the impact they've made.
The 30-year-old Malawian woman has been taking on the nation's largest plastic manufacturers for the past five years. Her goal: to eliminate single-use plastics in the country, CNN reports.
According to Mongabay, 75,000 tons of plastic are produced in Malawi each year, most of it thin plastic that is difficult to recycle. Plastic also clogs drains, creating pools of standing water that become breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. One study found plastic in 40 percent of cows slaughtered in one community, Mongabay reports.
To take on the root of the issue, Majiga-Kamoto worked with two other activists and civil society groups to create a grassroots campaign that pressured authorities to instate a plastic ban in Malawi. "After a protracted legal battle with plastic manufacturers, the Malawi Supreme Court upheld a national ban on the production, importation, distribution, and use of thin plastics in July 2019," CNN writes.
Thai Van Nguyen
Thai Van Nguyen, 39, is the founder of Save Vietnam's Wildlife, an organization that, between 2014 and 2020, successfully removed more than 1,500 critically endangered pangolins from the illegal wildlife trade, according to an announcement from the Goldman Environmental Foundation. Nguyen also started his country's first anti-poaching unit. Since 2018, the unit "has destroyed 9,701 animal traps, dismantled 775 illegal camps, confiscated 78 guns, and arrested 558 people for poaching, leading to a significant decline in illegal activities in Pu Mat National Park," the announcement said.
Pangolins are used in traditional medicine throughout China and Vietnam and are the most trafficked animal in the world, CNN reports. The Goldman Environmental Foundation estimates that more than one million pangolins have been poached worldwide in the past decade. In 2004 alone, 60 tons of live pangolins were seized in Vietnam.
"The pangolin is the only scaly mammal in the world. Losing the pangolin means losing a part of the ecosystem, making it unbalanced," Nguyen told CNN.
Called the "Blue Heart of Europe," the Balkans support the last free-flowing rivers in Europe, and thanks to Maida Bilal, 39, one river has a chance at staying that way. In December, 2018, Bilal led a group of women from her village, Kruščica, a small mountain village west of Sarajevo, in a 503-day blockade of dam construction equipment that led to the cancellation of permits for two proposed dams on the Kruščica River. Rivers in the region are biodiversity hubs that house nearly 70 endemic fish species and 40 percent of all endangered freshwater mollusk species on Earth, a Goldman Environmental Foundation announcement said.
The Kruščica River, which flows through the Western Balkans, is the main water source for almost 150,000 people. "On Aug. 24, 2017, police attacked the protestors, including Bilal, who was struck on the head, and her 70-year-old father, who was arrested," Mongabay reports.
Kimiko Hirata's work focuses on her native Japan, the world's fifth-largest carbon emitter, Mongabay reports. Hirata, 50, is the director and founding member of the NGO Kiko Network, which works to stop climate change, a Goldman Environmental Foundation announcement said. In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Hirata took a booming coal industry head-on, pressuring coal-funders, namely commercial banks, to divest from the fossil fuel.
As a result of her work, more than one-third of Mizuho Financial shareholders voted to move away from coal and more than 10 major developers made commitments to stop funding coal projects. So far, 13 planned coal plants have been canceled, which represent almost 40 percent of planned coal projects in Japan. "A mammoth feat for an NGO in a country where NGOs are little respected by government and industry," Mongabay reports.
Sharon Lavigne, 68, is a retired special-education-teacher-turned-activist who lives in a strip of Louisiana deemed Cancer Alley — a hotbed for environmental injustice that concentrates toxic industries primarily in communities of color, The Guardian reports.
In her hometown of St James parish, Lavigne organized marches, circulated petitions, hosted town hall meetings and launched media campaigns after elected officials approved a $1.25 billion Chinese-owned plastics plant, according to The Guardian. It worked. In 2019, the company, called Wanhua, withdrew its application, Mongabay reports.
The plant would have generated a million pounds of liquid hazardous waste every year and parish council members granted permits to the company that altered zoning, allowing the plant to be built closer to homes than zoning permits, so the plant could be close to homes. The company was also exempt from paying property taxes for 10 years, said Mongabay.
Liz Chicaje Churay
Liz Chicaje Churay, 38 is a member of the Bora indigenous community that lives near Peru's northeastern border with Colombia, and is responsible for protecting more than 2 million acres of the Amazon Rainforest, the BBC reports.
When her community decided that establishing a formal national park in the Peruvian Rainforest, which had been threatened by logging and mining for decades, was the best way to protect it, Chicaje Churay led the charge, Mongabay said.She and another indigenous community leader, Benjamin Rodriguez, worked with researchers, conservationists, and government officials to begin to establish the boundaries of what would become Yaguas National Park. Chicaje Churay worked with her community to map the region via satellite imagery. The park was made official in January 2018, covering a swath of peatlands and rainforest roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park. Benjamin Rodriguez was awarded posthumously, after dying in July 2020 from complications of the coronavirus, Mongabay reports.
2021 Goldman Environmental Prize Virtual Award Ceremony youtu.be
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By Charles Emogor
The white-bellied pangolin is one of eight evolutionary distinct pangolin species split equally between Africa and Asia. They're among the very few mammals with scales and have a tongue that, when pulled out of its cavity, is longer than their entire body, which measures about 30 inches. These gentle and somewhat quirky animals should be celebrated, but instead they're often killed for their unique scales, believed in some cultures to harbor medicinal properties.
White-bellied pangolin, also known as the tree or three-cusped pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis)
White-bellied pangolins look like armadillos, except that they have scales, not rings. They get their name from the white patch on their bellies, one of the few areas not covered in scales. These scales are made of keratin and overlap each other, acting as the animals' main defense against predation. With the help of their long tongues, these toothless mammals feed almost exclusively on ants and termites and roll into a ball when threatened. Adults usually grow to about 3-4 pounds.
Where It's Found:
Tropical lowland forests and secondary forests in 23 west, central and east African countries make good habitat. These pangolins also live in savanna-forest mosaic and dense woodlands.
IUCN Red List Status:
Although no formal population estimate exists for white-bellied pangolins across their range, the species was recently reclassified from vulnerable to endangered to reflect the increasing magnitude of threats to their survival.
Like all pangolin species, white-bellied pangolins are threatened by overexploitation for their meat and scales, which are consumed as food and in traditional medicine, respectively. However, the growing demand from Asia for the scales of African pangolins is disproportionately affecting white-bellied pangolins, since they're the most common African pangolin species. In addition to poaching, white-bellied pangolins are threatened by habitat loss.
Notable Conservation Programs or Legal Protections:
The Convention on the International on the Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) restricts the international commercial trade in all pangolin species, including their derivatives. National laws in many white-bellied range countries also prohibit their killing, with anti-poaching patrols conducted in their habitats to deter poachers and enforce these laws.
My Favorite Experience:
Seeing my first living white-bellied pangolin after more than a decade of being a pangolin enthusiast filled me with excitement and hope. My challenging 11-hour hike into the heart of Nigeria's Cross River National Park to monitor these mammals was a success, as I found and tagged about five of them. Seeing these animals in their natural environment was even more exciting, as I had only ever seen their carcasses and scales on display in wild meat markets.
What Else Do We Need to Understand or Do to Protect This Species?
While scientists are working to further understand the ecology and dynamics of the illegal pangolin trade to inform science-based conservation actions, governments of countries where pangolins exist and those involved in their trafficking should establish laws protecting pangolins (where they do not already exist) and uphold already-enacted laws. Governments and the public can also support pangolin conservation through increased anti-poaching patrols and the arrest and prosecution of poachers and traffickers, as well as campaigns to increase awareness of their plight.
Charles Emogor is a National Geographic explorer studying the ecology of the white-bellied pangolin for his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge. Charles is from Nigeria and has been fascinated by pangolins from a very early age. He recently founded Pangolino, which uses art to communicate the science of pangolin conservation and raise awareness of these scaly anteaters.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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In the Galapagos Islands, many of Darwin's beloved animal species are getting a helping hand in the fight against invasive rats. Drones deployed over two years ago have finally eradicated all rodents on the Seymour Norte and Mosquera Islands.
According to the Galapagos Travel Center, the Islands are known for their unique wildlife — native, endemic and introduced. Endemic species are not found anywhere else on the planet. These include the famous Galapagos giant tortoise and the swimming marine iguanas. Charles Darwin's study of the island chain's endemic species led to his theory on evolution. The isolation of the habitat allowed for the evolution of very unique species and adaptations found nowhere else on the planet.
Native species naturally are found on the Galapagos, but can also be found elsewhere. Blue-footed boobies are a good example of a native species that many people travel to the Galapagos to see.
Introduced species have been brought over to the islands — on purpose or accidentally. On the Galapagos Islands, the most common intentionally introduced species include goats, cats and dogs. Rats are one of the most aggressive and problematic species accidentally introduced to the region.
According to Nature, "Rats and other non-native species have caused extensive damage to the Galapagos, whose unique flora and fauna evolved in isolation for millions of years."
That relative isolation may have caused many native species to lose their defense mechanisms against predators, the journal article said. Because rats reproduce quickly and eat a variety of plants and animals, they pose a particular threat to places like the Galapagos whose rich biodiversity is irreplaceable. The rodents especially threatened unhatched and young birds because they eat eggs and nestlings. They also threaten native trees by gnawing on their branches and eating their seeds, Nature reported. In fact, invasive rodent infestations are estimated to account for 86 percent of the known extinction of native wildlife on islands.
Therefore, rats have been the target of multiple eradication campaigns across the Galapagos, Nature reported. The eradication efforts were deemed "necessary" on the two Galapagos islands to protect indigenous wildlife, including frigate birds and swallow-tailed seagulls on the two islands in the Galapagos.
After a few failed manual attempts at eradication, the Galapagos National Park began deploying drones in Jan. 2019. Drones have the advantages of increased speed, efficiency and safety over manual baiting over rugged terrain, Nature and Drone DJ reported. And, they are cheaper than using helicopters, until now a favored tool in culling non-native animals.
Scientists and drone pilots calibrate a drone before deploying it. Island Conservation
The drones dropped poisoned bait to areas with high rat concentrations. The rodenticide was specifically developed to only attract rats. According to Nature, it was the first time such an approach has been used on vertebrates in the wild.
After the main population had been eliminated, the drones were redeployed to replenish bait stations around the islands' coasts to prevent new rats from migrating from surrounding islets. Good News Network reported that a "biosecurity barrier" of 289 bait stations will remain permanently installed as a long-term preventative measure against reinvasion from rats on Santa Crus or Baltra Islands.
Now, after a thorough inspection, the islands have finally been declared rat-free.
"After two years of waiting, this project has given the expected results, according to the planning and according to the highest protocols for these cases," Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park, said in a press release. "Galapagos, once again, is a benchmark in terms of the protection of this globally important ecosystem."
The success of the Galapagos campaign has been encouraging. Plans are in place to replicate the program on other small Pacific islands battling rats where hand-based baiting is not feasible, Good News Network reported.
While use in animal control is a new development, drones have been used to monitor animals and ecosystems, Nature reported. Conservationists have discussed using drones to stop poaching and to save endangered rhinos and elephants. The technology is also being used to stealthily measure dolphin health. And, in the Amazon Rainforest, Indigenous tribes are using drones to detect and fight illegal deforestation in their territories.
Worldwide, in over 1,200 recent eradication campaigns against destructive, invasive mammals, nearly 85 percent have proven successful, Drone DJ reported. Those advocating for the use of drones hope to increase that percentage even further.
Serge Wich, a biologist at Liverpool John Moores University, UK and a co-director of the website Conservation Drones, told Nature, "Almost every conservation organization I work with is using drones now, in one way or another."
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By John R. Platt
A porcupine's diet is wide, varied, and a little hard to digest. A lifetime of grasses, herbs, bark and other vegetation can leave little bits of indigestible matter behind in a porcupine's digestive tract, where they occasionally congeal into a hard ball called a bezoar.
That sounds uncomfortable, but a porcupine's health probably doesn't suffer due to the presence of this undigested mass in its stomach or intestines — that is, not until humans come along.
For centuries people have valued these rare "stones" or "dates," as they're sometimes called, for their purported healing abilities. Bezoars have been used to "treat" everything from fevers to diabetes and even cancer.
Bezoar use even creeps into popular fiction: the stones are an ingredient for protective spells in the Harry Potter universe.
The medicinal claims are equally fiction: there doesn't appear to be any veracity to bezoar use to treat illnesses. Yet despite the lack of evidence, the trade in bezoars has persisted. Not only that, it appears to be increasing.
A study published recently in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation tracked, for the first time, the online trade in old-world porcupines (those from the family Hystricidae in Asia and Africa). The researchers examined e-commerce sites in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore for four months in 2019, where they found active for-sale listings for 443 individual bezoars and a large variety of powdered products. Based on the weight of the powders, and the assumption that they might have contained other ingredients, the researchers estimate this translated to at least 680 and as many as 1,300 bezoars. (The researcher ignored "out of stock" listings and more dubious sites, such as one that claimed to have 2,000 tons of product on hand.)
A bezoar and typical medical claims, posted to Instagram. Screen grab July 24, 2020.
Previous research has suggested that bezoars only grow in an incidentally small portion of the porcupine population, so the total number of animals killed to accumulate that quantity for sale could conceivably have been in the tens of thousands.
And since the study didn't look at the e-commerce sites every day, it probably uncovered only a portion of the total trade.
This paper calls for more study about this issue and additional conservation actions to protect porcupines. Currently the various species enjoy some national-level protection but precious little on the international level, because they're still perceived as relatively common. In fact, most old-world porcupine species currently appear on the IUCN Red List as either "least concern" or "data deficient." Only the Philippine porcupine (Hystrix pumila) is listed as "vulnerable to extinction." None are currently protected by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species.
Should that change? While the authors acknowledge the limitations caused by their study's short time frame and their inability to examine and verify the nature of the bezoars (some of which could have come from other animals or been counterfeits), they still uncovered an alarming level of trade. The authors warn that "current trade levels are likely unsustainable, and we predict that porcupine species may become threatened in the future should current trade levels continue."
And while some porcupines are farmed, this study indicates pressure on wild porcupines, which also face threats from habitat destruction and the bushmeat trade, as well as persecution as agricultural pests. It suggests a need to protect certain populations which fetch higher prices due to their purported purity. The study quotes one popular website: "The most valuable for the porcupine bezoars are procured from … the rainforest of Indonesia or Borneo. The porcupines here eat unpolluted herbs that have high medicinal value causing the bezoars … to be of the rarest and highest value. The price is very high and has collection, medicinal and stockpiling value."
In many ways this isn't surprising. The bezoar trade has been around for centuries, and it isn't restricted to southern Asia. The paper notes that Europeans in the 16th to 19th centuries, who sometimes wore the stones as jewelry, valued porcupine bezoars so much they priced each one "as high as forty times its own weight in gold."
Bezoars today don't fetch quite that amount, but the study still found them selling for around $151 a gram — two and a half times the current price of gold — all for a useless clump of congealed, inedible food.
Too bad we don't value a living porcupine half that much.
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His "Extinction Countdown" column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
In June, the first missions of a successful joint operation between specialized environmental prosecutors of the government of Peru and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society encountered and apprehended multiple illegal fishing vessels in Peruvian waters.
Aboard Sea Shepherd's ship Ocean Warrior, officials and advocates worked together to support the Peruvian government's efforts to monitor its sovereign waters. Officials gained access to a civilian offshore patrol vessel to assist with their observations of at-risk and migratory species and their monitoring of threats to biodiversity. Sea Shepherd Legal also provided prosecution and policy guidance in the aftermath of any interactions and suggestions for the application of domestic and international law. This tag-team approach ensured that potential gaps in policies would be identified and addressed, Sea Shepherd told EcoWatch in an emailed statement.
The coalition intercepted three small-scale Peruvian trawlers that potentially were participating in illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU). Peruvial prosecutors detected the first, Don Santos, fishing within Peru's 5 nautical mine inshore exclusion zone off the coast of Tumbes using radar from the bridge of the Ocean Warrior. They then requested the coast guard board the vessel, at which time officials realized the trawler's satellite monitoring system, which allows for vessel movement to be monitored by law enforcement, had not been operational since 2018 and that the crew may have discarded their catch overboard prior to boarding in an attempt to destroy evidence.
Don Santos, fishing in unauthorized, protected areas, having non-functioning satellite monitoring systems, was destroying catch evidence before being boarded and/or fishing without a valid license. Peruvial prosecutors detected the illegal activities via radar from the bridge of the Ocean Warrior and then requested the coast guard board the vessel.
Sea Shepherd Legal helped to fine Dos Santos, and the ship is now prohibited from fishing until its three fines are paid.
The mission also discovered two other Peruvian trawlers fishing without satellite monitoring systems. One did not have a valid fishing license for the Tumbes area. Prosecutors requested coast guard officials to board the two vessels and they subsequently directed them back to port for detention.
Globally, IUU fishing threatens the biodiversity and stability of oceanic ecosystems. Illegal fishing can cause the total collapse of a fishery or seriously endanger fish populations. Actions like removing satellite monitoring and fishing illegally within protected areas frustrate official efforts to safeguard oceanic resources for the future.
The coalition discovered the small trawler Mi Pastor fishing without functioning monitoring satellite equipment and without a valid fishing permit. Sea Shepherd
Peru's rich waters are home to an abundance of marine life, including more than 30 species of whales and dolphins, over 60 species of sharks, and the largest anchovy population in the world, a Sea Shepherd representative told EcoWatch. Additionally, a number of the shark species found in Peruvian waters are at risk of extinction. IUU fishing efforts likely result in bycatch and/or illegal take, which can have detrimental effects upon fragile marine populations.
IUU fishing also threatens the economic well-being of many coastal communities, the long-term food security of the planet and the human rights of those forced to catch this seafood. The United Nations has linked IUU fishing to a variety of other fisheries and human rights abuses.
Prior to the arrests, three different local boats were observed by the Ocean Warrior fishing illegally within a 2 nautical mile inshore exclusion zone off the coast of Lobos de Tierra and using spearfish guns to poach octopus. Photographic evidence obtained by the Sea Shepherd ship drone is being used by environmental prosecutors to build criminal cases.
"Illegal fishing is only possible because the oceans are often out of sight and out of mind for law enforcement authorities," said Peter Hammarstedt, director of campaigns for Sea Shepherd. "This is why Sea Shepherd is proud to support the leadership of FEMA in this government initiative to get eyes on the water by bringing prosecutors to the scene of the crime where Peru's unique marine wildlife is at the greatest risk."
The success of this unique government-civilian partnership may provide the blueprint for future enforcement efforts at sea as more governments accept help.
"Ocean Warrior provides Peruvian environmental prosecutors with a platform to obtain data on the extent of illegal fishing activity in the waters of Peru, extending the long arm of the law to the sea [and] highlighting why it is imperative for FEMA to have its specialized prosecutors working at sea," said Flor de María Vega Zapata, national coordinating superior prosecutor for FEMA. It also showed what is possible through innovative collaboration with civil society, like Sea Shepherd, the official said.
Illegal Fishing Vessels Intercepted as Peruvian Prosecutors Sail on Sea Shepherd Ship youtu.be
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By Aldem Bourscheit
Brazilian authorities point to Russian biologist Kyrill Kravchenko as an international wildlife trafficker. They had been monitoring him since 2017, after he was arrested in the Netherlands with rare wildlife from Brazil in his possession. In mid-January this year, as he tried to board a plane to Russia at São Paulo's international airport, they intercepted him.
In his carry-on baggage, they found more than a hundred lizards, spiders and frogs, all captured from southern and southeastern Brazil. Kravchenko was released soon after questioning.
In June, Brazilian authorities made another arrest of a man they identified only as Russian, carrying another batch of animals, this time in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Officials would not confirm whether it was Kravchenko, since he was not carrying a passport, but said his passport had been seized earlier this year.
On July 15, Kyrill Kravchenko was arrested in a joint operation by IBAMA, the federal environmental protection agency, and the Federal Highway Police and Interpol.
Foreign and domestic wildlife traffickers have long made Brazil one of the leaders of animal seizures in air transportation in Latin America and the Caribbean; Mexico and Colombia round out the top three. Wildlife confiscations in the aviation sector account for more than a fifth of regional wildlife trafficking cases.
There were 281 such seizures between 2010 and 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean. The traffickers were stopped at airports in 84 cities, trying to reach 53 countries during this period.
"Traffickers move illicit goods by exploiting corrupt agents, low enforcement capacity and other weaknesses in transportation systems," said Henry Peyronnin of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS). "Wildlife trafficking in global air traffic is linked to more than 150 countries."
C4ADS, based in Washington, DC, handles global civil aviation data and contributed to the first report by USAID on wildlife smuggling routes and methods in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The study is part of the Routes program (Reducing Opportunities for the Illegal Transport of Endangered Species), a partnership between various government agencies, logistics and transport companies, and environmental NGOs such as TRAFFIC and WWF.
Sloth claws on sale at Ver-o-Peso Market, in the state of Pará, Brazil. Marcelo Pavlenco Rocha / SOS Fauna
Live Animals in Carry-On Bags
The scale of wildlife trafficking in the 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries is eclipsed only by that in Asia. The airports of São Paulo and Manaus in Brazil, and Mexico City and Tijuana in Mexico, accounted for 38% of seizures in the region between 2010 and 2020. In Colombia, a third of the country's total seizures were made at the airport in Leticia, on the border with Brazil and Peru — highlighting the city as one of the trafficking gateways out of the Amazon.
While international trafficking garners the headlines, in Brazil much of the illegal wildlife trade serves the domestic market: seven out of 10 seizures there involved a destination inside the country, with the rest destined for the European Union and the rest of the Americas.
"It makes sense that we are a major source of trafficking. We are a mega diverse country with huge borders under low surveillance," said Juliana Ferreira, executive director of Freeland Brazil, an organization that fights against illegal wildlife trade. "There are also serious problems regarding traceability between illegal species and those bred in captivity, which allows the 'laundering' of trafficked animals for the domestic and foreign markets."
According to the USAID report, law enforcement officers found 65 species in the seizures made between 2010 and 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean. The study notes that traffickers often carry live animals in their carry-on bags, and animal parts like shark fins, totoaba fish bladders, and jaguar skins and teeth concealed in their checked luggage.
Fish and reptiles are better able to survive long flights in confined spaces, the report found, though birds are the most trafficked animals out of the region. Top destinations include Brazil, the Netherlands, Germany and the United States. In New York and other cities, birds sold illegally are even used in fights.
Some of the fish most sought after by traffickers are the zebra pleco (Hypancistrus zebra) and pirarucu or arapaima (Arapaima gigas). Endemic to the Brazilian Amazon, the zebra pleco is a prized aquarium fish that has soared in value since the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam changed the flow of its native Xingu River in Pará state and increased the risk of its extinction in the wild. The pirarucu, a massive Amazonian fish, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, is hunted for its meat, skin and scales.
Threat to Public Health
Trafficking threatens the survival of numerous species globally. Latin America and the Caribbean alone are home to four out of every 10 known species on the planet, but native animal populations have fallen by an average of 94% since the 1970s, according to WWF's Living Planet 2020 report. Deforestation, hunting and other pressures have contributed to the declines.
The wildlife trade also threatens public health, as underscored by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The USAID report notes that 40% of airport seizures during the study period involved live specimens that could potentially spread diseases to people. International investigations haven't ruled out that COVID-19 originated from wild animals.
A report by World Animal Protection released in May listed numerous legal and enforcement loopholes in the G-20 group of countries, which includes Brazil and many of the destination countries for trafficked wildlife, that paint a broad "picture of permissiveness to wildlife exploitation."
Scarlet macaws (Ara macao) seized from traffickers in Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil. Marcelo Pavlenco Rocha / SOS Fauna
"Although the global focus remains on the implementation of vaccination, virus prevention cannot be ignored, as estimates say that more than 320,000 mammalian viruses are on the verge of being discovered," said Helena Pavese, executive director of World Animal Protection. "We can no longer ignore the dangers of wildlife trade."
Recommendations to fight trafficking include reducing demand from buyers, building and maintaining integrated databases between countries and regions, increasing collaboration with air transport companies, and training and expanding the number of agents in customs and airports. "Some measures may not be implemented simply because illegal wildlife trade is not historically prioritized as a problem," said Peyronnin from C4ADS. "We hope our report will provide evidence and amplify the global relevance of the issue."
Mongabay tried to contact the Brazilian Federal Police and IBAMA, who are responsible for investigating and monitoring wildlife trafficking through domestic air transportation, but didn't receive a response.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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By Jeremy Dertien, Courtney Larson and Sarah Reed
Seeing animals and birds is one of the main draws of spending time in nature. But as researchers who study conservation, wildlife and human impacts on wild places, we believe it's important to know that you can have major effects on wildlife just by being nearby.
In a recent review of hundreds of studies covering many species, we found that the presence of humans can alter wild animal and bird behavior patterns at much greater distances than most people may think. Small mammals and birds may change their behavior when hikers or birders come within 300 feet (100 meters) – the length of a football field. Large birds like eagles and hawks can be affected when humans are over 1,300 feet (400 meters) away – roughly a quarter of a mile. And large mammals like elk and moose can be affected by humans up to 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) away – more than half a mile.
A hiker about 75 feet from a bull elk in Yellowstone National Park. Jacob W. Frank, NPS/Flickr
Many recent studies and reports have shown that the world is facing a biodiversity crisis. Over the past 50 years, Earth has lost so many species that many scientists believe the planet is experiencing its sixth mass extinction – due mainly to human activities.
Protected areas, from local open spaces to national parks, are vital for conserving plants and animals. They also are places where people like to spend time in nature. We believe that everyone who uses the outdoors should understand and respect this balance between outdoor recreation, sustainable use and conservation.
How Human Presence Affects Wildlife
Pandemic lockdowns in 2020 confined many people indoors – and wildlife responded. In Istanbul, dolphins ventured much closer to shore than usual. Penguins explored quiet South African Streets. Nubian ibex grazed on Israeli playgrounds. The fact that animals moved so freely without people present shows how wild species change their behavior in response to human activities.
Decades of research have shown that outdoor recreation, whether it's hiking, cross-country skiing or riding all-terrain vehicles, has negative effects on wildlife. The most obvious signs are behavioral changes: Animals may flee from nearby people, decrease the time they feed and abandon nests or dens.
Other effects are harder to see, but can have serious consequences for animals' health and survival. Wild animals that detect humans can experience physiological changes, such as increased heart rates and elevated levels of stress hormones.
And humans' outdoor activities can degrade habitat that wild species depend on for food, shelter and reproduction. Human voices, off-leash dogs and campsite overuse all have harmful effects that make habitat unusable for many wild species.
Disturbing shorebirds can cause them to stop eating, stop feeding their young or flee their nests, leaving chicks vulnerable.
Effects of Human Presence Vary for Different Species
For our study we examined 330 peer-reviewed articles spanning 38 years to locate thresholds at which recreation activities negatively affected wild animals and birds. The main thresholds we found were related to distances between wildlife and people or trails. But we also found other important factors, including the number of daily park visitors and the decibel levels of people's conversations.
The studies that we reviewed covered over a dozen different types of motorized and nonmotorized recreation. While it might seem that motorized activities would have a bigger impact, some studies have found that dispersed “quiet" activities, such as day hiking, biking and wildlife viewing, can also affect which wild species will use a protected area.
Put another way, many species may be disturbed by humans nearby, even if those people are not using motorboats or all-terrain vehicles. It's harder for animals to detect quiet humans, so there's a better chance that they'll be surprised by a cross-country skier than a snowmobile, for instance. In addition, some species that have been historically hunted are more likely to recognize – and flee from – a person walking than a person in a motorized vehicle.
Generally, larger animals need more distance, though the relationship is clearer for birds than mammals. We found that for birds, as bird size increased, so did the threshold distance. The smallest birds could tolerate humans within 65 feet (20 meters), while the largest birds had thresholds of roughly 2,000 feet (600 meters). Previous research has found a similar relationship. We did not find that this relationship existed as clearly for mammals.
We found little research on impact thresholds for amphibians and reptiles, such as lizards, frogs, turtles and snakes. A growing body of evidence shows that amphibians and reptiles are disturbed and negatively affected by recreation. So far, however, it's unclear whether those effects reflect mainly the distance to people, the number of visitors or other factors.
Human recreation starts to affect wild creatures' behavior and physical state at different distances. Small mammals and birds tolerate closer recreation than do larger birds of prey and large mammals. Sarah Markes, CC BY-ND
How to Reduce Your Impact on Wildlife
While there's much still to learn, we know enough to identify some simple actions people can take to minimize their impacts on wildlife. First, keep your distance. Although some species or individual animals will become used to human presence at close range, many others won't. And it can be hard to tell when you are stressing an animal and potentially endangering both it and yourself.
Second, respect closed areas and stay on trails. For example, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, wildlife managers seasonally close some backcountry ski areas to protect critical habitat for bighorn sheep and reduce stress on other species like moose, elk and mule deer. And rangers in Maine's Acadia National Park close several trails annually near peregrine falcon nests. This reduces stress to nesting birds and has helped this formerly endangered species recover.
Getting involved with educational or volunteer programs is a great way to learn about wildlife and help maintain undisturbed areas. As our research shows, balancing recreation with conservation means opening some areas to human use and keeping others entirely or mostly undisturbed.
As development fragments wild habitat and climate change forces many species to shift their ranges, movement corridors between protected areas become even more important. Our research suggests that creating recreation-free wildlife corridors of at least 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) wide can enable most species to move between protected areas without disturbance. Seeing wildlife can be part of a fun outdoor experience – but for the animals' sake, you may need binoculars or a zoom lens for your camera.
Jeremy Dertien is a Ph.D. candidate in forestry and environmental conservation at Clemson University.
Courtney Larson is an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Wyoming.
Sarah Reed is affiliate faculty in fish, wildlife and conservation Biology at Colorado State University.
Disclosure statements: Jeremy Dertien receives funding from Sonoma Land Trust. Courtney Larson received funding from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sarah Reed receives funding from Sonoma Land Trust.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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One of the world's best restaurants is giving up meat.
Eleven Madison Park (EMP), a New York City fine dining establishment that was named the first of the world's 50 best restaurants in 2017, announced Monday that it would reopen June 10 with an entirely plant-based menu.
"In the midst of last year, when we began to imagine what EMP would be like after the pandemic – when we started to think about food in creative ways again – we realized that not only has the world changed, but that we have changed as well," chef Daniel Humm wrote in an announcement posted on the restaurant's website. "We have always operated with sensitivity to the impact we have on our surroundings, but it was becoming ever clearer that the current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways."
Eleven Madison Park, a New York City fine dining establishment that was named the first of the world's 50 best restaurants in 2017. Eleven Madison Park
EMP first opened its doors in 1998, and Humm joined it as executive chef in 2006, according to The New York Times. Since then, the restaurant has earned many accolades, including three stars from Michelin and four from The New York Times.
The move reflects a growing shift away from meat in fine dining as concerns about the climate crisis mount. Studies have shown that raising meat emits more greenhouse gas emissions than growing vegetables or legumes, and also requires more land and water while polluting more overall. In recent signs of this growing awareness, a vegan restaurant in France earned a Michelin star for the first time this January, and, just last week, the website Epicurious said it was no longer publishing or promoting new beef recipes.
Chef Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park Restaurant on Feb. 27, 2013 in New York City. Neilson Barnard / Getty Images for Blancpain
EMP is one of the most famous restaurants to move away from meat, according to CNN, but its high-end status may limit the reach of its decision.
"[T]here are limits to what you can do through the medium of a Michelin-starred restaurant," Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner told The New York Times. "Chefs should obviously continue sourcing their ingredients responsibly, in light of the climate emergency, but at the end of the day, you're still cooking for rich people, and you might question their commitment to these things."
Meals at EMP will still cost $335, and, even at this price-point, it is not easy to obtain a reservation, so a very small percentage of people will experience the shift from dishes like lavender honey glazed duck or butter poached lobster to the new, plant-based meals Humm and his team are now working to perfect.
However, Yale University history professor Paul Freedman said that Humm's influence as a chef meant the decision could have a larger impact on dining culture.
It could, he told The New York Times, "have an influence on the best restaurants in places like Midland, Texas — affluent places that are not Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York."
Humm is also working to expand EMP's offerings to the less affluent. During the pandemic, the shuttered restaurant prepared nearly one million meals to New Yorkers experiencing food insecurity with help from the nonprofit Rethink Food. Once the restaurant reopens, Humm said that he would continue that work, and that every meal at the restaurant would fund food for hungry New Yorkers.
"It is time to redefine luxury as an experience that serves a higher purpose and maintains a genuine connection to the community," Humm said in the announcement. "A restaurant experience is about more than what's on the plate. We are thrilled to share the incredible possibilities of plant-based cuisine while deepening our connection to our homes: both our city and our planet."
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By Elizabeth Claire AlbertsThe Mexican government will no longer protect the habitat of the critically endangered vaquita in the Upper Gulf of California, but has opened the area up to fishing, according to a news report.
It's estimated that there are only about nine vaquitas left in the world.The vaquita (Phocoena sinus), a bathtub-sized porpoise endemic to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico's Upper Gulf of California, has experienced a sharp population decline in the two past two decades, mainly due to illegal gillnet fishing for the critically endangered totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi).
In 2017, the Mexican government established a "no tolerance" zone to protect the vaquita from illegal fishing, and even expanded the area last September. But now the government has given fishers open access to the refuge, the only enforcement being a "sliding scale of sanctions if more than 60 boats are repeatedly seen in the area," according to Mexico News Daily.
"I fear this might be the death knell for the vaquita, as the plan that has been proposed by Mexico will convert what should be a straightforward 'no go' zone into a complex enforcement area with varying levels of monitoring and deterrence depending on the amount of illegal fishing taking place in the area," Kate O'Connell, marine consultant at the Washington, DC-based Animal Welfare Institute, told Mongabay. "The vaquita are being mismanaged to death."
Two vaquitas in the Sea of Cortez. Sea Shepherd
O'Connell said gillnet fishing is technically still banned in the Upper Gulf of California, but will likely take place in the former "no tolerance" zone without proper monitoring and enforcement.
"Mexico's fisheries authorities are indicating that they are either unable or unwilling to do all that is necessary to save the vaquita and are willing to accept a certain level of gillnet fishing activity," she said. "One hundred percent monitoring and enforcement of the fishing ban only kicks in once more than 50 illegal vessels are seen, or more than 200 meters [660 feet] of illegal gillnets are found in the area."
Andrea Crosta, executive director of Earth League International (ELI), an NGO that has been actively investigating totoaba trafficking in the region, said this move will likely seal the fate of the critically endangered species.
"It means the extinction of the vaquita and in general an increase of illegal gillnets that will have a significant impact on the marine life in the Sea of Cortez," Crosta told Mongabay. "It's like saying to illegal fishermen and totoaba traffickers, do what you want from now on."
Crosta said he thinks that abolishment of the "no tolerance" zone is a political move on behalf of the current Mexican government.
"I think that the current populist administration in Mexico is concerned only about voters, certainly not about environmental protection and endangered species, if this gets in the way of political gain," he said. "And if the vaquita will go extinct I am sure the current administration in Mexico will blame the administration before."
A vaquita swims near a fishing boat using gillnets. CONANP / Museo de la Ballena / SEA SHEPHERD
While this move could be advantageous to local fishers, Crosta said it will be the international totoaba traders, most of whom are Chinese nationals, who will reap the most benefits. "[They] will make a ton of money with even less risks than before," he said.
There have been multiple efforts and hundreds of thousands dollars spent to save the vaquita over the years, ranging from seafood sanctions to gillnet removal programs to illegal fishing patrols. In 2017, there was even an attempt to take the remaining vaquitas into captivity until illegal fishing ceased in the Upper Gulf of California. However, the plan was abandoned when the first captured vaquita died from the stress of capture.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international NGO that has been patrolling the Sea of Cortez since 2015, told Mongabay that it "remains committed to preventing the extinction of the vaquita" and that there are plans to return to the Upper Gulf of California as soon as possible to resume its gillnet retrieval efforts.
O'Connell said that AWI, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Investigation Agency and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have made urgent pleas to the international community to "both provide logistical and financial support to Mexico and to put pressure on the government by means of trade sanctions and other actions to ensure that the vaquita is saved."
"Despite their low numbers, there is still a slight glimmer of hope for the vaquita, if an actual complete shutdown of gillnet activity in the area can be achieved," O'Connell said. "The few remaining vaquita appear healthy and a number of calves have been spotted in recent years by researchers."
But Crosta said that unless the Mexican government works to dispel the totoaba cartels, he doesn't see "any hope for the vaquita."
"This is what happens when you focus only on anti-poaching and local communities, and not also on the trafficking networks and organized crime that run the whole show," he said. "This is what happens when there is a lot of indifference and incompetence."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
Africa's elephants are in trouble, and human activity is to blame.
For the first time, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List assessed Africa's elephants as two separate species: the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana). They found that both species are endangered, and the forest elephant critically so.
"Africa's elephants play key roles in ecosystems, economies and in our collective imagination all over the world," IUCN Red List Director General Dr. Bruno Oberle said in a press release. "Today's new IUCN Red List assessments of both African elephant species underline the persistent pressures faced by these iconic animals."
BREAKING NEWS: African elephant species now Endangered and Critically Endangered - IUCN Red List With today's upda… https://t.co/RXRmB10DBE— IUCN Red List (@IUCN Red List)1616677290.0
The last time that the IUCN assessed Africa's elephant population was in 2008, The New York Times reported. At that point, all of Africa's elephants were considered as a single species, and were listed as "vulnerable," one step better than endangered.
However, mounting genetic evidence indicates that there are two species of elephants on the continent. Africa's forest elephants typically live in West Africa and in tropical rainforests in Central Africa, IUCN pointed out. Savanna elephants prefer open areas like grasslands and deserts. The two species' ranges rarely overlap, and a 2019 study found that they rarely reproduce with each other.
There are also physical and life-cycle differences between the two species, according to The Guardian. Forest elephants are smaller, gestate longer, and have oval ears and smaller tusks. Savanna elephants live in larger family units, have larger ears and their skulls are shaped differently. Some scientists have questioned splitting them into distinct species, because they do sometimes cross breed. However, others say the new categorization is long overdue.
"The separation between them is probably greater than the separation between lions and tigers," Dr. Alfred Roca, a geneticist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told The New York Times.
The new categorization has important conservation implications. For one thing, it reveals how much trouble both species, but especially the forest elephants, are really in. The new assessment found that the population of forest elephants had fallen more than 86 percent in the last 31 years, while the population of savanna elephants has decreased by at least 60 percent in the last 50 years, according to the IUCN. As of 2016, there were 415,000 elephants of both species alive in Africa.
For both species, the main drivers of the decline have been poaching, which peaked in 2011, and habitat loss through the conversion of their homes for agriculture and other human uses.
"With persistent demand for ivory and escalating human pressures on Africa's wild lands, concern for Africa's elephants is high, and the need to creatively conserve and wisely manage these animals and their habitats is more acute than ever," Dr. Kathleen Gobush, lead assessor of the African elephants and member of the IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group, said in the press release.
Viewing them as distinct species can help with these conservation efforts, Gobush further explained to The Guardian. So far, savanna elephants have dominated research and the popular imagination, while forest elephants are less studied.
"This reclassification allows dedicated attention to each animal – the forest elephant and the savanna elephant – and then to tailor conservation plans according to each species' needs, which are different," Gobush said.
One bit of good news from the assessment is that conservation can work when done right. Subpopulations of forest elephants are doing well in the most protected areas of Gabon and the Republic of the Congo, according to the IUCN. The same is true for the largest single grouping of savanna elephants, who live in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
However, the stakes are high. Elephants play an important role in their ecosystems, Gobush told The New York Times. Forest elephants are the sole dispersers of some tree species, while both create new habitats for other animals by eating plants and knocking down trees.
"Both of them really could be considered gardeners tending to the vegetation, more than probably any other animal," Gobush said. "We just can't afford to lose them, really."
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