A Rescue Dog Is Now Helping to Save Other (Much Wilder) Dogs
By Jason Bittel
Formidable predators stalk the forests between Panama and northern Argentina. They are sometimes heard but never seen. They are small but feisty and have even been documented trying to take down a tapir, which can top out at nearly 400 pounds. Chupacabras? No.
This wild canid is about the size of a Scottish terrier but looks more like a rust-colored wolverine than any Toto you know. Not that you'll ever see a wild bush dog in person. Even those who have lived their whole lives in these forests are often unable to identify the species from a photograph.
"But they know bush dogs by their songs," said Karen DeMatteo, a biologist at Washington University in St. Louis. That's right—they sing.
Like most canids, bush dogs are highly social. They spend nearly all of their time in tight-knit family groups, and they hunt as a team, joining forces to catch and kill everything from small rodents like pacas and agoutis to larger prey such as armadillos, deer, and capybaras. They use a variety of vocalizations to coordinate their attacks, and to the untrained ear, DeMatteo says, these songs sound like a lot like bird chirps in the night.
From Brazil and Paraguay to Argentina, DeMatteo has spent more than a decade chasing these reddish-brown ghosts. She's interviewed locals, set up countless camera traps, and even scoured the ground for bush dog droppings. And by her side, helping her sniff scat and track his wild and distant cousins, is a seasoned Chesapeake Bay retriever named Train.
DeMatteo's work, which includes around 15 published studies, makes up a hefty portion of the science used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2011 to classify bush dogs as near threatened. And yet, we still know next to nothing about these animals.
"Bush dogs are just one of those species that are almost impossible to study," said DeMatteo.
For starters, these skittish canines are nocturnal, active mostly under the cloak of darkness. But you won't find them napping under the sun either. "From morning to evening, they're underground," said DeMatteo. "So unless you know they're underneath you, you could walk right over them and have no idea that you're walking over a bush dog."
From a handful of bush dogs she was able to capture and collar, DeMatteo learned that the predators will hole up in burrows dug by armadillos (presumably after they eat them). The canids can dig their own tunnels too, thanks to their partially webbed toes. Bush dogs also dig as a team, with one animal breaking ground at the front of a tunnel and another clearing material from the hole's entrance. DeMatteo said once she even saw a pup adorably pawing at the dirt while its parents labored—kind of like when I used to follow my dad around the yard with my bubble-blowing lawnmower.
Bush dogs also seem to have an uncanny ability to avoid humans. Even camera traps have a tough time picking them up, though this could be because we're putting them in all the wrong places. "Most people put camera traps along roads to capture the animals like pumas and jaguars walking up and down trails," DeMatteo said. "But bush dogs don't walk along trails. They cut across trails."
Their elusive behavior may be one reason why these animals have managed to persist in numerous habitats, from rainforests to plains to wetlands, across a wide swath of Central and South America. Unfortunately, the animals have not evaded humanity's influence completely, as evidenced by their seemingly sparse populations. According to the IUCN, potential bush dog territory spans more than four million square miles across the South American continent, but surveys suggest fewer than 110,000 individuals live in all that territory—and only half of them are mature and reproducing at any given time. Even those paltry numbers are probably an overestimate.
The bush dogs' seemingly flexible behavior, said DeMatteo, could be a blessing and a curse. For instance, they seem to be able to survive in areas of human disturbance, but as timber, mining and agricultural operations continue to fragment wild habitats, the dogs must traverse larger and larger territories in search of food.
Eking out a living near humans also brings bush dogs into closer contact with domestic dogs, which can introduce potentially lethal diseases, such as canine distemper, leishmaniasis and mange. "And when it kills them, it usually kills the entire group, because they're so social," said DeMatteo. In fact, an outbreak of mange wiped out one of the packs she and her colleagues were studying in Brazil. A hunting dog had likely introduced this parasitic disease when it entered the bush dogs' burrow looking for pacas.
But Train is not like other dogs. He's helping to carve out some territory for bush dogs through a wildlife corridor project DeMatteo is working on with a grant from the National Geographic Society. Since there isn't a lot of conservation work focusing on bush dogs exclusively, DeMatteo hopes that bigger projects like this will include the canines under their protective umbrella. When completed, this 50-mile, 100,000-acre corridor in northern Argentina could benefit all of the region's wildlife, including charismatic icons like jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, and peccaries as well as more under-the-radar species like the tiny, spotted jungle cats known as oncillas and, of course, bush dogs.
Plotting out the lands suitable for the corridor, however, requires first proving that the target animals still exist there. That's where Train comes in.
Train working in a forest in northern-central Misiones Province, Argentina.Got Scat?
The 11-year-old retriever can identify nine different species, including bush dogs, entirely on the scent profile of their excrement and spends his days dashing off into the underbrush to draw attention to overlooked piles of scat. DeMatteo then analyzes the DNA within these samples to double-check what species they belong to. In other words, Train's sniffer provides a glimpse into the bush dogs' world that we simply can't get using other methods. (Not bad for a Humane Society rescue, right?)
Train also benefits the project by charming his way onto properties where researchers aren't always welcome. DeMatteo explains that many landowners are wary of scientists who come looking for poop, thinking perhaps that they're from the government and want to eventually take their land. The idea of a dog hunting for pacas or bush dog droppings is a lot more agreeable.
"We tell them what Train does and they're like, "Oh, sure, can I come with you?'" she said.
"I think that's one of the most bizarre ironies," said DeMatteo. "Domestic dogs are such a major threat to bush dogs, and here's this domestic dog being kind of like a savior, opening new doors for us and collecting data that nobody else has ever collected."
Good boy, Train.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
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By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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