Tierra del Fuego is at the southernmost tip of South America and is sometimes known as the "end of the world." This windswept part of Argentina is home to seven penguin colonies which breed, nest and feed in the area.
Yet even here, the evidence of human encroachment on nature is clear.
Plastic waste from the nearby city of Ushuaia is polluting nests and being found in penguins' stomachs and excrement. And warmer waters mean adults must search longer for food, leaving their little ones more exposed to predators. Increasing tourism is also threatening the ecosystem.
Biologist Andrea Raya Rey has been studying the region's penguins for more than 20 years. She and others from the Austral Center for Scientific Research (CADIC) are working to protect the beloved flightless birds.
A film by Aitor Saez
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Jane Goodall
The world is facing unprecedented challenges. At the time of writing, the coronavirus COVID-19 has infected over 3.57 million people globally and as of the 4th of May 250,134 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
At present, people in most countries around the world are self-isolating at home (either alone or with family), keeping social distance and reducing going outdoors to a minimum. Some businesses have totally closed down, some carry on with staff working from home, some people are temporarily laid off, and thousands of people around the world have lost their jobs. Already the economic cost of all this is catastrophic.
We all follow the news and pray that the lockdown will end in country after country as the peak infection and death rate is reached and then gradually drops. This has already happened in China, where the COVID-19 coronavirus originated, thanks to the stringent measures undertaken by the Chinese government. We hope that a vaccine will soon be developed and that we can gradually get back to normal. But we must never forget what we have been through and we must take the necessary steps to prevent another such pandemic in the future.
The tragedy is that a pandemic of this sort has long been predicted by those studying zoonotic diseases (those that, like COVID-19, spill over from animals into humans). It is almost certain that this pandemic started with such a spill over in China's Wuhan seafood market that also sold terrestrial wildlife for food, along with chickens and fish.
Zoonotic Disease Transmission in Markets
When wild animals are sold in such markets, often illegally, they are typically kept in small cages, crowded together, and often slaughtered on the spot. Humans, both vendors and customers, may thus be contaminated with the fecal material, urine, blood and other bodily fluids of a large variety of species – such as civets, pangolins, bats, raccoon dogs and snakes. This provides a perfect environment for viruses to spill over from their animal hosts into humans. Another zoonotic disease, SARS, originated in another wildlife market in Guangdong.
Most wet markets in Asia are not dissimilar to farmers' markets in Europe and the US. There are thousands of wet markets in Asia and around the world where fresh produce – vegetables and fruit, and sometimes also meat from domestic animals – are sold at reasonable prices. And thousands of people shop there rather than in supermarkets.
It is not only in China that wildlife markets have provided the ideal conditions for viruses and other pathogens to cross the species barrier and transfer from animal hosts to us. There are markets of this sort in many Asian countries. In the bushmeat markets of Africa – where live and dead animals are sold for food – the hunting, slaughtering and selling of chimpanzees for food led to two spill overs from ape to human that resulted in the HIV-AIDS pandemic. Ebola is another zoonotic disease which crosses from animal reservoirs into apes and humans in different parts of Africa.
Wildlife Trafficking and the Spread of Disease
Another major concern is the trafficking of wild animals and their body parts around the world. Unfortunately, this has become a highly lucrative multi-billion-dollar business, often run by criminal cartels. Not only is it very cruel and definitely contributing to the terrifying extinction of species, but it may also lead to conditions suitable for the emergence of zoonotic diseases. Wild animals or their parts exported, often illegally, from one country to another take their viruses with them.
The shocking pet trade in young wild monkeys and apes, birds, reptiles and other wild animals is another area of concern. A bite or scratch from a wild animal taken into the home could lead to something much more serious than a mild infection.
Once COVID-19 was recognized as a new zoonotic disease, the Chinese authorities imposed a ban on the selling and eating of wild animals, the Wuhan wildlife market was closed down, and the farming of wild animals for food was forbidden.
There are thousands of small operations throughout Asia and other parts of the world where wild animals are bred for food as a way of making a living in rural areas. Unless alternative sources of income for these people, as well as for others exploiting wildlife to make a living, can be found and they can get help from their governments during their transition to other ways of making money, it is likely that these operations will be driven underground and become even more difficult to regulate.
Nevertheless, whatever the problems, it is clearly of great importance that the ban on trading, eating and breeding of wild animals for food should be permanent and enforced – for the sake of human health and the prevention of other pandemics in the future. Fortunately, a majority of Chinese and other Asian citizens who responded to surveys agree that wildlife should not be consumed, used in medicine or for their fur.
Medicinal Products Loopholes and Bear Bile
The use of some wild animal products for traditional medicine is thus far still legal in China (though rhino horn and tiger bones are banned). And this creates a loophole that will be quickly seized on by those wanting to continue to trade in wild animals such as the highly endangered pangolin, rhinos, tigers and the Asiatic black bear, known commonly as the Moon Bear because of the crescent-shaped white marking on its chest.
Other Asian bears – brown bears and Sun bears – are also exploited for their bile. And so long as farming bears for their bile is legal, and products containing their bile is promoted, this will stimulate the demand for the bile.
It is important to consider the welfare of the animals who are unwittingly responsible for zoonotic diseases. Today we know that all the animals mentioned are sentient beings, capable of knowing fear, despair and pain. Moreover, many of them demonstrate extraordinary intelligence. Allowing the use of wildlife trading for medicinal purposes can lead to unbelievably inhumane treatment of some of these sentient beings.
This is most certainly the case, for example, with bears farmed for their bile in Asia. They may be kept for up to thirty years in extremely small cages – sometimes they cannot even stand up or turn around. The tiny cages prohibit all natural behavior for these intelligent and sentient animals, who endure a life of fear and suffering.
The bile is usually extracted, once or even twice a day, by inserting a catheter, pipe or syringe into the gall bladder, – a highly intrusive and painful procedure. The bears suffer from dehydration, starvation and a variety of infections and diseases. They develop liver cancer (caused by the bile extraction), tumors, ulcers, blindness, peritonitis, arthritis and other ailments. Their teeth are worn down or missing from continually, in desperation, gnawing at the bars that imprison them.
Not only is farming bears in this way extremely cruel, it is also of concern for public health reasons. Poor hygienic conditions, the permanent open wounds of the bears, contamination of bile with feces, bacteria, blood and other bodily fluids are reasons for serious concern. Finally, many of the bears are continuously given antibiotics to keep them alive and this contributes to antibiotic resistance and the emergence of superbugs, resistant to most known antibiotics. The same is true with the raising of domestic animals in factory farms. These superbugs have led to the death of many patients in hospitals around the world.
Unfortunately, Tan Re Qing, a product that contains bile taken from Asiatic black bears and said to be helpful in alleviating symptoms linked to respiratory infections, is being recommended as a treatment for patients infected with COVID-19. And this will encourage the continued practice of bear bile farming.
To end on a note of hope, the active component of bear bile, ursodeoxycholic acid or UDCA, has been available as a synthetic variant for many years, and is a fraction of the cost of bile inhumanely harvested from bears. Unfortunately many people consider bile from wild bears to be more valuable. Traditional Chinese Medicine has great value but, even if the bile from wild bears was a valuable drug, given the cruelty and the risk involved, it should no longer be used – especially as the synthetic product has the same properties. In fact, a survey conducted by Animals Asia in 2011 indicated that 87% of Chinese respondents were in favor of banning bear bile farming, and hundreds of Chinese pharmacies have pledged never to sell bear bile products.
It would be wonderful if all bear bile farms across Asia could be closed and the bears released into those sanctuaries which have been created in China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Laos. There they would be able to walk on grass, climb, bathe in ponds and enjoy the sunshine and the company of other rescued bears. And a decrease in the demand for pangolin scales and rhino horn in many Asian countries for their supposed medicinal value would give a chance for these highly endangered animals to survive into the future. As would a ban on the farming of wild animals for their fur.
Disease Originating from Factory Farming
It is not only from wild animals that zoonotic diseases have originated. The inhumane conditions of the great factory farms, where large numbers of domestic animals are crowded together, has also provided conditions conducive to viruses spilling over into humans. The diseases commonly known as 'bird flu' and 'swine flu' resulted from handling poultry and pigs. And domestic animals are also sentient beings who experience fear and pain. MERS originated from contact with domestic dromedary camels in the Middle East, perhaps from consuming products from infected camels such as undercooked meat or milk.
Scientists warn that if we continue to ignore the causes of these zoonotic diseases, we may be infected with viruses that cause pandemics even more disruptive than COVID-19.
Many people believe that we have come to a turning point in our relationship with the natural world. We need to halt deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats around the globe. We need to make use of existing nature-friendly, organic alternatives, and develop new ones, to feed ourselves and to maintain our health. We need to eliminate poverty so that people can find alternative ways to make a living other than by hunting and selling wild animals and destroying the environment. We need to assure that local people, whose lives directly depend on and are impacted by the health of the environment, own and drive good conservation decisions in their own communities as they work to improve their lives. Finally, we need to connect our brains with our hearts and appropriately use our indigenous knowledge, science and innovative technologies to make wiser decisions about people, animals and our shared environment.
While there is a justified focus on bringing COVID-19 under control, we must not forget the crisis with potentially long-term catastrophic effects on the planet and future generations – the climate crisis. The movement calling for industry and governments to impose restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases, to protect forests, and clean up the oceans, has been growing.
This pandemic has forced industry to temporarily shut down in many parts of the world. As a result, many people have for the first time experienced the pleasure of breathing clean air and seeing the stars in the night sky.
My hope is that an understanding of how the world should be, along with the realization that it is our disrespect of the natural world that has led to the current pandemic, will encourage businesses and governments to put more resources into developing clean, renewable energy, alleviate poverty and help people find alternative ways of making a living that do not involve the exploitation of nature and animals.
Let us realize we are part of, and depend upon, the natural world for food, water and clean air. Let us recognize that the health of people, animals and the environment are connected. Let us show respect for each other, for the other sentient animals, and for Mother Nature. For the sake of the wellbeing of our children and theirs, and for the health of this beautiful planet Earth, our only home.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
"I'm never going to hunt whales again, I'm stopping for good," managing director of company IP-Utgerd Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson told AFP Sunday.
IP-Utgerd specialized in hunting minke whales, which means Iceland's minke whale hunt is officially over. Hvalur, the second Icelandic whaling company that specializes in fin whales, said it was not hunting this year due to difficulties exporting meat and social-distancing measures related to the new coronavirus.
"This is tremendous news," Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) CEO Chris Butler-Stroud said in a statement. "It is also a turning point for Iceland and its people and something that WDC has campaigned for for years. An end to minke whaling, and the end in sight for fin whaling, gives Iceland the chance to position itself as the true green island of the North Atlantic."
We are overjoyed to say that after years of dedicated WDC campaigning, Icelandic minke whale hunts are ending. This… https://t.co/D6WIzE0TJQ— Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) (@Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC))1588000525.0
Hvalur CEO Kristjan Loftsson said the main reason behind the canceled hunt was competition with Japan, which restarted commercial whaling in 2019, as AFP reported. The company sells most of its catch to Japan, but the Japanese market is flooded with local government-subsidized production and also requires more tests for whale meat imported from Iceland, Iceland Review explained.
WDC pointed out that whale meat is actually not a popular Icelandic dish, and only 1.5 percent of Iceland's population buys it regularly, a 2016 survey found.
Loftsson also told The Morning Paper in Iceland that social distancing requirements made the processing of whale meat "almost impossible" since workers need to stand "very closely together," as the Australian Associated Press reported.
However, the CEO did not seem ready to give up on whale meat, saying that research was ongoing into the use of the iron-rich meat to treat anemia patients and into the use of bones and blubber for gelatin.
Iceland has killed more than 1,700 whales since the 1986 ban on commercial whaling, WDC reported.
In 2018, the last year it held a hunt, whalers killed 146 fin whales and six minke whales, the Australian Associated Press reported. The 2020 quota was for 200 of each.
Block, meanwhile, pointed out that the fight against whaling was not over.
"We now turn our focus to the two remaining outliers who continue to defy the global whaling moratorium, killing hundreds of whales each year: Japan and Norway," she wrote. "Their fleets remain active during the pandemic, even as the market for highly-subsidized whale meat is declining rapidly. It is time for these two nations to join Iceland and hang up their harpoons for good."
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The order came two days after the chair of Tyson Foods warned that plant closures could remove millions of pounds of meat from the U.S. supply chain, leading to shortages in grocery stores. But plant workers and labor advocates are concerned the order could put meat-industry employees at greater risk.
"To me it's just putting more people in danger. He is not concerned about the people's life and well-being," Robert Hope, a 59-year-old worker at a Tyson plant in Camilla, Georgia who has been on unpaid leave since March 18 due to a heart condition that makes him vulnerable to the virus, told The New York Times.
The executive order designates meat production facilities as "critical infrastructure" and was issued under the Defense Production Act. The Labor Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also issued guidelines that will protect plants that remain open from liability. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said at least 13 plants had closed over the past two months, leading to a 25 percent drop in pork production capacity and a 10 percent drop for beef, CNN reported.
"Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency," the executive order said, as BBC News reported. "Given the high volume of meat and poultry processed by many facilities, any unnecessary closures can quickly have a large effect on the food supply chain."
But the closures came because the virus that causes COVID-19 was spreading rapidly between employees in plants where crowded working conditions make social distancing difficult. A Tyson pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa closed after more than 180 infections were linked to it, NBC News reported. That was nearly half of the cases reported in Iowa's Black Hawk County. Similarly, a Smithfield Foods pork plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota closed after its employees accounted for 238 of the state's 626 cases.
All told, more than 5,000 meatpacking workers have sickened and at least 20 have died, UFCW said Tuesday.
The union, which represents 250,000 workers in the industry, issued a statement calling on the administration to ensure workers are protected while plants stay open.
"While we share the concern over the food supply, today's executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country's meatpacking workers first," union president Marc Perrone said. "Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers."
America's meatpacking workers put their lives at risk daily to keep us fed during #coronavirus outbreak. Today's… https://t.co/EPoLWK1opI— UFCW (@UFCW)1588108339.0
He called for measures like ensuring worker access to the national stockpile of personal protective equipment, ensuring access to daily testing for workers and communities, enforcing social distancing guidelines and providing paid leave to any employees who fall ill.
OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines Sunday for keeping meatpacking workers safe, The New York Times reported, such as requiring workers to move through plants single file and placing workstations six feet apart, but worker advocacy groups point out that compliance is voluntary.
"It's a guideline. It's not a regulation. They can do whatever they want," Food & Water Watch lobbyist Tony Corbo told The New York Times. "The people are still standing next to one another in these plants. They're still getting sick."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched a petition calling on the administration to keep slaughterhouses closed.
URGENT: @realdonaldtrump ordered slaughterhouses stay open despite being hotbeds for #COVID19! For the health of… https://t.co/hVBCH7hqYs— PETA (@PETA)1588128061.0
"For the sake of human health and in behalf of the animals destined to be slaughtered and the migrant and other workers who are treated like scum in these slaughterhouses and whose families are more at risk than in almost any other job, PETA asks the nation to rise up and shout a resounding 'NO' to keeping slaughterhouses open at this time," the organization wrote.
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Now might be a good time to go vegetarian.
As meat-processing plants close across the country to stop the new coronavirus from spreading among employees, industry leaders and experts are warning of meat shortages in the nation's grocery stores.
"The food supply chain is breaking," Tyson Foods chairman of the board John Tyson wrote in a full-page ad published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sunday, as well as in a blog on the company's website, as NBC News reported.
In these challenging days, we have a responsibility to feed our nation and the world. Though a delicate balance, ou… https://t.co/Kt9yRUCp3D— Tyson Foods (@Tyson Foods)1587955996.0
Tyson's warning came after the company closed down two pork processing plants in Waterloo, Indiana and Logansport, Indiana in order to test workers for the virus that causes COVID-19, CNN reported. Other major players have also closed plants as thousands of slaughterhouse employees have tested positive for the virus. Three of the nation's largest pork plants, which together process around 15 percent of the nation's pig meat, have shuttered indefinitely: Tyson's Waterloo plant; the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and the JBS pork processing plant in Worthington, Minnesota.
"As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain," Tyson wrote. "As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed."
Outside experts also agree that the country could see meat shortages in grocery stores. Archer Financial Services commodity broker and livestock analyst Dennis Smith told NBC News that meat production was down 25 percent.
"We've just completed our third week of reduced slaughter and production," Smith told NBC News. "My guess is that about one week out, perhaps around May 1, shortages will begin developing at retail meat counters."
There is currently enough meat in freezers to keep Americans fed, NBC News reported. The challenge is with moving meat, especially fresh, to grocery stores.
Slaughterhouses have been forced to close because working conditions make social distancing difficult.
"I work about two feet from my coworkers," an employee at Tyson's Waterloo plant who tested positive for the virus and asked to be identified as Donald told CNN. "I'm about an arm's length away from my partner. It's close."
The Waterloo plant only closed under pressure from the community. It was linked to almost half of Black Hawk County, Iowa's COVID-19 cases as of April 21.
Industry-wide, more than 5,000 meat and food processing workers have been sickened with the virus and 13 have died, according to United Food and Commercial Workers International Union figures reported by NBC News.
America's meatpacking workers are on the frontlines of #coronavirus outbreak, putting their lives at risk to keep o… https://t.co/hE7jZV2h6p— UFCW (@UFCW)1587749893.0
In his ad, Tyson said the company was enacting safety measures like installing temperature scanners, requiring face masks, conducting daily deep cleans and installing dividers between workstations.
However, the case of the Waterloo plant calls into question how consistently and effectively these measures are implemented.
Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said he visited the plant April 11.
"There was no enforcement of PPE, there was no requirement. In fact, some people we saw walking around actually had masks, but they were wearing them around their neck," Thompson told CNN. "I was surprised by the lack of measures, but I was further surprised by what they thought they were doing right."
Food Waste and Animal Rights
The closure of meat processing plants has also impacted farmers and the animals they raise.
"In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue," Tyson wrote. "Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation. Millions of animals – chickens, pigs and cattle – will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities."
In some places, this is already happening. Iowa farmer Al Van Beek told Reuters he was forced to induce abortions in his pregnant sows because he had nowhere to sell his adult pigs to make room for the 7,500 piglets he was expecting.
"We have nowhere to go with the pigs," Van Beek said. "What are we going to do?"
Animal welfare advocates, however, called out Tyson for only caring about animal lives because they could not profit from them.
"Just as disingenuous as it has been for some meat plants to blame low-paid workers for their living conditions, Tyson Foods, which slits the throats of frightened animals every day that it operates, now has the gall to seem worried about 'depopulating' — aka killing," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wrote in a Twitter statement.
Just as disingenuous as it has been for some meat plants to blame low-paid workers for their living conditions, Tys… https://t.co/XXDGZ2Bbmu— PETA (@PETA)1588029607.0
The group recommended Tyson solve its pandemic problems by switching to vegan "meat" instead.
How can Tyson Foods fix its problems entirely? By switching its plants to producing the #vegan meat that it's alr… https://t.co/YPNPuK0xeF— PETA (@PETA)1588029607.0
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By Fino Menezes
After unprecedented bushfires devastated communities and iconic flora and fauna across Australia, non-profit group Science for Wildlife releases 12 koalas back into their natural habitat in the Blue Mountains.
First Koalas Released Back Into the Wild After Bushfire Horror
Before this current global health crisis, Australia endured an unprecedented bushfire season that devastated communities and iconic flora and fauna across the country. In the midst of the horror, 12 koalas were rescued from the Kanangra Boyd National Park in the southern Blue Mountains World Heritage area. On March 23rd and 25th, they were reintroduced back into the eucalyptus forests of their Kanangra home.
On March 23rd and 25th the Koalas Returned Home
Science for Wildlife, a not-for-profit wildlife conservation organization based out of Sydney, Australia, recently announced that all of their koalas, saved from the recent bushfires, have been returned to their home in the Blue Mountains of Australia.
They rescued the marsupials, who are representatives of the most genetically diverse population of koalas in Australia, from the devastating mega-fire that moved through the area in December 2019. They were sheltered in safety and cared for by staff at Taronga Zoo, with a team effort between Taronga and Science for Wildlife in keeping them fed.
On March 23rd and 25th, they were reintroduced back into the eucalyptus forests by the team, with the support of San Diego Zoo Global.
"While they have coped well in care, we are delighted to finally send our koalas home. We have been busy assessing the burnt area that we rescued them from, to establish when the conditions have improved enough that the trees can support them again," said Dr Kellie Leigh, Executive Director of Science for Wildlife.
"The recent rains have helped and there is now plenty of new growth for them to eat, so the time is right. We will be radio-tracking them and keeping a close eye on them to make sure that they settle in ok."
Dr. Leigh continued, "During the massive fires, as 80% of the World Heritage Area burnt, we were at risk of losing the entire koala population at this site and so that's what drove us to try something so radical and pull these koalas out before the fire hit."
The Animals are Part of a Genetically Diverse Koala Population
The Greater Blue Mountains area is a mountainous region located in New South Wales in Australia, which supports koalas that seem to break all the rules. The region was listed as a World Heritage Area by UNESCO in 2000 largely due to an outstanding diversity of eucalypt species (over 100 species), giving koalas more choice of habitats and food trees than anywhere else in Australia.
Science for Wildlife has been running the Blue Mountains Koala Project in this region for 5 years and through collaborative research they discovered that the Blue Mountains World Heritage Region is home to the most genetically diverse population of koalas in the world. The population in Kanangra-Boyd is also free of chlamydia, which is sadly a rare thing. Science for Wildlife, along with San Diego Zoo Global*, is committing resources to help ensure that the population is recovered.
*Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. A leader in global conservation, San Diego Zoo Global has been a core partner for Science for Wildlife's Blue Mountains Koala Project since it started and have been raising funds to support the rescue and other emergency wildlife work that Dr. Kellie Leigh and her team have been undertaking during the bushfires.
Some of the core funding provided by San Diego Zoo Global over the years has been used for ecological studies and to find, capture and radio-track koalas at the different study sites – those tracking devices are what enabled the team to go in and find the koalas and move them out before the approaching fire. The same devices, along with more support from San Diego Zoo, will now allow them to monitor the animals and ensure they settle in ok.
What's Next for These Koalas?
The reintroduction of these koalas back to their natural habitat is just the next stage in what conservationists know will be a long-term effort to recover koala populations in the area.
"There is still a lot of work to be done to assess what is left of koalas in this region and plan for population recovery. We are dedicated to continuing to support this critical work to conserve a significant koala population," said Paul Baribault, President and CEO of San Diego Zoo Global.
The radio-tracking devices fitted to the koalas will ensure that the Science for Wildlife team can monitor their welfare, and also learn more about how koalas use the landscape after fire. This should tell them where else they might find pockets of surviving koalas. Finally, the technology will help the Science for Wildlife team plan a future for koalas under climate change, where more frequent and intense fires are expected.
To learn more about the Blue Mountains Koala Project, visit their project page here.
Koalas are Being Released in Other Parts of New South Wales
Koalas are also being released in other parts of New South Wales, the state where Sydney is located, reported The Independent last week.
Staff and volunteers at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, based four hours' drive north of Sydney, released their first koala on April 2.
The four-year-old named Anwen was rescued in October last year, and will be the first of 26 koalas to be released into the wild by the animal hospital over the coming days.
The remaining koalas will be split into three groups and will be released back to their original habitats in Crowdy Bay (South of Port Macquarie), and two areas in the Lake Innes Nature Reserve.
Sue Ashton, president of Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, said, "This is a heart-warming day for us – to be able to release so many of our koalas back to their original habitats, even to their original tree in some cases – makes us very happy.
"Anwen was our first ever female koala to be admitted during the bushfires and her recovery has been extraordinary. It marks a proud moment for Australia; to see our Koala population and habitat starting to recover from what was such a devastating time."
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has also cared for koalas from Taree, the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury. The hospital said these will be returned to their "home" areas to be released.
Reposted with permission from BrightVibes.
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Nadia, a four-year-old Malayan tiger, was tested for the virus that causes COVID-19 after she developed a dry cough and began to lose her appetite, Reuters reported. Three other tigers and three lions have also developed a cough, though Nadia was the only one tested because she was the sickest and large cats have to be anesthetized for testing.
"I couldn't believe it," Zoo Director Jim Breheny told The Associated Press of the positive test result.
He said the zoo had only tested Nadia "out of an abundance of caution."
Officials believe Nadia caught the disease from a zoo worker who was asymptomatic at the time. The worker had contact with all of the infected animals, who live in two separate areas, and the zoo has been closed to the public since March 16. The infected worker is now doing okay.
In addition to Nadia, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions have shown symptoms. The first animal fell ill March 27.
"It's the first time, to our knowledge, that a [wild] animal has gotten sick from COVID-19 from a person," chief Bronx Zoo veterinarian Paul Calle told National Geographic.
The tigers' infection builds on evidence that animals can catch the virus from people. A Pomeranian and a German Shepherd tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong, as did a domestic cat in Belgium. A Chinese study also found that cats may be able to transmit the disease to each other.
Steven Van Gucht, virologist and federal spokesperson for the coronavirus epidemic in Belgium, explained to Live Science why felines are susceptible to the disease:
Cats and humans appear to have a similar "doorknob" on the surfaces of respiratory cells that lets the SARS-CoV-2 virus get inside, according to Van Gucht.
In humans, scientists have figured out that the SARS-CoV-2 virus attaches to a receptor protein called ACE2 that's on the outside of respiratory cells. Once inside of these cells, the virus hijacks certain machinery so it can replicate.
"The feline ACE2 protein resembles the human ACE2 homologue, which is most likely the cellular receptor which is being used by Sars-CoV-2 for cell entry," Van Gucht said.
The Belgian cat recovered after nine days, and the tigers and lions in the Bronx Zoo are expected to make a full recovery as well, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the zoo, told Reuters.
However, the fact that tigers and lions can catch the new coronavirus has frightening implications for feline conservation.
"Big cats like tigers and lions are already facing a litany of threats to their survival in the wild," chief scientist and tiger program director at Panthera John Goodrich told National Geographic. "If COVID-19 jumps to wild big cat populations and becomes a significant cause of mortality, the virus could develop into a very serious concern for the future of these species."
This is already a fear for endangered populations of great apes, which are known to be susceptible to human colds. Bronx Zoo workers who interact with the big cats will now wear protective gear as they long have when working with primates, The Associated Press reported.
However, there is no evidence that the new coronavirus will pass back from cats or other animals to humans.
"There doesn't appear to be, at this time, any evidence that suggests that the animals can spread the virus to people or that they can be a source of the infection in the United States," U.S. Department of Agriculture official and veterinarian Dr. Jane Rooney told The Associated Press.
The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people sick with the virus limit their contact with animals out of an abundance of caution.
While the new disease is originally believed to have passed from animals to humans, its spread is driven by human to human transmission. As of Monday morning, the disease has led to 1,277,962 confirmed cases and 69,555 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. New York City is the U.S. epicenter of the outbreak, with more confirmed cases than any other city in the country, The New York Times reported. The Bronx is the second-most impacted borough, after Queens.
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By Sara Amundson
Every year, fins from as many as 73 million sharks circulate throughout the world in a complex international market. They are the key ingredient in shark fin soup, a luxury dish considered a status symbol in some Asian cuisines.
The global trade in shark fins is contributing to a crisis among shark populations worldwide. Sharks are being killed 30 percent faster than they can reproduce, and the fin trade is one of the main culprits. Up to one-quarter of all species of sharks and their relatives are at risk of extinction. Some shark populations have declined by nearly 90 percent in recent decades. The disappearance of sharks can harm fragile ocean ecosystems, because as top predators, sharks help balance the populations of species below them in the food chain.
Additionally, many of the fins traded are obtained through the brutal, inhumane practice known as finning, in which fishers at sea catch sharks, slice off their fins and throw the animals — usually still alive — back into the water. Unable to swim without their fins, the sharks drown, bleed to death or are eaten alive by other fish. Because space on boats is limited and fins are by far the most valuable part of the shark, fishers have an incentive to use this cruel method to get fins.
However, the tide is turning against the shark fin trade.
In November 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives issued a resounding bipartisan "no" to this cruel practice, voting 310 to 107 to pass a bill banning commercial trade of shark fins and products derived from shark fins in the U.S. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, led by Representatives Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas), would prohibit all purchase, sale and possession for commercial purposes of these parts and products. The legislation builds on previous laws passed by Congress — the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 and the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 — which banned the act of shark finning in U.S. waters and the transport on U.S.-flagged vessels of shark fins not naturally attached to a shark carcass.The action has now moved to the U.S. Senate, where a third of the members have sponsored a parallel bill, S. 877, introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia). Already the Senate Commerce Committee has cleared this bill for potential floor action.
States are also taking up the fight. In January, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law that bans the sale and trade of shark fins in the Garden State. The state's general assembly had approved the bill by a vote of 54 to 19, and the state's senate passed its version of the bill by a vote of 33 to 6. These vote tallies reflect the will of the state's constituents: In a recent survey, a majority of New Jersey voters said they would support a prohibition on the sale, possession and trade of shark fins.
New Jersey now joins 13 other states, including all of its coastal neighbors, and three U.S. territories that have passed legislation to ban or limit the sale of shark fins — American Samoa, California, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.
The current to stop the shark fin trade is also flowing internationally. In June 2019, Canada, the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia, passed a bill that includes measures to prohibit that country's trade in shark fins as well as the act of finning in Canadian waters. Worldwide, nearly 60 airlines and container shipping companies — including Air China, Eastern Air Logistics (the parent company of four major Chinese airlines) and Maersk, the world's largest shipping line — have banned the transport of shark fins. Many high-end restaurants and hotel chains in Asia have also stopped serving shark fin soup. Demand for the soup is declining but not quickly enough to save sharks on its own.
While finning in U.S. waters is already prohibited, current law is not enough because once shark fins are on land, they can be sold. Furthermore, U.S. participation in the global fin market continues to fuel the practice in places that lack shark-finning bans or adequate shark management and conservation policies.
It is impossible to guarantee that shark fins are humanely and sustainably sourced. That is because once a fin is detached, it is impossible to know where it was obtained, or whether it was sliced off a shark at sea or removed after the shark was brought to shore. It is also difficult to determine the species of the shark. For the most part, shark fins sold in the U.S. do not come from U.S. fishers. Because of this, fins sold here can come from sharks that were finned, or from endangered or threatened shark species.
Our role is magnified by the fact that the U.S. is a major transit hub for international shark fin shipments. Latin America is one of the most significant shark fin-producing regions, and many of these countries transport shark fins through U.S. ports. Some Latin American nations ship as much as one-third to one-half of all their shark fin exports through the U.S. In fact, on February 3, almost 1,400 pounds of dried shark fins worth around $1 million were found by wildlife inspectors in Miami. The shipment is believed to have originated in South America and was likely headed to Asia.
Still, banning the shark fin trade in the United States has its opponents. They argue that U.S. shark fisheries are already well managed. In reality, however, fewer than 20 percent of U.S. shark stocks are considered sustainable. They also argue that it is wasteful for fishers to land a shark and not be able to sell its fins. By that standard, not selling the ivory from a dead elephant is wasteful, too — but as a nation, we have decided that the broad well-being of all elephants supersedes that pernicious use of their tusks.
Fishing industry advocates claim that banning the fin trade would have harmful economic impacts. The truth is, though, that sharks are worth much more alive than dead. In 2016, shark-related diving in Florida produced more than $221 million in revenues and more than 3,700 jobs. Moreover, fishers would still be able to sell the meat and other products from the sharks they land. In states where the shark fin trade has been banned, there is no evidence of negative impacts to the commercial fishing industry.
Finally, some believe we can address the shark crisis not by changing our own practices, but simply by requiring other countries to improve their shark fishing methods. The latter is an unrealistic goal. The low percentage of U.S. shark stocks known to be sustainable underscores how difficult fisheries are to manage, even here in one of the world's richest and most technologically advanced nations. Additionally, when the U.S. leads, other countries follow. After we banned commercial trade in ivory, many other nations followed suit, including China, the European Union and Australia.
Simply put, the U.S. must remove itself from the cruel and ecologically damaging global shark fin trade. Americans overwhelmingly oppose it, and we are in a position to set an example for the rest of the world.
Join the wave for a U.S. shark fin ban. Call your two U.S. senators and ask them to support S. 877, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act.
Sharks are worth more alive than in a bowl of soup.
Sara Amundson is the president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the 501(c)4 legislative and political organization affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States. In this capacity, she manages political and legislative activity for the organization. She has testified before the U.S. Congress and in various state legislatures on a variety of animal protection legislation.
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Government officials are offering an up to $20,000 reward for information that helps solve two brutal Florida dolphin murders.
The first dolphin was discovered shot or stabbed late last week by biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission off of Naples, Florida, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries reported Tuesday. The second was found within the same week by experts at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, who discovered the animal on Pensacola Beach with a bullet in its left side.
"[These are] some of the worst cases we have seen," Tracy Dunn, who leads the law enforcement team of NOAA's southeast division, told The New York Times.
The deaths bring the total for dolphins stranded in the southeastern U.S. up to at least 29 since 2002, according to NOAA. The dolphins appear to have been shot or stabbed with arrows or fishing spears. Four of these strandings occurred within the past year. This includes one dolphin who was found off Captiva Island, Florida in May 2019 with a fatal puncture wound in its head. The case remains unsolved, and authorities are also offering a separate reward for any information about that case.
The underlying problem is that people feed dolphins illegally, NOAA officials explained.
"When dolphins are fed, their behavior changes. They lose their natural wariness of people and boats," NOAA bottlenose dolphin conservation coordinator Stacey Horstman told The New York Times.
This means that when dolphins encounter boats, they adopt a begging position, Horstman further explained to NBC. They either stick their heads out of the water with their mouths open or look up at the boats while on their sides. When they do this, they are only one to two feet from a boat. It is thought both of the dolphins killed last week were in a begging position when they died.
"The best advice is not to feed them, not to reach out to them. The seemingly innocent act of feeding dolphins can lead to harm and something like this," Horstman told The New York Times.
They are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA explained, which means it is illegal to hunt, harass, kill or feed them, or to attempt to do so. Anyone caught violating the act can face criminal or civil penalties of up to $100,000 in fines or up to a year in jail.
NOAA is asking for anyone with information about the recent deaths to call its enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.
"It's very difficult to solve without the community coming forward," Dunn told The New York Times.
Masisi's government has argued that legal hunting is necessary to reduce conflict between elephants and humans, but some conservationists fear that reintroducing the practice could actually encourage more illegal poaching, Reuters reported.
"SHAME ON YOU President Masisi, we will not forget," human and animal rights group the EMS Foundation tweeted in response to Friday's auction.
#BotswanaTrophyHuntingNation #StopTheKilling SHAME ON YOU President Masisi, we will not forget @GlobalElephants… https://t.co/9yNhOePSmA— EMS Foundation (@EMS Foundation)1581090103.0
The government was prepared to auction off seven hunting packages permitting the killing of ten elephants each. However, only six bidders were able to put down the reserve fee of 2 million pula ($181,000), according to Reuters. The packets were purchased by expedition operators who will sell them to trophy hunters at a markup, HuffPost explained. Most trophy hunters who come to southern Africa are from the U.S., and Botswana will allow foreign hunters to shoot 202 of its 272-elephant quota for the year, as well as to export the trophies. The hunting season will officially begin in April, according to The Washington Post.
Elephant numbers in Africa as a whole have fallen by more than two thirds since 1979, from 1.3 million to only 415,000 in 2015, according to HuffPost. In Botswana, however, the animals' population has been on the rise, increasing from 80,000 in the late 1990s to 130,000 today, Reuters reported. The country now hosts nearly a third of Africa's elephants.
Botswana's previous president Ian Khama instituted a ban on hunting elephants in 2014, according to AFP. But Masisi has turned lifting the ban into a political issue, The Washington Post explained. Rural residents are frustrated with elephants who enter villages and trample crops, and feel that conservationists are mostly foreigners who funnel the proceeds from wildlife tourism away from the local economy.
"Elephants have killed a lot of people and destroyed livelihoods. I think government is doing the right thing in reducing their numbers," Tiro Segosebe, who lives in the capital of Gaborone but whose home village is in one of the areas most impacted by human-elephant conflict, told Reuters.
However, conservation groups argue that hunting is not an effective means of curbing conflict between elephants and humans, and that the proceeds from hunting won't actually benefit rural villages. Rosemary Alles, co-founder and president of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, explained the problems with Masisi's approach to The Independent:
"Studies have shown that local communities do not reap the benefits that they are promised from the hunting industry.
"Killing 272 elephants in Botswana will not control elephant numbers, it will not reduce human-elephant conflict and will not create jobs in areas where opportunities are scarce.
"Appropriate land-use planning including dedicated migratory corridors will aid elephant dispersal and increase the probability of amicable human elephant coexistence."
Khama has also criticized his successor's decision.
"I have been against hunting because it represents a mentality (of) those who support it, to exploit nature for self interest that has brought about the extinction of many species worldwide," he told AFP.
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By Eoin Higgins
A national hunting group is under fire from animal rights groups for auctioning off the opportunity to spend a week in close quarters with Donald Trump Jr. in Alaska for a luxury "dream hunt" of Sitka black-tailed deer.
The Safari Club International (SCI) will auction the trip at its annual convention. Bidding currently stands at $10,000.
"This annual event is the largest meeting in the world of people who celebrate the senseless killing, buying, and selling of dead animals for bragging rights," Humane Society president and CEO Kitty Block told The Guardian Tuesday. "As our planet suffers an extinction crisis, it is business as usual for the trophy hunting industry and SCI, who continue to revel in spending millions of dollars every year to destroy imperiled wildlife."
According to The Guardian:
The four-day event organized by Safari Club International (SCI) and advertised as a "hunters' heaven," will culminate on Saturday with an auction for a week-long Sitka black-tailed deer hunt in Alaska with Trump Jr, his son, and a guide. At the time of writing, bidding for the yacht-based expedition stands at $10,000 (£7,685).
Other prizes include the chance to shoot an elephant on a 14-day trip in Namibia, an all-inclusive hunt package to Zimbabwe to kill buffalo, giraffe and wildebeest, and a 10-day crocodile hunting expedition in South Africa. The proceeds from the auction, which campaigners say could exceed $5m, will fund SCI's "hunter advocacy and wildlife conservation efforts," according to the organization.
Trump Jr.'s presence at the event led Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson and member Al Jardine to call on their former bandmates to pull out of a scheduled appearance at the conference.
"This organization supports trophy hunting, which both Al and I are emphatically opposed to," tweeted Wilson, linking to a petition against the performance.
This organization supports trophy hunting, which Both Al and I are emphatically opposed to. There’s nothing we can… https://t.co/gJN3yOq9QJ— Brian Wilson (@Brian Wilson)1580757745.0
The president's son will deliver a keynote address to the convention, a move that Independent reporter Chris Riotta noted was a bit on the nose for SCI, a group that claims to be concerned with conservation and protection.
"His speech comes as the Trump White House continues a rollback of global wildlife protections," said Riotta.
As Common Dreams reported, Trump Jr. was criticized in December over a hunt he took part in Mongolia where he killed an endangered sheep but was granted retroactive permission after a private meeting with the country's president.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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In a news release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the shark fins were hidden in 18 boxes. The dried fins arrived from South America and were likely headed to Asia, the AP reported.
Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asia, especially in China. To meet the demand for the coveted dish, smugglers kill tens of millions of sharks every year, cutting the fin from a live shark, according to conservation groups, as the AP reported.
The practice of shark finning is extremely wasteful and cruel. After the fin is cut off from the live shark, the rest of the shark is discarded. The practice has been a federal crime in the U.S. since 2000, according to the Miami Herald.
"The goal of this seizure is to protect these species while deterring trackers from using US ports as viable routes in the illegal shark fin trade," Christina Meister, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said as the Miami Herald reported.
An international agreement between governments around the world is aimed to protect vulnerable animals and plants. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) protects 12 species of sharks, which are included in Appendix II of CITES, according to CNN.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
"The shipment violated the Lacey Act and included CITES listed species," Gavin Shire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chief of Public Affairs, told CNN. "We are limited to what we can say about this as it is an ongoing case."
While it is illegal in the U.S. to cut off a fin from a live shark and discard the rest of the animal, it is not illegal to traffic or trade shark fins in the U.S.
"The recent seizure of more than 1,000 pounds of shark fins in Miami from potentially protected species demonstrates why we need a federal shark fin ban," said Ariana Spawn, an ocean advocate at the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana, as CNN reported. She urged the Senate to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (S.877), which would ban the trade of fins nationwide.
The House of Representatives passed the bill in November of 2019. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) sponsored it in the Senate in December. The bill is now on the Senate's legislative calendar, but at the mercy of Mitch McConnell's decisions to set the legislative agenda. The bill, as it is written, makes it illegal to possess, buy, sell, or transport shark fins or any product containing shark fins, except for certain dogfish fins carries. Illegal trading in shark fins would carry a maximum civil penalty for each violation of $100,000, or the fair market value of the shark fins involved, whichever is greater, according to the bill.
The shark fin soup trade has decimated shark populations. According to a 2018 study, shark populations such as hammerhead and oceanic whitetip have declined by more than 90 percent. Furthermore, nearly 60 percent of shark species are now threatened, as CNN reported.
No arrests were made for yesterday's seizure in Miami. "Further investigation is pending," said Meister, as the Miami Herald reported.
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