By Charan Saunders
Last year the world reacted in shock when Namibia announced plans to auction off 170 live elephants to the highest bidder.
Despite criticism, the plans have continued to move forward — and that may just be the start. Tucked away in a Feb. 1 press release justifying the auction was a rehash of the country's oft-repeated desire to also sell ivory. The Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism's stated:
"Namibia has major stockpiles of valuable wildlife products including ivory which it can produce sustainably and regulate properly, and which if traded internationally could support our elephant conservation and management for decades to come."
Namibia is not alone in this desire to capitalize on its wildlife. In Zimbabwe's national assembly last year, the minister of environment valued the country's stockpile of 130 metric tonnes (143 tons) of ivory and 5 tonnes (5.5 tons) of rhino horn at $600 million in U.S. dollars. This figure, which would value ivory at more than $4,200 per kilogram, has since been seized upon by commentators seeking to justify the reintroduction of the ivory trade.
I'm an environmental accountant dedicated to ethical conservation, so I wanted to understand these numbers and how they motivate countries. In truth, I found not even full black-market value comes close to arriving at this figure.
Black-market values are, of course, often invisible to the general public, but the most recent data from criminal justice experts finds that unworked (or raw) elephant ivory sells for about $92/kg on the black market in Africa, while rhino horn is currently selling for $8,683/kg.
Therefore, a more realistic valuation of Zimbabwe's ivory stockpiles, using an optimistic wholesale price of $150/kg, would give a potential income of only $19.5 million in U.S. dollars.
This is a 30th of Zimbabwe's estimate.
And even then, those numbers fail to account for the disaster that would happen if ivory sales return — as we saw in the all-too-recent past.
The One-Off Sales
International trade in ivory has been banned since 1989, following a 10-year period in which African elephant numbers declined by 50%, from 1.3 million to 600,000. However, in 1999 and 2008 CITES allowed "one-off sales" of stockpiled ivory, to disastrous effect. The selling prices achieved then were only $100/kg and $157/kg, in U.S. dollars respectively, due to collusion by official Chinese and Japanese buyers.
Illegal ivory. Gavin Shire / USFWS
The intention of CITES in approving the one-off ivory sales was to introduce a controlled and steady supply of stockpiled ivory into the market. The legal supply, coupled with effective systems of control, aimed to satisfy demand and reduce prices. This in turn should have reduced the profitability of (and the demand for) illegal ivory. Poaching should have followed suit and decreased.
Instead, the sales led to an increase in demand and, consequently, an increase in elephant poaching. The 2008 ivory sale was accompanied by a 66% increase in illegally traded ivory and a 71% increase in ivory smuggling. An investigation in 2010 by the Environmental Investigation Agency documented that 90% of the ivory being sold in China came from illegal sources.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) comparison of elephant poaching figures for the five years preceding and five years following the sale showed an "abrupt, significant, permanent, robust and geographically widespread increase" in poaching.
The problem has not faded away. Most recently the two African elephant species (savanna and forest) were declared endangered and critically endangered due to their continued poaching threat.
Regina Hart / CC BY 2.0
Still, some African nations look fondly at the 2008 sale and have long hoped to repeat it. The Zimbabwe Ministry's 2020 statement follows yet another proposal to the 18th CITES Conference of the Parties (COP18) by Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to trade in live elephants and their body parts, including ivory. The proposal was not accepted by the parties.
Why Didn't Ivory Sales Work?
The one-off sales of ivory removed the stigma associated with its purchase, stimulated the market demand, and increased prices.
The ivory that China purchased in 2008 for $157/kg was drip-fed by the authorities to traders at prices ranging between $800 and $1,500 per kilogram. This meant that the bulk of the profits went to filling Chinese government coffers — not to African nations — and in doing so, created a large illegal market which drove prices even higher.
Raw ivory prices in China increased from $750/kg in 2010 to $2,100/kg in 2014. The market had been stimulated, prices increased and the volume of legal ivory available was insufficient to meet demand as the Chinese government gradually fed its stockpile into the market.
Japan, the other participant in the one-off sales, has systematically failed to comply with CITES regulations, meaning that there were (and still are) no controls over ivory being sold, allowing the illegal markets to function in parallel to the legal one.
In a very short space of time, criminals ramped up poaching and elephant numbers plummeted.
What Has Happened to the Price of Ivory Since Then?
With no recent legal international sales, combined with the significant U.S., Chinese and United Kingdom domestic ivory sales bans, the price for raw ivory paid by craftsmen in China fell from $2,100/kg in 2014 to $730/kg in 2017. That's when China closed all of its official ivory carving outlets and theoretically stopped all official ivory trade.
The price currently paid for raw ivory in Asia, according to an investigation by the Wildlife Justice Commission, is currently between $597/kg and $689/kg, in U.S. dollars. Ivory sourced in Africa and sold in Asia has additional costs such as transportation, taxes and broker commissions. The prices paid for raw ivory in Africa have decreased correspondingly from $208/kg to $92/kg in 2020.
Those numbers pale in comparison to a living elephant. A 2014 study found that live elephants are each worth an estimated $1.6 million in ecotourism opportunities.
One half-truth is that the money earned from the legal sale will be used to effectively fund conservation.
One of the CITES conditions of the 2008 sale was that funds were to go to the conservation of elephants. South Africa placed a substantial portion of the income from its share of the pie in the Mpumalanga Problem Animal Fund — which, it turns out, was well-named. An internal investigation found the fund had "no proper controls" and that "tens of millions" of rand (the official currency of South Africa) had bypassed the normal procurement processes.
Ironically, proceeds were also partly used for the refurbishment of the Skukuza abattoir, where most of the 14,629 elephant carcasses from culling operations between 1967 and 1997 were processed.
All the while, Africa's elephant populations continued to decline.
How to Stop Poaching
In light of these deficiencies — and in light of elephants' recently declared endangered status — the very reverse of actual conservation can be expected if any nation is again allowed to sell its ivory stockpiles. The cost of increased anti-poaching efforts required from the consequent increase in poaching will outweigh the benefit of any income from the sale of ivory stockpiles.
To stop poaching, all international and local trade must be stopped.
John Culley / CC BY 2.0
Repeating this failed experiment will send a message that it is acceptable to trade in ivory. Ivory carving outlets in China will re-open and demand for ivory will be stimulated. The demand for ivory in an increasingly wealthy and better-connected Asia will quickly outstrip legal supply and poaching will increase.
Meanwhile, the management of a legal ivory trade requires strong systems of control at every point in the commodity chain to ensure that illegal ivory is not laundered into the legal market. With recalcitrant Japan continuing to ignore CITES, "untransparent" Namibia "losing tolerance" with CITES, and Zimbabwe ranking 157 out of 179 on the corruption perceptions index, not even the basics for controlled trade are in place.
Therefore, aside from the strong theoretical economic arguments against renewed one-off sales, the practical arguments are perhaps even stronger: If international ivory and rhino horn sales ever again become legal, the cost to protect elephants will skyrocket and these culturally valuable animals will plunge into decline — and possibly extinction.
Charan Saunders grew up in Cape Town and studied genetics and microbiology and then went on to qualify as a chartered accountant. She has worked in London in the forensic science field and was the chief financial officer of a major vaccine manufacturer for six years. She now serves as a financial director in the field of conservation.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Endangered North Atlantic right whales gave birth in greater numbers this winter compared to the past six years — a promising sign for a species that's been driven to the brink of extinction due to human activity.
From December through March, an aerial survey team reported 17 calves swimming with their mothers between Florida and North Carolina, AP News reported. This overall calf count is equal to the total number of births for the past three years and is a hopeful sign compared to 2018, when no right whale births were recorded.
North Atlantic right whales — which can grow to be 52-feet long, weigh up to 140,000 pounds and live about 70 years — each have unique callus patterns on their backs, helping scientists to track and identify individual whales and estimate total populations, according to NOAA Fisheries. But after being decimated by human hunting by the 1890s, right whales continue to be threatened by human activity, making them one of the most endangered large whale species in the world, with less than 400 individuals remaining.
"What we are seeing is what we hope will be the beginning of an upward climb in calving that's going to continue for the next few years," Clay George, a wildlife biologist who oversees right whale surveys for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, told AP News about this year's higher birth rates. "They need to be producing about two dozen calves per year for the population to stabilize and continue to grow again."
According to scientists, the right whale's rebound could be attributed to shifting to a habitat where zooplankton food sources are more plentiful, Yale Environment 360 reported. "It's a somewhat hopeful sign that they are starting to adjust to this new regime where females are in good enough condition to give birth," Philip Hamilton, a right whale researcher at the New England Aquarium in Boston, told AP News.
But scientists warn that the hopeful news shouldn't distract from the leading causes of right whale deaths: entanglement in fishing gear and boat and ship collisions.
Since 2017, these threats have killed about 34 to 49 right whales, Yale Environment 360 reported. Research has also shown that entanglements caused 72 percent of diagnosed right whale mortalities between 2010-2018, according to The Conversation. Right whales that get tangled in lines and gear will often suffer for months or even years, slowly becoming emaciated and debilitated, the authors wrote.
"The greatest entanglement risk is from ropes that lobster and crab fishermen use to attach buoys to traps they set on the ocean floor. Humpback and minke whales and leatherback sea turtles, all of which are federally protected, also become entangled," explained Michael Moore, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Hannah Myers, a guest investigator with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
But recent proposals to reduce fishing activity that could harm right whales haven't gone without criticism. For example, Maine Gov. Janet Mills said the rules, which include reducing the number of vertical lines in the water, would be "devastating for the lobster fishery," AP News reported. "If this comes to pass, it is not only fishermen and their crew who will be impacted, gear suppliers, trap builders, rope manufacturers — all these businesses face a deeply uncertain future," Mills said in a letter to NOAA, AP News reported.
But for some conservationists, the solution is simple. "North Atlantic right whales can still thrive if humans make it possible," Moore and Myers wrote in The Conversation, pointing to the closely related southern right whales, which have recovered from just 300 individuals in the early 20th century to an estimated 15,000 in 2010, due to decreased human threats.
"If we reduced or eliminated the human-caused death rate, their birth rate would be fine," Hamilton told AP News. "The onus should not be on them to reproduce at a rate that can sustain the rate at which we kill them. The onus should be in us to stop killing."
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.
By Tara Lohan
Atlantic salmon have a challenging life history — and those that hail from U.S. waters have seen things get increasingly difficult in the past 300 years.
Dubbed the "king of fish," Atlantic salmon once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the United States and ranged up and down most of New England's coastal rivers and ocean waters. But dams, pollution and overfishing have extirpated them from all the region's rivers except in Maine. Today only around 1,000 wild salmon, known as the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment, return each year from their swim to Greenland. Fewer will find adequate spawning habitat in their natal rivers to reproduce.
That's left Atlantic salmon in the United States critically endangered. Hatchery and stocking programs have kept them from disappearing entirely, but experts say recovering healthy, wild populations will require much more, including eliminating some of the obstacles (literally) standing in their way.
Conservation organizations, fishing groups and even some state scientists are now calling for the removal of up to four dams along a 30-mile stretch of the Kennebec River, where about a third of Maine's best salmon habitat remains.
The dams' owner — multinational Brookfield Renewable Partners — has instead proposed building fishways to aid salmon and other migratory fish getting around dams as they travel both up and down the river. But most experts think that plan has little chance of success.
A confusing array of state and federal processes are underway to try and sort things out. None is likely to be quick, cheap or easy. And there's a lot at stake.
"Ultimately the fate of the species in the United States really depends upon what happens at a handful of key dams," says John Burrows, executive director of U.S. programs at the Atlantic Salmon Federation. "If those four projects don't work — or even if just one of them doesn't work — you could basically preclude recovering Atlantic salmon in the United States."
The best place for salmon recovery is in Maine's two largest watersheds.
"The Penobscot River and the Kennebec River have orders of magnitude more habitat, production potential and climate resilient habitat" than other parts of the state, says Burrows.
The rivers and their tributaries run far inland and reach more undeveloped areas with higher elevations. That helps provide salmon with the cold, clean water they need for spawning and rearing. Smaller numbers of salmon are hanging on in lower-elevation rivers along the coastal plain in Maine's Down East region, but climate change could make that habitat unsuitable.
"There's definitely concern about how resilient those watersheds are going to be for salmon in the future," says Burrows. "To recover the population, we need to be able to get salmon to the major tributaries farther upriver, in places where we're still going to have cold water even under predictions with climate change."
One of those key places is the Penobscot, which has already seen a $60 million effort to help recover salmon and other native sea-run fish. A 16-year project resulted in the removal of two dams, the construction of a stream-like bypass channel at a third dam, and new fish lift at a fourth. In all, the project made 2,000 miles of river habitat accessible.
Veazie dam on the Penobscot River is breached in 2013 as part of a river restoration project. Meagan Racey / USFWS
While there's still more work to be done on the Penobscot, says Burrows, attention has shifted to the Kennebec. The river has what's regarded as the largest and best salmon habitat in the state, especially in its tributary, the Sandy River, where hatchery eggs are being planted to help boost salmon numbers.
"That's helped us go from zero salmon in the upper tributaries of Kennebec to getting 50 or 60 adults back, which is still an abysmally small number compared to historical counts," says Burrows. "But these are the last of the wildest fish that we have."
The Sandy may be good salmon habitat, but it's also hard to reach. Brookfield's four dams stand in the way of fish trying to get upriver.
At the lowest dam on the river, Lockwood Dam in Waterville, there's a fish lift — a kind of elevator that should allow fish that enter it to pass up and around the dam. But if fish do find the lift — and only around half of salmon do — they don't get far.
"It's a terminal lift," says Sean Ledwin, division director of Maine's Department of Marine Resources' Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat. "The lift was never completed. So we pick up those fish in a truck and drive them up to the Sandy River."
That taxi cab arrangement isn't a long-term solution, though, and was part of an interim species protection plan.
Only the second dam, Hydro Kennebec, has a modern fish passage system. But how well that actually works hasn't been tested yet since fish can't get by Lockwood Dam. As part of a consultation process related to the Endangered Species Act, Brookfield has submitted a plan proposing to fix the fishway at Lockwood and add passage to the third and fourth dams.
But federal regulators found it inadequate.
"Brookfield's proposal was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee [which oversees hydroelectric projects] and all the [federal management] agencies," says Ledwin. The company now has until May 2022 to come up with a new plan.
State scientists aren't convinced Brookfield's plan would work either.
"We have really low confidence that having four fishways would ever result in meaningful runs of all the sea-run fish and certainly not recovery of Atlantic salmon," says Ledwin. "We don't think that it's going to be conducive to recovery."
In addition to considerations related to the Endangered Species Act, Shawmut Dam, the third on the Kennebec, is currently up for relicensing, which triggers a federal review process by FERC.
And at the same time the Maine Department of Marine Resources has drafted a new plan for managing the Kennebec River that recommends removing Shawmut Dam and Lockwood Dam. A public comment period on the proposed plan closed in March.
Brookfield isn't happy with it and responded with a lawsuit against the state.
It was good news to conservation groups, however, which would like to see all four of the dams removed if possible — or at least a few of them.
"There's no self-sustaining population of Atlantic salmon anywhere in the world that we know of that have to go by more than one hydro dam," says Burrows. He believes that having Brookfield spend tens of millions of dollars on new fishways will just result in failure for salmon.
Atlantic salmon parr emerging from a stream bed in Maine. E. Peter Steenstra / USFWS
It's partly a game of numbers. Not all fish will find or use a fishway. And if you start with a low number of returning fish and expect them to pass through four gauntlets, you won't be left with many at the end.
"If you're passing 50% of salmon that show up at the first dam, and then you've got three more dams passing 50%, that means you're left with only an eighth of the population you started with by the end," says Nick Bennett, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "You can't start a restoration program where you're losing seven-eighths of the adults before they even get to their spawning habitat."
And getting upriver is just part of the salmon's journey. Juvenile salmon face threats going downstream to the ocean as well, including predation and warm water in impoundments. They also risk being injured or killed going through spillways or turbines. Only about half are likely to survive the four hydro projects.
Atlantic salmon, unlike their Pacific cousins, don't always die after spawning, either. So some adults will also make the downstream trek, too.
"Just looking at our reality, at least two dams need to go, hopefully three, and it would be amazing if all four would go," says Burrows.
The fate of Atlantic salmon hangs in the balance, but so do the futures of other fishes.
The Pacific coast of the United States is home to five species of salmon. And while the Atlantic side has just the one, it has a dozen other native sea-run species that have also seen their habitat shrink.
"Those dams are preventing other native species like American shad, alewives, blueback herring and American eel from accessing large amounts of historic habitat," says Burrows.
Ledwin says removing dams on the Kennebec could result in populations of more than a million shad, millions of blueback herring, millions of eels and hundreds of thousands of sea lampreys.
"The recovery of those species would actually help Atlantic salmon as well because they provide prey buffers and there are a lot of co-evolved benefits," he says.
Salmon are much more successful at nesting when they can lay their eggs in old sea lamprey nests, explains Bennett. "But sea lamprey are not good at using fish lifts and we've essentially blocked 90% of the historic sea lamprey habitat at Lockwood dam. We need to get those fish upstream, too."
Dam removal advocates don't have to look too far to find an example of how well river ecosystems respond when dams are removed.
The removal of the Edwards Dam on the lower Kennebec River in 1999 and the Fort Halifax Dam just upstream on the Sebasticook in 2008 helped ignite a nationwide dam-removal movement. It also brought back American shad, eel, two native species of sturgeon and millions of river herring to lower parts of the watershed.
Alewives returned by the millions after the Edwards and Ft. Halifax dams were removed. John Burrows / ASF
"We've got the biggest river herring run in North America now due to the dam removals," says Ledwin. "And the largest abundance of eel we've ever seen on the lower Kennebec."
The resurgence of native fishes helps the whole ecosystem. When they returned, so too did eagles, osprey and other wildlife.
"When people see all those fish in the river and the eagles overhead, it just kind of blows their minds because they never realized what had been lost for so long in our rivers," says Burrows.
Rebuilding key forage fish like herring also benefits species that live not just in the river, but the Gulf of Maine and even the Atlantic Ocean. The tiny fish feed whales, porpoises and seabirds. They're also used for lobster bait and can help rebuild fisheries for cod and haddock, which has economic benefits for the region, too.
"We have to rebalance the scales if we want to have marine industries and commercial fishing industries and if we want the ecological benefits of what sea-run fisheries do for us," says Bennett.
The Path Ahead
The process to determine whether any — or all — of the four Kennebec dams that stretch from Waterville and Skowhegan are removed will take years, a diverse coalition, financial resources and agreements to meet the concerns of communities and the dam owner.
"These things come down to compromise, so there may be situations where one of those dams might not be a candidate for economic or social reasons," says Burrows. "But it will be interesting to see if in the next couple of years we can get to a place where we can have meaningful conversations with federal agencies, the dam owner and continue to engage the communities about the potential of removal at some of these sites."
And if removal of the four dams did happen, it wouldn't open up the river all the way to its headwaters. Another nine dams still lie upstream in the watershed that obstruct fish passage.
"Some of those are major dams in terms of power, production and economics," says Burrows. "So we're not calling for those to be removed."
The four lower dams provide just 46 megawatts of power — enough to supply about 37,000 homes and 0.43% of the state's annual electricity generation. It's a small amount of power relative to the damage they cause sea-run fish, says Bennett.
"By comparison we expect to add 1,200 megawatts of solar generation in the next five years," he says. "So these four dams aren't particularly important in our climate fight." And removing them would open up substantial amounts of habitat to aid salmon recovery that seem worth the tradeoff in lost power.
That's not the case, he says, for the nine larger dams upstream.
"We need those dams. We need hydroelectric power in Maine," says Bennett. "But we made big mistakes in our past use of our rivers. And we went way overboard in favor of hydroelectric power at the expense of fish."
Outside of the rivers, Atlantic salmon still face a tough road. Climate change is warming ocean temperatures, changing salinity and altering food webs. But having so many unknowns in the marine environment in the coming decades provides more reason to focus efforts on restoring rivers where scientists already know what works, says Burrows.
And if that's done right, the benefits will extend far beyond salmon.
"It's not just about salmon — it's about these other native fish, it's about the wildlife, water quality, economic opportunity for ground fishermen and lobstermen, and more sustainable forms of recreation and community development," says Burrows. "If we remove a dam or two here and rebuild these fish populations to pretty big levels that really impacts a whole bunch of different parts of society. That's what we want to try to do here on the Kennebec."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Daniel Raichel
While many know Chicago as the "Second City," the old stomping grounds of Michael Jordan or Al Capone, or perhaps even still as "Hog Butcher to the World," I doubt many think of it as a home for endangered wildlife.
However, as a recent Chicago Tribune article shows, that's exactly what it is for one of our very favorite endangered pollinators—the rusty patched bumble bee.
For the better part of a decade, NRDC has fought for the rusty patched bumble bee's survival, and we are now suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the fourth time—this time, to reverse a Trump-Era decision not to designate federally protected "critical habitat" for the bee.
That's why it was particularly sweet to learn that a couple of rusty patched bumble bees were spotted foraging near the Rogers Park Metra stop, not far from the Honeybear Cafe and some of my old foraging grounds growing up.
"Rogers Park Metra Community Garden" by LN is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Although the article provides a fun "work meets life" moment for me, it also underscores the importance of our lawsuit. As Abby Shafer of the Evanston Native Bee Initiative notes, one patch of native habitat can be meaningful, but what's most needed is a network of interconnected habitat so that the bee's populations can recover and once again thrive.
By refusing to designate "critical habitat" for the bee, the Fish and Wildlife Service effectively scuttled any plan for such a federally protected habitat network—breaking the law and putting this magnificent and vulnerable bee one step closer to extinction. That's why we'll keep fighting in court until we (yet again) secure the protections that the rusty patched bumble bee deserves.
Who knows, if we're successful, maybe you'll see the rusty patched bumble bee in your neighborhood too.
"The Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park" by UGArdener is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
The birds have begun to make a recovery in the southwestern portion of their historic range and now, thanks largely to the efforts of the Yurok Tribe, they will fly over the Pacific Northwest once more.
"As soon as I heard the news, I started crying," Yurok Tribe wildlife department director Tiana Williams-Claussen told OPB. "This is something that I've been working for literally my entire adult career."
On Tuesday of last week, the Yurok Tribe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service announced a final rule that would create a new condor release facility to reintroduce the birds to the Yurok Ancestral Territory and Redwood National Park. This is in the northern portion of the birds' range, and marks the first time the birds will fly here in more than 100 years.
After 100 years, California condors will soar again over coastal forests and prairies in the Pacific Northwest. We'… https://t.co/9OHbGuke8I— U.S. Fish and Wildlife (@U.S. Fish and Wildlife)1616530058.0
The California condor played an important role in maintaining Pacific ecosystems and was also important to the culture of the Yurok Tribe and other Indigenous groups. The tribe worked 12 years to prepare for the reintroduction effort.
"For the last 20 years, the Yurok Tribe has been actively engaged in the restoration of the rivers, forests and prairies in our ancestral territory. The reintroduction of the condor is one component of this effort to reconstruct the diverse environmental conditions that once existed in our region. We are extremely proud of the fact that our future generations will not know a world without prey-go-neesh." Yurok Tribe Chairman Joseph L. James said in the announcement.
While condors once ranged as far north as Canada and, prehistorically, as far east as Florida, their numbers were devastated by human activity. By the early 1980s, there were only 22 of the birds left in the wild, The Guardian noted. These birds were placed in a captive breeding program and later reintroduced in southern and central California. This has proven successful, and there are now more than 300 birds in the wild in California, Utah, Arizona and Mexico.
"The California condor is a shining example of how a species can be brought back from the brink of extinction through the power of partnerships," Paul Souza, Regional Director for the U.S. FWS California-Great Basin Region, said in the announcement.
California condors are still an endangered species. One of the main threats to condors now is lead poisoning. Because the birds are scavengers, they can be harmed when they eat animals that have been killed with lead ammunition. Another danger is DDT, OPB noted. While the chemical has been long banned, it persists in the environment and can thin condor egg shells. Condors have also been put at risk by wildfires in recent years. A wildfire destroyed a condor sanctuary in Big Sur in August of 2020.
Chris West, who manages the condor program for the Yurok Tribe, said he hoped expanding the species' range would boost its chances of survival.
"There's a big success in the number of birds out there, but you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket," West told The Guardian.
Williams-Claussen also saw the birds' reintroduction as a moment of healing for the Yurok Tribe.
"Bringing a species like California condor, pregoneesh, back to our ancestral territory... that's a huge reparation in the wound that the Yurok people and all tribes in this area have suffered since contact and the disruption to our eco-region," Williams-Claussen told OPB.
The tribe is hoping to release the first condors in the fall of 2021 or the spring of 2022, according to the announcement.
By Hans Nicholas Jong
An Indonesian forestry company with possible links to pulpwood and palm oil powerhouse Royal Golden Eagle has cleared forests the size of 500,000 basketball courts since 2016, some of them home to critically endangered orangutans, according to a new report.
Nusantara Fiber controls 242,000 hectares (598,000 acres) of industrial tree plantations via six subsidiary companies in the Bornean provinces of West, Central and East Kalimantan. Industrial trees include acacia and eucalyptus, which are used in the production of paper and textile fibers; timber trees; and trees grown for biomass energy generation.
The Nusantara Fiber group obtained most of its permits from 2009-2011 and started clearing forest areas to develop its plantations in 2016, according to a spatial analysis by the research consultancy Aidenvironment. The analysis used satellite imagery, forest cover maps from Indonesia's Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and Global Forest Watch maps of tree cover loss.
The analysis shows that from 2016 to 2020, the group cleared 26,000 hectares (64,200 acres) of forests, making it the top deforester among all company groups with industrial tree concessions in Indonesia during this period.
Most recently, the group cleared 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) of forests in 2020. It contends these areas were designated as degraded land, and that its clearing activity was approved by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which Aidenvironment acknowledged in its report. "Indeed, the Indonesian government has not banned all forest-clearing," it said.
But the forests that were lost were still valuable, according to the NGO. It cited a concession managed by PT Industrial Forest Plantation (IFP), one of Nusantara Fiber's six subsidiaries, in Kapuas district, Central Kalimantan province. Based on a 2016 assessment of orangutan habitat in Indonesia, the forests inside IFP's concession overlapped almost fully with a known habitat of the southwestern subspecies of the Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii, a critically endangered animal.
A 2014 assessment commissioned by IFP had also identified the presence of orangutans inside the concession boundaries, as well as other protected fauna and flora, including 29 bird species, 22 mammal species, six types of reptiles, and 15 tree and plant species.
Despite these assessments, IFP went on to deforest 10,700 hectares (26,400 acres) between 2016 and the end of October 2020. Most of the deforestation took place in 2019 and 2020, with 3,200 hectares (7,900 acres) and 5,800 hectares (14,300 acres) of forests cleared respectively.
"Bornean orangutans are Critically Endangered, so any disturbance of their habitat is massively concerning," Aidenvironment Asia program director Chris Wiggs told Mongabay.
Aidenvironment said IFP's case shows how the cleared areas were still valuable, even though they might have been classified as secondary or degraded forests. As of now, there are approximately 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) of forests remaining in Nusantara Fiber's concessions. They are at risk of disappearing too, as the concession holders are licensed to clear them.
"If it's cleared it could have a devastating impact on orangutans and wider biodiversity in this area." Wiggs said. "Nusantara Fiber must urgently halt forest clearance on its concessions."
Aidenvironment also called on Nusantara Fiber to publish assessments of high conservation value (HCV) and high carbon stock (HCS) areas inside the concessions. Audits of some of Nusantara Fiber's subsidiaries make references to HCV assessments that appear to have been conducted, yet none of these assessments are publicly available. There's also no information on any HCS assessments that may have been carried out.
Who's Behind Nusantara Fiber?
Despite being the top industrial tree plantation deforester, the Nusantara Fiber group is shrouded in secrecy, with its owners' identities concealed thanks to the offshore secrecy jurisdiction of Samoa. That's where Nusantara Fiber's parent company, Green Meadows Holdings Limited, is registered.
While registering in an offshore jurisdiction is not in itself illegal, it's often done to shield the beneficial owners of a company from liabilities, obligations and accountability in the territory where it operates.
"Establishing connections between companies is always difficult, and it's made harder when companies use secrecy jurisdictions like the British Virgin Islands," Wiggs said.
In the case of Nusantara Fiber, Aidenvironment has unearthed historical records and incorporation documents that potentially link the group to palm oil and pulp and paper conglomerate Royal Golden Eagle (RGE). A subsidiary of Green Meadows Holdings Limited is Hong Kong-based Green Meadows Fiber Products Limited. This company is also the majority owner of Nusantara Fiber's plantation subsidiaries.
Two of the three first directors of Green Meadows Fiber Products Limited previously worked at RGE, Aidenvironment found. "Another couple of the first directors are or were involved in various palm oil businesses totalling 27 palm oil mills and/or kernel crushers, and RGE is a customer of all 27 companies," the report says. "Historical ownership records of Nusantara Fiber group's companies reveal past control by entities that are part of or connected to RGE, before the companies were moved to secrecy jurisdictions."
These records, Wiggs said, "clearly connect the group to Royal Golden Eagle," and should be reason enough for RGE to step up and put an end to the deforestation conducted by Nusantara Fiber's industrial tree plantations.
"The RGE group of companies should engage with the Nusantara Fiber group, and use its leverage to immediately stop the present and any future deforestation," Aidenvironment said. "The leverage should decisively include the palm oil businesses RGE undertakes with past or present directors of the Nusantara Fiber group."
A chart of Royal Golden Eagle trade volume and deforestation within Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.
RGE is the fourth-biggest palm oil refiner in Indonesia, which in turn is the world's top producer of palm oil. Like its major competitors, RGE has a policy of no deforestation, no developing on peatland, and no exploiting workers and local communities, known as an NDPE policy. It covers commitments to preserve HCV and HCS areas as well as peatlands, but is restricted only to its palm oil business.
For its pulp and paper business, which is supplied by industrial tree plantations, RGE has adopted what it calls a Forestry, Fibre, Pulp & Paper Sustainability Framework across the group. While it's similar to the NDPE policy in use across its palm oil business, this sustainability framework still allows development of peatland as long as it's not forested, Aidenvironment said.
It called on RGE to apply its NDPE policy to all its businesses, not only palm oil.
"Whenever the palm oil refiners adopted a cross-commodity NDPE policy, they could stop more deforestation," Aidenvironment said.
Even then, the policy would only apply to companies and their suppliers that RGE acknowledges as being part of the RGE group of companies. In the case of Nusantara Fiber and its subsidiaries, RGE has denied any connection.
"We can confirm that neither RGE nor [pulp and paper unit] APRIL Group's supply chain have any connection to the six Nusantara Fiber Group companies mentioned in Aidenvironment's February 2021 report," RGE spokesman Ignatius Ari Djoko Purnomo told Mongabay.
He added the fact that two of the Nusantara Fiber group's directors were past RGE employees didn't constitute any kind of link. "We operate in a free and open employment market in which employees can choose to join or leave employers as they wish," Ignatius said.
In response to the ownership of the 27 Nusantara Fiber-linked palm oil mills that RGE sources from, Ignatius said the group had no knowledge of the alleged ownership links listed in the report.
"There was no alleged violation against palm oil industry standards or Apical's sustainability policy by these suppliers noted in the report," he said, referring to RGE's palm oil arm, Apical. "Apical is not the sole buyer of palm oil from these suppliers."
Wiggs said RGE should have provided its own data to back up its denials and be fully transparent.
"We welcome any willingness by Nusantara Fiber and Royal Golden Eagle to clarify any incorrect data in our report," he said. "Agricultural sectors must be fully transparent about their ownership structures, corporate links and operations."
Instead, he said, RGE is able to deny any connection to Nusantara Fiber because both entities use opaque and complex company structures.
"Industrial tree and palm oil businesses should refrain from using opaque company structures," Aidenvironment said, "because this hinders their accountability for unsustainable practices."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
After being threatened with extinction, the American bald eagle population has quadrupled since 2009 — a swift recovery that Martha Williams, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, calls "one of the most remarkable conservation success stories of all time," AP News reported.
A report released Wednesday by The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated 316,700 individual bald eagles are living in the lower 48, including more than 71,400 nesting pairs. Scientists say the bald eagle's return highlights the importance of decades of conservation efforts, The New York Times reported.
"The strong return of this treasured bird reminds us of our nation's shared resilience and the importance of being responsible stewards of our lands and waters that bind us together,″ Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said at her first public appearance since being sworn in as the first Native American cabinet secretary, AP News reported.
In 1963, the bald eagle numbers were at an "all-time low" of 417 known nesting pairs, according to AP News. But after actions like banning the pesticide DDT and placing the national bird on the endangered species list, bald eagle populations grew.
"The bald eagle has always been considered a sacred species to American Indian people," Haaland said, according to The New York Times. "Similarly it's sacred to our nation as America's national symbol."
Over the span of 2018 and 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Migratory Bird Program conducted aerial observations over popular eagle nesting areas to estimate populations, according to a news release. "The Service continues to work with our partners in state and federal agencies, tribes, non-government organizations and with private landowners to ensure that our nation's symbol continues to flourish," Williams said in the release.
But the eagle's success story shouldn't distract from the ongoing threats American birds still face today. In 2019, the National Audubon Society released a report warning that two-thirds of American bird species were at risk of extinction due to climate change, NPR reported. And a recent study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology found over the past 50 years, American bird populations have dropped by about one-third.
"Just because a species hasn't gone extinct or isn't even necessarily close to extinction, it might still be in trouble," Elise Zipkin, a quantitative ecologist at Michigan State University, told NPR after the Cornell studies publication. "We need to be thinking about conservation efforts for that."
The report on the bald eagle's recovery comes at the same time scientists identified a mysterious disease that has been killing bald eagles and other birds in the U.S. for more than 25 years, Science reported.
A neurological disease that paralyzes and kills bald eagles and other birds is linked to a new species of bacteria that grows on an invasive aquatic weed, the scientists found. While the invasive weed is expected to spread, scientists celebrate their discovery — finally identifying an unknown killer and equipped with the knowledge to help protect birds in the future.
News of the bald eagle's recovery has also been celebrated by conservationists and scientists who see the new interior secretary playing a larger role in helping species, threatened and listed as endangered, recover.
"We will be taking a closer look at all of those revisions and considering what steps to take to ensure that all of us — states, Indian tribes, private landowners and federal agencies — have the tools we need to conserve America's natural heritage and strengthen our economy," said Haaland, according to AP News. "We have an obligation to do so because future generations must also experience our beautiful outdoors, the way many of us have been blessed."
"How America's most endangered cat could help save Florida."
As its headline promises, National Geographic's latest feature on the endangered Florida panther explores the unspoken, symbiotic relationship between the big cats and the humans they must coexist with. The article also showcases intimate, rare photographs of the panthers, which took five years to capture.
According to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Florida panthers are actually a subspecies of mountain lion — the only one remaining in the Eastern U.S. They're also known as pumas and cougars. The subspecies' historic range once extended from Florida to Louisiana throughout the Gulf Coast states, and even Arkansas, NWF reported. Today, wild Florida panthers can only be found in southwestern Florida.
Hunting decimated the population, and the species was among the first to be added to the U.S. endangered species list in 1973, with fewer than 30 individuals remaining, according to the National Geographic article. Habitat loss compounded the issue. With such a small population, inbreeding, which could lead to diseases and genetic malfunctions, was of particular concern. Journalist Douglas Main wrote the feature story, and he shared in a twitter thread how many people feared that Florida's panther had gone, or would soon go extinct, during that decade.
A massive conservation effort ensued, including bringing in eight Texas mountain lions to breed with the native Florida population in order to inject fresh genetic diversity into the population, Main said.
However, the subspecies is still so critically endangered that it remains vulnerable to "just about every major threat," NWF reported. Habitat loss is the biggest obstacle.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Florida panthers require large, contiguous areas of suitable land to live on. They are solitary and roam widely in order to meet their social, reproductive and energetic needs, FWS reported. Unfortunately, they are still restricted to less than five percent of their historical range, the report noted.
As more people move to Florida, continued development threatens the little remaining open land and panther habitat. For panthers, this is a huge challenge to recovery, and has increased cat-on-cat territorial spats and car collisions — the leading causes of death, National Geographic reported. About 25 Florida panthers are killed annually by vehicles, a devastating blow to a tiny population and "a reflection of how development and road construction threaten the species at a time when roughly 900 people are moving to Florida every day," the story detailed.
The conservation efforts worked to save the panther from the brink of extinction, but they're still very much at risk, said National Geographic Explorer Carlton Ward Jr. Ward is an eighth-generation Floridian and habitat protection advocate, as well as the photographer who spent five years capturing the panther images for the feature.
A male panther leaps over a creek at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Florida. The rarely seen cats, which number only around 200, are reclaiming territory north of the Everglades, but their habitat is threatened by encroaching suburban sprawl. Carlton Ward, Jr.
For Ward, it became an obsession to document the elusive, endangered cats, and the pictures reflect that. "The lead image for the story, a panther jumping across a log around a flooded section of swamp, that picture took two years to capture," he admitted.
For five years, Ward set up state-of-the-art camera traps throughout the Florida woods and swamps. He shared with EcoWatch what he learned about the need to continue balancing Florida's tremendous population growth with conserving the iconic species.
"We need to cultivate a culture of coexistence," Ward said. "If the panther goes extinct, I will be worried about all the other wildlife and people in Florida, because it means we will have missed the opportunity we have now to conserve enough land to ensure balance between wildlife and people."
Today, the panther population has grown to roughly 200, and Ward's photos show that the cats are moving northward to reclaim old territories. This is critical, because northward expansion is the only path for long-term survival, Main wrote in National Geographic.
"The southern tip of Florida is not enough land to sustain a genetically viable, resilient population of panthers," Ward told EcoWatch. "The cats can only continue moving north if the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a patchwork of public and private lands that run through the state, is preserved. The Florida Wildlife Corridor is the lifeline and path of recovery for panthers."
Yet this requires the participation of landowners and ranchers, who need more conservation funding to prevent their open spaces from becoming subdivisions, parking lots and roads, Main explained in the story. Conservation easements use up development rights while allowing the owners to continue farming and ranching, Main said.
"The land is still there. We have a moment right now where we can choose to conserve," Ward told EcoWatch. "Hundreds of landowners are open to conservation as an alternative to development. They're waiting for conservation easements or to sell their land for national parks. We need to meet this opportunity."
Wildlife veterinarian Lara Cusack handles more kittens belonging to FP224. These young cats were measured and given immunity boosters while their mother was hunting away from the den. When panthers have space and protected habitats, their populations can grow. Only about one in three Florida panther kittens survives to adulthood. Carlton Ward Jr. / National Geographic Society
Landowners and ranchers, who were traditionally pitted against panthers when their cattle were eaten, will also benefit from increased protections for the cats. "On the Endangered Species Act, do you see 'cowboy' or 'rancher' written on it? No, but we benefit from the protections afforded the panther," Main quoted Florida rancher Elton Langford. "Both share a common enemy: Development," Main wrote.
People with multi-generational connections to the land share something in common with a species that's lived there for 20,000 years, Ward said. Both need the land to remain intact and open.
"There is common ground and common threat and common opportunity," Ward concluded. "That's where I feel the most hope — in how much common ground there is in saving a species, helping sustain a way of life and in sustaining the headwaters of the Everglades and the water supply. The panther is a great icon for everyone to conserve all of this."
For more on this story, visit National Geographic. The story appears in print in National Geographic's April 2021 issue.
"Return of the Florida Panther" is featured in the April 2021 issue of National Geographic. National Geographic Society
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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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Reddit investors have found a way to meme for good.
The amateur investors on subreddit WallStreetBets often refer to themselves as apes and use the phrase "Apes Together Strong," BBC News reported. Now, some subreddit members have started to take this saying literally. Within days, Redditors have raised $350,000 for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund by adopting more than 3,500 gorillas, The Guardian reported.
"It's safe to say that the #investor community on @reddit is not traditionally who we think of as our supporter base. But they definitely surprised and overwhelmed us over the weekend," the conservation group tweeted.
🚨WE HAVE NEWS 🚨 It’s safe to say that the #investor community on @reddit is not traditionally who we think of as ou… https://t.co/f3Vg6e44dv— Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (@Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund)1615827823.0
The trend began last Friday when Reddit user Pakistani_in_MURICA posted an adoption certificate for a mountain gorilla named Urungano. The post received a 92 percent upvote rate and prompted many other users to follow suit.
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund works with mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Grauer's gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to BBC News. On Twitter, the group said that the new funds would support their work studying and monitoring gorillas, and supporting the people who live near them.
The organization told The Guardian that it usually receives 20 new gorilla adoptions a weekend, a far cry from the thousands that the Redditors initiated.
"The support that has come to our organization, as well as others, is amazing," Tara Stoinski, the fund's president, chief executive and chief scientific officer, told The Guardian. "One of the biggest challenges in conservation is just that there's not enough funding for the challenges we face on the ground."
The Redditors have also donated to other organizations and adopted other species. The Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative, which studies endangered bonobos, said it received $4,500 from the WallStreetBets community.
Wow!! Thanks to the @Official_WSB community, we have raised $4,500 and bonobos are now featured in @Newsweek! We ar… https://t.co/mlFI4en5Y5— Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative (@Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative)1615996027.0
The Redditors have also moved beyond apes to adopt endangered animals such as elephants, pangolins and sea turtles, according to The Guardian. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which runs a sanctuary for orphaned elephants in Kenya, experienced a $10,000 rise in donations over the weekend.
"It's a new supporter base for us, for sure, one that we're extremely thankful for," the trust's Amie Alden told The Guardian. "We've currently got more than 90 dependent orphaned elephants in our care and it's an expensive undertaking."
The WallStreetBets community first rose to fame in January, when they noticed that hedge funds were betting against stocks, including GameStop and AMC, and banded together to buy several stocks to boost their prices, Business Insider explained. This caused the share price of GameStop to skyrocket from less than $5 a share at the end of December to more than $450 by Jan. 28, forcing some hedge funds to close their bets at a loss. Some of the Redditors referenced the saga by making their animal donations in the name of GameStop or "Jim Cramer's Tears," The Guardian noted.
"This is the sort of thing that happens when people unaccustomed to having money suddenly get some," BBC News reported one Redditor saying.
By Tara Lohan
It's not too hard to find salmon on a menu in the United States, but that seeming abundance — much of it fueled by overseas fish farms — overshadows a grim reality on the ground. Many of our wild salmon, outside Alaska, are on the ropes — and have been for decades.
Twenty years ago Pacific salmon were found to have disappeared from 40% of their native rivers and streams across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California. In places where they remain, like the Columbia River system, the number of wild fish returning to streams is estimated to have plunged by as much as 98%. Today 28 populations of West Coast salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
New research is helping to put the problem — and solutions — into focus. But in some cases, policy to implement changes still lags.
1. Trouble in Washington
With 14 salmon and steelhead species listed as endangered in Washington, a new report by the state declared that "too many salmon remain on the brink of extinction. And time is running out." Four key factors, the researchers say, have been attributed to their historical decline: habitat, harvest, hydropower and hatcheries.
2. Upstream Changes
Along with historic threats, there's another new factor making salmon recovery challenging for Washington and other West Coast states: climate change. Increasing temperatures are causing snowpack declines, resulting in warmer streams that can stress or kill salmon. Additionally, more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow causes rivers to run faster earlier in the season, which can wash away salmon nests and sweep young salmon out of their calm-water habitat before they're ready — reducing their chances of survival.
3. Ocean Woes
It's not just freshwater habitat for salmon that's changing. A recent study in the journal Communications Biology looked at how eight populations of wild spring-summer Chinook from the Snake River Basin fared during the ocean phase of their lives. And it's not good. If ocean warming continues, by the 2060s mortality for Chinook could be as high as 90%.
4. Ripple Effect
Pacific salmon are an integral cultural resource for Pacific Northwest tribes and provide thousands of regional jobs. But the fish don't just feed people. They also nourish freshwater and marine ecosystems, along with more than 100 species.
And for one animal in particular, the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whale (Orcinus orca), the decline of Chinook is an existential threat. It's been long known that Southern Residents feed primarily on Chinook — the largest Pacific salmon species — during the summer. But a new study published in the journal Plos One found that Chinook were also important year-round.
Southern Resident killer whales. NOAA
5. Implementing Solutions
In an effort to help the recovery of Southern Residents and help boost salmon populations in the region, conservation groups have increased their calls to remove four dams on the Lower Snake River, a major tributary of the Columbia River in Washington.
While the science supports dam removal to save salmon, putting that into action has run into a wall of political opposition — mostly from conservatives. However, a recent plan proposed by Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson to breach the Snake River dams was a rare showing of Republican support, which could signal more bipartisan efforts ahead.
Other dam removals — both large and small — have proved beneficial for salmon in Washington and other states. In California a groundbreaking project to allow rivers to flood fallow farm fields in winter has helped provide both food and rearing habitat for salmon — and has helped prove that water managers don't have to choose between fish and farmers.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Can animals, like humans, lose their culture when separated from others like themselves? A new study provides rare evidence that they can.