America's national bird is threatened by hunters. Not that hunters are taking aim at the iconic bald eagle, but bald eagles are dying after eating lead bullets, as CNN reported.
- 5 Essential Reads on Endangered Species - EcoWatch ›
- New Farm Bill Contains Sneak Attack on the Environment With Toxic ... ›
- Bald Eagle Nest Spotted in Cape Cod for First Time Since 1905 - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Hunters Banned in Botswana After Shooting and Killing Research ... ›
- Botswana Lifts 5-Year Ban on Hunting Elephants - EcoWatch ›
- In ‘Conservation Disaster,’ Hundreds of Botswana's Elephants Are Dying From Mysterious Cause - EcoWatch ›
- How Botswana's Sudden Elephant Deaths Impact the Species - EcoWatch ›
- Life After the Tourist Trade for Thailand's Elephants - EcoWatch ›
By Joe Roman
One of the most important global conservation events of the past year was something that didn't happen. For the first time since 2002, Iceland — one of just three countries that still allow commercial whaling — didn't hunt any whales, even though its government had approved whaling permits in early 2019.
The Ecological Value of Large Marine Mammals<p>For years, ecological studies of whales focused on how much fish they ate or krill they consumed, which represented costs to fisheries. Starting around 10 years ago, my colleagues and I took a fresh look at <a href="https://doi.org/10.1890/130220" target="_blank">whales' ecological role in the ocean</a>.</p><p>Whales often dive deep to feed, coming to the surface to breathe, rest, digest — and poop. Their nutrient-rich fecal plumes provide nitrogen, iron and phosphorous to algae at the surface, which increases productivity in areas where whales feed. More whales mean more plankton and more fish.</p><p>Whales also play a role in the carbon cycle. They are the largest creatures on Earth, and when they die their carcasses often sink to the deep sea. These events, known as whale falls, provide habitat for at least a hundred species that depend on the bones and nutrients. They also transfer carbon to the deep ocean, where it remains sequestered for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0012444" target="_blank">hundreds of years</a>.</p><p>Whales are economically valuable, but watching them brings in more money than killing them. "Humpbacks are one of the most commercially important marine species in Iceland," a whale-watching guide told me one morning off the coast of Akureyri. Whale-watching income <a href="http://www.joeroman.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Malinauskaite-2020-Willingness-to-pay-for-expansion-of.pdf" target="_blank">far outweighs the income from hunting</a> fin and minke whales.</p><span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a358b32ad9f7adf7be2b639f54702c55"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fFtcK1cK1ro?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The end of Icelandic whaling?<p>For years after the international moratorium on whaling was adopted in 1986, only Norway allowed commercial whaling. Japan continued hunting in the Antarctic under the guise of "scientific whaling," which many whale biologists considered <a href="https://doi.org/10.1641/0006-3568(2003)053%5B0210:WAS%5D2.0.CO;2" target="_blank">unnecessary and egregious</a>.</p><p>Iceland also allowed a research hunt in the 1980s, with much of the meat sold to Japan, but stopped whaling under international pressure in the 1990s. It resumed commercial hunting in 2002, with strong domestic support. Iceland was ruled by Norway and then Denmark until 1944. As a result, Icelanders often chafe under external pressure. Many saw foreign protests against whaling as a threat to their national identity, and local media coverage was distinctly pro-whaling.</p><p>This view started to shift around 2014, when European governments refused to allow the transport of whale meat harvested by Icelandic whalers through their ports, en route to <a href="https://phys.org/news/2014-05-japan-imports-tonnes-whale-meat.html" target="_blank">commercial buyers in Japan</a>. Many European countries <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/MEMO_14_529" target="_blank">opposed Icelandic whaling</a> and were unwilling to facilitate this trade. Whalers no longer looked so invincible, and Icelandic media started covering both sides of the debate.</p><p>In May 2019, Hvalur — the whaling business owned by Kristján Loftsson, Iceland's most vocal and controversial whaler — announced that it wouldn't hunt fin whales, which are <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/2478/50349982" target="_blank">internationally classified as vulnerable</a>, this year, citing a need for ship repairs and declining demand in Japan. In June, Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, owner of a smaller outfit, announced that he <a href="https://www.icelandreview.com/news/no-whaling-this-summer/" target="_blank">wouldn't go whaling</a> either. These decisions meant that the hunt was off.</p>
A Generational Shift<p>For many Icelanders, whale meat is an occasional delicacy. Over dinner a few months ago, I met an Icelandic woman who told me she thought whale was delicious, and she didn't see why whaling was such a big deal. How many times had she eaten whale? Once a month, once a year? "I've had it twice in my life."</p><p>About a third of Icelanders now <a href="https://www.ifaw.org/eu/news/no-fin-whaling-in-iceland-in-2019" target="_blank">oppose whaling</a>. They tend to be younger urban residents. A third are neutral, and a third support whaling. Many in this last group may feel stronger about critiques of whaling than about hvalakjöt, or whale meat. Demand for hvalakjöt in grocery stores and restaurants has started to dry up.</p><p>Although few observers would have predicted it, whaling may end in Iceland not through denial of a permit but from lack of interest. How long until the world's remaining commercial whalers in Japan and Norway, who face similar shifts in taste and demographics, follow a similar course?</p>
- Some Experts Say Icelandic Whaling Company Killed an ... ›
- Iceland Flouts Global Ban to Slaughter First Protected Fin Whale of ... ›
- Elephants and Monkeys Are Working to Protect You From Climate ... ›
- Elephant Poaching Is on the Rise in Botswana, Study Confirms ... ›
- Botswana Lifts 5-Year Ban on Hunting Elephants - EcoWatch ›
By Jeremy Hance
VIETNAM, July 2019 – I'm chasing a ghost, I think not for the first time, as night falls and I gather up my gear in a hotel in a village in southern Vietnam. I pack my camera, a bottle of water, and a poncho; outside the window I can see a light rain.
Illustration of a silver-backed chevroatin. Eric Losh / Mongabay<p>"That's when we first put together a plan of action," said Andrew Tilker, the Asian species officer for GWC, who described a 2017 meeting in Hanoi with a who's who of Vietnamese mammal conservation that ended with a planned expedition to see if the species persisted.</p><p>The search, focusing on camera trapping, would be headed by An Nguyen, an associate conservation scientist for GWC as well as a field coordinator and Ph.D. student with Germany's Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. The endeavor would partner GWC with both the Leibniz Institute and Vietnam's Southern Institute of Ecology.</p><p>By the time I show up in Vietnam at the end of July this year, the search has already succeeded — but <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-019-1027-7" target="_blank">the announcement</a> is still months away from being made public. Searching one primary location, Nguyen and his colleagues were able to get more than 2,000 photos of the silver-backed chevrotain, a mammal many feared extinct. And they did it not far from the little hotel where I'm staying.</p><p>Still, even as the scientists rediscovered the species, none of them had seen it in the flesh. I was here to hopefully do that — and if not, at least get a firsthand sense of the story behind this animal's re-emergence and its chances for long-term survival. I mean, the animal had lived wholly under the radar for nearly 30 years; how hard could it be for a journalist to spot in just two days?</p><p>Light appears as one of the men from the Raglai ethnic group ignites a cigarette. Nguyen, the guide, chats with them in Vietnamese. One of the Raglai men, I'll call him Chi, looks to be in his late forties; he's grizzled but has a wide, friendly smile. The other, Xuan, is young, I'd hazard in his late teens or early twenties, and is married with a newborn. As the rain hammers above, the three men share a joke and stories of recent hunts with Nguyen. No one knows this species better than these indigenous hunters. Even as it dropped off scientists' radar, it was still being hunted.</p><p>We wait 20 minutes for the brunt of the storm to pass the village (we are not divulging the exact location in an effort to mitigate potential poaching). When the rain dwindles, Nguyen says, "We go now." The older hunter, Chi, tosses his burnt-out cigarette on the ground and he and his fellow villager get on their motorbike.</p>
Lost and Found<p>The silver-backed chevrotain, a handsome (one could even say adorable) small ungulate, was first described in 1910, based on four specimens. No scientists recorded it again for another 80 years, but in 1990 a Russian expedition collected a fifth specimen — though that one came under some doubt.</p><p>The doubt is gone now.</p><p>"We had no idea what to expect, so I was surprised and overjoyed when we checked the camera traps and saw photographs of a mouse deer with silver flanks," said An Nguyen, the expedition leader. "Discovering that it is, indeed, still out there, is the first step in ensuring we don't lose it again."</p>
Researchers setting up the camera traps that would rediscover the silver-backed chevrotain, after missing for nearly 30 years. GWC / Mongabay<p>After conducting interviews with wildlife rangers and local people, Nguyen set five camera traps in a target area. They caught the first photos ever of this species, taking 275 photos of the animal over a period of five months. Nguyen came back with 29 camera traps, capturing 1,881 photos of the animal in the same area. This, of course, doesn't mean these were all individuals — many of the photos are of the same animals. But it does mean, at least in this one small area, that the animal is relatively abundant.</p><p>This is GWC's first success in finding one of the missing mammals in its Search for Lost Species. Four other species on the list have been discovered in the past couple of years. Twenty remain missing.</p><p>Still, rediscovery is only the beginning. The lives of silver-backed chevrotains are almost entirely a mystery. They are similar in size and looks to the far more common lesser mouse-deer (<em>Tragulus kanchil</em>), but have an unmistakable silver back, whereas the lesser mouse-deer are a one-tone animal.</p><p>"There are other less obvious differences," Tilker says. "The gray hairs on the silver-backed chevrotain are tipped with white, giving the posterior a grizzled appearance. Also, the silver-backed chevrotain lacks the transverse throat stripe that is present in the lesser chevrotain."</p>
A silver-backed chevrotain on camera trap. Note the handsome silver-gray of its back. GWC / Mongabay<p>Chevrotains may be called mouse-deer, and they do resemble rabbit-sized "deer." But they are not in the deer family, <em>Cervidae</em>. Instead they make up their own family, <em>Tragulidae</em>, and infraorder, <em>Tragulina</em>, which translates roughly into "little goat." All the world's chevrotains but one (the water chevrotain of Central Africa, <em>Hyemoschus aquaticus</em>) are found in Asia. The world's smallest ungulates, chevrotains are actually ancient and primitive, having broken off from all other ruminants 50 million years ago. Chevrotains have surprising features like four toes, fangs, and for some, at least, the ability to stay submerged underwater for a surprisingly long time; some believe they may even represent a direct link to the kind of early mammal that eventually evolved into whales and hippos.</p><p>The silver-backed chevrotain is not only important as a unique member of this bizarre and wonderful family, but also the only chevrotain found only in Vietnam, making it an endemic, endangered species for this Southeast Asian country.</p>
Into the (Wet) Woods<p>My guide, Anh The Nguyen, and the young hunter, Xuan, and I had been to this same site the night prior, scurrying through the low, dry forests, stooping below branches and vines bent in natural tunnels (if we were gnomes) or crawling along the rock and dirt as thorns tore at us. We had spent two hours in the forest, but with no luck. The silver-backed chevrotain, small, shy and wary of humans (for good reason), did not make itself known.</p><p>We hope for better luck tonight, but the recent deluge adds a new level of misery: every branch and vine is slick and dripping, while the dirt has turned into mud.</p>
A typical habitat for the newly rediscovered silver-backed chevrotain. GWC / Mongabay<p>Still, we split into two groups: I go with Xuan while Nguyen shadows Chi. To keep in touch, Xuan and Chi hoot back and forth.</p><p>Within minutes, my clothes are soaked through despite the poncho. I can't see anything more than an Impressionist painting-like view of a dark forest, thanks to my smudged, water-splattered glasses. But I feel the vines entrap me, catching across my chest like ropes, and I find myself just pushing through, shoving my way in and out of the indistinguishable branches and vines. I slip and fall, and suddenly I'm on my hands and knees, just army crawling through the mud.</p><p>Ahead of me, Xuan, whom Nguyen and I nicknamed Spiderman, floats through the forest like some ninja. I struggle to keep pace, my heart pounding, my mind a blank, my only real thought: "C'mon, Jeremy, keep up."</p><p>Suddenly the hooting from the other team increases in tempo — that's the signal! — and I hear the branches crack and snap as Xuan and I attempt to make our way toward the sound.</p><p>By the time we get there, though, there's nothing to see. Chi had spotted a female chevrotain, pregnant, he thought, but she'd vanished into the ticket as the three of us tried to reach him.</p><p>As the three men chat in Vietnamese, I touch my temple to find an inch-long thorn stuck deep. I pull it out and sit back against a boulder, exhausted and trying to catch my breath.</p>
Silver-backed chevrotain close up on camera trap. GWC / Mongabay<p>After a few minutes, Nguyen comes over. "They say we are too loud and we scare away the chevrotain."</p><p>"Yup," I agree.</p><p>"They say we are so loud that our noisiness even scares them!" We both laugh.</p><p>"Time to call it then?" I ask.</p><p>"Yes I think so."</p><p>In that moment, my feeling is less disappointment, and more relief. I knew that trying to see the animal in the flesh with two days was always a long shot. But my trip could hardly be called a failure. I'd seen the species' natural habitat and met, at least, one of its potential threats: overhunting.</p>
The Tail<p>Five days before our arrival, Chi had hunted down three silver-backed chevrotains.</p><p>A single dead chevrotain provides about 2 kilograms, about 4.5 pounds, of meat (from a 3–kilogram, or 6.6-pound animal), and he and his family had already eaten the three animals — a shame since a dead specimen would have been scientifically important.</p><p>Prior to our wet adventure, Chi and Xuan had told us how they did not hunt chevrotains with guns (guns are illegal in protected areas) but with slingshots. Chi showed me his: it was sturdy and well-crafted; I pulled back on the rubber bands and test the weapon's tautness. Yet the skill needed to sneak up on and kill a rabbit-sized animal with one well-aimed projectile is incredibly impressive.</p>
Illustration of Interviews with locals were key in nailing down potential locations of the missing species. Eric Losh / Mongabay<p>The Raglai people have been hunting chevrotain here for centuries if not millennia. The hunting of the silver-backed chevrotain and lesser mouse-deer (hunted in the rainforest) isn't really a commercial endeavor, so far as I'd heard.</p><p>It wasn't like the story Nyugen told me of how a few poachers with guns had managed to nearly wipe out the entire local population of doucs (<em>Pygathrix spp.</em>), a type of monkey, to sell in Vietnamese cities. The douc population is only now starting to recover.</p><p>Local hunters, at least the ones we met, simply hunted chevrotain to put some cheap meat on the table — though they did so illegally, given the area's status as a protected site.</p><p>But that doesn't mean other hunters kill only for subsistence consumption. Vietnam is home to a thriving and massive bushmeat trade where animals are killed in the forest and then trafficked to urban areas for sale.</p><p>Moreover, since scientists don't know how many of this species may be left, any hunting, even if just for local consumption, may well be wholly unsustainable.</p><p>An even larger worry: the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/10/how-laos-lost-its-tigers/" target="_blank">deepening snaring crisis</a> across Southeast Asia, like a pestilence that hits all wildlife, could wipe out this species before scientists even have a chance to develop means for its conservation. Snares, cheap and easy, have been set in the millions and are indiscriminate killers.</p><p>To understand how imperiled the species may be, the scientific team has begun camera-trapping in two additional locations. Once they have more information, they plan to develop a much-needed conservation plan.</p><p>Nguyen, the expedition leader, says that while the team hopes to find the species in other locales, it's quite possible these populations have "collapsed" due to hunting, snaring, and habitat loss. Time will tell.</p><p>"The work is only beginning with the rediscovery and initial protection measures that have been put in place," said Barney Long, GWC senior director of species conservation. "Now we need to identify not just a few individuals on camera trap, but one or two sites with sizable populations so that we can actually protect and restore the species."</p><p>Even though Chi and his family have eaten the rewards of his recent illegal hunt, he did keep the tail of one of his quarries. He'd dried it out and planned to use it as a decoration for his motorbike key chain.</p>
The tail of a recently hunted silver-backed chevrotain. Scientists will conduct genetic analysis on the tail. Jeremy Hance / Mongabay<p>We ask if we can buy it from him.</p><p>The next morning Nguyen and I meet Xuan over coffee in town. As the coffee drips into the cup, in the traditional Vietnamese style, Xuan hands us the tail of the recently slaughtered silver-backed chevrotain. Brown and silver hairs kick out of the top while the bottom is white; the nub is still wet.</p><p>Two days later, I pass the tail off to researchers in Hanoi who will get it to An Nguyen, for genetic analysis. Before I do, though, I hold it in my hand for one moment longer, the softness of the tail the closest I physically get to the silver-backed chevrotain.</p><p>Still a ghost, I think, but one that has managed against all odds to hang on.</p>
- Nearly 30,000 Species Face Extinction Because of Human Activity ... ›
- Invasive Species Have Led to a Third of Animal Extinctions Since 1500 ›
- Leaked Trump Administration Memo: Keep Public in Dark About ... ›
In Dec. 2010, President Obama signed a law that made it a federal crime to create and distribute animal torture videos. That law, however, did not ban the underlying act of animal torture itself.
That's why Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) re-introduced the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, or (PACT) Act that prohibits "intentional acts of crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or otherwise subjecting animals to serious bodily harm," according to a press release, and makes it easier to prosecute those involved in the horrific acts.
Two Alaska hunters will face jail time and other penalties after fatally shooting a denning black bear sow in front of her two "shrieking" cubs, and then shooting the newborns dead.
Wasilla resident Andrew Renner was sentenced to five months in jail with two months suspended, a fine of $20,000 with $11,000 suspended and the forfeiture of his 22' Sea Sport ocean boat and trailer, 2012 GMC Sierra pickup truck, two rifles, two handguns, two iPhones, and two sets of backcountry skis that were used in the offenses, according to a press release from Alaska's Department of Law. His hunting license was revoked for 10 years.
- Oregon Has a Poaching Problem—and a Force to Reckon With It ... ›
- WATCH: Poachers Ambush Sea Shepherd Vessel Protecting Nearly ... ›
Despite a global ban on commercial whaling more than 30 years ago, Japan has caught about 200-1,200 whales every year since 1987—including pregnant and juvenile ones—under the exception of "scientific research." Opponents have fiercely criticized this research program as just a cover so the whales can be killed for human consumption.
Now, the national broadcaster NHK reports that the Japanese government wants to fully resume commercial whaling by pulling out of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Commercial whaling was paused in 1986 by the IWC because some whales were hunted to near extinction.
Cinder, an orphaned bear cub that was severely burned but had remarkably survived after one of the worst recorded wildfires in Washington state history was found dead, wildlife officials recently confirmed to news outlets.
A cherished Lamar Valley wolf known as 926F was shot dead after a legal hunt just five miles outside the sanctuary of Yellowstone National Park, prompting calls from advocacy groups for greater protection of the region's wolves.
Tragically, the 7-year-old female was the daughter of Wolf 06—"the most famous wolf in the world"—who was killed the same way back in December 2012.
- Wolves Are Losing Ground to Industrial Logging in Southeast Alaska ›
- Our New Favorite Judge May Have Saved Red Wolves From ... ›
What's worse, the critically endangered Sumatran tiger was pregnant with two cubs when it died and was expected to give birth in two weeks, local reports said.
A federal judge restored endangered species protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park on Monday, The Huffington Post reported, putting a permanent halt to plans by Wyoming and Idaho to launch the first Yellowstone-area grizzly hunt in four decades.
The move will open more than 251,000 acres and raise the total number of places where hunting is permitted to 377 and where fishing is permitted to 312. The expansion will be in effect in time for the 2018-2019 hunting season.