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By Olivia Desmit

Climate change has fueled raging wildfires around the world, bleached coral reefs and intensified hurricanes—and now it's coming for Europe's fries.

By Olivia Desmit

Climate change has fueled raging wildfires around the world, bleached coral reefs and intensified hurricanes—and now it’s coming for Europe’s fries.


A hot and dry summer has caused low potato yields in Belgium and across Europe, resulting in sad, stubby fries or “frites”—up to an entire inch shorter than the 3-inch norm. The news gets worse: If Europeans were planning to wash down those salty frites with a cold Belgian beer, then they need to think again. There might also be a shortage of the brew due to an expected decrease in barley yields.

The culprit behind these inconveniences: climate change. Europe has seen record high temperatures and droughts this summer because of climate change. Potato crop yields are down 25 percent from previous years, and barley (a primary ingredient in beer) yields are expected to fall up to 40 percent.

“The fact that climate change threatens the small things that make our daily life a happy one reminds us that we have a responsibility to tackle climate change and its impacts in the world,” said Herbert Lust, vice president of Conservation International Europe.

This problem is bigger than a hefty bar tab: Climate change is already reducing yields of wheat, rice, coffee and cocoa. Agriculture is dependent on weather patterns, and climate change is directly influencing them, resulting in droughts in already dry regions of the world and floods in regions that already receive enough rain.

Deforestation is one of the greatest contributors to climate change, and 80 percent of deforestation is due to agricultural expansion. In other words, the way food is produced and consumed contributes to a negative cycle that harms the environment and results in less food. Soy, palm oil, beef, coffee and cocoa products that are imported by major economies account for a large portion of this problem. Global demand for these products is booming, and this high demand threatens the very ecosystems that we need to protect to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Conservation International is tackling these challenges by designing landscapes that are sustainable, which means they prevent deforestation and ecosystem degradation while also improving the livelihoods of local communities. Another important part of our work involves training farmers in more sustainable agricultural practices to improve productivity without further degrading the environment.

“Farming communities will be hit hardest by climate change, particularly in the poorest countries,” said Fanny Gauttier, manager of European Union Policy and Sustainable Production for Conservation International. “It is urgent that we recognize the significant impact our use of land has on the environment if we have any hope of adapting to and mitigating climate change.”

“The situation with frites and beer is just a taste of what’s to come.”

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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By Jessica Pink

Editor's note: Shark Week 2018 has kicked off! Before you dive in, take a look at three shark stories from the past week that you should know about. For even more content, check out six of Human Nature's most popular shark stories, including our exploration of "demon whale biters."

By Jessica Pink

Editor’s note: Shark Week 2018 has kicked off! Before you dive in, take a look at three shark stories from the past week that you should know about. For even more content, check out six of Human Nature’s most popular shark stories, including our exploration of “demon whale biters.”


1. Sharks vs. humans: At 100 million deaths against 6 each year, it’s not a fair fight

The story: Contrary to popular belief, shark attacks aren’t as prevalent as many believe them to be, reported Doyle Rice for USA Today July 14. According to research, only five humans died globally this past year from shark attacks—compared to the 100 million sharks that humans kill each year.

The big picture: Due in large part to cultural juggernauts such as the 1975 thriller Jaws, which paint sharks as ruthless human hunters, sharks are often viewed only as attackers. The reality? Many shark species are endangered due to the practice of shark finning, wherein fishers cut off shark fins and throw the severely wounded animals back into the ocean. Prized in Chinese culture, the valuable fins are commonly used in traditional soup or medicine. Shark finning is just one piece of the billion-dollar illegal and unregulated fishing trade, but recent successes in the tracking and prosecuting of illegal fishers could spell hope for the ocean’s most notorious predators.

Read more here.


Shark, pictured above, swimming alongside fish in Tuamotu.Rodolphe Holler

2. Exotic sharks could migrate to British waters in coming decades due to climate change

The story: Warmer oceans are triggering certain shark species to adapt their migratory patterns, reported Josh Gabbatiss for The Independent July 16. Large shark species including great whites, black tips and hammerheads could soon be moving to British waters.

The big picture: Although certain species of sharks can migrate, others are not as able to adapt. As climate change affects the temperature and acidity of oceans, species such as basking sharks are already suffering. As the ocean becomes more acidic, for example, sharks have a difficult time seeking their prey. Despite this potential increase in the number of different shark species swimming British waters, an expert explained that the actual number of British sharks could, in fact, go down. “We will increase from 40 species to maybe 60, but there will still be less of them—and some of the existing ones will maybe go extinct in the meantime,” said Dr. Ken Collins, a former administrator of the UK Shark Tagging Programme.

Read more here.

3. 7 reasons why we’re lucky to have sharks

The story: Sharks serve a vital role in ocean ecosystems: They regulate food webs, protect coral reefs and help to mitigate climate change, reported Russel McLendon for Mother Nature Network July 22.

The big picture: As climate change, pollution and overfishing threaten healthy oceans, sharks offer hope for at least one marine ecosystem: coral reefs. Research shows that in reefs where robust shark populations were found, corals showed faster recovery from bleaching. And the positive impact of sharks stretches further: “Just the fear of sharks can be enough, in many cases, to keep a marine ecosystem healthy and able to respond to stresses,” said Mike Heithaus, Florida International University scientist. The continued decline of already threatened shark populations could set off a negative chain of events that would prove devastating to entire marine ecosystems—and the humans that depend on the ocean for their food and livelihoods.

Read more here.

Jessica Pink is an editorial intern for Conservation International.

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By Morgan Lynch

Being an elephant mother is a full-time job—and then some.

By Morgan Lynch

Being an elephant mother is a full-time job—and then some.


Elephant mothers carry their babies for nearly two years before giving birth. Then they ensure their babies get the best food, teach their children the most useful skills and show their children how to lead the herd during hard times.

Elephants recognize that their mothers know best—the herds are matriarchal. The oldest female elephant plays a key role in controlling the social network of the group and in ensuring the survival of the family.

Not all elephant families are so fortunate: When their mothers are lost to poaching or to human-wildlife conflict, young orphaned elephants stand little chance in the wild. Now, organizations like Reteti Elephant Sanctuary—the first community-owned elephant orphanage in Africa, and the subject of the new Conservation International film My Africa—are filling the gap. By raising orphaned elephants for release back into the wild, the sanctuary offers a glimmer of hope that this threatened species can continue to thrive.

Far better, of course, to stop poaching and conflict in the first place—and allow young elephants to learn from some of the busiest mothers on the planet. On this Mother’s Day, here are three reasons why elephants make some of the best mothers.

1. Elephant Mothers Produce the Best Meals

A baby elephant adds about two pounds of bodyweight each day after birth. An elephant mother’s milk changes four times during the weaning process to meet the baby’s needs.

At Kenya’s Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, keepers have to make sure that orphaned elephants get the nutrients they need, using a precise feeding program specialized for each elephant. Each bottle is different for each elephant, and keepers must feed the elephants eight times a day to keep them healthy. The best substitute for a mother elephant’s milk? Human baby formula, which is fortified with protein, fat and vitamins.

During the painful teething process, an elephant mother’s milk adapts to soothe the baby: Mother elephants will change their diets to include plants with anti-inflammatory properties to help the baby cope with incoming teeth. At the sanctuary, keepers use their knowledge of local plants to administer natural medicines to mimic the same types of nutrition.

2. Elephant Mothers Are the Best Teachers

Elephants learn how to pick the best plants for eating, how to defend against predators and how to navigate steep embankments—all from their mothers.

At Reteti, keepers focus on introducing the young elephants to their natural surroundings in hopes of eventually returning them to the wild. Some of this information can’t be taught by the human keepers alone.

This is where Shaba comes in.

The oldest female elephant at the sanctuary, Shaba arrived when she was 15 months old, after her parents were killed by poachers. Now at almost age three, she has taken on the role of matriarch for the Reteti herd, leading the herd every day on its walk about the bush and greeting every new orphaned elephant when they arrive. This way, even the orphaned elephants have a female role model to lead the way.

3. Elephant Matriarchs Are the Best Leaders

During times of drought, when animals’ usual water sources dry up, the oldest female elephants can lead their herd hundreds of miles to water they visited years before—because they remember the locations. Elephant herds with older, larger matriarchs tend to fare better during times of crisis, because they have longer memories.

Sometimes the water source no longer exists, or human development gets in the way. By collaring elephants and tracking their movements, conservationists are learning more about elephant migrations to protect the animals’ water sources and minimize human conflict.

Organizations use GPS tracking equipment to learn about elephants’ behaviors and movements in real-time. Aside from gathering more data about elephants’ needs, this technology can save an elephant’s life: When the researchers notice that a particular elephant becomes unusually immobile, this could mean that an elephant is being attacked by poachers. The researchers then send text messages to nearby rangers who can investigate—and potentially stop—poachers from harming the elephant.

Feeding, teaching, leading: It’s all in a day’s work for elephant moms.

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