Friday, 9 October 2015

Buffalo return to Montana’s Great Plains - a victory for environmentalists but a blow to ranchers

A battle for hearts and minds in ‘America’s Serengeti’
Friday 2 October 2015 18:47 BST

Halfway to the distant horizon, a herd of several hundred buffalo graze in the long grasses of the Great Plains. High above the rolling terrain, a big hawk wheels and swoops. Four elk bucks – a stag party, if you will – bounce away through the soft, swaying yellow sage. This swathe of protected prairie in northern Montana more closely resembles the national parks of Africa than it does nearby Yellowstone. Little wonder, then, that it has been nicknamed “America’s Serengeti”.

When explorers Meriweather Lewis and William Clark first passed this spot in 1805, they wrote in their journals of hillsides “black with buffalo”. But over the subsequent 75 years, Montana’s buffalo – also known as the American Bison – were hunted out of existence. In 2005, the non-profit conservation group American Prairie Reserve (APR) reintroduced 16 of the stately beasts to the landscape. A decade later, the herd has grown to 600. By the time its reserve is complete, APR expects to see 10,000 bison roaming a wildlife area approximately the size of Connecticut.

Continued ...

Frogs crucial to health of environment - via Herp Digest

September 16 2015 

Durban - Superstition and noise are the main reasons for getting rid of frogs, say experts, and as winter gives way to spring, the race to get rid of the amphibians seems to be on.
Nick Evans and Dr Jeanne Tarrant, Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Threatened Amphibian Programme’s (TAP) field officer and manager respectively, told the Daily News the animal was the most threatened of all vertebrates globally.
“A lot of people think they are bad luck, or harmful. At this time of year, as they emerge from their winter slumber, the biggest complaint from many people is about the noise our frogs, especially the toads, make at night, keeping some folk from sleeping peacefully.”
Many choose to get rid of their ponds.
“But first, think, wouldn’t you much rather have the sounds of nature than the sounds of traffic or the blaring music from a house party? Come on, it’s not so bad.”
They said that could cause people to go to “quite drastic lengths”, including moving them long distances away from their homes and, in some cases, inflicting “cruelty and death” on these small creatures.
“Frogs are crucial in our environment for many reasons. They are one of the most important animals in the food chain. In many ecosystems, especially forests, adult frogs can be extremely abundant. This is because they provide food to a vast array of animals, especially birds and other small animals, including frogs themselves.”
They said tadpoles did “a great job” in freshwater environments, by cleaning rivers, dams and ponds, by feeding on algae.
“(They) are major predators and consume a large number of insects in a single night, especially the ones people can’t stand, like flies and mosquitoes. Instead of buying all sorts of poisons to eradicate those insects, which impact our environment, let your frogs (do the work).”
They advised people to become more aware of the different frog species in Durban.
“You can go in your own garden, if you have a pond or stream. Or you can go to a local park or wetland. You would have to then go in a group though, as the world’s most dangerous animal, the human, also sometimes occur in the same areas as frogs.”
South Africa, say Nick Evans and Dr Jeanne Tarrant, Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Threatened Amphibian Programme’s (TAP) field officer and manager respectively, is ranked fourth in terms of the number of threatened amphibian species in the Afro-tropical realm.
“Overall, 43 percent of our frog species are endemic to the country, meaning they don’t occur anywhere else. Of these, 35 percent are in a threatened category, and all but one of the threatened species are endem-ic… The main threat, which affects all wildlife, is loss of habitat.
“Wetlands, river systems, grasslands and forests continue to be destroyed, thanks to an ever-increasing human population and the growing demands placed on our natural resources.”
They explained that Southern Africa had a rich diversity of amphibians with 160 known species, of about 5 500 worldwide.
“Here in KwaZulu-Natal, we are lucky to have the most species-rich and diverse area for frogs in the country. Just in and around Durban, we have over 25. We have some threatened and endangered species too, such as the critically endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog (who live in) around 20 wetlands. There are about five sites in greater Durban.”
Frogs, because they live in both water and on land, are regarded as “bio-indicators”.
“The presence of frogs can tell you quite a lot about a certain area, like a wetland, for example. If frogs are present, that usually means the water quality is good, which leads to the presence of insects as well. Frogs have a very sensitive skin, and actually breathe through it, so they do not cope well with pollution. If an area is polluted with chemicals and other toxins, there will be no frogs around.”
They said frogs in South Africa, unlike other places, were not toxic and so were harmless.

Wood Turtles Move Toward Endangered Species Act Protection: Declines Driven by Habitat Destruction Across Midwest, Northeast - via Herp Digest

RICHMOND, Vt.— 9/17/15 In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that the wood turtle may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. The Center first petitioned for this turtle — along with more than 50 other amphibians and reptiles — in July 2012 because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction.    
Wood turtle photo by Diane Baedeker Petit, USDA. This photo is available for media use.
“Wood turtles are dying out mostly because people are degrading the waterways where they live,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist in the Center’s Northeast office. “The streams and rivers used by wood turtles are important for people too, for recreation and as a water supply. Endangered Species Act protection for this turtle will help protect these essential areas from destruction.”
Hurt by channelization of rivers and streams, careless timber-harvesting practices along waterways, urbanization and agricultural practices, including pesticide use, the wood turtles’ remaining populations tend to be isolated, greatly reducing the chances of their natural recovery in areas where their numbers have plummeted. Traditionally low survival rates among juvenile wood turtles have been made worse by the increased prevalence of turtle predators, such as raccoons and skunks, which thrive in urbanized areas. Wild collection for the pet trade is another threat to the turtle’s survival.
“Wood turtles are integral parts of the wild where they live, whether it’s a remote forest stream or a suburban wetland,” said Matteson. “Losing them will impoverish those places and our own connection with the natural world.”
Nearly 1 in 4 amphibians and reptiles is at risk of dying out, scientists say. In fact, although they’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years and survived every major extinction period, amphibians and reptiles are now dying off at up to 10,000 times the historic extinction rate due largely to human impacts. This loss is alarming because they play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health.
The Center was joined in its petition for 53 amphibians and reptiles by several renowned scientists and herpetologists, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. More than 200 scientists sent a letter asking the Service to review the status of the petitioned animals.
Today’s “90-day finding” is the first in a series of required decisions on the petition. At the 90-day finding stage, the Fish and Wildlife Service determines whether the petition presents sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources. Earlier this year the Service issued positive 90-day findings for 20 other amphibians and reptiles. The next step is a full status review of the species by the Service.
View an interactive state-by-state map showing where the petitioned species live and download a photo of the wood turtle for media use. Wood turtles are found in Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
For Immediate Release, September 17, 2015
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487;

Why Some Species Have More Females Than Males

by Charles Q. Choi, Live Science Contributor | October 07, 2015 03:13pm ET

Like an awkward junior-high birthday party, some animal species tend to have many more males than females or vice versa, and scientists have long wondered why. Now, they've figured out a key culprit: sex chromosomes.

An animal's sex is often determined by the sex chromosomes it inherits. The new research reveals that species with X and Y sex chromosomes, including mammals, generally have female-skewed populations, whereas species with the less familiar Z and W sex chromosomes have a sex ratio tilted toward males.

The proportion of adult males to adult females in a species, known as its adult sex ratio, can vary widely in nature. For example, scientists have known that among tetrapods — that is, four-limbed animals such as mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians — birds possess male-skewed adult sex ratios, and mammals are usually female-skewed. Extreme ratios are seen in some marsupial species, in which the males die after the mating season, sometimes leaving populations made up entirely of pregnant females.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Suspected poachers 'kill 14 elephants with cyanide' in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's wildlife agency investigates suspicious deaths of elephants in Hwange national park - which was home to Cecil the lion

By Our Foreign Staff

8:01PM BST 06 Oct 2015

Suspected poachers used cyanide to kill 14 elephants in Zimbabwe's western Hwange national park and in the north since Sept 26, the national wildlife agency said on Tuesday

Hwange, home of Zimbabwe's most famous lion Cecil who was killed by an American dentist in July, holds 53,000 elephants, twice the park's carrying capacity, the park's agency says.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Mamagement Authority spokeswoman Caroline Washaya-Moyo said six elephants were killed on Sept. 26 inside Hwange park and their tusks were removed.

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