Scientists consider placing species on the endangered list as its habitat rapidly shrinks, raising the question of hunting ban. The Independent reports
The savannah habitat that sustains African lions has shrunk by 75 per cent over the past half-century, according to a study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, a dramatic loss that could threaten the species’ survival.
The analysis by American, African and British researchers – which suggests the continent’s lion population has declined from 100,000 to roughly 32,000 over 50 years – provides a clear picture of where the animals live and how land-use changes and population growth have put them in jeopardy.
The findings come a week after the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will study if African lions should be listed under the Endangered Species Act, a move that would end the importation of trophies into the United States. Several groups petitioned the agency last year to list the species, though some conservationists argue that trophy hunting provides a source of revenue to local communities, which helps keep savannah habitat intact.
Thomas Lovejoy, a science professor at George Mason University, Virginia, said the paper’s authors “have made a historical contribution” by showing how dramatically Africa‘s viable terrain for lions has declined in recent decades. Lions used to roam much of Africa and Eurasia but are now limited to sub-Saharan Africa. Professor Lovejoy said the fact that savannah habitat loss is outpacing the decline of the world’s tropical rainforests “is terrifying when combined with the prospects of population growth and land-use change in Africa”.
The paper’s lead author, Jason Riggio, assembled a team of graduate students to examine high-resolution satellite imagery of Africa from Google Earth to determine what could qualify as suitable lion habitat. They then compared that information with existing lion population data.
Part of the challenge lions face is that when they venture outside national parks, they may kill livestock and come into conflict with humans. Professor Lovejoy said he was optimistic that public pressure will build for officials to take action. The officials will decide within a year whether to list African lions as endangered.
The study does not, however, answer one of the central questions that officials must answer: whether trophy hunting helps or undermines the species’ survival. Jeff Flocken, the director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare‘s Washington office, said Americans are responsible for importing 64 per cent of the lions hunted for sport.
But hunting groups such as Safari Club International and some environmental organisations say a trophy ban could have unintended consequences. Luke Hunter, the president of the wild cat conservation group Panthera, said that even though he finds lion hunting “abhorrent, as a scientist, I have to ask myself whether it can be a tool for conservation”. Mr Hunter added that ending hunting could accelerate the decline in land conservation. “The danger is: you stop that revenue stream, and all those areas are up for grabs.”
- African savannah loses two-thirds of its lions in 50 years (greatcatsoftheworld.wordpress.com)
- Africa’s vanishing savannahs threaten lions: study (nation.co.ke)
- Big cat crisis: Africa’s lions being crowded out by people (guardian.co.uk)
- African Lions Move Closer to U.S. Endangered Species Act Protection (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- Lion Numbers Plunge as African Wilderness Succumbs to Human Pressure (newswatch.nationalgeographic.com)
- Outlaw the Sale of African Lion Meat (forcechange.com)
- African Lion Population Declined Rapidly in Last 50 Years, Study Shows (natureworldnews.com)
- U.S. to consider whether to add African lions to endangered species list (kansascity.com)
Fifty years ago, few people cared about pollution, deforestation or whaling. Then a remarkable book came along. In the first in a series charting the environment movement, Michael McCarthy looks back to its inspiration – Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring
The book that changed the world is a cliché often used but rarely true, yet 50 years ago this week a book appeared which profoundly altered the way we view the Earth and our place on it: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
This impassioned and angry account of how America’s wildlife was being devastated by a new generation of chemical pesticides began the modern environment movement: it awoke the general consciousness that we, as humans, are part of the natural world, not separate from it, yet we can destroy it by our actions.
A middle-aged marine biologist, Carson was not the first to perceive this, to see how intimately we are bound up with the fate of our planet; but her beautifully-written book, and the violent controversy it generated, brought this perception for the first time to millions, in the US, in Britain and around the world.
Down the centuries many people had expressed their love for nature, but Silent Spring and the furore it created gave birth to something more: the widespread, specific awareness that the planet was threatened and needed defending; and the past half-century of environmentalism, the age of Green, the age of Save The Whale and Stop Global Warming, has followed as a natural consequence.
When it began serialisation in The New Yorker on 16 June 1962 (it was published in full the following September) Silent Spring revealed to a horrified America – or at least, to those who did not know already – that its wildlife was being wiped out on a staggering scale by use of the new generation of synthetic pesticides, compounds made in the laboratory rather than from naturally occurring substances, which had followed on from the forerunner of them all, the chlorinated hydrocarbon DDT.
In particular, the songbirds of America’s countryside and small towns were everywhere falling silent. They had been killed by colossal pesticide spraying programmes, usually from the air, sanctioned in the 1950s by the US Department of Agriculture, individual states and local authorities, and aimed at insect pest threats which turned out to be largely illusory.
There was no need for them; their real driver was the American chemical industry which had managed to convince US agriculture that its bright new range of deadly super-poisons, organochlorines such as aldrin and dieldrin, organophosphates such as parathion and malathion, were just the wonder drugs that farming needed – in huge doses.
Even now, it is hard to read Rachel Carson’s account of these mass sprayings without incredulity, like the 131,000 acres in Sheldon, Illinois, sprayed with dieldrin to get rid of the Japanese beetle. “It was a rare farm in the Sheldon area that was blessed by the presence of a cat after the war on beetles was begun,” she wrote.
Tens of millions of acres were covered in poison in campaigns against the spruce budworm, the gypsy moth and the fire ant, none of which succeeded in eradicating their targets, but all of which exterminated countless other wild creatures – the American robins on suburban lawns, the trout in forest streams – to the bewildered dismay of the local people watching it happen around them.
Carson’s achievement was to bring the situation to national notice in a remarkable synthesis of dramatic reportage and deep scientific knowledge, explaining exactly what the new pesticides were, how their catastrophic side effects were occurring, and how senseless were the mass spraying campaigns (although she recognised that agricultural pesticides were necessary and did not advocate banning them all). To a reader today, her account is compelling and entirely convincing.
Yet it produced an explosion. The US chemical industry, and parts of the US scientific establishment, lashed out in frenzy against this presumptuous upstart holding them to account, with a long and bitter campaign of criticism and personal denigration; and it seemed as if what aroused their ire more than anything was the fact that their opponent was a woman – “An hysterical woman”.
A professional biologist from Pennsylvania who had worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, she was 55 when Silent Spring appeared. Unmarried and childless after a life spent looking after her mother and her young nephew, she had found emotional solace in a deep friendship with a neighbour at her Maine holiday home, Dorothy Freeman, about which there has inevitably been speculation; certainly, they were very close. Yet Carson was more than a scientist, she was also an acclaimed author, having written a trilogy of highly-praised books on the marine environment, one of which,The Sea Around Us of 1951, had been a best-seller.
Thus when Silent Spring appeared, she already had a substantial audience, and the furore stirred up by the US chemical industry only served to boost it a thousandfold; by the end of 1962, three months after full publication, the book had sold half a million copies, and public opinion was solidly behind her. (It did nothing to hinder her cause that President John F Kennedy took her side and referred Silent Spring to his Science Advisory Committee, which the following year vindicated her stance.)
So the madness of the mass poison sprayings came to an end, and the robins and their song returned to America’s spring; DDT was banned for agriculture in 1972 (although it remained in use for malaria prevention), and bans on dieldrin, aldrin and other substances followed.
Rachel Carson did not live to see it: she died of cancer in 1964. But her achievement was much more than to end a crazy and murderous assault upon nature, enormous though it was.
What she introduced to a mass audience for the first time, in explaining how the catastrophe was happening, was the idea of ecology, of the interconnectedness of all living things, of the connectedness between species and their habitats.
The pesticide falls on the leaf, and the leaf falls to the ground where it is consumed by worms, who also consume the pesticide; and robins consume the worms and consume the pesticide too, and so they die.
In showing how everything in the natural world was linked, she showed how humans were part of it too, and how human interference could wreck it, could wreck the balance of nature built up over billions of years.
That is a commonplace insight now, but in 1962 it was a new one. It was truly radical, because it implied – for the first time ever – that scientific advance and economic growth, closely linked as they were in America, might not be endlessly a good thing. There was the Earth itself to consider. And that perception has been at the heart of the movement that Silent Spring inspired, which is 50 years old on Saturday.
Spreading death: the new pesticides
Insecticides made from natural products, such as pyrethrum from chrysanthemum flowers and naturally occurring arsenic, had been known and used for centuries, before the more powerful effects of synthetic lab-produced pesticides became apparent during the Second World War.
The first was dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane – DDT – synthesised in the 19th century but whose insect-killing properties were only discovered in 1939. DDT was used with success in disease prevention during the war and was followed during the 1940s and 1950s by a family of similar organic chemicals.
However, the new organochlorines and organophosphates were not just more deadly, they built up in body fat and the accumulated dose could be passed on. “One of the most sinister features of DDT and related chemicals is the way they are passed on from one organism to another through all the links of the food chains,” Rachel Carson wrote.
The deadliest of these chemicals have now largely been banned, but controversy over pesticide use and its effect on wildlife has not gone away. It now focuses on the neonicotinoids, one of which, thiamethoxam, was banned by the French government last week after research showed it affected the homing ability of bees.
- Quiet Spring: Fifty Years Since Rachel Carson (ecology.com)
- Rachel Carson: The green revolutionary (independent.co.uk)
- The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice: Rachel Carson-50 years on and the DDT debates continue (selvavidasinfronteras.wordpress.com)
- Rachel Carson and the legacy of Silent Spring (guardian.co.uk)
- 50 years on and the DDT debates continue (blogs.independent.co.uk)
- The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice: In recognition of Rachel Carson-the green revolutionary (selvavidasinfronteras.wordpress.com)
- Silent Spring ~ Rachel Carson (evolutionarymystic.wordpress.com)
- Original Green Goddess 50 Years on (socyberty.com)
- We humans dislike facing up to unpleasant truths (blogs.independent.co.uk)
- Rachel Carson’s redwood dreams, and 50 years of “Silent Spring” (hcn.org)
- Happy Birthday Rachel Carson (ecology.com)
MIAMI—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a final rule protecting the Miami blue butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. The tiny, bright-colored butterfly once occurred across coastal South Florida but has disappeared from 99 percent of its range and is now facing extinction. Thursday’s rule finalizes protections for the rare Florida butterfly and is in accordance with a landmark settlement agreement reached between the Center for Biological Diversity and the Fish and Wildlife Service speeding up protection decisions for 757 species.
Protecting one species – factsheet at Learn From Nature blog soon
“The Miami blue butterfly is on the very brink of extinction, and this finalized protection gives it a real shot at survival and recovery,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center. “The Endangered Species Act is 99 percent effective at preventing the extinction of the species it covers, so we do have a hope, under the safety net of the Act, of stopping the loss of this beautiful butterfly.”
The world’s total surviving population of Miami blues is estimated by the Service at only a few hundred individuals. During surveys in 2010, fewer than 50 adults were observed; 2011 surveys yielded similar numbers. The Service is funding a study to search remote areas for additional populations, but none have been detected to date. Attempts to reintroduce the butterfly have been unsuccessful.
The Miami blue, whose adults live for just a few days, was believed extinct after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but in 1999 an amateur lepidopterist discovered a population in Bahia Honda State Park. In 2010 this population was found to have disappeared; the species survives only as scattered individuals in another population in the Marquesas Keys in Key West National Wildlife Refuge. The butterfly has declined severely due to urban sprawl, fire suppression, mosquito-control pesticides, loss of host plants due to iguana herbivory, severe weather events and rising sea levels from climate change. The Miami blue is about one inch long, and females are drab compared to males.
The Miami blue was first made a candidate for protection in 1984; the North American Butterfly Association sought emergency protection for the butterfly in 1999; then the Center filed a notice of intent to sue the Service in 2005 for failing to protect the butterfly followed by another petition seeking emergency protection for the Miami blue in January 2011. In August 2011 the Service enacted emergency protections for the butterfly.
The Service also finalized Endangered Species Act protection for the cassius blue, ceraunus blue and nickerbean blue butterflies on Thursday — three species found in the same habitat as the Miami blue — because of their similarity in appearance to the Miami blue.
- Rare Florida butterfly gets more protection (summitcountyvoice.com)
- Endangered Species Act Protection Finalized for Miami Blue Butterfly (naturenplanet.com)
- Miami blue butterfly formally listed as endangered (local10.com)
- Miami Blue Butterfly Added To Endangered Species List (miami.cbslocal.com)
- Miami Blue Butterfly Receives Federal Endangered Species Status (techie-buzz.com)
- PHOTOS: Endangered ‘Miami Blue’ Butterfly Vanishes (huffingtonpost.com)
- Threatened butterfly vanishes from Florida refuge (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Threatened butterfly vanishes in last Fla. refuge (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Threatened butterfly vanishes from Florida refuge (msnbc.msn.com)
- Butterfly Vanishes in Last Fla. Refuge (abcnews.go.com)
Naturalists have long marveled at the shell of the chambered nautilus. The logarithmic spiralechoes the curved arms of hurricanes and distant galaxies. In Italy, the Medicis turned thepearly shells into ornate ornaments.
Now, scientists say, humans are loving the living fossil to death. From New York Times reports in Sunday China Daily http://twitter.com/#!/China_Daily | Follow me at http://twitter.com/#!/LearnFromNature
The culprit? Growing global sales of jewelry and ornaments derived from the lustrous shell.Fishermen are killing the nautilus by the millions, scientists fear. On eBay and elsewhere, smallshells sell as earrings for $19.95. Big ones - the size of dinner plates - go for $56, oftenbisected to display the elegant chambers.
Catching the nautilus is largely unregulated; fishermen from poor South Pacific countries gladly accept $1 per shell.
“In certain areas, it’s threatened with extermination,” said NeilH. Landman, a biologist and paleontologist at the AmericanMuseum of Natural History in New York.
Scientists worry that rising demand may end up eradicating ananimal that grows slowly and needs 15 years or more to reachsexual maturity.
It lives on deep coral reefs in the warm southwestern Pacific.While it is easy to catch with traps on long lines, the depths -as much as 610 meters, below the range of sunlight and scuba divers - make it hard to study.Last summer, biologists began a formal census in at least six regions known to harbor the shycreatures. Dr. Landman said scientists must overcome ”a tremendous lack of knowledge” aboutits numbers and geographic range.
The fossil record dates the nautilus’s ancestors to the late Cambrian period, 500 million yearsago.
Some were true sea monsters, with gargantuan shells. Over eons, the thousands of specieshave dwindled to a handful.
The word ”nautilus” comes from the Greek for boat. When the first shells arrived inRenaissance Europe, stunned collectors saw the perfect spirals as reflecting the larger order ofthe universe.
The nautilus erects barriers inside its shell as it grows, leaving unoccupied chambers behind.Like a submarine, it changes the amount of gas in the empty spaces to adjust its buoyancy.And it uses jet propulsion to swim.
To feed on fish and shrimp, it has up to 90 small tentacles - and, like all cephalopods, it has arelatively large brain and eyes. It cannot go too deep lest its shell implode - also like asubmarine.
Deceptive marketing may obscure the threat to the nautilus. The opalescent material in theshell is sold as a cheaper alternative to pearls.
It is machined into pleasing shapes and sold as ”Osmena pearl.” (In the Philippines theOsmena family is a political dynasty; its name lends cachet.)
A recent Web ad offers an ”Osmena Pearl Sterling Silver Necklace” for $495. Collectors talk ofrare ”Nautilus pearls” that sell for thousands of dollars each. Scientists dismiss them asfraudulent.
Biologists have slowly compiled anecdotal reports ofpopulation declines near the Philippines, Indonesiaand New Caledonia.
But at a conference last year in Dijon, France,Patricia S. De Angelis of the United States Fish andWildlife Service reported that America had imported579,000 specimens from 2005 to 2008.
“The figure shocked the hell out of me,” Dr. Wardrecalled.
Suddenly, a species thought to be fairly plentiful became the object of serious concern. Thissummer, the Fish and Wildlife Service paid for Dr. Ward’s team to begin a global census off thePhilippine island of Bohol, which figures prominently in the shell trade.
In August, he said the team was setting 40 traps a day but was catching (and releasing) twocreatures at most - a tenth to a hundredth the rate of a decade ago. “A horror show,” he calledit.
He suspected one particular kind of nautilus ”is already extinct in the Philippines” or nearly so.
The team plans to expand the census in December to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Marinebiologists are lobbying for protection of the nautilus under the same United Nations rules thatprotect the American black bear, the African gray parrot, the green iguana and thousands ofother creatures. The rules allow commercial trade if it is legal and sustainable.
Dr. De Angelis described the nautilus team’s goals as getting to the bottom of the populationquestion and coming up with a credible estimate for the dimensions of the global trade.
“Ultimately,” she said, “we’re looking at whether this is sustainable.”
- Too Much Love Threatens Chambered Nautilus, Scientists Say (nytimes.com)
- Magical seashells of fun and horror (sfgate.com)
- The Dire Plight Of The Chambered Nautilus And The Healthier Appreciation Of Bob James’ “Nautilus” (theawl.com)
- That Whole Supernova Thing Was a Big Misunderstanding [Science Watch] (gawker.com)
- Species of spaces (thedizzies.blogspot.com)
- 5th August 1958:-USS Nautilus Goes Under North Pole (magsx2.wordpress.com)
- Rose Mae Ann Abing : Philippines (kiva.org)
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Protect All Chimpanzees (legalaction4animalrights.net)
- Bucks Blog: Tuesday Reading: Reassessing the Role of Mammograms (bucks.blogs.nytimes.com)
“This decision is an important affirmation that the science demonstrating that global warming is pushing the polar bear toward extinction simply cannot be denied.”
Reuters reports that a U.S. federal judge upheld the status of polar bears as a species threatened by climate change, denying challenges by a safari club, two cattlemen’s organizations and the state of Alaska.
The legal challenges — some contending polar bears don’t need this protection, others maintaining the big white bears need more — were launched after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service included this Arctic mammal on its list of threatened species.
The state of Alaska, Safari Club International and two cattlemen’s groups claimed the federal government’s decision to list the polar bear was “arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of agency discretion,” according to a memorandum opinion released with the ruling.
On the other side, environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, urged that polar bears be listed as endangered, which offers greater protection than that provided for wildlife classified as threatened.
The heart of the judge’s decision was whether the Fish and Wildlife Service had made a rational decision in its 2008 listing.
The judge noted that the wildlife agency took three years to “evaluate a body of science that is both exceedingly complex and rapidly developing,” considering 160,000 pages of documents and some 670,000 comments from a wide range of interested parties.”
“The court finds that plaintiffs (who challenged the listing) have failed to demonstrate that the agency’s listing determination rises to the level of irrationality,” Sullivan wrote.
“… the Court finds the (wildlife) service’s decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species … represents a reasoned exercise of the agency’s discretion based upon the facts and the best available science as of 2008 when the agency made its listing determination,” the judge wrote.
Environmental activists gave the decision measured praise.
Greenpeace called it “bittersweet,” the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity said stronger protections were warranted.
However, Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute said in a statement: “This decision is an important affirmation that the science demonstrating that global warming is pushing the polar bear toward extinction simply cannot be denied.”
- Courts Rule Polar Bears Need To Be Protected (naturalhistorywanderings.com)
- Polar Bear: Inside Nature’s Giant Special – C4, 9pm (mirror.co.uk)
- Battle over polar bear habitat heats up (summitcountyvoice.com)