Poachers Have Killed Half of the Elephants In Mozambique In Just 5 Years

A government survey showed that over the past five years, the number of elephants in Mozambique has dropped from 20,000 to 10,300 due to poaching.

That’s a 48% decline in just five years. And 95% of those elephant deaths occurred in remote northern Mozambique, which has the Niassa National Reserve, reducing the region’s population from 15,400 to 6,100.

The drastic decline is due to the illegal wildlife trade and a lack of governance. Many of the poachers came to Mozambique from Tanzania, where the market was bleak from its decimated elephant population.

Director of WCS in Mozambique, whose organization manages the Niassa Reserve, Alastair Nelson says:

“The major issue is one of governance. The north has always been a remote and poorly governed area, with an underlying level of corruption. Some district police and border guards are being paid off, some even rent out their own firearms.”

Photo by O.Taillon / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by O.Taillon / CC BY-ND 2.0

Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, has been slow to start fighting the poaching problem. Before June 2014, poachers were simply fined for illegal possession of a weapon. But after international pressure, the country adopted a new law criminalizing the killing of protected animals.

In May, Mozambique police completed the country’s biggest-ever search and acquisition of illegal wildlife products. They seized 1.3 tons of elephant ivory and rhino horn – the outcome of killing about 200 animals.

Sadly, an estimated 30,000 elephants in Africa are killed illegally for the ivory trade each year. There are around 470,000 wild elephants left in Africa, according to a survey by Elephants Without Borders. A century ago, there were several million.

Featured image by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo / CC BY 2.0

Swimming Python

Photo By dtron. / CC BY 2.0

Swimming Python

Leopard on a Log

Photo by Ganesh Raghunathan / CC BY 2.0

Leopard on a Log

Courting Masked Boobies

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / CC BY 2.0

Courting Masked Boobies

Illegal Logging is Destroying Panda Habitats in China

3,200 acres of Giant Panda habitat has been destroyed by loggers.

The logging is occurring illegally in the Sichuan Sanctuaries, a string of protected forest in the highlands of south-central China. Despite the government’s efforts to halt the practice, there are weak forestry regulations that allow the forest to be exploited for profit.

Greenpeace’s report on the issue states:

“Large areas of primary natural forest are a basic condition for the survival and reproduction of giant pandas in the wild. Deforestation further reduces and fragments the already limited natural habitat of the species, and is a direct threat to their feeding and migration zone. It increases the risk that their small and dispersed populations become increasingly cut off, limiting their chances to make contact with each other and reproduce.”

Less than 1,900 pandas still exist in the wild, most residing in the Sichuan province. And although the population has rebounded since 2003, the species is still considered at high risk. Habitat loss from illegal logging only puts them in more jeopardy.

Featured image by Bronwyn D / CC BY 2.0

First Footage Ever of the Omura’s Whale, One of the Rarest in the World

One of the most elusive whales in the world has been caught on camera. An international team of researchers made the first field observations of Omura’s whales off the coast of Madagascar.

For years, the species was mistaken for Bryde’s whales because of their similar appearances, both as small tropical baleen whales with like dorsal fins. But Omura’s whales are smaller in size and have unique markings on the jaw that are white on the right side and dark on the left.

In 2003, genetic data confirmed that the Omura’s whales were a distinct species, but there have been no confirmed sightings of the animal in the wild.

Until now, that is.

So little is known about Omura’s whales that scientists are unsure about how many of the species exist. But the researchers who observed the whale for the first time in the wild published a paper in the Royal Society Open Science journal that described the whale’s foraging and vocal behaviors, as well as habitat preferences in the shallow waters of coastal Madagascar.

The scientists have been conducting field research off the northwest coast of Madagascar since 2007 and first spotted an Omura’s whale in 2011, but misidentified it as a Bryde’s whale. After moving study areas in 2013, more sightings occurred and the team noticed the whales’ unique markings, leading them to believe they might be Omura’s whales.

Photo by Salvatore Cerchio et al. 2015
Photo by Salvatore Cerchio et al. 2015

Over two years, the researchers observed 44 groups, including four mothers with young calves. They collected skin biopsies from 18 adult whales, which confirmed the whales’ were, in fact, Omura’s whales, and cataloged approximately 25 individuals with photographs. The team also used hydrophones to record song-like vocalizations that may indicate reproductive behavior.

The study’s lead author Salvatore Cerchio says:

“What little we knew about these whales previously came primarily from eight specimens of Omura’s whales taken in Japanese scientific whaling…and a couple strandings of dead animals in Japan. This is the first definitive evidence and detailed descriptions of Omura’s whales in the wild and part of what makes this work particularly exciting…They appear to occur in remote regions and are difficult to find at sea because they are small–they range in length from approximately 33 to 38 feet–and do not put up a prominent blow.”

Cerchio returned to the field in November to further study the whales’ behavior, vocalizations and population characteristics. He hopes to produce the first estimate for any population of Omura’s whales with this work.

Featured image from Salvatore Cerchio et al. 2015

One Third of World’s Orangutans Are Threatened By Indonesia’s Forest Fires

Indonesia’s forests are burning as palm oil companies clear land to plant their cash crop, which is used in everything from cosmetics to food. That very same land is home to wild orangutans and other rare animals.

Satellite photography shows that about 100,000 fires have already burned in Indonesia since July, with thousands of those occurring deep in the forests and national parks across the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. These fires are threatening several animals, which include the rare clouded leopard, the iconic hornbill and as many as one third of the world’s remaining orangutans.

358 fire “hotspots” have been found inside the Sabangau Forest in Borneo, which is home to 7,000 wild orangutans – the world’s largest population. Fires are also occurring in the Tanjung Puting national park where 6,000 of the wild apes reside, the Katingan forest with 3,000 and the Mawas reserve with an estimated 3,500.

Photo by Chris Daley / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Chris Daley / CC BY 2.0

These kinds of fires produce an abundance of harmful gases and particulates, causing serious problems for both orangutans and humans. Up to 500,000 people have suffered respiratory infections, in addition to several orangutans. Communications manager for International Animal Rescue, which runs a rehabilitation center for more than 125 injured and orphaned orangutans in Ketapang, Borneo, Lis Key says:

“The problem with fire and smoke is absolutely dire. Wild orangutans and orangutans in centers like ours are badly affected by the smoke,” she said. “Some suffer upper respiratory tract infections, which can even prove fatal. Some of the babies we’ve taken in recently have been suffering not only from dehydration and malnourishment through lack of food but also breathing problems from the polluted air.”

Not only do the fires threaten orangutans with disease and malnutrition, but also with habitat loss. The apes are being pushed out of their homes into areas closer to humans, where they are killed or sold into the pet trade.

Photo by Victor Ulijn / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Victor Ulijn / CC BY-SA 2.0

The fires have burned out of control from an unusually dry and windy season due El Niño weather patterns. And one of the worst parts of the fires is that they can occur underground, re-emerging away from the initial source. This makes them extremely difficult to extinguish and contain. Unfortunately, the Indonesian fires may not end the rainy season begins mid-November, if then.

Featured image by Andrew H / CC BY-ND 2.0

Fox in the Bluebells

Photo by lee roberts / CC BY-SA 2.0

Fox in the Bluebells

SeaWorld San Diego To End Orca Shows and California Bans Captive Breeding

SeaWorld has faced a world of backlash since the 2013 documentary Blackfish depicted the problems within the sea-park industry and the sad consequences of enclosing highly intelligent marine mammals in a tank.

After years of protests, the CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby has announced putting a stop to the controversial theatrical orca shows at its San Diego park. The plan is to phase them by the end of 2016.

The decision to end the orca shows is a direct response to customers, as attendance at the San Diego park dropped 17% last year and continues to drop. Manby said:

“We are listening to our guests, evolving as a company, we are always changing. In 2017 we will launch an all new orca experience focused on natural environment [of whales]. 2016 will be the last year of our theatrical killer whale experience in San Diego.”

Photo by Stig Nygaard / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Stig Nygaard / CC BY 2.0

In addition, SeaWorld will implement a few more changes, including replacing the shows with a new orca experience that emphasizes a more natural environment for the mammals and an informative, conservation-minded approach that inspires people to act. Manby wants to refocus SeaWorld on the conservation of animals, not their entertainment.

SeaWorld San Diego Changes

Although the orca shows will continue at SeaWorld’s other parks in San Antonio, Texas and Orlando, Florida, this represents a step in the right direction. Manby’s decision comes days after congressman Adam Schiff said he would introduce legislation to end the captivity of orcas at SeaWorld:

“The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display. We cannot be responsible stewards of our natural environment and propagate messages about the importance of animal welfare when our behaviors do not reflect our principles…The decision by SeaWorld to phase out killer whale shows in San Diego is a welcome step along the path towards ending the captivity of these magnificent creatures. Much more needs to be done, however.”

In an attempt to do more, California Coastal Commission approved a $100 million expansion of the orcas’ tanks in San Diego in October, but attached an amendment that banned captive breeding – including through artificial insemination – and also banned the sale, trade or transfer of captive orcas. The amendment halted the project, which would have tripled the size of existing enclosures.

Photo by Scott Akerman / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Scott Akerman / CC BY 2.0

Featured image by Josh Hallett / CC BY 2.0

What Was Behind the Mysterious Whale Deaths on the Pacific Coast in 2015?

Since May, more than 30 whales have been found dead on the pacific coast without explanation.

11 fin whales, 14 humpbacks, one gray whale and four unidentified cetaceans were found dead in the western gulf of Alaska. Six more whales were found dead off the coast of British Columbia including four humpbacks, one sperm and one fin whale.

The unknown cause behind the deaths prompted the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to declare it an “Unusual Mortality Event” last month. But after investigation, scientists think a widespread algae bloom located off the coast could be suspect in the deaths. NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle told the Guardian:

“Our leading theory at this point is that the harmful algal bloom has contributed to the deaths. But we have no conclusive evidence. The bottom line is we don’t know what’s causing these deaths.”

Scientists have already been monitoring a large stretch of warm water that started out off the coast of Alaska two years ago and has grown to almost 500 miles across. “The Blob,” as it has been named, is several degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean and has caused a record algae bloom spanning the West Coast from Alaska to California.

Photo by NOAA
Photo by NOAA

However, the fast rate of decomposition makes it nearly impossible to sample the dead whales, meaning there may never be a definitive conclusion. Scientists do know of one species of phytoplankton that produces a neurotoxin, which enters the food chain in smaller fish and birds, can cause disorientation and fatal seizures in severe cases.

Although the death count is almost three times the historic average annual mortality rate, whale populations are not overly affected. Marine mammal specialist with the Alaska Sea Grant marine advisory program and on-site coordinator of the UME investigation Bree Witteveen tells Yahoo Canada News:

“From a population perspective, the level of deaths that we’ve seen are not likely to have much of an impact. It’s more of a warning sign.”

Featured image by Sarah Nichols / CC BY-SA 2.0