U.S. Hopes to Extend Its Endangered Species Protections to Lions in Africa

Just 5 months after the death of Cecil the lion, the U.S. is making moves to protect lions all the way in Africa.

The U.S. plans to extend its endangered species protection to those big cats, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will classify lions in southern and eastern Africa as threatened and those in central and western Africa as fully endangered. This will put into practice tighter restrictions on the import of lion trophies and body parts.

This plan is significant because around 50% of all lion hunting in Africa is carried out by Americans. More than 5,600 lions have been poached and imported by American hunters in the last 10 years, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

With these new rules, people will be prohibited from bringing lion parts into the U.S. if the lion is from a country where they are endangered. In addition, any hunter that does bring a trophy in, will have to show that they were “legally obtained” from countries that have a “scientifically sound management program that benefits the subspecies in the wild.”

Photo by Derek Keats / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Derek Keats / CC BY 2.0

An international study found that the number of African lions have dropped by half since 1993 and are expected to decline another 50% the next 20 years in west, central and east Africa. Decreasing lion populations are caused by hunting, as well as habitat loss, and these new rules put the burden of proof on hunters.

Although lions are suffering these dramatic declines, they are only listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The organization estimates that there are around 20,000 lions total left in Africa.

Director of the FWS Dan Ashe says:

“The lion is one of the planet’s most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage. If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, it’s up to all of us – not just the people of Africa and India – to take action. Sustainable trophy hunting as part of a well-managed conservation program can and does contribute to the survival of the species in the wild, providing real incentives to oppose poaching and conserve lion populations.”

Featured image by Tambako The Jaguar / CC BY-ND 2.0

South Africa Votes to Make Domestic Rhino Horn Trade Legal Once Again

Last year, a record 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa. This year’s poaching rate was ever so slightly lower, at 1,175 rhinos.

Those numbers are drastic increases from 2008, when less than 100 were killed, before the ban on the domestic rhino horn trade was enacted. And a few months ago, South Africa voted to lift that ban. But then the Minister of Environmental Affairs appealed the decision, putting the operation on hold.

The decision to lift the ban was made by South Africa’s High Court at the end of November, in an effort to decrease demand for rhino horns and save the rhinos from extinction. WWF Wildlife Trade Policy Analyst Dr. Colman O Criodain thinks differently:

“It is hard to see any positive conservation benefits from this court ruling, particularly at a time when rhino poaching figures are at record levels. There is no domestic demand for rhino horn in South Africa, so it is inconceivable that anyone would buy it – unless they intend to sell it abroad illegally or they are speculating that international trade will be legalized.”

Photo by flowcomm / CC BY 2.0
Photo by flowcomm / CC BY 2.0

While lifting the domestic trade ban would allow people to buy horns in South Africa, their purchase would still be prohibited in international trade under the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Rhino Programme Manager for WWF South Africa Dr. Jo Shaw stated:

“This ruling is a blow to the government, which imposed the moratorium in 2009 in response to a sharp rise in rhino poaching and concerns that the national trade was facilitating the illegal international trade in rhino horn…Lifting the domestic moratorium can only encourage poaching and illegal activity, especially as it is likely to be misconstrued as a lifting of the current international trade ban. Efforts should rather be focused good regulation of existing private rhino horn stockpiles and increased capacity at ports of entry and exit to detect illegal wildlife products.””

Just a few weeks later, on December 8, the Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa appealed the court’s decision, as South Africa is home to 80% of the global population of rhinos. But the South African High Court dismissed the government’s application to appeal, forcing Molewa to appeal the High Court’s decision to the Supreme Court of Appeals. The government of South Africa has not yet made it clear whether it will request at next year’s 17th CITES Conference in Johannesburg that the international trade in rhino horn resume.

Photo by Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0

Sadly, other regions in Africa are experiencing increases in rhino poaching, despite this year’s slight drop in South Africa’s numbers. At least 130 rhinos were poached in Zimbabwe and Namibia in 2015, which is nearly 200% more than 2014: 50 were poached in Zimbabwe, more than double the previous year, and 80 rhinos were poached in Namibia, up from 25 in 2014 and just 4 in 2013. These two countries, along with South Africa, account for almost 95% of remaining African rhinos.

WWF Director, Global Species Programme Carlos Drews said:

“After seven years of increases, a decline in the rate of rhino poaching in South Africa is encouraging and the result of the government’s leadership and the tireless efforts of so many committed people. However, the rate remains unacceptably high – and soaring poaching levels in Namibia and Zimbabwe are cause for serious concern”.

Featured image by Jason Wharam / CC BY-ND 2.0

Humpback Whales Are Making a Huge Comeback in Australia

In Australia, the humpback whale population has rebounded to 90% of the pre-whaling numbers on the country’s west coast and 63% on the east coast.

Scientific research conducted by an international team of collaborators and published in the Marine Policy journal found that, since 2012, numbers are rising at about 9% per year off the west coast and 10% off the east coast – some of the highest recorded in the world.

Co-author on the paper and Murdoch University Professor Lars Bejder told Guardian Australia:

“Our point here was [that] we are really keen to bring out a successful story. It’s usually all doom and gloom in marine conservation. And it’s very depressing and demoralising for managers, politicians, NGOs and the general public, so what we wanted to do here was say there are rare occasions where it works, so don’t give up.”

Photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly / CC BY 2.0

Decades and decades of legal and illegal whaling since the 19th century severely diminished humpback numbers in seven major breeding populations in the southern hemisphere. For example, one group was reduced to 500 whales but is now at an estimated 14,552.

Because of these population increases, the risk of extinction is extremely unlikely and Australian humpback whales can be removed from their threatened status. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still be protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), though. Bejder says:

“If humpback whales were removed from the Australian threatened species list, the EPBC Act would still protect them from significant impacts as a matter of national environmental significance, as these whales are a migratory species. Beyond Australia, the International Whaling Committee manages the global moratorium on commercial whaling, which is essential for the humpback whales’ continued success.”

The Australian humpback whale comeback represents a conservation success. But continued success rests upon ongoing efforts to protect this species and keep its numbers on the rise.

Photo by Christopher Eden / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Christopher Eden / CC BY 2.0

Featured image by texaus1 / CC BY 2.0

Watch This Adorable Baby Polar Bear Grow Up [VIDEO]

This insanely cute baby polar bear at the Columbus Zoo is growing up so fast! Watch the video to see her go from one week to almost 3 months old and learning to walk on all fours:

A Plan to Save Great Apes in Central Africa

A new plan has been made to stop the declining numbers of great apes in Central Africa.

The plan, called “Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of Western Lowland Gorillas and Central Chimpanzees 2015-2025” outlines the growing threats to apes across six countries. Some of the threats include poaching, habitat loss, disease, gaps in law enforcement, prominent traffickers in the wildlife trade, and more.

Across these six countries, almost 80% of great apes live outside the nationally and internationally protected areas. WWF’s Great Apes Programme Manager David Greer says:

“Central African governments have demonstrated increased willingness to protect the dwindling populations of gorillas and chimpanzees. Now bold steps are needed to ensure that existing wildlife laws are upheld and that weak governance, which results in widespread impunity for wildlife traffickers, is eliminated, to give great apes the opportunity to survive and thrive.”

Photo by Kate / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Kate / CC BY-SA 2.0

Although the previous plan from 2005 helped slow the decline of ape populations, growing human populations and expanding industries are putting pressure on the remaining apes. The new plan addresses these issues by identifying 18 landscapes as critical for the animals’ survival. In addition, the plan calls for improvements in law enforcement, management of great ape habitats and land-use planning.

The new plan was published by WWF, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wildlife Conservation Society and partners and was funded by the Arcus Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Great Apes Survival Partnership. It is the combined work of 70 conservationists, scientists, wildlife health experts and wildlife authorities, protected area managers donors from the six countries in the region.
Featured image by Joachim Huber / CC BY-SA 2.0

Drone Footage Gives Rare Sight of Blue Whale Mother and Calf [VIDEO]

Blue whales are the largest animals in the world. They can grow up to 100 feet long, weigh 180 tons and live to 90 years old. But people rarely get to witness these majestic giants. Fortunately, activist group Sea Shepherd Society gives us a rare sight of these creatures, after encountering two in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica in late January. They sent a drone up from their boat, the Steve Irwin, and captured this stunning footage of a mother and calf blue whale.

Almost Every Seabird Has a Stomach Full of Trash and Plastic

A new study has found that a whopping 90% of seabirds are living with a gut full of plastic, trash and other ocean pollution.

An Australian team of researchers conducted a study on seabirds and debris, finding that nine out of 10 birds carry pollution in their stomach. They published the study, called “Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing” in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The cause is from a combination of plastic overproduction and birds mistaking plastic for fish eggs and other food. Study co-author and senior research scientist at the CSIRO, an Australian federal agency devoted to scientific research, Denise Hardesty says:

“It’s pretty astronomical. In the next 11 years we will make as much plastic as has been made since industrial plastic production began in the 1950s. [Birds] think they’re getting a proper meal but they’re really getting a plastic meal.”

Photo by Duncan / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Duncan / CC BY-SA 2.0

Certain birds are especially prone to eating plastic, including some species of albatross, shearwaters, fulmars, and petrels. The plastic has devastating effects on the birds, with many choking on the various pieces. Others collect plastic bits in their gut, which reduces their ability to absorb nutrients, causing weight loss and eventual death. Still others suffer from toxic chemicals leaking out of the plastic in their stomach.

Interestingly, the biggest problem didn’t occur where there was the most pollution, but where there were the most species: specifically, in the southern hemisphere near Australia and New Zealand.

After reaching the conclusions in this study, the researchers are estimating numbers will increase to 99% of seabirds holding plastic in their guts by 2050. But the research also offered some positive insight into how to seabirds. Lead author of the study and senior research scientist at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Chris Wilcox says:

“Another surprise in our research was that seabirds eat plastics in proportion to the rate in which they encounter them. If a seabird is in an area with a lot of plastic, they eat a lot of plastic. That makes the problem a very tractable one.” Identifying where birds feed and where oceanic plastic is, he says, will allow conservationists to “make pretty straightforward predictions about the risk to birds.”

Featured image by Michael Chen / CC BY 2.0

Bison Silhouette

Photo by Larry Smith / CC BY 2.0

Bison Silhouette

Speedy Dolphin

Photo by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0

Speedy Dolphin

3 Big wins for Wildlife Conservation in 2015

A lot is going wrong in the world of conservation, from the poaching crisis and wildlife trade to deforestation and illegal logging, and beyond. Still, we did see some major victories for animals last year. Here are 3 big wins for wildlife in 2015:

1. Elephants
In May, Nepal released numbers that showed the numbers of their endangered one-horned rhinos were up to 675 – a whopping 300 more animals than a decade ago. In August, Thailand destroyed its ivory to join in the fight against poaching elephants and the wildlife trade. And in September, the two largest markets for elephant ivory, U.S. and China, agreed to enact a complete ban on ivory trade.

Chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society Cristián Samper told TakePart:

“Two of the most powerful heads of state want an end to all ivory trade. That’s only good news for elephants, and we call upon all governments to follow suit. Once both nations definitively take this action, ivory trafficking will begin to fall, and the number of elephants could rise again.”


Image by Lucy Rickards / CC BY 2.0
Image by Lucy Rickards / CC BY 2.0

2. Oceans
A lot happened for for oceans in 2015: in July, the Philippines created its first sanctuary for the declining shark and ray populations. In September, New Zealand banned fishing, oil exploration, mining and other human disturbances in an area of ocean twice the size of the country itself. And in November, the U.S. and Cuba agreed to protect coral reefs and marine wildlife in the 90-miles of ocean between the two countries.


Image by Pius Mahimbi / CC BY-SA 2.0
Image by Pius Mahimbi / CC BY-SA 2.0

3. Lions
In 2015, we witnessed the tragic killing of Cecil the lion. But that catapulted the poaching issue, and the search for solutions, into the public eye. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to give the African lion endangered species protections. In addition, 45 commercial airlines banned the transportation of hunting trophies from lions, elephants and rhinos in 2015.

Featured image by Stuart Orford
/ CC BY-SA 2.0