Category Archives: National Parks

It’s Been 25 Years But Black Rhinos are Back in Tribal Africa

Thanks to relocation efforts by conservationists and the local community, black rhinos are back in Kenya.

In the 1960s, black rhinos once numbered 70,000 but now, there are only between 4,000 to 5,000 left in the world. Ince a common sight in Kenya, the black rhino population was decimated by poachers who killed the last of them 25 years ago.

Now, a small population is being reestablished in Kenya from existing herds in Lewa, Nakuru, and Nairobi National Parks. 20 rhinos have been shipped to and released into the new Sera Community Conservancy in the territory of the Samburu people in northern Kenya, with the hope that the animals will reproduce and spread out throughout the land.

The rhinos’ new home is owned and operated by local Samburu people and the park’s community rangers will watch over the animals to ward off poachers. They will receive support from the project’s other partners, which include the governmental organization Kenya Wildlife Service and the nonprofits Northern Rangelands Trust and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

Northern Rangelands Trust writes:

“This will be the first time in East Africa a local community will be responsible for the protection and management of the highly threatened black rhino, signaling a mind shift in Kenya’s conservation efforts.”

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

Featured image by Gerry Zambonini / CC BY-SA 2.0

Lions Have Returned to Rwanda After 15 Years

This year, seven lions were reintroduced to Rwanda, where the wild population died out a few years after the 1994 genocide.

Two males and five females were taken a 30-hour journey from South Africa to Akagera national park, a 276,800 acre area in Rwanda that borders Tanzania. The park is equipped with electric fencing and the lions with satellite collars.

Lions were wiped out in the region following the 1994 Rwanda genocide when refugees and displaced people killed the last of the lions to protect their livestock. But the endangered animal’s return symbolizes both a success for conservation and for the nation. Akagera is only about a two hour drive from Rwanda’s capital and an important tourist destination that could see a surge in popularity from the return of the lions.

As of last month, the lion is still listed as vulnerable in the world by the IUCN with the threat of wildlife trade increasing. But Akagera park provides these animals with a safe, natural habitat where they can hopefully flourish. Park officials are also working to reintroduce rhinos in Akagera, which, if successful, would be another great conservation achievement.

Photo by ollografik / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by ollografik / CC BY-ND 2.0

Featured image by Diana Robinson / CC BY-ND 2.0

World’s Most Endangered Big Cat May Be Coming Back From the Brink of Extinction

In 2007, the Amur leopard population dropped to just 40 adults – a dangerously low number that indicated they were on the edge of extinction.

But according to a 2014 census, the population appears to have doubled as 80 or more leopards were counted, with some even repopulating part of its historic range in China. The census was conducted over two years by federal nature reserve Land of the Leopard National Park, located on Russia’s far southeastern border shared with China. Using cameras, researchers were able to analyze and identify individual leopards.

Photo by flickrfavorites / CC BY 2.0
Photo by flickrfavorites / CC BY 2.0

The Amur leopard is a subspecies of the well-known leopard of the African savannas, who is adapted to a cold and snowy climate. It was once native to a wide range of eastern China, eastern Russia and the Korean Peninsula.

But poaching and habitat loss have drastically decreased the species’ numbers in the 20th century. By 1996, the IUCN Red List declared the Amur leopard critically endangered, as they were extinct from the Koreas, functionally extinct in China and existed in only small numbers Russia.

But this recent rise in the leopard’s numbers is a testament to Russia’s commitment over the last few years to saving the animal from extinction. In 2012, the Russian government created the Land of the Leopard National Park by combining three other smaller protected areas with a nearby unprotected land. It’s 1,011 square miles of forest habitat for Amur leopards and Siberian tigers, along with the deer and boar they prey on. Russia has also strengthened penalties for poaching.

Wildlife biologist collaborating with Russian scientists and conservationists in the region Jonathan Slaght says:

“There could in fact be 80, but more likely the number is a little bit less,” he said, because some leopards are likely to be moving between Russia and China and encountering the networks of camera traps on both sides of the border. What needs to happen, to evaluate that number of 80, is to join the Chinese data to the Russian data. It’s looking like both sides are willing to do one of these unified database analyses.”

Featured image by Tim Strater / CC BY-SA 2.0

What Does It Mean For Every Chimp, Even the Ones in Captivity, to be ‘Endangered’?

All chimpanzees – both in the wild and in captivity – are officially protected as “endangered species” under the Endangered Species Act.

This means it is now against the law to harm, harass, kill or injure any chimp, wild or captive. It brings an end to decades of exploitation and abuse, from using chimps in biomedical research and lab testing to using them as props for entertainment and selling them in the wildlife trade. All chimps will be sent to sanctuaries and rescue centers to spend the rest of their years in much better living conditions.

Photo by Ryan Summers / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Ryan Summers / CC BY-SA 2.0

The rule follows a petition filed in 2010 by Dr. Jane Goodall, The Humane Society of the United States and other groups, to eliminate the distinction between the legal status of captive and wild chimps. Before, the former were listed as “threatened” while the latter were “endangered.” But the change became official on June 16 and went into effect on September 14, after a 90-day grace period.

So now, all chimps have the same protections under the Endangered Species Act, making Goodall – founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace and one of the biggest chimp-advocates – very happy. In a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release, Goodall said:

“I was so pleased to hear about the proposed rule. This is exceptional news for all chimpanzees and for all the petitioners, especially the Humane Society of the United States, who have worked so hard on this issue. This decision gives me hope that we truly have begun to understand that our attitudes toward treatment of our closest living relatives must change. I congratulate the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for this very important decision.”

 
 
Featured image by Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0

India’s Asiatic Lion Population on the Rise

India’s population of endangered Asiatic lions has increased by 27% since 2010, a great victory for the species.

Found only in the Gir forest of Gujarat, the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) is the smaller cousin of the African lion and has a fold of skin along its stomach. They were once critically endangered but have steadily increased.

Asiatic Lioness
Image credit: Shaunak Modi / CC BY 2.0

Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel stated that this year, officials tallied 523 lions total, over five days in May in the 7,700 square mile or 20,000 square kilometer sanctuary and surrounding forest. Patel states:

“There are 109 male lions, 201 females and 213 cubs in the Gir sanctuary and nearby forest areas of Junagadh district.”

2,500 people, including wildlife experts from India’s top universities, used direct sightings, photographs and GPS tracking to document the lions and avoid double counting.

Asiatic Lion
Image credit: Shaunak Modi / CC BY 2.0

The census showed 359 in 2005 and 411 lions in 2010, making this year’s 523 a triumphant 27% population increase over the last five years. However, while the rise in numbers is a victory for the lions, it poses new challenges managing habitat and conflict with humans. World Wildlife Fun India director Diwakar Sharma says:

“This is good news on the conservation front but bigger populations in bigger areas increases the challenge of managing land, human and animal conflict.”

There is a great deal of international scrutiny over India’s conservation efforts because it is home to several endangered species. Fortunately, conservation in India is being recognized today, as various populations have experienced increases in the recent years, including a 30% increase for tigers since 2010.
 
 
Featured Image: Shaunak Modi / CC BY 2.0

Elephant Herd at Sunset

Photo by meaduva / CC BY-ND 2.0

Elephant Herd at Sunset

Isle Royale Wolf Population Down to Just Three Remaining

For the second year in a row, Lake Superior froze around Isle Royale National Park in Houghton, Michigan. This allowed wolves and other land animals to leave the island. But it could also have caused deaths within the dwindling wolf population.

After this winter, the Isle Royale wolf numbers were down to just three, as shown by the results of the 57th annual winter survey by Michigan Technological University, the longest-running predator-prey study in the world.

Six of the nine remaining wolves disappeared, but whether it was because they walked across the iced-over lake or simply died is still in question. Researchers know that one radio-collared wolf died, but the other missing five were not tagged and thus there is no way of knowing exactly what happened.

Wolves In The Snow
Image credit: Eric Kilby / CC BY-SA 2.0

The identity of the three remaining wolves can’t be verified until genetic testing is completed this year, but are suspected to be a male and female of 4 to 5 years old – close to the end of the average wolf life span in the wild – and a pup around 9 months old that is showing signs of genetic defects. Scientists believe that these last three wolves may not make it to next winter and that the deformed wolf may already be dead.

The deformities of the pup are a result of inbreeding, and a clear indication that the wolves are in desperate need of a “genetic rescue.” The wolves numbers have dropped since 2009 by 88%, from 24 to these three, which was probably due to such inbreeding.

Even if this pup were healthy, however, it would not necessarily be promising. With just three wolves, it is unlikely there would be a natural recovery within the population. A “genetic rescue” would entail transporting new wolves onto the island for breeding, which could naturally correct genetic problems like spine deformities and others issues.

But Michigan Technological University ecologists and co-leaders of the study John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson – who has worked on the study for more than 40 years – say it’s too late. Over the past six years, they have made a case for human intervention to no avail and now there’s little to no hope. Down to just three, the wolf numbers are too low and the older pair would not be very interested in mating with newly introduced wolves.

The only real chance for these wolves’ survival is if new members of the species come over to Isle Royale. Isle Royale initially got its wolves in 1949, when Lake Superior froze over and a pair came into the park. Through those two original wolves, the population increased, averaging 23 over the years with as many as 50 in the 1980s and 30 in 1995.

When the lake froze in 2013-2014, there was hope that some wolves might wander over from Canada, Michigan or Minnesota but instead one wolf left and was later killed. This winter, a new pair did enter the island but left again shortly and, unfortunately, did not intermingle with the resident wolves.

Bull Moose Lunchbreak
Image credit: Ray Dumas / CC BY-SA 2.0

In the meantime, the moose population is growing at 22% a year, causing another worry for the area. The last four years has seen such light wolf predation that moose now have 1,250 of its species. Within five or so years, they will grow faster than their habitat can sustain and their numbers will then drop drastically.

But once there is available food again, the moose population may not bounce back as expected, due to the species stripping the land of its ability to produce food. This is why Isle Royale needs wolves to naturally hunt them and keep the habitat-to-population ratios in balance. Vucetich and Peterson write in the annual report:

“Concerns remain that the upcoming increase in moose abundance will result in long-term damage to the health of Isle Royale’s vegetative community.”

So far, there are no intentions for humans to introduce new wolves to the national park. Isle Royale is making a new management plan, which could recommend such introduction, but it will be years before the plan is adopted.
 
 
Featured image: Gary Kramer, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / CC BY-ND 2.0

Pronghorn Antelope at Wind River Mountain Range

Photo by Tom Koerner, USFWS Mountain-Prairie / CC BY 2.0

Pronghorn Antelope at Wind River Mountain Range