If you thought cities were all about concrete jungles and the teeming millions of humans inhabiting it, you are wrong. Quite astonishingly, it's not just man who is moving from the country to big cities; it's their four-legged and furry friends, too. There have been sightings of bobcats, deer, raccoon, coyotes and squirrels in the areas surrounding Laurel Canyon Boulevard, a major arterial road of Los Angeles. It's not unusual to find a crocodile basking in the Biscayne Bay shores of Florida alongside accommodating boaters. Chicago city's well tended patches of forests and wetlands are home to skunks, coyotes and shorebirds migrating from the Illinois corn hinterland.
One of the most common American animal, the coyote, has adapted to the urban life seamlessly. The coyote is a true survivor of all conditions. It can be found in swamps, grasslands, dense forests, deserts and high mountains and it can live off just about anything. Being a natural scavenger, the call of the cities makes it one more addition to its habitat. Over and above its normal diet of snakes, rodents, rabbits, frogs, birds and grasshoppers, it has added dog and cat food and garbage to its repertoire. Coyotes resemble collie dogs and have brownish gray fur and a belly that is cream-colored. They weigh 20 - 45 pounds and are highly reproductive animals, something that has made its proliferation into towns and cities easier. Big parks and landscaping surrounding golf courses are some of the creature’s favorite urban hangouts.
The American red fox is another animal that has made cities its home. It mostly moves around after dusk and before dawn scavenging for food. Its tiny size makes it difficult to spot and gives it the advantage to move around unnoticed. While the diet of the rural fox consists entirely of meat, its constitutes just 50 percent of its urban cousin who feeds on pigeons, insects, worms, fruits, vegetables and city garbage.
The raccoon has taken to urban America quite successfully. Found almost all over country, the first city sighting of this creature was in the early 1920's in the suburban areas of Cincinnati. Since then it has proliferated to most cities. The raccoon is just 16 to 28 inches long and weighs from 8 to 20 pounds. Its grayish coat covers its entire body including the belly. Its face is a mixture of black and white and its eyes look like a pair of sunglasses from afar. Among its favorite sleeping places in the cities are abandoned houses. Gardens are favorite targets of raccoon scavenging for fruits or vegetables. Garbage leftovers are another good food source.
The tiny Virginia opossum, whose natural habitat is the Rockies and areas east of it, are quickly migrating to cities. More like a rodent in appearance, but a bit more furry, this gray and white colored creature now competes with the raccoon for city trash in the backyards of American urban homes. Basements, sewers and chimneys are ideal hiding places for the possum during busy city day hours. This Virginia native is now found all over the Western states since it was introduced in the region during the Great Depression as a source of food for humans.
The skunk is another common squirrel-like American animal which is found in its towns and cities. Although its white and black striped coat gives it a cute look, it is dreaded for the terribly pungent odor it emits. Bird nests and eggs are favorite targets of the skunk. It prefers to come out at night, although day sightings of the creature in cities are not uncommon.
Astonishing instances of urban sightings also include a new species of leopard frog discovered in 2013, not in the backwaters of Florida, but in Staten Island, New York.
Ospreys, a 24-inch fish-eating bird resembling a hawk, are fast abandoning their nesting habitats in the wild and moving them to unusual havens in cities. Cell phone towers, channel markers, power pole cavities and other man-made structures are the new safe houses for their elaborate 250 pound nests. The ospreys have become familiar with humans and have begun nesting close to busy highways.
Apart from squirrels, which are the most common wild urban creatures, various species of deer, foxes, coyotes and wild turkey are being frequently sighted in parks and golf courses skirting cities. The adaptability of these new denizens in urban environs heralds a new era of human awareness and tolerance to the co-existence of creatures of the wild in their midst.
Many species of wildlife have adapted to city and suburb life. Some of the animals have made themselves at home by nesting in chimneys, attics and basements. They dig through trash cans to find food, and even eat dog feces that are not properly disposed of. While these animals are beautiful to see from a distance, up close encounters can be shocking.
Tips To Live In Harmony With Wild Urban Animals
Make sure trash is secure at all times. Trash receptacles should be kept tightly closed at all times. Wild animals will not live where they cannot eat. Removing the food source is the most effective way to evict them.
Inspect properties regularly for places where the animals can live. Make sure that your chimneys are capped so animals can’t nest in your fireplace. Keep flues closed so they don’t invade living areas. Inspect attics, crawlspaces, and basements for holes.
Use caution repairing holes in the spring, as there may be babies already in nests. Try playing loud music to encourage animals to leave before patching holes.
If putting out food for alley cats, only put out enough food to satisfy their hunger. Pick the food up when the cats finish so the leftovers don’t attract rodents or wild animals. Always trap, neuter and return cats in a feral colony you are managing.
Try deterrents. Sprays and other agents that are designed to keep unwanted animals away can be purchased at most garden or hardware stores. Moth balls or ammonia soaked rags can also aid in deterring animals from a specific area.
Keep trees well trimmed. If there are trees hanging over your house, animals are likely gaining access to the rooftop by climbing the trees.
Hunting is a major threat to wildlife, particularly in tropical regions. An international team of ecologists and environmental scientists have found that bird and mammal populations are reduced within 7 and 40 km of hunters' access points, such as roads and settlements.
Within these impact zones, mammal populations decline on average by 83%, and bird populations by 58%. Additionally, commercial hunting has a higher impact than hunting for family food, and hunting pressure is higher in areas with better accessibility to major towns where wild meat can be traded.
Only 17 percent of the original mammal abundance and 42 percent of the birds remain in hunted areas.
There are several drivers of animal decline in tropical landscapes: habitat destruction, overhunting, fragmentation, etc.
Higher hunting pressure occurs around villages and roads. Scientists have discovered that humans gather resources in a circle around their village and in the proximity of roads. As such, hunting pressure is higher in the proximity of villages and other access points. From there the densities of species increase up to a distance where no effect of hunting is observed.
Mammals are more sought after because they are bigger and provide more food. They are worth a longer trip. The bigger the mammal, the further a hunter would walk to catch it.
With increasing wild meat demand for rural and urban supply, hunters have harvested the larger species almost to extinction in the proximity of the villages and they must travel further distances to hunt. For commercially interesting species such as elephants and gorillas, hunting distances are even larger because the returns are higher.
Protected areas are no safe haven. Mammal populations have been reduced by hunting even within protected areas.
Strategies to reduce hunting in both protected and unprotected ecosystems are urgently needed to avoid further defaunation, including monitoring hunting activities by increasing anti-poaching patrols and controlling overexploitation via law enforcement.
Mountains have the power to move us. They have always been a source of wonder and inspiration for humans. Their majesty impresses us, their wildlife captivate us, and their tranquil ecosystems bring us peace. Millions of people visit mountains every year to take in their stunning scenery and relaxing atmospheres.
But these ancient and majestic mountains are in jeopardy. Once their remoteness protected them from excessive human exploitation, but now they are under increasing threat. These last wild areas are fast disappearing to animal agriculture, development and other human impacts. Changes in climate could destroy vast areas of mountainous regions.
Mountain environments cover a large portion of the world. Half the human population depends on their resources. Millions of people also live in mountainous areas. These ancient landscapes are more than breathtaking backdrops to peaceful pastoral lands. Their contributions to humans is immense.
Mountains are vital to all life on earth, including humans. What happens on the highest mountain peak affects all life in the lowlands. Lands, freshwaters and even oceans are affected by moutains.
About 80 percent of our planet's fresh water originates in mountains. Mountains are the source of most rivers. They provide the water of most reservoirs. Many areas derive practically all their water from mountains. About half the population of the planet lives in southern and eastern Asia and depends on precipitation that falls on the huge mountain chains of the Himalaya-Karakoram-Pamirs-Tibet regions.
Mountains conserve winter snow, slowly releasing moisture during spring and summer. In arid areas of the planet, irrigation often requires water from melting snows in distant mountains. Mountains often have forested slopes that absorb rain like a sponge, allowing water to travel downhill gently – preventing devastating floods.
Protected by their remoteness and limited agricultural potential, mountains have faced less human encroachment than other ecosystems. They have become sanctuaries for countless plants and animals that may have been eradicated in lowland areas. Over a third of land plants and vertebrates have been squeezed into less than 2 percent of the planet. Many of these species live in rich, unspoiled areas referred to as biological hot spots. Many hot spots are mountainous areas.
A small mountainous area in Malaysia, Kinabalu National Park, contains 4,500 species of plants—more than 25% of the amount of plant species in the entire United States.
The survival of many animals depends on mountains, including central Asia snow leopards, China's giant pandas, and the Andes condors.
Numerous mountain animals are threatened with extinction.
Many of our most important food crops came from wild plants in mountains. Corn came from the highlands of Mexico. Wheat came from the Caucasus. Tomatoes and potatoes came from the Peruvian Andes. Countless other food sources still await discovery.
A third of all parks and protected lands are found in mountainous areas due to their stunning natural beauty. They are a popular destination for tourists and their local communities benefit from the tourism industry.
Mountains are often valued purely for their abundant natural resources. But their inhabitants, both wildlife and humans, deserve just as much appreciation and protection. Indigenous humans of the mountains possess a body of ecological knowledge that often rivals modern science.
Traditional knowledge accumulated by mountain peoples is invaluable in protecting these vital ecosystems. This wealth of knowledge needs protected just as other mountain assets do.
The world's deserts are generally remote, inaccessible, and inhospitable. Hidden among them, however, are hydrocarbon reservoirs, evaporites, and other mineral deposits, as well as human artifacts preserved for centuries by the arid climate.
In these harsh environments, the information and perspective required to increase our understanding of arid-land geology and resources often depends on remote sensing methods. Remote sensing is the collection of information about an object without being in direct physical contact with it.
Remote sensing instruments in Earth-orbit satellites measure radar, visible light, and infrared radiation. Radar imaging systems provide their own source of electromagnetic energy, so they can operate at any time of day or night. Additionally, clouds and all but the most severe storms are transparent to radar.
The first Shuttle Imaging Radar System (SIR-A), flown on the U.S. space shuttle Columbia in 1981, recorded images that show buried fluvial topography, faults, and intrusive bodies otherwise concealed beneath sand sheets and dunes of the Western Desert in Egypt and the Sudan. Most of these features are not visible from the ground. The radar signal penetrated loose dry sands and returned images of buried river channels not visible at the surface. These images helped find new archeologic sites and sources of potable water in the desert. These "radar rivers" are the remnants of a now vanished major river system that flowed across Africa some 20 million years before the development of the Nile River system.
Radar imagery also is a powerful tool for exploring for placer mineral deposits in arid lands. In 1972, the United States launched the first of a group of unmanned satellites collectively known as Landsat. Landsat satellites carry sensors that record "light," or portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, as it reflects off the Earth. Landsat acquires digital data that are converted into an image.
The scarcity of vegetation makes spectral remote sensing especially effective in arid lands. Rocks containing limonite, a hydrous iron oxide, may be identified readily from Landsat Multispectral Scanner data. The Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) has increased our ability to detect and map the distribution of minerals in volcanic rocks and related mineral deposits in arid and semiarid lands. More than a million images of Earth have been acquired by the Landsat satellites. A Landsat image may be viewed as a single band in blackand-white, or as a combination represented by three colors, called a color composite. The most widely used Landsat color image is called a false-color composite because it reproduces the infrared band (invisible to the naked eye) as red, the red band as green, and the green band as blue. Healthy vegetation in a false-color composite is red.
In nature, all living things are in some way connected. Within each community each species depends on one or more of the others for survival. And at the core of individual ecosystems is a creature, or in some cases a plant, known as a keystone species.
This species operates much like a true key stone, which is the stone at the top of an arch that supports the other stones and keeps the whole arch from falling down. When a keystone species is taken out of its environment, the whole system could collapse.
In California's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary the sea otter is a keystone species in the kelp forest ecosystem. Kelp forests provide food and shelter for large numbers of fish and shellfish. Kelp also protect coastlines from damaging wave action. One of the sea otter's favorite delicacies is the sea urchin who in turn loves kelp.
When present in healthy numbers, sea otters keep sea urchin populations in check. But when sea otters decline, urchin numbers explode and grab onto kelp like flies on honey. The urchins chew off the anchors that keep the kelp in place, causing them to die and float away, setting off a chain reaction that depletes the food supply for other marine animals causing their numbers to decline.
By the early 20th century when sea otters were nearly hunted out of existence for their fur, kelp beds disappeared and so did the marine life that depended on kelp. Years later, conservationists moved some remaining otters from Big Sur to Central California. Gradually, their numbers grew, sea urchin numbers declined, and the kelp began to grow again. As the underwater forests grew, other species reappeared.
Protecting keystone species, like sea otters, is a priority for conservationists. Often, the extent of the keystone functions of a species aren't known until the species has been removed from its environment and the ecosystem changes. Rather than wait until it may be too late for the system's health and survival, scientists make every effort to keep an ecosystem working as nature had intended.
A wetland is an area of land that is saturated with water. There are many different kinds of wetlands and many ways to categorize them.
Wetlands generally fall into five general types: marine (ocean), estuarine (estuary), riverine (river), lacustrine (lake), and palustrine (marsh).
Common names for wetlands include marshes, estuaries, mangroves, mudflats, mires, ponds, fens, swamps, deltas, coral reefs, billabongs, lagoons, shallow seas, bogs, lakes, and floodplains, to name just a few!
Often found alongside waterways and in floodplains, wetlands vary widely due to differences in soil, topography, climate, water chemistry, and vegetation. Large wetland areas may also be comprised of several smaller wetland types.
Wetland habitats serve essential functions in an ecosystem, including acting as water filters, providing flood and erosion control, and furnishing food and homes for fish and wildlife.
They do more than sustain plants and animals in the watershed, however. Many wetlands are not wet year-round because water levels change with the seasons. During periods of excessive rain, wetlands absorb and slow floodwaters, which helps to alleviate property damage and may even save lives.
Wetlands also absorb excess nutrients, sediments, and other pollutants before they reach rivers, lakes, and other waterbodies. They are also great spots for canoeing, hiking, and bird-watching, and are enjoyable outdoor "classrooms" for people of all ages.
Deep in the mountainous rainforests of Madagascar, a furry brown and white creature leaps from tree to tree. As it moves high above your head, you notice that two smaller creatures cling to it. You are witnessing the travels of a lemur and her babies. This lemur is called the Milne-Edwards Sifaka. You are lucky because this kind of lemur may be harder to find in the future. That’s because climate change is making it difficult for some lemur mothers to care for their offspring.
Lemurs are a kind of primate. Primates are animals like monkeys, apes, and even humans. This specific kind of primate lives in only one place—the island of Madagascar. Many lemurs, including the Milne-Edwards Sifaka, live in the lush rainforests that are scattered throughout this island. These rainforests are obviously pretty wet. That doesn’t mean they are protected from the effects of climate change, though.
Lemurs are accustomed to regular patterns of rain. Plants take in water from the rain. Sifakas eat these plants to get the water they need to survive. But as Earth’s climate warms, rain patterns are changing. Sometimes the lemurs do not get as much water as they’d like. Lemur moms need that water even more. They make milk from the water and nutrients in the plants they eat. Without this milk, it is difficult to raise a baby lemur.
Scientists have noticed that when there is less rain, fewer babies survive. In dry years, the sifakas have to eat more plants to get the same amount of water that they would in normal years. That means a whole lot of chewing. Scientists think that older sifaka moms have trouble chewing enough plants to make milk for their babies because their teeth are worn out.
In dry seasons, the older sifaka moms may simply be unable to eat enough plants to produce the milk their babies need. Scientists think this lack of milk could be the reason that fewer babies survive dry times. This is a real problem because as the climate changes, there are going to be more and more dry periods in the rain forests.
These sifakas and their difficulties may alert other scientists studying primates in other rainforests to watch for similar problems. Studying rainforests and the animals that live in them is an important job. Without these dedicated scientists, sifakas and other rainforest animals might die out. Thanks to these scientists, they may have a fighting chance.
The dolphin is found in almost all seas and oceans of the world, and even some rivers. Their amazing intelligence, creativity, playfulness and complex culture captures the hearts and minds of humans around the globe. But these fascinating creatures are continuously under threat from human activities, including marine pollution, habitat degradation, hunting, low frequency sonar and fishing gear.
Many dolphin species face an uncertain future. The Amazon river dolphin and the Ganges river dolphin are critically or seriously endangered. The critically imperiled vaquita — the world’s smallest and most endangered porpoise — is being driven extinct, with only around 50 remaining.
Pesticides, heavy metals, plastics, and other industrial and agricultural pollutants that do not disintegrate rapidly in the environment concentrate in predators such as dolphins. Injuries or deaths due to collisions with boats, especially their propellers, are also common. Various fishing methods, most notably purse seine fishing for tuna and the use of drift and gill nets, kill many dolphins. In some parts of the world dolphins are killed in harpoon or drive hunts.
Complex, Social, Intelligent, Playful
Dolphin brains are larger and, in some ways, more complex than human brains. They have such significant brain power it stops them from sleeping. Their sophisticated language allows them to trace other dolphins up to six miles away. They even have names for one another. They communicate with a variety of low sounds that humans cannot hear. They also use echolocation – sending sounds through water to bounce off objects to determine their shape, size and distance.
Dolphins form complex social groups. They crave physical attention and stroke each other. They use tools and pass their knowledge through a family line. They reason, problem-solve and comprehend ideas. They plan ahead. They have advanced math skills. They blow bubbles that vary in exact amplitudes to detect fish, then subtract values found with their echolocation to confirm the target.
Dolphins love to play. They follow ships and ride bow-waves like human surfers. They play catch, tag and other games with each other, and also enjoy playing with other animals. Dolphins swim onto the nose of humpback whales, who then raise themselves out of the water so the dolphins slide down their heads - both animals enjoy the game.
Threats From The Fishing Industry
The modernization of the fishing industry has resulted in far more fish caught annually than half a century ago. Sophisticated fishing techniques are responsible for the depletion of fish in the oceans by one-third. For the dolphin, whose main intake is fish, especially tuna, this scale of commercial over-fishing has come as a death knell.
Fishing gear continues to pose the most significant threat to dolphin conservation worldwide. Scientists estimate that each year more than 650,000 whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals are caught and killed in fishing gear. These animals are unintentional “bycatch” of commercial fisheries and either drown or are tossed overboard to die from their injuries. Fishing nets are now made of much tougher material, and dolphins getting routinely trapped in them is a common occurrence. One such menace is the gill-net, which when vertically hung trap the fish by their gills. In addition, trawl nets, driftnets, and longline gear are responsible for the lives of almost 60,000 dolphins each year. Many fishermen kill dolphins because the dolphins cause damage to their nets.
Dolphins are also hunted as a form of delicacy in parts of Asia, South America and Africa. Dolphins fall prey to "drive hunting", a hunting method where boats converge and crowd around the mammals driving them towards a beach or bay. This form of hunting has accounted for the lives of thousands of dolphins each year, a phenomena vividly depicted in the documentary "The Cove".
Massive dolphin hunts are being carried out to obtain dolphin teeth for use in wedding ceremonies. Thousands of dolphins have been killed by villagers in Fanalei where a single dolphin tooth is worth 70 cents.
Noise pollution in the form of ocean shipping, seismic testing for the purpose of oil and gas exploration, and underwater blasts carried out for military tests have had a serious effect on the dolphins acute sense of hearing. Chronic noise from human activities has a big impact on these animals, since it interferes with their acoustic signaling – increased background noise can mean animals are unable to hear important signals, and they tend to swim away from sources of noise, disrupting their normal behavior. Noise pollution could also be the reason for mass strandings of dolphins on various beaches each year.
Litter & Toxic Pollution
Colossal amounts of waste entering the sea every day have also added to the dolphin's woes. Plastic bags, toxic chemicals and heavy metals are some of the pollutants that have accidentally become food for the mammals. Pesticides cause failure of immune systems in dolphins and affect their reproductive abilities. As a consequence, many dolphins have been found carrying cancerous tumors.
Climate change is another serious threat to the dolphins. The gradual warming of the seas and oceans are driving dolphins into cooler and deeper waters where food sources for the creatures are hard to come by. Habitats of certain species of dolphins found at the confluence of river and ocean waters (brackish waters) are being severely affected by rising ocean levels. Scientists question if dolphins can adapt to such changing conditions.
The story of freshwater dolphins or river dolphins is not very dissimilar to their cousins of the seas. While the Amazon river dolphin numbers in ten of thousands in their natural habitats of the Amazon and Orinoco river systems, they face dangers from tribesmen and fishermen with whom they have to compete for a depleting fish population. In countries like Colombia and Brazil, the dolphin is used as bait by those active in the mota catfish trade.
The Ganges river dolphin, once numbering nearly 100,000, have been reduced to under 2,000 now, making it a seriously endangered species. Its habitat, the Ganges River, flows through some of the mostly densely populated regions of the world, the Northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The existence of such human population results in direct killing, illegal construction of dams and barrages, rampant fishing, pollution occurring from open defecation by millions on a daily basis, and toxic material draining in from thousands of industrial units lining the river.
The Irrawaddy river dolphins, inhabitants of the Mekong and Irrawaddy river deltas of South-East Asia, is one species which is witnessing a turnaround of sorts. Hunted down ruthlessly over the years by the illegal wildlife trade, just about 90 of these unfortunate mammals exist now in a 120-mile stretch of the Mekong river in Cambodia. But the stunning discovery of nearly 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins in the freshwater regions of the faraway Bangladeshi mangrove forests skirting the coast of Bay of Bengal has given this species hope.
Hundreds of dolphins are held in captivity. They are sentenced to a life of confinement deprived of normal social and environmental interaction. Confined to tanks as small as 24 feet by 24 feet wide and 6 feet deep, the reverberations from their own sonar bouncing off walls can drive them insane. Tanks are kept clean with chlorine, copper sulfate, and other harsh chemicals that irritate animals' eyes, causing many to swim with their eyes closed. They are often forced to learn tricks through food deprivation. Marine parks may withhold up to 60 percent of food before shows so that the animals will be "sharp" for performances. The stress of captivity is so great that some commit suicide.
Most people have ever heard of pangolins. Yet around the globe they are facing an unprecedented crisis. The pangolin is one of the most sought-after and poached wild animals in the world. Nearly one million have been illegally traded over the past decade.
Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are nocturnal, ant and termite eating mammals found in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa whose bodies are covered with overlapping scales made of keratin, the same protein that forms human hair and finger nails, and rhino horn.
There are eight pangolin species worldwide. Four of the species can be found in 17 range states across Asia, and four in 31 range states across Africa. Pangolins occupy a diverse array of habitats; some are arboreal or semiarboreal and climb with the aid of prehensile tails, while others are ground-dwelling. Some pangolin species, such as the Chinese pangolin and Temminck’s ground pangolin, sleep in underground burrows during the day. Others, including white-bellied pangolins and Sunda pangolins, are known to sleep in trees. Pangolins dig burrows with their strong front legs and claws, using their tails and rear legs for support and balance.
Pangolins are insectivores. They use their claws to break into nests of ants and termites, and they use their long, sticky tongues to lap up the insects. A baby pangolin will remain with its mother for three to four months and cling to its mother’s tail as she forages for insects. Pangolins have few defenses beyond their scaly exterior. While their habit of rolling up in a ball is an effective response to predators, the behavior actually makes it easier for poachers to collect and transport these toothless mammals.
Pangolins perform important ecological roles such as regulating insect populations. It has been estimated that an adult can consume more than 70 million insects annually. Pangolins also excavate deep burrows for sleeping and nesting. Burrowing animals are sometimes referred to as “ecosystem engineers” as their burrows may be used by other species; for example new research shows that giant armadillos, South American mammals that fulfill a similar ecological niche to ground pangolins, dig burrows that are used for shelter by at least 25 other species.
Pangolin populations are severely dwindling due to massive unsustainable and illegal international and domestic trade. Traffickers seek out pangolins for their scales and blood — which are boiled off or drained to use in traditional medicine — and their meat, which is considered a delicacy. Thousands of pangolins are trafficked each year, making them among the most critically endangered species in the world and liable to go extinct if we don’t take action.
All eight pangolin species are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). But despite protections under CITES and domestic laws, poaching and illegal trade in pangolins continues at a high rate. Recent IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assessments indicate that all eight species are declining and at risk of extinction.
Pangolins do not thrive in captivity, and their slow reproductive rate and low natural population density in the wild suggest that current trade levels are unsustainable. As Asian pangolin populations have become increasingly hard to find and are now subject to zero export quotas by CITES, traders have turned to the African pangolin species to meet market demand. Meanwhile, African species are under additional pressure from local and regional demand for bushmeat and other traditional uses, as well as from habitat loss. While live and whole dead specimens usually can be identified to the species level based on size, number of scales, and other morphological characteristics, commonly traded non-living specimens, such as scales and meat, are difficult for non-experts to identify to the species level, which complicates enforcement.
Most illegally sourced pangolins are destined for markets in China and Vietnam, but demand for pangolins in the United States remains significant. Parts and products of poached pangolins are sold online and in stores. Nearly 30,000 imports of pangolin products were seized in the United States between 2005 and 2014.
Currently, only one of the eight pangolin species — the Temminck’s ground pangolin from Africa — is protected as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Because all species of pangolins so closely resemble each other, law enforcement officials have difficulty distinguishing them. Expanding federal protection would prohibit the import and sale of pangolins and their parts in the U.S. and raise global awareness about the pangolin’s plight. An Endangered Species Act listing is an important and necessary step to end the U.S.’s role in declining pangolin populations and would set an example for the rest of the world.
Pangolins have been silently killed and trafficked for far too long. It’s time to recognize the grave situation threatening the survival of the species and offer them the protections they rightfully deserve. If we don’t act now to protect them, these extraordinary animals will disappear from the planet forever.
Antelopes are an increasing conservation concern, with one-third of the world's 87 species now listed as threatened. Loss of habitat, game hunting, poaching, and loss of grazing land to cattle farmers are some of the biggest threats to antelope populations. Adding to the threats to antelope populations is changes in climate.
For 82 percent of African antelope species, forecasts show a decline in suitable habitat by 2080 due to the effect of climate change. About one-quarter are likely to see their range size drop in half. None of Africa's antelopes are predicted to improve their threat status on the IUCN Red List as a result of changes in climate, and the threat status of ten species is predicted to worsen as a direct result of climate change. Antelopes preferring cooler and drier climates are likely to be the hardest hit.
Researchers say that climate change will cause a disproportionate decline in African antelopes with the smallest geographic ranges, placing the most-threatened taxa in "double jeopardy." Recent findings suggest that animals already living in the most-restricted areas will be hardest hit as the climate shifts in the coming decades.
Several antelope species are in need of urgent conservation action to avoid extinction. Scientists had suspected that animals with the smallest ranges to start with might be at the greatest risk as the climate changes. That's because small ranges imply that species thrive under a very narrow range of conditions. Even small changes in climate could push those species outside of their comfort zones.
Species that are found only in very restricted areas are usually more demanding in the combination of temperature and rainfall conditions they require, and therefore suitable areas are more likely to disappear when temperature and rainfall do not change together.
There is some good news: if we switch to more conservation-friendly land use, the threatened species with small ranges stand to benefit the most, having the greatest potential to expand their ranges. A major priority is to target the increasing fragmentation of wilderness areas, which prevents wildlife from tracking shifts in their environment.
Numerous natural impacts, as well as human activities, affect kelp forest environments. The factors influencing kelp forest stability are diverse: kelp harvesting; grazing by fishes, sea urchins, and crustaceans; plant competition; storms; El Niño events; sedimentation; and pollution. By most accounts, because of its spectacular growth rates, kelp recovers quickly from physical disturbances such as storms that might uproot the fragile plants. However, as in all natural environments, the health is proportional to the number of adverse conditions to which it is exposed.
Commercial kelp harvesting is potentially the greatest threat to long-term kelp stability. It has supported a multitude of industries over the past century. From the extractions of kelp during World War I for potash, to the modern use of kelp for food additives and pharmaceutical products, kelp has proven to be a dynamic and highly demanded product.
Kelp harvesting during World War I peaked in 1919 when 400,000 wet tons were used to make potash for gunpowder and fertilizer. In the 1930s the food, pharmaceutical, and scientific communities began extracting algin, a thickening, stabilizing, suspending, and gelling agent. Algin is an additive used in a wide variety of dairy products, frozen foods, cakes, puddings, salad dressings, shampoos, and toothpastes. It smooths and thickens ice cream, emulsifies salad dressing, and keeps pigments uniformly mixed in paints and cosmetics. Additionally, some mariculture farms hand-harvest kelp to feed abalone. In the 1980's alone, kelp harvesting supported an industry worth more than $40 million a year, and in 1993, more than 4,700 wet tons of kelp were extracted from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Large numbers of opaleye or halfmoon fishes can damage kelp forests, particularly when the kelp is exposed to unfavorable growing conditions. As in all ecosystems, a balance exists in this complex environment, and the predators such as sea otters generally contain sea urchins or grazing fishes enough to limit the damage by grazing. This balance of power is usurped when the predatory populations go into decline, as exemplified by the huge explosion of sea urchins when otter populations suffer from oil spills or disease.
High energy storms or swells can uproot entire plants and break away fronds. Characterized by severe storms and warm water, El Niño Southern Oscillation Events, often devastate kelp forests. The strong swell activity, winter storms, and warm weather associated with the 1997-1998 El Niño were the primary sources of kelp mortality on the California coast in 1998. Kelp forests south of Point Coneception sustained up to 100 percent mortality in some regions, although comparable habitats north of that region "were relatively unaffected." Researchers attribute the discrepancy between southern and central California to ocean temperature gradients; the El Niño brought unusually high ocean temperatures to southern California where the heat degraded the health of the giant kelp forests. The combined warm water temperature and strong wave energy caused high mortality in the south. Central California bull kelp forests remained in cooler waters and thus in better condition when the winter swells hit, and a much greater percent survived.
Non-point and point source pollution including sewage, industrial disposal, and coastal runoff might contribute to kelp forest degradation. For instance, high sedimentation from coastal run-off may bury new plant shoots.
Similarly, kelp may experience reduced growth rates and reproductive success in more toxic waters and sediments. Studies on microscopic stages of kelp suggest that kelp is sensitive to sewage, industrial waste discharges, and other causes of poor water and sediment quality.
Kelp monitoring projects actively continue. With ongoing surveys of kelp extent, physical oceanic conditions, and associated biota, the researchers will gain a more complete understanding of natural and antropogenic impacts on kelp forests.
Hidden beneath the ocean waters, coral reefs teem with life. Coral reefs support more species than any other marine environment and rival rainforests in their biodiversity. Countless numbers of creatures rely on coral reefs for their survival.
Corals are animals, even though they may exhibit some of the characteristics of plants and are often mistaken for rocks. In scientific classification, corals fall under the phylum Cnidaria and the class Anthozoa. They are relatives of jellyfish and anemones. There are over 800 known species of reefbuilding coral worldwide and hundreds of species of soft corals and deep-sea corals.
Although individual coral polyps are tiny, they create the largest living structures on earth—some reefs are visible from space!
Coral reefs are also living museums, and reflect thousands of years of history. Many coral reefs were alive and thriving centuries before the European colonization of the nearby shores. Some reefs are even older than our old-growth redwood forests. They are an integral part of many cultures and our heritage.
These important habitats are threatened by a range of human activities. Many of the world’s reefs have already been destroyed or severely damaged by an increasing array of threats, including pollution, unsustainable fishing practices, and global climate change. As a result, 22 species of coral are now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. However, we can still protect and preserve our remaining reefs if we act now.
Why Are Coral Reefs Important?
Healthy coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and valuable ecosystems on earth, providing vital ecosystem services across the globe.
Coral reefs are an important habitat. Fish, corals, lobsters, clams, seahorses, sponges and sea turtles are only a few of the thousands of creatures that rely on reefs for their survival.
In addition to supporting an abundance of marine life, coral reef ecosystems provide people with many goods and services, including shoreline protection. Coral ecosystems protect coastlines from storms and erosion; provide habitat, spawning, and nursery grounds for fish; provide jobs and income to local economies from recreation and tourism; are a source of new medicines; have cultural significance; and are hotspots of marine biodiversity.
The benefits of healthy reefs are seen not just in the ocean, but also on land. Coral reefs contribute billions of dollars to world economies each year. The continued decline and loss of coral reef ecosystems will have significant social, cultural, economic and ecological impacts on people and communities in the U.S. and around the world.
What Threatens Coral Reefs?
The top threats to coral reefs, global climate change, unsustainable fishing, and landbased pollution, are all due to human activities. These threats—combined with others such as tropical storms, disease outbreaks, vessel damage, marine debris and invasive species—compound each other.
Climate change impacts coral reef ecosystems through increased sea surface temperatures that lead to coral bleaching events and disease, sea level rise and storm activity. Additionally, increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide alters ocean chemistry and negatively impacts reef-building corals.
An estimated 20 percent of the world's coral reefs are damaged beyond recovery and about half of the remaining coral reefs are under risk of collapse.
Unsustainable fishing practices in coral reef areas can lead to the loss of ecologically important fish species. Such losses often have a ripple effect on the coral reef ecosystems.
Impacts from land-based sources of pollution (e.g., coastal development and agricultural runoff) can impede coral growth and reproduction, disturb ecological function, and cause disease.
While some of the biggest threats facing coral reefs are global in nature and require action on a similar scale, addressing local stressors—like reducing runoff—is key.
Although research is critical to increasing what we know about the causes of reef decline, effective coral reef conservation can’t happen without you. Even if you live far from a coral reef, you can contribute to their conservation. Simple actions, like using less water, recycling, disposing of trash responsibly, and going vegan, can have big and far-reaching impacts.
Continued high demand for illegal wildlife products has greatly endangered many species like elephants, rhinos, and tigers, leaving some facing imminent extinction. The world is experiencing the worst poaching crisis in history, rivaling that in the 1980s, when more than 800 tons of ivory left Africa every year and the continent’s elephant populations plunged from 1.3 million to 600,000. Scientists estimate that only 430,000 African elephants remain today with one elephant killed every 15 minutes for its ivory.
Poaching is at its highest level in decades. Unless the illegal and inhumane slaughter of elephants, rhinos and other species is halted, we will likely see these magnificent animals disappear from the wild in the next several decades.
As one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities, valued at US$19 billion annually, illegal wildlife trade ranks fifth globally in terms of value, behind the trafficking in drugs, people, oil and counterfeiting. Research shows that domestic ivory markets provides cover for criminals to launder illegal ivory from poached animals, puts the burden of proof on enforcement officers, and confuse consumers, many of whom take market availability of ivory for legality of the trade.
The rapid development of online media has put a lot of wildlife species at risk and has created huge losses for the global ecosystem and human beings, as criminals have used the Internet for secret, fast and convenient communications and transactions. The report Wanted: Dead or Alive, Exposing the Online Wildlife Trade reveals that over 33,000 endangered wildlife and wildlife parts were available for sale online in a short six-week period.
Ivory trade is quickly pushing endangered animals towards extinction. Every year, 25,000-30,000 African Elephants are poached to supply the ivory trade. According to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), in recent years the volume from large-scale ivory seizures has been setting new records. In 2013, enforcement agencies around the world seized 41.6 tons of ivory, representing a 71 percent increase from 2009.
Research shows that for slow-growing, long-living species like the elephant, when mortality rate reaches 6% the population risks crashing. However in many regions of Africa, elephant populations are declining at a rate of 11%-12% because of ivory trade.
The past 15 years has seen soaring market prices for ivory products, largely due to a growing middle class in China and other Asian countries where ivory products have significant cultural value. Most people don't know that the U.S. is also one of the top consumers of ivory.
Enforcement operations are a deterrent to wildlife criminals in and outside of China. To combat global illegal ivory trade, countries are publicly destroying seized ivory. Kenya, Ethiopia, United Arab Emirates, the Republic of Congo and the United States have torched ivory. Public destruction of confiscated ivory, together with vigorous enforcement, raises the cost for engaging in wildlife crime and warns the public about the criminal nature of ivory trade. Such measures help stigmatize ivory consumption and reduce demand.
The U.S. federal government is working to close the loopholes that have allowed the illegal ivory market to flourish. A number of states have also passed ivory bans, including New York, New Jersey and California.
Campaigns to reduce demand for ivory domestically and overseas, and to strengthen international laws and enforcement, have further elevated the issue of wildlife trafficking globally. Collaboration between conservation organizations, government agencies, private organizations and local communities supports on-the-ground initiatives to conserve and manage wildlife through improved anti-poaching patrols, monitoring, habitat management, community-based initiatives and other effective conservation programs.
From African range states, to smuggling transit routes, to consuming countries, actions must be taken on every link of the transnational ivory trade to stop the crisis. Combating illegal ivory trade requires the effort of the whole world.
Several international groups produce routine estimates of tropical deforestation, most notably the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which has been producing a global forest resources assessment every five to ten years since the late 1940s. The FAO report is based on statistics provided by countries themselves, and because the ability of countries to accurately assess their forest resources varies depending on their financial, technological, and institutional resources, the estimates for some countries are likely more accurate then others.
Many countries use satellite imagery as the basis for their assessments, and a few research teams have used satellite data as the basis for worldwide estimates of tropical deforestation in the 1980s and 1990s.
Some scientists and conservationists argue that the FAO provides too conservative an estimate of rates of deforestation because they consider any area larger than one hectare (0.01 square miles) with a minimum tree cover of 10 percent to be forested.
This generous definition of “forest” means that a significant amount of degradation can occur before the FAO categorizes an area as deforested. On the other hand, some satellite-based studies indicate deforestation rates are lower than even the FAO reports suggest. Despite revisions and discrepancies, the FAO assessment is the most comprehensive, longest-term, and widely used metric of global forest resources.
In addition to local factors, international trends drive deforestation. The expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia is a response to high petroleum prices and, ironically, to an increasing global demand for bio-fuels perceived to be “green.”
The FAO report does not compile statistics for tropical forest regions as a whole, but the country-by-country and regional-scale statistics provide a grim picture. The scope and impact of deforestation can be viewed in different ways. One is in absolute numbers: total area of forest cleared over a certain period. By that metric, all three major tropical forest areas, including South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, are represented near the top of the list. Rounding out the top five tropical countries with the greatest total area of deforestation were Indonesia, Sudan, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Another way to look at deforestation is in terms of the percent of a country’s forest that was cleared over time. By this metric, the island nation of Comoros (north of Madagascar) fared the worst. Landlocked Burundi in central Africa was second. The other top five countries that cleared large percentages of their forests were Togo in West Africa, Honduras, and Mauritania.
Millions chimpanzees once thrived in the forests of 25 different African nations. Today, their populations have been reduced to only 5 nations and their numbers have plummeted to between 150,000 and 300,000. Without immediate action, humans' closest living relative could be lost in only 15 years.
Humans are largely responsible for chimpanzee population declines. In addition to poaching, which plagues areas of Africa, deforesting and farming are quickly eliminating the habitats of chimps.
Legal and illegal logging is rapidly depleting habitat for chimpanzees. Agriculture is stripping away forests at alarming rates. Changes in climate may be the biggest threat of all to chimpanzees. Climate change is expected to wipe out many forest areas in the coming decades.
The Nigerian chimpanzee dwells in jungles along the Nigeria-Cameroon border. Weighing 70 kilos and reaching heights of nearly 6 feet while fully standing, this species is the most endangered of all the chimpanzee species. There are only 1,500 of them left in the Gashaka-Gumti National Park in Nigeria, a forest reserve.
The Eastern chimpanzee is a native of Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and the southern fringes of South Sudan. They also feature in the 2007 IUCN Red List of most endangered species.
Once a sub-Saharan species found in areas far beyond the Niger River, the Western chimpanzee now lives only in the forests of coastal countries of West Africa like Guinea, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Liberia and Ivory Coast. There are about 20,000 to 55,000 individuals, as per the most recent count.
The Central chimpanzee is a native of Central Africa and can be found in the dense equatorial forests of the Congo River Basin in countries of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo. They are the most populous of all species, with a count of over 100,000 individuals.
The Bonobo, or the pygmy chimpanzee, is found only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Its habitat is ensconced in the southern bank of the powerful Congo River and has lent this species a different set of characteristics from other chimpanzees. It reaches a standing height of just under 4 feet, weighing in the range of 35 to 60 kilos. Bonobos appear distinctly slender when compared to other chimpanzees. There are about 30,000 to 50,000 of these creatures in their exclusive habitat in the equatorial forests of the southern Congo River basin.
Threats to Chimpanzees
Chimpanzees can adapt to both terrestrial and arboreal environments, but prefer dense forests. It is among trees where they are most at home. Chimpanzees are synonymous with trees, which is one reason why it is so essential to protect the forests they live in.
Logging results in the massive loss of forest cover every year. The growing numbers of poor humans are forced to clear forests to sustain themselves, leading to loss of habitat for the chimpanzees. The hardest hit is the Nigerian-Cameroon species that is on the brink of extinction. Many farmers use agriculture techniques that strip the soil of nutrients and quickly render it unusable, requiring more forests to be cleared.
In Tanzania's Gombe National Park, it’s the influx of refugees from strife-torn regions like Rwanda and Burundi that have taken a toll on the forest cover. The 35-sq-km park is not sufficient to cater to the needs of chimpanzees. Since they are large in size, they need more calories from sufficient food intake than such a restricted habitat can provide. This leads them to venture beyond the precincts of the park in search of food. Raiding nearby farms for maize, vegetables, and sometimes fruit, puts them in direct confrontation with man – a situation that has led to the deaths of many apes. Examples like the Gombe National Park have become widespread throughout the continent and heighten the risk for the chimps' survival.
Population pressure and consequential poverty drive many Africans to hunt for chimpanzee meat. Hunger is one reason. The other is the trade in bushmeat (the meat of wild animals as food). A family that has no sustainable income can live off the bushmeat trade, where they can earn anything from $1,000 - $3,000 in a year. This is more so the case in populous West African countries like Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal.
Recent research reveals that the biggest threat to chimpanzees could come from climate change. Huge forest areas are likely to be wiped out in the next 50 to 60 years. While those dwelling in the deepest rainforests of Central Africa and DPR may somehow survive, habitats of forest areas of lesser expanse, like the Cameroon-Nigerian mountain jungles, are likely to perish.
Like humans, chimpanzees are susceptible to numerous diseases. Ebola and AIDs are no exception. This is one reason why so many of these animals are inhumanely kept in labs as models for biomedical research. Chimpanzees caged in such lab environments suffer from extreme mental stress emanating from boredom, confinement, and fear of experiments carried out on them.
Chimps may possess numerous traits in common with man, but that does not justify them being made a “pet” or kept in confinement in labs or zoos for man's benefit or entertainment. They must be recognized as creatures of the wild.
We need to conserve our precious forests for the protection of its denizens. Foremost in our minds should be the safeguard of chimpanzees, the most significant link to man's past.
Try this: Taste plain water. Then taste sparkling water (carbonated water), with no flavoring. Besides the slight tickle or sting of the bubbles in the sparkling water, do you notice anything else? The sparkling water tastes just a little bit sour.
The more bubbles, the more sour the water. The reason is that adding carbon dioxide to water is like adding a few drops of lemon juice. It makes the water a little acidic.
In the past 200 years, the ocean has become much more acidic. In that time, it has absorbed 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine that amount of a gas. But much of this carbon dioxide is the result of humans burning fossil fuels, like coal, gasoline, and jet fuel.
Carbon dioxide is a powerful greenhouse gas. That means it acts as a glass roof on the atmosphere, letting sunlight in, but trapping heat so it can’t escape.
Besides CO2 there are other greenhouse gases. These include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together.
A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.
The ocean has soaked up more than one-quarter of the greenhouse gas that has built up in the atmosphere. If not for that great feature of the ocean, temperatures would have risen more than they already have. And even more of Earth’s sea ice and glaciers would have melted. So, thank you, ocean!
But wait. Just as some people like lemon juice in their water and some do not, creatures that live in the sea have their likes and dislikes about acidic water too. Mostly dislikes. Take baby oysters, for example. Along the Oregon coast, many are dying at only a few days old. That is because the ocean water is too acidic for them to form their shells. Other creatures already suffering from too much acid are some corals, and some other shellfish.
Sea creatures with shells—like oysters, clams, and mussels—need the ocean to be a little less acidic than fresh water; that way they can use the minerals in the water to make their shells.
An acidic ocean is no better for ocean life than an atmosphere with too much carbon dioxide greenhouse gas is for land life.
Just as too little greenhouse gas makes Earth too cold, too much greenhouse gas makes Earth too warm. Over the last century, humans have burned coal, oil, and gasoline in our cars, trucks, planes, trains, power plants, and factories. Burning such fossil fuels produces CO2 as a waste product. Putting so much new CO2 into the air has made Earth warmer. If we continue on our current path, we will cause even more warming.
CO2 is a big part of the carbon cycle. The carbon cycle traces carbon's path from the atmosphere, into living organisms, then turning into dead organic matter, going into the oceans, and back into the atmosphere. Scientists describe the cycle in terms of sources (parts of the cycle that add carbon to the atmosphere) and sinks (parts of the cycle that remove carbon from the atmosphere).
The carbon cycle traces carbon's path from the atmosphere, into living organisms, to dead organic matter, to oceans, and back into the atmosphere. They key to keeping everything in balance is for the sources and sinks to have the same amount of CO2.
The most important sinks are the ocean (which includes the seawater itself, the organisms living there, and the sediments on the sea floor) as well as plants and soil on land. The ocean stores most of the world's carbon, but forests are really important too. Forests and oceans each remove around one-fourth of the carbon we humans have added to the atmosphere.
But besides CO2 there are other greenhouse gases. These include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.
Without any greenhouse gases, Earth would be an icy wasteland. Greenhouse gases keep our planet livable by holding onto some of Earth’s heat energy so that it doesn’t all escape into space. This heat trapping is known as the greenhouse effect.
Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.
Grasslands (also known as prairies and savannah) differ around the globe, from the prairies of North America to the African Savannah, but they all support a wide variety of wildlife. Birds, reptiles, insects, grazing mammals and predators all call grasslands home.
Nearly two thirds of land on our planet was once covered by grasslands, but much of these magnificent ecosystems have been lost to farming. The result is a catastrophic reduction of critical wildlife habitat. Remaining grasslands cover about half of African lands, while less than 4 percent of prairies survive in the United States.
Temperate grasslands are home to bison, wolves, coyotes, pronghorn, hawks, prairie dogs, gophers, owls, foxes, badgers, sparrows, black-footed ferrets, grouses, meadowlarks, and quail. Tropical grassland animals include giraffes, zebras, elephants, buffaloes, kangaroos, wildebeest, mice, moles, rhinos, gophers, jackals, wild dogs, squirrels, lions, leopards, snakes, worms, termites, beetles, hyenas, and warthogs.
Tropical grasslands are located near the equator, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. These grasslands can be found in areas of Australia, South America, and India. Temperate grasslands are located north of the Tropic of Cancer and south of the Tropic of Capricorn, including the the pampas of South America, the steppes of Eurasia, the veldts of Africa, and the plains of North America.
As grasslands around the globe continue to be converted to ecologically irresponsible farming systems, wildlife suffers the consequences. The natural vertebrates in grasslands, plant-eating grazers called ungulates like deer and zebras, are quickly being replaced by domestic ungulates such as cattle and sheep. The native grasses are being replaced with corn, wheat, and soy.
Grassland soil is so rich almost anything can be grown in it. But poor agricultural practices have destroyed many grasslands, turning them into barren, lifeless areas. When crops are not properly rotated, precious soil nutrients are stripped out. Grasslands are also destroyed by grazing livestock.
About 47 percent of temperate grasslands have already been converted to agriculture or urban development. Around 16 percent of tropical grasslands have been converted.
Threats to Grasslands
Land that once provided habitat for prairie wildlife is quickly being converted to row crops. GMO wheat, soybeans, and corn are expanding into native grasslands. Grasslands are also increasingly being development into urban areas. Global warming could convert marginal grasslands into deserts. Monoculture, the cultivation of a single crop in a given area, results in the spreading of pests and diseases increasing the use of toxic pesticides. Poaching is also a significant threat in grasslands.
Educational efforts must stress the importance of protecting the soil and preventing soil erosion. Crops must be rotated to eliminate the reduction of nutrients. Wetlands, an element of grassland ecology, must be restored and protected. Trees must be planted as windbreaks. Dry season burning can promote fresh growth and restore calcium to the soil.
Agriculture must shift from animal production to providing vegetable based food sources. Animal agriculture is the primary driver of topsoil erosion, species extinction, and habitat loss. Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water. It takes 12 times as much land, 13 times more fuel and 15 times more water to make a pound of animal protein than to make a pound of plant protein. Livestock consumes up to 50% of all grains produced each year. 45% of the earth's entire ice free land is used for animal agriculture.
People have been deforesting the Earth for thousands of years, primarily to clear land for crops or livestock. Although tropical forests are largely confined to developing countries, they aren’t just meeting local or national needs; economic globalization means that the needs and wants of the global population are bearing down on them as well. Direct causes of deforestation are agricultural expansion, wood extraction (e.g., logging or wood harvest for domestic fuel or charcoal), and infrastructure expansion such as road building and urbanization. Rarely is there a single direct cause for deforestation. Most often, multiple processes work simultaneously or sequentially to cause deforestation.
The single biggest direct cause of deforestation is conversion to cropland and pasture, mostly for subsistence, which is growing crops or raising livestock. The conversion to agricultural land usually results from multiple direct factors. For example, countries build roads into remote areas to improve overland transportation of goods. The road development itself causes a limited amount of deforestation. But roads also provide entry to previously inaccessible—and often unclaimed—land. Logging, both legal and illegal, often follows road expansion (and in some cases is the reason for the road expansion). When loggers have harvested an area’s valuable timber, they move on. The roads and the logged areas become a magnet for settlers—farmers and ranchers who slash and burn the remaining forest for cropland or cattle pasture, completing the deforestation chain that began with road building. In other cases, forests that have been degraded by logging become fire-prone and are eventually deforested by repeated accidental fires from adjacent farms or pastures.
Although subsistence activities have dominated agriculture-driven deforestation in the tropics to date, large-scale commercial activities are playing an increasingly significant role. In the Amazon, industrial-scale cattle ranching and soybean production for world markets are increasingly important causes of deforestation, and in Indonesia, the conversion of tropical forest to commercial palm tree plantations to produce bio-fuels for export is a major cause of deforestation on Borneo and Sumatra.
Although poverty is often cited as the underlying cause of tropical deforestation, analyses of multiple scientific studies indicate that that explanation is an oversimplification. Poverty does drive people to migrate to forest frontiers, where they engage in slash and burn forest clearing for subsistence. But rarely does one factor alone bear the sole responsibility for tropical deforestation.
State policies to encourage economic development, such as road and railway expansion projects, have caused significant, unintentional deforestation in the Amazon and Central America. Agricultural subsidies and tax breaks, as well as timber concessions, have encouraged forest clearing as well. Global economic factors such as a country’s foreign debt, expanding global markets for rainforest timber and pulpwood, or low domestic costs of land, labor, and fuel can encourage deforestation over more sustainable land use.
Access to technology may either enhance or diminish deforestation. The availability of technologies that allow “industrial-scale” agriculture can spur rapid forest clearing, while inefficient technology in the logging industry increases collateral damage in surrounding forests, making subsequent deforestation more likely. Underlying factors are rarely isolated; instead, multiple global and local factors exert synergistic influences on tropical deforestation in different geographic locations.
The jaguar is the third-largest animal in the cat family, after the tiger and the lion. Dating back to almost half a million years, the jaguar strode the entire length of the American continent from just below the Arctics in the north down to Patagonia in southern-most Argentina. But sadly, it has found its present day habitat restricted to the tropical jungles of Central America and Amazon in South America. This translates into a habitat loss of almost 40%. Not a single jaguar has been spotted in the US in the last half a century. There were populations of the cat in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Florida, but hunting forced it into extinction by the 1950's.
The jaguar is probably the most nimble and acrobatic among the cat family. Apart from being an expert swimmer, it's a superb climber of trees and can kill prey much larger than itself. The largest among its prey is the tapir, the biggest animal in the Amazon basin. There are as many as 87 species that form the diet of the jaguar. The adult jaguar can reach a length of 6 feet and weigh up to 210 lbs.
The males reach sexual maturity in three to four years, while the female does in two. The jaguar can mate all year round and degrees of birthrate correspond to the availability of prey. But a fast reducing forest cover has meant shortage of prey for the big cats, and as a consequence, lower birth-rates.
The jaguar, being a mobile creature, requires huge expanses of forests in which it can hunt to sustain itself and its family. This is where it has been obstructed severely in the past few decades. Farmlands, ranches, growing urban sprawls and border-related infrastructure have badly eaten into the jaguar habitat along the Mexican-American border. While the entire population of the animal was wiped out in the U.S. decades ago, scarcely 100 to 120 of these creatures survive in the wilds of the Sonora state of Mexico, about 125 km south of the U.S. border. In fact, wanton development has cut off their migration routes to nearby tropical forest zones, a phenomena common to many pockets of jaguar habitat in Central America. Unaccustomed to being restricted in such tight and diminishing forest spaces, the jaguar has no choice but to target livestock in nearby farms and ranches, coming into friction with man. The jaguar is a shy, nocturnal and deep forest hunter – preferring the least human contact as possible. But urban expansion has snatched away a large part of this very private trait.
The Amazon Basin in South America is one of the last bastions of the jaguar. It has vast tracts of forest acreage as its habitat where it still finds larger animals like deer, capybara, tapirs, and peccaries, as well as turtles, fish and otters to eat. But indiscriminate tree-felling for the purpose of farming, and deforestation to make way for large paper and timber projects, pose a distinct threat to the jaguar's habitat despite the vastness of the Amazon basin. There are only around 10,000 of these large cats presently in the South American continent, stretching from the Central Amazon basin in Brazil northwards to the Orinoco River valley forests in Venezuela and Colombia.
The thick jungles of some tiny Central American countries still provide refuge to these cats. Belize has about 1,000 as per the last count. The 15,000 sq km Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala is home to about 550. The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, the southern-most state of Mexico bordering Guatemala, holds about 350 of these animals. Although hunting of the jaguar has been totally banned in these countries, poaching for the animal's beautiful spotted coat still continues and is a constant menace to the animal's survival.
The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) lists the jaguar as an endangered species and this has been recognized by countries like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, United States, Uruguay, Brazil, Costa Rica and Venezuela – where hunting restrictions on the animal is already in place.
Over the decades there has been a trend on the part of conservationists and zoo authorities to move and increase the number of jaguars in captivity. But no amount of care and protection in captivity can substitute the freedom the beautiful cat enjoys in the wild, which is where it belongs. Jaguars kept captive in zoos are known for pacing due to the stress and frustration of their inability to carry out their natural routines and behaviors. Their stressful pacing increases as the number of visitors and noise level increases. Zoo jaguars are deprived of their natural environments and social structures for profit and human amusement.
Zoos are not the answer to preserving species. Precious habitats must be preserved. That is the only way we can save future generations of the jaguar.