Tag Archives: wildlife

Rewilding: The Last Truly Wild Horses Return Home

The Przewalski’s horse has rebounded from near extinction. There were once only 12 of these pony-sized wild horses remaining in the entire world. Even just a few years ago, all the existing Przewalski’s horses lived in captivity, and the species was listed by the IUCN as “extinct in the wild.”

42-22097706.jpg__800x600_q85_cropNow, thanks to a captive breeding program, there are over 2,000 of them worldwide, with about 350 living in the wild in Mongolia. These little horses are the last truly wild horse species in the world. The American mustang and other well-known “wild horses” are actually feral rather than wild — they descended from domesticated horses that got free and chose to live in the wild rather than go back to captivity.

The Przewalski’s horses are not out of the woods. There are concerns about their survival in the age of climate change should Mongolia begin to experience unusually harsh winters. And it is possible that they may interbreed with feral horses, diluting their bloodline so that they would no longer be a distinct species. But the Przewalski’s horse seems to have avoided the biggest threat to species recovering from near-extinction — a lack of genetic diversity leading to inbreeding and health problems.

Read more at Smithsonian here.

Read more at Newsweek here.

All images taken from the sites linked above.

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A Good Day for Chimps

It has been a season of good news for wild animals in captivity. I recently posted an article about SeaWorld’s announcement that it will be ending (some of) its killer whale shows. While this big announcement amounted to no more than media spin to deflect the public outcry raised by the film Blackfish, it does look like SeaWorld is eventually going to have to bow to pressure and end its captive orca programs entirely.

Now, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which has long been the government body tasked with approving research projects using chimpanzee test subjects, has announced that it will no longer be keeping a supply of captive chimps for this purpose. It will also continue to phase out all the chimp research funding it has, in the past, provided to outside facilities.

Since 2013, the NIH has been in the process of reducing researcher reliance on chimps. Most of its 360 captive chimps were to be retired, with a group of 50 to be kept in case they were needed for future research. Now, in a document leaked by an NIH employee, the head of the agency has stated that these last 50 chimps would be retired, as well.

Last June, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed captive chimps under the Endangered Species Act, making it that much harder for the NIH to approve them for research uses. In addition, any researcher wanting to use chimps would have had to show that the planned research would in some way benefit wild chimps. These strict conditions were apparently enough to deter new chimp-based research, because no new applications for chimpanzee projects were received after the status change went into effect.

Some who would like to have access to captive chimps for use in studies to benefit wild chimps and other primates may be disappointed by this news. Chimp research has already been outlawed in many places. So, overseas researchers who, for example, wish to test ebola vaccines meant for wild chimps on their captive cousins may have trouble finding test subjects. The NIH’s director, however, believes that other species of primates still available to researchers can serve as suitable test subjects for these types of vaccine trials.

The NIH is in the process of preparing a retirement plan for its captive chimps as well as those in other facilities it has been funding.

View the Science magazine article here.

New Desert Energy Plan is Good News for Wildlife

Kim Delfino, California Director for Defenders of Wildlife and alumna of my law school, has written the post below, explaining the implications of the very important new Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. It’s a must-read!

One of the rarest sightings in the California desert is not what you think it might be. It is not the appearance of water, the presence of a desert tortoise emerging from its burrow, or even the spying of the mysterious mountain lion. It is the sighting of a Mohave ground squirrel above ground.

These elusive mammals spend perhaps two months of their lives above ground when conditions are right, and they can only be found in the West Mojave Desert of California. Unfortunately, the sighting of the Mohave ground squirrel is becoming rarer as their habitat is lost to energy development, industrial development and other land-intensive development and their population shrinks. The specter of large-scale renewable energydevelopment is the latest potential threat to the survival of this state-protected species.

Mohave ground squirrel, © Dr. Phil Leitner

Several years ago, the fate of the ground squirrel – along with other desert wildlife – hung in the balance as hundreds of thousands of acres of desert lands were proposed for industrial renewable energy development. Fortunately, California and the Department of the Interior joined together to propose a new approach to energy development – a landscape scale look across the California Desert to determine where projects could be placed on already disturbed and degraded lands, while protecting those areas most important for desert wildlife, recreation, and other natural resources. This new approach started with the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (Solar PEIS), but was significantly expanded in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).

The DRECP represents a paradigm shift in how renewable energy development is planned in California and nationally. If done well, the DRECP could mean that desert wildlife like the tortoise and the ground squirrel have a future even in the face of climate change.

This week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new part of the plan that addresses how and where different types of land will be used for renewable energy. It is an important step forward for the DRECP, and is expected to be finalized in early 2016.

There is a lot to celebrate in the BLM’s latest plan. It protects 3.8 million acres of lands with important natural resource, scenic and recreational values by designating them as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. Iconic areas such as the Silurian Valley, Chuckwalla Bench and the Amargosa River watershed are designated as National Conservation Lands. Most importantly, these protections are permanent and cannot be overturned in the future.

desert tortoise Joshua Tree, ©Phil & Loretta Hermann

The plan also includes 388,000 acres of BLM lands in the desert where renewable energy projects can be built without significant impacts to wildlife. These projects will help California meet its aggressive climate change goals without putting vital wildlife habitat under development.

So, is the new plan a win for desert wildlife conservation? Should we celebrate the conservation of desert tortoise and Mohave ground squirrel for future generations?

Not yet. While the latest plan has some important benefits, there are still pieces of it that are damaging to wildlife, and must be improved when the BLM issues its final plan in early 2016. The fate of the West Mojave hangs in the balance.

Continue reading New Desert Energy Plan is Good News for Wildlife

ReWilding Endangered Black-Footed Ferrets in Colorado

More good news from northern Colorado! I recently posted a story about the return of wild bison to Colorado for the first time in over a century. Now, 30 black-footed ferrets, an endangered species once so rare that only 18 of them remained in the wild, have been returned to a 1,300 acre prairie dog colony north of Fort Collins.

They will join the over 500 other ferrets that have been reintroduced into the wild since they almost went extinct in the 1960s. They are still critically endangered, but they are on the rebound!

This National Geographic video is a short and sweet story about these very ferrets. Thanks to Gordon Eaglesham for sharing it on his blog.

Read about these and other good wildlife recovery efforts at Defenders of Wildlife blog.

[Image downloaded from Wikipedia.]

“The Devil,” East Africa’s Most Wanted Elephant Poacher, Arrested

Known as the “The Devil” by law enforcement who conducted a year-long manhunt for him, Boniface Matthew Mariango was arrested in Tanzania a few days ago. East Africa’s most prolific elephant poacher and illegal ivory trafficker, Mariango was responsible for thousands of elephant deaths.

Earlier last month, task force members of the National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit were also able to arrest “The Queen of Ivory,” Yang Fenglan, who was responsible for a worldwide network of illegal ivory exports. The Devil was her major supplier; he also supplied weapons and vehicles to his own network of poachers. Having these two major players in custody, along with commitments by the U.S. and China to ban ivory, should lead to major breakthroughs in international ivory trafficking.

A documentary film crew was embedded with the task force and will be releasing a film about the manhunt for the Queen of Ivory and The Devil next year.

View the Elephant League post here.