Archive for category Conservation

Tourists Are Giving Endangered Iguanas Diarrhea And High Cholesterol

From Scientific American at http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/2013/12/10/tourists-iguanas-diarrhea/.

Hop on over to the photo-sharing site Flickr and you’ll find dozens of photos and videos of people eagerly feeding grapes to hungry iguanas on the beaches of the Bahamas. It looks like great fun and the iguanas obviously go crazy for the fruit, which is usually fed to the lizards on the ends of long sticks. There’s just one problem with this activity: the food is making the iguanas sick. Health conditions arising from the grapes and other foods that iguanas do not normally eat in the wild include diarrhea, high blood sugar and cholesterol as well as lowered levels of potassium and a high level of parasitic infections. All of these problems “could have deleterious effects on long-term fitness and population stability,” according to Charles Knapp, director of conservation and research at Chicago’s John G. Shedd Aquarium and the lead author of a new study of the iguanas published last week in Conservation Physiology.

iguana grapes Bahamian rock iguanas (Cyclura cychlura) live on the islands of Andros and Exuma and several small nearby cays in the island chain. Although not technically endangered, they are considered vulnerable to extinction, with a total wild population of fewer than 5,000 individuals. That count covers the entire species, which also includes three subspecies, two of which are endangered and one of which is critically endangered.

As Knapp and his fellow researchers wrote in the paper, the feeding of wildlife is “an increasingly popular yet under-studied tourism-related activity” that is often sanctioned and encouraged for both marine and terrestrial animals. Sometimes that is beneficial, providing the animals with access to low-stress nutrition and humans with a positive conservation experience. Other times, however, feeding wildlife can cause problems, especially if it includes items from outside of their native diets. Consequences can include nutritional imbalances, obesity or behavior changes that have harmful long-term effects.

Knapp and his team wanted to find out if the hundreds of weekly tourists visiting iguana habitats were having a positive or negative effect on the animals’ health. They traveled to the islands in 2010 and 2012 and examined iguanas that interact with tourists as well as those in more isolated locations. They found that both groups of iguanas appeared the same externally but the tourist-fed iguanas—especially the more aggressive males—showed signs of nutritional imbalance. Many had diarrhea, all of them carried parasites and their blood showed abnormal levels of calcium, glucose, potassium and uric acid. The tourist-fed males also had aberrant amounts of cholesterol, copper, magnesium and other nutrients. The paper links the high-sugar, low-potassium levels to the grapes, Ground beef and other animal proteins could be causing the high cholesterol and uric acid levels found in the iguanas. (The iguanas are normally herbivorous.)

Tourists aren’t the primary threat to Bahamian rock iguanas, however. The species faces habitat loss due to construction, dangerous feral animals such as goats, collection for pet trade and illegal hunting. (They’re the only iguana species still caught for food.) Those threats aren’t going away anytime soon.

In a press release Knapp said that it’s unrealistic to expect tourists to stop feeding the iguanas. “Instead,” he suggested, “wildlife managers could approach manufacturers of pelleted iguana foods and request specially formulated food to mitigate the impact of unhealthy food. Tour operators could offer or sell such pellets to their clients, which would provide a more nutritionally balanced diet and reduce non-selective ingestion of sand on wet fruit.” Done right, the authors suggest, tourism could actually benefit the iguanas and give them the nutrition and safety they need in order to boost their populations. That’s a worthy goal we’re sure the iguanas can get behind, even if it means fewer grapes.

Photo: Iguana reaching for grapes by Chris Dixon via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license

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Vaccination of badgers is launched

From the Western Gazette, North Dorset at http://www.westerngazette.co.uk/Vaccination-badgers-launched/story-20314824-detail/story.html#axzz2nO4fAjhg.

CONSERVATIONISTS in Dorset began their own battle against badgers with TB this week, but have begun to vaccinate them instead of culling them.

The Dorset Wildlife Trust said it wants to demonstrate there is a “safe, humane alternative” to badger culling, and has embarked on a five-year programme to vaccinate all the badgers living on some of its nature reserves in the county.

With the prospect of the badger cull moving from west Gloucestershire and west Somerset to Dorset and Wiltshire next year, the Dorset Wildlife Trust said it wanted to show there were “more effective and reliable” ways of controlling bovine TB.

It launched a successful appeal to fund the project, trained volunteers and has now started the five-year programme which has already seen badgers trapped and vaccinated at ‘selected’ locations throughout the county.

“Dorset Wildlife Trust wants to see the eradication of the devastating disease bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) and understands the serious implications for farmers who lose stock as a result, but believes there are more effective and reliable ways of controlling the disease, such as better biosecurity, badger vaccination and, in the long term, cattle vaccination,” said chief executive Dr Simon Cripps.

“Badger vaccination has the potential to reduce bTB without the negative impacts of increasing the transference of bTB among infected and healthy badgers and cattle that culling would bring. We were extremely disappointed to see the Government drive forward with the badger cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire in August this year. The recent news that the pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have finished with low numbers of badgers being shot, strengthens the need for the Government to support alternative methods to culling.

“Our understanding from Defra is that if badger culling continues despite these failures, shooting in Dorset is highly likely to start in 2014.  Thanks to our successful badger vaccination appeal, Dorset Wildlife Trust is pleased to be able to start a vaccination programme on selected nature reserves in Dorset, to both protect badgers and support farmers,” he added.

Meanwhile, the RSPCA has been told it cannot use an anti-badger cull advert again which used the term “exterminate” to describe the Government’s cull trials.

The ad featured an image of a syringe and bullet at the top with a headline “Vaccinate or Exterminate?”

Tory MP Simon Hart, a former chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, was one of more than 100 people who complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, although three of the four grounds for complaint were dismissed by the advertising watchdog, it agreed the use of the word “exterminate” implied wrongly that every  badger in the cull area would be shot.

An RSPCA spokesman said: “The RSPCA welcomes the judgment by the ASA to dismiss three out of four of the areas of complaint about the advert. We respectfully disagree in relation to the one area of complaint that has been upheld.”

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Two thousand mice dropped on Guam by parachute — to kill snakes

From: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/02/21724382-two-thousand-mice-dropped-on-guam-by-parachute-to-kill-snakes

Eric Talmadge / AP file

A brown tree snake on Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam in February.

They floated down from the sky Sunday — 2,000 mice, wafting on tiny cardboard parachutes over Andersen Air Force Base in the U.S. territory of Guam.

But the rodent commandos didn’t know they were on a mission: to help eradicate the brown tree snake, an invasive species that has caused millions of dollars in wildlife and commercial losses since it arrived a few decades ago.

That’s because they were dead. And pumped full of painkillers.

The unlikely invasion was the fourth and biggest rodent air assault so far, part of an $8 million U.S. program approved in February to eradicate the snakes and save the exotic native birds that are their snack food.

“Every time there is a technique that is tested and shows promise, we jump on that bandwagon and promote it and help out and facilitate its implementation,” Tino Aguon, acting chief of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s wildlife resources office for Guam, told NBC station KUAM of Hagatna.

It’s not just birds the government is trying to protect. It’s also money.

Andersen, like other large industrial complexes on the Western Pacific island, is regularly bedeviled by power failures caused when the snakes wriggle their way into electric substations — an average of 80 a year, costing as much as $4 million in annual repair costs and lost productivity, the Interior Department estimated in 2005.

The U.S. has tried lots of ways to eliminate the snakes, which it says likely arrived in an inadequately inspected cargo shipment sometime in the 1950s.

Snake traps, snake-sniffing dogs and snake-hunting inspectors have all helped control the population, but the snakes have proved especially hardy and now infest the entire island. Guam is home to an estimated 2 million of the reptiles, which in some areas reach a density of 13,000 per square mile — more concentrated than even in the Amazonian rainforests, the government says.

But brown tree snakes have an Achilles’ heel: Tylenol.

For some reason, the snakes are almost uniquely sensitive to acetaminophen, the active ingredient in the ubiquitous over-the-counter painkiller. If you can get a tree snake to eat just 80 milligrams, you can kill it. That’s only about one-sixth of a standard pill — pigs, dogs and other similarly sized animals would have to eat about 500 of the baited mice to get a lethal dose.

Brown tree snakes also love mice. It’s easy to bait mice with acetaminophen, but how do you then deliver the mice to the snakes?

“The process is quite simple,” Dan Vice, the Agriculture Department’s assistant supervisory wildlife biologist for Guam, told KUAM.

Helicopters make low-altitude flights over the base’s forested areas, dropping their furry bundles on a timed sequence. Each mouse is laced with the deadly microdose of acetaminophen and strung up to two pieces of cardboard and green tissue paper.

“The cardboard is heavier than the tissue paper and opens up in an inverted horseshoe,” Vice said. “It then floats down and ultimately hangs up in the forest canopy. Once it’s hung in the forest canopy, snakes have an opportunity to consume the bait.”

Wildlife workers do have a way to chart how well the mice work. In addition to the acetaminophen and the parachutes, some of the poison pests also come equipped with tiny data-transmitting radios.

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Then Again….

Zoos are not really all that bad and the main reason I criticise them is that I care and want them to harness their powers for good, rather than evil. Unfortunately they fall victim to the same issues that plague all of us, the need to make money to survive.

However imperfect they may be, zoos still occupy an important position in the world. While I have spent most of my career in zoos I have never actually seen myself as a “zoo vet” but rather a “wildlife vet” who worked in a zoo. Working in zoos has given me the opportunity to treat and rehabilitate injured wildlife, investigate disease outbreaks in wildlife, and embark on research projects to improve the health and welfare of the creatures we share the planet with. As wild animals do not have owners they do not have anyone to pay for these services, which are subsidised by zoos.

For better or worse, zoos are at least making an effort to understand and breed endangered wildlife with a view to hopefully returning it to its ecosystem. Consequently they are an enormous repository of knowledge and expertise when it comes to the biology, husbandry and health of the world’s fauna.

They are also making an effort to address the myriad issues that have contributed to species becoming endangered in the first place, such as promoting sustainable palm oil production and labelling (http://www.cmzoo.org/conservation/palmOilCrisis/resourceKit.asp), encouraging the use of toilet paper made from recycled paper (http://www.zoo.org.au/fighting-extinction/conservation-campaigns/wipe-for-wildlife-campaign), funding the training of Wildlife Protection Units to prevent illegal wildlife related activities in Sumatra (http://www.perthzoo.wa.gov.au/act/wildlife-conservation-action/success-stories/protecting-sumatras-wildlife/), and providing indigenous communities in Kenya with alternative forms of income to alleviate some of the pressures on local wildlife (http://www.zoo.org.au/fighting-extinction/conservation-campaigns/beads-for-wildlife-campaign). 

All reputable zoos have education programs because everyone understands the important role the next generation must play in moving the planet into a sustainable future.

It would be nice to think that a trip to the zoo encourages people to embark on some form of previously unthought-of conservation activity but, as we have seen, this can be notoriously difficult to prove. Still, all the ancillary activities which a visit to the zoo subsidises should be justification enough for the zoo’s existence. Unfortunately zoos often fund their projects by entertaining visitors in ways which potentially undermine those conservation messages. As long as that continues it is necessary to provide constructive criticism in order to bring them back onto the right path.

Dr. F. Bunny

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US wind energy turbines killed 600,000 bats last year, study says

From the South China Morning Post: http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1352671/us-wind-energy-turbines-killed-600000-bats-last-year-study-says.

More than 600,000 bats were killed by wind turbines across the United States last year, with the highest concentration of kills in the Appalachian Mountains, according to new research.

In a paper published in the journal BioScience, University of Colorado biologist Mark Hayes used records of dead bats found beneath wind generators and statistical analysis to estimate how many bats were struck and killed by generator propellers each year.

“Dead bats are being found underneath wind turbines across North America,” Hayes wrote. “This estimate of bat fatalities is probably conservative.”

The new estimate is among the highest yet for generator-related bat deaths. Previous studies have calculated mortality rates of between 33,000 and 888,000 a year.

The bat deaths were calculated on a per megawatt basis, and the highest rates were associated with generators in the Appalachian Mountains-Buffalo Mountain, in the state of Tennessee, and Mountaineer, West Virginia.

Hayes said his estimates were conservative for several reasons.

Little information on bat mortality was available for wind generators along the Sierra Nevada ranges and Rocky Mountains, he wrote, and scavenging animals likely carried away a percentage of dead bats before they could be counted.

Hayes also said that if a range of bat deaths were listed by a facility, he used the lowest one for his calculations.

There are 45 known bat species in the continental United States, but biologists do not have a firm handle on their total population. Experts say the animals’ small size and nocturnal habits make them difficult to survey.

Nonetheless, biologists suspect their numbers are decreasing because of changing climate and diseases such as white-nose syndrome.

Even under the best circumstances, bat populations grew slowly, as they give birth to one pup per year, and the mortality rate for young bats was high, Hayes said.

While they are not generally beloved by the American public, bats perform two highly valuable services: they eat enormous amounts of flying insects, and they help pollinate crops like peaches and avocados.

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This Here’s A Zoo, And The Keeper Ain’t You

 

Lou Reed (Sick Of You, from the album “New York”)

Enough of this self-indulgent nonsense. I am a wildlife vet, so it’s time I started banging on about zoos again.

In my opinion there are three ways to experience wild animals: in the wild, in a zoo, on TV. It seems obvious to me that the best way is the wild way. How could anything beat the experience of seeing a lion wandering about the savannah doing its thing? Even local fauna like kangaroos and wombats are so much more exciting when seen in the wild. I think part of it is the unpredictability, never knowing what you are going to see or what it is going to do. I remember taking my aunt and uncle to Healesville Sanctuary to give them a dose of Australian wildlife. We spent the day looking at kangaroos, koalas and Tasmanian devils. On our drive home they spotted a mob of wild kangaroos and made me stop the car so they could take pictures of them. They got much closer and took much better photos of the Sanctuary kangaroos but were a lot more excited about the wild ones. Of course we can’t all visit polar bears on their ice floes, jaguars in the Amazon or Przewalski horses in the Gobi desert.

This is where David Attenborough and his cohorts step in to dazzle us with astonishing images of wildlife doing its thing in the wild, without the need for passports, visas, water purification tablets or huge wads of cash. Through the magic of television we can gain a much more detailed, intimate and lasting view of the world around us, one that we can rewind and re-watch at our convenience.

Which brings us to option three. Does the experience of seeing something up close and personal, despite the fact that it is bored, pacing or overweight, leave a lasting positive impression that justifies placing it into that environment in the first place? Are we better off seeing a polar bear on TV or not at all? Although I speak from a privileged position, having worked with wild animals all my life, I believe so.

Zoos quite emphatically state that they change people’s attitudes to conservation and wildlife, citing the only study to date to attempt to quantify this, a 2007 non-independent survey (strongly refuted by Marino et al (2010)) by Falk et al. Unfortunately many of the questions in this study were extremely nebulous and subjective asking visitors if they felt a stronger connection to nature as a result of their visit (57% said yes), if zoos had a role to play in conservation, education and animal care (42% said yes), and if the visitor had an elevated level of awareness of their own role in conservation as a result of their visit (54% said yes). The vast majority of visitors did not, however, increase their knowledge of ecological concepts. This was put down to the fact that zoo visitors have a higher than average ecological knowledge in the first place, which reinforces my belief that people who visit zoos are already conservation minded and the zoo is really only preaching to the converted.

The researchers did do some follow up work to determine if there were any long term effects associated with the zoo visit. Unfortunately they were only able to obtain responses from 14% of the visitors originally interviewed. Rather than asking them what they had actually done because of their visit to the zoo the researchers again asked nebulous and irrelevant questions. 42% of the respondents mentioned a particularly memorable animal they saw on their visit, 21% enjoyed the zoo grounds, 61% did confess to have learnt something after all, 76% said zoos were invested in conservation, and 66% said zoos played an important role in species preservation. But there is no mention of what any of these visitors actually did as a result of their visit. Surely that is the crux of the issue? Do zoos stimulate people to act for conservation in positive ways that justify displacing animals and housing them in conditions that cannot hope to replicate their wild environment, social structure or nutritional needs? Am I more likely to want to conserve the bored, depressed looking zoo polar bear or the TV polar bear leaping from ice floe to ice floe, hunting seals and rearing cubs?

Removing zoos and putting the money saved into in situ conservation programs does not mean we can no longer experience wildlife first hand. Recently I visited the Western Treatment Plant (http://www.melbournewater.com.au/whatwedo/treatsewage/wtp/Pages/Habitats-and-wildlife.aspx). This is the fancy name for Melbourne’s sewage farm. I spent six hours there bird watching and, ironically, saw many more bird species than I would in any zoo. This experience left me with a far more positive feeling about bird conservation than seeing the wing clipped, feather plucking versions in a zoo. True, it required a bit more effort and the species weren’t as spectacular as Andean condors or birds of paradise, but they were local species and, at the end of the day, aren’t we more likely to act and more likely to be effective in our actions when we attempt to conserve what is in our own backyard? Surely we will have a much greater impact on their future than we will ever have on the future of the orang-utan or gorilla, no matter how many palm oil friendly products we buy or mobile phones we recycle?

Dr. F. Bunny

References

Falk, J.H., Reinhard, E.M., Vernon, C.L., Bronnenkant, K., Deans, N.L., Heimlich, J.E. (2007) Why Zoos & Aquariums Matter: Assessing the Impact of a Visit. Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Silver Spring, MD.

Marino, L., Lilienfeld, S.O., Malamud, R., Nobis, N., Broglio, R. (2010) Do Zoos and Aquariums Promote Attitude Change in Visitors? A Critical Evaluation of the American Zoo and Aquarium Study. Society and Animals 18:126-138.

 

 

 

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Islands become first UK haven for honeybees facing wipeout

From http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/islands-become-first-uk-haven-for-honeybees-facing-wipeout.22338330.

Britain’s first honeybee reserve is to be set up on the Hebridean islands of Colonsay and Oronsay.

A Scottish Government order aiming to protect the species from cross-breeding and disease will come into force next January,

It will make it an offence to keep any species on the islands other than the British black honeybee, Apis mellifera mellifera. The measure comes after a public consultation saw widespread support for a reserve.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the reserve should help preserve the black bee in the UK.

Mr Wheelhouse, who signed the order, said: “The Bee-Keeping Order illustrates how our non-native species legislation can be used to protect our native wildlife,” he said. There are currently around 50 colonies to be found on Colonsay and adjoining Oronsay.

The Government’s move is part of a ten-year Honeybee Health Strategy and has been welcomed by Colonsay beekeeper Andrew Abrahams. Abrahams has been working with bees on the island for more than 30 years and has campaigned for the islands to be recognised as a bee sanctuary.

“The reserve is important,” he said yesterday. “We’ve been working a long time to get it set up. The purpose is to conserve genetic material for the future before it’s all gone, to conserve the black bee which is the native bee of ­Scotland and of the whole UK.”

The black honeybee can vary in colour from black to brown and is hardy enough to survive the harsh climate of Scotland’s west coast. “It is adapted for Scottish conditions and to wet conditions and cooler conditions,” according to Dr Phil Moss, bee health convener of the Scottish Beekeeper’s Association,

Most of Britain’s native bee species – with the exception of a few pockets – were wiped out early in the 20th century by the Isle of Wight disease, caused by a parasitic mite. As a result, said Dr Moss: “There was a lot of importation of foreign bees from all over the world.”

These were then interbred with the native bee. Only pockets of native bees remained intact as a result. “Colonsay is reckoned to be one of the purest,” Dr Moss added.

The Scottish Beekeepers Association fully supports the reserve proposal, he said, seeing the move as an important step at a time when bee numbers are falling.

Britain’s bees are currently under threat from the varroa mite, first discovered in the UK in 1992. It has destroyed many colonies.

Colonsay was chosen as a reserve because its bees are free from the disease, and for its genetic purity. It was originally chosen as a site for an experimental breeding station back in 1941.

The decision to protect the black bee comes as countries across Europe have seen up to a quarter of honeybee colonies disappear in recent years. Pesticides, loss of habitat and disease have all been blamed. Bees are also under threat from global warming and changing climate.

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