Conservation News: Manatees, Whales, and Snow Leopards

The Return of the Manatees?

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PC: Todd Pusser

The Florida manatees returned now that spring is approaching, giving the researchers an ideal opportunity to count an aerial study.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation said that the numbers reached a new peak of at least 6,250 individuals, slightly higher than the 6,063 counted last year. Including those living in the Caribbean and along the coasts of Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela, there is an estimated amount of 13,000 manatees left.

A subspecies of the West Indian manatees, Florida manatees have been on the endangered list for more than 40 years. In 1991, the population was down to 1,267 individuals. Since then, their numbers have been rebounding, reflecting the conservation efforts to bring them back. Today, that is a 500% increase.

In early January, The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to downgrade the manatee’s status from endangered to threatened. This signifies that the species should no longer be considered on the brink of extinction. Though a victory for conservation, manatees are still vulnerable to a multitude of threats caused by urbanization, water contamination, and boat collisions.

Thankfully, these manatees are still protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.

6250 Manatees Spotted In Florida Waters

US Says Manatee Should Lose Endangered Species Status

Why Florida’s manatee population is rebounding

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Iceland’s Going to Stop Hunting Fin Whales?finstranded_2

Iceland’s only fin whaling company, Hvalur, and its director, Kristjan Loftsson, called off this summer’s hunt on the fin whales. Though it is listed as an endangered species, the North Atlantic population is faring much better than the global population. Loftsson says Japan’s methods for testing whale meat are outdated and makes it difficult to market the meat in Japan, the only market for fin whale meat. Cancelling the hunt might be a ploy to put pressure on Japan to make its regulations more lenient.

This isn’t the first time Iceland cancelled a hunt. After the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, Hvalur called off its hunt until it resumed whaling in 2013 despite the international pressure to shut down his business. Many countries closed their ports, hindering Hvalur from shipping the meat to Japan.

Iceland continues its annual whale hunts despite the objections from the International Whaling Commission, a body that banned hunting medium and large whales for profit in 1986. International trade in fin whale is banned, but in 2002, Iceland was excused and allowed to ship whale meat to Japan.

Icelanders argue they only hunt a tiny fraction, 155 last year, out of the estimated 20,000 that live in the surroundings waters. Whalers also argue that whale hunting is a tradition.

Public support for whaling and consumption of whale meat in Iceland is at an all-time low. Instead, whale watching has become one of the top tourist attractions. With little demand for fin whale meat, it is shipped Japan. Even then, Japan’s decreasing appetite for whale meat leaves majority of the fin whale meat in freezers.

Activists hope this is the beginning of the end for whale hunting. But, ending the hunts does not guarantee the recovery of these large animals, second only to the blue whale. Pollution and climate change are two of the main threats for the fin whales. Pollution degrades marine habits and toxicity in the whale bodies can cause a variety of health problems. Climate change not only affects water composition but also depletes krill populations, the main food source for these endangered whales.

Iceland Will Stop Hunting Fin Whales…for Now

Icelandic Support For Whaling Decreases

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A New Plan to Fight Illegal Trading of Snow Leopards

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Photo by Kyle McCarthy

Panthera is an organization that is devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 37 wild cat species and their ecosystems, including the snow leopards. Recently, Tatjana Rosen, the director of the Panthera’s Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan Snow Leopard Programs, gave an update about Kyrgyzstan’s first wildlife detection dogs.

At the Canine Training Center of the Kyrgyz Customs Service, four dogs named Vesta, Venta, Vikki, and Orion are being trained to identify scents. Aimee Hurt from Working Dogs for Conservation is training the handlers and dogs to identify the scents of snow leopards, argali sheep, and ibex. These three species are the most illegally traded species in Kyrgyzstan but occurs undetected. Their hides, bones, and organs are concealed or passed off to be legally hunted species and the Customs and Border Control is ill-equipped to identify them.

The illegal wildlife trade poses a significant threat to snow leopards and their prey. With a population estimate of 150 to 500 individuals over a range of 105,000 kilometers, they are poached for their hides and bones which are valued in traditional Asian medicine. Their fur is also highly valued across Eastern Europe and Russia to Central Asia for garment making. Majority of the poachers are locals who face high levels of poverty. Poaching offers a source of extra income that is needed for survival.

With training these dogs to identify these endangered species before crossing borders, Panthera hopes to reduce poaching and stop the illegal trade in Kyrgyzstan. Once the training program is complete, these dogs will be deployed to border sites identified as hotspots for wildlife smuggling. 

Panthera: Dogs Saving Cats

Snow Leopard Trust: Kyrgyzstan

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