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Conservation News: Animal Abuse Records, Ivory Ban, and Tiger Temple

USDA Brings Back Animal Abuse and APHIS Records, But Not All

Following the public outcry after animal abuse records were wiped, the U.S. government posted a fraction of the tens of thousands of animal welfare data that were removed earlier this month.

In this announcement, the agency says that it is “posting the first batch of annual reports of research institutions and inspection reports” resulting from a “comprehensive review” that began with the complete removal of previously public documents that are generated by the agency as it enforces the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Horse Protection Act.

However, those familiar with the records say that USDA has so far restored only a small number. Among the documents still unavailable are the vast majority of reports from regular inspections of animal-holding facilities that are monitored under AWA, including puppy mills, private research facilities, and zoos. A number of groups have sued USDA to pressure the agency to repost all the records once again.

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Conservation News: Climate Change, Antelopes, and Abalone

Republicans Release a Plan to Fight Climate Change Just As Antarctica Takes A Hit

The latest daily figures have shown that Antarctica’s sea ice has hit a worrisome milestone, reaching its lowest recorded extent this week, according to data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. This recent Tuesday had the all-time low since 1997: 2.22 million square kilometers (858,691 square miles).

Unlike the Arctic sea ice, which has shown a relatively steady decline over the past three decades as global temperatures rise, the Antarctic sea ice has yielded more erratic and controversial data since monitoring began the late 1970s.

In 2012, Antarctic sea ice actually hit a record monthly high, with scientists theorizing that melting ice shelves were contributing to the growth. Since then, further evidence of Southern Hemisphere ice melt has accumulated.

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Via British Antarctic Survey/NASA

Melting ice is one of the biggest indicator of global warming and causes concern about the following sea-level rise and other climate impacts. Though the timing and the extent of those impacts have been highly debated, the trends are another set of data to pressure countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to a warmer climate.

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Conservation News: Animal Abuse Records, Coral Reefs, and Parasites

Lack of Transparency After USDA Animal Abuse Records Went Offline

Two weeks into the Trump Administration, thousands of documents detailing animal welfare violations nationwide have been removed from the website of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has been posting them publicly for decades. These include the inspection records and annual reports for every commercial animal facility in the U.S.—including zoos, breeders, factory farms, and laboratories.

They also reveal many cases of abuse and mistreatment of animals, documenting violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Incidents if the reports had not been publicly posted, would most likely to have remained hidden. This recent federal action plunges journalists, animal welfare organizations, and the public at large into the dark about animal welfare at facilities across the country.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which has maintained the online database, cites privacy concerns as justification for the removal.

However, critics question that reasoning.

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Conservation News: Donkeys Aren’t Exempted from Eastern Medicine

In the Global Skin Trade, Chinese Medicine is Fueling Demand for Donkey

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Ejiao on sale in a factory shop in Dong’e. Photo: George Knowles

Ejiao, also known as donkey-hide gelatin, is, as the name suggests, gelatin obtained from the skin of the donkey by soaking and stewing. It is an ingredient frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine and an entire industry has emerged to meet its demand.

The emergence of the global trade in donkey hide is attributed to the rise of China’s affluent middle class and increased perception of the medicine’s efficacy. Ejiao can sell for up to $375 per kilo.

“It’s what we refer to as a blood tonic. It’s good for building up the body and helps with what is known in Chinese medicine as ‘blood deficiency’, for conditions such as anaemia and heavy periods, as well as irritating dry coughs,” says Emma Farrant, president of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine. “It usually comes in blocks of dried pieces which are melted down into a concoction of herbal mixture to drink.”

The rural backwater of Dong’e, in Shandong province where more than a 100 factories produce ejiao, is the epicenter of a multibillion-dollar industry that is having a devastating effect on donkey numbers worldwide. Four million young animals – 2.2 million of them outside China – are being killed every year for their skins, which are boiled, liquefied and turned into health snacks, powders and face creams that the Chinese believe are the key to long life and lasting beauty. This industry alone has halved China’s donkey population and is threatening to expand to other continents’ populations.

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Conservation News: Forests, Snow Leopards, and Lions

Will Rainforests be a Thing of the Past 100 Years From Now?

Thirty years ago, a wide belt of rainforest circled the earth, covering Latin America, southeast Asia, and Africa. However, today, it is being rapidly replaced by great swathes of palm oil trees and rubber plantations, land cleared for cattle grazing, soya farming, expanding cities, dams, and logging. At current rates of deforestation, scientists are estimating that rainforests will vanish altogether in a century unless poor nations are helped to preserve them.

For thousands of years, people have been deforesting the tropics for timber and farming, but that is nothing compared to how humans have been physically transforming the Earth these past few centuries. Every year, about 18 million hectares of forest – an area the size of England and Wales – is felled. It is estimated that in the past forty years, possibly 1 billion hectares has been cleared. That’s equivalent to the size of Europe.

Based off of the latest satellite analysis, half the world’s rainforests have been razed in the past century. Particularly in the last 15 years, new hotspots have emerged globally from Cambodia to Liberia.

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Deforestation in Bhutan. Forests are vital stocks of carbon and water resources (Flickr/ World Bank)

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Conservation News: Tigers and Primates

Massive Tigers Could Once Again Roam Central Asia

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Artist’s depiction of a Caspian tiger. Credit: Heptner and Sludskiy 1972

Caspian tigers, some of the largest cats that ever lived that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh more than 300 pounds, met a grim end in the middle of the 20th century. Before the mid-1960s when they were declared extinct, they were found from modern-day Turkey through much of Central Asia to northwestern China. This disappearance followed after poisoning and trappings promoted by the former Soviet Union until the 1930s and irrigation projects during the Soviet era destroyed the tugay woodlands, a riparian and coastal ecosystem of trees, shrubs, and wetlands, and reed thickets that were critical habitat for tigers and their prey.

It has long since thought that these tigers would never return. But, by reintroducing a subspecies that is nearly identical genetically to ideal locations, the extinct Caspian could be restored to Central Asia. In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, researchers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and State University of New York (SUNY) say they have found two spots in Kazakhstan to reintroduce the extinct enormous cat. And by using Amur tigers, better known as Siberian tigers, scientists may be able to accomplish this feat.

“The idea of tiger reintroduction in Central Asia using the Amur tiger from the Russian Far East as an ‘analog’ species has been discussed for nearly 10 years,” explained study co-author Mikhail Paltsyn, in a statement. “It met with considerable support from the government of Kazakhstan in 2010 during the Global Tiger Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia.”

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Conservation News: Polar Bears, Bees, and Lemurs

Polar Bear’s Conservation Management Plan Blames Climate Change as Primary Threat

One of the iconic images of climate change is the iceless Arctic Ocean, the polar bear’s home melting away. This picture illustrates the vital connection polar bears have to their marine environment and the importance of having stable sea ice. During the late spring and summer months when the ocean freezes over, polar bears use sea ice to travel, hunt their primary prey, and rear their young. During the late summer and early fall when the sea ice melts away, polar bears are unable to hunt, using the stored up fat from their summer feast as energy until the sea ice returns come spring.

However, climate change is shifting this cycle. The days in summers and falls are increasing with no enough time for sufficient sea ice to form in the spring. As such, polar bears need to go without their primary prey. As a result, polar bears to remain travelling along the coast and wander into local villages to scour for food, leading to conflicts between the humans and bears.

The area of the Arctic covered by sea ice in October and November 2016 was the lowest on record for those months since record-keeping began in 1979. The current global polar bear population is estimated to be 26,000. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the current rates throughout the 21st century, polar bears will likely disappear from much of their present-day range.  

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Conservation News: Global Consumption, Elephants, and Owls

Maps Reveal Just How Much Global Consumption Is Hurting Wildlife

In a world driven by a globalized economy, the biggest threat to an endangered species is often fueled by consumer demand thousands of miles away. The things we consume, from iPhones to cars, have costs that go well beyond their purchase price. It is possible that the soybeans used to make tofu for last night’s dinner were grown in fields after burning down tropical rainforests or a t-shirt that was bought came from an industrial area that had been carved out of high-value habitat in Malaysia. It is impossible to know if the products and goods we buy are truly sustainable and this makes protection of wildlife and biodiversity an even more daunting task.

And unfortunately, many of the most economically lucrative regions are also hotspots of biodiversity, harboring species close to the brink of extinction. It’s the classic division between economic and environmental preservation.

But Daniel Moran from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and his colleague Keiichiro Kanemoto from Shinshu University in Japan tackled this issue in their recent paper, which was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. They developed a technique that allows them to identify threats to wildlife caused by global supply chains that fuel our consumption. By tracing these economic pressures back to their origins, the scientists mapped the spots where major consuming countries are threatening biodiversity around the world. After analyzing the data, they created a series of world maps that show the species threat hotspots across the globe for individual countries.

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This map shows the species threat hotspots caused by US consumption. The darker the color, the greater the threat caused by the consumption. The magenta color represents terrestrial species, while the blue represents marine species. Photo: Daniel Moran and Keiichiro Kanemoto.

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Conservation News: Elephants, Cheetahs, and Birds

China Announces the Details To Ban the Ivory Trade by the End of 2017

Earlier this month, China stated that they will finally implement plans to ban the ivory trade. State media reported last Friday that China will ban all domestic ivory trade and processing by the end of 2017, setting a deadline. Thereby, shutting the door to the world’s biggest end-market for poached ivory.

“China will gradually stop the processing and sales of ivories for commercial purposes by the end of 2017,” the official Xinhua news agency said, citing a government statement, and will affect “34 processing enterprises and 143 designated trading venues.” The State Council also mentioned that the first batch of factories and shops will need to close and hand in their licenses by March 31, 2017.

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Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

People with ivory products previously obtained through legal means can apply for certification and continue to display them in exhibitions and museums, the government announcement said. The auction of legally obtained ivory antiques, under “strict supervision”, will also be allowed after obtaining authorisation. It also mentioned that the government will also crack down on law enforcement and boost education.

China’s announcement follows Beijing’s move in March to widen a ban on imports of all ivory and ivory products acquired before 1975 after pressure to restrict the trade, which more than 20,00 elephants are killed annually for.

Conservation groups applauded the ban, with WildAid’s wildlife campaigner Alex Hofford calling it “the biggest and best conservation news of 2016”.

And Aili Kang, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Asia, praised the announced in a statement. “This is great news that will shut down the world’s largest market for elephant ivory. “I am very proud of my country for showing this leadership that will help ensure that elephants have a fighting chance to beat extinction. This is a game changer for Africa’s elephants.”

WWF Hong Kong’s Senior Wildlife Crime Officer Cheryl Lo said the bold timeline “shows determination to help save Africa’s elephants from extinction”.

But he also calls on Hong Kong to bring forward a plan to end its ivory trade by 2021. “With China’s market closed, Hong Kong can become a preferred market for traffickers to launder illegal ivory under cover of the legal ivory trade,” he explains.

China to Ban Domestic Ivory Trade by End of 2017

China to ban ivory trade by the end of 2017

Cheetahs No Longer Safe, Latest Census Suggests Possible Extinction

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A cheetah family rests together in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Photo By: Frans Lanting

The world’s fastest land mammal is racing toward extinction, with the latest cheetah census suggesting that the big cats, which are already few in number, may decline by an additional 53% over the next 15 years.

“That’s really perilous,” says Luke Hunter, president and CCO for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization. “That’s a very active decline, and you have to really step in and act to address that.”

According to a new study, which appeared this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, there are just 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild. That’s down from the estimated 14,000 cheetahs in 1975, when researchers made the last comprehensive count of the animals across the African continent, Hunter says.

In addition, the cheetah has been driven out of 91 percent of its historic range—the big cats once roamed nearly all of Africa and much of Asia, when the global population numbered over 100,000. Since 1900, the feline has gone extinct in more than 20 countries and their population is now confined predominantly to six African countries: Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, and Mozambique. The species is already almost extinct in Asia, with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in one isolated pocket of Iran.

“Given the secretive nature of this elusive cat, it has been difficult to gather hard information on the species, leading to its plight being overlooked,’ said Sarah Durant, the report’s lead author and researcher at the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Conservation Society says in the press release.

“Our findings show that the large space requirements for the cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought. Governments are often required to monitor their wildlife inside protected areas, but not outside them,” Durant continues. “And monitoring is harder to do outside, because cheetah are shy and their densities are lower. We have no data.”

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An Asiatic cheetah crosses the Miandasht Wildlife Reserve in Iran. Photo By: Frans Lanting

Based on these results, the study authors and the organizations supporting the study – Zoological Society of London, Panthera, and Wildlife Conservation Society – are calling for the cheetah’s status to be upgraded from “vulnerable” to “endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

“These large carnivores, when they are declining at that sort of rate, then extinction becomes a real possibility,” Hunter comments.

Perhaps unsurprising, humans are the man reason that cheetahs are in peril. Like other carnivores, cheetahs face habitat loss driven by conversion of wilderness areas into managed land dedicated to agriculture or livestock. In addition, illegal poaching and the trafficking of cheetahs as exotic pets as well as humans overhunting their prey for bushmeat have all driven the cheetahs out of 91% of their historic range across Africa and Asia.

“Cheetahs are facing a double whammy: They are getting killed directly, and then also their prey species are getting killed in these savannah areas, so the cheetahs having nothing to subsist on,” Hunter argues.

Furthermore, according to the study, 77% of cheetahs live outside of non-protected areas, which are more vulnerable to human threats. This is due to the animals need to have room to roam; individual cheetahs can have a range as large as Manhattan. Because many live in non-protected areas, they often come into conflict with humans and their livestock, which will lead to retaliation and hunting of cheetahs.

“We can’t have any more cheetahs in [current] protected areas … the density is already the maximum it can be,” Durant says. “The key to the survival of the cheetah is its survival outside of protected areas.”

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A cheetah and two cubs gaze across the landscape in Kenya. Photo By: Frans Lanting

Hunter adds that it is likely too late to grow and protect the species in areas like West or Central Africa, where these big cats have long been on the decline. But, there is enormous potential for the population to rebound quickly in other areas. With a new conservation status, the cheetahs would have a platform for conservation groups to try and reverse the trends affecting cheetahs. For instance, such a change can create openings for funding streams that are available only to endangered species, and they might allow for conversations with African governments about cheetah conservation programs.

“What we are really hoping,” Durant says, “is this will catalyze action to start thinking outside the box for cheetah and landscape conservation, to start looking beyond the protected-area system and looking at how we can get communities engaged in and supportive of conservation, and make sure we have the policy and financial policy framework in place so that they will benefit from conservation.”

Cheetahs Are Dangerously Close to Extinction

Cheetah Populations Plummet as They Race Toward Extinction

Cheetahs are dropping fast and are in danger of extinction

Research Reveals that Climate Change Might Be Driving Birds to Migrate Early

Migrating birds are responding to the effects of climate change by arriving at their breeding grounds earlier as global temperatures rise, research has found.

The University of Edinburgh study, which looked at hundreds of migratory species across five continents, found that birds are reaching their summer breeding grounds on average about one day earlier per degree of increasing global temperature. The researchers also examined records of migrating bird species dating back almost 300 years, drawing upon records from amateur enthusiasts and scientists, including notes from the 19th century American naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

The main reason that birds take flight is changing seasonal temperatures and food ability. So the time they reach their summer breeding grounds is significant. If the birds arrive at the wrong time, even by a few days, this may cause them to miss out on vital resources such as food and nesting places. This in turn will affect the timing of offspring hatching and their chances of survival.

It is the hope of the researchers that their study, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology and supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, would help scientists to better predict how different species will respond to environmental changes. Long-distance migrants, which are shown to be less responsive to rising temperatures, may suffer most as other birds gain advantage by arriving at breeding grounds ahead of them.

Climate change driving birds to migrate early, research reveals

STUDY – Temporal shifts and temperature sensitivity of avian spring migratory phenology: a phylogenetic meta-analysis

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Conservation News: Roads, an Oil Drill Ban, and Great Apes

Road-Building Just Might Be Behind Why Our Wild is Disappearing

When one considers which of the many human threats to nature have the most damaging effect, global warming, overhunting, and loss of habitat comes to mind. However, a new study suggests that it is in fact, road-building.

Many of us have been trained to see road-building as something positive, conjuring images of promoting economic growth, after multiple history lessons. However, an unprecedented spate of road building is happening now. It is expected that by 2050, 25 million kilometers or 15.5 million miles of new paved roads will be laid. And that’s causing many environmental researchers to perceive roads about as positively as a butterfly might see a spider web that’s just fatally trapped it.

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