Category Archives: Bears

Do Drones Create Undue Stress in the Animals They Track?

Drone Vs. Wild

Unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVS, better known as drones) have complex interactions with the animals they monitor. Though scientists use drones to protect animals from poachers and obtain data on threatened species, evidence suggests these flying devices take an unseen toll on the creatures they track. YouTube even boasts a multitude of videos that show chimps, eagles, lions, and rams viciously attacking UAVs. So what’s going on when drone meets beast?

In the first study of its kind, scientists measured Minnesota black bears’ physiological responses to UAVs, which flew overhead 17 times. Data from sensors previously implanted in the bears revealed that in nearly all trials the animals’ heart rates significantly increased, though few behavioral reactions were noted. In the most extreme case, sensors recorded a 400% spike in one bear’s heart rate, from 39 to 162 beats per minute. University of Minnesota study leader Mark Ditmer found the results somewhat surprising, as bears in this region commonly hear loud noises from farm equipment and nearby traffic. “We thought they’d seen everything,” he said. Still, “Drones have different sounds and different capabilities. They can fly under the forest canopy, they can get very close, and even follow an individual.”

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Photo: Andy Cush

David Wilkie, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s director of Conservation Support, hesitated to read too much into the findings without further research on drone-wildlife interactions, noting: “Heart rate is really an indication of arousal, a natural reaction. All animals get aroused when there’s an unfamiliar sound. It’s about vigilance, not necessarily stress.” He called for a study to measure the amount of stress hormone cortisol found in animals’ feces after UAV flight trials. Ditmer conceded that, though wild species may habituate to UAVs just as they have to highways and other manmade noises, the potentially chronic stress from constant close-up drones could have unknown consequences, even impacting bears’ success in reproducing and finding food, as well as weakening their immune systems. “If you have an endangered species or animals sensitive to human interference, we could push them beyond a threshold,” he said.

More Good Than Harm?

The key may be to test individual species’ reactions to UAVs before implementing long-term drone surveillance on them, ensuring the benefits (e.g. protecting them from poachers and obtaining insightful data) to that group always outweigh any stress inflicted. In science journal Current Biology, Australian researchers Jarrod Hodgson and Lian Pin Koh agree that “It is likely that animal responses vary depending on a variety of factors, including the species, environmental and historical context, and the type of UAV and its method of operation.” The duo outline some best practice guidelines they hope will both public and private sectors will implement to minimize stressful drone-animal interactions. For instance, Hodgson and Koh recommend that researchers choose drone models that are unobtrusive and even camouflaged, that they consider obtaining data via satellite images or manned aircraft before deploying drones, and that any negative animal responses should be shared in published studies. With these suggestions, they seek  to define drones as “a powerful, low-impact ecological survey tool” that can harvest key data on threatened populations within acting in ways that could threaten them further.

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Photo: Mike Tuziw, Alamy

Clearly-defined legislation can serve to insulate wild animals from drone hobbyists, who may have no qualms about flying drones right up to wildlife for the sake of a good photo. Currently, Canadian law bans all drones within 150 meters of wild animals, while the US National Park Service prohibits drones from flying over protected land so that animal inhabitants will remain undisturbed. Wilkie noted that, after lawmakers and researchers lay out what constitutes appropriate drone behavior around wild animals, UAVS will  have “enormous potential that we’ve barely begun to tap,” and Hodgson and Koh too are optimistic. “In our experience, the vast majority of UAV users, both biologists and hobbyists, do not want to disturb wildlife and will often seek advice from experts,” Hodgson said. “By promoting an awareness of the potential for UAVs to impact wildlife, we hope that users will be more conscious of the potential impacts and utilize the code to ensure their UAV operations are responsible.” If their consequences on animal physiology are properly researched and shared amongst the scientific community, who knows the vitally important data that drones could secure on threatened wildlife species, even possibly helping them escape extinction?

-Shannon Cuthbert

Sources:

https://phys.org/news/2016-05-minimize-drone-impact-wildlife.html

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/150825-drones-animals-wildlife-bears-science-technology/

http://500below.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-drones-and-wild-animals/

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Painting Sun Bears to Save the Species

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Photo: Tambako the Jaguar

In 2008, pet artist Suzi Chua learned about sun bears from biologist Wong Siew Te, founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) in the Bornean city of Sandakan. Also called honey bears for their love of the sweet stuff, these endangered creatures live throughout South-East Asian tropical rainforests and on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Chua, who is passionate about animals and volunteers at local animal shelters, was saddened to learn that the adorable bears, the smallest bear species, typically weighing in at 100 pounds or less, are often hunted for their body parts or are poached to be sold as exotic pets.

Thus, she created a project to help save the sun bears: through free art lessons that would teach how to paint sun bears. “I wanted to raise awareness and save the sun bears,” says Chua. To date, she has painted five sun bears at the BSBCC, including Koko, who died in 2015 of respiratory failure and whose portrait has been placed in the organization’s visitor center. Chua donated 30% of sales from three other portraits to BSBCC and just completed her fifth painting of Debbie, a sun bear sent to BSBCC in 2012 after being rescued from captivity as a pet.

Chua’s friend, Stacey Chiew, an art teacher, helps Chua by promoting the “Saving Sun Bears, One Painting At A Time” project to her students, and feels the project will help raise awareness of this sweet, shy, threatened species. “Art can create a powerful voice for sun bears. The main objective of this project is to let the younger generation know that forests are home to the sun bears, not cages,” she says. “The students should know that we have the power to change and destroy habitats, putting sun bears on the ever-increasing endangered species list. More and more young people are waking up to the fact that the choices they make can have an impact on wildlife.”

Adds Chua of the impact on students: “They can also gain a general understanding of how profound the loss would be if we don’t take action now to protect them. One day, we may never see the beautiful sun bears except in a picture book.” On their August 26 art session, they had over 40 students show up to paint Si Kecil (the Little One), a rescued sun bear cub who had been raised by sun bear biologist Gabriela Fredrikkson until he was killed by another sun bear in 2000. They worked from a photo taken by Wong two months before the cub’s death. Wong told Fredrikkson he hoped the photo of Si Kecil would grow famous around the world to shed light on the fate of the sun bears, and Si Kecil has since become the center’s icon. “These paintings will be displayed at BSBCC’s visitor center for public viewing. In future, we may sell or auction some of these paintings during special functions or fund-raising events,” says Wong.

BSBCC currently houses 40 rescued sun bears, the youngest of which is Wawa (a nine-month-old cub) and the oldest of which is Amaco (a 23-year-old sun bear). Sun bear populations throughout South-East Asia, Sabah included, are suffering greatly. Says Wong, “They face tremendous threats from habitat lost across their distribution range. For the sun bears that manage to survive, their survival may be further threatened by poaching for body parts and the pet trade. Recently, the Sabah Wildlife Department prosecuted two separate cases of sun bear poaching within two weeks. These cases raised serious concern for wildlife poaching in the state. In addition, Facebook is being used as a platform for the illegal wildlife trade.”

Wong praises Chua and Chiew for their unique project, which increases the next generation’s awareness of this beautiful endangered species.

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Photo: Suzi Chua

 

Source: Chiew, Marjorie. “Care to paint a bright future for sun bears?” Star2.  16 September 2016.

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Your Favorite Big Mammals Are in Deeper Danger Than You Thought

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A report in the journal BioScience recently revealed that some of the world’s most beloved large mammals could disappear forever if action isn’t taken soon to protect their habitats. Threatened megafauna, which typically inspire more public sympathy and concern than similarly endangered species of plants, bacteria, or smaller animals, in this case include bears, rhinos, and gorillas. In the report, titled “Saving the World’ Terrestrial Megafauna,” a global team of conservation scientists laid out issues of particular concern to these animals’ well-being, including vast deforestation, the expansion of land used for livestock and farming, illegal hunting, and rapid human population growth.

“The more I look at the trends facing the world’s largest terrestrial mammals, the more concerned I am we could lose these animals just as science is discovering how important they are to ecosystems and to the services they provide to people,” said William Ripple, an ecology professor at the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and the report’s lead author. “It’s time to really think about conserving them because declines in their numbers and habitats are happening quickly.”

The 43 scientists note that large mammals have widespread impacts on their ecosystems, and affect everything from regulating disease risks for humans and maintaining healthy populations of animals lower down in the food chain, to preventing wildfires and spreading seeds. The experts examined global trends confronting lions, rhinos, wolves, zebras, tigers, elephants, and other animals, concluding that “Most mammalian megafauna face dramatic range contractions and population declines.In fact, 59 percent of the world’s largest carnivores and 60 percent of the world’s largest herbivores are classified as threatened with extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List. This situation is particularly dire in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, home to the greatest diversity of extant megafauna.”

The scientists finished the report with a call to action for world leaders: “We must not go quietly into this impoverished future. Rather, we believe it is our collective responsibility, as scientists who study megafauna, to act to prevent their decline. We therefore present a call to the broader international community to join together in conserving the remaining terrestrial megafauna.” Hopefully their voices and research will not fall on dull ears, but will help leaders and the public come together to take measures to save these large creatures, beautiful and vital for our planet’s health.

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Source: Silva, Christina. “Humans Cause Animal Extinction: Large Mammals Including Elephants And Gorillas Are Under Threat, Study Finds.” International Business Times. 27 July 2016.

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A High Price to Pay: Are Queen’s Guard Bearskin Caps Worth the Toll on Wildlife and Taxpayers?

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Thousands of Britain’s traditional Queen’s Guard soldiers have been laid off in the past several years, yet spending on the soldiers’ expensive bearskin Busby hats has soared 500% since 2008. That year, animal activists met with Labour Defence Minister Baroness Taylor to review new designs for the age-old caps, including the possibility of creating them from synthetic materials. However, the government recently revealed that real bearskin is still being used and that the cost to taxpayers has ballooned from £31,000 in 2008 for 35 new hats to £149,379 in 2015 for 122 hats, which each cost around £1,224.

The announcement sparked triggered fresh outrage and calls for the hats to be phased out. Shadow Environment Minister Alex Cunningham, who investigated the caps’ cost, said: “The British public will be horrified that Canadian black bears are being slaughtered, often indiscriminately, to provide fur headgear for British soldiers. The Government have admitted spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on fur headgear over the last few years but despite escalating costs, and evident animal welfare issues, have no plans to research alternatives. With leaders in the British fashion industry prepared to develop alternatives, it’s time to think again.”

Unbeknownst to them, British taxpayers have footed the bill for the 925 caps purchased over the last decade, with a total cost around £880,000, an average of £951.53 per cap. In 2009, the 195 hats bought cost £148,891, averaging £763.54 each. Then in 2010, Tories gained power and cut 20,000 soldiers from the army, nevertheless increasing new hat spending, with 695 purchased since 2010.

PETA UK director Mimi Bekhechi said: “Fur farming has been banned in the UK for more than a decade and PETA has shown how shooting bears in the Canadian forest, often orphaning their cubs, is even more cruel than farming, so it’s an outrage for the Ministry of Defence to source real fur for ceremonial attire. For each of The Queen’s Guards’ caps , a bear is cruelly killed either by being shot or ensnared, possibly for days, in a painful trap. British taxpayers – a good 95% of whom object to killing animals for fur – are unwittingly paying for it. With the resources, science and technology at the MoD’s disposal, it’s inexcusable that the same Army which is capable of building some of the most sophisticated equipment and machinery in the world claims that it’s unable to find a cruelty-free replacement.”

The Ministry of Defence also admitted that 55 coney skin Busby hats (made from rabbit fur) were purchased between 2005 and 2015, at a total greater than £25,000, and six fox fur caps were bought at a total cost of £5,499. In a statement, Defence Minister Philip Dunne responded: “The Ministry of Defence does not buy bear pelts; it buys ceremonial caps direct from suppliers who source pelts from animals culled as part of a programme to manage the wild population licensed by the Canadian government. Animal welfare standards relating to the bear cull are a matter for the Canadian government. The MoD also purchases coney skin (rabbit fur) for the Royal Engineers’ and Royal Signals’ Busby and fox fur for the Royal Horse Artillery, Kings Troop Officers’ Busby. The current contract requires a commitment to sustainable procurement. Depending on usage and maintenance, bearskin Busbys can last for up to 50 years. The coney skin and fox fur Busbys have indefinite life spans if properly maintained.”

Looks like animal activists and British taxpayers will have to continue to fight to end the unnecessary and exorbitant sourcing of Queen’s Guard caps from bears, rabbits, and foxes, defending wildlife as well as protesting profligate government spending.

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Source: Glaze, Ben. “Spending on British Army’s bearskin hats soars by 500% in seven years.” Mirror. 14 January 2016.

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Great Bear Rainforest

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An agreement was reached last week to protect the vast majority of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest old-growth temperate rainforests left in the world.

The deal is between First Nations governments, the provincial government of British Columbia, and the forestry industry that fulfills commitments first made a decade ago as part of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements.

With the agreement, some 3.1 million hectares (7.7 million acres) of the Great Bear Rainforest, over 85 percent of the temperate rainforest in the remote coastal region will be permanently off-limits to industrial logging. The remaining 15 percent (550,000 hectares or 1.2 million acres) of the forest will be subject to “the most stringent legal standards for commercial logging operations in North America.

The agreement requires a 40 percent reduction in logging compared with 2006 levels — or 2.5 million cubic metres (88.2 million cubic feet) per year — for the next 10 years. After that, logging will be done on a “conservation trajectory.” Logging companies will have to make annual progress reports to the public to ensure they meet the required conservation targets.

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The agreement also solidifies First Nations governments’ shared decision-making powers with the B.C. government within their traditional territories and establishes measures to improve the wellbeing of First Nations communities.

This is a  victory for the global climate, as well, as B.C.’s coastal old-growth rainforests are known to store large amounts of carbon, meaning that increased protections will result in an immediate reduction in carbon emissions from deforestation.

Just over half of the region known as the Great Bear Rainforest, which encompasses about 6.4 million hectares (15 million acres) of coastal B.C., is covered by forest ecosystems (around 3.6 million hectares, or 8.9 million acres). It is the traditional territory of 26 First Nations.

The Great Bear Rainforest provides habitat for a number of iconic species, including towering, ancient trees as well as grizzly bears, orcas, salmon, wolves, and the unique, white-furred black bear known as the Spirit bear that the rainforest is named for.

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A Call to Preserve Our Predators

A call to preserve our predators

By Cyril Christo / Wildlife Documentarian

The recent decision by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to increase the bear, wolf and mountain lion hunting quota dishonors New Mexico as a maverick gun-toting renegade state. Recently an appeals court opened the door to Wildearth Guardians to end the mercenary and cruel wildlife killing program that Wildlife Services had waged against wildlife. Game and Fish’s stated mission is to preserve wildlife for future generations. Heartlessly murdering the innocent is not part of its stated mission.

We are surrounded by states like Colorado and Arizona that outlaw trapping. We call ourselves the Land of Enchantment, but our acts of murderous folly conspire against this title. As recently stated by the Guardian, a paper written by a group of 14 leading ecologists and biologists from the U.S., Europe and Australia and published in the journal Science, calls for the establishment of an international initiative to conserve large carnivores and help them to coexist with humans. Failure to protect our top predators could soon have devastating consequences, they warn.

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“Globally, we are losing our large carnivores,” said William Ripple, the report’s lead author. “Many of them are endangered and their ranges are collapsing. Many are at risk of extinction, either locally or globally. And, ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning to appreciate their important ecological effects.”

Ranchers abetted by certain political appointees want to maximize their profits. Never mind the lupophobia, the fear of wolves, that still exert its power over people’s imaginations. Cows that have run roughshod over a once magnificent continent full of forests may have their creditors, but it should not be in place of beings like bears who do not covet cows and mountain lions whose impact on livestock is less than negligible.

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Would you rather see this ?

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Or this ?

As a documentarian I blew the whistle on this generation of the elephant slaughter in the tremendous “Agony and Ivory”(written by Alex Shoumatoff) article launched by Vanity Fair in August 2011. The article went viral and galvanized the world. Initially, even the New York Times said it was not interested in elephants. Now the entire world is mobilized to stop the greatest mammalian genocide of our time.

Predators, too, need salvation or the children who are being asphyxiated with video games and Disney movies of Bambi and Nemo will wonder what adults did to the life force. In a time when a remarkable Love Song to the Earth created by singers from Paul McCartney to Sheryl Crow and others are pleading for the planet, it behooves us come to terms with what is at stake, a potentially lifeless planet. Why do we even consider slaying the irreplaceable? For money? For pride? For greed? We can never afford to tell the children “This is where the wild things were.” The masses of nature-deficit-afflicted kids will become a swarm of half children who will be deprived of the meaning of life, playing video games and adding to the tenor of the already most violent country on earth. As an elder in East Africa once told me, “The only thing left will be to kill ourselves!”

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Fish and Game must become an agency not for the execution of life but its maintenance, not so called management, a euphemism for outright murder. In The Great Gatsby, the author remarks that this country, the great sweep of its forests, was once commensurate with our ability to wonder. What indeed has happened to our ability to wonder? We are persecuting existence to the point where, if we are not very, very careful, we may well have nothing but a high-tech slum as Edward Abbey once warned us. Let us choose life!

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Teaching your children well?

Cyril Christo is an Academy Award-nominated documentarian who has published three books on wildlife and is working on a feature documentary on the elephant and a new book on Africa, Lords of the Earth. He lives in Santa Fe.

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Rescued Bears Roam Free

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Fours bears were forced to perform tricks and kept in tiny cages at a roadside zoo in Pennsylvania for nearly 20 years.  Even when the zoo was shut down in 1995 because of violations of the Animal Welfare Act, Fifi, Bruno, Pocahontas and Marsha were never allowed to leave their enclosures, not even for humiliating bicycle-riding for small crowds. The bears paced restlessly in their cages, had nowhere to hibernate, suffered from severe arthritis and another of other medical conditions.

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Thanks to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), all four of these bears got a new lease on life in 2014. The  bears have been brought to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. There they will recover from their plight, learn how to be wild and live their remaindering days in dignity. The fours bears now live in two vast 15-acre permanent habitats. They can now ample space to climb and roam and bathe in pools. They can even hibernate in underground dens.

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Bruno in his new home, living a life with dignity.

PETA has now rescued 41 bears from roadside zoos and backyards across the country. I commend PETA for taking this action and rescuing these animals from a life of misery.

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