Category Archives: Hunting

The Epic Battle Against Invasive Lionfish

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First reported near Florida in the 1980s, lionfish have since spread throughout southeastern U.S. waters, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea, taking over coasts from New York to Brazil. These brightly-striped ornamental fish, native to the Indo-Pacific, were believed to have been let loose in U.S. waters by the aquarium trade.The problem: with insatiable appetites (they’ve been found to eat over 70 fish/invertebrate species) these invasive creatures have since wreaked havoc on coral reefs and fisheries, eating both other species’ prey and grazers that clean algae from reefs. Plus, no predators have stepped in to gobble up the strange species, allowing the fish to reproduce relatively unchecked.

Still, scientists and environmentally-minded entrepreneurs alike have been taking action against ballooning lionfish populations, creating and testing everything from underwater robots to fish traps loaded with special recognition software, all designed to drastically lower the lionfish headcount. “It’s the inverse of every fisheries management plan you’ve ever heard of,” says marine biologist Corey Eddy, who focuses on lionfish near Bermuda. “Usually we’re trying to minimize the pressure on fish populations so they can rebound. Now we’re saying, let’s start wiping them out.”

Though strategies like hosting spearfishing tournaments and giving out special lionfish culling permits can help individuals nab hundreds of lionfish in a day, this is nothing compared with the two million eggs a female lionfish could spawn every year. Add that to the fact that they can lurk below 130 feet, too deep for average divers, and scientists have speculated that robots may be better than humans at controlling lionfish populations.

Colin Angle, cofounder of iRobot, had this same thought while diving in Bermuda, only natural since his company has created robots from the Roomba to radioactive nuclear waste cleaners. Inspired by the idea to employ robots in lionsih control, Angle and his wife, biochemist Erika Ebbel, began nonprofit Robots in Service of the Environment (RISE), with the goal of creating an affordable autonomous underwater robot that lethally shocks lionfish by early next year. RISE members feel that lionfish could ultimately become the next popular delicacy, a demand that would vastly help limit lionfish populations. “Ultimately the way this becomes a success is by creating a market and the interest of consumers in eating lionfish,” says John Rizzi, executive director of RISE. “The best way to challenge the sustainability of a species is for humans to eat it. Whether that’s good or bad, in this case that will benefit the environment.”

Similarly, recreational divers Bryan and Anna Clark were inspired to start a nonprofit environmental group called Coast Watch Alliance, which works to simultaneously protect reefs and battle lionfish. Bryan Clark is working on a prototype to suck up the fish with a vacuum-like gulp. He’s also developing a “hunting ROV” (remote-operated vehicle) with a camera to seek out the fish before diving down. He feels that both technology and financial motives will help decimate the lionfish. “Some people are going to harvest lionfish because it’s great for the environment, others will do it because it’s fun to do while they’re diving. But a lot of people are going to do it because they’re going to make some money taking lionfish to the market,” he says.

It just so happens that lionfish have already unwittingly stepped into the spiny lobster fishery commercial market, as 20 percent of lobster traps end up catching lionfish as well. “lf the lionfish are showing up in those traps, uninvited and unintended, then why not get them to show up intentionally?” notes diver Bob Hickerson, who’s putting his contractor skills to good use by designing a better lionfish trap. The “Frapper Trap” (from the French word meaning “to strike down”) will implement a pattern recognition program to seize lionfish, and let other species free. Along with his wife, Maria, his father-in-law, and volunteers from Team Frapper, he hopes to have a trap ready to test in the next six months. “We can’t stand back and watch our reefs being taken over by lionfish,” he says.

Nevertheless, even with such a broad range of arsenals being developed, experts believe that total destruction of lionfish is impossible, though creating a strong commercial market for selling the species to diners could prevent them from devastating entire ecosystems.

“I think commercial incentive will be a big part of the solution, supplemented by spearfishing in shallow water and some of these other things,” says Stephen Gittings, science coordinator at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “Some of these might sound like crazy ideas, but you never know until you try.”

Source: Gaworecki, Mike. “The lionfish invasion: a call to arms?” Mongabay. 14 December 2016.

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How Humpback Whales Were Brought Back from the Brink

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Humpback whales have been hunted almost to the edge of extinction for hundreds of years. However, major efforts to protect them in the past forty years have finally paid off in significant and measurable ways, as shown in an NOAA Fisheries announcement this week reporting that 9 of 14 known humpback populations worldwide have now recovered enough to be removed from the US List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, most of which are in the southern hemisphere. “The data behind the humpback delisting is solid,” says NOAA marine ecologist Robert Pitman, a NatGeo Society grant recipient studying these amazing creatures. “Those of us that have been on the water working with whales for the past thirty to forty years have been amazed at the recovery that we have seen.”

Marta Nammack, NOAA Fisheries’ national Endangered Species Act listing coordinator, notes that while five humpback populations are still struggling and will remain on the list, it makes sense to remove the groups that have been successful at recovering. Each of the fourteen populations that make up the estimated 100,000 total humpbacks are recognized as being genetically distinct, suggesting that the populations’ statuses and threats to their survival should be studied and assessed separately. For example, she says, lethal entanglement in fishing nets is a much greater extinction threat for the 82 humpbacks remaining in the Arabian Sea, as compared with the 10,000 whales in the Hawaiian humpback population. “We may not be able to delist the entire species,” says Nammack, “but by dividing them up the way we did, we can see substantial progress for their recovery across a good portion of the species.”

Prior to the humpbacks, distinct gray whale populations were delisted separately from one another depending on various extinction threats they faced. After a successful recovery, the Eastern North Pacific population of gray whales was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994, but the Western North Pacific population remains an endangered group.

The delisting of several humpback populations will not mean that they will become instantly vulnerable to hunting and other manmade threats that would cause their numbers to plunge. In fact, every humpback population will remain protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which bans harassing, feeding, hunting, capturing, collecting, or killing any marine mammal in US waters. In addition, the International Whaling Commission has banned hunting humpbacks since 1982.

NOAA Fisheries reported filing two regulations that mandate whale watching and other boats keep a 100-yard distance from all humpbacks. “The decision [to delist] shows the power of the Endangered Species Act. But the job isn’t done,” says Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Kristen Monsell. She describes the threats that climate change, ocean noise, and ship strikes will continue to pose to humpbacks, making maintenance of existing protections necessary. “We’re lucky to share our oceans with these amazing animals, and we should be doing everything we can to protect them,” she says.

Nammack and Pitman point out that the delisting is exciting news not only for humpbacks, but also for the laws and programs that helped them along the way to recovery. Concludes Pitman, “This is a win for humpbacks and the listing process. Delisting is ultimately what we are all after.”

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Source: Bittel, Jason. “The Plan to Save the Humpback Whales—and How It Succeeded.” National Geographic. 9 Sept 2016.

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Saving the Invisible Balkan Lynx

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The Balkan Lynx (a subspecies of the Eurasian Lynx) retains a mythic quality to locals, an unsurprising fact given that their current population is estimated at 19-36. Last year, the Balkan Lynx showed up on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered, reflecting the subspecies’ fragility and potential for extinction: none of the animals are currently in captivity, and their only known breeding grounds are Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia and the Munela Mountains in Albania.

Sadly, the Balkan Lynx has faced significant threats for years, from illegal poaching and hunting to shrinking habitats and prey populations. In 2006, Germany’s EuroNatur and Switzerland’s KORA founded the Balkan Lynx Recovery Program (BLRP), to track and collect conservation data on the population. After four years of tracking, camera trapping, and interviewing locals, BLRP field biologists spotted their first Balkan Lynx: “One of the most exciting days in my entire life has to be the day we saw the first photo of a lynx from the camera traps. Can you imagine how it felt… to finally have confirmation that the lynx does live in Macedonia?” said BLRP team member  Aleksandar Stojanov.

Recently, regional scientists and volunteers have joined the efforts to research and preserve this lovely yet relatively unknown creature, with support from regional and international conservation organizations (MES in Macedonia, PPNEA in Albania, ERA and Finch in Kosovo and CZIPin Montenegro, as well as EuroNatur, KORA and NINA from Norway). “Our cooperation with many stakeholders – especially hunters – opened the doors to more detailed research and conservation attempts for this cat and its prey. Our next step will be to downlist the Balkan Lynx to the category of Endangered; this means raising the population from the current 19-37 individuals to more than 50,” said Dime Melovski, another member of the MES BLRP team.

This collaborative effort has produced significant data, but scientists say there is much more to be done: “While this is an amazing scientific achievement for us, we have no time to celebrate, the Balkan Lynx needs even more visibility and dedicated support. However, we are encouraged because the IUCN Red List provides ‘political’ recognition and global publicity,” Melovski added. In fact, Albania and Kosovo have gone so far as to create new national parks to protect the Balkan Lynx’s breeding grounds. However, Macedonia has not taken the same steps, increasing MES’s efforts to raise national awareness and support and to lobby for the establishment of protected areas in Macedonia. In the end, it will take support on both local and large-scale levels to save the rare beauty of the Balkan Lynx.

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Source: Putilin, Kenija. “How do you save a species that is almost impossible to track?” BirdLife, 12 April, 2016.

 

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500 White Rhinos Up for Bid at South Africa’s Kruger National Park

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South Africa’s Kruger National Park plans to make 500 white rhinos available for private bidders hoping to protect the animals and their highly-prized horns. The park asked potential investors to “make a written offer to purchase white rhinos in batches of 20 or more”.

Ideally, this measure would remove the animals from the rampant poaching that occurs at the park: over 1000 were poached in South Africa last year alone, more than three times the number in 2010. Rhino horn is used as a traditional medicine and a mark of wealth in growing consumer markets China and Vietnam.

As many as 5,000 of South Africa’s 20,000 rhinos are already owned by private ranchers, marking the expansion of a vast game farming industry that caters to eco-tourism and big-game hunting. Rhinos attract tourists for game viewing and legal trophy hunts, and some ranchers hold out hope that the horn trade will eventually be legalized.

Still, the risks and costs of keeping rhinos safe from poachers, even on private ranchers, may dissuade potential buyers from investing in the rhinos. “You are asking someone to put a large amount of money on the table in a speculative venture,” Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association, told Reuters.

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This article was first published by The Guardian on 06 Oct 2014.

 

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Would you kill for a hat?

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The raccoon dog Nyctereutes procyonoides,  also known as the mangut or tanuki, is a canid indigenous to East Asia.  It is the only extant species in the genus Nyctereutes. It is considered a basal canid species, resembling ancestral forms of the family.

Raccoon dog populations have declined in recent years due to hunting, loss of habitat and even more so the fur trade.

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Canadian clothing maker Kit and Ace, that use the fur of Raccoon dogs justify their decision that hats made out of the animals were “raccoon fur and not made from dogs.” Major retailers like Macy’s and Kohl’s have been caught selling products made out of raccoon dogs as “faux fur” in the past.

While some clothing companies can claim that they are raccoons and not dogs, it does not justify that millions of animals are killed each year for their fur each year. The fur from a raccoon dog is not “fake”.

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Do you absolutely need to wear real fur from an animal that suffers intolerable cruelty?

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Governor of Montana gives Christmas gift to Bison

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Wild bison will be allowed to migrate out of Yellowstone National Park and stay in parts of Montana year-round thanks to Governor Steve Bullock. The governor agreed on 12/12/15 to expand year-round habitat protection for wild bison in Montana outside Yellowstone National Park.  Historically, thousands of wild bison have been hazed or killed as they migrated from Yellowstone into Montana during the winter and spring months. This will allow hundreds of wild bison to live without the fear of being killed as the search for food in lower elevations in an area 400 square miles north and west of the park.

Wild bison have largely been blocked from staying in Montana year-round like other wildlife due to a concern by cattleman and ranchers that their livestock could contract brucellosis, an introduced disease that can cause infected pregnant animals to miscarry. This disease may spread to domestic livestock from the migrating wild bison and elk.

The chances of infection are small and there are management tools available to prevent such a transmission from happening. In fact, no documented transmission from wild bison to livestock has ever occurred.

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The governor did ad that he plans to continue to pressure the National Park Service to reduce Yellowstone population of nearly 5,000 bison. Yellowstone has one of the largest wild bison herds remaining. Since the 1980’s more than 6,300 wild bison have been killed to “cull” the species in response to the fear of brucellosis spreading.


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1,000 Bison to be killed in Yellowstone

 

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The National Park Service has announced that Yellowstone National Park intends to cull as many as a thousand of the park’s genetically unique and only continuously wild herd of bison. This annual slaughter has no basis in science, is unethical and is corrupted management precipitated by cattle ranching interests. The killing of bison is an annual event. Since 1985 some 8,634 Yellowstone bison have been “culled” to appease the livestock industry.

The main justification given for this killing is the fear of brucellosis transmission to domestic livestock. The Montana Dept. of Livestock and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have worked together to perpetrate the idea that brucellosis poses a threat to the livestock industry. As a consequence the state and federal agencies, including the National Park Service, more or less restrict bison to Yellowstone Park (although there is a small area where bison are permitted outside of the park for a short period of time—but they are then killed by Native Americans and Montana hunters).

A BISON WALL EXISTS

Unfortunately for the bison, the urge to migrate in winter to find accessible food under shallow snow cover puts them in the cross hairs of the Montana livestock industry. A“bison wall” (analogous to the Berlin Wall) effectively confines them to Yellowstone National Park.

The main justification given by the livestock industry for its continued support of slaughter or hazing of wild bison is a disease known as brucellosis. There are reasons to believe that brucellosis is a Trojan Horse.

First, only infected pregnant bison cows  can potentially transmit brucellosis during the last trimester of pregnancy (February – April), bison bulls and calves are regularly slaughtered, so the killing of these animals demonstrates that brucellosis is not the primary reason for the containment of buffalo in the park.

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There are other animals that carry brucellosis. Some elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) are also infected with brucellosis. Predators and scavengers, such as coyotes, crows, vultures, and bears, are rarely infected as well, though they are not at high risk for shedding the bacteria.

Though there has never been a single documented case of brucellosis transmission to cattle from wild bison, all the instances of cattle infection seem to be the result of elk transmission.  Despite these well-known facts, bison are still singled out for control and death.

YELLOWSTONE BISON ARE UNIQUE AND THREATENED

The wild bison in Yellowstone are not just any bison herd. They are the only continuously wild bison left in the United States. They are the most  significant bison herd free of cattle genes. They are a national and international heritage. Most of the bison in the Untied States are managed as commercial livestock and selection is for traits favorable to domestication.

Both the Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watersheds Project have petitioned to have Yellowstone’s bison declared a threatened distinct population segment under the Endangered Species Act. An earlier attempt to get the bison listed in 1999 resulted in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to consider the listing, however, they did acknowledge that the Yellowstone population may be discrete and may meet the criteria for Distinct Population Segment.

To treat Yellowstone’s bison in this matter is a national disgrace and crime against the environment. The fact that this killing has been on-going for decades without resolution is also a scandal and sheds light on the corrupt power the cattle industry has on American politics.

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