Category Archives: wildlife

WCFF Celebrates United Nations’ World Wildlife Day

WCFF was honored to participate for the second year in a row, in World Wildlife Day at the United Nations. On Friday, March 3, the WCFF screened several films for children as this year’s theme was “Listen to Young Voices.”

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), celebrates and raise awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora on March 3 every year, World Wildlife Day.

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Support the WCFF and help us continue our mission to Inform, Engage and Inspire wildlife conservation and the protection of global biodiversity. Join us for our seven year anniverssary this October in New York. For for more information contact: info@wcff.org

All Legal Ivory Trading from Largest Market to End This Year

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Elephant populations everywhere are in grave danger, with species ranging in classification from vulnerable to critically endangered. The biggest causes of their fragility are habitat encroachment and poaching, which claimed 20,000 elephants in 2015, more than were born that year. Interestingly, these two causes may intertwined: in the minds of many locals whose livelihood depends on cultivating the land, habitat encroachment seems to necessitate killing or removing the elephants who live there, which in turn provides the perfect opportunity for poachers to swoop in and take the ivory that is in such high demand around the world. The UN Environment Programme found that over 63% of elephant rangelands will be occupied by humans by 2050.

Though an international ban on the once-legal ivory trade passed successfully throughout the ‘80s, political corruption and an illegal crime ring filled the void: in 2011, poaching caused 75% of elephant deaths worldwide. The ban had a fatal loophole, allowing ivory obtained prior to the ban to be sold, allowing poachers to claim the ivory was much older than it actually was.

Recently, China took great strides in cutting back on this dangerous and swiftly-accelerating industry, creating a plan to ban all trade by the end of 2017. “It’s a game changer and could be the pivotal turning point that brings elephants back from the brink of extinction,” said Elly Pepper at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Conservationists are hopeful that other countries will take note and implement their own measures to counteract this deadly trade, allowing elephant populations to recover before they face critically low numbers.

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Source: Caughill, Patrick. “The Biggest Ivory Market in the World will End All Legal Trading in 2017.” Futurism. 4 January 2017.

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival

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A Year in Review: Seven Stories that Highlight Hope for Conservation in 2016

Channel Islands fox rebound

The Channel Islands, eight islands off the coast of Southern California, house more of their adorable cat-size foxes (found nowhere else on earth) than ever in recent history. Thanks to conservation efforts including captive breeding of the foxes and relocation of predatory eagles, the population was recently removed from the endangered species list.

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Photo source: Don DeBold

Chernobyl wildlife boom

Though Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded over 30 years ago, it has left behind a wasteland that most scientists thought would remain barren for years to come. However, in 2014 University of Georgia researchers left dozens of cameras in a heavily forested area of Chernobyl’s 1600-square-mile Exclusion Zone and saw that boars, wolves, foxes, raccoon dogs and many more species had reclaimed the land as their own. “It’s basically an incredibly large sanctuary” for animals, said one researcher of the follow-up study and accompanying photos which were published this year.

Robotic animals used to trick poachers

US authorities have come up with an unexpected but highly successful method to catch poachers: placing remote-controlled robotic animals like deer, bear, and moose in illegal hunting hubs and apprehending those foolhardy enough to shoot at them.

Peanut butter and drones provide a creative way to help adorable ferrets

Native to the US, beautiful black-footed ferrets currently hold the spot of North America’s most endangered species, due in large part to a plague killing prairie dogs, their main source of food. This year the federal government began testing a unique and tasty solution that could drive the ferrets’ population to healthy numbers: using drones to drop peanut butter-flavored pellets laced with plague vaccine on unsuspecting prairie dogs (about 60-90% of prairie dogs fell for the trick in recent tests), helping their populations recover enough to restore a balanced ecosystem to the American grasslands where the dogs and ferrets reside.

Full-time Hedgehog Officer for British Town

Officials in Ipswich, a village on the eastern coast of the UK, have recently noted declines in typically high hedgehog populations, so a local wildlife organization created the post of “Hedgehog Officer”, tasking the British woman who beat around 150 applicants with conserving this adorable local creature.

Jaguars settling in Arizona

Jaguars claimed much of the western US as their own before being completely hunted to death, but 2016 gave two positive signs that some of the creatures may have migrated from northern Mexico into the Arizona desert. A few months following the appearance of a gorgeous male, caught on camera and nicknamed El Jefe, a second male cat was photographed prowling around an Arizona army installation. Though Arizona wildlife officials dampened some excitement with the revelation that the closest breeding population is 130 miles south, the presence of these cats brings hope that more may eventually find their way to their old stomping grounds in the US.

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Strong protections for some of world’s most endangered animals

The 2016 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) concluded by creating tough new regulations against killing and trading endangered animals currently vulnerable to poachers, including African gray parrots, pangolins, and manta rays.

Post by Shannon Cuthbert

Source: Brulliard, Karin. “Nine great news stories about animals in 2016.” The Washington Post. 30 December 2016.

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California Droughts and Wildfires Further Endanger Rare Mountain Frogs

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Photo: Pacific Southwest Region USFWS

Fewer than 400 endangered yellow-legged mountain frogs now remain from the thousands that once crowded hundreds streams throughout California’s San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountain ranges. Fifty years ago frogs swarmed these streams competing for desirable mates, but are now reduced to surviving in five hard-to-find streams that still trickle down despite five years of heavy droughts.

Scientists have grown more concerned about the frogs’ survival with a nearby wildfire growing each day, the third major fire in a month to overtake the frogs’ habitat. If this most recently endangered patch of vegetation is destroyed, biologists fear winter storms could wipe out the only remaining streams where the frogs live with debris and ash from previous fires. “I’ve never seen things this dry here before,” said Adam Backlin, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist, regarding a population of around 20 frogs in San Gabriel Mountains’ Big Rock Creek. “The last thing these frogs need is drought and wildfire.”

Though wildfires in the area have been common for a long time, they are now coupled with a vast array of factors that would make it difficult for sparse yellow-legged frog populations to recolonize from neighboring populations, as they did in decades past. Now, existing populations have been pushed to the brink of extinction by disease, urbanization, and widespread invasive predators from crayfish to trout and bullfrogs. Backlin notes that many isolated mountain yellow-legged frog populations were already decimated after 2003’s Old fire, 2009’s Station fire, and 2013’s Mountain fire, and are incredibly weak in the face of the most recent fire.

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Just three weeks ago, the Sand fire destroyed 40,000 acres of northwestern San Gabriel Mountain watershed, containing sections of Soledad Canyon, a shelter to both rare arroyo toads and federally endangered unarmored threespine stickleback fish. This week, biologists were alarmed to discover that the Blue Cut fire burned through over 37,000 acres across San Gabriel’s northeastern canyons. They are now rushing to study the fire’s impacts on the yellow-legged mountain frogs’ populations, and questioning whether captive breeding may be the only way to ensure the species’ continued survival.

Federal wildlife authorities started a recovery program for the frogs back in 2010 that involves trout removal, captive breeding, and banning public access to regions where frogs still survive. Authorities hope to keep the frogs alive in carefully monitored aquariums at the San Diego and Los Angeles Zoos, where “insurance colonies” are being maintained with the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, the Memphis Zoo, and the Santa Ana Zoo may join the program within the next year. Everyone involved hopes these efforts will allow the yellow-legged mountain frog to survive long-term, if outside its threatened natural habitat.

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Source: Sahagun, Louis. “California’s drought, wildfires threaten endangered frog.” LA Times. 20 August 2016.

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Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
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Endangered Species Face 12-Year Wait to be Listed

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A new study in journal Biological Conservation uncovered that the average time it takes a species to be officially classified as endangered is 12 years, six times longer than scientists say it should be to promote the health and survival of these species.

When Congress first passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, the process for a species to be added to the “endangered” list entailed being labelled as endangered or threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1982 Congress added an amendment laying out an entire two-year timeline for the process, from a petition submission in favor of the species being added to a final rule being created in the Federal Register.

However, the reality is a bit more complex. “While the law lays out a process time of two years for a species to be listed, what we found is that, in practice, it takes, on average, 12.1 years,” says Dr. Emily Puckett, a recent Division of Biological Sciences graduate at the University of Missouri. “Some species moved through the process in 6 months but some species, including many flowering plants, took 38 years to be listed—almost the entire history of the ESA.”

The study analyzed the length of time it took for the 1,338 species listed for ESA protection between January 1974 and October 2014 to move through the listing process. Researchers also examined if a species grouping affected the speed with which it was listed, and found that vertebrates moved on to the list significantly more quickly than did flowering plants and invertebrates. This finding prompted the study’s authors to conclude there may be a bias in the listing process that undermines the ESA’s official listing policies. “While the [US Fish and Wildlife] Service can account for species groups in its prioritization system, it’s not supposed to be mammals versus insects versus ferns but, rather, how unique is this species within all of the ecological system,” Puckett says. “However, our findings suggest some bias that skews the process toward vertebrates.”

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Long delays in ESA listing have real and severe impacts on endangered species. In fact, the study’s authors cited documentation of several species that went extinct while the lengthy process unfolded. In contrast, species that were listed quickly and had strong conservation plans put in place had greater chances to recover and thrive. For instance, the island night lizard took a mere 1.19 years to be listed, while the prairie fringed orchid took 14.7 years to be listed. In the meantime, the lizard population has been restored and it has been removed from endangered status, while the orchid is still a threatened species.

“The whole point of putting species on the list is they already have been identified as threatened or endangered with extinction,” Puckett says. “Without being on the list, we run the risk that these populations will go locally or globally extinct and there will be nothing to save.”

Sossamon, Jeff. “”Endangered Species Wait 12 Years to Get on the List.” Futurity. 12 August 2016.

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Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
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Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
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How Four Adorable Kittens Provide New Hope for Rare Scottish Wildcats

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Credit: Alex Riddell/RZSS

One could argue that the four Scottish wildcats born recently at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park are among the most important kittens alive right now. These kittens reflect a chance for one of the rarest feline subspecies on the planet to survive into future generations. Scottish wildcats are barely larger than housecats, but have earned the nickname Highland Tiger due to their ferocious personalities and large tails. However, fierceness has not been able to save these wildcats from near-extinction, brought on by habitat loss and decimation by farmers and game-bird hunters seeking to prevent the wildcats from hunting farm animals and birds. Conservationists estimate only a few hundred of the cats remain in the wild, and frequent interbreeding with feral and domestic cats makes it difficult for scientists to get an accurate population count.

Luckily, as part of the Scottish Wildcat Action initiative, Highland Wildlife Park has been making efforts to breed the cats in captivity, leading to the successful births of four wildcat kittens this May, three from one litter and one from a second. They join 21 other kittens produced by the Park’s adult wildcats, one of which died from a congenital liver defect, and one after being transferred to another zoo. Several of the surviving 19 kittens have successfully been placed at parks around Scotland in attempts to breed the cats at other locations and to reduce inbreeding at each zoo. Breeders plan to release the kittens into the wild once they’re fully grown.

Previous genetic tests on the Highland Wildlife Park’s captive wildcats have suggested that all the cats have hybrid genes and are not purely Scottish wildcats, but these cuddly kittens hold as great a hope as any to continue the line of the critically endangered subspecies, and may even be the only chance left to prevent their extinction.

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Credit: Peter Trimming

Platt, John R. “Adorable Kittens Represent Hope for Nearly Extinct Scottish Wildcats.” Scientific American. 21 July 2016.

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
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Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
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First Mammal Made Extinct by Manmade Climate Change

YWQ4NzExMzNjNyMvbExMbWZqTEg5NUxOckZBUFdTaldMTDE1c1prPS8weDM6OTAweDQ0OC85MDB4NDQ2L2ZpbHRlcnM6cXVhbGl0eSg3MCkvaHR0cDovL3MzLmFtYXpvbmF3cy5jb20vcG9saWN5bWljLWltYWdlcy92d3JhZ2FsZ2psbndwcDRmY29zMGN5cDZwb2FlZ2d6dmRmdHRyN29ocSource: Queensland Government

Queensland, Australia environmental researchers reported that the Bramble Cay melomys, a rodent species found on a small island in the eastern Torres Strait, appears to have been completely eradicated from its only known habitat. Also called the mosaic-tailed rat, this tiny creature marks the first mammal that has disappeared due to human-caused climate change, though experts warn it will likely be the first of many: a 2015 report noted that ⅙ of the world’s species are in danger of climate change-based extinction.

This melomys was the only mammal species native to the Great Barrier Reef, and in 1845 European sailors first noticed the rats living in high density around Bramble Cay, a small coral cay on Queensland’s north coast. The island is a significant wildlife hotspot, and remains the most important breeding ground for green turtles and several seabirds within the Torres Strait.

In 1978 the melomys population was estimated at several hundred, though they were last seen in 2009, leading to an extensive 2014 search for the creature. Since then, a report led by Ian Gynther from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, in partnership with the University of Queensland, has recommended the species be labelled extinct.

As part of their search, researchers laid 150 traps on the island over six nights, and thoroughly examined the vegetation they typically inhabit for signs of life. After no evidence that any Bramble Cay melomys’ remained, the report’s authors concluded that extensive flooding due to rising sea levels was the “root cause” of the extinction, killing many animals and destroying 97% of their habitat from 2004 to 2014. Around the Torres Strait, sea levels have risen at twice the global average between 1993 and 2014. “For low-lying islands like Bramble Cay, the destructive effects of extreme water levels resulting from severe meteorological events are compounded by the impacts from anthropogenic climate change-driven sea-level rise…Significantly, this probably represents the first recorded mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate change,” the authors noted.

The Queensland government website suggests that attempts to restore the population are futile. “Because the Bramble Cay melomys is now confirmed to have been lost from Bramble Cay, no recovery actions for this population can be implemented,” it says. However, the report’s authors hold out hope that there might be an undiscovered population of the creatures in Papua New Guinea. They posit that several melomys may have initially arrived at Bramble Cay by floating over on debris from the Fly River region of New Guinea. Thus, the authors recommend surveying Papua New Guinea to see if the rodents or their close relatives could be living there.

Ecologist John White of Australia’s Deakin University said this extinction marks the beginning of a long battle for wildlife conservationists: “I am of absolutely no doubt we will lose species due to the increasing pressures being exerted by climate change,” he said. “Species restricted to small, low lying islands, or those with very tight environmental requirements are likely to be the first to go…Certainly, extinction and climatic change has gone hand in hand throughout the history of the world,” he said. “So, if this is one of the first, it is more than likely not going to be the last.”

3d653a26-0746-4ed6-8347-abc2db35753e-1920-1080Source: CAMERON DEJONG/FLICKR/CC2.0

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
Biodiversity & Wildlife Crime Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
Founder & CEO
Christopher@WCFF.org
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