Tag Archives: animal rights

Are Animal-Friendly Films Actually Harming Our Animals?

The long awaited sequel to Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo is finally here, but many are questioning whether Finding Dory will pose the same threat to exotic fish as happened after the release of Finding Nemo.

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Finding Nemo, released in 2003, followed the story of a young fish named Nemo who was captured by divers and separated from his Dad. The mega-popular film’s main message focused on the danger and cruelty of keeping animals in captivity and separating them from their natural habitats. Ironically, that message did not reach many viewers who were so fascinated by the beauty and color of the clownfish that they wanted a “Nemo” of their own for their home aquarium. The movie even created the memorable line “fish are friends, not food.” Pet and aquarium stores everywhere saw the sale of exotic fish, especially the clownfish, skyrocket following the popularity of the movie. Sales grew an estimated 40% as a result of the film, and clownfish became the fifth most important species into the United States.

Many other animal-friendly films, including The Wild Thornberrys and Free Willy emphasize important lessons about the cruelty of captivity and harm of keeping animals in small, enclosed tanks. However, somehow these messages are getting lost. Just like with the sale of clownfish following Finding Nemo, there was an increase in sales at parks like SeaWorld that held captive Killer Whales, and an increase in popularity of having monkeys as pets.

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So, while it is entertaining and exciting to catch the animal-friendly, heart-warming movie that is Finding Dory, it is also important to keep in mind that these fish are wild animals and they need to be protected. Wild, exotic fish like the clowfish and the blue tang fish are not meant to be aquarium fish. The increasing demand for these fish is even starting to affect their role in their natural environments. The capturing of blue tang fish is even more dangerous than clownfish because blue tangs cannot be bred in captivity. This means capturing these fish could completely eliminate their role in the environment, and have an extreme threat to their population size.    

As a precaution to this threat, Disney has worked with animal-rights groups, pet stores such as PetSmart and Petco, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to advise people on home aquariums in hopes of conserving blue tangs.

Source: Lang, Brent. “Finding Dory Could Lead to Dangerous Demand for Blue Tangs as Pets.” June 22, 2016.

Bardroff, Jenna. “ Why Animal-Friendly Fiction Films Might Not Be Friendly to Real Animals.” October 9, 2014. 

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NOISE POLLUTION THREATENS MARINE LIFE

We frequently hear about warming ocean temperatures, waste pollution, and habitat loss in marine environments, but little attention is given to another large issue affecting marine life: noise pollution. Noise pollution is beginning to show a major physical and behavioral affect on marine species ranging from whales, sea turtles, and sea birds to carbs, shrimp, and invertebrates. The pollution is mainly coming from the explosive sounds made by cargo ships, sonar guns, and air guns used by the U.S. Navy and during gas exploration. One species in particular, the Blue Whale, is drawing more attention to the issue because of how they’re affected by the noises.

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Noise pollution can be harmful in multiple ways. Species of whales and dolphins rely heavily on sounds while communicating with each other, hunting prey, escaping predators, and finding mates. The loud noises made during human activity can mask the sounds made by the marine organism, causing it to become lost or separated from its family, or interrupting its role in the food web. Noise pollution can also physically harm marine organisms depending on the size of the vibrations caused by the sound.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has attempted to eliminate this issue on a case-by-case basis, preventing the use of the sonar guns or cargo ships when an organism is present in the nearby distance to the source of the noise. NOAA has now spent 6 years drawing an Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap to deal with noise pollution and bring more attention to this issue. Not only are endangered species being watched closely, but also the entire effect from noise pollution is being researched to determine how whole marine environments are being altered.

Source: Goldman, Laura. “A Plan to Mute Ocean Noise for Marine Life.” Environmental News Network. 15 June 2016.

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What Does it Mean That More Endangered Species Than Ever are Being Delisted?

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Since Obama took office, 15 animal and plant species have been removed from the endangered species list, more than the total combined number of species removed under all previous administrations since the Endangered Species Act became active in 1973. These include the Louisiana black bear, the Virginia northern flying squirrel, and the Lake Erie water snake, and Brian Hires, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) believes several more species could be removed from the list, which currently numbers 2000, before the next president is sworn in this January, from the Hawaiian hawk and Gray wolf to certain Humpback whale populations.

However, many species continue to be newly added to the endangered species list, with help from groups like the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, who regularly litigate the government when severely threatened animals remain unprotected for years or decades. Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director for the wildlife protection nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity says his group sues when the USFWS does nothing to save imperiled species from plights such as trafficking, climate change, and habitat destruction: “If the Service were to complete its mandates on time and proactively protect species at the verge of extinction, we would not have to sue them repeatedly. They hold their own destiny in their hands.”

Nevertheless, conservative lawmakers have worked to make it easier to delist endangered or threatened species in order to appease various groups, from ranchers and farmers to fossil fuel industry companie, who feel the ESA wildlife conservation efforts they would need to undertake would eat into their profits. Attempting to resolve these conflicts, the Obama administration has negotiated several agreements for landowners to merely volunteer to preserve endangered animals on their land, allowing them to bypass the ESA’s stricter preservation policies.

Hires notes that delisting species is a complex process, as many of the species in question inhabit both private and public lands, often crossing state and even international borders. “Successfully preventing the extinction of a species and recovering it so it no longer requires the ESA is a real team effort,” he says. “It requires intensive coordination and collaborations with state wildlife agencies, private landowners, conservation groups, industry, other federal agencies, and more.” For a species to be removed from ESA protections, the USFWS first examines the current state its habitat, likelihood of disease or predation, and other natural or manmade factors, and then decides whether the species would be able to successfully survive in the wild.

Hires also says that climate change will require conservationists to rethink the way they have traditionally managed endangered species, perhaps by focusing on preserving entire landscapes and ecosystems rather than specific species. “Impacts of climate change include increased size and number of wildfires, insect outbreaks, pathogens, disease outbreaks, and tree mortality,” said Hires. Rising sea levels and temperatures, as well as extreme weather associated with climate change will likely have big impacts on conservation efforts.

Hartl believes that most of the approximately 60 delisted species have fared well “because state management is done in good faith and the species are still protected in a science-based fashion. It only falls apart when states act in bad faith,” he said. “Wolves are a good example—as soon as ESA protections were lifted in Montana and Idaho, wolf populations were reduced due to unregulated hunting and trapping.”

Recently, the USFWS announcement that grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park could be delisted led to controversy. The proposal would transfer grizzly management to states surrounding the park and would likely initiate grizzly bear hunting seasons. The Yellowstone population has grown from 136 animals to between 700 and 1000 since the species’ inclusion on the endangered list in 1975. However, groups like the Humane Society feel that Yellowstone grizzly bears “are far from recovered.” Humane Society’s President & CEO Wayne Pacelle notes that human-caused grizzly mortality rates are up and that the “bears are facing a range of threats to critical food sources, including white bark pine nuts and lake trout.”

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Similarly, for years wildlife groups have argued over the status of the greater sage-grouse, an imperiled bird whose natural habitat cuts across central states whose economies rely heavily on fossil fuel production. In May the oil and gas industry challenged drilling restrictions imposed by the Obama administration to protect the sage-grouse, even though the current restrictions are still a compromise from more stringent ESA rules. Says Hartl of the complex and often politicized conflicts that conservation efforts can spark, “Questions about when to protect species must be based solely on science in order to avoid parties trying to game the system, at the expense of species themselves.”

Regarding the 15 delistings under Obama, Hartl said “it is a victory and credit goes to the heroic efforts over the last 30 years. It is not the achievement of the Obama administration alone because these successes took years to build up to.”

Source: Phillips, Ari. “The convoluted life of an endangered species—and why more are being saved now than ever.” Fusion. 19 May 2016.

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Death of 17-Year-Old Endangered Gorilla Sparks Debate About Zoo Killings

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Many took to social media in protest after learning of the death of a beloved western lowland gorilla, one of a gorilla subspecies labelled “critically endangered” by the World Wildlife Fund. The 400-pound male, Harambe, was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo Saturday, May 28, when a four-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure. After the gorilla dragged the boy through a moat as a crowd of tourists watched in horror, the zoo’s response team felt that the toddler was in “life-threatening” danger and shot the gorilla with a rifle.

However, upon seeing video footage of the incident, some observers believe the gorilla was merely trying to protect the child from perceived danger upon hearing the screams of surrounding tourists, and #JusticeForHarambe began trending online in response. In the clip, Harambe appears to be shielding the boy from the panicked cries around them, and does not seem ready to lunge at or attack the child. More than 70,000 protesters have petitioned on Change.org for the child’s parents to be examined for signs of child neglect, claiming that Harambe’s death could easily have been prevented had they been actively watching their son.

Western lowland gorillas remain the most widespread gorilla subspecies, according to the WWF, but face significant threats from deforestation, as well as from poaching and diseases that have reduced the most recent generation’s population by more than 60%. Aside from being totally extinct or extinct in the wild, being critically endangered is the most dire label an animal population can receive.

Saturday’s event brings to mind a 1986 occurrence that took place on the UK-dependent island of Jersey, in which silverback gorilla Jambo famously stood guard over a five-year-old boy who fell into a gorilla enclosure, rubbing the child’s back and protecting him from other gorillas, until keepers were able to extricate the child. However, unlike Harambe, Jambo was left unharmed and made into a local hero, featuring in a life-sized statue and even on Jersey stamps.

Coupled with a similarly-fatal incident last week, in which two lions were killed at a Santiago, Chile zoo when a man attempted suicide by climbing into their cage, Harambe’s death has led many to question the standard emergency procedures zoos currently have in place for unexpected encounters between animals and humans. For instance, some are questioning why zoo staff don’t carry tranquilizers that could be used in such incidents to incapacitate rather than kill animals who are in close and potentially deadly contact with visitors. The Cincinnati zoo staff responded by noting that tranquilizers take a much longer time to kick in, and that the boy’s life would have remained in danger until further action was taken.

As for 74-year-old trainer Jerry Stones, who raised Harambe from birth and described him as a “gentle giant,” the gorilla’s death is especially painful. “He was a special guy in my life. Harambe was my heart. It’s like losing a member of the family.”

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Sources: Gladu, Alex. “How endangered are western lowland gorillas like the one at the Cincinnati Zoo?” Bustle. 29 May 2016.

BBC News. “Gorilla killing: Harambe’s death at zoo prompts backlash.” 30 May 2016.

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This Earth Day, Let’s Talk About the Pangolin…

cute_baby_pangolinEstablished April 22, 1970, Earth Day serves to raise awareness of the state and well-being of our planet. One important measure of that well-being is the health and stability of Earth’s more than 8 million known species, from little-known bacteria and fungi to well-loved and long-championed megafauna like elephants and whales. Yet, though all these species serve important roles within their ecosystems and environments, lesser-known species face added challenges for conservationists.

Just look at the pangolin: sadly, the most-trafficked animal in the world is one that most have never even heard of. The highly-endangered animal is trafficked for their scales, boiled for use in traditional medicine, for their meat, a delicacy in parts of Asia, and for their blood, used as a healing tonic. From 2006 to 2015, nearly one million animals were poached. In addition to Asia, the US has a huge demand for pangolin parts, so conservation groups must work to raise both local and global public awareness of pangolins to curb this dangerous market before it’s too late. If current trends continue, the pangolin will likely become extinct before the world takes notice.

10abb2b50Docile and nocturnal, pangolins make their homes in savannahs, tropical forests, and brush, with four species known to live in Africa and four in Asia. The insectivores feed mainly on ants and termites and have highly acute senses of  smell and hearing to make up for poor vision. The solitary creatures have rarely been studied in the wild, but  have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.

This March the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced a positive development for the pangolin: they will consider including it in the Endangered Species Act.  “The Endangered Species Act is among the strongest conservation laws in the world, and listing all pangolin species under the Act will be a dramatic and positive step in saving the species from extinction,” said Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation.

So, though conservation efforts and individual awareness of endangered species are vital every day of the year, Earth Day 2016 is the perfect chance for people to learn more about this gentle and fragile animal and to consider steps necessary to prevent its extinction.

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Source: Swan, Carol Ann. “Earth Day 2016 is for Endangered Species Like the Pangolin.” BlastingNews, 22 April 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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3-D Printed Sea Turtle Eggs:Will Poachers Know the Difference?

Conservationists have been putting technology to good use, creating artificial eggs with wireless transmitters that can trick and track black market traders.

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Each year, hundreds of eggs from endangered sea turtles are dug up from the beaches of Nicaragua and other countries and carted off to restaurants across the globe. Each egg can be sold anywhere from 20 cents at local bars to $150 apiece in the US or China, where the eggs are seen as rare delicacies. However, the process by which these eggs wind up on the black market is still murky, giving rise to nonprofit group Paso Pacifico’s new plan to shed light on the eggs’ journey.

Using 3-D printing technology, the organization is developing fake sea turtle eggs, each the size of a ping-pong ball, containing GSM transmitters which will track egg-smuggling routes across the globe. This innovative idea won the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, sponsored by U.S. Aid for International Development, National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution, and wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. Paso Pacifico and its partners were awarded tech support along with $10,000 to bring the concept to fruition. “The plan is to start testing them in the next nesting season, which will start in July,” said Eduardo Boné-Morón, the organization’s managing director.

Right now, a few improvements are still needed. Though initial prototypes were revealed at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Paso Pacifico is still seeking out the best quality transmitters and is working with an art studio near Hollywood to perfect the shell’s texture and color. The eggs will then be placed in Nicaragua to test their success in tricking poachers. Said Boné-Morón of the plan’s next phase: “Our rangers will locate vulnerable active nests that are more likely to be poached, for example, nests that are closer to trails. We will plant as many eggs as possible in the beach to increase the possibility of poachers taking the artificial eggs.”

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Because the smugglers have to transport their precious goods immediately after poaching (the eggs spoil within 15 days), the tracker eggs may quickly reveal a wide web of illicit trade networks. “If these guys have the capacity to send an egg from a beach in Central America to China in 15 days, it’s a well-structured network,”  Boné-Morón said. He believes the eggs may implicate several rounds of middlemen passing the eggs along, as well as the initial poachers. He also hopes that some smugglers may be deterred by the knowledge that some eggs could be bugged: “Eventually the poachers will learn there is something wrong with the beaches. That is totally fine with us. The reason they’re poaching right now is because it’s so easy. If they see that we’re watching them, we may be able to discourage them.”

Once development and successful testing has been carried out, Boné-Morón wants to expand the use of artificial eggs to wherever sea turtles lay their eggs around the globe. “We want to have eggs that are cheap enough that any nonprofit or any government agency can buy them and plant them on the beaches all over the world,” he said.

Source: Platt, John R. “Faking Out Poachers With 3-D-Printed Sea Turtle Eggs. ” Takepart, 24 March 2016.

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