Help Save Wildlife
By 2025 as many as one fifth of all animal species may be lost, gone forever. In recent times, hundreds of species have become extinct as a result of human activities:
Habitat destruction by logging; ever-encroaching human settlement; pollution of water, soil, and air; unmanaged fishing that exhausts fish stocks; and illegal hunting to supply the demand for skins, hides, traditional medicines, food, and tourist souvenirs all threatens species' existence.
Extinction is forever. We must act now. Time is running out.
- Endangered Species
- Preserving Wildlife
- Why Save Endangered Species?
- Living in Harmony With Nature
- Habitat Destruction
- Help Save Elephants
- Wild Horses
- Save the Seals
- Save the Manatees
- Save the Whales
- Save the Dolphins
- Urban Ducks
- Sea Turtles
- Turtles & Tortoises
- Rattlesnake Roundups
- Captive Hunts
- Wildlife Services' War on Wildlife
- Bear Baiting
- Internet Hunting
- Solving Raccoon Problems
- Solving Woodchuck Problems
- Polar Bears
Endangerment is a complex issue that involves the ecosystems where species live and interact together. Measures are being taken on specific issues of endangerment, but without protecting the environments where endangered species live, these efforts will be in vane.
There are many reasons why a particular animal or plant may be threatened by extinction. Scientist analyze these factors and classify them in groups. The following are the main factors that lead to endangerment:
Loss of Habitat
Earth is in a constant state of change, causing wildlife habitats to be altered and modified. Natural changes usually occur gradually, causing minimal stress on individual species. Humans have caused changes on our planet to occur at a much more rapid pace, leaving little time for wildlife to adjust to their new circumstances. Rapid habitat loss is the single most primary cause of endangerment. Most of the planet has now been modified by human activity, a trend that continues to accelerate. The consequences may be disastrous.
Humans are depleting the soils of the earth, eradicating its forest and causing the extinction of fish and various marine animals. Wild lands are quickly being converted to housing and farmland. Space once home to plants and animals are being eliminated at an alarming pace.
Animals and plants that face overexploitation may become endangered or lost forever. Unrestricted whaling during the 20th century is a prime example of how overexploitation brought many species to the brink of extinction.
Today wildlife is threatened by illegal trade in animal parts. Bushmeat demands for elephant tusks, rhino horns, tiger bones and other animal parts drives a growing underground of illegal activity. Asia and other regions contain a strong market for animal parts used in traditional medicines.
Introduction of Exotic Species
Native species are plants and animals that exist in a specific ecosystem, having been a part of that environment for an extended period. Well adapted to this local environment they are accustomed to the presence of other native species within that ecosystem. Exotic species, on the other hand, are interlopers. Exotic species are often introduced by way of human activities, whether accidental or intentional. Interlopers are viewed by native species as foreign elements. Exotic species may seriously disrupt the fragile balances of an ecosystem and may result in unintentional but disastrous consequences.
For example, newly introduced exotic species may prey on native species. This could seriously disrupt the natural habitat and cause greater competition for limited food sources. Introduced exotics have resulted in endangerment and extinction of hundreds of plants and animals within the past five centuries.
Pollution, disease, and limited distribution are additional factors which threaten plants and animals with extinction. A species without the natural genetic protection against a particular pathogen can be terminally affected by an introduced disease. Pollution has greatly affected many species, and limited distributions are a consequence of several circumstances; populations confined to small areas due to loss of habitat, for example.
What You Can Do:
One of the most important ways to help threatened plants and animals survive is to protect their habitats permanently in national parks, nature reserves or wilderness areas. Donate to, or volunteer at, a nature preserve or let an area of your yard go natural.
Make Space For Animals
Plant trees, bushes and plants that benefit wildlife in your area. Place a birdbath in your yard. Compost in your garden. It eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers which are harmful to the planet and its animals. Refrain from using harmful chemicals in your home and garden.
Reduce, Reuse And Recycle
- Use public transportation. Walk or ride bicycles rather than using the car. Turn off lights, radios and TV's when not in use.
- Reuse paper and plastic bags. Don't allow water to run while you brush your teeth. Use water-saving devices.
- Buy products and with less packaging whenever possible. Use clothe bags at the grocery store. Recycle items you no longer use by donating them to charity. Buy organic fruits and vegetables.
Plant Native Plants That Are Local To The Area
If possible, plant native plants instead of non-native varieties in your yard. Many environmental weeds originate from individuals' gardens. Seeds can be spread by the wind or birds.
Speak Out For Animals
Tell everyone you know about threatened species and what they can do to make a difference. Start a group dedicated to protecting animals in your area or to help care for a nature preserve. Write letters and articles about endangered species to local newspapers. Call radio programs to discuss your concerns.
Join the World Animal Foundation Today!
Wildlife preservation is informed management of the natural environment to protect and benefit plants and animals. Extinction may occur due to natural causes. However the actions of people and the growth of human population have all too quickly created a threat to the well being of wildlife. There have been declines in the numbers of some species and extinction of others. The need for conservation was created by human beings.
About 2 million years ago when Homo sapiens first appeared on the earth their world was biologically rich. Millions of species of plants and animals flourished from the single celled to the complex. The first humans enjoyed a lush and beautiful environment filled with brilliant color and variety. Every ecosystem harbored life in many forms from forest to meadow, wetland to desert.
These early people chose to decorate their dwellings with paintings of the wildlife that made up their environment. As they evolved and developed belief systems they used the plants and animals that surrounded them in their rituals. Nature was integrated into their culture. It has played an important part in the way modern man thinks and behaves today. We bring nature into our daily lives. If you keep a pet or even a house plant, if you enjoy a landscape painting or a piece of nature photography, or if you visit a park or a nature preserve you are recognizing the importance of natural elements in your life. The difference we perceive in the range of natural settings from the beauty of a garden to the desolation of a vacant lot is determined by the kinds of organisms that each contains and the communities they form.
Few of us would prefer an environment of concrete buildings and asphalt paving to gorgeous coastlines, majestic mountains or peaceful forests. Our pleasure in life would be diminished if only one bird sang or merely a handful of fish lived in the sea. But our aesthetic appreciation of the wildlife that fills our earth is only one reason to preserve the variety and abundance of species. All living things contribute to the ecology and are vital to its health and continuation. Despite our advances in technology we as human beings still rely on our environment to provide many of the things necessary to our survival. The Earth's biodiversity supports all life including that of humans. Our food, medicines, energy sources, textiles and building materials are all derived directly or indirectly from living organisms. Our way of life is inextricably linked to the natural world.
Plants convert the energy of the sun through photosynthesis into the energy that sustains all life on this planet. Everything we eat can be traced to either a plant or to an animal that lived by eating plants. For this reason the vegetation on this planet is necessary to our survival. Maintaining a variety of plant forms is crucial. Although the food we consume represents only about 100 kinds of plants, there are countless others we might utilize. As our population increases and land for agricultural use dwindles we will have to look for other food crops and new ways to grow them. It is important to preserve a variety of plant species with their future use in mind.
Almost all of our medicines come from living organisms: some directly as from bacteria or fungi or plants, others are now synthetically made but were originally discovered in their natural form. In China and other parts of the world medicinal plants in their original form are used as treatment for all kinds of illness. Many of our manufactured pharmaceuticals offer a more controlled use of these plants but are none the less dependent upon them. Science hopes to identify even more organisms beneficial to the treatment of disease. We have only scratched the surface of the vast number of plant species to be studied. A great discovery could still be found that might change the lives of millions.
The study of living things advances our knowledge in all areas. By observing the behavior of the great apes anthropologists learn about prehistoric man. By studying the movements of the creatures and plants of the Earth engineers can learn about mechanics. Yet there are organisms that have yet to be scientifically studied. For example, fungi exist in countless numbers and forms. They can be used to preserve food, to produce medicine such as antibiotics without which many lives would be lost and much of the food we eat depends on them. We would have no bread if not for yeast to make it rise, no wine without fermentation. The importance of the organisms around us gains some perspective when we see the practical and economic applications of those organisms. Yet we have explored only a fraction of the species of existing fungi. There are secrets yet to be learned and benefits yet to be gained. If even one species is lost we may have missed a vital opportunity to improve our lives. The one species that perishes might have had the potential to feed entire populations, to cure disease or to provide invaluable knowledge.
We must also see beyond our own needs. There is a much larger picture and many ecological reasons to preserve species. Scientists refer to the role played by living things as "ecosystem services." Communities of microbes, plants and animals along with nonliving environmental features such as soil and water constitute an ecosystem. Ecosystem services are provided by many species including those that prevent soil erosion or affect the quality of the air, or convert the energy from the sun into food, or influence the climate, and other functions vital to the ecosystem as a whole.
Optimally, the Earth is self-perpetuating, but its continued ability to be a healthy environment for humans is dependent upon the species that sustain its ecosystems. The forests, wetlands, prairies and deserts are all necessary to its well being. If we continue to allow species to die out it will become increasingly difficult for these ecosystems to operate successfully and it may become difficult for all living things to survive.
The very climate of the Earth is dependent on the vital ecosystems that comprise it. The Earth's forests perform the vital task of photosynthesis, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as plants make food. If the forests are cleared and not replaced our atmosphere will change.
There is dramatic evidence that the Earth's ecology is badly stressed. We have taken the importance of the ecosystem for granted and we are blind and deaf to the signs of the strain. Because plants that hold soil in their roots have been eliminated about one-fifth of all the topsoil in the world has eroded and is lost. The consequences of this loss are fewer plants, fewer productive farms and therefore less food for animals and humans alike. Understanding and maintaining natural communities is the key to sustaining life on Earth. No species is unimportant. They are all part of the system.
Beyond the questions of ecology and economics is the ethical issue. What right to we have as one single species to destroy other living things. Human beings began to destroy the other organisms in their environment when they began to practice agriculture more than 10,000 years ago. There were no more than several million people then. With our exploding population the rate of consumption has proportionately increased, about 40 percent of the the net biological productivity (what is produced by all living organisms) on the land. We are already taking a disproportionate share of the bounty of the Earth. Ecologists believe that we need to respect the value of other organisms and preserve them before we increase that share. These organisms deserve our respect. They support our very lives on the planet.
With the development of ever more efficient weapons humans have been able to kill wildlife with growing efficiency. Hunters have caused several species of animals to perish. For agriculture, industry and for living space we have cleared the forests, drained the wetlands, and dammed the rivers. This encroachment on the environment has negatively impacted vast amount of plant and animal habitat. What hasn't been destroyed has been disrupted and the natural processes altered. This affects the diversity and size of wildlife populations in these habitats. Some are no longer connected to their ecosystems.
Various species became extinct before there were humans on the Earth but new species developed to replace them. The variety of life continued. Now, however, when people kill off a species there is little hope that it will be replaced. The variety of life is decreasing. Many species of wildlife are gone forever. In North America alone such extinction includes the Carolina parakeet, the passenger pigeon, the California grizzly bear and a birch tree that once flourished in Virginia.
An increased interest in Conservation began in the late nineteenth century. Many governments passed laws to protect and set aside national parks and reserves for wildlife. It was these efforts that saved the American bison, the pronghorn and many rare plants found in Hawaii and in the Galapagos. Yet several hundred species of animals and thousands of species of plants are still at risk. These include well-loved animals like the Giant Pandas, the Asiatic Lion, the Bengal tiger, the blue whale, the mountain gorilla, the whooping crane, the California condor, the Florida panther and all the Asian rhinoceroses. The St. Helena redwood, the black cabbage tree, the Ozark chestnut and several kinds of California manzanitas face extinction as well.
Why Save Endangered Species?
Since life began on Earth, countless creatures have come and gone, rendered extinct by naturally changing physical and biological conditions. Since extinction is part of the natural order, and if many other species remain, some people ask: “Why save endangered species? Why should we spend money and effort to conserve them? How do we benefit?”
Congress answered these questions in the preamble to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, recognizing that endangered and threatened species of wildlife and plants “are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.” In this statement, Congress summarized convincing arguments made by scientists, conservationists, and others who are concerned by the disappearance of unique creatures. Congress further stated its intent that the Act should conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend. Although extinctions occur naturally, scientific evidence strongly indicates that the current rate of extinction is much higher than the natural or background rate of the past. The main force driving this higher rate of loss is habitat loss. Over-exploitation of wildlife for commercial purposes, the introduction of harmful exotic (nonnative) organisms, environmental pollution, and the spread of diseases also pose serious threats to our world’s biological heritage.
Conservation actions carried out in the United States under the Endangered Species Act have been successful in preventing extinction for 99 percent of the species that are listed as endangered or threatened. However, species loss on a global scale continues to increase due to the environmental effects of human activities.
Biologists estimate that since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, more than 500 species, subspecies, and varieties of our Nation’s plants and animals have become extinct. The situation in Earth’s most biologically rich ecosystems is even worse. Tropical rainforests around the world, which may contain up to one half of all living species, are losing millions of acres every year. Uncounted species are lost as these habitats are destroyed. In short, there is nothing natural about today’s rate of extinction.
Benefits of Natural Diversity
How many species of plants and animals are there? Although scientists have classified approximately 1.7 million organisms, they recognize that the overwhelming majority have not yet been catalogued. Between 10 and 50 million species may inhabit our planet. None of these creatures exists in a vacuum. All living things are part of a complex, often delicately balanced network called the biosphere. The earth’s biosphere, in turn, is composed of countless ecosystems, which include plants and animals and their physical environments. No one knows how the extinction of organisms will affect the other members of its ecosystem, but the removal of a single species can set off a chain reaction affecting many others. This is especially true for “keystone” species, whose loss can transform or undermine the ecological processes or fundamentally change the species composition of the wildlife community.
Contributions to Medicine
One of the many tangible benefits of biological diversity has been its contributions to the field of medicine. Each living thing contains a unique reservoir of genetic material that has evolved over eons. This material cannot be retrieved or duplicated if lost. So far, scientists have investigated only a small fraction of the world’s species and have just begun to unravel their chemical secrets to find possible human health benefits to mankind.
No matter how small or obscure a species, it could one day be of direct importance to us all. It was “only” a fungus that gave us penicillin, and certain plants have yielded substances used in drugs to treat heart disease, cancer, and a variety of other illnesses. More than a quarter of all prescriptions written annually in the United States contain chemicals discovered in plants. If these organisms had been destroyed before their unique chemistries were known, their secrets would have died with them.
A few hundred wild species have stocked our pharmacies with antibiotics, anti-cancer agents, pain killers, and blood thinners. The biochemistry of unexamined species is an unfathomed reservoir of new and potentially more effective substances. The reason is found in the principles of evolutionary biology. Caught in an endless “arms race” with other forms of life, these species have devised myriad ways to combat microbes and cancer-causing runaway cells. Plants can make strange molecules that may never occur to a chemist. For example, the anti-cancer compound taxol, originally extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, is “too fiendishly complex” a chemical structure for researchers to have invented on their own, said a scientist with the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Taxol has become the standard treatment for advanced cases of ovarian cancer, which strikes thousands of women every year. But until the discovery of taxol’s effectiveness, the Pacific yew was considered a weed tree of no value and was routinely destroyed during logging operations.
Biodiversity and Agriculture
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture, especially a breadgrain.” It has been estimated that there are almost 80,000 species of edible plants, of which fewer than 20 produce 90 percent of the world’s food. If underutilized species are conserved, they could help to feed growing populations. One grain native to the Great Lakes States, Indian wild rice, is superior in protein to most domesticated rice, and its increasing commercial production earns millions of dollars annually.
Many individual species are uniquely important as indicators of environmental quality. The rapid decline in bald eagles and peregrine falcons in the mid-20th century was a dramatic warning of the dangers of DDT—a strong, once widely used pesticide that accumulates in body tissues. (It hampered fertility and egghatching success in these species.) In another example, lichens and certain plants like the eastern white pine are good indicators of excess ozone, sulfur dioxide, and other air pollutants. Species like these can alert us to the effects of some contaminants before more damage is done.
Freshwater mussels are also very effective environmental indicators. The eastern United States boasts the richest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world. These animals are filter feeders, drawing in water and straining out food particles. Their method of feeding helps to keep our waters clean. But because mussels filter material from the water, they are often the first animals to be affected by water pollution. They tend to accumulate whatever toxins, such as chemicals in agricultural and industrial runoff, are present in their habitat. Too much pollution can eliminate the mussels. Other threats to mussel populations include siltation, the introduction of competing nonnative mussels, stream channelization and dredging, and the impoundment of free-flowing streams and rivers. Today, most native freshwater mussel species are considered to be endangered, threatened, or of special concern.
As the pioneering naturalist Aldo Leopold once stated, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” As we tinker with ecosystems through our effects on the environment, what unexpected changes could occur? One subject of increasing concern is the impacts these effects can have on “ecosystem services,” which is a term for the fundamental life-support services provided by our environment.
Ecosystem services include air and water purification, detoxification and decomposition of wastes, climate regulation, regeneration of soil fertility, and the production and maintenance of biological diversity. These are the key ingredients of our agricultural, pharmaceutical, and industrial enterprises. Such services are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars annually. Yet because most of these services are not traded in economic markets, they carry no price tags that could alert society to changes in their supply or declines in their functioning. We tend to pay attention only when they decline or fail.
An emerging field called phytoremediation is an example of the ecosystem services provided by plants. Phytoremediation is a process that uses plants to remove, transfer, stabilize, and destroy contaminants in soil and sediment. Certain plant species known as metal hyperaccumulators have the ability to extract elements from the soil and concentrate them in the easily harvested plant stems, shoots, and leaves. The alpine pennycress, for example, doesn’t just thrive on soils contaminated with zinc and cadmium; it cleans them up by removing the excess metals. In the home, houseplants under some conditions can effectively remove benzene, formaldehyde, and certain other pollutants from the air.
Other Economic Values
Some benefits of animals and plants can be quantified. For example, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department calls birding “the nation’s fastest growing outdoor recreation.” It estimates that birders pump an estimated $400 million each year into the state’s economy. A host of small rural towns host festivals to vie for the attention of these birders. Nationwide, the benefits are even more amazing. In a recent study (Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that wildlife watching—not just bird watching—generated $85 billion in economic benefits to the nation in 2001.
If imperiled plants and animals lack a known benefit to mankind, should we care if they disappear? If a species evolves over millennia or is created by divine intent, do we have a right to cause its extinction? Would our descendants forgive us for exterminating a unique form of life? Such questions are not exclusive to scientists or philosophers. Many people believe that every creature has an intrinsic value. The loss of plant and animal species, they say, is not only shortsighted but wrong, especially since an extinct species can never be replaced. Eliminating entire species has been compared to ripping pages out of books that have not yet been read. We are accustomed to a rich diversity in nature. This diversity has provided inspiration for countless writers and artists, and all others who treasure variety in the natural world.
Living in Harmony With Nature
We cause our wild animal neighbors far more trouble than they do us, as each day we invade thousands of acres of their territories and destroy their homes. Here are some ways to live in harmony with them.
Around the House
Cap your chimney. When birds sit atop chimneys for warmth they can inhale toxic fumes, and if the chimney is uncapped they can fall in and die. Because we have destroyed so many den trees, many raccoons nest in chimneys. If you hear mouse-like squeals from above your fireplace damper, chances are they're coming from baby raccoons. Don't light a fire--you'll burn them alive. Just close the damper securely and do nothing until the babies grow older and the family leaves. When you're absolutely sure everyone's out, have your chimney professionally capped--raccoons can quickly get through amateur cappings. Also, a mother raccoon or squirrel will literally tear apart your roof if you cap one of her young inside your chimney.
If for some reason you must evict a raccoon family before they leave on their own, put a radio tuned to loud talk or rock music in the fireplace and hang a mechanic's trouble light down the chimney. (Animals like their homes dark and quiet.) Leave these in place for a few days, to give mom time to find a new home and move her children. You might also hang a thick rope down the chimney, secured at the top, in case your tenant is not a raccoon and can't climb up the slippery flue. If the animal still cannot get out, call your conservation department for the name of a state-licensed wildlife relocator. Don't entrust animals' lives to anyone else, especially "pest removal services," no matter what they tell you.
You can also use the light-radio-patience technique to evict animals from under the porch or in the attic. (Mothballs may also work in enclosed places like attics, although one family of raccoons painstakingly moved an entire box of mothballs outside, one by one.) Remember, when sealing up an animal's home, nocturnal animals, like opossums, mice, and raccoons, will be outside at night, while others, like squirrels, lizards, and birds, will be outside in the daytime.
If an animal has a nest of young in an unused part of your house and is doing no harm, don't evict them. Wait a few weeks or so, until the young are better able to cope. We owe displaced wildlife all the help we can give them.
Wild bird or bat in your house? If possible, wait until dark, then open a window and put a light outside it. Turn out all house lights. The bird should fly out to the light.
Uncovered window wells, pools, and ponds trap many animals, from salamanders to muskrats to kittens. To help them climb out, lean escape planks of rough lumber (to allow for footholds) from the bottom to the top of each uncovered window well, and place rocks in the shallow ends of ponds and pools to give animals who fall in a way to climb out. Also, a stick in the birdbath gives drowning insects a leg up.
Relocating animals by trapping them with a humane trap is often unsatisfactory; animals may travel far to get back home. Also, you may be separating an animal from loved ones and food and water sources. It is far better and easier to use one of the above methods to encourage animals to relocate themselves.
Bats consume more than 1,000 mosquitoes in an evening, so many people encourage them to settle in their yards by building bat houses. Contrary to myth, bats won't get tangled in your hair, and chances of their being rabid are miniscule. If one comes into your home, turn off all lights and open doors and windows. Bats are very sensitive to air currents. If the bat still doesn't leave, catch him or her very gently in a large jar or net. Always wear gloves if you attempt to handle a bat, and release him or her carefully outdoors. Then find and plug the entrance hole.
Leave moles alone. They are rarely numerous, and they help aerate lawns. They also eat the white grubs that damage grass and flowers. Gophers can be more numerous, but they, too, do a valuable service by aerating and mixing the soil and should usually be left alone.
Snakes are timid, and most are harmless. They control rodent populations and should be left alone. To keep snakes away from the house, stack wood or junk piles far from it, as snakes prefer this type of cover. Your library can tell you how to identify any poisonous snakes in your area; however, the vast majority are nonpoisonous.
People unintentionally raise snake and rat populations by leaving companion animal food on the ground or keeping bird feeders. It is far better to plant bushes that will give birds a variety of seeds and berries than to keep a bird feeder.
Denying mice and rats access to food in your home will do the most to discourage them from taking up residence there. Do not leave dog and cat food out for long periods of time. Store dry foods such as rice and flour in glass, metal, or ceramic containers rather than paper or plastic bags. Seal small openings in your home.
If you must trap an occasional rodent, use a humane live trap made for this purpose. If the trap is made of plastic, make sure it has air holes and check it often.
Be careful not to spill antifreeze which is highly toxic to animals, who like its sweet taste. Better, shop for Sierra antifreeze, which is non-toxic and biodegradable.
Garbage Dump Dangers
Many animals die tragically when they push their faces into discarded food containers to lick them clean and get their heads stuck inside. Recycle cans and jars. Rinse out each tin can, put the cover inside so no tongue will get sliced, and crush the open end of the can as flat as possible. Cut open one side of empty cardboard cup-like containers; inverted-pyramid yogurt cups have caused many squirrels' deaths. Also, cut apart all sections of plastic six-pack rings, including the inner diamonds. Choose paper bags at the grocery store, and use only biodegradable or photodegradable food storage bags.
Be sure any garbage cans under trees are covered--baby opossums and others can fall in and not be able to climb out. If animals are tipping over your can, store it in a garage or make a wooden garbage can rack. Garbage can lids with clasps sometimes foil the animals. One homeowner solved the strewn garbage problem by placing a small bag of "goodies" beside his garbage can each night. Satisfied, the midnight raider left the garbage alone.
Dumpsters can be deadly--cats, raccoons, opossums and other animals climb into them and cannot climb out because of the slippery sides. Every dumpster should have a vertical branch in it so animals can escape. (Ask your local park district to put branches in park dumpsters.)
Orphaned or Sick Animals
Wild youngsters are appealing, but never try to make one your pet. It's unfair; they need to be with others of their kind. If you tame one, when the time comes for release, the animal will not know how to forage for food or be safe in the woods. Tame released animals normally follow the first humans they see, who often think, "Rabies!" and kill them. If you find a youngster who appears orphaned, wait quietly at a distance for a while to be certain the parents are nowhere nearby. If they are not, take the little one to a professional wildlife rehabilitation center for care and eventual release into a protected wild area. An injured bird can be carried easily in a brown paper bag, loosely clothes-pinned at the top.
On very hot days, some animals come out of hiding. Foxes have been known to stretch out on patios. Normally nocturnal adult animals seen in daytime should be observed--if they run from you, chances are they are healthy. If sick, they may be lethargic, walk slowly, or stagger. Distemper is more often the culprit than rabies. (Distemper is not contagious to humans.) Call a wildlife expert.
Get names and telephone numbers of wildlife rehabilitators from your local humane society or park authority; keep them in your home and car at all times in case of an emergency.
Create a Backyard Habitat
Don't use pesticides on your yard and leave part of it natural (unmanicured). Dead wood is ecological gold--more than 150 species of birds and animals can live in dead trees and logs and feed off the insects there. The U.S. Forestry Department says saving dead wood is crucial to kicking our pesticide habit. Top off, rather than chop down, dead trees 12 inches or more in diameter. Save fat dead logs. Leave plenty of bushes for wildlife cover. Keep a birdbath filled with water, and a pan for small mammals, and use heating elements in them in the winter.
Habitat destruction is the process in which natural habitat is rendered unable to support the species present. In this process, the plants and animals which previously used the site are displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity. Habitat destruction by human activity is mainly for the purpose of harvesting natural resources for industry production and urbanization. Clearing habitats for agriculture is the principal cause of habitat destruction. Other important causes of habitat destruction include mining, logging, trawling and urban sprawl. Habitat destruction is currently ranked as the primary cause of species extinction worldwide. It is a process of natural environmental change that may be caused by habitat fragmentation, geological processes or by human activities such as the introduction of invasive species, ecosystem nutrient depletion and other human activities.
In the simplest terms, when a habitat is destroyed, the plants, animals, and other organisms that occupied the habitat have a reduced carrying capacity so that populations decline and extinction becomes more likely. Perhaps the greatest threat to organisms and biodiversity is the process of habitat loss. Organisms with limited ranges are most affected by habitat destruction, mainly because these organisms are not found anywhere else within the world and thus, have less chance of recovering. Many have very specific requirements for their survival that can only be found within a certain ecosystem, resulting in their extinction. Habitat destruction can also decrease the range of certain organism populations. This can result in the reduction of genetic diversity and perhaps the production of infertile youths, as these organisms would have a higher possibility of mating with related organisms within their population, or different species.
Biodiversity hotspots are chiefly tropical regions that feature high concentrations of endemic species and, when all hotspots are combined, may contain over half of the world’s terrestrial species. These hotspots are suffering from habitat loss and destruction. Most of the natural habitat on islands and in areas of high human population density has already been destroyed. Islands suffering extreme habitat destruction include New Zealand, Madagascar, the Philippines, and Japan. South and east Asia—especially China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan—and many areas in West Africa have extremely dense human populations that allow little room for natural habitat. Marine areas close to highly populated coastal cities also face degradation of their coral reefs or other marine habitat. These areas include the eastern coasts of Asia and Africa, northern coasts of South America, and the Caribbean Sea and its associated islands.
Regions of unsustainable agriculture or unstable governments, which may go hand-in-hand, typically experience high rates of habitat destruction. Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Amazonian tropical rainforest areas of South America are the main regions with unsustainable agricultural practices or government mismanagement.
Areas of high agricultural output tend to have the highest extent of habitat destruction. In the U.S., less than 25% of native vegetation remains in many parts of the East and Midwest. Only 15% of land area remains unmodified by human activities in all of Europe.
Tropical rainforests have received most of the attention concerning the destruction of habitat. From the approximately 16 million square kilometers of tropical rainforest habitat that originally existed worldwide, less than 9 million square kilometers remain today. The current rate of deforestation is 160,000 square kilometers per year, which equates to a loss of approximately 1% of original forest habitat each year. Other forest ecosystems have suffered as much or more destruction as tropical rainforests. Farming and logging have severely disturbed at least 94% of temperate broadleaf forests; many old growth forest stands have lost more than 98% of their previous area because of human activities. Tropical deciduous dry forests are easier to clear and burn and are more suitable for agriculture and cattle ranching than tropical rainforests; consequently, less than 0.1% of dry forests in Central America's Pacific Coast and less than 8% in Madagascar remain from their original extents.
Plains and desert areas have been degraded to a lesser extent. Only 10-20% of the world's drylands, which include temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands, scrub and deciduous forests, have been somewhat degraded. But included in that 10-20% of land is the approximately 9 million square kilometers of seasonally dry-lands that humans have converted to deserts through the process of desertification. The tallgrass prairies of North America, on the other hand, have less than 3% of natural habitat remaining that has not been converted to farmland.
Wetlands and marine areas have endured high levels of habitat destruction. More than 50% of wetlands in the U.S. have been destroyed in just the last 200 years. Between 60% and 70% of European wetlands have been completely destroyed. About one-fifth (20%) of marine coastal areas have been highly modified by humans. One-fifth of coral reefs have also been destroyed, and another fifth has been severely degraded by overfishing, pollution, and invasive species; 90% of the Philippines’ coral reefs alone have been destroyed. Finally, over 35% mangrove ecosystems worldwide have been destroyed.
Habitat destruction caused by humans includes conversion of land to agriculture, urban sprawl, infrastructure development, and other anthropogenic changes to the characteristics of land. Habitat degradation, fragmentation, and pollution are aspects of habitat destruction caused by humans that do not necessarily involve overt destruction of habitat, yet result in habitat collapse.Desertification, deforestation, and coral reef degradation are specific types of habitat destruction for those areas (deserts, forests, coral reefs).
The forces that cause humans to destroy habitat are known as drivers of habitat destruction. Demographic, economic, sociopolitical, scientific and technological, and cultural drivers all contribute to habitat destruction.
Demographic drivers include the expanding human population; rate of population increase over time; spatial distribution of people in a given area (urban versus rural), ecosystem type, and country; and the combined effects of poverty, age, gender, and education status of people in certain areas.
Most of the exponential human population growth worldwide is occurring in or close to biodiversity hotspots. This may explain why human population density accounts for 87.9% of the variation in numbers of threatened species across 114 countries, providing evidence that people play the largest role in decreasing biodiversity. The boom in human population and migration of people into such species-rich regions are making conservation efforts not only more urgent but also more likely to conflict with local human interests. The high local population density in such areas is directly correlated to the poverty status of the local people.
There are also feedbacks and interactions among the proximate and underlying causes of deforestation that can amplify the process. Road construction has the largest feedback effect, because it interacts with—and leads to—the establishment of new settlements and more people, which causes a growth in wood (logging) and food markets. Growth in these markets, in turn, progresses the commercialization of agriculture and logging industries. When these industries become commercialized, they must become more efficient by utilizing larger or more modern machinery that often are worse on the habitat than traditional farming and logging methods. Either way, more land is cleared more rapidly for commercial markets. This common feedback example manifests just how closely related the proximate and underlying causes are to each other.
Help Save Elephants
Centuries ago, the African elephant enjoyed ample representation among the teeming herds of wildlife that roamed the African continent. Today, their survival dangles on the precipice of extinction due to unchecked human population growth and overdevelopment. Once numbering in the millions, the continent-wide population in Africa is now estimated to be just under 600,000 elephants.
Classified as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and endangered under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Animals, the most significant reason for their decline can be traced back to the 1800s when the precursor to the modern ivory trade began to take root. Nearly 200 years and millions of carcasses later, the future of the African elephant is in serious question.
All in the Family
Elephants exist in one of the most complex societal units of any land mammal. A typical elephant herd consists of a matriarch, who is the leader and usually the oldest female in the group, her siblings and their offspring. The matriarch is the source of all information for the herd. Throughout her years, she has learned where the best watering holes are, and which areas to avoid because of human presence. If the matriarch is killed by a hunter or poacher, her family suffers immensely and lacks the leader on whom they depend.
Baby elephants are born after an average of 22 months of gestation. They will normally stand within their first hour of life, and they nurse immediately from their mothers. The vital nutrients which can only be found in her milk help the development of the calf's immune system. Mothers and calves are rarely separated, and spend most of their time touching or in close physical contact. The other females in the herd often help raise the young elephant and can often be seen closing in around him to form an "elephant shield" if danger is present. The cousins, aunts, and sisters become the calf's guardians and form a family unit with impenetrable loyalty and devotion. Elephants have only one predator: humans.
In Danger Again
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) is an international treaty that governs trade in wildlife. The 146 signatory nations agree to abide by its regulations in order to conserve plants and animals found in their respective countries. As the global demand for ivory increased in the latter part of the twentieth century, the wild herds of African elephants were being decimated at an amazing rate. The rampant poaching of the late 1970s and mid-1980s reduced the population in Africa by half.
In 1989, the parties to CITES voted to ban the once-legal trade in ivory, realizing that unless it was brought to a halt, the African elephant would disappear. After the ban was in place, the price of ivory dropped so rapidly that demand fell and poaching decreased considerably.
Unfortunately, the thin cloak of protection afforded to the elephants would soon wear out completely. In 1997, under threats and pressure from Japan, which wanted to reignite ivory sales, the parties to CITES voted to allow Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia to sell their ivory stockpiles (warehoused ivory taken from elephants who were hunted or died naturally) to Japan. An additional provision allowed the export of live elephants from these countries. New life was breathed into the illegal poaching cartel, and bodies of elephants with their faces hacked away once again appeared on the African savannah. Shortly after the 1997 CITES meeting, Ghana, which had not lost any elephants to poachers since 1988, experienced elephant poaching in Mole National Park. Poaching also increased in the national parks of Zimbabwe and Namibia, two of the proponents of renewed ivory trade.
Imprisoned Without Trial
The first African elephant to be taken from the wild to be used for human entertainment was named Jumbo. He made the journey from Africa to the London Zoo in 1865, and was later sold to P.T. Barnum, the infamous circus magnate. More than a hundred years later, elephants are still being used and abused in circuses all over the world.
Elephants in captivity lead miserable lives. In stark contrast to their natural tendency to roam several miles each day, they are bound in shackles and chains and forced to perform tasks that are the antithesis of their innate instincts.
For a short time, it was illegal to capture a wild elephant for use in a circus or zoo, but the CITES decision in 1997 changed all of that. In August 1998, 30 baby elephants were captured in southern Botswana and sold by the Botswanan government to Riccardo Ghiazza, a South African animal dealer. Although Ghiazza was accused of abusing the elephants and was charged with animal cruelty by the National SPCA, he exported three of the elephant calves to the Basel Zoo in Switzerland, and four calves to the Dresden Zoo in Germany.5 This sale was the first of its kind in recent history and illustrated the trend that would grow from the destructive weakening of protection for African elephants.
Elephant hunting is alive and well in several African countries. The most notable program exists in Zimbabwe. The CAMPFIRE program (Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources) is designed to give local villagers "benefits" from living with wildlife. These benefits come at the cost of animals' lives. An estimated 90 percent of CAMPFIRE revenues are gleaned from elephant trophy hunting fees, which are paid by wealthy westerners who want to bag the most notorious of the "Big Five" animals.
CAMPFIRE is funded largely by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which receives tax dollars from U.S. citizens through congressional appropriations. A portion of USAID's support is funneled through the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to administer this trophy hunting program. CAMPFIRE has come under continuous fire for corruption and misappropriation of funds. Other countries which encourage and promote trophy hunting of any animal, endangered or otherwise, include Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, and Tanzania. Kenya and Uganda prohibit hunting of any kind within their borders.
With Friends Like These...
Some conservation organizations who claim to be saving the African elephant, are actually lining up to participate in their demise. WWF, for example, directly benefits from the existence of CAMPFIRE and receives federal dollars for their involvement. The African Wildlife Foundation believes that "CAMPFIRE is essential to meeting our conservation goals," and the National Wildlife Federation believes that "CAMPFIRE is consistent with NWF's common-sense approach to human development and wildlife conservation." With the weight of lofty annual budgets and international recognition, these organizations continue to damage efforts to save what is left of the magnificent African elephants.
What You Can Do:
- If you are going to visit Africa, do not patronize countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia, which have demonstrated their tenacity for exterminating elephants on their soil. Instead, choose to spend your tourist dollars in elephant-friendly countries such as Kenya and Uganda.
- Write to your U.S. Representative and your two U.S. Senators and tell them that you do not want your tax dollars spent on the trophy hunting of elephants. Ask them to stop funding the CAMPFIRE program. Write to The Honorable __________, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510; The Honorable __________, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515.
- Write to the conservation organizations that you want to support and ask them about their policies regarding elephants. Do they support trophy hunting? Do they support the ivory trade? What is their position on exporting live elephants to zoos and circuses? Spend your well-intentioned donation wisely.
Along with the bald eagle, the bison perhaps best symbolizes the spirit of American wilderness. While many people are aware that both animals teetered on the brink of extinction in the past due to human encroachment, few realize that wild bison continue to be the victims of a calculated, annual slaughter in the Greater Yellowstone Area.
During the mid to late 1800s, government agents orchestrated one of the most aggressive and wanton animal massacres in history, killing bison indiscriminately in an attempt to subjugate Native Americans. With the addition of market hunters and settlers killing bison for profit and for fun, America's wild bison herds were reduced from an estimated 60 million to perhaps as few as 100.
With the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 and the National Park Service in 1916, the 25 bison remaining in the Park finally were afforded some protection. Initially, management policies allowed for the active manipulation of populations by culling what was perceived as "surplus" animals. But eventually, the management strategy evolved to an approach which permitted natural regulation to occur, for the most part letting nature take its course rather than relying on human intervention.
This was good news for the bison, but sadly their fortune was short lived. Since the mid 1980s, more than 3,000 bison have been massacred under the supervision of government officials bowing to the pressures of the livestock industry and its cohorts.
WHY ARE BISON BEING KILLED?
In 1917, officials discovered that some Yellowstone bison were infected with Brucella abortus, the bacteria which causes the disease brucellosis in domestic cattle. In cattle, the disease produces spontaneous abortions, but bison do not appear to be similarly affected. In fact, over the past 80 years in the entire Greater Yellowstone Area, there have been only four documented bison abortions, which may or may not have been caused by the bacteria.
Over the past decade, bison have been emigrating from the Park over its northern and western boundaries into the state of Montana during winter months. Because of several mild winters, and the National Park Service's continued grooming of snowmobile trails which makes it easier for bison to exit the Park, more and more bison have been stepping hoof over Park boundaries.
The livestock industry and federal and state livestock agencies contend that bison can transmit the Brucella abortus bacteria to cattle under natural conditions. In reality, there has never been a documented case of this occurring. Despite this fact, they continue to wage a war against Yellowstone bison.
HOW IS THE BACTERIA TRANSMITTED?
The primary route of transmission is direct contact of susceptible animals with infected reproductive products, such as fetuses and afterbirth, or with contaminated feed. Given that bison abortions are extremely rare, the risk is remote at best. Bull bison and calves pose virtually no threat of transmitting the bacteria -- because males and juveniles obviously do not give birth or have abortions -- yet shockingly hundreds have been killed. Of the blood and tissue samples taken from 218 of the bison slaughtered during the winter of 1991-92, not a single bison was infectious at the time of death.
In the event a bison abortion were to occur, the bacteria is sensitive to sunlight and heat, and in all likelihood, would die quickly outside the body, although it is possible for it to remain viable for longer periods of time if frozen. Nevertheless, in nature, aborted fetuses are consumed either by the bison themselves or by scavengers almost immediately. In addition, abortions probably would happen during January through June, a period of time a vast majority of which cattle are not permitted on public lands and do not come into contact with wild bison.
ARE CATTLE PERMITTED ON PUBLIC LANDS?
The U.S. Forest Service issues grazing permits on lands adjoining Yellowstone National Park, generally for the months of June through October. Cattle grazing is even allowed in Grand Teton National Park. The interests of wildlife, and not cattle, should take precedence on public lands. The grazing allotments should be either closed or modified to minimize any contact between bison and cattle. Also, mandatory vaccination of domestic calves against brucellosis within the counties surrounding the Park could further reduce the risk, if any risk exits at all, of infection. Currently, vaccinations are not mandatory in Montana or Wyoming.
WHICH AGENCIES ARE DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR BISON BEING KILLED?
With increased bison migrations into Montana, the Montana Legislature listed bison as a game animal in 1985, giving the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks authority to initiate a public hunt. During the winter or 1988-89, sport hunters shot 570 bison at point-blank range. Due to national media coverage, this cruel fiasco generated outrage across the country. Shortly thereafter, the Legislature decided to no longer issue bison permits to sport hunters, although state officials retained the right to implement lethal control.
Today, control has been vested in the Montana Department of Livestock, an agency which views bison as nothing more than brucellosis-infected pests who must be controlled to maintain Montana's brucellosis-free status. With the cooperative services of Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and National Park Service officials, government officials continue to gun down hundreds of bison each year. During the winter of 1996-97 alone, nearly 1,100 bison were killed.
Much of the hysteria derives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the agency responsible for brucellosis eradication in domestic livestock. APHIS, without legal authority, has threatened to revoke the brucellosis-free status of both Montana and Wyoming if measures aren't taken to eliminate Brucella abortus in the Greater Yellowstone Area. Brucellosis-free status permits cattle producers to market their cattle without being subject to disease testing requirements. Recently, Wyoming capitulated to these threats by establishing a bison sport hunt outside the eastern boundaries of Yellowstone National Park where a small number of bison occasionally exit.
The APHIS brucellosis eradication program launched in the 1930s was intended to apply only to domestic livestock, but it appears that APHIS and other industry interests will not be satisfied until the Brucella abortus organism is eliminated in all domestic animals and wildlife.
DO OTHER WILD ANIMALS POSE A RISK?
In addition to bison, elk can also be infected with the bacteria and can carry the disease. With more than 90,000 elk in the Greater Yellowstone Area, the likelihood of eliminating the bacteria using available technologies is virtually nonexistent. Moreover, if all infected bison were destroyed, exposure to elk would result in reinfection in the remainder.
This is particularly a problem in Wyoming where over 23,000 elk congregate on artificial feedgrounds, creating prime conditions for bacteria transmission. In fact, bison from Grand Teton National Park, just south of Yellowstone, have discovered the "free meals" being provided on the National Elk Refuge each winter in the Jackson Hole area. It is speculated that this herd of bison contracted the bacteria from elk on the feedground.
State officials rarely admit that elk may also carry the disease. Elk, of course, are a prime money maker for Montana and Wyoming state officials, who encourage propagation of elk herds so they can profit from the sale of sport hunting licenses.
Ironically, bison are being targeted allegedly to protect the livestock industry, but the general consensus among scientists is that cattle probably introduced the bacteria into the Yellowstone bison herd shortly before 1917. Victims then and victims now.
Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas. Chimpanzees and humans share 99 percent of their genetic composition. Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, probably more so than human-based tests are able to measure. They make and use tools, cooperate with and learn from each other, and can learn various forms of expression and communication, including American Sign Language and computer symbols. Chimpanzees also have good memories.
Habitats Being Destroyed
Fewer than 250,000 chimpanzees still exist in western and central Africa. Chimpanzees now occupy only a fraction of their former territory. Chimpanzee habitats, already small and isolated, are being further destroyed by increased commercial and agricultural development. In Africa, both species of chimpanzees--pan paniscus and pan troglodytes--are considered endangered. The U.S. Department of the Interior also lists them as endangered.
There are approximately 2,000 captive chimpanzees in the United States. About 300 are in zoos, and the remaining 1,700 were bred for medical research. Many are the offspring of chimpanzees captured in the wild before 1973, when the United States agreed to abide by an international treaty prohibiting the capture and importation of wild chimpanzees.
An estimated 106,000 chimpanzees live in a range of wooded habitats in the wild. They live in 21 African countries and are most concentrated in rainforest areas. They live in social groups, with numbers ranging from just a few to over 60.
Chimpanzee meat is no longer exclusively the food of the forest peoples, but is now commercially available in urban areas too. Bushmeat, including chimpanzee flesh, is also eaten by people in logging camps. The Jane Goodall Institute has very real concerns about the bushmeat trade. They say: 'The large-scale commercial bushmeat trade could eradicate all great apes within 10 to 15 years.'
CITES prohibits chimpanzees caught in the wild being used in circuses, but in countries where CITES has not been ratified or where it cannot be enforced, chimpanzees may be taken from the wild as infants, which often means the killing of the adults in their group.
Chimpanzees have been used in brain and skull research and in social deprivation studies. Chimpanzees are now popular subjects for AIDS research, although their immune system does not succumb to the virus. Chimpanzees are also used in painful cancer, hepatitis, and psychological tests, as well as for research into artificial insemination and birth control methods, blood diseases, organ transplants, and experimental surgery. Their use in military experiments is suspected, but such information is kept secret and is hard to verify. Because they are in short supply, captive chimps are often subjected to multiple experiments, each of which can last an average of two to four years.
Chimpanzees are highly active and very socially oriented. When kept isolated in laboratories with no regular physical contact with either humans or other chimps, they quickly become psychotic.
Because adult chimpanzees are strong and often unmanageable, and because infected chimpanzees cannot be placed in zoos or existing sanctuaries, many chimpanzees are killed before the age of 10. (The normal lifespan of a chimpanzee is 40 to 50 years.) Others, perhaps not as lucky, are kept in tiny cages for decades at such places as Buckshire Corp., a USDA-licensed animal dealer exposed by PETA in 1994 for housing 42 chimpanzees in abysmal substandard cages.
Any increased use of chimpanzees in U.S. laboratories must rely on captive breeding. However, chimpanzees who are taken from their mothers before the age of four or five years seldom develop the social skills necessary for normal breeding. Female chimpanzees do not begin breeding until they are about 12 years old, and thereafter do not breed at all during each baby's four- to six-year infancy. Artificial insemination has increased breeding only slightly. Chimpanzees infected with AIDS, hepatitis, or other diseases usually cannot be used for breeding. Unwanted chimpanzees from zoos and circuses are sometimes sold to laboratories.
Chimpanzees are still captured in the wild by poachers who shoot chimpanzee mothers and then take their infants. Many of the captured baby chimpanzees die before they reach a laboratory. Because the adults protect the infants, several adults are sometimes killed to obtain one baby.
Chimpanzee Management Plan
During the late 1980s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed its so-called "National Chimpanzee Management Plan." This plan is, in reality, just a funding mechanism for five breeding colonies to maintain a steady supply of chimpanzees for vivisectors. Under a series of grants, the plan established breeding colonies of chimps at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta, the University of Texas in Bastrop, the Primate Foundation of Arizona in Tempe, the University of Southwestern Louisiana in New Iberia, and New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Alamogordo. In 1993, NMSU's chimpanzee colony passed into the hands of the Coulston Foundation, a facility that now cages more than 500 chimpanzees. Coulston owner, Frederick Coulston, refers to himself as the "father of toxicology" and promotes the use of other-than-human primates in archaic, painful toxicology tests. He refers to chimpanzees as "vicious, aggressive animals" and, in an interview with The Boston Globe, admitted to spraying chemicals into the open eyes of monkeys at Coulston. Coulston gets most of its funding from NIH.
The Chimpanzee Management Plan (CMP) also established chimpanzee-related research bases at Yerkes and the University of Texas, as well as at Texas A&M in College Station and at the University of Pittsburgh. The International Species Inventory System monitors the status of all the captive chimps.
The CMP costs $1.5 million a year just to maintain the chimps and many millions more to staff and operate. The initial budget request for CMP-related grants was rejected by Congress in 1986. CMP programs are now being funded by NIH with $4.5 million taken from the existing AIDS research budget.
Current CMP guidelines do not prohibit any potentially painful or psychologically damaging experiment from being performed on chimpanzees, nor do they establish minimum housing standards. The plan has no provision for retiring old or "worn out" chimps, nor does it require that infant chimps be raised by their mothers.
Two-thirds of the chimps raised under the CMP are released to research projects. The rest are used for breeding.
The National Institutes of Health is now considering giving $3.3 million to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York to breed chimps who would be killed to provide hearts and other organs for human transplants. Each transplanted chimp heart would be used only until a human heart became available. No chimp-to-human heart transplant has yet been successful.
These beautiful cats are generally found in the dense, damp, forested areas of India and Southeast Asia. Once common in all parts of Africa apart from the Sahara, they have now disappeared from most parts of northern Africa (apart from a few areas of the Atlas Mountains) and are scarce in the extreme west of the continent. The leopard is under extreme threat, especially in the Middle East and southwest Asia, and is listed in CITES Appendix 1.
The European fashion for leopard skins may have diminished since the 1970s, but leopards are still killed for their skins. In April 2003, 109 leopard skins were seized by Nepalese police. These crimes are often overlooked, but in February 2002, judges in India sentenced two women to one year's imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 rupees for possessing four leopard skins.
While it is illegal to take leopards from the wild to put in zoos, captive-bred leopards (and other animals) retain their wild instincts. They are shy creatures, used to remaining hidden and avoiding open spaces. Zoos want people to see the animals and so, in captivity, leopards are often prevented from engaging in their natural behaviours.
For just $3400, you can track and kill a leopard on a Big Game Hunting Trip. These trips are geared toward tourists. You list the animals you want to kill and the tour guides will take you to where you are likely to be able to kill them.
The bones of the leopard are used in traditional Asian medicine and are sometimes prescribed as a substitute for tiger bones in the treatment of rheumatic diseases and aching joints and muscles. Ironically, the success in controlling the trade in tiger parts may actually have led to greater risk for other cats.
There are eight types of bear in the world: polar bears, brown (or grizzly) bears, American black bears, Asiatic black bears, sun bears, sloth bears, spectacled bears and giant panda bears. Some are on the verge of extinction, but all face threats.
Probably the biggest threat to bears worldwide is the loss of their habitat and with it, the loss of their food source. Giant Pandas rely on bamboo forests for their food, but many of these have been cut down by Chinese farmers. It is believed that there are now only between 750 and 1000 pandas left in the wild.
Asian black bears are also listed as endangered due to the loss of their habitat.
Other threats include:
In China, bears are imprisoned in farms and 'milked' for their bile daily. The bile is used in Eastern medicine. Bears are taken from the wild for this trade and, according to the WSPA, bear farming continues to jeopardize the survival of bears in the wild. There are currently 247 bear farms housing over 7000 bears, mostly Asiatic black bears. These are listed in Appendix 1 of CITES.
Bear Parks and Zoos
Japan is home to eight bear parks, in which bears are confined to concrete pits. Here, they are denied their most basic requirements and are often confined to small spaces without access to shade or shelter. The public tease and torment the bears by throwing in 'bear biscuits' and watching the fights that ensue. Injuries sustained are often not treated.
Repetitive behavior is not unusual among bears kept in zoos, and is indicative of stress and psychological trauma.
Some of the animals may be obtained illegally. Sun bears were found in a zoo in Indonesia with forged documentation claiming that they had died. Sun bears are endangered, with fewer than 10,000 left in the wild.
Around 1,200 bears in India 'dance' on their hind legs for up to 12 hours a day to entertain tourists. The cubs are captured in the wild and traded, even though this has been illegal since 1972.
Once sold, the young cub will have his or her muzzle pierced so the handler can control the bear. This is an invasive procedure and infection is common. Due to the stress of capture, the terrible transportation conditions, starvation, dehydration and rough handling, 60-70 percent of bear cubs captured die even before the training begins.
Training involves starvation and beatings in order to make the bears rise up onto their back legs. The bears' teeth may be wrenched out and sold as charms to tourists.
During their brief lifetime - rarely beyond eight years, in contrast to their natural 30-year life span in the wild - respiratory infection is common, caused by the constant walking along dusty streets.
Although illegal in every country, bear baiting remains a popular past-time in Pakistan, where politicians and senior police officers can still be found watching the show. A series of dogs are set upon a chained bear who must fight for his or her life. The dogs and the bear sustain horrendous injuries.
Black and brown bears are routinely hunted in North America. There are an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 brown bears left in the wild. In all but the most isolated habitat areas, brown bears have been eliminated from much of their former range. In North America, numbers have declined rapidly from approximately 100,000 in the 1800's to between 40,000 and 50,000 today.
Food and Medicine
Sun bears are eaten in some countries and their claws are collected as 'good luck' charms. Asiatic black bears are also hunted for their meat and their paws are eaten as a delicacy. Their bile and bones are also used, as they are believed to possess medicinal properties.
Hunting spectacled bears is illegal, but they are still routinely poached and their bones, gallbladders and fat used for medicines. The gall bladders of sloth bears are also prized for medical treatments. Because of the cruelty involved and the scarcity of sloth bears, India has banned the hunting of the sloth bear and the sale of products made from their gallbladders.
The Pet Trade
Like many wild animals, some bears are traded and collected as exotic pets, although they are unsuitable companion animals.
Bears are still used in circuses around the world. Polar bears and brown bears are made to perform tricks like 'dancing', roller-skating or riding bikes. While bears aren't seen in circus performances in Britain, campaigners say that British circuses still own bears and hire them out to do television commercials and other TV appearances.
In 1971, more letters poured into Congress over the threat to our nation’s wild horses than over any issue in U.S. history, except for the Vietnam War. And so Congress unanimously passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, declaring that “wild horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.” The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) were appointed to implement the Act. Most herd areas are under BLM jurisdiction.
Fast-forward thirty years: in 2001, after decades of failed herd management policies, the BLM obtained a 50% increase in annual budget to $29 million for implementation of an aggressive removal campaign; in 2004, the 1971 Act was surreptitiously amended, without so much as a hearing or opportunity for public review, opening the door to the sale of thousands of wild horses to slaughter for human consumption abroad.
Injuries, abortions, trauma and death are the common results of wild horse round-ups (or “gathers,” to use a placating euphemism). Horses seen galloping during a round-up are terrified wild animals chased by helicopter and running for their lives. It has been documented that, long after they have been adopted out, BLM-captured horses will still react in terror to a helicopter flying overhead.
As wild horses are driven into holding pens, closely-knit family bands are broken up; foals may be separated from their mothers, trampled, or sometimes, too exhausted to keep up with the herd, left behind to fend for themselves out on the range; stallions, suddenly crammed in close quarters, will fight. At the holding site, BLM makes “liberal” use of its euthanasia policy: horses with physical defects such as club-feet are euthanized, including adults that had managed to thrive for years in the wild.
BLM routinely turns a blind eye on abuse by its two main round-up contractors. To quote an eye-witness to the 2006 Sulphur round-up in Utah: “In all my life I have never seen such blatant abuse and neglect and just plain lack of compassion for horses, or animals in general for that matter.” It is not uncommon for contractors to drag a listless body into the round-up pen to collect their fee, as they get paid per horse, dead or alive.
Round-ups are often conducted in secrecy, with heavy police presence to keep the public at bay. Once in a while, BLM and its contractors will invite the public and the media to a carefully staged capture, where a few horses are trotted into a pen. Members of the public are positioned at the holding pens, usually during the first few days of a round-up, so they are generally witnessing the horses coming in from areas closest to the round-up site. As days go by, the further out the wranglers go, the more challenging for the horses who are run in large numbers over much longer distances.
The current situation is the result of a long history of failed policies, land allocation issues, and an intricate money trail. The BLM and the USFS, among others, are responsible for managing the nation’s public lands and are foremost the managers of wild horses and burros. Their responsibilities also include issuing public land grazing permits to cattle ranchers. These grazing permits cover limited areas of public land that are available for lease. So, for every wild horse removed from a grazing permit allotment, a fee-paying cow gets to take its place, and a public land rancher gets the benefit of public land forage at bargain rates. This is the number one reason wild horses are removed from public lands.
The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act mandated that wild horses be managed at their then-current population level, officially estimated by the BLM at 17,000 (three years later, BLM’s first census found over 42,000 horses). To the horses' detriment, both sides agreed to allow the government to manage wild horse populations at that “official” 1971 level. Eleven years later, a study by the National Academy of Sciences found BLM’s 1971 estimate to have been “undoubtedly low to an unknown, but perhaps substantial, degree,” given subsequent census results and taking into account the horses' growth rate and the number of horses since removed. But the damage had already been done; management levels had been etched in stone, and processes for removal of "excess" horses were well in place.
The fact is that the 1982 National Academy of Sciences report and two General Accounting Office reports have countered key points in BLM's premise for its current herd reduction campaign. These government-sanctioned documents concluded that: (i) horses reproduce at a much slower rate than BLM asserts, (ii) wild horse forage use remains a small fraction of cattle forage use on public ranges, (iii) “despite congressional direction, BLM did not base its removal of wild horses from federal rangeland on how many horses ranges could support,” and (iv) “BLM was making its removal decisions on the basis of an interest in reaching perceived historic population levels, or the recommendations of advisor groups largely composed of livestock permittees.”
From over 2 million in the 1800s, America’s wild horse population has dwindled to fewer than 33,000. There are now more wild horses in government holding pens than remain in the wild, with many of the remaining herds managed at population levels that do not guarantee their long-term survival. Still, the round-ups continue.
Over the past forty years, federal law enacted by the people on behalf of their wild horses has been ignored. No strategic plan to keep viable herds of wild horses on public lands was ever developed.
What You Can Do:
Save the Seals
Each year thousands of seals are killed in Canada. The seals suffer painful and lingering deaths. The weapon used is a club, the brutal hakapik. Sometimes the seals are skinned alive. Sealers often use sharpened steel hooks to drag the creatures on board their vessels. Seal-clubbing is justified by the Canadian government because its victims are adversely affecting the profits of the Newfoundland fishing industry.
A harp seal can be legally killed as soon as it has begun to moult its white hair, around 2 weeks after birth. Adult seals are also killed. The seal hunt is one of the very few hunts that occurs in the spring when young are being born. As a result, roughly 80% of the seals killed in the commercial hunt are 'young of the year' - between approximately 12 days and 1 year old.
Younger seals (ragged jackets and beaters) are usually killed on the ice with clubs or hakapiks (a device resembling a heavy ice-pick). Later in the season, beaters and older seals are usually shot with a rifle, both on the ice and in the water. It is also legal to use a shotgun firing slugs. It is illegal to deliberately capture seals using nets, although seals are often caught incidentally in nets set for other fisheries.
Six species of seals, including the harp, hooded, grey, ringed, bearded and harbour - are found off the Atlantic coast of Canada. Harp and hooded seals are the two most common species hunted commercially.
Although harp seals make up 95% of the commercial hunt, they are not the only seals hunted in Atlantic Canada: there is also a quota for 10,000 hooded seals, and in recent years small numbers of grey seals have been hunted for commercial use. In addition to the commercial hunts, seals of all species are taken for subsistence purposes in Labrador and the Canadian Arctic, and harp and hooded seals may be killed for personal use by residents of sealing regions. The seal hunt quota was introduced in 1971.
The majority of seal pelts are still exported to Norway for processing. The seal pelts are either used for furs or leather. A small amount of seal meat, particularly the flippers, is consumed locally by Newfoundlanders, and some claim it to have an aphrodisiac effect. Seal penises are shipped to Asian markets and can sell for upwards of $500 US each. Penises are often dried and consumed in capsule form or in a tonic.
Seal hunting is inhumane. Groups have campaigned on the issue for years and their evidence shows all the horror of the hunt - dragging conscious seal pups across the ice with sharpened boat hooks, stockpiling of dead and dying animals, beating and stomping seals, and skinning seals alive. In 2002, an international team of veterinary experts attended the hunt. They observed sealers at work from the air and from the ground, and performed post-mortems on 73 seal carcasses.
Their study concluded that:
- 79% of the sealers did not check to see if an animal was dead before skinning it.
- In 40% of the kills, a sealer had to strike the seal a second time, presumably because it was still conscious after the first blow or shot.
- Up to 42% of the seals they examined were likely skinned alive.
Many people remember the worldwide protest that arose in the 1970s over Canada’s killing of whitecoat seal pups (under two weeks old). The massive protest, with international campaigning against the Canadian seal hunt during the 70s & 80s led to the European Union ban on the importation of whitecoat pelts in 1983, and eventually to the Canadian government banning large-vessel commercial whitecoat hunting in 1987.
Canada's cod fishery collapsed in the early 90s, and some in Canada blamed the seals, despite the fact that the greatest cause was clearly decades of over-fishing by humans. The collapse of fisheries around Newfoundland, due to mismanagement, is a major driver in the expansion of the seal hunt.
Although the Canadian seal hunt is the largest in the world and has the highest profile internationally, sealing is also carried out in a number of other countries across the world including Greenland, Namibia, Russia, Norway, and Sweden.
While some claim the manatee is ugly, with ‘a face only a mother could love,’ most people seem drawn to this marine creature, describing it as homely and having the appeal of a plump grandmother with flippers like oven mitts, outstretched as if inviting a hug.
Manatees may not win the gold in a beauty contest, but they definitely take the prize for popularity. A trendy target of the tourism industry, manatees put up with an annual intrusion of humans who leap into their winter freshwater havens to commune with the placid sea cows. Whether it’s their sad, puppy-like demeanor or their sluggish, gentle manner, something about manatees is awfully endearing.
Primarily herbivorous, manatees spend up to eight hours each day quietly grazing on seagrasses and other aquatic plants, though they will occasionally feed on fish. Manatees surface for air about once every five minutes, but can remain submerged for up to twenty minutes when they are resting. Their lungs are positioned along the backbone, which helps with buoyancy control. They swim by waving their wide paddle tails up and down, and because they do not possess the neck vertebra that most other mammals have, they must turn their entire bodies to look around.
Manatees can hear quite well, at least at high frequencies. This is likely an adaptation to shallow water living, where low frequency sounds aren’t transmitted well because of physical barriers. Their inability to hear the low frequency churning of an approaching boat might explain why manatees are susceptible to injury by boat propellers, a top reason for the decline in their populations.
Manatees were listed as endangered in 1967 concurrent with the creation of the Endangered Species Conservation Act, an act that pre-dated the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. In addition to Florida, they occur in Georgia, Texas, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Accidental collisions with boats are the primary cause of death for these shallow water-inhabiting animals, followed by low reproductive rates and a decline in suitable habitat.
Another important threat is loss of reliable warm water habitats that allow manatees to survive the cold in winter. Natural springs are threatened by increased demands for water supply and aging power plants may need to be replaced. Deregulation of the power industry may also result in less reliable man-made sources of warm water.
Seagrass and other aquatic foods that manatees depend on are affected by water pollution and sometimes direct destruction.
Manatee conservation and recovery involves many partners from government and industry, as well as many citizens. Numerous manatee speed zones have been established. Many sick and injured manatees are rescued every year. These animals are often rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Recommendations and actions to prevent manatee deaths related to water-control structures and navigation locks have included modification of gate openings and installation of pressure sensitive and acoustic devices on some of the most deadly locks. All efforts to reduce water pollution help to maintain and restore aquatic vegetation. Extensive manatee conservation education work has been conducted by Federal, State, and private entities.
Some areas where watercraft-related injury and mortality continue to occur have almost no protective measures for manatees. Warm water wintering sites need to be secured. Important spring flows must be maintained. We must ensure that seagrass and other aquatic vegetation are adequate to support a recovered population.
Great strides have been made in the protection and recovery of the manatee. However, there is much left to be done to secure its future. This will require the cooperation and support of everyone: government, the private sector, and boaters.
Save the Whales
Whales are hunted for their meat and other body parts. The oil from their bodies has been used to make lipstick, shoe polish and margarine. The practice of hunting whales began in the 9th century when Spain undertook the first organized hunt. By the 20th century, the Netherlands, Denmark, Britain, France, Germany, Norway, Japan and the United States had begun to kill large numbers of whales.
Certain species of whales were hunted so much that their numbers began to decline. There were fewer whales than there had been before. In 1946 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was formed to address the issues of whaling and this growing threat to whales. The IWC created three categories of whaling: Commercial, Scientific, and Aboriginal Subsistence.
In commercial whaling, whales are killed for their meat and their parts. In scientific whaling, whales are killed so that their bodies can be studied and catalogued. Aboriginal subsistence is the whaling carried out by native cultures, such as the Native Americans in the United States. These groups of people are given certain rights to hunt whales based upon their cultural history and dependence upon whale meat.
Due to the danger of extinction facing many whale species, the IWC voted to suspend all commercial whale hunting beginning in 1986. Despite this international agreement to stop killing whales for their parts, several countries continue to kill whales and sell their meat and parts, including Norway, Iceland, and Japan.
Whales are most often killed using a primitive weapon called a harpoon. The harpoon has a grenade attached that explodes when the harpoon enters the body of the whale. It can take a very long time for some whales to die which causes additional suffering and fear in these gentle animals. There is no humane way to kill a whale.
Despite international pressure, the best efforts of the IWC and grassroots movements to ‘save the whales’ around the world, whaling continues to be a danger facing whales and their future here on earth.
Dolphins are often regarded as one of Earth's most intelligent animals. They are social, living in pods of up to a dozen individuals. In places with a high abundance of food, pods can merge temporarily, forming a superpod; such groupings may exceed 1,000 dolphins. Individuals communicate using a variety of clicks, whistles and other vocalizations. They make ultrasonic sounds for echolocation. Membership in pods is not rigid; interchange is common. However, dolphins can establish strong social bonds; they will stay with injured or ill individuals, even helping them to breathe by bringing them to the surface if needed.
Dolphins also display culture, something long believed to be unique to humans. Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are known to teach their young to use tools. They cover their snouts with sponges to protect them while foraging. This knowledge is mostly transferred by mothers to daughters. Using sponges as mouth protection is a learned behavior. Another learned behavior was discovered among river dolphins in Brazil, where some male dolphins use weeds and sticks as part of a sexual display.
Play is an important part of dolphin culture. Dolphins play with seaweed and play-fight with other dolphins. At times they harass other local creatures, like seabirds and turtles. Dolphins enjoy riding waves and frequently surf coastal swells and the bow waves of boats, at times “leaping” between the dual bow waves of a moving catamaran. Occasionally, they playfully interact with swimmers.
Dolphins at Risk
Some dolphin species face an uncertain future, especially some river dolphin species such as the Amazon river dolphin, and the Ganges and Yangtze river dolphin, which are critically or seriously endangered. A 2006 survey found no individuals of the Yangtze river dolphin, which now appears to be functionally extinct.
Pesticides, heavy metals, plastics, and other industrial and agricultural pollutants that do not disintegrate rapidly in the environment concentrate in predators such as dolphins. Injuries or deaths due to collisions with boats, especially their propellers, are also common.
Various fishing methods, most notably purse seine fishing for tuna and the use of drift and gill nets, kill many dolphins. By-catch in gill nets and incidental captures in antipredator nets that protect marine fish farms are common and pose a risk for mainly local dolphin populations. In some parts of the world, such as Taiji in Japan and the Faroe Islands, dolphins are killed in harpoon or drive hunts. Dolphin meat is high in mercury, and may thus pose a health danger to humans when consumed.
Dolphin safe labels attempt to reassure consumers fish and other marine products have been caught in a dolphin-friendly way. The original deal with "Dolphin safe" labels was brokered in the 1980s between marine activists and the major tuna companies, and involved decreasing incidental dolphin kills by up to 50% by changing the type of nets being used to catch the tuna. Dolphins continue to be netted while fishermen are in pursuit of smaller tuna. Albacore are not netted this way, which makes albacore the only truly dolphin-safe tuna.
Loud underwater noises, such as those resulting from naval sonar use, live firing exercises, or certain offshore construction projects, such as wind farms, may be harmful to dolphins, increasing stress, damaging hearing, and causing decompression sickness by forcing them to surface too quickly to escape the noise.
A number of militaries have employed dolphins for various purposes from finding mines to rescuing lost or trapped humans. The military use of dolphins drew scrutiny during the Vietnam War when rumors circulated that the United States Navy was training dolphins to kill Vietnamese divers. Dolphins are still being trained by the United States Navy on other tasks as part of the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. The Russian military is believed to have closed its marine mammal program in the early 1990s. In 2000 the press reported that dolphins trained to kill by the Soviet Navy had been sold to Iran.
Dolphin Drive Hunting
Dolphin drive hunting, also called dolphin drive fishing, is a method of hunting dolphins and occasionally other small cetaceans by driving them together with boats and then usually into a bay or onto a beach. Their escape is prevented by closing off the route to the open sea or ocean with boats and nets. Dolphins are hunted this way in several places around the world, including the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, Peru, and Japan, the most well-known practitioner of this method. Dolphins are mostly hunted for their meat; some are captured and end up in dolphinariums.
Despite the highly controversial nature of the hunt resulting in international criticism, and the possible health risk that the often polluted meat causes, many thousands of dolphins are caught in drive hunts each year.
In Japan, Striped, Spotted, Risso's, and Bottlenose dolphins are most commonly hunted, but several other species such as the False Killer Whale are also occasionally caught. A small number of Orcas have been caught in the past. Relatively few Striped Dolphins are found in the coastal waters, probably due to hunting.
The Japanese town of Taiji on the Kii peninsula is as of now the only town in Japan where drive hunting still takes place on a large scale. In the town of Futo the last known hunt took place in 2004. In 2007 Taiji wanted to step up its dolphin hunting programs, approving an estimated ¥330 million for the construction of a massive cetacean slaughterhouse in an effort to popularize the consumption of dolphins in the country.
Dolphin welfare advocacy groups such as Earth Island Institute, Surfers for Cetaceans and Dolphin Project Inc., assert that the number of dolphins and porpoises killed is estimated at 25,000 per year.
In Japan, the hunting is done by a select group of fishermen. When a pod of dolphins has been spotted, they're driven into a bay by the fishermen while banging on metal rods in the water to scare and confuse the dolphins. When the dolphins are in the bay, it is quickly closed off with nets so the dolphins cannot escape. The dolphins are usually not caught and killed immediately, but instead left to calm down over night. The following day, the dolphins are caught one by one and killed. The killing of the animals used to be done by slitting their throats, but the Japanese government banned this method and now dolphins may officially only be killed by driving a metal pin into the neck of the dolphin. It is not clear if this ban is strictly enforced however.
Some of the captured dolphins are left alive and taken to dolphinariums. Dolphins have also been exported to the United States for several parks including the well known SeaWorld parks. The US National Marine Fisheries Service has refused a permit for Marine World Africa USA on one occasion to import four False Killer Whales caught in a Japanese drive hunt. In recent years, dolphins from the Japanese drive hunts have been exported to China, Taiwan and to Egypt. On multiple occasions, members of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) have also been observed at the drive hunts in Japan.
Protest and campaigns are now common in Taiji. Some of the animal welfare organizations campaigning against the drive hunts are Sea Shepherd, One Voice, Blue Voice, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Since much of the criticism is the result of photos and videos taken during the hunt and slaughter, it is now common for the final capture and slaughter to take place on site inside a tent or under a plastic cover, out of sight from the public.
On a smaller scale, drive hunting for dolphins also takes place on the Solomon Islands, more specifically on the island of Malaita. Dolphin's teeth are also used in jewelry and as currency on the island. The dolphins are hunted in a similar fashion as in Japan, using stones instead of metal rods to produce sounds to scare and confuse the dolphins. Various species are hunted, such as Spotted and Spinner dolphins. The amount of dolphins killed each year is not known, but anecdotal information suggests between 600 and 1500 dolphins per hunting season. The hunting season lasts roughly from December to April, when the dolphins are closest to shore. As in Japan, some dolphins (exclusively Bottlenoses) from the Solomon Islands have also been sold to the entertainment industry. There was much controversy in July 2003, when 28 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops trancatus aduncus) were exported to Parque Nizuc, a water park in Cancun. A large portion of the animals were later transported to Cozumel, to do interaction programs. Though the export of dolphins had been banned in 2005, the export of dolphins was resumed in October 2007 when the ban was lifted following a court decision, allowing for 28 dolphins to be sent to a dolphinarium in Dubai. A further three dolphins were found dead near the holding pens. The dealer that exported these dolphins has stated that they intend to release their 17 remaining dolphins back into the wild in the future.
On the Faroe Islands mainly Pilot Whales are killed by drive hunts for their meat. Other species are also killed on rare occasion such as the Northern bottlenose whale and Atlantic White-sided Dolphin. The hunt is known by the locals as the Grindadráp. There are no fixed hunting seasons, as soon as a pod close enough to land is spotted fishermen set out to begin the hunt. The animals are driven onto the beach with boats, blocking off the way to the ocean. When on the beach, most of them get stuck. Those that have remained too far in the water are dragged onto the beach by putting a hook in their blowhole. When on land, they are killed by cutting down to the major arteries and spinal cord at the neck. The time it takes for a dolphin to die varies from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the cut. When the fishermen fail to beach the animals all together, they are let free again. About a thousand pilot whales are killed this way each year on the Faroe Islands together with usually a few dozen up to a few hundred animals belonging to other small cetaceans species, but numbers vary greatly per year. The brutal appearance of the hunt has resulted in international criticism especially from animal welfare organizations. As in Japan, the meat is contaminated with mercury and cadmium, causing a health risk for those frequently eating it.
Though it is forbidden under Peruvian law to hunt dolphins or eat their meat, a large number of dolphins are still killed illegally by fishermen each year. Although exact numbers are not known, the Peruvian organization Mundo Azul (Blue World) estimates that at least a thousand are killed annually. To catch the dolphins, they are driven together with boats and encircled with nets, then harpooned, dragged on to the boat, and clubbed to death if still alive. Various species are hunted, such as the Bottlenose and Dusky Dolphin.
On the Penghu Islands in Taiwan, drive fishing of Bottlenose Dolphins was practiced until 1990, when the practice was outlawed by the government. Mainly Indian Ocean Bottlenose Dolphins but also common Bottlenose Dolphins were captured in these hunts.
Each year, people are amazed to see ducks and ducklings in the most unlikely places, such as walking single-file through city streets or nesting under bank teller windows! Luckily, ducklings are precocious and mature quickly. Here are some common sense solutions to typical problems encountered in suburban and urban settings.
Q: There's a duck nesting in the worst place! What should I do?
A: Ducks commonly nest in poor spots, such as under bank-teller windows or the middle of busy ball fields. These nests may fall prey to cats, dogs, or human malice. However, moving the eggs and nest is not only illegal according to federal law, but also the parents usually won't follow it. We suggest putting up educational signs and perhaps trying to fence off the nest temporarily. There isn't much else you can do. Some people have tried moving the nest, a few feet at a time, into a better area. This may work if the relocation site is nearby and you move the nest a bit by bit. However, the mother may stay on the nest making relocation impossible. It's usually best to leave the nest alone and hope for the best.
Q: Ducklings were separated from their mother. Is there a way to reunite them?
A: If the mother was seen recently, wait it out for an hour and see if she comes back. If the ducklings are beginning to scatter, or you're not sure how long they've been alone, put a plastic laundry basket over them, upside down, to contain them while waiting for the mother to return. She will see them through the lattice sides of the basket and make contact. If she returns, slowly approach and overturn the basket so she can collect her young.
Q: A duck family has taken over my pool! How do I get them to leave?
A: The best solution is to leave them alone, as long as the ducklings are able to get out of the pool. The mother will move her young when they are older and less vulnerable. If you must evict them, go to your local party store and buy silver mylar balloons with heavy weights on the bottom. Put the balloons around the perimeter of the entire pool, about every 20 feet. The balloons will bob in the breeze and make the ducks nervous. To enhance the harassment effect, you can also float a beach ball in the pool or use an electric boat. There's a product called a "Scare- Eye" balloon which has giant reflective eyes (for an enhanced scare effect) and is available at most hardware or garden stores or through mail-order via Bird Barrier, Inc. (1-800-503-5444 or www.birdbarrier.com).
Q: There's a duckling stuck in my pool! How do I get him out?
A: Most ducklings get stuck in pools because the water level is too low. The solution is to either raise the water level (simplest approach), fish them out with a net, or create a ramp angled <45 degrees, with a wet towel attached to it for traction.
Q: I'm afraid the duckling I see is orphaned.
A: If you know where the duckling came from, then it's best to take the duckling to that pond for release. The duckling will soon rejoin his family. Sometimes other ducks will even foster-parent the young duckling. If the duckling was left behind for a while and his origin is unknown i.e. fished out of storm drain or spillway, you can contain the duckling with an upside-down laundry basket (as described above) and monitor to see if the mother returns. If she doesn't come back after 4-8 hours, call your local fish and game agency to locate a wildlife rehabilitator. These are tough judgment calls. If you need to hold the duckling(s) in captivity for a few hours, DO NOT give them water to swim in because ducklings are not waterproof until they're older. They may become chilled and die. Just give them a shallow pan of water (to drink) and some crushed, non-sugary cereal like Cheerios.
Q: How do I move a duck family out of a contained courtyard?
A: You can shepherd them out by creating a "moving wall," i.e. have people hold sheets between them and move behind the ducks, forcing them to walk in the desired direction. However, consider waiting to move them out because the young may be vulnerable. Sometimes we encourage the temporary feeding of greens like kale, spinach, and also poultry starter food, (available from an animal feed store) and setting up a shallow kiddy pool with ramps, until the ducklings can fly. We encourage provisioning particularly in cities, where early eviction can mean certain death.
Q: How do I catch and move a duck family if absolutely necessary for their safety?
A: The only way to catch adult ducks is to do so at night (they don't see well in darkness), by creeping up on them while they sleep, then gently cover them with a lightweight blanket or towel, and scoop them into a carrier. Catch the ducklings next with a net or sheet, but try to minimize stress as they will be scared and may scatter. Be sure the net doesn't have large holes in which they may escape or become entangled. Consult your state fish and game agency prior to any intervention for any special authorization you might need.
Q: Ducklings fell through a sewer grate! How do I get them out?
A: These are tricky situations. Often you'll have to contact your town's Public Works Department for assistance with removing the grate. The police can be a valuable resource in terms of helping you contact the correct town employee. You'll need a fishing net or a fabric "hammock" stretched between two golf clubs to catch the ducklings below the grate. You may have to be creative in terms of capture strategies, depending on the logistics of where they're stuck. Once you catch them, make sure they are dry (or use a hair dryer) before setting them back outside for the mother to retrieve. Put an upside-down laundry basket over them until the mother comes (so they don't scatter), and then slowly lift it when she reappears. If she doesn't come back by nightfall, contact your local wildlife rehabilitator.
Sea turtles, air-breathing reptiles with streamlined bodies and large flippers, are well adapted to life in the marine environment. They inhabit tropical and subtropical ocean waters throughout the world.
Of the 7 species of sea turtles, 6 are found in U.S. waters: green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. The 7th species, the flatback sea turtle, is found only in Australia.
Although sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean, adult females must return to beaches on land to lay their eggs. They often migrate long distances between foraging grounds and nesting beaches.
All marine turtles occurring in U.S. waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are under the joint jurisdiction of NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Green turtles and olive ridley turtles have breeding populations that were listed separately under the ESA, and therefore, have more than one ESA status.
In 1977, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly administer the Endangered Species Act with respect to marine turtles. NOAA Fisheries has the lead responsibility for the conservation and recovery of sea turtles in the marine environment and USFWS has the lead for the conservation and recovery of sea turtles on nesting beaches.
Major threats to sea turtles in the U.S. include, but are not limited to: destruction and alteration of nesting and foraging habitats; incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries; entanglement in marine debris; and vessel strikes. To reduce the incidental capture of sea turtles in commercial fisheries, NOAA Fisheries has enacted regulations to restrict certain U.S. commercial fishing gears (gillnets, longlines, pound nets, and trawls) that have known, significant bycatch of sea turtles. To effectively address all threats to marine turtles, NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS have developed recovery plans to direct research and management efforts for each sea turtle species.
The tourist trade is the main reason why turtle numbers are in decline. Tourism poses the greatest threat to turtles for a number of reasons. Turtles migrate huge distances but during certain times of the year they congregate in shallow waters to breed. Females go ashore to lay clutches of up to 150 eggs. Two months later, tiny hatchlings emerge from the sand and make their way to the sea. But many of the tropical and sub-tropical beaches that turtles have used for millions of years are now inhabited by tourists.
Many females will not lay their eggs if there is too much noise or lighting from local resorts. Also, nests can be damaged by sunbathers and newly hatched turtles can become disoriented by beachfront developments and may never reach the sea.
In the Mediterranean, the nesting period of the loggerhead and green turtle coincide almost exactly with the peak tourist season (May to August).
Speedboats can be deadly, especially during the mating season when turtles spend long periods of time close to the surface.
Turtles are still killed for their shells, which are made into souvenirs such as combs and ashtrays.
The conservation and recovery of sea turtles requires multi-lateral cooperation and agreements to ensure the survival of these highly migratory animals. NOAA Fisheries has a broad national and international program for the conservation and recovery of marine turtles. The Office of Protected Resources works closely with 2 international environmental agreements that deal exclusively with sea turtle conservation.
Turtles and tortoises are the favorite animals of many people. These attractive, often seemingly helpless creatures continue to beat incredible odds to survive in today's world of increasing trade (particularly for the pet industry) and shrinking habitat. Here are some suggestions on how you can help turtles and tortoises in your own neighborhood and around the world:
1. Help stop the Asian turtle crisis.
The majority of Asian turtle populations have been critically diminished by over-collection, particularly for delicacies in restaurants and live animal markets. Dealers are now targeting turtle populations elsewhere, such as in the United States and Europe, to meet the Asian demand. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified this as the "Asian turtle crisis," and it has spearheaded efforts to protect turtles from the trade.
2. Get turtles out of U.S. live animal markets.
Turtles are among the most popular offerings at live animal markets in the United States. They suffer terrible abuse in filthy, neglectful conditions, and they are slaughtered by being cut apart while conscious. The vast majority of market turtles are taken from the wild, contributing to declining U.S. turtle populations. Tell state wildlife agencies that you're concerned about the increasing collection of wild turtles and tortoises to supply animal markets in the United States and abroad.
If wildlife is being sold for food in a live animal market in your state, contact your local and state legislators, asking that they ban the practice. You may also find it effective to contact state and local health departments (check the Centers for Disease Control web site for listings), which are responsible for sanitary conditions at live animal markets. Finally, contact state wildlife agencies about the dangers that non-native and diseased market animals may pose to local wildlife if released.
3. Don't pollute or litter.
Pollution makes its way into bodies of water and wild areas, poisoning turtles and tortoises and destroying their habitats. Always properly dispose of any hazardous materials such as paint or oil. Garbage, such as plastic bags, kills many pond turtles and sea turtles who either ingest it or become entangled in it. Reduce the amount of garbage you produce and dispose of it properly.
4. Protect turtle and tortoise habitat.
Become active in your local conservation commission or parks and recreation department, and work to preserve turtle habitat.
5. Stop turtle and tortoise exploitation.
Avoid activities such as turtle races. They involve taking turtles out of their natural habitats and exposing them to many dangers, not to mention an enormous amount of stress. Races can harm individual turtles as well as entire local wild populations.
6. Give them a brake.
If you see a turtle or tortoise crossing a road, gently pick him up and carry him across in the direction he was headed. (Be watchful for cars in the process.) If the turtle is a large one, or a snapping turtle, use a stick to nudge him gently across the road without getting too close.
7. Enjoy turtles and tortoises in the wild.
Never keep wild turtles or tortoises as pets or buy them from a pet store. The trade in reptiles as pets is responsible for tremendous animal suffering and serious damage to turtle and tortoise populations. Learn to enjoy these animals by observing them in their natural habitat, where they belong. If turtles or tortoises live in your yard, why not keep them happy by building a pond and by landscaping with plants that provide protection and food? Edible plants such as tropical hibiscus, dandelion, geraniums, and Chinese lantern can be quite appetizing. (Make sure that your plants are free of pesticide and herbicide residue.) Piles of leaves, vines, and downed trees make perfect hiding places.
8. Do not disturb.
Steer clear of the beach at night during the summer. Your presence will frighten nesting sea turtles back into the sea, preventing them from laying eggs and jeopardizing any eggs they have laid.
9. Turn out the lights.
Do not shine bright lights on the beach at night. Oppose coastal development such as condominiums, houses, resorts, and hotels; they tend to expose beaches to excessive artificial lighting, which discourages female turtles from approaching the beach to lay eggs. The light also draws hatchlings away from the ocean, disorients them, and exposes them to predation and deadly dehydration.
10. Report crimes.
Tell local authorities if you see any person harassing or poaching a sea turtle, her eggs, hatchlings, or nests -- or those of any other endangered turtles and tortoises. These activities are violations of U.S. state and federal laws.
11. See what you can do.
Several groups are involved in research, conservation, and advocacy work to protect turtles and tortoises. Join one of these groups to stay informed.
12. Spread the word.
Educate others about the importance of protecting turtles and tortoises from commercial exploitation and abuse in your community and throughout the world. Be a voice for turtles.
Rattlesnake roundups take place from January through July in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Georgia. Roundups started as a misguided attempt to rid areas of rattlesnakes, but they have evolved into commercial events that promote animal cruelty and environmentally damaging behavior. Thousands of rattlesnakes are captured and slaughtered, or mistreated in competitive events that violate the basic principles of wildlife management and humane treatment of animals.
No other wild animal in the United States is as extensively exploited and traded without regulation or oversight as the rattlesnake. Several species could become extinct just as we are beginning to understand their ecological importance. Rattlesnakes are important to their ecosystems. They prey on rodents, keeping the populations naturally in check so that the rodents do not cause crop damage or spread disease. Rattlesnakes are also important prey for raptors and other animals. Four species commonly found in roundups are the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the western diamondback rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake, and the western or prairie rattlesnake.
The timber rattlesnake is listed as endangered or threatened in several states, but no federal or international laws currently protect this species. The western diamondback rattlesnake, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and the western or prairie rattlesnake are not protected anywhere in their ranges, nor are they protected by any federal or international laws. We must act now to save remaining rattlesnake populations and gather the knowledge necessary for developing long-term conservation strategies.
Most rattlesnakes in roundups are driven out of their dens with gasoline, then stored without water or food in unhygienic conditions, and crammed tightly into containers for transport to and display at roundup events. Many snakes arrive at these events starved, dehydrated, or crushed to death. Those who survive may be used in public demonstrations and daredevil acts. The rattlesnakes are eventually decapitated, a cruel and inefficient method of slaughter for reptiles.
Rattlesnake collection methods are highly destructive to the habitats of rattlesnakes and other burrow dwellers such as gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, box turtles, coachwhip snakes, pine snakes, southern toads, and gopher frogs, along with burrowing owls, raccoons, opossums, and at least 32 species of invertebrates. The most popular collection method is to spray gasoline or other toxic chemicals into rattlesnake dens and resting places, which can render a burrow uninhabitable for years. Once introduced into the soil, gasoline could contaminate groundwater—the primary water source for many rural communities—thus poisoning wildlife, livestock, and humans.
Roundups pose other threats to human health, too. Contrary to claims of organizers, roundups increase the number of snake-bite incidents in the host communities. This is due to collection activities and competitive events that bring humans with little or no experience into direct contact with rattlesnakes. The bites that result must be treated with antivenin, thereby depleting the local supply of antivenin available to treat bites that are genuinely accidental and unavoidable.
Another hazard is the snake meat sold at roundups for human consumption. Rattlesnakes at roundups are typically killed under unhygienic conditions, and their meat, often improperly prepared, may be contaminated with Salmonella or other bacteria.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that the handling of live snakes can also spread Salmonella. The CDC recommends that people most at risk—including children under five and people with weakened immune systems—avoid all contact with snakes and any items they’ve touched, including clothing. For others, the CDC advises that contact with reptiles in public settings should be limited to designated animal contact areas where there are adequate hand-washing facilities and no food or drink is allowed. It instructs all individuals to wash their hands thoroughly after touching a snake, though it warns that hand washing alone may not be enough to prevent the spread of the bacteria. Unfortunately, at most rattlesnake roundups, proper hand washing facilities are sparse, even though the snakes are sometimes handled by small children.
Organizers often attempt to legitimize roundups by claiming that they provide a supply of venom for antivenin, but their venom collection methods may not meet the strict guidelines for antivenin production required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Rather than add to the nation's supply of antivenin, roundups deplete it by encouraging behavior that leads to snake bites.
Many rattlesnake handlers and roundup organizers attempt to influence public perceptions about snakes with negative misinformation such as false bite statistics. Rattlesnake handlers typically promote their acts as "safety talks" or other sorts of public education. What the public actually sees, however, are demonstrations of extremely unsafe practices, which audience members may try later on their own. Permanent disfigurement or even death could result.
Roundups are a liability to the communities and corporations that sponsor them, as well as to the nonprofit organizations that benefit from them. Hosting communities, sponsoring corporations, and charities that accept proceeds from roundups unwittingly lend these cruel and ecologically unsound events undue credibility. Communities place themselves at financial risk because they may have to cover the cost of medical care for uninsured visitors who may be bitten; they may also face lawsuits or increased criminal activity as unintended outcomes of hosting roundups.
Captive hunting operations—also referred to as "shooting preserves," "canned hunts," or "game ranches"—are private trophy hunting facilities that offer their customers the opportunity to kill exotic and native animals trapped within enclosures. Some facilities have even allowed their clients to kill animals remotely via the Internet.
The animals killed in captive hunts may come from private breeders, animal dealers, circuses or even zoos. These animals are frequently hand-raised and bottle-fed, so they have lost their natural fear of people. In many facilities, the animals expect to be fed at regular times by familiar people—a setup that guarantees a kill for trophy hunters.
Endangered species are even available at captive hunts. Several species of threatened and endangered animals are regularly advertised at captive hunting ranches. For example, the International Union for the Conservations of Nature and Natural Resources lists the scimitar-horned oryx and Pere David's deer as extinct in the wild; the Dama gazelle and the addax as critically endangered; the Arabian oryx and markhor as endangered; the blackbuck and bongo as near threatened; and the Nubian ibex, aoudad, barasingha, mouflon, yak, and European bison as vulnerable.
Although the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects animals listed as endangered or threatened, captive hunt enthusiasts exploit loopholes in federal law that allow captive-bred wildlife to be killed if permitted by state law. This creates a market for endangered species’ trophies, and can encourage illegal poaching of the animals in their native habitat. Issuing permits to shoot endangered species on these ranches contradicts the basic purposes of the ESA, which is to conserve endangered and threatened wildlife – not kill them.
Semi-tame animals make easy targets, so captive hunt operators can offer their customers a guarantee of "no kill, no pay." The animals are guaranteed something as well—that there will be no escape.
The HSUS estimates that there are more than a thousand captive hunting operations across the country. Approximately five hundred of these operations are in Texas alone.
Due to the high population densities on captive hunts, risk of disease transmission increases, posing a threat to animals inside and outside the fences. And it is doubtful that those involved in the captive hunting business provide acceptable veterinary care for their animals.
Diseases such as tuberculosis and brucellosis—which can also infect farm animals and other wildlife—have been diagnosed in captive wildlife. Michigan battled an outbreak of tuberculosis among deer a few years ago due to baiting, which encourages animals to congregate in small areas.
Chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease that infects deer, elk, and moose, is another serious concern. CWD has been reported in 19 states; in 11 of these states CWD was present in captive wildlife populations. In 2011, new cases of CWD have been reported in South Dakota, Illinois, West Virginia, Minnesota, Maryland, Nebraska, and Kansas.
Although there must legally be fencing around captive hunts, animals often can and sometimes do escape from these facilities. Since 2007, there have been 48 instances of elk escaping from captive facilities in Iowa alone. In Wisconsin, captive facilities reported 437 escapes from 2004 to 2007. The interstate transport of animals for breeding purposes increases the possibility of spreading these diseases even further.
Once present, CWD becomes increasingly difficult to control, and attempts to halt the disease can cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Through escaped animals, fence-line transmission, or environmental contamination, game farms and captive hunting ranches are putting our wild herds at grave risk.
Captive hunting is a lucrative and expanding industry. It is estimated that more than 1,000 captive mammal hunting operations are operating in at least two dozen states. Several factors feed into that expansion: The overbreeding of captive exotic animals, the desire by some hunters with plenty of cash for a quick and easy kill, and the incentive to bag exotic mammals provided by Safari Club International's "Introduced Trophy Game Animals of North America" trophy hunting achievement award.
Do all hunters support captive hunting? No. As hunter and noted author Ted Kerasote puts it, "'Canned hunting' is a misnomer. More accurately defined as 'shooting animals in small enclosures,' the activity has nothing to do with the motives that inform authentic hunting: procuring healthy, organic food; participating in the timeless cycles of birth, death, and nurturing; honoring the lives that support us; and reconnecting with wildness. No matter where one stands on hunting—vehemently opposed to it or seeing it as yet another way to live sustainably on Earth—one ought to decry shooting animals behind fences."
"Fair chase"—a concept central to the philosophy of many in the hunting community—doesn't exist in captive hunts. The self-described ethical hunting community (including groups like Boone & Crockett, Pope & Young, and the Izaak Walton League) is becoming increasingly vocal in its opposition to canned hunting.
As reviled as captive hunting is by non-hunters and hunters alike, no federal law bans the practice, and only about half of the states have policies that ban or restrict canned hunts. The regulations implementing the federal Animal Welfare Act do not apply to game preserves, hunting preserves, and captive hunts. Although the Endangered Species Act protects animals listed as endangered or threatened, the Fish and Wildlife Service does not prohibit private ownership of these animals and even allows captive hunting of endangered species.
Wildlife Services' War on Wildlife
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program spends millions of taxpayer dollars to inhumanely kill as many as 100,000 wild predators annually. More accurately described by its former name, Animal Damage Control, Wildlife Services spent $57.9 million in fiscal year 2008 to kill 124,414 wild animals (like coyotes, foxes, and badgers) in the name of protecting crops, livestock, private property, and "natural resources" such as birds who are endangered or favored by hunters.
The methods used to kill these animals include shooting from helicopters and airplanes, trapping, poisoning, and denning (poisoning pups in their dens). Trapping and poisoning injure or kill "non-target" animals such as deer, birds, and pets—even endangered species. All this, despite the development of non-lethal methods to protect livestock and crops, and evidence that killing predators doesn't even solve the problem.
Coyotes and other predators provide easy scapegoats for the many difficulties faced by ranchers, and an easy target for Wildlife Services. But overall, predators account for a small percentage of livestock losses. The vast majority of livestock loss is caused by disease, severe weather, and difficulty during calving or lambing. While coyotes and foxes are blamed for bird population declines, in most cases, habitat loss and/or fragmentation is the real culprit. Once this has taken place, these populations are more vulnerable to predation by other wild animals.
Though lethal predator control may seem a simple solution, reducing predator populations only occasionally increases bird population increases, and then only for a short time. Such increases require continued and widespread lethal predator control, continuing the cycle of cruelty without ever tackling the actual problem.
Changing livestock husbandry practices and adopting non-lethal strategies can go a long way toward reducing or eliminating predator-caused livestock losses over the long term. Husbandry practices include:
- bringing sheep into a barn during lambing (when they are especially vulnerable)
- corralling livestock at night
- removing livestock carcasses before they attract coyotes, bears, or other predators.
Non-lethal means of reducing livestock depredations include:
- livestock-guarding animals
- electric fencing
- aversive conditioning of attacking predators.
Finally, improving and preserving habitat, as well as installing fencing that excludes predators, are long-term, inexpensive solutions that will serve both people and wildlife.
Don't be afraid OF sharks; be afraid FOR them. There are more misunderstandings and untruths about sharks than almost any other group of animals on the planet. While many people fear sharks, it is the sharks who should be fearing us.
According to the shark attack file, maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History, on average 5 people die worldwide from shark attacks. Research published in 2006 found that up to 70 million sharks are killed by humans each year, mostly for their fins. This is a devastating death toll for a long-living species that is as slow to reproduce as sharks.
Sharks have roamed the oceans far longer than most land animals have been here. They were here before many of the dinosaurs and have outlasted them. But an international assessment of sharks undertaken by the World Conservation Union reveals that their future is in doubt.
Of 546 shark species assessed, 111 species were at significant risk of global extinction. Twenty species are listed as critically endangered and 25 as endangered. A 2003 study published in the journal Science concluded that some shark species have lost 80% of their populations just in the past 40 years including hammerhead sharks, thresher sharks, and porbeagle sharks. While hammerhead shark is a name familiar to most, most people have never heard of porbeagle sharks, some of the lesser known sharks are in even greater danger.
Sharks can range from being just inches in length (like the tiny cookie cutter shark) to being larger than a school bus (like the giant plankton-eating whale shark). Though sharks perform the same role in the ocean ecosystem that is performed by well-known predators such as lions, tigers, and cheetahs on land, the fact that they live in such an alien world makes it hard for us to know about their lives. What we do know is pretty fascinating.
Sharks shed their teeth. A single shark may lose thousands of teeth over its life and this accounts for the many shark teeth found by beach combers throughout the world. Their teeth are connected to a membrane in their mouth that is constantly being pushed forward as new teeth form. New teeth are generally slightly larger than the ones before. This allows the size of the shark's teeth to keep pace with the growth of the rest of the body.
Sharks are picky eaters. Some sharks eat only plankton, others eat small fish or squid, and still others eat large fish and marine mammals. The type of teeth a shark has will show you what it eats. Great white sharks have teeth with serrated edges for slicing off pieces from larger prey, the teeth of mako sharks are thin and pointed for grabbing onto slippery fish. Nurse sharks and other bottom dwellers tend to have thicker teeth for crushing shellfish. No matter the tooth shape, sharks never chew their food.
You're more likely to die as a result of being electrocuted by holiday lighting than being attacked by a shark. More deadly than shark attacks each year are crocodile attacks, hippo attacks, and even attacks by pigs.
Many sharks are warm blooded. Unlike the rest of the fishy world, many large sharks can maintain their body temperature higher than the ocean temperature around them.
Some sharks lay eggs, but others give birth to live young and may not be sexually mature until they are over the age of 10.
We don't know whether sharks sleep. Sometimes they seem to rest, but their eyes don't close and if they sleep, they certainly don't sleep the way that mammals can.
There is a lot we don't know about sharks, but we DO know that if we don't act soon to stop overfishing, some of the most ancient and magnificent animals on the planet may soon disappear.
Hiding in a tree or behind a blind, hunters lie in wait. They are waiting for the bears to take the bait—usually a large pile of food or a 55-gallon drum stuffed with food. Bears can feed at this free trough for days before taking a bullet, while others, deemed unworthy of hanging in someone's trophy room, can dine for the entire bear-hunting season.
Having learned to find food where humans have been, they may become "problem bears" who wander into back yards and upend garbage cans looking for an easy meal.
Hunters claim that the fundamental principle of hunting is "fair chase," but there is nothing fair about bear baiting. In fact, there is not even a chase. An animal is lured to an area and shot while she is eating. The federal government bans the baiting of migratory birds because it's unfair. Most states ban the baiting of deer and elk and other big game for the same reason. There's no logical reason to allow such an unfair practice to persist in bear hunting.
The hunters typically take the head and hide as trophies and, in rare instances, even pack out the meat, which usually turns out to be less food than they had brought in with them.
If this practice continues, the public can expect more scenes like the one described by District Ranger Robert Reese of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming in 1993:
"Forest personnel visited the [bait station] and found one-third of a horse stuffed in a barrel with the horse's head tied to a nearby tree. The barrel was located 10 feet from a [snow melt] drainage. It was located near White Pine Resort. The owners were worried about bears being attracted to the resort and clients seeing the horse body stuffed into a barrel. This wasn't an experience the owners wished clients to have... Site also included many horse skulls and bones from previous year's baiting that had never been cleaned up."
The U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service all publish materials telling the public not to feed bears. The Forest Service, for instance, puts out materials that warn "A fed bear is a dead bear," "Do Not Feed Bears!" and "Bears Are Dangerous!"
In a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the director of the Pacific Northwest Region of the National Park Service stated his opposition to baiting on national forest lands abutting Crater Lake National Park.
The director wrote, "Biologically, there is no difference between a bait station and a dump. Bait stations habituate bears to human-generated food, contributing to the potential for conflicts between bears and people in the park."
Tom Beck, a hunter and a bear biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, shares a similar opinion.
"I firmly believe that baiting creates 'nuisance' bears," he says. "Black bears are naturally wary, instinctively avoiding close contact with humans. But a large amount of tasty food, easily obtained, defeats this wariness. By baiting, we create lazy bears who have been rewarded, not punished, for overcoming their fear of humans."
Bear baiting is banned in 18 of the 28 states that allow bear hunting. And in four states, voters have recently banned bear baiting by ballot initiative. See Bear Baiting Laws and Legislation for more information.
Just before he left office in January 2003, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura said that "going out there and putting jelly doughnuts down, and Yogi comes up and sits there and thinks he's found the mother lode for five days in a row—and then you back-shoot him from a tree?....That ain't sport. That's an assassination."
The Duluth News Tribune, the largest newspaper in northern Minnesota, where most baiting in the North Star State takes place, agreed with Ventura: "Normal people should be outraged at these practices...Bear hunters who set out sweets to attract your kill: Take a good hard look in the mirror. See if you can find a human being."
What You Can Do:
- Contact your state wildlife agency. If bear baiting is legal in your state, express your outrage to state officials and to your governor.
- Write letters to the editor of newspapers in your state and contact the media to investigate.
- Submit an Op-Ed to your local newspaper.
- Attend state wildlife agency meetings and demand that steps be taken to prohibit bear baiting.
- Contact your state legislators and ask them to introduce legislation to ban this practice.
Internet hunting—also called remote controlled hunting—utilizes Internet technology to allow a computer user to hunt large game and exotic animals from their own home. The controversial practice originated in San Antonio, Texas, with the launching of the website Live-Shot.com, which allowed hunters to shoot animals with the click of a mouse for a fee. Computer users aim and fire a weapon that is mounted on a mechanized tripod at a remote location—usually a game ranch where exotic animals are kept penned and shot at close range.
The customer signs up through the website and pays a user fee and deposit for the animal he or she wishes to kill. The animal is lured to a feeding station within range of the mounted rifle. At one facility, the animals are fed at the same time and place each day by people to whom they have become accustomed. When the animal approaches the appointed place at the appointed time, the desktop hunter uses the computer mouse to line up the crosshairs and fire the rifle. A single click of the mouse shoots the animal. Trophy mounts are prepared at the ranch and shipped to the customer.
An Internet hunting session usually costs more than $1,500. The final cost will depend on the species and size of the animal killed and the cost of mounting the trophy.
This practice bears no resemblance to traditional hunting. Even pro-hunting groups denounce Internet hunting because it violates the ideals of a "fair chase." Kelly Hobbs of the National Rifle Association states, "The NRA has always maintained that fair chase, being in the field with your firearm or bow, is an important element of hunting tradition. Sitting at your desk in front of your computer, clicking at a mouse, has nothing to do with hunting." Even Safari Club International, a group dedicated to hunting large and exotic trophy animals, agrees that Internet hunting "...doesn't meet any fair chase criteria."
John Lockwood, the founder of Live-Shot.com, claimed the operation was intended to provide disabled individuals with the opportunity to hunt, but the Texas legislature did not buy it and promptly outlawed Internet hunting in state. The website has since been removed.
So far it has been banned in 38 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The interstate and international nature of the worldwide Web necessitates federal legislation—as well as laws in the states where it is still permitted—to put a permanent end to the travesty of Internet hunting.
Solving Raccoon Problems
Raccoons are intelligent, fascinating and highly adaptable mammals. As we destroy more and more wildlife habitat, we force animals like raccoons to come into closer contact with us. There's no need to panic or pay hundreds of dollars for trapping services because most problems can be easily resolved with some simple advice and household materials. Many conflicts occur in spring and summer when raccoons take advantage of cavities in human dwellings to raise their young. This is why it's vital to solve problems in a way that doesn't separate a mother from her cubs. Here are some solutions to common raccoon problems:
Q: How do I keep raccoons out of my garbage?
A: Overflowing or uncovered garbage cans provide an open invitation to hungry raccoons. The simplest solution is to put out your garbage cans for pick-up in the morning, after the nocturnal raccoons have returned to their dens. If you must put out your garbage cans at night, get the kind of plastic garbage can with a tall (4' high) TWIST-ON lid which raccoons can't open. Another option is to build a simple wooden box outside for storing garbage cans. For easy access, the top should be hinged and have a latch in front secured with a snap hook.
Q: I found raccoons in my dumpster -- how do I get them out?
A: Often garbage disposal companies don't close dumpster lids after emptying them in the early morning hours. Raccoons are enticed by the food smells, jump in, and can't climb the slippery sides. This problem is easily resolved by putting some strong branches or plank-like pieces of wood in the dumpster so the raccoons can climb out. If your company leaves dumpster lids open all the time, we strongly recommend posting a sign telling employees that it's vital to keep the lid closed so animals don't become trapped inside.
Q: There's a raccoon in my yard but it's daytime -- does that mean the animal is rabid?
A: Even though raccoons are considered nocturnal, mother raccoons sometimes nap in trees or forage during the day when they have nursing cubs which depletes their energy. Coastal raccoons take advantage of the tides and are often seen by day. Call your local animal control officer or police if an adult raccoon seen in daytime is acting at all sick or showing abnormal behaviors such as partial paralysis, circling, staggering as if drunk or disoriented, self-mutilating, screeching, or exhibiting unprovoked aggression or unnatural tameness. Otherwise just leave the raccoon alone and keep people and pets away from the animal.
Q: How do I get raccoons out of my attic or chimney?
A: In spring and summer, mother raccoons often take advantage of chimneys and attics as denning sites for raising cubs. The easiest and best solution is to wait a few weeks for the raccoons to move out on their own. As soon as the cubs are old enough to go on nighttime outings with their mother, she will take them out of the chimney once and for all rather than continually carrying them back and forth. Remember that mother raccoons clean their babies meticulously to avoid attracting predators. If you absolutely must evict the raccoon family, remember that raccoons look for quiet, dark and non-noxious smelling places to raise their young. By creating the opposite conditions, you can evict them using the following methods:
Eviction of chimney raccoons: Keep the damper closed and put a blaring radio (rock or rap music works best) in the fireplace. Then put a bowl of ammonia on a footstool near the damper. Apply these deterrents JUST BEFORE DUSK; mother raccoons won't want to move their cubs in broad daylight. Be patient, it may take a few days for the mother to move her young. Once you inspect and make sure all the raccoons are gone, promptly call a chimney sweep to install a mesh chimney cap (the best kind has a stainless steel top) and this situation will not recur.
Eviction of attic raccoons: Leave all the lights on and place a blaring radio and rags sprinkled with 1/4 cup of ammonia around the attic. You can also enhance the deterrent effect by adding cayenne pepper or the commercial repellent Repel around the attic and also hanging an electrician's drop light over the denning area. Apply these deterrents JUST BEFORE DUSK; mother raccoons will not want to move their cubs in daylight. Be patient, it may take a few days for the mother to move her young. Once the raccoons are gone1 promptly seal any entry hole and this situation will not recur.
Q: Raccoons keep eating the food I put outdoors for the cats!
A: If you leave food out all the time, you will attract raccoons and other animals. The solution is to feed the cats only at a certain time in the morning or midday, then take away any uneaten food. The cats will get used to the schedule and modify their behavior accordingly.
Q: A raccoon keeps coming through my cat door and eating all the cat food!
A: No self-respecting raccoon is going to ignore a free buffet! The best solution is to feed your cats indoors and not use a cat door at all. There are strong, electrically controlled doors that you can purchase which only let your designated pet in.
Q: I put in a Japanese pond but the raccoons are eating all the fish!
A: It is difficult to have a delicacy like fish in an area and expect raccoons not to take notice! The best solution is to maintain a higher water level (at least 3 feet deep) and stack cinder blocks, large rocks, or ceramic pipes in the bottom of the pond so the fish can escape from the raccoons and take refuge.
Q: Raccoons keep making a mess of my lawn. How do I stop this?
A: The raccoons are going after the grubs in your lawn. If you keep your lawn well watered, this exacerbates the problem since it drives the grubs to the surface layer of the soil. The good news is that the grubbing activity, although unsightly, does not permanently damage the lawn. A long-term, ecological solution is to apply the product "Milky Spore" to the soil. This natural bacteria will spread and get rid of the grubs, but it takes a long time to work (1+ years). We don't recommend chemical pesticides due to their toxic effect on the environment, people and animals.
Q: Raccoons keep getting into my chicken coop!
A: The only answer is to reinforce your chicken coop so the raccoons cannot have access to the chickens. Heavy gauge welded wire should be used and another layer of finer mesh put over it to prevent raccoons from being able to reach through. Although an inconvenience, once an animal pen is well reinforced and maintained, there will be no more problems.
Q: Why not just trap the raccoon (or hire a trapper) to solve the nuisance problem?
A: Trapping is rarely a solution to wildlife nuisance problems. As one animal is removed, another from the surrounding area will soon take his place. The answer is to exclude the animal from the food or nesting source that is attracting him.
Nuisance wildlife control companies charge a fee -- sometimes hundreds of dollars -- for problems that homeowners can often resolve themselves. In addition, when animals are trapped during birthing season, starving babies may be left behind. Homeowners are then horrified to find a foul odor emanating throughout their house. Animals should never be trapped under extreme conditions, such as on sunny rooftops, in rain, snow, sleet, or other bad weather which will cause the animals to suffer and die.
We discourage trapping unless an animal is stuck somewhere and can't get out or poses an immediate threat to humans or domestic animals. If you do hire a nuisance trapper, be sure to read our "Standards for Working with a Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator" brochure first to ensure that humane practices are followed and no animals are orphaned in the process.
Most attics contain clutter, making it hard to verify if the raccoons are gone. Before sealing any entry hole, stuff it first with newspaper and see if the paper stays in place for 3 successive nights. If so, the den is vacated. After sealing the entry hole with hardware cloth, make sure no raccoons are left behind by leaving a sardine or marshmallows in the attic and check if the food is uneaten after 24 hours, or sprinkle flour in front of the entry hole and check for footprints of a raccoon trying to get out.
Solving Woodchuck Problems
Woodchucks are harmless, comical vegetarians who are commonly sighted in suburban backyards and along roadways. Conflicts usually arise over who gets to eat the garden vegetables! Suburban landscapes provide perfect habitat for woodchucks. Our raised decks provide cover and a perfect place to raise young, and our lush lawns provide a virtual buffet. Most woodchuck conflicts occur in spring and summer, just when birthing season has begun. That's why problems need to be solved in a way that doesn't leave orphaned young behind.
Q: How do I keep a woodchuck out of my garden?
A: The best way to exclude woodchucks is by putting up a simple chicken wire or mesh fence. All you need is a roll of 4-foot high chicken wire and some wooden stakes. Once the job is done, it won't matter how many woodchucks are in the neighborhood because they won't be getting into your garden!
There are 2 secrets for making a successful fence:
Tip #1: The top portion of the fence only needs to be 2 ½ to 3 feet high but it should be staked so that it's wobbly -- i.e. the mesh should not be pulled tight between the stakes but rather, there should be some "give" so that when the woodchuck tries to climb the fence, it will wobble which will discourage him. Then he'll try to dig under the fence, so:
Tip #2: Extend your mesh fence 4 inches straight down into the ground and then bend it and extend the final 8-12 inches outward, away from the garden, in a "L"-shape which creates a false bottom (you can also put this mesh "flap" on top of the ground but be sure to secure it firmly with landscaping staples or the woodchuck will go under it). When the woodchuck digs down and hits this mesh flap, he'll think he can't dig any farther and give up. It won't occur to him to stand back a foot and THEN start digging!
IF YOU AREN'T WILLING TO PUT UP A FENCE, you can also try the following scare techniques, which do work in some cases:
1) Line your garden with helium-filled, silver mylar balloons or make a low fence made of twisted, reflective mylar tape bought at your local party store. Be sure to purchase heavier weights to attach to the bottom of the balloons. The balloons bobbing in the wind will scare the woodchucks.
2) Sprinkle cayenne pepper around the plants and spray your plants with a taste repellent such as Ropel (available at garden stores) every 2 weeks.
Q: There's a woodchuck under my shed. How do I get him out?
A: Woodchucks don't undermine foundations and really aren't likely to damage your shed. In spring and summer, the woodchuck under your shed is probably a mother nursing her young, which is why we encourage you to consider leaving them alone. Be sure you really need to evict the woodchuck before taking action. If you must, put some dirty kitty litter down the woodchuck burrow -- the urinated part acts as a predator odor, which often causes the entire family to leave. Ammonia-sprinkled rags or sweaty, smelling socks placed in the burrow may also cause self-eviction.
Q: I am afraid the woodchuck will hurt my children!
A: Woodchucks are harmless vegetarians who flee when scared. Remember that even a small child looks like a giant predator to the woodchuck. There is no cause for alarm -- woodchucks live under houses and day care centers all over the country -- healthy woodchucks simply don't attack children or pets. If chased, woodchucks will quickly flee to their burrows.
Q: I see a woodchuck circling and falling over -- is he rabid?
A: Woodchucks have a higher susceptibility to rabies than other rodents, yet the incidence of rabies in woodchucks is still very low. Woodchucks are much more susceptible to the roundworm brain parasite, which causes symptoms that look exactly like rabies. Roundworm is NOT airborne -- it can only be transmitted through the oral-fecal route, i.e. the ingestion of an infected animal's feces.
Q: I set a trap for a woodchuck and caught a skunk. Help!
A: This is a common occurrence when traps are left open at night. You can let the skunk out without getting sprayed just by knowing that skunks have terrible eyesight and only spray when something comes at them fast, like a dog. If you move slowly and talk soothingly, you shouldn't get sprayed. Skunks stamp their front feet as a warning when they're nervous, so if the skunk stamps, just remain motionless for a minute until he stops stamping, then proceed. You can drape a towel -- slowly-- over the trap prior to opening it. Once the trap door is opened, the skunk will beeline for home! If you must trap and relocate a woodchuck, remember to close the trap at night so another skunk doesn't get caught.
Q: Why not just trap the woodchuck family?
A: Trapping won't solve the problem. As long as woodchuck habitat is available, there will be woodchucks. Even in studies where all the woodchucks are trapped out of an area, others from the surrounding area quickly move into the vacated niche. In addition, trapping and relocating woodchucks may lead to starving young being left behind. Homeowners are then horrified to smell a foul odor. It's much more effective to simply exclude woodchucks from areas where they're not wanted.
We discourage trapping unless an animal is stuck somewhere and can't get out, or poses an immediate threat to humans or domestic animals.
Our oceans, seas, rivers and lakes are home to a large percentage of the animal species of Earth. Many mammals have adapted to life in the water. Even those that never leave it still have lungs to breath oxygen and give birth to live young. Most of us know that whales and dolphins are aquatic mammals, living exclusively in the ocean, but there are semi-aquatic mammals, like seals, sealions, manatee and walrus, that live both in the sea and on the land. Among them, with a classification of its own, is one of Earth’s largest carnivores: the polar bear.
The scientific name for the polar bear is ursus maritimus, or marine bear. Polar bears are uniquely adapted for life in the sea. Their front feet are large, flat and oar-like and they have long necks and narrow skulls that give them a streamlined shape. With these advantages, the polar bear is a powerful endurance swimmer. Individuals have been seen in open Arctic waters as far as 200 miles from any land.
Only the Kodiak bears of Southern Alaska can rival the Polar bear for size. Polar bear males weigh 550-1700 lbs (250-771 kg) and females 200-700 lbs (91-318 kg). The polar bear will gain a height of 8 to 10 feet (2.4 - 3m). To support their enormous size, such large animals must constantly hunt. They will travel great distances in search of prey, feeding largely on ringed seals and, to a lesser extent, on bearded seals. Under some conditions, they have been known to eat walrus, birds, vegetation, kelp, and even the carcasses of beluga and bowhead whales.
Polar bears don't need to drink water. Their prey provides them with all the liquid they need. Polar bear cubs are 12 to 14 inches long at birth and weigh around one pound. They will nurse until they are about 20-30 pounds before emerging from the den with their mother in March or April.
Polar bear populations are distributed in Artic regions throughout Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway. They must have pack ice to survive and can travel thousands of miles over the course of a year, following the advance and retreat of sea ice. Seal populations are abundant on pack ice, where currents and wind interact with the ice, continually melting and refreezing the edges, making it accessible to both predator and prey.
Older, stable pack ice is essential to the polar bear’s continued existence. It is where polar bears hunt, mate and den. Pregnant females make dens in the soft deep snows of the ice. They will give birth in these dens and the snow will insulate both mother and cubs over the harsh Arctic winter. Without a stable ice pack to accumulate sufficient snow, there can be no dens. The ice is also the seal’s habitat. Polar bears are strong swimmers, but they are not adept at catching seals in open water. The ice is necessary for successful hunts, where the bears stalk the seals using their breathing holes. Changes in the conditions of the ice have forced seals to move and give birth in different areas, making it more difficult for the polar bears to find and feed on them. Without ready and plentiful food, pregnant female polar bears cannot build the fat reserves they need to survive a denning period.
With shrinking ice and inaccessibility to prey, polar bears could be extinct by 2050. Their habitat is melting away. When animals lose their natural habitat they will seek other means to secure food. Just as black bears will come into towns and communities in search of food, polar bears, attracted by garbage or animal carcasses, will enter areas of human population. When they do so, they can be killed. Although it is illegal to kill a polar bear, human caused mortality still remains a factor in the decline of this endangered animal.
To help save the polar bear, we must support strengthening of the Endangered Species Act and include the polar bears’ prey base, suspend new Arctic gas and oil development until the bear population and their sea-ice habitat are fully protected and eliminate all trophy hunting throughout the Artic. Laws against poaching must be strictly enforced and programs implemented that offer rewards for information leading to their conviction.
The hippopotamus outweighs all the many fresh water semi-aquatic mammals that inhabit our rivers, lakes and streams. After elephants and the white rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal on Earth. Its hide alone can weigh half a ton.
The ancient Egyptians both feared and revered the hippopotamus. The word hippopotamus comes from the Greek for "river horse" and the hippo, once indigenous to Egypt, flourished there, grazing along the fertile banks of the Nile River and swimming in its muddy waters. Hippos may seem slow and lumbering, but they can be ferocious, deadly killers. These prolific animals multiplied until the river was thick with them. They destroyed crops, up ended fishing boats and killed the men as they fell into the river. The ancient kings found sport in great hippopotamus hunts that would thin out the herds. Hunts became bloody battles between man and beast. The hippo is no longer found in Egypt. They were wiped out of that country in modern times because of the crop damage they caused, but the hippo still thrives in other parts of Africa.
Hippopotamus are of the Order Artiodactyla: Even-toed ungulates. On land, the enormous weight of a hippo is distributed evenly and is adequately supported by the four webbed toes on each of its feet. These animals are grayish in color with thick skin that is virtually hairless. The hippo has no sweat or sebaceous glands and must rely on the water to keep cool. A hippo’s hide has the unusual property of secreting a viscous red fluid that protects it from the sun. This specialized excretion may also be a healing agent.
Female hippopotamus bear a single young and will give birth either on land or in shallow water. The mother helps the newborn to the surface of the water. In time, she will teach her baby to swim. Newborns can be seen in the river, resting on their mothers' backs. At birth, a baby hippo will weigh from 55 to 120 pounds. The mother must protect it from crocodiles in the water and lions on land. She must also ward off male hippos. Males do not bother baby hippos when on land, but they will attack them in the water.
Adult hippos can stay under water for up to six minutes. A young hippo can only stay submerged for about half a minute. In order to suckle under water, the baby must take a deep breath, close its nostrils and ears and then wrap its tongue tightly around the teat to suck. This instinctive behavior is the same when the baby suckles on land. Baby hippos start to eat grass at 3 weeks, but will continue to nurse until they are about one year old.
Hippos are usually found in groups of just over a dozen, presided over by a territorial bull. They have flexible social systems defined by food and water conditions and hierarchy. Periods of drought will force them to congregate in large numbers around a limited water supply. This overcrowding disrupts the system and under these conditions, there will be higher levels of aggression. Fights for dominance will be brutal with loud and frequent vocalization. Hippos can bear the scars of old, deep wounds sustained in such battles. A hippo establishes status and marks territory by spreading its excrement with its flat, paddle-like tail.
Hippos move surprisingly well, climbing adeptly up steep riverbanks to grazing areas. They spend the heat of the day in the water, leaving it to graze at night. Apparently creatures of habit, they enter and exit the water at the same spot. They will graze four to five hours, usually covering one or two miles. The amount of grass consumed is relatively modest for animals their size. A hippo’s appetite is in proportion to its sedentary life.
Despite the fact that ditches and low fences can easily deter them from encroaching on cultivated areas, hippopotamus are slaughtered by the hundreds each year. These "controlled management" schemes are put forth less for crop protection than for the meat they yield. The fat and ivory tusks of the hippo are also of value to humans, as is the hippo’s grazing land. The hippos’ range was once from the Nile delta to the Cape, but the mighty river horse is now mostly confined to protected areas.
Most of us will never see a hippopotamus. But as we know more about them, we may learn to value them and their place in the larger ecosystem we all share.