Conservation, Nature, Science

River Dolphins and Amazonian Manatees Get New Protection

The pink river dolphin, gray river dolphin, and the Amazonian manatee, that will be protected under a new Peruvian law.
The pink river dolphin is one of the species, along with the gray river dolphin and the Amazonian manatee, that will be protected under a new Peruvian law. Photo: Shutterstock

Thanks to a newly developed plan, river dolphins and Amazonian manatees in Peru will finally receive protection.

Researchers from the University of Exeter in England worked with Peruvian officials for more than two years to develop that law.

“These species are only found in the Amazon,” said Dr. Joanna Alfaro, formerly of the University of Exeter. “Neighboring countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador already had legislation to protect them, but Peru did not. To bring about this legislation, we worked in lose collaboration with the Peruvian government, with support from [World Wildlife Fund] Peru, and held five workshops with local authorities.

Like other species of dolphins and manatees, river dolphins and Amazonian manatees face threats from climate change, fishing, and loss of habitat, not to mention pollution, noise, and boat traffic.

The new law, the National Action Plan for the Conservation of River Dolphins and the Amazonian Manatee, was approved by Peru’s Ministry of Production. It requires conservation and monitoring of habitats. It is also designed to bring about better management of the species’ habitats.

“We are delighted to have been a part in the development of this law, and we are excited to see the plan in full implementation,” said researcher Elizabeth Campbell. “It was a long process, but it showed how government agencies can work with non-governmental academics, private companies, and others.”

Professor Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter, who supervised the research, said, “We believe this action plan will aid conservation and reduce the threats that dolphins and manatees face in the Amazon today. It is a great example where research was used as a baseline for the legal framework to protect biodiversity.”

The University of Exeter project was funded by the Darwin Initiative, a UK-based grant program that helps to protect biodiversity and the natural environment through locally based projects worldwide. It provides funding to countries rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to meet their objectives in preserving that biodiversity.

Conservation, Nature, Science

Logging Threatens Leatherback Turtles

Leatherback turtles are under threat from fishing nets, marine debris like plastic, and now it seems that even distant logging activities are threatening the species.
Baby leatherback turtles like this one can become the victims of predators if their way from nest to ocean is impeded by logging debris. Photo: Shutterstock

Leatherback turtles face a number of difficulties, all of which threaten the species as a whole. They are often caught in fishing nets or eat marine debris like plastic. Many of their nesting sites are under pressure from tourism and other human activities. And now it turns out that even logging is a danger to them, despite the fact that it rarely happens near beaches.

The problem is that logging creates quite a lot of debris, which ends up washing ashore on the beaches where leatherback turtles make nests and lay eggs. These turtles have to lay their eggs far enough up the shore that they won’t be flooded by high tide. But that debris can get in the way of mothers building nests, who have to spend more time on that process and have to build their nests closer to the tideline.

Once they hatch, baby leatherback turtles make their way across the sand and down to the water, but that is becoming increasingly difficult in areas subjected to logging debris. The turtles have to navigate around the debris, which requires them to use up more energy and puts them at increased risk of predation. While not every turtle makes it to the water—where they can start eating to replenish the energy spent getting there—with increased obstacles, even fewer are doing so. Over time, this could result in an overall decrease in the leatherback turtle population, which is already struggling.

“Leatherback turtles are already under immense pressure, from fisheries bycatch, and are also one of the species prone to ingesting marine plastic litter,” said Prof. Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter. “Our research clearly indicates that logging presents another threat. It is now paramount that beach cleanup operations are built into logging activities to prevent further damage to the species.”

Luckily, leatherback turtles are a favorite of environmentalists, tourists, and other people with the social clout or budget to try and affect change on their behalf, so the odds are good that they will at least be supported with beach cleanup activities.

“Simple measures could make a real difference, such as repositioning organic waste areas, or salvaging the wood debris as an energy source,” said Dr. Adolfo Marco Llorente of the Doñana Biological Station. “It is also essential that logging practices [which] reduce the impact on the marine environment are implemented.”

Conservation, Sustainability

Global Veganism Would Result in More Agricultural Land Use

A vegan diet may not necessarily be the best use of our agricultural lands.
Photo: Shutterstock

Among vegans, it’s common to hear the idea that eating vegan is better for everyone, including the planet itself. Discussions of greenhouse gas created by grazing animals are commonly a part of this. But according to a study published in Elementa, a purely vegan diet wouldn’t be the best way to make use of existing agricultural lands. Going vegan would feed fewer people and would result in having to convert more land over to agriculture.

The study is premised on the idea that there are three main kinds of agricultural land use. Grazing land is used to raise animals, perennial cropland for raising foods like grain and hay to feed animals and which are harvested multiple times per year, and cultivated cropland for raising foods such as vegetables and fruits. But vegan diets would eliminate the use of perennial cropland, which would waste a significant amount of land that could be used for growing food (directly or indirectly). It’s important to remember that these kinds of land are not all suited to one another. Grazing land tends to be bad for growing crops, for example.

This is also compared not to current land use based on diets, but on projections of land use, which included 10 different diets, including the “current diet” of Americans. Vegan diet-based land use would feed more people than the current model, but it wouldn’t feed as many people as either egg and dairy-friendly vegetarian (ovolacto vegetarian), dairy-friendly vegetarian (lacto vegetarian), or two different omnivorous models would. Less meat and more vegetables makes land use more efficient, but totally removing animals is not the most efficient.

While none of this means that vegan diets are meaningless, or that people who follow them are bad or a threat the world’s ecology, it does mean that veganism can’t save the world. But philosophical veganism isn’t usually about the environment anyway, it’s about animal rights, so whether this argument convinces any vegans remains to be seen.

Ultimately, though, the researchers write, “the findings of this study support the idea that dietary change towards plant-based diets has significant potential to reduce the agricultural land requirements of U.S. consumers and increase the carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural resources…Diet composition matters.”

Climate Change, Conservation, Environmental Hazards, Green, Nature

Climate Change is Already Threatening Some Species

Polar bear walking near water
Climate change is affecting endangered animals even more than we might think. Image: Shutterstock

Often, when we talk about climate change, we talk about the future, about how it’s going to affect the world. But more and more, we’re realizing that it already is affecting the world, that it is no longer a “future threat” but a very real, very current problem. And part of that problem is climate change.

There are currently 873 species of mammals and 1,272 species of birds listed as threatened, but of those, only 7% of mammals and 4% of birds are considered “threatened by climate change and severe weather.” However, a recent study by researchers from the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society has found that as much as half of those mammals and a quarter of the birds “have already responded negatively to climate change.” This means that those species, such as the mountain gorilla, will have an even greater chance of being negatively affected by future changes.

The problem is that we aren’t seeing enough studies of animals, already classified as threatened or not, that take climate change into effect.

Climate change’s effect on animals isn’t anything new to us, even if previous studies have been few and far between. Back in 2014, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was already warning us that many animals were migrating further north or south toward the water in an effort to survive catastrophic changes to their natural habitats. Only the truly flexible species will be able to make it through as habitats shift and temperatures fluctuate.

Still, these studies might not be all doom and gloom. While the threats posed to these species are very real (and likely to get worse), knowing that these problems exist allows us to start addressing them. And knowing that climate change is already negatively affecting at least some species might make it easier to motivate people to care about climate change as something that’s happening right now…something we have a chance to deter, if not stop entirely.

Conservation

Endangered Bumblebees Will Be Okay With Effort On Our Part

The endangered rusty patched bumblebee will be okay, as long as we help out with conservation efforts.
Rusty patched bumblebee. Photo: Shutterstock

For the first time, an American species of bumblebee has been listed as endangered, but according to one entomologist, that’s actually a good thing. While bee populations around the world have been suffering in recent years, listing the rusty patched bumblebee as an endangered species will help protect it and, perhaps, bees more broadly.

Bees are essential to a variety of ecosystems, primarily in their role as pollinators but also as part of the larger food web, providing food for birds, fish, and other insects. Recent declines have been attributed to parasites, pesticides, urbanization, diseases, and the introducing on non-native plants into their ecosystems. Even natural disasters like floods and droughts are considered factors in bee population decline.

While the situation seems dire, and there probably are more problems facing bees now that in the past, bee populations have always fluctuated. Fewer crops means more natural habitat for bees, while more crops means less, and higher temperatures mean more bees while colder temperatures see them decrease.

But according to Jeff Whitworth at the Kansas State University, there are a number of ways to help bumblebees. Simple things like cutting the grass or trimming trees less often can make a difference. Beekeeping as a hobby has been growing in recent years, in both rural and urban locations, which can help restart bee populations in various ecosystems.

But placing the rusty patched bumblebee on the endangered species list is probably the single biggest step. The point of listing species in this way is to promote conservation efforts to protect them. In the past it’s made a huge difference for some species, giving governments the motivation to protect them through legislation, pushing scientists to do more research on a species, and getting people to donate more time and money toward helping keep those species around.

Ultimately, Whitworth doesn’t fear for bees’ existence. “Weather and prices vary from year to year, which is simply part of the way systems work,” he said. “I foresee bee populations staying fairly steady for the foreseeable future.”

Conservation, Eco-friendly, Nature, Sustainability

Balancing Conservation, Logging, and Indigenous Populations in Africa

Businesses and conservationists work together in Africa, but sometimes they leave out the people being affected by their work.
A woman from a Baka tribe, Dzanga-Sangha Forest Reserve, Central African Republic. Photo: Sergey Uryadnikov / Shutterstock, Inc.

Landscape-based conservation aims to balance the needs of protecting wildlife with economic needs. So conservation groups deal with poachers or illegal logging, while logging companies work sustainably and provide jobs. In a perfect world, everybody wins.

But this isn’t a perfect world, and in these situations, some local people get left out. Take the Baka people, a group of hunters and gatherers who rely upon the forests for their livelihood. They aren’t getting jobs in conservation or logging, and their way of life is being threatened as they are cut out of access to the forest or forced to take up farming. However, farming is new to them, and is therefore not meeting their needs. As a result, they’re finding themselves more and more in poor farming regions without access to schools, meaning that they can’t even “better themselves” within the context of the societies that are telling them how to live in the forest.

According to Nathan Clay, who recently finished a study on how landscape-based conservation efforts are impacting local people in Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic, there are some 100,000 people left behind by changing conservation methods. They’ve been dealing with loggers or conservationists for years, but recently, they’ve had to deal with both, and increasingly complex legal developments to make that system work, which is leaving them behind.

Clay argues that what is needed is a concerted effort by conservation and logging interests, as well as the governments which pass laws to build these systems, to work with local peoples. He proposes that tribes like the Baka be included in anti-hunting and anti-logging patrols, which would make them part of the process and allow conservation efforts to work with, rather than against, them.

“To me, the people who are best positioned to understand and effectively manage these changing socio-ecological conditions are the people who live there,” said Clay. “The people who are living there should be more involved in the management of these places because they’re the ones who best know the region.”

Conservation

Cheetahs In Greater Danger of Extinction than Previously Thought

A Cheetah pictured during one of the Institute of Zoology's Field Conservation projects in Tanzania, 2005. Photo courtesy of Zoological Society of London
A Cheetah pictured during one of the Institute of Zoology’s Field Conservation projects in Tanzania, 2005. Photo courtesy of Zoological Society of London

Scientists are urging that the cheetah be reclassified from “vulnerable” to “endangered” as there are only 7,100 members of the species remaining on the planet.

Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land animal and occupy a huge range of Africa and the Middle East. However, about 77 percent of their range falls outside of protected areas, and they have been driven out of about 91 percent of their historic range. They have fallen prey to a number of threats including changing land use by humans, loss of prey species due to human competition, and trafficking in cheetah parts and live cats as exotic pets.

Basically, it’s entirely our fault that cheetahs are dying out.

However, because of cheetahs’ wide ranges and the large territories that they need in order to hunt, they’re also hard to conserve. We can’t just mark off small protected areas to keep them safe. Even in the areas where they are protected, they face challenges that most people don’t think about.

Moving them to the endangered classification could be a huge help, though, because that often comes with increased attention and funding to help conserve a species, which is exactly what the cheetah needs.

In order to save the cheetahs, we have to think beyond traditional conservation methods, and find ways to help them in both protected and unprotected regions. The changing landscape of Africa needs to change in ways that benefit humans and cheetahs, and we need to take stronger steps to end the trafficking of live cats or their parts, keeping the animals alive and in the wild where they belong.

We’ve managed to help turn other species around through concentrated effort in the past, so there is hope for the cheetah. Knowing that they’re at far greater risk than we had expected is a big step on its own, as it allows us to starting thinking of ways to help preserve the species which we wouldn’t otherwise have considered.