Archive | Mammals

Judge OKs Wild Buffalo Slaughter

A federal judge says he will allow the slaughter of hundreds of wild bison that wandered from Yellowstone National Park into Montana.

U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell said in a 72-page ruling Monday that he will deny requests from sportsmen, Indian tribes and environmentalists to stop the mass kill.

Montana ranchers fear the 525 bison, which are currently corralled along the border of the snowed-in national park, will transmit brucellosis to livestock. The disease can cause cows to miscarry their young.

217 of the wild buffalo have tested positive for the illness so far, and those will be slaughtered first.

“Distasteful as the lethal removal may be to some, it is clearly one of the foremost management tools – time honored – necessarily utilized to protect the species, the habitat, and the public,” the judge wrote.

“If slaughtering buffalo is time-honored, it’s high time for a change,” said Dan Brister, head of the Buffalo Field Campaign, according to Reuters.

The environmental advocates, including Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watersheds Project, alleged that the planned slaughter was a violation of government regulations and the public trust.

An attorney for the plaintiffs said they plan to appeal, The Associated Press reports.

There are currently 3,700 bison in the Yellowstone herd. When numbers dip below 2,100, the government will be prohibited from killing straying buffalo.

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Kenyan Conservationists Concerned Over Slowed Elephant Population Growth

Kenyan conservationists are worried that the burgeoning demand for ivory will undo years of work getting the country’s elephant population to healthy numbers.

Wildlife officials say that a survey of an elephant sanctuary from an aerial census showed that growth had slowed to two percent from four percent in 2008, AFP reports.

Scientists counted 12,572 elephants in Tsavo National Park, an 18,000-square mile elephant sanctuary southeast of Nairobi. While that number is only slightly below the previous count of 11,696, it represents a weakening population growth rate, says Julius Kipng’etich, the director of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Kipng’etich said elephant poaching was becoming increasingly prominent following increased ivory demand in Asian countries.

Ian Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of the organization Save the Elephants, told AFP that rising wealth in Asia was partly to blame.

“I am exceedingly worried about the increase in poaching because I think it is linked to a more fundamental factor which is the increase in demand in China and other countries in the Far East and the increased ability in those countries to pay for ivory,” he told AFP.

Ivory is used in traditional Asian medicines and ornaments.

Tsavo, home to a third of Kenya’s elephant population, boasted some 35,000 elephants in 1976, AFP reports. A major drought and poaching in the 1970s and 1980s all but decimated their numbers.

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Traveler Detained for Possessing 200 Illegal Animals

An Indonesian man was arrested Wednesday at an airport in Bangkok, Thailand for attempting to smuggle 200 live animals – including tortoises, snakes, squirrels, spiders, lizards and a parrot – in three suitcases.

The international wildlife monitoring group TRAFFIC said in a statement Thursday that the traveler was stopped after airport officials spotted the animals in images of the scanned luggage.

“It’s not unprecedented to find numbers — sometimes even hundreds — of live animals inside luggage like this,” TRAFFIC spokesman Richard Thomas told “What makes this case unusual is the wide variety of wildlife in the cases. Animals like tortoises are usually taped up to keep them from moving, and being detected, but quite how the man in this instance expected not to be found out is quite extraordinary.”

The suspect said he had illegally purchased the animals from an outdoor market in Bangkok.

“One really has to question how Chatuchak Market, which is located just down the street from both Wildlife Protection and Nature Crime Police Offices, can continue these illegal mass sales,” TRAFFIC regional director William Schaedla said, according to MSNBC. “The situation is totally unacceptable in a country that claims to be effectively addressing illegal wildlife trade.”

TRAFFIC reportedly found the following animals crammed inside the three black bags:

88 Indian Star tortoises

34 ball pythons

33 elongated tortoises

22 common squirrels

19 bearded dragons

18 baboon spiders

7 radiated tortoises

6 Argentine horned frogs

6 mata mata turtles

4 spiny tailed lizards

4 striped narrow-headed turtles

3 aldabra tortoises

2 boa constrictors

2 Sudan plated lizards

2 corn snakes

2 king snakes

1 ploughshare tortoise (world’s rarest turtle)

1 pig-nosed turtle

1 African gray parrot

1 milk snake

1 hog nosed snake
The man is currently in police custody and faces smuggling charges, TRAFFIC said.

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Rwanda: Scientists Report Rare Mountain Gorilla Twins

Park officials in Rwanda have reported a rare birth of mountain gorilla twins – no small triumph for the endangered species numbering a mere 780.

The successful twin birth is only the second since 2004, and just five previous cases of twins have occurred since record-keeping began 40 years ago, gorilla trackers from the Volcanoes National Park say.

“It’s uncommon among the population of gorillas, and very few cases of twins have been documented in the wild or captivity. The twins in Hirwa Group provide another opportunity for comparative research on this rare case of twining in primates, therefore continuing to get more knowledge and reference for gorilla research, and conservation in general,” said Prosper Uwingeli, the Chief Park Warden, as quoted by

Mountain gorillas are Rwanda’s primary tourist attraction, but their population is alarmingly weak. Researchers say the current total of 780 gorillas is a quarter higher than it was seven years ago.

Wildlife officials said the baby gorillas are in good health.

“The twins, both of them males, were born Thursday of a mother gorilla called Kabatwa. They are doing well,” Radio Rwanda reported, according to AFP.

The majority of mountain gorillas are found in the Virunga massif, which covers Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A 2010 census found a 26 percent increase in gorillas in Virunga chain habitat.

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Whale that Scientists Drugged Found Dead

The North Atlantic right whale scientists shot with sedatives last month so they could untangle it from fishing ropes has been found dead off the coast of Florida, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Wildlife experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are still conducting tests to determine 2-year-old female’s cause of death, but initial results from a necropsy on Thursday indicate that the whale had rope deeply lodged in its mouth. This probably prevented it from feeding, scientists say.

NOAA spokeswoman Karrie Carnes says it appears that, unable to eat, the malnourished whale was easy prey for sharks.

Scientists found the whale wrapped in 50 feet of fishing rope last month off the coast of Florida.

Following the whale in a small vessel, the team shot it with sedatives from a dart gun so they could pull closer to untangle the ropes and attach a satellite monitor.

It was only the second time that drugging has been used on a free-swimming whale.

Carnes says the sedatives do not appear to have played a part in the whale’s death.

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Walrus to Get “Endangered” or “Threatened” Label

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon announce a federal listing for the Pacific walrus as a threatened or endangered species, a spokesman for the agency said Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported that the agency is waiting on a publication date from the Federal Register before it reveals its recommended listing.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition three years ago claiming that the walrus should be listed as threatened or endangered due to loss of sea ice caused by climate change.

The case gave the Fish and Wildlife Service a court-mandated deadline to determine a listing.

The decision will be announced one day before it is published in the Federal Register, agency spokesman Bruce Woods told The Associated Press.

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Right Whale Saved with Help of Sedatives

Wildlife experts say that sedatives may be useful in calming endangered whales caught in fishing line.

Researchers tested the approach on a young North Atlantic right whale off the Florida coast last week, The Associated Press reported Sunday. The whale had about 50 feet of fishing rope wrapped through its mouth and around its flippers.

Following the whale in a small vessel, the team shot it with sedatives from a dart gun so they could pull closer and untangle the ropes. They then attached a satellite monitor, which now shows the animal survived the incident.

Fishing ropes pose a serious threat to the dwindling population of right whales. The gear cuts into their flesh and limits their ability to feed, ultimately causing infection and starvation.

Experts typically trail lines from tangled whales and attach them to boats and buoys to create drag, allowing them to slice the ropes from pole-mounted knives.

But the process can be tricky, since right whales often attempt to flee or dive underwater.

“They’re likely in a lot of discomfort,” Jamison Smith of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told AP. “They don’t want to be … harassed by a small boat.”

With a population of only 300 to 400 worldwide, right whales are thought to be the most endangered large whale. The animals feed off the coast of New England and Canada in the summers, and migrate southeast to the waters off Florida and Georgia for breeding season in mid-November to mid-April.

NOAA initially proposed drugging whales in 1999, in an attempt to disentangle an afflicted right whale swimming off New England and in the Canadian Bay of Fundy. Researchers mounted a syringe on a 30-foot pole so that they could inject the whale from a boat.

In the most recent case, scientists used an airgun that fires a 2-foot dart containing sedatives.

“There was a noticeable decrease in speed,” Smith said of the 2-year-old right whale sedated off the coast of Port Canaveral, Fla. “There was a noticeable decrease in boat evasiveness.”

Satellite data from the attached tag shows the whale is heading north toward New England.

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24 Pilot Whales Die in New Zealand

A pod of 24 pilot whales died this week after becoming stranded in a mangrove swamp in New Zealand, conservation officials said Friday.

14 of the whales were discovered dead Friday in the muddy shallows of North Island’s Parengarenga Harbor, The Associated Press reports. The remaining 10 survivors were in such poor shape that officials made the difficult decision to euthanize them.

Department of Conservation area manager Jonathan Maxwell told AP that the whales faced poor weather conditions, and with high tide more than eight hours away, “the chance of successfully refloating the whales was virtually nil.”

“Sadly, the current conditions were against these animals. The kindest thing was to end their suffering,” he said. “If we felt there was a real chance we could have successfully rescued them, we would have.”

Such whale strandings are not unusual in New Zealand. The nation’s coastal areas see several strandings each summer: sometimes as many as 450 animals are beached.

Pilot whales, New Zealand’s most common whale species, are especially prone to strandings in shallow water since they travel in groups of about 10 to 30 whales. When one whale gets stuck, other pod members try to help it and also become stranded.

Adult pilot whales range between 13 to 19 feet in average length.

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Rhinos Face Higher Poaching Threat in South Africa, Kenya

South Africa and Kenya have seen a dramatic rise in rhino poaching in the last year, national parks officials said.

Reuters reports that 333 rhinos were killed for their tusks in South Africa in 2010. 10 of those were black rhinos, which are critically endangered.

That figure is the highest on record, nearly three times the number of rhinos killed the previous year.

Six more rhinos have already been illegally killed in 2011, Reuters said.

International wildlife monitoring group TRAFFIC said rhino horns are highly valuable for their perceived role in traditional Asian medicine. They are thought to possess cancer-curing properties, although their is no scientific evidence to support that notion.

According to AFP, poachers can sell rhino horns to the first intermediary for about $8,000 per kilo; an adult rhino’s two horns weigh about 10 kilos.

“The current wave of poaching is being committed by sophisticated criminal networks using helicopters, night-vision equipment, veterinary tranquilizers and silencers to kill rhinos at night while attempting to avoid law enforcement patrols,” TRAFFIC said in a statement.

South Africa is home to 21,000 rhinos, more than any other country in the world.

Kenya officials said at least 20 rhinos were killed in the country since early last year.

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Alaska Native Groups to Sue Over Polar Bear Protection Plan

A coalition of Alaska Native groups says it intends to sue the federal government over a critical habitat designation for polar bears.

The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) and other native groups said Monday that the Department of Interior’s designation of coastal areas of the North Slope as critical habitat for polar bears will potentially cost the state billions of dollars from delayed offshore drilling projects.

The groups sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and put in a 60-days notice of intention to sue Monday.

Polar bears were first categorized as threatened in 2008 under the Endangered Species Act. The species is suffering rapid habitat loss from diminishing sea ice caused by global warming.

But the groups contend that critical habitat designation will to nothing to combat or end climate change for the polar bears. Instead, they say, the restrictions will hurt Native communities by denying them access to their own resources.

“This, in conjunction with other cumulative impacts with government policy disruption, may force Alaska natives to abandon our ancestral villages in search of new work to support our families,” Tara Sweeney of ASRC said at an afternoon press conference, according to KTUU-TV.

The area in question is more than 187,000 square miles (484,000 square kilometers) in and near the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

“The critical habitat designation does not get at the problem of melting sea ice, so it won’t help the polar bear,” North Slope Borough Mayor Edward S. Itta said, according to The Associated Press. “As a solution, this completely misses the mark.”

Other Alaska Natives support the designation and believe it is essential to the survival of the polar bear. They say the groups are focused on financial losses.

“I think they are looking out for the interests of the corporation,” Kaktovik resident Robert Thompson told KTUU. “ASRC has offshore drilling capacity which might be slowed down with critical habit designation.”

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