Well over 900 plants and animals are endangered, and hundreds more are threatened. Many of the reasons certain animals are disappearing forever are because of human activities.
FIVE MAJOR CAUSES
The mnemonic HIPPO represents the five major causes of declining wildlife biodiversity:
H - Habitat Loss I - Invasive Species P - Pollution and Pesticides P - Population Growth (human) and the Pet Trade O - Over-hunting and Over-collecting
Habitat Loss results from human activities and land development. Many animal species are in decline because their environment is no longer able to fulfill their basic requirements. All species require food, water, shelter, space and the ability to find a mate and have children. Some species require small habitats, while others need large areas to successfully survive. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of habitat loss and deforestation.
Invasive Species are plants and animals transported from one country or region to another and introduced into the wild. While most do not survive in a foreign world, some assimilate into their new world and thrive. Often they out-compete native plants and animals for their niche in the ecosystem, upsetting the balance of nature.
Pollution and Pesticides, in forms of garbage and trash, air and water pollution, soil contamination and noise and light pollution, harm ecosystems and wildlife. Pesticides are toxic and harm more than their target. Pollution harms the environment and animals.
Population Growth and the Pet Trade threaten countless animal species. As humans take more and more wilderness areas for agriculture, housing and industry, less land is available for wildlife. Native animals are often forced into less suitable habitats and can decline or disappear forever. Many “pets”, including fish, reptiles, spiders, birds, rodents and exotic mammals, are harvested from the wild.
Over-hunting and Over-collecting has impacted many endangered species, reeking havoc on ecosystems and eliminating entire species forever.
HOTSPOTS & COLDSPOTS
● Biodiversity Hotspots are regions with large numbers of species that do not live anywhere else in the world, where habitat destruction has occurred at alarming rates. Many organizations and agencies focus on saving these hotspots in an effort to do the greatest good and save the most species. Hotspots make up less than 2% of the planet.
● Coldspots, over 98% of the earth, are areas that have less species diversity but they need just as much help as areas with lots of biodiversity. In fact, some biodiversity coldspots are home to very rare plants and animals. Protecting these areas before too much destruction occurs prevents us from having to work backwards.
THE DOMINO EFFECT
All plants and animals have many complex intertwining links with other living things around them. Hippopotamus have birds that feed off the insects that grow on them. If the hippo were to become extinct, so would the birds…leading to further destruction as other species depend on the birds. This is referred to as Chains of Extinction, or the Domino Effect.
A keystone species is a plant or animal that plays a crucial role in how an ecosystem functions. Without the keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or would not be able to survive. While all species in a habitat rely on each other, keystone species have a huge impact on their environment. Their disappearance would start a domino effect, leading to other species in the ecosystem also disappearing.
An indicator species is a plant or animal species humans focus on to gather information about an ecosystem. Their presence or absence in an environment can be a signal that all is well, or something is not right. Certain types of plants or animals may exist in a very specific area. If the species begins to disappear, this ecoregion may be shrinking and action may need to be taken to save the environment. Indicator species can tell humans about the health of the environment. Many are extremely sensitive to pollution or human interference and serve as a “miner's canary”. UMBRELLA SPECIES
An umbrella species is a plant or animal species that has a wide range and requirements for living as high or higher than other animals in the habitat. If the umbrella species' requirements are met, then so are the needs of many other species in its ecosystem. The Monarch butterfly is an example of an umbrella species because of its lengthy migrations across North America, covering lots of ecosystems. Any protections given to the Monarch will also “umbrella” many other species and habitats.
Often times umbrella species are used by organizations and agencies to capture the public's attention for support for conservation efforts. These flagship species - such as pandas, whales, tigers, gorillas and butterflies - are species that the public finds captivating and are interested in helping. When the flagship species is helped, so are species in their ecosystems that the general public may find less appealing.
Marine conservation, also known as marine resources conservation, is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas. Marine conservation focuses on limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems, and on restoring damaged marine ecosystems. Marine conservation also focuses on preserving vulnerable marine species.
Marine conservation is the study of conserving physical and biological marine resources and ecosystem functions. This is a relatively new discipline. Marine conservationists rely on a combination of scientific principles derived from marine biology, oceanography and fisheries science, as well as on human factors such as demand for marine resources and marine law, economics and policy in order to determine how to best protect and conserve marine species and ecosystems.
Coral reefs are the epicenter for immense amounts of biodiversity, and are a key player in the survival of an entire ecosystem. They provide various marine animals with food, protection and shelter which keep generations of species alive.
Unfortunately, because of human impact of coral reefs, these ecosystems are becoming increasingly degraded and in need of conservation. The biggest threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices and sedimentation and pollution from land-based sources. This in conjunction with increased carbon in oceans, coral bleaching, and diseases, results in no pristine reefs left anywhere in the world. In fact, up to 88% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia are now threatened, with 50% of those reefs at either "high" or "very high" risk of disappearing which directly effects biodiversity and survival of species dependent on coral.
In island nations such as Samoa, Indonesia and the Philippines, many fisherman are unable to catch as many fish as they used to, so they are increasingly using cyanide and dynamite in fishing, which further degrades the coral reef ecosystem. This perpetuation of bad habits simply leads to the further decline of coral reefs and therefore perpetuates the problem. One solution to stopping this cycle is to educate the local community about why conservation of marine spaces that include coral reefs is important. Once the local communities understand the personal stakes at risk then they will actually fight to preserve the reefs. Conserving coral reefs has many economic, social, and ecological benefits, not only for the people who live on these islands, but for people throughout the world as well.
Although humans cause the greatest threat to our marine environment, humans also have the ability to create effective management plans that will be the key to successful marine conservation. One of the best marine conservation tools simply stems from smarter individualist choices we make.
Strategies and techniques for marine conservation tend to combine theoretical disciplines, such as population biology, with practical conservation strategies, such as setting up protected areas, as with marine protected areas (MPAs) or Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas. Other techniques include restoring the populations of endangered species through artificial means.
International laws and treaties related to marine conservation include the 1966 Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas. United States laws related to marine conservation include the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act which established the National Marine Sanctuaries program.
In 2010, the Scottish Parliament enacted new legislation for the protection of marine life with the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The provisions in the Act include: marine planning, marine licensing, marine conservation, seal conservation and enforcement.
Monkeys have long been a common sight in temples and tourist destinations around the world. These intelligent animals once stayed away from urban hubs, restricting themselves to the fringes of big cities. But deforestation, animal agriculture, industrialization and fast expanding cities is reducing monkey habitat at an alarming rate. As a result, many species of monkeys are invading cities for food, shelter and water.
Many monkeys have long taken to temples, where they are often protected and fed. From these temples they radiate out to nearby forests. But urbanization has invaded temple areas, bringing the city to the monkeys.
As natural monkey habitats are continuously destroyed, monkeys are loosing their fear of humans. In search of new food sources, they raid farms, beg for food, and steal from homes and businesses. Urban areas offer monkeys easy access to shelter, food, water and large trees, causing population explosions. Telephone and electric wires give them easy access throughout the urban jungles.
Monkeys are now as plentiful as squirrels in many Asian cities. They hang out in train stations, beg at the side of roads, dig through trash cans, and steal food from humans.
Cows, stray dogs and cats have roamed the streets of the capital city of India, New Delhi, for centuries. Now, monkeys have taken over. There are tens of thousands of rhesus macaques skirting rooftops of buildings, darting through work places, raiding kitchens, scattering files and attacking workers. Instances of human-monkey conflicts include monkeys biting people, snatching foodstuffs, picking pockets, and even drunken monkeys misbehaving. Monkeys have spread to other Indian cities of northern states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Langurs, another species of monkey, are now seen on the rooftops of Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. Ironically, the langur was brought in to scare off the rhesus macaques.
While the rhesus macaques are having a free run of many Indian and Asian cities, the baboons have their sights set on the affluent neighborhoods of Cape Town, South Africa. Man and baboon have co-existed in the Western Cape for centuries, but tolerance for the creature seem to be running thin. Loss of habitat from development and urbanization is turning this once-friendly creature into an aggressive one. Baboons are breaking into glitzy estates on the Cape, raiding kitchens for food, rummaging into garbage cans and stealing whatever they think may be of use to them. Even restaurants haven't been spared.
Many urban communities feed the monkeys, often compounding the problem. The monkeys quickly loose their fear of humans and become dependent on human handouts. Thousands of monkeys went on a rampage in northern Thailand when the council ran out of rice for the monkeys after a drought. Shops, homes and restaurants were invaded by gangs of hungry monkeys.
Snow monkeys in Japan raid farms, invade towns and break into homes and businesses to steal food. Forestry has reduced their wild food sources, leaving the monkeys little choice.
While monkeys are not native to the US, vervet monkeys have made a tiny patch of forest near the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport their home. They have survived in the area for generations. Silver River, in central Florida, is home to rhesus macaques that were introduced to the central Florida wetlands to drum up tourism. They have lived there for decades and are now moving as far north as Jacksonville and as far south as Orlando.
Attempts to reduce urban monkey populations have ranged from outright elimination, to forced migration and awareness campaigns not to feed monkeys.
Many farmers have resorted to shooting monkeys to save their crops. A more humane attempt to avoid monkey damage is switching from fruit and vegetable crops to growing crops less likely to attract monkeys.
Culling methods are not only inhumane, but also ineffective. New monkeys soon move in from surrounding areas. Their numbers swell quickly to match the original populations. Culling also results in the monkeys becoming more aggressive.
Capturing city monkeys in cages, and keeping them in captivity before release, causes extreme stress to the animals. Relocation of monkeys only results in new troops entering the area. Diseases can also be spread by monkeys from one area to another.
Large-scale sterilization of monkeys has yet to be attempted. At least 1/3rd of the population needs to be sterilized to arrest the rate of population growth. Capturing enough monkeys to be effective is both challenging and expensive. Oral contraceptives for monkeys, that can be administered through food, are in the works.
In South Africa, "virtual fences" on the perimeters of cities are being created. These virtual fences are a line of speakers that emit sounds of predatory beasts, like the lion, to keep baboons at bay. Whether that will be a long term solution is a matter of conjecture.
Conservationists are proposing filling monkey habitat with food sufficient enough to dissuade them from venturing into cities. Some areas have proposed mass planting of trees to create green islands to provide habitation to monkeys.
To help save monkey and other wildlife habitats, humans must also shift from animal based agriculture to plant based farming. Expanding animal farming is the leading cause of deforestation, resulting in ever-increasing habitat loss. Animal agriculture takes up over 40% of the planet. 56 million acres of land are used to feed factory farmed animals, while only 4 million acres produce plants for human consumption. It takes 20 times less land to feed someone on a plant based diet than it does to feed meat eaters.
Urban monkey challenges have been created by humans, and must be solved by humans. Monkeys are not the villain. Monkey habitats and food-sources have been greatly depleted in the wild by irresponsible human activity. Coexistence is the only solution.
Mountain ranges are located all around the globe. They are the result of plate movements below the planet's crust. Mountains vary in height from small hills to Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Animals that inhabit mountainous regions must withstand dramatic temperature changes and lower oxygen levels.
The two main types of mountain ranges are temperate mountains and tropical mountains.
Temperate mountains are often cold all year and more seasonal than tropical mountains. They are found in North and South America, Europe and Central Asia. During spring and summer months a burst of plant life at high altitude occurs, encouraging herbivores up the mountain.
Tropical mountains feature warmer climates with plants adapted to high altitudes. They are located in South America, Africa and south-east Asia.
Mountain wildlife are adapted to high altitudes and changing temperatures. The higher up a mountain, the lower the temperature. Plants are usually seasonal in mountains. Those that do occur year round, such as conifers, are adapted to handling the cold temperatures.
Hoofed and herbivorous mammals, including deer, goats, llamas and sheep, are common in mountains. They are well suited to the terrain and graze on ledges and cliff faces. During the spring and summer, they move up the mountains when plants are plentiful. In the fall, they move back down the mountains in cooler weather when food is more scarce.
Large predators also inhabit mountain regions, including bears and mountain lions, who prey on the herbivores.
Some animal species do not live on the mountains, but inside of them. Caves provide habitat for amphibians, insects and bats.
Threats to mountain habitats include deforestation, quarrying and development. Changes in climate also affects the growth of plants at higher altitudes.
The majority of the world's fisheries are in a state of collapse. Too many boats are chasing too few fish. Many of the fish species currently in decline serve as important food sources for sea animals who, unlike humans, have no other food choices. In the Bering Sea, the effects of overfishing on marine animals are obvious. Fur-seal populations have not increased despite a long-standing ban on commercial hunting. The number of Steller's sea lions, which feed mostly on pollack (the number one ingredient in frozen fish sticks and served by fast food chains), has plunged 80% since the 1970s, and seabirds such as the red-legged kittiwake are also in trouble.
Modern fishing techniques have enabled humans to catch more fish than ever before, and the once seemingly abundant ocean is now being stripped of life.
In addition to the vast numbers of target fish being caught by today's fishermen, there are also non-target casualties. "Bycatch" is the name that fisheries have given to sea life that is caught, yet not wanted at the time. Bycatch may include dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds, starfish, or even commercially valuable fish not sought by a particular vessel.
DAMAGING FISHING TECHNIQUES
These are industrial fishing vessels with large-mouthed nets wide enough to encompass three Statues of Liberty lined up end to end. Upon being cast into the ocean, these nets catch just about everything they touch. "Trawling" and "trolling" are sometimes confused, but trolling refers to a vessel towing bait near the surface of the water. With trawling, for every pound of commercial catch, 10 to 20 pounds of bycatch is caught and discarded as waste. As the huge nets drag across the sea floor, they not only capture sea creatures, they literally clear-cut the ocean floor, grinding up coral reefs and other habitats. By removing the organisms that provide shelter for little fish, trawling is not only breaking the food chain, but may also be the underlying cause of the recent collapse of many commercial groundfish stocks, which include cod, haddock, pollock and flounder.
These are fishing lines up to 80 miles long, which carry several thousand baited hooks at a time. These may catch swordfish, sablefish and sometimes tuna. Frequently, longlines catch other sea animals including sharks and sea birds. Worldwide, an estimated 180,000 birds die on longline hooks each year. Scientists agree that longline fishing severely impacts at least 13 seabird species, 3 of which are globally threatened with extinction. About 10% of the world's wandering albatross population is killed each year by longlines. Sharks have also been severely impacted by longline fishing, often killed just for their fins to be used in soup. Sharks have slow growth and reproductive rates, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
These vessels will surround a school of fish with a large net, which is closed off at the bottom with a cable. This technique can trap an entire school of tuna as well as other fish. In the Eastern Pacific, yellow fin tuna often travel with dolphins (for reasons yet unknown), who are vulnerable to entanglement in purse seines if herded and encircled by the net.
MARINE MAMMAL CONFLICTS
Many marine mammals eat the same fish that humans do. In the past, subsistence cultures that fished only to meet the needs of their villages had few conflicts with marine mammals. Today, commercial fisheries strive to profit by catching as many fish as possible, while marine mammals are perceived as competition. The fish that these marine mammals eat to survive is considered lost industry profit. Too often, many marine mammals become scapegoats for declining fish stocks and are harassed or killed. Other times, certain types of fishing gear inadvertently harms non-target marine mammals. SEALS & FISHERY CONFLICTS
Fishermen claim that seals are a costly menace, because they damage nets and eat or wound fish that "belong" to the fishermen. Despite the fact that most of the world's fisheries are in trouble due to overfishing, fisheries mismanagement, and pollution, fishermen routinely blame seals for reduced catches. Complaints by fishermen often lead to seal slaughters or "culls," which are crude and cruel attempts to boost fishery yields. However, there is little scientific evidence that seal slaughters help replenish fish stocks. In fact, removing large numbers of seals may actually hurt fish stocks, as other animals usually eaten by seals also eat commercial fish or compete with them for the same food. Additionally, fish eaten by seals account for only a small proportion of the fish that are removed from the marine environment. In some cases, fishermen remove 25 times more than seals, while other fish may eat 30 times more.
OTTERS & SHELLFISH
To stay warm in the North Pacific's cool waters, a 50-pound adult otter will consume a quarter of its body weight each day, which equates to roughly 16 pounds of crab, lobster, urchins, oysters and clams. The shellfish industry of Southern California owes its success to the near eradication of the sea otter by fur traders almost 100 years ago. As the sea otter population is slowly recovering and has begun to reclaim its native range, the shellfish industry has pushed for the enforcement of "otter-free zones." These zones are created when otters are removed from their rightful place in the ecosystem, and relocated to less productive areas where fishermen, and subsequently otters, have little interest. Sea otter relocation efforts are doomed to fail, as otters cannot recognize the invisible line that surrounds an "otter-free zone." Once relocated, otters fail to thrive. Relocation not only disrupts the sea otter social structure, but it increases food competition and causes territorial disputes, which ultimately results in more otter deaths.
DOLPHINS & TUNA
Some species of tuna swim with dolphins. This special relationship has led to the depletion of both species, as fishermen locate tuna by looking for leaping dolphins. Scientists have confirmed that chasing and netting dolphins causes harm to their populations and suppresses their recovery. In 1986, before the original "dolphin safe" law went into effect, 133,000 dolphins were reported killed because of tuna fishing. In 1988, thanks to strict guidelines that prohibited the netting of dolphins, deaths were reported at less than 2,000. But in 1999, dolphin protection took a huge step backward. New guidelines have rendered the label meaningless, as tuna companies that encircle dolphins with huge nets are now allowed to label their tuna as "dolphin safe." Tuna are also in trouble from commercial fishing. Within the next few decades, blue fin tuna are expected to reduce to 10% of their historic range. Most blue fin on the market today are juveniles, as nearly all of the adults have been caught. Bigeye, yellowfin and albacore tuna populations are also declining.
SEA TURTLES & SHRIMP
All but one of the eight species of sea turtles are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List, and all are protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Despite this protection, it is estimated that worldwide 155,000 sea turtles drown in shrimp nets each year -- many in U.S. waters. "Turtle-Safe" shrimp is caught with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which attach to shrimp nets and allow turtles to escape. While sea turtle drownings are almost entirely eliminated by the use of TEDs and are required in U.S. waters, some fishermen disable them because they mistakenly believe that TEDs reduce shrimp catches. Shrimp that is imported to the U.S. is also supposed to be caught with TEDs, however, regulation and compliance of foreign vessels is very questionable. And unfortunately, while TEDs may help protect sea turtles, they are unable to remedy the devastating damage that shrimp nets cause as they drag across the sea floor, destroying critical habitat and food sources for sea turtles and other sea life.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Eliminate or decrease fish from your diet.
Support legislation that sets strict standards for commercial fishing.
Urge National Parks, National Marine Sanctuaries and National Wildlife Refuges to prohibit commercial and recreational fishing within their boundaries.
If you witness a marine mammal being harassed by fishermen or injured by fishing gear, contact the National Marine Fisheries Service. The toll-free, national phone number for the enforcement division is 1-800-853-1964.
If you witness any other wild animals (ducks, geese, raccoons, etc.) being harassed by fishermen or injured by fishing gear, call your state Fish and Wildlife or Fish and "Game" department listed in the Government section of your local phone book.
When visiting a beach, lake or river, pick up any discarded fishing gear that you see and dispose of it properly.
We live on land, but our world is a water world. The ocean covers 70% of Earth's surface. The average depth of the ocean is about 2.7 miles. In some places, the ocean is deeper than the tallest mountains are high. The ocean contains about 97% of all the water on Earth.
The ocean plays a starring role in whatever happens with the environment. One big part of its role is to soak up energy (heat) and distribute it more evenly around the Earth. Another part is to soak up CO2.
In the ocean, all creatures depend on the supply of plankton (tiny plants and animals) at the bottom of the food chain.
The ocean does an excellent job of absorbing excess heat from the atmosphere. The top few meters of the ocean stores as much heat as Earth's entire atmosphere. So, as the planet warms, it's the ocean that gets most of the extra energy. But if the ocean gets too warm, then the plants and animals that live in it must adapt—or die.
Algae and plankton are at the bottom of the food chain. Plankton includes many different kinds of tiny animals, plants, or bacteria that just float and drift in the ocean. Other tiny animals such as krill (sort of like little shrimp) eat the plankton. Fish and even whales and seals feed on the krill. In some parts of the ocean, krill populations have dropped by over 80 percent. Why? Krill like to breed in really cold water near sea ice. What would happen if there were no sea ice? What would happen if there were very little plankton or krill? The whole food web could come unraveled.
Coral is another ocean creature in trouble. Coral is a very fragile animal that builds a shell around itself. It lives in harmony with a certain kind of colorful algae. The algae make food using sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. They share the food with the coral, and, in turn, the coral gives the algae a safe and sunny place to live. The two of them get along fine, living in clean, clear, shallow waters where the sun shines through brightly. Fish love coral too, because there are lots of nooks and crannies for them to hide in.
But the algae cannot carry out photosynthesis in water that is too warm. The algae either die, or the coral spits it out. Scientists are not sure exactly what happens, but it's bad for the algae, the coral, and the fish. The corals lose their colorful food sources and become weak. This sad event is called coral bleaching, and it is happening on a grand scale in many places around the world.
How does the ocean soak up CO2? The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere wherever air meets water. Wind causes waves and turbulence, giving more opportunity for the water to absorb the carbon dioxide. Fish and other animals in the ocean breathe oxygen and give off carbon dioxide (CO2), just like land animals. Ocean plants take in the carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, just like land plants. The ocean is great at sucking up CO2 from the air. It absorbs about one-quarter of the CO2 that we humans create when we burn fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas.) If not for the ocean, we'd be in even worse trouble with too much CO2. However, the ocean and everything in it are paying a price. The ocean is becoming more acidic.
What does this mean? Liquids are either acid or alkaline. Each liquid falls somewhere along a scale with acid at one end and alkaline at the other. Normally, ocean water is less acidic than fresh water. Unfortunately, as the ocean absorbs more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it becomes more acidic. Lemon juice is an example of an acidic liquid. Toothpaste is alkaline. The ocean is slightly alkaline.
However, when the ocean absorbs a lot of CO2, the water becomes more acidic. The alkalinity of the ocean is very important in maintaining a delicate balance needed for animals to make protective shells. If the water is too acidic, the animals may not be able to make strong shells. Corals could also be affected, since their skeletons are made of the same shell-like material.
But besides CO2 there are other greenhouse gases. These include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.
How does the ocean affect the climate? One way the ocean affects the climate is by carrying heat to the north in the Atlantic Ocean. Way up north, cold water in the North Atlantic ocean sinks very deep and spreads out all around the world. The sinking water is replaced by warm water near the surface that moves to the north. Scientists call this the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt. The heat carried north helps keep the Atlantic ocean warmer in the winter time, which warms the nearby countries as well. The "great ocean conveyor belt" refers to the major ocean currents that move warm water from the equator to the poles and cold water from the poles back toward the equator.
Does the salt in the ocean do anything? Fresh water has lower salinity (saltiness) than estuary water, where the ocean water mixes with river water. The ocean itself is most salty of all. The amount of salt in the ocean water also affects currents. Saltier water is heavier than less salty water. When salty ocean water freezes, the ice can no longer hold on to the salt. Instead, the salt mixes with the water below making it saltier and heavier. Glaciers, land ice and icebergs are made of fresh water, so what happens when this ice melts? The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt carries warmer, less salty water from the equator to the poles, and colder, saltier water from the poles back toward the equator. Colder water and very salty water are heavier than warmer water and less salty water.
The water in the North Atlantic sinks because it's cold, but also because it's salty. Being both cold AND salty makes it really heavy, so it can sink very far. But if too much ice melts in the North Atlantic, the water could become less salty. If that happens, what about the Ocean Conveyor Belt? Would it stop warming the North Atlantic?
As the population of the world grows, more mouths to feed means more land needed for agriculture. Where will the land come from? From the denudation of forests, of course.
Rather than focusing on sustainable forms of vegetable farming, the modern farming industry continues to promote animal agribusiness. Raising animals for food results in massive amounts of forest destruction. It takes 12 times as much land, 13 times more fuel and 15 times more water to make a pound of animal protein than to make a pound of plant protein.
Subsistence agriculture is farming carried out with the sole aim of feeding the farmer and his family. Nearly half of the world's deforestation has been a result of subsistence farming. But commercial agriculture is now responsible for another third of the planet's deforestation, with one more acre of land cleared every second.
Up to the year 1947, nearly 6.2 million square miles of tropical forest covered the earth. Only 3.2 square miles remain now. Tropical forests hold 80% of the world's biodiversity. With the destruction of forests, entire ecosystem – in which millions of species of animals and organisms once thrived – are being eliminated.
Seventy percent of the Earth's plant and animals dwell in forests, and deforestation affects them directly. Once their habitat is lost, they are on their way to extinction. According to recent estimates, the world is losing 137 species of plants, animals and insects every day to deforestation. A horrifying 50,000 species become extinct each year.
Of the world's 3.2 million square miles of the planet's rain forests, 2.1 are in the Amazon alone. But much of these forests are vanishing at an alarming rate. The Brazilian Government's incentive to the meat and leather trades in the early 1990's led to massive deforestation between the years 1991 and 2004. During this time, jungles cleared in the Amazon for this purpose alone accounted for an astonishing 15 percent of the world's tropical forest cover. Three decades of continued deforestation have resulted in the complete extinction of 10 mammal, 20 bird, and 8 amphibian species. Another 20 percent of the species that still survive will slowly perish from the loss of habitat.
And it's not just the Amazon. 90 percent of eastern tropical jungles of Madagascar have vanished over the century and endanger the survival of the lemurs – those exotic creatures so unique to this island nation. In Haiti, what remains is a pitiable 1 percent of the original forest acreage. Countries like Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Laos, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana Ivory Coast, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras have lost between 30 to 50 percent of their forest cover within a century. In the United States, 260 million acres of forests have already been lost.
Below is a list of just some of the creatures that may soon be extinct due to massive deforestation.
Mountain Gorilla: The Mountain Gorilla is a critically endangered animal found primarily in the mountains of Rwanda in Central Africa. They captured the public imagination after the screening of the 1981 movie "Gorillas in the Mist". Only about 900 of this species remain today.
The Javan Rhinoceros: This animal is one of the rarest on earth and is listed as 'critically endangered' by the The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). There are just 60 of these animals surviving in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia.
The Bornean Orangutan: Illegal logging, a rampant palm-oil industry, and forest fires have taken a toll on one of the most intelligent species in the world. It is on the critically endangered list of the IUCN.
The Giant Panda: Ecological changes have accounted for the numbers of this lovable creature plummeting in a habitat in the Sichuan province of China.
The Golden Lion Tamarin: This tiny animal of the Amazon forest has seen its habitat evaporate in the face of extensive soy farming and timber-felling, which is why it finds itself in the IUCN's critically endangered list.
Organizations have endeavored to protect the forests of the world and its denizens for the past 50 years. Bill will it be enough? Forests now cover only 31 percent of the planet's surface. Unless drastic measures are taken to protect them from further denudation, that number will reduce to 10 percent by the year 2030. With so little forest cover, what the effect on the environment and wildlife will be is hard to imagine.
The sky is still blue. Trees are still green. Wind still blows. Clouds are still white and fluffy. Rain still pours from the sky. Snow falls and it still gets really cold sometimes in some places. Earth is still beautiful.
So what is the problem? What is the fuss about climate change and global warming?
Well, after observing and making lots of measurements, using lots of satellites and special instruments, scientists see some alarming changes. These changes are happening fast—much faster than these kinds of changes have happened in Earth's long past. All these satellites, plus a lot more, are studying Earth and all the changes happening with the air, ocean, land, and ice.
Global air temperatures near Earth's surface rose almost one and one-half degrees Fahrenheit in the last century. Eleven of the last 12 years have been the warmest on record. Earth has warmed twice as fast in the last 50 years as in the 50 years before that.
One and one-half degrees may not seem like much. But when we are talking about the average over the whole Earth, lots of things start to change.
Why is Earth getting warmer?
Here's one clue: As the temperature goes up, the amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, in the air goes up. And as the carbon dioxide goes up, the temperature goes up even more.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That means it traps heat from Earth's surface and holds the heat in the atmosphere. Scientists have learned that, throughout Earth's history, temperature and CO2 levels in the air are closely tied.
For 450,000 years, CO2 went up and down. But CO2 levels never rose over 280 parts per million until 1950. But then something different happens and CO2 increases very fast. At the end of 2012, it is 394 parts per million. Why? Because of us.
Besides CO2 there are other greenhouse gases. These include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.
How do we know what Earth was like long ago?
A big part of the answer is ice cores.
In Antarctica, scientists have drilled down two miles below the surface and brought up samples of the ice. These samples are called ice cores. It's like what you get if you plunge a drinking straw into a slushy drink and pull it out with your finger over the end of the straw. What you will have inside the straw is an ice core—although a very slushy one.
The layers in an Arctic ice core are frozen solid. They give clues about every year of Earth's history back to the time the deepest layer was formed. The ice contains bubbles of the air from each year. Scientists analyze the bubbles in each layer to see how much CO2 they contain. Scientists can also learn about the temperatures for each year by measuring relative amounts of different types of oxygen atoms in the water. (Remember, water is H2O: two hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen.)
Other scientists study cores of sediment from the bottom of the ocean or lakes. Or they study tree rings and layers of rocks to give them clues about climate change throughout history. They compare all their findings to see if they agree. If they do, then their findings are accepted as most likely true. If they don't agree, they go back and figure out what is wrong with their methods. In the case of Earth's climate history, the facts agree from a lot of different kinds of studies.
How can so little warming cause so much melting?
Water can soak up a lot of heat. When the oceans get warmer, sea ice begins to melt in the Arctic and around Greenland. NASA's Earth satellites show us that every summer some Arctic ice melts and shrinks, getting smallest by September. Then, when winter comes, the ice grows again. But, since 1979, the September ice has been getting smaller and smaller and thinner and thinner.
Glaciers are another form of melting, shrinking ice. Glaciers are frozen rivers. They flow like rivers, only much slower. Lately, they have been speeding up. Many of them flow toward the ocean, then break off in chunks - sometimes huge chunks. In places such as Glacier National Park, the glaciers are melting and disappearing. The air is getting warmer, and less snow is falling during winter to renew the melted parts of the glaciers.
As more sea ice and glaciers melt, the global sea level rises. But melting ice is not the only cause of rising sea level. As the ocean gets warmer, the water actually expands. Sea level has risen 6.7 inches in the last 100 years. In the last 10 years, it has risen twice as fast as in the previous 90 years. If Greenland's ice sheet were to melt completely, sea level all over the world would rise by 16-23 feet (5 to 7 meters).
Life is a web, with every strand connected to every other strand. One species of plant or animal changes, and a whole chain of events can follow involving many other species. For example, herds of caribou live in cold, Arctic locations. Caribou hate mosquitoes. In the past few years, warmer temperatures in summer have allowed mosquito populations to explode. So the caribou spend a lot more energy swatting away the mosquitoes. All this swatting leaves the caribou less energy to find food and prepare for the next long winter. Female caribou are especially troubled because it takes so much energy to give birth and raise their young.
Animals that hibernate in the winter also suffer from warming temperatures. Marmots, chipmunks, and bears are waking up as much as a month early. Some are not hibernating at all. These animals can starve if they stay awake all winter, because they can't find enough food. If they wake up too early because it feels warm enough to be spring, the days may not yet be long enough to signal the plants to start their spring growth. So, again, the wakeful animals go hungry.
Many trees in the Western U.S. are already suffering from climate change. Droughts leave trees thirsty and stressed. Pine trees need cold winters, too. With warmer, drier conditions, the trees are more likely to become infected with insects. These bugs bore into the trees and lay their eggs. Eventually, they kill the tree. Some forests in the West have lost over half their trees already to pine beetles. When the forest is gone, birds and small mammals that lived there have to find new homes - if they can.
There are many more plant and animal species and communities struggling to adapt to the rapidly changing climate.
The threats faced by wildlife around the world continue to increase. Each year, thousands of animal species are lost to extinction. Mountain areas provide one of the last safe havens for endangered plant and animal species. But even these last safe havens are now under threat by irresponsible human activities.
A large number of mammals have taken up homes in mountainous areas. The most cited reason for this is environmental variation, which is the evolution of different species that live in the valleys and mountains. But studies have revealed that the high level of biodiversity in mountains can also be attributed to the protection mountains offer to endangered species. Animals are taking refuge in mountains because we've driven them from other ecosystems.
Mountains provide safety to animals that have come near extinction. But these last safe areas for wildlife are continually faced with a myriad of challenges which include animal agriculture, human development, insufficient water, climatic changes, desertification and declines in biodiversity.
The brown bear once flourished in Asia, North America and Europe. But now they can only be found in mountainous areas due to the threats faced in lowlands. In the past 100 years, only 1% of the entire population of brown bears has survived in the United States.
Pumas, otherwise known as mountain lions, are mostly found in the mountains – especially in the Andes and Rockies. It took its home in these areas primarily due to the threats they face from the activities of man.
Red pandas are mostly found in the Himalayan mountain chain. Even though this region is reasonably inaccessible to humans, the red panda is having a difficult time surviving as bamboo, which it feeds on, continues to be depleted. For the giant panda to survive, three things are important; high mountains with deep valleys, lush bamboo vegetation, and rippling streams – all of which are threatened by human activities.
The golden eagle has its home in the Northern Hemisphere. Like many other endangered species, the number of golden eagles has plummeted due to human actions.
Not only do mountain forests serve as protection for wildlife, but billions of people depend on them for their income. 60% of the world’s fresh water comes from the mountains even though they cover just 12% of the Earth’s surface. The quality and quantity of water supplied to industries and lowland communities is influenced heavily by mountain forests. If there are no forests in the mountains, erosion is bound to occur, leaving the quality of water in jeopardy.
Most cities source their water supply from the mountains. For instance, 95% of Vienna’s water comes from mountain forests of the Northern Alps. Honduras and Tegucigalpa get 40% of their water supply from the cloud forest of La Tigra National Park. 97% of Kenya’s electricity is generated from Mount Kenya using hydroelectric technologies. The Tibetan plateau serves as a water tower for more than 3 billion Asians.
A large amount of carbon in contained in mountain forests. When these mountain forests are lost, a massive amounts of carbon will be released into the atmosphere.
Threats to Mountain Animals
Every day mountain forests continue to face threats from human activities.
As the world’s population continues to increase, farmers are migrating to higher lands, contributing to the depletion of forest life. More than half of Africa’s mountainous areas have been turned into grazing lands. Excessive grazing leads to the destruction of fragile vegetation. 10% is used for growing crops. This practice is unsustainable due to the fact that crops do not do well on highlands. Most mountainous areas are unproductive lands. Only a meager 3% of mountain land is suitable for growing crops.
About 25% of mountain lands across the world have been used for roads, dams, pipelines and mining projects. Every year, billions of minerals are extracted from mountains. Not only does road construction lead to erosion, it also provides easy access to cut down trees.
Mountain habitats are very susceptible to climatic changes. As glaciers continue to melt, snowcaps are receding. Scientists believe this will eventually lead to a series of landslides which will eventually affect water reserves. As climatic conditions continue to change, there will be an increase in the number of pests which further endanger forest life.
Civil wars have a devastating effect on mountain areas. Insurgents base their stations in the mountains. It has been estimated by the United Nations that 67% of African mountain regions have been used for violent activities.
Action Is Needed
Governments have slowly begun to take small steps to reduce forest depletion. National parks are being erected in different parts of the world to conserve some fragile regions and to serve as refuges to endangered species. Although national parks are protected, they are still subject to environmental pressure. The high rate at which animal species are being lost is a clear indication that mountain strongholds are still being attacked by poachers.
Mountains are vital to all life on earth, including humans. What happens on the highest mountain peak affects all life in the lowlands. Lands, freshwaters and even oceans are affected by moutains. Much larger steps must be taken now to save these last wild areas from animal agriculture, development and other human impacts.
Conservation is the protection of things found in nature, including species, their habitats and ecosystems. It encourages the sensible use of the planet’s natural resources so they do not go extinct, and promotes keeping the environment clean and healthy.
The rapid decline of established biological systems around the world means that conservation biology is often referred to as a "Discipline With a Deadline" - we must act before it is too late.
Conservation is classified as either on-site conservation, which is protecting an endangered species in its natural habitat, or off-site conservation, which occurs outside of their natural habitat.
● In-situ (on-site) conservation involves protecting or cleaning up the habitat or defending the species from predators.
● Ex-situ (off-site) conservation may be used when in-situ conservation is too difficult or impossible. Animals may be removed from a threatened habitat and placed in a new location, which may be a wild area or within the care of humans.
Non-interference may also be used, which is called preservation.
Preservationists advocate for giving areas of nature and species a protected existence without interference from the humans. In this regard, conservationists differ from preservationists, as conservation engages society to seek solutions for both people and ecosystems.
Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and seeks to control pollution and protect plant and animal diversity.
Animal advocates believe humans have a moral responsibility to treat animals with respect, and that the interests of humans and animals should be considered equally.
ECOLOGY: PRESERVING BIODIVERSITY
Ecology is the relationship of living things to each other and what is around them. It includes not only how those living things interact with each other, but how they interact with their physical environment, such as soil, water and climate.
Scientists who study ecology are called ecologists. They learn about living things by observing, seeing what happens, then recording what they find - all part of the scientific method.
Some ecologists study a specific habitat or species. They might study the behavior of a certain type of animal to learn how it interacts with the environment or other organisms. Or they may study many different species that depend on, or compete with, each other. What ecologists learn from their observations helps us to preserve biodiversity.
BIODIVERSITY: THE VARIETY OF LIFE
Biodiversity refers to the all the variety of life on the planet, or the total variety of life in a certain area. It includes all the different species of plants, animals, fungi, and even microorganisms and bacteria on earth or a given area.
Biodiversity takes into account the similarities and differences among individuals of the same species, and includes communities of plants and animals that interact together.
We don’t know the total number of species in our world, but there are tens of thousands of species of plants and animals discovered so far, and more being discovered everyday.
Conserving animals and plants is important for the benefit of humans and the benefit of other species. Individual species help meet our basic needs, including providing materials for food, clothing, shelter and fuel. Plants produce the oxygen we need to breathe, and are the source of many medicines. Insects pollinate crops and control pest populations. Birds, reptiles, frogs and amphibians control insect and other animal populations. Microorganisms decompose waste and recycle nutrients. Biodiversity also provides us with recreation and contributes to our physical, mental and spiritual well being. Every species contributes to our world in its own unique way. Loosing any one species affects the balance of nature.
Threats to Biodiversity
Human activities on earth in the last century have led to an enormous amount biodiversity loss, which continues to increase. The number of plants and animals becoming extinct exceed those of prehistoric mass extinctions. Loss of biodiversity also leads to genetic diversity loss and a loss of ecosystems.
The biggest threats to biodiversity include:
● Pollution: Despite efforts to reduce pollution, pesticides, acid rain, fertilizers and other pollution continue to change the chemical balance of ecosystems, negatively affecting plants and animals.
● Habitat Destruction, Alteration and Fragmentation: The biggest cause in decline of species populations is loss of habitat. Development, wetland filling and other ecologically irresponsible activities reduce and fragment forests, grasslands, deserts and wetland habitats into areas too isolated and too small to support some animals.
● Invasive Species: The spread of invasive, non-native species also changes the composition of wildlife and wild lands, reducing or replacing native plants and animals.
● Illegal Collection and Hunting: Many animals are poached and collected for the pet trade. Commercial hunting has decimated species populations, and led to the extinction of some animals. Fish are threatened by overharvesting.
● Changes in Climate: Changes in the earth’s climate can be difficult for some species to adapt to, eventually leading to extinction.
Forests are vital for the health and well-being of humans, wildlife, and the Earth. They provide habitat for about two-thirds of all land-dwelling animals and plants. Around the world, these critical ecosystems are being ripped apart as a result of a booming demand for furniture, flooring, lumber, and other building materials. Trees are used to make paper, packaging materials, pencils, fuel for cooking and heat, and other wood-based products. In addition to wood products, logging is also occurring at an alarming rate to make room for animal agriculture and subsistence farming, oil and gas extraction, mining operations, and ever-increasing development. The world's natural forests cannot sustain the increasing global demands of current forest management practices.
Years of irresponsible exploitation have destroyed and degraded much of the planet's forests. Half of the Earth's global forest land has already been lost. In the United States, 90 percent of continental indigenous forests have been removed. Around the world, 15 billion trees are being cut down each year. The destruction of important wildlands is displacing communities, endangering habitats of rare and endangered plants and animals, and negatively affecting the environment. Most of the world’s remaining indigenous forests are located in Canada, Alaska, Russia and the Northwestern Amazon basin. We must protect what is left before it is too late.
Logging generally falls into two categories: selective logging and clear-cutting logging. Selective logging involves taking only trees of high value. Clear-cutting involves the taking of all trees in an area, thus clearing the entire forest. While selective logging is promoted as being more environmentally responsible than clear-cutting, it can be very damaging to the surrounding trees which are left standing. The heavy equipment used in logging often damages the surrounding trees. Around 40 out of 100 trees die from just one tree being selectively logged.
Logging Threatening Species
The massive activity of logging, both legal and illegal, involves the felling of trees on such a large scale that it is one of the major forms of deforestation. Only thirty-one percent of our Earth's surface is still covered by forests. Of this, rich tropical forests like those found in the Amazon, Congo River Basin and Mekong River Basin account for almost three-fourths of the covered area. For the timber industry, these precious million-year old forests are prime targets for logging. It is in such tropical forests of the world that 80 percent of endangered species reside. The impact on the general ecology and habitat of all living creatures is in danger when over fifty thousand hectares of forests continue to vanish every year.
Seven countries account for approximately 60 percent of the total deforestation on Earth, including Canada, the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, China, Russia and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. About half of world’s timber and up to 70% of paper is consumed by the United States, Europe and Japan. An estimated 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest are lost every year. One and a half acres of forest is cut down every second. Up to 28,000 species may become extinct in the next quarter of a century from deforestation.
Few consumers are aware that the timber used for their hardwood floors, kitchen tables and cabinets come from illegal felling operations carried out in African forests that house elephants, lions, rhinoceros, gorillas and many rare and endangered species. Illegal logging has resulted in loss of habitats in regions spread across wide geographies from the Amazon, Congo Basin, Borneo in Indonesia and the forests of Siberia. Particularly threatened by such activities are the dwarf gorillas of the southern Congo basin, orangutans in Borneo and the great Siberian tiger.
In a virtually dry continent like Australia, rare tropical forest cover has been reduced by half as a result of logging. Precious eucalyptus forests cover only 8 percent of Australia, but house 47 percent of its animals that use hollows in trees as their homes. The yellow-bellied glider, the brush-tailed phascogale, the greater glider, the Leadbeater’s possum and various squirrel species are some of the animals that depend on tree hollows and have been affected by logging. Australian blue gum plantations are home to thousands of the iconic koala bear and the continuous felling of these trees are a constant threat to the endangered animal.
In South-eastern Australia logging has led to increased light penetration that facilitates the growth of lantana, a toxic plant preferred by the bell miner – a species of bird that preys on insects that inhabit these plants. The bell miner drives out smaller species of birds that would have otherwise fed on such insects. Sudden increases in insect loads means they feed on eucalyptus leaves, eating into a vital food source of the koala bear.
In Pennsylvania an astonishing 99 percent of the population of the northern long-eared bat, and 75 percent of the Indiana bat, have been lost to intensive logging and related activities. These two species of bat depend largely on the older and larger trees of the forests for foraging and roosting.
Forests of Madagascar, isolated from mainlands for tens of millions of years, have developed a quality of timber unmatched anywhere in the world. Loggers in search premium wood have mercilessly felled trees over the decades for export to affluent markets of China and the Far-East. The bio-diversity evolved over the millions of years in Madagascar forests has created a stunning array of 200,000 species of plants, insects, mammals and birds found nowhere else in the world. Forests that house thousands of endemic species like baobabs, lemurs, and Uroplatus geckos, have halved in cover since the advent of man on the island just 1,000 years ago. The very survival of such wildlife is in danger.
Careful planning and the use of reduced-impact logging (RIL) practices can help avoid some of the destructive damage caused by logging. RIL practices include better planned logging roads, directional felling so that cut trees do not crush trees left standing, and cutting vines that may pull other trees down with those being harvested. However, any type of logging can result in devastating impacts on forest animals, and on mammals and amphibians in particular.
Humans must realize that even now seventy percent of our Earth's land animals live in forests. It's time for a proper substitute to timber. For the timber and paper industry, profits should take a back seat to conservation. We must save the only habitats the endangered wildlife of the world have left.
Logging Effects On Wildlife And The Environment
Logging causes a loss of bio-diversity. When forests are logged, species lose their habitat, food sources, and shelter. Primary trees also provide seeds for new trees. The seed source is lost when the trees are harvested.
Logging causes extinction. Many animal species rely on trees for their food sources and shelter.
Logging causes ecosystem fragmentation. Habitats are cut into fragments, affecting food availability, migration patterns and shelter. Forest fragmentation is threatening the survival of many species.
Logging causes erosion. Trees and leaf litter are essential nutrients for the soil in forests and prevent erosion by absorbing water – keeping nutrients in the top-soil from washing away.
Logging causes flooding. Trees stable soil by absorbing rain water. When trees are removed, flooding and mud-slides can result.
Logging obstructs streams and rivers. Erosion and flooding caused by logging causes soil and silt to flow into water systems. Clouded water can prevent fish and other species from laying eggs and constructing nests.
Logging is changing the climate. Trees store carbon. When forests are harvested, the carbon is released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. A greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide absorbs heat and creates global warming.
What You Can Do
You can help save forests by making responsible daily choices. By consuming less, eating sustainable food, choosing recycled or certified sustainable wood products, and opting for alternative products, you can reduce deforestation.
Choose more sustainable products whenever possible. Hemp is a fast-growing and sustainable crop that produces more construction-grade fiber per acre than most trees. Bamboo is also a fast-growing plant stronger than most slow-growing trees. Soy can be made into a variety of products and can make traditional wood products safer - replacing dangerous glues, formaldehyde, and other toxic solvents. Additional plant fibers and recycled materials are being used to create a vast array of items. Composite materials combine wood with other components.
When you do buy wood products, choose 100 percent post-consumer content materials when available. When purchasing products made from virgin forest fiber, look for a seal from a credible forestry certification system.
Support companies that have adopted forest-friendly policies.
Reduce, reuse and recycle to lower the need for more raw materials from trees.
Reduce or eliminate meat, eggs and dairy from your diet. A plant-based diet drastically reduces the devastating deforestation happening around the world from animal agriculture practices.
Educate others about how their everyday choices impacts forests.
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.
Antelopes are an increasing conservation concern, with one-third of the world's 87 species now listed as threatened. Loss of habitat, game hunting, poaching, and loss of grazing land to cattle farmers are some of the biggest threats to antelope populations. Adding to the threats to antelope populations is changes in climate.
For 82 percent of African antelope species, forecasts show a decline in suitable habitat by 2080 due to the effect of climate change. About one-quarter are likely to see their range size drop in half. None of Africa's antelopes are predicted to improve their threat status on the IUCN Red List as a result of changes in climate, and the threat status of ten species is predicted to worsen as a direct result of climate change. Antelopes preferring cooler and drier climates are likely to be the hardest hit.
Researchers say that climate change will cause a disproportionate decline in African antelopes with the smallest geographic ranges, placing the most-threatened taxa in "double jeopardy." Recent findings suggest that animals already living in the most-restricted areas will be hardest hit as the climate shifts in the coming decades.
Several antelope species are in need of urgent conservation action to avoid extinction. Scientists had suspected that animals with the smallest ranges to start with might be at the greatest risk as the climate changes. That's because small ranges imply that species thrive under a very narrow range of conditions. Even small changes in climate could push those species outside of their comfort zones.
Species that are found only in very restricted areas are usually more demanding in the combination of temperature and rainfall conditions they require, and therefore suitable areas are more likely to disappear when temperature and rainfall do not change together.
There is some good news: if we switch to more conservation-friendly land use, the threatened species with small ranges stand to benefit the most, having the greatest potential to expand their ranges. A major priority is to target the increasing fragmentation of wilderness areas, which prevents wildlife from tracking shifts in their environment.
Vultures. Cartoon characters in parched deserts often wish them to disappear, since circling vultures are a stereotypical harbinger of death. In reality, vultures in some parts of the world are in danger of disappearing. And according to recent research, such a loss would have serious consequences for ecosystems and human populations alike.
The primary threat to vultures is the presence of toxins in the carrion they consume. On many continents, vultures are the unfortunate victims of poisoned carcasses — especially impactful because dozens — or even hundreds — of vultures can feast on a single carcass. Populations of most vulture species around the world are now either declining or on the brink of extinction.
Losses of vultures can allow other scavengers to flourish. Proliferation of such scavengers could bring bacteria and viruses from carcasses into human cities.
In 2004, ?a?an ?ekercio?lu from the University of Utah, published a study examining the respective extinction risks of all bird species throughout the world. He noted then that vultures represented the single most threatened group of birds. More than a decade later, ?ekercio?lu and Evan Buechley examined factors affecting the extinction risk of more than 100 bird species, including 22 species of vultures, which eat carrion exclusively, and other scavenging birds that have broader diets. Their results suggest several inherent ecological traits that likely contribute to vultures’ extinction risk, including their large body masses, slow reproductive rates and highly specialized diets. The greatest external threat to vultures, however, is poisoning.
Poisoning is the greatest extinction risk facing vultures, and impacts 88 percent of threatened vulture species. The poisons come in many forms.
In North America, the California condor, a vulture, experienced sharp declines until only 22 individuals remained by 1982. The leading cause of decline? Toxic lead bullet fragments in the gut piles left behind by hunters after animals had been field-dressed. Intensive conservation efforts helped the species to rebound. The condors now number well over 400, and range over large areas of California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, Mexico.
In the mid-1990s India experienced a precipitous vulture decline, with more than 95 percent of vultures disappearing by the early 2000s. The cause was eventually traced to diclofenac, a veterinary anti-inflammatory drug that relieved pain in cattle, but proved highly toxic to vultures. Hundreds of vultures would flock to each cattle carcass. And if the cow had recently been treated with diclofenac, hundreds of vultures would die. Because of this highly gregarious feeding behavior, less than one percent of cattle carcasses contaminated with diclofenac could account for the steep vulture decline. Fortunately, international cooperation led to a total ban on veterinary diclofenac use. Buechley says the numbers of vultures have stabilized, and are now showing signs of slowly increasing.
Now, the center of the vulture crisis is in sub-Saharan Africa. Potent newly affordable poisons are used to control predatory pests, such as lions or jackals. The poisons are so toxic that they can cascade through ecosystems: birds, mammals and insects are often found littering the area around these poisoned carcasses. But, as the predominant scavenger, vultures take the brunt of the poisoning and face the largest number of casualties. For example, an elephant carcass poisoned in Namibia killed as many as 600 vultures. In other cases, vultures are the victims of poachers who poison carcasses so that vultures do not give away the location of illegally taken animals.
Rise Of The Facultative Scavengers
In vultures’ absence, other scavenger populations increase to take advantage of all of the uneaten carrion. By some estimates, in Central America, South America and Africa, vultures eat more meat than all predators combined. Without vultures, animals that eat carrion as a part of their diet (called facultative scavengers, as opposed to vultures, which eat only carrion) proliferate to take advantage of the available nutrients in a dead carcass.
Crows, rats, dogs — any of these species can suddenly become abundant and dominant, to the point of crowding out the remaining vultures. Hundreds of vultures on a carcass can easily frighten away packs of dogs. But when only a few vultures are left, the dogs can rule.
Such changes in populations of certain animal groups can upset the balance of food webs. All these facultative scavengers are also predators, and so they also go out and eat other organisms, causing a cascading effect.
The impact of vultures’ declines are not limited to the realm of ecology, however. Vultures are highly efficient consumers of carrion, sometimes locating and consuming carcasses within an hour, before other forms of decay can set in. And vultures’ stomachs are highly acidic, killing nearly all bacteria or viruses that may be present in carrion. Combined with the fact that vultures rarely come in contact with humans, vultures serve as a barrier to prevent diseases from proliferating in dead animals and spreading to humans. Other facultative scavengers are not so adapted, and could pass along those diseases into human populations, as many are already fixtures in cities.
For example, following the decline of vultures, India experienced a strong uptick in feral dogs — by an estimated seven million. The increase in dogs, potentially feeding on disease-ridden carcasses, is thought to have at least partially caused the rabies outbreak that was estimated to have killed 48,000 people from 1992-2006 in India — deaths that may have been avoided if not for the disappearance of vultures.
Members of the Parsi sect of Zoroastrianism experienced a different impact. For thousands of years, the Parsi people have placed their dead on exposed mountaintops or tall towers for vultures to consume. The practice is called “sky burial.” But with few vultures and unable to properly handle their dead, the Parsis experienced a crisis within the faith. Some constructed captive vulture aviaries. Others talked about desiccating bodies using focused solar mirrors. The Parsis’ plight exemplifies the vultures’ role in south Asian society — and the various impacts if the vultures aren’t there.
Learning From The Past
Although the vulture crisis in Africa is ongoing, scientists can predict what the outcome will be, based on previous experiences in India. Crows, gulls, rats and dogs will boom. And the rabies outbreak in India may just be a prologue, because several sub-Saharan Africa countries already have the highest per-capita rabies infection rates in the world. Rabies is only one of the many potential diseases that vultures had helped regulate.
The poisoning that is killing vultures is also affecting many other organisms throughout ecosystems. But vultures are the most sensitive canaries in ecological coal mines. The story of the California condor shows that recovery is possible, but at a high cost that countries in the developing world may not be able to pay.
“It’s good news and bad news,” ?ekercio?lu says. “It shows that we can bring back these scavengers. But the bad news is that once we get to these numbers, it costs tens of millions of dollars and decades to bring them back. You don’t want to go there. And once you go there, we can afford to save only a few species.”
So, Buechley argues, “the better solution is to invest in vulture conservation here and now, in order to stem incalculable damage from trophic cascades and increased human disease burden in the developing world.”
The rhino is one of the largest and most powerful animals on earth, and one of the most ancient. Its origins can be traced back 50 million years when it was know as Paraceratherium, the giant rhinoceros. This monstrous creature weighed nearly 20 tons and roamed the grasslands that ranged from Europe to China. It survived the ravages of the Ice Age, migrated continents, fought against predatory adversaries like the crocodile and prehistoric hyenas, and evolved into what we know as the present day rhinoceros. Human hunting and unstable conditions of habitat have reduced this majestic animal, that once roamed half the earth, to just five broad species found only in pockets of Asia and Africa.
Rhinos are in serious danger of going extinct. Poaching of rhinos is on the rise by organized international criminal syndicates. Two rhinos are estimated to be killed by poachers every day in Africa. If rhino poaching is not stopped, African rhinos could be lost forever. Threats to Indian rhinos include expanding human populations, agriculture, and poaching.
Dagger handles made from rhino horns are symbols of status and wealth in Arab countries. In Far East countries, rhino horns are sought for alleged medicinal properties. There is no scientific evidence of their medical value, but they continue to be used in traditional Asian medicine – ground into powder to treat a variety of illnesses.
Rhino horns have fetched as much as an astonishing $50,000 on the black market. Its value tempts even subsistence farmers and poor herdsmen to be a part of the trade. Poaching gangs have reached great levels of sophistication and use night-vision equipment, veterinary drugs and even helicopters in their hunt for rhinos.
Northern White Rhinos
There are no longer any northern white rhinos in the wild. There were around 500 of them in the 1970's scattered over northwestern Uganda, northeastern Congo, parts of Central African Republic and on the eastern fringes of Lake Chad. By 1980 their numbers were down to just a paltry 15. Now only three of them are to be found in the Garamba National Park of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Southern White Rhinos
The southern white rhinoceros is the biggest of all species, standing almost 6 feet up to its shoulders. Its immense body weighs as much as 5,100 lbs (5 tons). They are pale grayish in color and have two horns, the front one curved and big at the snout of the nose, followed by a very small one behind it. They are found in the Savannah grasslands of South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and in some measure in the arid expanses of the Kalahari. From a position of complete extinction in the early part of the 20th century, the southern white rhinoceros has witnessed a dramatic rise in its numbers thanks to the efforts of conservationists, wildlife agencies, game sanctuary authorities and support of local governments. Presently, the number of these rhinoceros stand at 21,000. Despite now being the only rhinos that are not endangered, a surge of poaching in recent years once again threatens the southern white rhinoceros. Legal hunting also threatens their future, as white rhinos in South Africa and Swaziland were downlisted to Appendix II to allow the export of live rhinos and hunting trophies.
The black rhinoceros is another species that is making a comeback from the brink of extinction in the early 1980's to a count of 5,000 today. They are found in East Africa and South Africa. They are smaller in size in comparison to the white rhino. They have an acute sense of smell but very poor eyesight that make them easy targets for poachers. The growing number of rhinoceros in the Southern half of the continent, along with the great demand for horns among the nouveau riche Chinese, has created an incentive for poachers. Cases of poaching in South Africa are up from 15 in 2007, to an alarming 1,200 in 2014. Black rhino horns are in great demand in Vietnam and other South-East Asian countries where they are powdered and used for medicinal purposes.
The Indian rhinoceros, or the great one-horned rhino, is the predominant of the two Asian species. They are mostly found in the north-eastern state of Assam in India in reserves like the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary, Manas National Park and half a dozen sanctuaries scattered over the state. The rhinos found in the Kaziranga, Orang and Pobitara inhabit the alluvial flood plains of the river Brahmaputra that flows through the state. There are a little over a hundred of this species in the Jaldapara National Park of the West Bengal state bordering Assam. The sanctuaries of Parsa Wildlife Reserve, Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal hold about 645 of these animals.
The male Indian rhinoceros can stand up to a height of 5 feet 8 inches at its shoulders. It weighs up to 4,800 lbs and is much bigger than the female which weighs just 3,500 lbs. It has a thick skin that is grayish brown in color and has a single black-colored horn. Despite its poor eyesight, it has a heightened sense of smell and can become a scary looking animal when it breaks into runs of almost 55 kms per hour.
Although massive conservation efforts have resulted in the count of Indian rhinos rising to almost 2,600 from an extinction phase a couple of decades ago, threats in the form of expanding human population pressure, farmlands eating into rhino grasslands, and poaching remain. Organized crime networks are at work catering to the demand for Indian rhino horns, sought for their alleged medicinal values among the affluent Chinese and the rich of the South-East Asian countries. The forest protection personnel of India are not as well equipped as their South African counterparts and are poorly staffed. At the political level, conservation of rhinos is not a priority, and efforts to that end at the grassroots level become difficult. Massive seasonal flooding of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries are turning out to be a major threat to rhinos of Assam. There seems to be no solution in sight. Many of the creatures have drowned or died of sheer hunger, having being displaced from their habitat by raging waters.
The Javan rhinoceros is among the most endangered species of animal on earth. Just a century and a half ago, it roamed the wilds of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. Only 63 of these animals are presently found in the Ujung Kulon national park in the western-most tip of Java, Indonesia.
The Java species stand up to 5.5 feet and weigh up to 2,300 lbs. They have a single horn which is the smallest of all species and measures just 25 cms. It is amphibious like the Indian rhino, and spends a considerable amount of time in the shallow swampy waters of the Javan tropical jungles. Although protected by law, and numbers now too few to act as incentive to poachers, other threats exist. The Arenga palm, or Arenga pinnata, that is a native to Indonesia, poses a grave threat to plants which the rhinos of Java survive on. The Arenga palm is an invasive plant that grows and spreads quickly.
To counter the threat of real extinction this species is facing, a population is being kept in captivity outside of Ujung Kulon by wildlife conservationists. This may give the endangered Java rhinoceros a last chance of long-term survival.
Time Is Running Out
Several rhino species will likely be extinct in just a few decades. The others will follow in less than 100 years. Hunting, animal agriculture, habitat change, and human population growth are taking their toll on these magnificent animals. Without immediate intervention, they will disappear from the Earth causing ecological, social, and economic ramifications. We must act now, before it's too late.
The image of seals and sea lions conjures up thousands of these creatures basking on the rocky beaches of the U.S. West coast, Australia and Tasmania and ice floes of the Arctics. While similarities between these two amphibious mammals seem apparent, there are some inherent differences.
The pinniped, the family to which these two belong, consists of the phocidae or true seals and otariidae or sea lions. True seals are believed to have descended from a terrestrial creature closely resembling the weasel, while the sea lion traces back its origins to a bear-like animal. True seals fall in the category of earless seals because they lack the external ear flap which sea lions, or "eared seals", have. The sea lions have much larger front and hind flippers than the seals, which allow far more locomotion. So while on land the seal slushes forward at snails' pace on its belly, the sea lion virtually gallops forward thanks to it bigger flippers. Like most aquatic mammals, both the seal and sea lion are expert swimmers.
All pinnipeds, like many other wildlife species, have not been spared the ravages of mankind. The hunting of millions of seals for their meat, blubbers and pelts reduced their numbers significantly. Later they were killed by fishermen who over-harvested fish, then blamed the seals for depleting fish stocks in the ocean.
Extensive commercial fishing has harmed pinnipeds in more ways than one. Reduced food, resulting from irresponsible fishing practices, is suspected to be behind a declining pinnped population. Seals and sea lions also get entangled in fishing gear, causing injury or death.
A high amount of industrial and toxic waste is a potent threat to the health of seals. Algal biotoxins and disease caused by such pollutants are proving to be fatal for seals and sea lions. Non-biodegradable marine debris, such as drifting trawling nets, plastic packaging straps and monofilament gill nets, are hazards that have killed nearly 2 percent of Tasmanian seals.
Climate change is also a deadly threat to seals and sea lions. Changes in temperatures in ocean currents has wreaked havoc in the food patterns of these mammals and affected their reproductive cycles. Species which primarily rely on ice – like the ribbon, ringed, spotted and bearded seals – have been direct victims of rapid ice loss leading to premature separation of mothers from their cubs during the milking period. The inability of the mammals to build dens during such periods of ice loss has resulted in high mortality among pups.
Other threats to seals and sea lions include introduced species and barbed wire. The introduction of animals like dogs, especially in Alaska, has made seals prone and exposed to disease. Barbed wire barriers have been erected that are known to cause severe injuries to sea lions.
Seals have long been commercially hunted for their pelts, meat and blubber. As a result, the Caribbean monk seal was hunted to extinction. In 1911 the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention made it illegal to hunt seals at sea, but hunting babies seals on land continued. All pinnipeds are now protected in U.S. waters under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but baby seals are still being killed in other countries for their fur.
Each year thousands of seals are killed in Canada. 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.
Seal hunting is inhumane. Groups have campaigned on the issue for years and their evidence shows all the horror of the hunt.
Seals and sea lions are also common victims of the animal entertainment industry. Aquariums and marine mammal theme parks are part of a billion-dollar industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that is natural and important to them. Animals are taken from the wild; their families torn apart. Marine parks have shown no more interest in conserving marine mammals' natural habitats than they have in educating audiences.
Cetaceans do not belong in captivity where they are forced to perform meaningless tricks. They are often separated from family members when they’re shuffled between parks. Most die far short of their natural life spans. The living conditions at these attractions are often dismal, with animals confined to tiny, filthy, barren enclosures. Even the best artificial environments can’t come close to matching the space, diversity, and freedom that cetaceans have in their natural habitats.
The monk seal and the Galápagos fur seal are endangered. Local populations of some seals, such as gray seals in the Baltic Sea, are also endangered. The hooded seal and northern fur seal are vulnerable.
Mountains have the power to move us. They have always been a source of wonder and inspiration for humans. Their majesty impresses us, their wildlife captivate us, and their tranquil ecosystems bring us peace. Millions of people visit mountains every year to take in their stunning scenery and relaxing atmospheres.
But these ancient and majestic mountains are in jeopardy. Once their remoteness protected them from excessive human exploitation, but now they are under increasing threat. These last wild areas are fast disappearing to animal agriculture, development and other human impacts. Changes in climate could destroy vast areas of mountainous regions.
Mountain environments cover a large portion of the world. Half the human population depends on their resources. Millions of people also live in mountainous areas. These ancient landscapes are more than breathtaking backdrops to peaceful pastoral lands. Their contributions to humans is immense.
Mountains are vital to all life on earth, including humans. What happens on the highest mountain peak affects all life in the lowlands. Lands, freshwaters and even oceans are affected by moutains.
About 80 percent of our planet's fresh water originates in mountains. Mountains are the source of most rivers. They provide the water of most reservoirs. Many areas derive practically all their water from mountains. About half the population of the planet lives in southern and eastern Asia and depends on precipitation that falls on the huge mountain chains of the Himalaya-Karakoram-Pamirs-Tibet regions.
Mountains conserve winter snow, slowly releasing moisture during spring and summer. In arid areas of the planet, irrigation often requires water from melting snows in distant mountains. Mountains often have forested slopes that absorb rain like a sponge, allowing water to travel downhill gently – preventing devastating floods.
Protected by their remoteness and limited agricultural potential, mountains have faced less human encroachment than other ecosystems. They have become sanctuaries for countless plants and animals that may have been eradicated in lowland areas. Over a third of land plants and vertebrates have been squeezed into less than 2 percent of the planet. Many of these species live in rich, unspoiled areas referred to as biological hot spots. Many hot spots are mountainous areas.
A small mountainous area in Malaysia, Kinabalu National Park, contains 4,500 species of plants—more than 25% of the amount of plant species in the entire United States.
The survival of many animals depends on mountains, including central Asia snow leopards, China's giant pandas, and the Andes condors.
Numerous mountain animals are threatened with extinction.
Many of our most important food crops came from wild plants in mountains. Corn came from the highlands of Mexico. Wheat came from the Caucasus. Tomatoes and potatoes came from the Peruvian Andes. Countless other food sources still await discovery.
A third of all parks and protected lands are found in mountainous areas due to their stunning natural beauty. They are a popular destination for tourists and their local communities benefit from the tourism industry.
Mountains are often valued purely for their abundant natural resources. But their inhabitants, both wildlife and humans, deserve just as much appreciation and protection. Indigenous humans of the mountains possess a body of ecological knowledge that often rivals modern science.
Traditional knowledge accumulated by mountain peoples is invaluable in protecting these vital ecosystems. This wealth of knowledge needs protected just as other mountain assets do.
Whales are among the most fascinating and talked about creatures on the planet. These mammals are not just the largest creatures of the ocean, but of the Earth. Even the smallest species, the dwarf sperm whale, is 8.5 feet long and can weigh at least 135 kilograms. The biggest, the blue whale, is over a 100 feet in length and can weigh as much as 210 tons.
Whale species include the killer whale, blue whale, humpback whale, the narwhal or narwhale, beluga whale, gray whale, bowhead whale, fin whale, North Atlantic right whale and dozens more.
The whale has a thick layer of fat that makes it immune to cold ocean waters. These submarine-like creatures are found roaming all the oceans and seas. Since the whales' habitat spans such a vast area of the globe, their diets can differ dramatically. The most common diet is fish, plankton, shrimp, crabs, larvae, krill and squid. The killer whale preys on large animals like sea lions, walruses, seals, sharks, seabirds and even large whales for its food.
Whales come up to the ocean surface intermittently to take in air and spew out a long fountain of water from a duct right on top of their heads. While many whales have sharp, uniformed rows of teeth, the baleen whales have a bristle-like formation in place of teeth that helps them sift food from water. Whales communicate with each other by way of mysterious, elongated squeaks than can travel miles through the waters.
The whale, like many other endangered species, is not immune to the ravages of man. From 1900 to the 1970's, as many as 350,000 whales were hunted down and killed in the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere alone. In a bloody year of 1931, a staggering 29,000 blue whales were butchered. As a result, they are among the most endangered species and just 10,000-25,000 of them remain today. The North Atlantic right whale, especially, is under the greatest threat of extinction with just 300 of the creatures left.
Rapidly rising human activity in marine environments like harbors, landfills, shipping channels, and fish farming (aquaculture) is resulting in the loss of whale habitat. Recreation in the form of heightened boat traffic, ocean liners and resort development is driving the whales further away from shores where they find their natural food.
Warm ocean temperatures, along with melting of ice in the polar regions, pose more threats for the whales. Sea ice that produces krill is a major food source for the whales and could vanish with the water becoming warmer. Melting ice could destroy 30% of the Antarctic minke whales' habitat and could push the humpback whales' feeding zones 300-500 kilometers away into the seas.
Many whale species specially feed on herring, cod and mackerel. The huge commercial demand for these fish has led to their over-fishing, which in turn has robbed the whales of one of their main diets.
The whale is itself a delicacy and its body oils and parts find commercial use in quite a few parts of the world. In fact, whaling is a huge industry in countries like Japan and Norway. Norway is now the world’s leading whaling nation. The Norwegian government is funding a number of projects, both to promote domestic sales of whale products and to develop alternative commercial products derived from whales, including dietary supplements, medicines, and cosmetics.
Hundreds of thousands of whales were killed by the Japanese until commercial whaling was banned in 1986. But that has not stopped Japanese whaling fleets from killing 2,000 of the mammals every year since under the guise of "scientific whaling" for the bogus purpose of "scientific research". Why one has to kill whales to understand them simply confounds logic.
Exploration of offshore oil and gas is another threat to whale habitats. Studies by scientists have shown that oil finds, and subsequent drilling, have completely destroyed habitats of whales. Noise emanating from the equipment used for underwater seismic surveys have hugely impeded on the whales' delicate sense of sound and affected the communication among the creatures. There were instances in the early 1990's where eardrums of humpback whales off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada were found ruptured by sounds of undersea blasts used for exploration activities. Pollutants emanating from toxic chemicals used by the oil and gas industry is another serious hazard to whale health.
The over-fishing of fish species has led to a slowdown in the commercial fishing industry in recent times. The cause for decline in supplies was laid on whales. The culling of the mammals was promoted to revive the fortunes of the fishing industry, but conservationists exposed the fallacy of the claim that whales are to blame. Unsustainable fish harvesting and other human actions are the true culprits of reduced fish populations.
Although most whale species have been protected by stringent laws, man has found indirect ways of hunting down the creatures. While the levels of killing have dropped drastically over the years owing to endeavors of conservationists, whale-lovers and concerned authorities, the recovery of their populations will remain a huge challenge. For instance, the population of humpback whales, which was close to 1.5 million in the beginning of the 19th century, is only 20,000 now.
Of all the industries on Earth, the oil and gas industries are among the biggest and most destructive. The round-the-clock operations of the businesses, and the massive amounts of land they eat up and destroy, has a profound effect on the ecosystems and wildlife they displace.
Wherever oil and gas can be easily found, land has already been exploited. The search is now focused on remote places, which means a direct invasion into virgin ecosystems and their inhabitants. New and unproven technologies are being used recklessly to extract hydrocarbons from deep within the Earth. The environmental consequences can be devastating.
Oil and gas exploration and production activities cause both direct and indirect effects on wildlife. Leaks and spills of oil, brine, and other contaminants are a key concern. Soils, vegetation, water quality, fish and wildlife, and air quality can all be harmed by the release of contaminants. Fish and wildlife habitat can be altered, fragmented, or eliminated. Oil and gas activities can disturb and displace wildlife, cause physiological stress, and can result in wildlife deaths.
Introduction of invasive species, especially along road and pipeline routes, can alter habitats. Disturbances caused by oil and gas activities can result in fundamental changes in ecological functions and processes, and lead to increased predation of declining species, reduced reproduction, and increased susceptibility to disease. Fish and wildlife may be injured by human presence, vehicles, exposure to contaminants, loss or degradation of habitat, or unauthorized takings.
The activities associated with oil and gas exploration cause a degree of disruption to the environment that's hard to replace, restore or repair. Development activities in the coastal areas of the Arctic Refuge (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) have affected habitats of caribou, muskox and porcupine to an extent that even their watering sources have been polluted. Instances of bears feeding on wastes emanating from oil fields that have displaced its natural habitat are all too common. Maternity dens of polar bears have been disturbed, affecting their reproductive cycles.
Ecosystems, that fine balance between plants, organisms and wildlife evolved over millions of years, can be destroyed overnight by human activity. In addition to forest clearing and excavation, irritants like noise arising out of vehicular traffic can disrupt sleeping, resting and even hunting cycles of animals.
Access along seismic lines may require disturbing levels of vegetation removal. Vehicle travel along seismic lines damages soils and vegetation. Water quality may be degraded from sedimentation. Small spills and improperly handled wastes can degrade soils and waters, harm vegetation, fish and wildlife, air quality, and aesthetics. Air quality can be degraded from dust and engine emissions. Natural sound is interrupted by vehicles and drilling noises.
Pad construction removes or compacts soil and vegetation and may accelerate erosion and sedimentation. Leaks, spills, and discharges of oil, drilling muds, wastes, or other contaminants can degrade and harm soils, surface and ground waters, vegetation, fish and wildlife, and air quality.
Poorly cased and cemented wells (or improperly plugged wells) may lead to groundwater contamination. Wetlands may be damaged by road and pad construction or threatened by leaks and spills. Dark night skies can be impacted by night-time lighting on drilling rigs and gas flaring.
Natural sounds can be overwhelmed by construction and drilling noises. Air quality may be degraded by gas flaring, contaminant spills, dust, and engine emissions.
Offshore oil spills affect marine mammals through direct contact, ingestion of toxic oil, and inhalation of numerous chemicals. Immune system suppression, cancer, reproductive failure, liver and kidney damage, brain damage, and other health effects are the results of such spills.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has thoughtlessly issued permits to scores of oil drilling projects near protected zones, despite the harmful effects on wildlife from toxic wastes of such exploration activities.
Millions of gallons of chemically treated water, pumped out of a process known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, spill out on a daily basis into neighboring forests and farmlands – polluting water used by animals and livestock.
Oil companies are responsible for the destruction of wildlife in some of the most protected and sensitive zones. A project off the coast of Sakhalin Island in Russia's Siberian region has affected the habitat of the critically endangered Western Grey Whale to a point where only 100 of these creatures are left today, of which breeding females comprise an appallingly low number of just 20. Exploration endeavors off the County Mayo coast in Ireland is threatening to wipe away wildlife habitats in the form of sand dunes, peat bogs and even grasslands bordering the shore. Habitats of the Brent geese and other popular regional birds that find safe havens in Broadhaven Bay in the Count Mayo stand threatened thanks to exploration activities in the region.
In Africa, roads, pipelines and the subsequent decimation of forest lands have eaten into territories of protected and endangered species like the Nigerian-Cameroon gorillas, the Western gorillas in Angola, the dwarf mongoose and the rare Angolan python.
Imagine gas being flared 24 hours a day for almost 50 years without a break by oil companies in just one region. That is the case in Nigeria, the world's largest oil flarer. Coupled with massive greenhouse emissions from such flares, oil spills and fires have completely obliterated not just wildlife, but all farmlands in the once naturally rich Niger Delta – making it one of the most polluted regions of the world. Places like the Virunga National Park in the Congo Basin in Africa and the Arctics, which still have enormous oil and gas deposits, are lucrative targets waiting to be exploited.
The lasting damage to the environment resulting from wanton oil and gas exploration is hard to fathom. The disruption of the ozone layer from excessive flared gas emissions, with direct effects on climate change and the decimation of entire ecosystems and wildlife, play havoc to the environment. A disturbing amount of greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to oil and gas extraction. The main component in natural gas, methane, is as much as 84 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Methane traps heat more effectively and intensifies global warming.
Humans are also effected by gas and oil exploration. Entire communities depend on the health of the ecosystems being destroyed. Public use of refuge areas are being restricted or prohibited. Although the areal extent of oil and gas exploration and production may be limited, the cumulative effects often extend to a much larger area. Cultural resources are threatened by increased human accessibility and fire. Scenic quality can be degraded by drilling rigs, roads, pads, and other equipment. Large crews disrupt visitors’ experiences.
Oil and gas exploration is a dirty and dangerous business that disrupts wildlife, human health, water sources, public lands and recreation. Energy resources that are environmentally-safe and easily accessible can reduce the harmful effects associated with oil and gas production. Renewable energy technologies and energy conservation, along with more responsible exploration practices, are essential to reducing the destructive effects of oil and gas production.
If you thought cities were all about concrete jungles and the teeming millions of humans inhabiting it, you are wrong. Quite astonishingly, it's not just man who is moving from the country to big cities; it's their four-legged and furry friends, too. There have been sightings of bobcats, deer, raccoon, coyotes and squirrels in the areas surrounding Laurel Canyon Boulevard, a major arterial road of Los Angeles. It's not unusual to find a crocodile basking in the Biscayne Bay shores of Florida alongside accommodating boaters. Chicago city's well tended patches of forests and wetlands are home to skunks, coyotes and shorebirds migrating from the Illinois corn hinterland.
One of the most common American animal, the coyote, has adapted to the urban life seamlessly. The coyote is a true survivor of all conditions. It can be found in swamps, grasslands, dense forests, deserts and high mountains and it can live off just about anything. Being a natural scavenger, the call of the cities makes it one more addition to its habitat. Over and above its normal diet of snakes, rodents, rabbits, frogs, birds and grasshoppers, it has added dog and cat food and garbage to its repertoire. Coyotes resemble collie dogs and have brownish gray fur and a belly that is cream-colored. They weigh 20 - 45 pounds and are highly reproductive animals, something that has made its proliferation into towns and cities easier. Big parks and landscaping surrounding golf courses are some of the creature’s favorite urban hangouts.
The American red fox is another animal that has made cities its home. It mostly moves around after dusk and before dawn scavenging for food. Its tiny size makes it difficult to spot and gives it the advantage to move around unnoticed. While the diet of the rural fox consists entirely of meat, its constitutes just 50 percent of its urban cousin who feeds on pigeons, insects, worms, fruits, vegetables and city garbage.
The raccoon has taken to urban America quite successfully. Found almost all over country, the first city sighting of this creature was in the early 1920's in the suburban areas of Cincinnati. Since then it has proliferated to most cities. The raccoon is just 16 to 28 inches long and weighs from 8 to 20 pounds. Its grayish coat covers its entire body including the belly. Its face is a mixture of black and white and its eyes look like a pair of sunglasses from afar. Among its favorite sleeping places in the cities are abandoned houses. Gardens are favorite targets of raccoon scavenging for fruits or vegetables. Garbage leftovers are another good food source.
The tiny Virginia opossum, whose natural habitat is the Rockies and areas east of it, are quickly migrating to cities. More like a rodent in appearance, but a bit more furry, this gray and white colored creature now competes with the raccoon for city trash in the backyards of American urban homes. Basements, sewers and chimneys are ideal hiding places for the possum during busy city day hours. This Virginia native is now found all over the Western states since it was introduced in the region during the Great Depression as a source of food for humans.
The skunk is another common squirrel-like American animal which is found in its towns and cities. Although its white and black striped coat gives it a cute look, it is dreaded for the terribly pungent odor it emits. Bird nests and eggs are favorite targets of the skunk. It prefers to come out at night, although day sightings of the creature in cities are not uncommon.
Astonishing instances of urban sightings also include a new species of leopard frog discovered in 2013, not in the backwaters of Florida, but in Staten Island, New York.
Ospreys, a 24-inch fish-eating bird resembling a hawk, are fast abandoning their nesting habitats in the wild and moving them to unusual havens in cities. Cell phone towers, channel markers, power pole cavities and other man-made structures are the new safe houses for their elaborate 250 pound nests. The ospreys have become familiar with humans and have begun nesting close to busy highways.
Apart from squirrels, which are the most common wild urban creatures, various species of deer, foxes, coyotes and wild turkey are being frequently sighted in parks and golf courses skirting cities. The adaptability of these new denizens in urban environs heralds a new era of human awareness and tolerance to the co-existence of creatures of the wild in their midst.
Many species of wildlife have adapted to city and suburb life. Some of the animals have made themselves at home by nesting in chimneys, attics and basements. They dig through trash cans to find food, and even eat dog feces that are not properly disposed of. While these animals are beautiful to see from a distance, up close encounters can be shocking.
Tips To Live In Harmony With Wild Urban Animals
Make sure trash is secure at all times. Trash receptacles should be kept tightly closed at all times. Wild animals will not live where they cannot eat. Removing the food source is the most effective way to evict them.
Inspect properties regularly for places where the animals can live. Make sure that your chimneys are capped so animals can’t nest in your fireplace. Keep flues closed so they don’t invade living areas. Inspect attics, crawlspaces, and basements for holes.
Use caution repairing holes in the spring, as there may be babies already in nests. Try playing loud music to encourage animals to leave before patching holes.
If putting out food for alley cats, only put out enough food to satisfy their hunger. Pick the food up when the cats finish so the leftovers don’t attract rodents or wild animals. Always trap, neuter and return cats in a feral colony you are managing.
Try deterrents. Sprays and other agents that are designed to keep unwanted animals away can be purchased at most garden or hardware stores. Moth balls or ammonia soaked rags can also aid in deterring animals from a specific area.
Keep trees well trimmed. If there are trees hanging over your house, animals are likely gaining access to the rooftop by climbing the trees.