Wildlife: Have Fur, Will Travel and more
Wildlife features in Defenders Summer 2010 Magazine: Have Fur, Will Travel; Global Warming National Park?; The High Price Isn’t Always at the Pump; Bycatch Be Gone; Sweet Flowers Lure Ladies
Have Fur, Will Travel
© Seth Yates/University of Alberta
With big, padded paws, he crossed countless highways, many mountain ranges and probably even a portion of Colorado desert before he died in a trapper’s snare north of Canada’s Banff National Park in January. But this 9-year-old lynx won’t soon be forgotten. In fact, his near-1,250-mile-trek went down as the longest ever recorded for the species—doubling previous records.
Live-captured at about two years old in Canada, near the place he met his demise, the lynx was transported to Colorado several years ago as part of a binational effort to restore the species to part of its original range in the United States. In his new Rocky Mountain territory, he mated and sired many kittens (at least six of which made it to adulthood) before he got the urge to return to Canada last year.
“This amazing story shows that wolves are not the only big-footed, four-legged animals that need room to roam across vast areas,” says David Gaillard, Defender’s northern Rockies representative. “It’s another argument for creating contiguous wilderness pathways among our national parks, forests, and other areas of wildlife habitat in this country so that animals can safely travel to and from them.”
Global Warming National Park?
The last remaining glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park may disappear by 2020—10 years ahead of earlier projections—says Dan Fagre of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Mountain Science Center. This means more than just a change in the stunning scenery. The resulting ecological changes to the region could also cause:
a loss of wildlife—grizzly, black bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines, mountain lions, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and elk all range through the region.
local extinction of cold-water dependent species such as bull trout as water temperatures in streams, ponds and lakes increase.
loss of tourism dollars—spending by the park’s nearly two million visitors amounts to nearly $1 billion a year, according to Stephen Saunders of the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and lead author of a new report that analyzed data from 33 government and 55 scientific sources.
job loss for Montana workers—park tourism supports more than 4,000 local jobs.
Of the park’s 37 named glaciers, only 25 remain large enough to still be considered glaciers. Of the 12 that have melted away, 11 have done so since 1966.
The High Price Isn’t Always at the Pump
Only weeks before BP’s drilling rig exploded and started leaking millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, came a painful reminder of the lingering consequences of oil spills—and how accidents do happen. More than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, scientists say that wildlife there is still being exposed to oil.
The Valdez spilled about 10.5 million gallons of oil in Alaskan waters after wrecking in March 1989, a spill that covered an estimated 2,100 miles of ocean. Thousands of animals—sea birds, sea otters, bald eagles, orcas—died soon after. But some of that oil persists and some animals continue to ingest it, says Daniel Esler, lead author of a new study from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
Researchers studied exposure in harlequin ducks, which are particularly sensitive to oil pollution partly because they live in intertidal areas where some oil lingers, and because they eat invertebrates that live in or on sediment that may be contaminated.
With an estimated 20,000 gallons of Exxon Valdez oil still on Alaska’s beaches, it appears the residual effects of the last major oil disaster will continue to impact wildlife as the latest disaster begins to take its toll on creatures in the Gulf of Mexico.
Bycatch Be Gone
It’s tough being a sea turtle. In addition to the usual list of wildlife challenges—predators, disease and so on—there are many threats posed by people: oil spills, plastic garbage, beach development, light pollution, egg poaching and climate change.
But the biggest human-caused peril by far remains bycatch—the accidental catching and drowning of the species by fisheries—and the number likely ranges in the millions, according to a new Duke University and Conservation International study.
Using direct onboard observations and interviews with fishermen, researchers estimated about 85,000 turtles were caught between 1990 and 2008. But given the report covers less than 1 percent of all fishing fleets in the world, with little or no information from small-scale fisheries, the true total over the past two decades is likely in the millions rather than the tens of thousands, says Bryan Wallace, the study’s lead author.
Bycatch rates from longline fishing and trawling are particularly high from Baja California to Chile and off the coast of the eastern United States and the southwest and northwest Atlantic. But researchers note that simple changes in gear—from J-shaped hooks to circle hooks, which decrease the likelihood of a turtle swallowing the hook or having it more deeply embedded—can prevent a lot of mortality. “But while gear fixes might reduce bycatch—and not necessarily in all cases—more responsible fisheries management is truly the key to meaningfully reducing sea turtle bycatch,” says Wallace.
In Mexico, circle hooks are now mandatory, thanks in part to a campaign by Defenders of Wildlife, which distributed thousands of turtle-safe hooks to fishers along with special hook removal tools. Defenders also leads workshops along the Mexican coast that demonstrate how to avoid catching sea turtles and free them unharmed.
But when it comes right down to it, a big part of saving sea turtles is the responsibility of supermarket shoppers and restaurant diners—like you. By keeping a sustainable seafood pocket guide in your wallet from www.montereybayaquarium.org or using resources like www.fishphone.org you can help sea turtles in your daily life.
Sweet Flowers Lure Ladies
Purple-throated caribs say it with flowers—not just bouquets, but fields of them. The males of this eastern Caribbean hummingbird species stake out large territories full of nectar-producing blossoms, including a type that females with their longer and more curved bills can tap.
Successful males have territories with far more energy-giving nectar than they need in a day—and lots of the ladies-only flowers to lure potential mates. They aggressively ward off other nectar-eaters and competitors. But female purple-throated caribs are more than welcome to enter and sip from the blossoms—and, the males hope, linger for love.
“This is the first time such behavior has ever been observed in a bird species,” says John Kress, a botanist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, who, along with ornithologist Ethan Temeles of Amherst College, discovered it. “Not only is the male defending a huge territory from competing males, but he’s also defending a big chunk of it exclusively for females who he is trying to attract as potential mates.”
Why the romantic approach? Purple-throated caribs sexes look similar, so instead of the showy plumage and courtship displays typical of many birds, males must rely on something else to attract mates. For these tropical hummingbirds, nothing says, “he’s the one,” better than the right flowers.