Rising Sea Levels Threaten Marsh Rabbit

Marsh rabbit

Photo by Tomfriedel.

In the Florida Keys, a very endangered species of rabbit faces a tough future. As sea levels rise, suitable habitat for the Lower Keys marsh rabbit shrinks. Increased development in the area further impacts the rabbits’ chance of survival because it not only blocks the rabbits from moving inland, it also blocks the necessary vegetation from “migrating” inland as well.

Once abundant in the keys, only a few hundred Lower Marsh rabbits remain. According to Jeff Gore, a statewide wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Obviously, it’s already having an effect on the marsh rabbit, but in a state like Florida with so much coastline and so many endangered species, it’s going to be a major concern for decades to come.”

Read more at Science Blog.

Man-Made Cave Built to Save Bats from White-Nose Syndrome

Millions of bats have died from a disease called white-nose syndrome. When bats are hibernating in the winter, a white fungus covers their noses, wings, ears and tails. Bats with the disease display unusual behavior such as flying outside in the winter and clustering near the entrance of a cave. This leads bats to starve to death from excess activity or to freeze to death. The disease was first documented 2006 in eastern New York and has spread to other eastern U.S. states and Canadian provinces since then.

Currently, conservationists are attacking the problem from multiple angles, including treating the infection or developing a vaccine. But The Nature Conservancy is taking a different approach. They have built an artificial cave in Tennessee hoping to lure bats from a nearby natural cave that displays early signs of white-nose syndrome. If they are successful in attracting tenants, they will be able to control the disease in their cave by cleaning it every summer. In a natural cave, they cannot spray or hose it down without destroying the other natural organisms that thrive in that environment. Building a man-made cave specifically for bats allows for a safe, disease-free shelter for the bats every winter without disrupting the flora and fauna of the natural cave.

Read more at NPR >

Conservation Canines: Dogs Helping Endangered Animals

Did you know you don’t have to be human to be an environmentalist?  Specially-trained dogs from the group Conservation Canines have been assisting scientists protect endangered species since 1997.

With their highly sophisticated sense of smell paired with their insatiable urge to play (their reward at the end of the day), dogs can track scat, or animal droppings, from miles away.  Once located, the scientists can analyze the scat for genetic, physiological, and dietary information.  This provides clues to the animal’s behavior and environment which helps conservationists determine the best way to protect it.

The dogs, which are adopted from animal shelters and then trained by the crew at Conservation Canines, track scat from a variety of endangered animals. The list includes tigers, orcas, fishers, spotted owls, bears, wolves, caribou, giant armadillos, giant anteaters, pumas, jaguars, and Pacific pocket mice.

Watch a video below about Tucker, a black labrador mix who specializes in tracking orca scat. This is a tricky task because he must catch the scent over open water, the scat can move around and/or sink in the water, and he must provide signals to his human coworkers so they can steer the boat in the correct direction.

To learn more, see:

Conservation Canines website
NY Times

American Prairie Reserve Purchases 150,000 Acre Montana Ranch

bison

More bison could start to live naturally on the prairie with the American Prairie Reserve’s purchase of 150,000 acres of Montana grassland.

The American Prairie Reserve, a non-profit land trust based in Bozeman, Montana, recently purchased a sizable plot of land (150,000 acres) adjacent to the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.  South Ranch, the purchased land, was originally set up as a cattle ranch and is located 60 miles south of the Canadian border.

In purchasing the ranch, the American Prairie Reserve has taken one step towards their main goal of creating a wildlife preserve larger than the state of Connecticut.  Their goal involves acquiring more land, pulling down the fences that once contained cattle, and allowing the area to return to the natural ecosystem that once existed in that part of the U.S.  This means bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and their natural predators free flowing through an uninhabited area of prairie land.

To learn more, see:

The Montana Standard
American Prairie Reserve

Rare Sumatran Rhino Calf Born

On June 23, Ratu, a rare Sumatran rhino living at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia, gave birth to a healthy male calf who weighs between 60 and 70 pounds.

“We are overjoyed that Ratu delivered a healthy calf and are cautiously optimistic that the calf will continue to thrive,” said Dr. Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation. “The little guy is absolutely adorable, and none of us has been able to stop smiling since the moment we were sure he was alive and healthy. We have been waiting for this moment since the sanctuary was built in 1998. The International Rhino Foundation is honored to play an important role in protecting rhinos. We are hopeful the Sumatran rhino population will thrive once again.”

Ratu had miscarried two calves prior to this pregnancy, but this time, sanctuary staff gave her a hormone supplement that prevented her from miscarrying again. (Read all our posts about Ratu here.)

With fewer than 200 Sumatran rhinos living in Indonesia and Malaysia, this birth is a significant step in preserving the population. They face threats such as continuing loss of their tropical forest habitat and hunting.

For more information, see the International Rhino Foundation website.

Bison: America’s National Mammal?

American bisonThe bald eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782, when it was adopted as a symbol of freedom and its imagery was incorporated into the Great Seal.  Its symbolic status helped people rally around it when it faced extinction in the mid twentieth century due to human encroachment and the pesticide DDT.  In recent years, the bald eagle population has recovered, and it was taken off the endangered species list in 2007.

Similar to the role of national bird, Senator Mike Enzi (R) of Wyoming and Senator Tim Johnson (D) of South Dakota introduced a bill that would recognize the bison as America’s national mammal.  Vast herds of American bison once roamed from Canada to Mexico.  From a population that numbered in the millions, American bison dwindled to near extinction by the 1880s, driven there by American settlers.

Today, bison populations have started to recover.  There are about half a million bison living today. However most of the bison live in commercial herds and carry genes from cattle. Only a few thousand bison are pure descendants of the vast herds that dominated the Great Plains centuries ago.

To urge your senator to co-sponsor the National Bison Legacy Act, which will help preserve this great species and honor it for its significant role in American history, visit Vote Bison and sign the petition.

To learn more about bison, see Animal Fact Guide’s article, American Bison.

WWF’s Living Planet Report

Tree

The World Wildlife Fund, in collaboration with Global Footprint Network and Zoological Society London, has released its 2012 Living Planet Report.

The findings are less than optimal. The study shows that:

  • Biodiversity declined 30% between 1978 and 2008.
  • We currently use 1.5 planets’ worth of natural resources to support our activities. It is projected that by 2030, two planets would not support our rate of consumption.
  • High income countries use five times the amount of natural resources as low income countries.

But there are steps we can take to change this destructive path.  The report suggests:

  • Preserving and restoring biodiversity.
  • Optimizing our food production by reducing waste, using better seeds and cultivation techniques, restoring degraded land, and lowering meat consumption and reducing food waste in high income countries.
  • Conserving water with smarter irrigation techniques and planning.
  • Using clean, abundant energy sources like wind and sunlight, as well as increasing the energy efficiency of our buildings, factories, and cars.

For more information, see the WWF website.

World Forestry Day

Forest

Today, March 21st, is World Forestry Day!

Did you know that climate change affects the world’s forests, and in turn, their animal inhabitants? Here are several ways that increasing temperatures impact forests:

  • Forest fires: Hotter temperatures cause longer summer droughts and drier conditions, increasing the number and frequency of forest fires.
  • Forest die-off: The stress from droughts results in increased tree mortality in all major forest types around the world.
  • Beetle outbreaks: A greater number of beetle and other insect breakouts is associated with warmer temperatures, which leads to increased destruction of tree bark.
  • Leaf growth: As temperatures increase, the timing of when leaves emerge and fall from the trees changes.  This impacts carbon storage, water resources, and habitat condition.

Learn more at the USGS blog.