The good news: After decades of wondering whether this immaculately bearded monkey really existed, but not being able to confirm it because of never-ending violence in Colombia, scientists say they’ve finally found evidence of the Caqueta titi monkey. The bad news: Because of habitat destruction, the cat-sized redbeard primate is critically endangered.
The new species joins about 20 other titi monkeys known in the Amazon basin. They appear to be monogamous to a level that puts humans to shame, says expedition leader Thomas Defler, whose study (pdf) appears in Primate Conservation. The Caqueta monkey couples have about one child per year that they raise together, and that isn’t the end of their absurd adorableness. Read More
You’d think that nothing would make environmentalists happier than seeing a flagship species like the gray wolf rebound so successfully that it could be taken off the endangered species list. So why are some fighting to keep it on the list? Because wolves don’t see state lines.
Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana are the battleground states for the current fight over wolves, which last week resulted in U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy’s ruling that the species must stay on the endangered list despite its recovery. Two years ago the U.S. Interior Department declared that the wolves had reached a large enough population in Montana and Idaho to come off the list, so last year Interior Secretary Ken Salazar left them off. That allowed limited wolf hunts to begin in those states. Molloy, however, overturned the Interior Department’s decision, because of the rules in Wyoming.
That’s because Wyoming law allows the unregulated hunting of wolves throughout most of the state if they are taken off the endangered list. So while the federal government delisted wolves in Montana and Idaho last year after those states agreed to management plans that included controlled wolf hunts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) kept Wyoming wolves on the endangered list [Washington Post].
The judge’s ruling, then, was that the wolves must be treated as a whole population rather than individual populations in the states—after all, gray wolves don’t know if they’ve crossed the border from Montana to Wyoming when they go looking for new territory.
“The service’s decision to delist the wolf in Idaho and Montana reflected the strong commitments from the states of Idaho and Montana to manage grey wolves in a sustainable manner,” says Tom Strickland of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “Today’s ruling makes it clear this wolf population cannot be delisted until the state of Wyoming has instituted an adequate management programme, similar to those of Idaho and Montana” [New Scientist].
In 18 countries around the world, biologists are setting out what may be fruitless quests. Conservation International is sponsoring expeditions to seek 40 amphibian species that haven’t been spotted for over a decade, and that may well be extinct. The group hopes its “Search for Lost Frogs” project will draw attention to the plight of amphibians, which are threatened by fungal diseases, toxic chemicals, habitat loss, and climate change–some researchers even say the global population decline is a sign that the world’s sixth mass extinction event is underway.
Dr Robin Moore, of Conservation International, a US-based charity, said: “This role as the global ‘canary in a coalmine’ means that the rapid and profound change to the global environment that has taken place over the last 50 years or so – in particular climate change and habitat loss – has had a devastating impact on these incredible creatures.” [The Guardian]
Still, the biologists hope they’ll find that some of these 40 species are still hanging on. “Although there is no guarantee of success,” Conservation International said in a press release, “scientists are optimistic about the prospect of at least one rediscovery.”
The group also compiled a list of the 10 “most wanted” species. Photo gallery after the jump.
In early July we brought you news of the Great Sea Turtle Relocation–an ambitious plan dreamed up by conservationists to scoop up some 70,000 sea turtle eggs from Gulf Coast beaches, to prevent the hatchlings from crawling straight into oil-fouled waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service noted that the plan carried considerable risks to the unborn turtles, but said it was the best chance of preventing the die-off an entire generation.
Now the update: Over the past week, the plan has gone into action, and baby turtles are now swimming free in the Atlantic Ocean. But some experts question whether the launched turtles have a chance.
On Alabama and Florida beaches workers are carefully digging up nests, marking the eggs with “this end up” symbols, and packing them in styrofoam coolers for the truck ride to a Kennedy Space Center warehouse. The eggs belong mostly to threatened loggerheads, along with some endangered green, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley turtles.
Check out a photo gallery of the turtle rearing and release operations after the jump.
The oceans are getting louder and forcing some whale to speak up, according to a study published yesterday in the journal Biology Letters.
Lead researcher Susan Parks of Penn State University eavesdropped on seven male and seven female North Atlantic right whales by attaching acoustic tags to them via suction cups. Each tag recorded from 2 to 18 calls, which included the whales’ greeting “upcalls” (seemingly questioning “hmm?” sounds that go from a low to high pitch — see video), as well as background noise–believed to come from commercial shipping.
Bioacoustics researcher Christopher Clark of Cornell University, who did not participate in the study, says that ocean noise is becoming a serious issue.
“If I had to immerse you into the sea off Boston, you’d be shocked. You’d be like a country mouse dropped in the middle of Heathrow Airport,” says Clark. “In one generation, we have raised the background level for an entire ocean ecosystem.” [New Scientist]
Things may be looking up, ever so slightly, for the Gulf of Mexico’s endangered sea turtles. A few days ago, environmental groups announced that they were suing BP and the Coast Guard over the “controlled burns” that were intended to burn off oil slicks in the water; the environmentalists said that sea turtles were getting caught in the infernos and burned alive. This morning a judge was prepared to hear arguments on a proposed injunction, but at the last minute the parties declared that they’ve reached a settlement.
The agreement comes in advance of an emergency court hearing set today in New Orleans federal court, where environmentalists sought to force BP to either stop controlled burns or place rescuers on the boats to scoop federally protected sea turtles out of floating sludge patches before the corralled oil is ignited [Bloomberg].
According to Sea Turtles Restoration Project, one of the plaintiffs in the case, BP and the Coast Guard have agreed to station a qualified biologist on every vessel involved in the burns, and to remove turtles from the burn area before setting the blaze. This is good news for the leatherbacks, loggerheads, and Kemps Ridley turtles that make their home in the Gulf. Of course, it would be better news if their home wasn’t saturated with oil and periodically set on fire, but we’ll take what we can get.
Elsewhere in turtle news, conservationists are preparing to collect 70,000 turtle eggs from Alabama and Florida beaches. The ambitious scheme, coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is seen as the best chance of preventing a massive die-off of the threatened creatures.
And now, a sordid story about whaling.
This weekend, The Sunday Times of London published an expose charging the Japanese government with using foreign aid, cash, and even call girls to bribe nations on the International Whaling Commission into voting Japan’s way and supporting the country’s whaling.
Japan denies buying the votes of IWC members. However, The Sunday Times filmed officials from pro-whaling governments admitting:
- They voted with the whalers because of the large amounts of aid from Japan. One said he was not sure if his country had any whales in its territorial waters. Others are landlocked.
- They receive cash payments in envelopes at IWC meetings from Japanese officials who pay their travel and hotel bills.
- One disclosed that call girls were offered when fisheries ministers and civil servants visited Japan for meetings [The Times].
The full story is full of slimy details, like the allegation that Japan paid for Guinea’s IWC membership and that the latter country’s minister demanded a car and spending money, or the Tanzanian minister’s assertion that prostitutes would be made available in exchange for support. But most importantly, the story comes out with a crucial IWC meeting on the horizon. The annual get-together is in Morocco this month, where the nations will debate a possible end to the moratorium that dates back to 1986.
The turn of the millennium was not kind to the snakes.
Herpetologist Chris Reading and his team have been counting snakes through their own surveys and looking at population data going back to 1987 to see what’s happening to snake populations. The alarming findings, to be published soon in Biology Letters, indicate that most of the species studied saw a great decrease in population, with the greatest loss between 1998 and 2002.
Reading’s team monitored 17 different species in different climates—including snakes from Europe, Africa, and Australia—to try to get a global picture. Eleven of the 17 declined sharply over the study’s two-decade-plus period, with some declining as much as 90 percent. Five remained more or less stable. Only one saw a population increase, and a very slight one at that.
“All the declines occurred during the same relatively short period of time and over a wide geographical area that included temperate, Mediterranean and tropical climates,” write the authors. “We suggest that, for these reasons alone, there is likely to be a common cause at the root of the declines and that this indicates a more widespread phenomenon” [Guardian].
Indonesia, because it’s an archipelago, might not look like it has a lot of land area. But it’s home to the third largest forest area of any country, and has half the tropical peatlands in the entire world. These forested lands are home to many endangered species, and also store greenhouse gases. Now, thanks to international cooperation (and a big check), more of that area will be saved—for now.
This week, Indonesia pledged to stop giving permits for the destruction of virgin forests:
“We will conduct a moratorium for two years where we stop the conversion of peat land and of forest,” President Yudhoyono said at a joint news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. The pledge comes ahead of Thursday’s climate and forest conference in Oslo, which is expected to be attended by officials from some 50 countries [BBC News].
Environmentalists are cheering the reprieve, noting that vast swaths of forest have already been cleared in Indonesia to provide wood for timber and paper industries, and to provide space for palm oil plantations.
If you need a breather from all the bad news coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, take a look way up north. In Canada this week, environmental groups and big industry—timber, in this case—actually agreed on something. With the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, the groups reached a truce in their fight over the forests of Northern Canada. The breakthrough could protect vast swaths of forest that, if added up, would be bigger than the state of Nevada.
Signatories include AbitibiBowater, one of the world’s biggest newsprint producers; Seattle-based Weyerhaeuser, and Canfor, British Columbia’s biggest softwood lumber producer, as well as nine environmental groups such as Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy and Forest Ethics [Financial Times].
The environmental groups agreed to suspend their “don’t buy” campaigns in exchange for timber firms agreeing not to cut down forests that constitute endangered caribou habitat until at least the end of 2012. In the meantime, the parties will try to hash out a long-term plan. If this step does result in a more permanent conservation plan, it could have benefits not just for the caribou, but for the planet as well.
Over the past decade, boreal-forest preservation has increasingly been seen to be as vital as tropical-forest preservation in efforts to combat global warming. Although tropical forests cover more of Earth’s surface than boreal forests, boreal forests store nearly twice as much carbon, mainly in their soils [Christian Science Monitor].