When Lewis and Clark were exploring the West in 1805, it’s estimated that fifty thousand to one hundred thousand grizzly bears roamed the Great Plains. But by the late 1800s, as the West was getting settled, large animals were “cleared away” to make room for homesteading, mining, and ranching. Within a hundred years, the grizzly bear’s range had been reduced by 99 percent in the Lower 48 states, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
But since 1975, when grizzly bears were placed on the federal endangered species list, their numbers have rebounded from less than two hundred to an estimated fourteen hundred today, six hundred of which live in the Greater Yellowstone area.
Those statistics are why some are now calling for grizzlies to be delisted from their federal “threatened” status in the Yellowstone Ecosystem by early 2014. States would take over managing their grizzly bear populations — and management usually involves some form of hunting.
But is using an animal’s increased numbers reason enough to delist it and remove some of its strongest protections? Continue reading →
Bucknell University Associate Professor of Biology DeeAnn Reeder spotted the bat in the Bangangai Game Reserve. After returning to the United States, she determined that the bat was the same as one originally captured in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1939 and given the scientific name Glauconycterissuperba. However, Reeder believes the “badger bat” represents a whole new genus now named Niumbaha, a term which means rare or unusual in Zande, the language of the Azande people in the state of Western Equatoria, where the bat was captured.
Bats are plant pollinators and consumers of astronomical amounts of insects, which make them ecologically important. Without them, many fruit-bearing plants would not generate fruits. In the United States, bats have such a positive effect on reducing insect pests that their contribution to agriculture has been valued in the billions of dollars each year.
For a bit of bat appreciation, watch the short video below. These nine baby bats are orphans temporarily residing at the Australian Bat Clinic. Although they are certainly cute, the clinic sends a reminder that you should never touch or approach a bat unless you are a registered rescuer and are vaccinated. Moving toward a wild bat may cause it to see you as a predator.
The baby bats will eventually be released back into the wild.
When National Geographic magazine came out with their cover story on de-extinction in April 2013, it set off quite a controversy. Now that we are on the scientific brink of being able to bring back long-gone species, proponents and critics are hotly debating whether we should.
An intriguing side issue to this discussion relates to our native landscapes and the biodiversity they provide — and how quickly we’re losing them. We know that extirpated animals performed vital services in their ecosystems, which benefit when they return.
On the flood plains of the Brahmaputra River in Assam, India, lies Kaziranga National Park, one of the last areas in the eastern part of the country to be undisturbed by human presence. Here, the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses (Rhinoceros unicornis) — along with bears, elephants, panthers, highly endangered swamp deer, tigers, more than 50 percent of the world’s wild water buffalo, and thousands of birds — live.
On March 26, 2013, Kaziranga let the world in on some good news. Its rhino population grew. In 1999, the World Heritage site of Kaziranga had 1,672 rhinos. In 2009, that number had increased to 2,048. The latest census, concluded at the end of March, found 2,329 individuals.
There is a darker side to this success story, however. Last year, more than twenty rhinos were poached in Kaziranga. And after only the first three months of 2013, the number of poached rhinos is already at sixteen.
That sad fact is causing some to ask: Could concentrating most of the planet’s remaining one-horned rhinos in one park actually be helping poachers? Continue reading →
A lot of times when working with nature, what you manage to get on film is a happy accident. So it was for Neels Castillon, just a few months ago. While he and his film crew were waiting to shoot an outdoor commercial in Marseille, France, just before sunset, they happened to witness a massive flock of birds performing a “ballet.” Luckily, they began to roll tape. Said Castillon on Vimeo, where he first posted his video, “we just forgot our job and started this little piece of poetry.”
The European starlings in Castillon’s footage, which you can see below, are engaging in a phenomenon called a murmuration. This collective behavior is typically seen at dusk throughout Europe, between November and February. Each evening during those months, the birds execute breathtaking aerial maneuvers before choosing a place to roost for the night.
No one knows why starlings fly in this way. What is known is that a murmuration requires strong spatial coherence and synchronization. An article about the behavior in Wired Magazine stated, “Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition. At the individual level, the rules guiding this are relatively simple. When a neighbor moves, so do you. Depending on the flock’s size and speed and its members’ flight physiologies, the large-scale pattern changes. What’s complicated, or at least unknown, is how criticallity is created and maintained.”
Scientists around the globe are currently using computer simulations and physical data to try to demystify murmurations. For now, however, just enjoy the performance of this bird ballet that — in words from Wired Magazine — “hints at universal principles yet to be understood.”
From Florida manatees equipped with small satellite-monitored tags to elk in the Rocky Mountains fitted with large radio collars, our wildlife is becoming more wired every day. We now know more about the locations and wanderings of animal populations than at any other time in history.
That’s why it’s surprising to learn that old-time wildlife tracking — reading scats, chews, and paw prints — is making a comeback. Now, even as courses in natural history are being dropped at universities across the country, tracking clubs are flourishing in more than half of the United States, books on track- and sign-identification techniques are becoming big sellers, and adventure travel companies are adding wolf trips in Yellowstone National Park and grizzly bear tours in Alaska.
So today, is traditional wildlife tracking simply a low-tech way for the lay public to increase their chances of having wildlife encounters, or a still-essential method for professional biologists?Continue reading →
Good Nature is the official nature and adventure travel blog of Natural Habitat Adventures. We feature reports from the field, news from the natural world and thoughts from our accomplished authors and staff.
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