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Would You Ditch Your House to Help Out a Tiger? – Yahoo News

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Would You Ditch Your House to Help Out a Tiger? – Yahoo News.

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Human Wildlife Conflicts: Should Bushmen be evicted to create a wildlife corridor?

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http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/9253

http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/9267

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers: Declines and Conservation

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Bird species have faced serious declines since the Americas were colonized by Europeans. One of these species is the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. With estimated populations ranging from 920,000-1,500,000 groups at the time of European settlement these birds had fallen to only 10,000 individuals within 4,000 groups by the time they were listed as endangered in 1979.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

This drastic decrease in numbers was due to an almost complete loss of habitat. These birds rely on old-growth longleaf pine forests. Particularly because they burrow in trees that are infected with red heart disease. This fungus is fairly common in trees that are 70 years old or more but with few trees left in this age range there was little habitat left in which these birds could nest.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker male

Red-cockaded Woodpecker male

The bird does seem to be on the increase in recent years. Now considered vulnerable by the IUCN the birds have increased to around 6,105 breeding groups according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This increases is largely attributed to better management practices for these birds and their ecosystems. Once mostly restricted to South Carolina they have now expanded back out to cover 11 states (AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, NC, MS, OK, SC, VA, and TX).

Lesser Prairie-Chicken conservation

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Once widespread throughout the Great Plains the Lesser Prairie-Chickens, Tympanuches pallidicinctus, are now limited to a restricted range through parts of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. These smaller relatives of the Greater Prairie-Chicken are dependent on large areas of native prairie, particularly shortgrass prairie and sand sagebrush grasslands. However these birds have experienced a 92% reduction in range since the 1800s with similar decreases in the number of birds.

Habitat loss has been the largest driver of this decline. With the 92% reduction in range this seems like a natural conclusion. However, the way in which habitat is being lost may not seem as obvious. If one were to drive through the native range of these birds they might ask how is this habitat lost? There is very little construction through these areas. The habitat has actually been degraded by the conversion of prairie to agricultural land and through the construction of tall structures such as power lines and wind turbines.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken range map

Lesser Prairie-Chicken range map

Lesser Prairie-Chickens will not venture near tall structures as these are excellent perching places for hawks and other flying predators. Unfortunately for these birds, which are labeled as vulnerable by the IUCN, the best places for wind energy happen to be right in the middle of their remaining habitat. So as we attempt to create more green energy by harnessing wind we are inadvertently putting more pressure on a species that has already been pushed to the brink.

Fragmentation of land through fence construction has also been a threat to these low flying birds. When they are flushed and try to evade danger they often smash into these fences and die.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

There is hope though. Several organizations are working to protect this species. NRCS, Natural Resources Conservation Service, has developed a program to promote conservation on private lands. This plan includes supporting better grading practices that maintain proper nesting cover for these birds, protecting and restoring large tracts of native prairie and  sagebrush grasslands, and increase connectivity of prairie-chicken habitat. So far 600 farmers and ranchers have enrolled in this program conserving around 1 million acres of habitat.

The Wildlife Society has also been involved in the conservation of prairie-chickens. Particularly several student chapters have organized work days to go out into prairie-chicken habitat and place reflectors on fences, with land-owner permission of course, to prevent these birds from striking fences by helping them see the wires from farther away.

Kenya and Tanzania: The difference between conservation and preservation

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I fell in love with Africa the first time I set eyes on her. Beautiful landscapes set the backdrop for a kaleidoscope of cultures. But, what draws me back to her soils over and over is the bountiful wildlife. It was the wildlife that led me back to Africa, this time to visit Kenya and Tanzania. As I had just completed my Bachelor’s of Science in natural resource ecology and management I was keen to put my new degree to the test on this trip. I made detailed notes of the wildlife I was seeing as I traveled through the parks of these two countries. I quickly noticed some major differences between them and wanted to share my observations and conclusions with the readers of this page.

Grevy's Zebra in Lewa

Grevy’s Zebra in Lewa

Tanzania and Kenya have drastically different approaches when it comes to wildlife management. Kenya has been closed to big game hunting since 1977, whereas Tanzania is still one of the top countries for hunting safaris in Africa. These different approaches have allowed the wildlife of one country to thrive while the other has sharply declined. It may surprise some folks that Tanzania is the one that is actually thriving. For years I have heard and read accounts of how Tanzania’s wildlife is booming while Kenya’s wildlife has declined by 70-80% since the late ’70s. Most of what I have learned about conservation and wildlife management at OSU would support this idea, but my scientific training I received there has also taught me to question everything especially if I cannot find a source without obvious bias. After all, most reports of Tanzania’s success and Kenya’s decline come from pro-hunting sources. Likewise I have read many accounts of Kenya being the best, but these were published by openly anti-hunting organizations. With so much contradicting evidence and very few credible sources I set out to discover the truth for myself. So here is my personal evaluation of both countries:

My time in Kenya was amazing! I have never met friendlier people and it was an awesome experience to walk in the footsteps of some of my personal heroes such as Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. I was in the heart of classic Africa and loving it. Which is why I was so disappointed when I realized that everything I had heard was true. I loved the people, landscapes, and history so much that by the end of my time in Kenya my own personal bias made me want to reject what I saw.

At the Watering Hole

The wildlife we saw in Kenya was abysmal compared to what I have seen in other parts of Africa. Tsavo, which I had greatly looked forward to, was almost barren of wildlife except for birds. The birding in Kenya was truly its saving grace, although bird levels were just as good in Tanzania. I can give an exact head count on every mammal species seen in Kenya, whereas in Tanzania the herds were so large I had to estimate numbers. I must admit that I was not able to coordinate a few days in Kenya’s Maasai Mara area, which is supposed to be its best park. However, this is the northern extension of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. For the purpose of removing this bias I can say it is easy to assume the wildlife levels in these parks are relatively the same throughout the year as most species migrate from one to the other. Even removing the Serengeti factor from my analysis the wildlife I observed in all four of Kenya’s parks i visited, including the Lewa Conservancy, combined did not match up with the variety and abundance of wildlife I saw in any of the other three parks I saw in Tanzania. By itself Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park with its small area and extremely thick vegetation, which greatly diminished visibility, surpassed the Kenyan parks.

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But why is this the case? Shouldn’t Kenya’s wildlife be thriving since there is no more hunting? In essence, no. Africa is a hot bed of poaching both for feeding the Asian black market and for feeding the people living near game reserves, bush meat. The main approaches to combat these problems are anti-poaching patrols and public outreach/ community involvement campaigns. Lewa and the surrounding reserves are good examples of community involvement/ outreach programs in Kenya, in fact the Lewa Conservancy will be the topic of my next post as it was the only successful system I witnessed in Kenya. But these methods require a lot of funding, funding which Tanzania has and Kenya does not due to taxes and fees on the hunting industry. A portion of every dollar raised through hunting goes back into conservation. This money pays for education, anti-poaching, habitat improvement, and community development. Not only does the wildlife benefit, the local people receive benefits as well for simply tolerating the wildlife. This is why hunting is such a powerful tool in conservation, it brings value to wildlife which would otherwise be a nuisance.

Poached rhino with  calf

Poached rhino with calf

Conservation, directly managing wildlife through sustainable use, has been superior to preservation, hands off and let nature take its course, throughout much of the history of wildlife management. With an ever expanding human population more and more efforts are needed to protect and conserve wildlife. This is where sustainable use methods of conservation, such as hunting, step in to pay the bills. Tanzania likely has such great wildlife populations today because they have kept this idea as the core of their wildlife management approach, while across the border Kenya has rejected it.

Conservation of Grevy’s Zebra

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The Grevy’s zebra, Equus grevyi, is the largest of the equids as well as the most critically endangered. This was one of my target species that I wanted to observe and photograph during my recent trip to Kenya. To do so I had to travel into northern Kenya to see the Lewa Conservancy, a conservancy that deserves a post of its own which will be a topic I work on after this, and the Il Ngwesi group ranch. I had feared that this species may be hard to find as there are so few of them left in the world. However, Lewa is home to one of the largest populations of this species and we managed to find a small herd of them shortly after leaving the airstrip.

The Grevy’s zebra is an interesting creature which looks like a cross between the plains zebra, Equus burchellii, and the wild ass, Equus hemionus. In fact, they fill a narrow ecological niche between the wild ass, which is more desert adapted, and the plains zebra, which is heavily dependent on water (Estes 2012). During dry seasons the Grevy’s will migrate to better-watered highlands. However, this species is not overly limited by food. It can eat grasses you tough for cattle and when these are gone it will shift to browsing. Without the need to find better grazing as long as water is available it will not migrate. They have even been known to dig waterholes in stream beds which they fiercely defend rather than migrate (Estes 2012).

Grevy's Zebra

Grevy’s Zebra

These zebras are highly territorial. Stallions maintain dung middens to mark the boundaries of their territory. A stallion will not tolerate the presence of another dominant male in his territory when a female is in estrous, although subordinate males are still allowed within the territory but at a distance from the dominant stallions females. However, the territorial stallion will often mingle with subordinate bachelors and even other territorial males when the females are not in estrous (Estes 2012). Females will breed as young as 3 years old but stallions never before the age of 6. The foals become more independent after 6 months but still follow their mother up to 3 years. When females are forced to travel during droughts they often leave their young unguarded or in a crèche (Estes 2012). Lacking the instinct to hide, the foals just stand around as easy prey for any predator in the area.

Historically this species ranged throughout most of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. With only 750 mature individuals left, and only 2,000 total including juveniles, this species is almost entirely restricted to the Laikipia region of Northern Kenya (Moehlman 2013). As of 2010 the Ethiopian population was estimated around 126 individuals, a 90% decrease from the 1,900 estimated in 1980, and the species has been extinct in Somalia since 1973 (Hollingshead 2010).

Grevy's grazing

Grevy’s grazing

In Kenya it was believed that hunting for skins was a large part of the decline of this species throughout the 1970s. However, even after the closing of all big game hunting in the late 70s this species has continued to sharply decline. More recent data suggests that possibly the biggest factor in the decline is low juvenile recruitment, that is to say that very few of their offspring are surviving to adulthood, due to competition with pastoral people and livestock for access to food and water (Moehlman 2013).

There are many efforts in place now to save this unique species. They are a CITES Appendix I species and are being upgraded to the designation of “protected animal” in Kenya. Kenya has taken steps to create a national conservation strategy. The aforementioned Lewa Conservancy has been a shining example of the dedication of Kenyan’s to saving this iconic species.

Literature Cited

Estes, R.D. 2012. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. 240-242. Print.

Hollingshead, A. 2010. “Equus grevyi” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 30, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Equus_grevyi/

Moehlman, P.D., Rubenstein, D.I. & Kebede, F. 2013. Equus grevyi. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 30 August 2013.

See Spot Run: A discussion of cheetahs and cheetah conservation

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When I first visited Africa in July of 2009 the cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, was the first species I saw and photographed. Although it was in a cheetah center rather than in the wild this species will always be special to me as it was like an ambassador, welcoming me to the continent where I feel most at home. While the lion is still my favorite the cheetah is a close second. It was not until my fourth trip back to Africa that I was able to once again see these magnificent animals and photograph them in the wild.

Cheetahs are the most specialized of the world’s big cats, essentially the feline version of a greyhound. These amazing cats have traded strength for incredible speed, reaching speeds of 90-112 kph (60-70 mph). Though they are incredibly fast they lack both stamina and the strength of their felid relatives. Their jaws are fairly weak and lack the major canine teeth of other cats. Without the strength of other predators they are easily run off of their kills. While in Tanzania’s  Tarangire National Park I witnessed a pair of cheetahs that had been run off of a warthog kill by vultures. It is very likely that the cheetahs fled the kill out of fear of the vultures attracting larger competition rather than by the vultures themselves. As for stamina they can only maintain their speed for a short distance, prey must be overtaken within 300 yards, before they need to cool down. In fact a cheetah can cause itself to overheat if it tries to run for too long.

South Africa 2009 024

While predominantly solitary creatures cheetahs, mainly males, have been known to form coalitions. Males usually disperse and defend their own territories, but some litter mates have been known to stay together. The benefits of forming coalitions seems less obvious than in the case of lions. Females are solitary and wander amongst male territories. Having a coalition would not increase the likelihood of being visited by a receptive female. Single males would have a better chance of mating as they would not have to compete with a companion male for the right to copulate. The only benefit these males may receive is in hunting as having a companion would allow them to drag down larger prey.

Cheetahs that are actively hunting walk along alertly and will use termite mounds and low hanging tree limbs as vantage points. To get within range of prey the cheetah may wait at the vantage point if it sees prey grazing towards it or attempt a stalk. Some stalks are unsuccessful and do not result in a chase, but those that do result in chases are successful roughly 50% of the time. Serengeti cheetahs lose roughly 10% of their successful kills to other predators. However, females with cubs will occasionally try to defend these kills against hyenas and wild dogs, but will quickly yield to larger competitors such as lions.

South Africa 2009 025-2

While cheetahs are fascinating creatures they face serious threats. Once widespread across Africa and into southern India cheetahs have now become severely limited in range. In the 1950s they became extinct in India and are now very rare throughout North Africa. They are still wide spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa but very sparsely distributed. To make matters worse a series of genetic bottle necks have led modern cheetahs to be over 90% similar in genetic make up. This degree of genetic uniformity means that one disease could possibly devastate cheetah populations and quite possibly push cheetahs into total extinction.

There is a glimmer of hope though as many organizations throughout the world are working tirelessly to save cheetahs. The De Wildt Cheetah Centre in South Africa works to relocate cheetahs captured near ranches to areas where they will not run into conflicts with humans. This centre, where I saw my first cheetah, also has an ambassador program in which they teach humans that cheetahs are not a major threat to livestock and attempt to foster good relations between ranchers and this species of cat.

South Africa 2009 053

Back in the US at Texas A&M is another project which may benefit cheetahs. A professor there has been working mainly with bison, another species that has a severely limited genome, to collect DNA from hides taken prior to the genetic bottleneck the species went through. It is hoped that this genetic information can be spliced into modern bison and add more diversity back to their genetic code. In theory, this professor could do the same thing with cheetahs to hopefully provide them with enough genetic diversity to survive a disease that otherwise might wipe them out.

Cheetahs are an amazing species that have captured my heart. It took me three additional trips to Africa to finally catch glimpses of them in the wild, but the effort was well worth it as my latest trip provided three new cheetah sightings for a total of 6 cheetahs (one pair in Tarangire, a coalition of three in the Serengeti, and a solitary cheetah spotted a few hours after the coalition). It would be a great tragedy if we let this species slip out of existence. Fortunately there are many great people working to make sure this does not happen.

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