VOICES Ideas and Insight From Explorers
Wildlife hunted for food continues to underpin the diets of primarily rural, market-isolated families primarily in Africa, and wild meat often serves as an important source of income where employment opportunities are few. Where regulation is weak and livestock scarce wildlife are being rapidly depleted by hunters for food, and poor rural families are being deprived of a vital source of protein in their diets. To address this problem, a new 45-million-euro, 5-year initiative—funded by the European Commission and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Secretariat—seeks to counter the key factors driving the unsustainable hunting of wildlife for food in forests, grasslands and wetlands across Africa and in the forests of Guyana and Papua New Guinea.
I often feel like a kid in a candy store. As a biologist working in the most biologically diverse protected area in the world, sometimes I really do have to pinch myself. In a place as diverse as Madidi, I am privileged every day to see a life form I have not encountered before. Every day there is something new to behold, and every now and then these personal revelations are discoveries for the broader scientific community.
Working and living in the coastal Arctic, we have a particular interest in the impacts of noise on marine mammals and how that affects both their health and vitality and that of our indigenous partners, who rely on marine mammals for their food and economic security. With a range of colleagues within and outside WCS, we are developing an understanding of soundscapes, which helps us define and implement conservation strategies to protect these iconic animals in two of the most critical marine mammal habitats in the Western Arctic.
To stop deforestation and wetland conversion, a new “climate smart” agricultural technique increases and extends soil fertility, removing the need to clear new forest for agriculture. So far, harvests have more than doubled, lowering the risk of failure. Keeping forests intact safeguards chimpanzee habitat while protecting farmers against climate change.
In early 2015, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and Panthera initiated a joint project to fill the gaps in understanding about the conservation status of snow leopards and to implement appropriate actions to protect them in China. Particular emphasis is being paid to the animals in the Changtang landscape of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Here they share a day’s conservation work with local colleagues.
The first leg of the Identidad Madidi expedition in 2017 was to one of the most remote sites of those contemplated in this three-year research and outreach effort for Bolivia´s Madidi National Park, the Amazonian grasslands of the Pampas de Heath and surrounding tropical forests on the Heath River. In late June the team flew north from La Paz to the city of Cobija in the northernmost Pando Department. Once we crossed the Andes, the scenery below was covered by an overcast sky until suddenly a break in the clouds revealed the Heath River below. Excitedly, the team got a bird’s eye view of the very location of our intended research, where the natural grasslands are closest to the river and allow access to both the savannas and the rainforest.
Today is World Ranger Day. Rangers around the world work tirelessly to protect some of the world’s natural and cultural treasures for the benefit of all. Today we honor them and the contributions they make every day to protect our natural heritage for generations to come. Nowhere is it harder and more dangerous to defend nature than in Central America, which has the highest per capita murder rate of environmental defenders in the world, according to Global Witness.
Reflecting on my last year in Indonesia, and on the diversity of experiences and interactions I have had, illustrates multiple sources of conflict around shark and ray conservation and management. Going forward, we need to accept that designing practical solutions will necessitate some hard choices and trade-offs. I believe that conservationists would benefit from putting aside our pre-existing values and assumptions about the “right” approach and taking time to understand other people’s values and priorities.
Despite being irreplaceable and increasingly threatened, wilderness areas remain under-valued, under-protected, and have been almost completely ignored in international environmental policy. Immediate pro-active action is required to save them. The question is where such action could come from. In a paper just published in Conservation Biology, we argue that the World Heritage Convention has the ability to protect wilderness areas by improving coverage within Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS). This is something very much in the World Heritage Convention’s best interests if it is to meet its core objective to identify and conserve the world’s most valuable sites.
Central America’s border forests are home to numerous indigenous and ladino communities whose livelihoods depend upon natural resources. Such communities are increasingly caught in the crossfire of cross-border trafficking of drugs, weapons, timber, wildlife, and human migration.
Whales, which live in and migrate between marine habitats (some with considerable levels of maritime transport and other industrial activities), are particularly at risk from noise. These underwater blasts can disrupt behaviors and prevent these marine mammals from finding food and communicating with one another.
The islands that make up the Lau Group have largely been unexplored. Local Fijian scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Vatuvara Foundation surveyed 35 sites on outer fringing reefs, reef flats, and lagoonal systems in the course of an 8-day expedition looking at five islands in the Northern Lau Group. While last year’s Category 5 Cyclone Winston left behind damaged areas with large boulders and upturned corals, we documented extensive areas of reef that had very little to no damage, where there was a lot of intact structural complexity to reef systems surrounding the islands.
Vatuvara supports healthy populations of several globally threatened species, including the humphead, or Maori, wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus); giant clams (Tridacna species); and a large, prehistoric-looking land crab that rules this island. Coconut, or “robber,” crabs (Birgus latro) can be found roaming the forest floor searching for dropped coconuts, which they crack open with their powerful pincers to feed upon.
“Underwater Wildlife New York,” an outdoor exhibit at Brooklyn Bridge Park by acclaimed underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen, showcases the region’s most fascinating marine species and highlights efforts by scientists at the WCS’s New York Aquarium to study and raise awareness of the conservation needs of local marine wildlife and their habitats.
For 30 days in April and May, 2017, a team of researchers surveyed the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and its surrounding environs for Central American black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra). The Cockscomb monkeys are descended from animals that were first brought into the sanctuary 25 years ago in an effort to reintroduce howler monkeys to the area.