Carol: Hi Hurst! I hope you’ve had a good weekend!
Hurst: I have. I spent my weekend inside, away from the cold. Aren’t you in Mexico right now?
Carol: Yep! I’m at a conference about animals where academics and advocates come together to learn about how to be more effective in their animal work. It’s very interesting and there are so many inspiring people here. And all the food is vegan, which is really cool.
Hurst: Well, I’m looking at snow outside my window, so…I think I’ll move on before I get too envious. I wanted to start this week’s Creature Feature by discussing a report on how social media is yet again helping the wildlife trade to flourish. Mongabay reported that TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, conducted a snapshot study of 90 Facebook groups in the Philippines for three months and documented 2,245 live reptile advertisements representing more than 5,000 individual animals. The most frequently mentioned animals were ball python, Burmese python, leopard gecko, bearded dragon, and African spurred tortoise.
Carol: If that’s just a three month snapshot of what’s happening out there from just one country, that sounds a bit overwhelming.
Hurst: For sure. And beyond the sheer numbers, within the Philippines, all reptile species are protected under the 2001 Philippine Wildlife Act so people who want to keep reptiles as pets must have permits. But of the over 2000 ads for reptiles, only 17 mentioned the legality of the individuals they were selling, and only two offered permits with their reptiles. And…eight species being advertised were either endangered or critically endangered, but according to the country’s Biodiversity Management Bureau who tracks permits, they don’t ever issue permits to collect reptiles for commercial use. So, these animals were definitely being sold illegally. The buyers are of course at fault too, because they are spurring the demand for this illegal activity, especially when they don’t seem to mind when sellers can’t produce the legal permits for possessing the animals.
Carol: I just can’t wrap my head around why someone would want an enormous animal like a python, much less keep it in a much smaller space than it needs. I guess there is still a lot of ignorance or apathy about endangered species, too. Sigh. I think I need an uplifting story next, please.
Hurst: Ok, how about this one…the Guardian reported a new effort to reduce roadkill in Tasmania. But this is an action that motorists in any country could adopt. Several organizations are working together to get the educational message out about not throwing food or food waste out of their vehicles. Doing so attracts wildlife, which can then lead to their deaths when they are struck by a car. The Tasmanian devil, whose population is endangered, is a carrion eater, so they are attracted to the roadkill, which inevitably leads to their demise. So, hopefully this new educational program will result in fewer wildlife deaths by motorists.
Carol: In another bit of good news, did you read about the recovery of the California Sea Lion population?
Hurst: I did not, but that’s great!
Carol: It really is, and it can be credited in large part to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Overhunting and pollutants brought the California Sea Lion population down to less than 90,000 individuals in 1975, but thanks to the MMPA, numbers rebounded to 281,450 in 2008. These numbers are right at the carrying capacity of their environment in the Channel Islands of Southern California.
Hurst: I love to hear a success story about endangered animals. It just goes to show, policy and law plays a huge role in animal conservation so it is important to be educated and vote!
Carol: For sure. Speaking of endangered species, are you aware of what a sturgeon is?
Hurst: Of course I am, it’s kind of like being a doctor. But, I think you just do surgery.
Carol: I’m going to assume you’re kidding.
Hurst: Oh wait did you say sturgeon? You shouldn’t mumble. Yes I do, they are a fascinating family of fish. Some species can live to be over 140 years old!
Carol: I figured you would know about them. I did some reading on them this week and was very interested. Not only is their appearance unique, but the sturgeon family has other fascinating qualities. They have existed since the dinosaurs, around 200 million years ago and they haven’t changed much since then. They are also a major source for caviar, the expensive fish eggs that people eat.
Hurst: But like you said, many sturgeon species are endangered. This is because they are consumed by humans for caviar and meat and suffer from habitat degradation and loss due to pollution and damming of rivers.
Carol: Right you are! So, in Louisiana, there is a bit of controversy surrounding the construction of a Sturgeon farm. Local wildlife law enforcement is worried that the foreign sturgeon may escape the farm and compete with the two native species of Sturgeon. This would not be the first time Louisiana has dealt with something like this. They are currently battling the invasive Asian carp that escaped from a farm and into waterways during a flood, outcompeting many native species.
Hurst: Oh so it was during a flood, I was about to ask how the Asian carp escaped from their containers. And I’m sure they want to build this farm because of the high demand and price set for caviar?
Carol: Of course, which could have positive effects on the local economy. Supporters of the farm say that this time the aquatic containers will be indoors and at least one foot above the 100-year flood line so that they will not be able to escape in the same way. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has set up numerous strict requirements for those wanting to raise these fish.
Hurst: Well, I hope it all goes swimmingly. The farm owners will feel gill-ty if the sturgeon actually escape.
Carol: Ugh, well at least you didn’t say that the fish farms should seize the day.
Hurst: Haha, carpe diem, I get it.
Carol: Yeah, well if you think of any more fish puns, just let minnow. Moving on, I read a news brief from Faunalytics, one of my favorite animal news sources, about a study on why people surrender their pets to shelters. We see plenty of news about how shelters are overflowing or having to euthanize animals because they cannot take in anymore, but not much research has been done into why these pets are being left there. This study gathered the results of many other previous studies and complied to the results to look specifically at the reasons dogs are surrendered.
Hurst: I also saw that, it said that the highest reason for abandonment was the dog having behavioral problems, followed by the financial burden of owning a pet, and aggression. But overall, it was a large variety of reasons; some others include a change in the owner’s health status, or if the owners move and decide not to take the pet with them.
Carol: So what is the solution to this issue?
Hurst: Well the study doesn’t offer a solution, but I would say it would just be to educate people about what they are getting into when they get a pet and encourage those in the market to get a pet to adopt from a shelter.
Carol: I think that seems logical. What other news do you have for me?
Hurst: World Animal News reported that the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a legal advocacy organization, released the 12th annual year-end report (2017) ranking the animal protection laws of all 50 states. For the 10th year in a row, Illinois is in first place—followed by Oregon (2), California (3), Maine (4), and Rhode Island (5). However, Kentucky is in last place alongside Iowa (49), Wyoming (48), Utah (47), and North Dakota (46); according to the report, these states the weakest animal protection laws. The rankings are based on a comprehensive review of each jurisdiction’s animal protection laws. Pennsylvania is the most-improved state this year, jumping 20 places up to number 24.
Carol: Ooh, that’s interesting! I love a good ranking. What are some examples of laws that could help protect animals?
Hurst: There are laws against leaving animals in hot cars, or chained up outside in extreme temperatures. Animal fighting is included, as is sexual assault, and immunity for individuals who intervene. And there are laws, of course, against animal abuse and torture. You can download a lot more information about this on the ALDF website.
Carol: What a great service the Animal Legal Defense Fund is doing. I’m happy to see this information highlighted in the public eye, so that people who are inclined to advocate for tougher laws and more strength behind enforcement can do so.
Hurst: Absolutely! When I first heard the name Animal Legal Defense Fund I was hoping it involved small animal lawyers in suits, but the work they are doing is good too!
Carol: Hurst, we’ve got a couple of stories this week about the use of cameras to capture images of wildlife!
Hurst: So, this is kind of the animal equivalent of selfies?
Carol: Not really. The animals aren’t trying to elevate their social status on networking sites.
Hurst: Then I’m a bit lost.
Carol: Well, NBC did a story this week about how useful wildlife cameras are in collecting biodiversity data in all kinds of natural settings. Also, Mongabay reported that a camera on the island of Java, Indonesia captured an image of what is being called “the world’s ugliest pig.”
Hurst: Aw, I hope the pig doesn’t read that report.
Carol: I know. I happen to be one of those people who think even possums are cute, but I am in the minority on that and realize that’s beside the point. The short report and photo slideshow from NBC extols the value of these cameras all over the western part of the U.S. and in Canada, where wide open spaces are common and great habitat for all kinds of critters. Some of the animals that have been “captured” out west by these cameras are elk, mule deer, antelope, bison, wolverines, bears, lynx, ocelots, bighorn sheep, javelinas (little desert pigs), coatimundi, which is a relative to the raccoon, and but way cuter, not that I have anything against raccoons, mind you.
Hurst: And I would imagine that these images provide some scientific use, aside from the fun of just being able to look at a variety of cool animals…are these images being used to track migration patterns or other behavior?
Carol: You got it! It’s a really useful scientific tool, that doesn’t seem invasive to the habitat or the animal, although there is the occasional incident when an animal plays with or attacks the camera.
Hurst: Bears will be bears. So, you mentioned something about an unattractive porcine?
Carol: Yes, this pig is called the Javan warty pig, because well, it has warts that grow on its face.
Hurst: That’s unfortunate. Unless that’s considered attractive in the Java pig world.
Carol: We will never know. The Javan warty pig isn’t spotted often, which makes this a big deal, along with the fact that it is endangered, primarily due to habitat destruction, but they are also hunted for sport and killed in retaliation for raiding crops at night.
Hurst: Well, like you said, these cameras are very useful in gather important data on everything from migration patterns to poaching and even how climate change may be affecting the range animals inhabit.
Carol: However, these cameras also capture humorous pictures of animals. My personal favorite from these images is the one of the seal that looks like it’s doing yoga.
Hurst: Well if even seals are doing yoga, maybe it’s time I gave it a shot.
Carol: Well, you have fun with that, that’s not on my New Year’s Resolutions list. I’m just trying to drink more water. Speaking of the new year, National Geographic recently declared 2018 to be their Year of the Bird. This means that they are putting a spotlight on numerous articles about birds, how they are important to us, and what we can do to conserve them.
Hurst: Wow an interesting topic to read about and it is helping to protect our avian friends. That’s really killing two birds with one stone!
Carol: Interesting and kind of violent word choice. On that note, I should get going, I’m feeling a bit peckish and I am going to have some lunch on the fly.
Hurst: So many bird jokes, and you chose those? See you next week!