Monday, January 30, 2017

Primates Under Threat of Extinction

More:  An example of why primate populations the world over are declining to the point of extinction (see previous post below) comes to us from Thailand.  Pileated gibbons (Hylobates pilietus) living in Thap Lan National Park are being hunted and killed for meat by illegal loggers harvesting prized Siamese rosewood.  Exports to China from the Mekong region between 2000 and 2014 are valued at $2.4 billion.  Rangers have documented the grizzly slaughter.  Thap Lan is supposed to be a sanctuary for endangered wildlife and is part of a larger forest complex designated a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2005.  The DPKY complex is the last remaining significant tract of lowland rainforest in Southeast Asia.  Because of the hunting pressure, the gibbons are calling less and less.  Their singing makes them vulnerable to hunters who locate them by their calls.  Populations are believed to have declined by 50% since 1970.  The last census in 2005 put gibbon population at 14,000.  They are on the ICUN's red list of endangered species.

Gibbons are almost totally arboreal. They live in mated pairs with their offspring.  Offspring are produced one at a time and the young stay with their mother for two years. Gibbons are sexually dimorphic: males are all black with white eyebrows and females are white with black underparts [photo credit: MongaBay]  They feed on fruit about 60% of the time.  Selected leaves and insects make up the rest of their diet.  Their locomotion in the canopy is graceful and impressive sometimes covering gaps of over nine meters.  But most spectacular are their loud duets which can last minutes.  The singing is believed to reinforce pair bounding and delineate their territory from others.

Thailand has made efforts to suppress poaching, but it is difficult and dangerous work.  Poachers trek deep into the rainforest to find rosewood for days at a time and they are well-armed.  A single tree could be as much as $1 million.  Firefights between poachers and rangers are common. In 2015 seven rangers were killed trying to stop the "blood timber" trade.   Hasadin are elite forest rangers formed in 2015 to stop the rosewood trade, but conservationists warn that the trade is increasing.  There is only one deep forest pocket of the timber left in Thailand.  The poachers leave a trail of body parts in their obsession to cut Hongmu timber.

{25.01.17}An assessment of the world's primate populations show that humans are running out of time to save their nearest relatives from extinction.  Of the recognized 504 species, sixty percent are in danger of extinction.  Thirty anthropologists published their findings in Science Advances.  It is no secret that anthropomorphic pressures are causing their decline in numbers.  Habitat loss due to development and poaching for bushmeat and pet trade are the main drivers.

The study authors relied on existing data compiled from research, the ICUN's Red List and the United Nations in an effort to gain a global understanding of primate populations and the threats they face.  Unsurprisingly Asian primates are in the worst situation.  The global demand for palm oil has stripped rainforest habitats bare.  The two species of orangutan still extant are on the brink of extinction in the wild as a result.  Madagascar is also rapidly loosing its forest canopy putting 90% of its 100 primate species at risk.  The study estimates about 7722 square miles of forest cover have been loss.  The remaining forests are heavily fragmented.  An area three times the size of France has been appropriated for agriculture.  As more and more humans occupy the planet, there is less room for wild creatures who need undisturbed nature to survive.  Indeed, the authors found the many causes of primate decline are intimately related to human social problems such as pervasive poverty in those areas where they co-habituate.

The solutions are there for everyone to see: stop forest devastation; cease trading in animals and their body parts; find ways to sustainably feed the world's human population; and control the increase of human populations.  It is the implementation of these solutions in a human society wedded to a profit economic model that is difficult.  Time is running out for our cousins.  If we want them to remain with us on Earth, the mind-set of future human generations must be changed and permanently.

Friday, January 27, 2017

New Male Jaguar Occupies Hauchucas

An unfamiliar male jaguar, probably from Mexico, was spotted living in Arizona's Hauchuca Mountains, the northern most extent of their range in December.  Jaguars went practically extinct in the American southwest early in the last century.  Only six, all males, have been recorded entering the US in the past two decades. No females are known to inhabit areas north of the border. One of the males, El Jefe, became an Internet sensation.  Another, Macho B, was euthanized by Arizona authorities after being collared for tracking purposes.  It is thought he was stressed to the point of kidney failure by wearing a tracking device. {05.02.16, 06.04.09}.  They were designated endangered in 1997 by the federal government, and critical habitat was designated in Arizona and New Mexico for their survival [map courtesy Arizona Game & Fish].  Predictably livestock interests are suing to overrule those designations.

There are no current federal plans to reintroduce females and attempt to resurrect American jaguars (Panthera onca) from extinction.  The closest breeding population is 125 south of the border in Sonora State.  The Center for Biological Diversity calls the proposed jaguar management plan, "an extinction plan, not a recovery plan".  The Fish and Wildlife Service is directing its resources toward conserving Mexican jaguars.  Surprisingly that policy is supported by one of the world's leading Panthera experts, Alan Rabinowitz.  He maintains there is no area in US territory that is essential to conserving the jaguar.  However, Mexican jaguars are also under threat.  Besides inbreeding, difficult desert living conditions and wildfires, several jaguars are shot each year by Mexican ranchers for alleged predation.  How many are poached for their beautiful coats is unknown.  It is a federal offense to kill a jaguar in Mexico, but there is little enforcement of the law (Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!).

On the other side, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has lost three separate lawsuits which forced it to develope a conservation plan for the American jaguar, but it is dodging the controversial issue of reestablishing a resident population by importing Mexican females north. Female jaguars stay relatively close to their mother's home territory, making natural progression north painfully slow.  Research shows it may take 45-85 years for southern jaguars to reach the US sky island habitats such as the Santa Rita Mountains where El Jefe lived [photo].  Private conservation agencies are trying to fill the obvious gap in official policy. The Northern Jaguar Reserve is purchasing land to expand its eighty square-mile protected Sonoran habitat for the cat.  The reserve is home for the cats favorite prey animals, deer and javalina, who live in green canyons midst the desert scrub. Also, the reserve maintains a compensation program for agriculturalists who cooperate in photographing cats on their land using camera traps. An estimated one hundred twenty jaguars roam the area.

Want to know about the New World's "king of the jungle"?  Watch this History Channel documentary in HD.  Yes, they had to construct sets in the Belize forest to capture the images, so in that respect the documentary is artificial.  But the pinnacle predator is so elusive a certain amount of contrivance was necessary to capture a close-up portrait of an incredible lifestyle.

Toontime: An Alternate Reality

credit: Nick Anderson
Wackydoodle sez:  Sez now he's goin' to build it hizself!
The goofball-in-chief is living up to the most dire expectations.  Normally staid Paul Krugman twitted so far as to use the "M" word to describe Der Trump.  It does seem to US Person that he prefers an alternate reality filled with alternative 'facts': shades of Orwellian "newspeak", indeed!  His narcissistic need to be adored, and his neurotic insecurity, even more than the ordinary politician's, is on display with his delusional insistence that he actually won the popular vote but for illegal immigrants voting twice. (Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million.)  Has 'Merica finally installed a mentally unstable leader in the room without corners?  Will his Quixotic administration by twit collapse?  Watch this space for shocking developments.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Solar Power May Rise from Chernobyl Ashes

Earth's greatest nuclear catastrophe occurred at Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986 when a reactor meltdown and fire contaminated 1000km² of land including the company town of Pripyat and exposed most of northern Europe to fallout, reaching as far as Whales. The disaster directly killed 50 people and at least 4,000 have died from radiation exposure. Now, thanks to two Chinese companies, a solar farm generating one 1500gW of clean, renewable energy is planned for 2500 hectares 10 km south of the reactor remains. Ukraine officials say they will spend up to $1 billion on the project over the next two years. Remaining electrical transmission facilities will be used to distribute the green power.

The zone of disaster has been attracting an increasing number of tourists, anxious to see for themselves what man's folly wrought, or to catch a glimpse of returning wildlife ranging from wild ponies to wolves, elk (moose), boar, bears and bison.[photos credit: Guardian] Radiation levels have subsided enough in some areas for the government to consider what to do with 6000 hectares of vacant land. Recently a huge stainless steel sarcophagus was wheeled into place over the reactor hulks to replace a crumbling, temporary concrete structure.  Most proposals concern industrial uses as residential use is still considered too dangerous.  Sunlight is as strong in this area of northern Ukraine as it is in southern Germany, one of the world's biggest producers of solar power.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Indian Point Nuke to Close

New York's Indian Point nuclear generating station will be closed by 2021.  The announcement by the state's Governor on Monday is a belated win for activists who fought for years to close the dangerously located facility.  Indian Point is situated on the banks of the Hudson River, on top of an active fault in densely populated Westchester County [photo].  See Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Vol. 98, No. 4, pp. 1696–1719, August 2008.  About 20 million people live near the two reactors.  Besides all of these risks, the reactors are old, have a history of leaking radioactivity and are nearing the end of their design life

The state has made plans to buy hydroelectricity from Quebec, and has approved a new transmission line to replace the 30% of the area's energy needs now provided by Indian Point.  New York is also planning a large (90MW) offshore wind farm east of Montauk, Long Island as replacement sources for retiring nuclear generation.  If completed it will be the largest offshore wind generation station in the US.  Northern Europe has met success with its offshore installations and leads the world in installed offshore capacity.  Development of offshore wind power in the US has been delayed by higher costs, and local opposition such as that embroils Massachusetts' long-delayed Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

COTW: Shopping Goes Digital

Anyone born, say after 1980, will tell you that you can find everything on-line.  The digital revolution has taken shopping by storm as these two charts vividly demonstrate:
Revenue from big-box stores has dropped steadily and projections are that the downtrend will continue.  Sears has dropped 96% in value while JCPenney dropped 86%.  Amazon in comparison gained 1934% over the last ten years.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Kill Them All!

credit: Sea Shepherds
Sea Shepherds patrolling the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary established by Australia have caught the Japanese factory ship processing ship with a dead minke whale on its deck within the boundaries of the sanctuary.  An Australia federal court fined the Japanese whalers for contempt of its orders to stop killing whales within the Sanctuary.  However, the government of Australia has been loath to take more affirmative enforcement actions against Japan out of diplomatic considerations.  As a helicopter from the Sea Shepherd vessel, Steve Irwin, named for a Australian celebrity naturalist, approached the Nisshin Maru, whalers rushed about to hide their explosive harpoons and cover the dead minkie whale with a tarp.  The Sea Shepherd's plan is to intercept the Japanese fleet and close down its operations.   The whale conservation organization was fined by a US federal court $2.55 million for harassing the so-called Japanese scientific program that was found to be a front for commercial whaling operations by the International Court of Justice and International Whaling Commission in 2014.  In 2016 Japan killed 333 minke whales including more than 200 pregnant females.

Drill It All!

Conservatives in Congress, who view themselves as among the "owners" of the continent, are outraged at Obama's record number of monument designations that put public lands with significant cultural, historic or ecological value out of reach of new resource exploitation.  Legislation is considered to amend the Antiquities Act by removing presidential authority to make designations.  The so-called "improved" designations act has twenty-five co-sponsors including Senator Warren Hatch of Utah who calls the designations land grabs.  Obviously it is not a land grab when a petroleum company wants to frack sensitive ecosystems already stressed for more world-warming natural gas and oil.  Obama made more designations last week including expanding the Siskiyou-Cascade National Monument and Martin Luther King's Alabama headquarters.  His designations add 568 million acres to the monument system.  The bill to gut the 1906 Antiquities Act is before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee chaired by an anti-nature senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

First US Bee Declared Endangered

The Rusty patch bumblebee (Bombus affinis) is the first continental US bee to be declared endangered.  US Fish & Wildlife said in its announcement that the bee's population has shrunk by 87% since the late 1990's.  There are several species of bees on Hawaii that are also endangered.  Loss of wild habitat is the main reason for the bumblebee's decline.  Approximately 40% of Earth's land area is used by man to produce food.  Bees play an enormously important roll growing food plants pollinating about 35% of them, from tomatoes to blueberries.  Without the services of pollinating insects such as the bumblebee and monarch butterfly laborious hand pollination will be required.  According to the Xerxes Society about 25% of bumblebees in North America are at risk of extinction.

Unlike honeybees, bumblebees live in colonies underground and only live for a year except the queen who remains dormant underground during the winter then emerges in the spring to found a new colony with eggs prepared in the fall.  Back in the 30's it was popularly thought that the flight of the bumblebee was aerodynamically impossible--its short, stubby wings not exerting enough lift for its rotund body.  Today, science has solved that problem thanks to high speed photography.  Writing in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences in 2005, Michael Dickinson of the University of Washington, observed that rather than flapping their wings up and down, bumblebees flap their wings back and forth creating a low-pressure, wing-tip vortex that provides the necessary lift force.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

COTW: 'Ace' Businessman Behind the Curve

For PNG's chart of the week, we look at the performance of Donald Trump's casino resort businesses.  One chart says it all:

But there's more!  Stories based on research done by The Financial Times are surfacing that the Trumpster is Moscow's man.  After declaring multiple bankruptcies his hollowed out business shells were infused with mobster and oligarch money from Russia.  It seems reality is about to catch up with the TV persona.  Got your inauguration gown yet?  Stay tuned for more thrills and chills as the Trumpster does the snake pit known as Washington, DC!

Monday, January 09, 2017

Just 12 MIles to Go

That is all the distance that remains between a huge crack in the Larsen C ice shelf and the open Southern Ocean. [photo: MIDAS project] When the crack reaches the edge, an ice berg the size of Delaware will float into the ocean.  The Larsen already floats on the ocean, but it is buttress against land-based glacial flows entering the sea that will further elevate sea levels. Globally sea levels have risen about eight inches since 1901.  Antarctica, which holds 90% of the Earth's fresh water, is losing 92 billion tons of ice per year, and the rate of loss has doubled from 2003 to 2014.

courtesy: NASA

Mr. Trump, the future of planet Earth is now. The seventy mile crack grew another eleven miles in December alone [photo, right].  The rapid growth of the crack in a short period of time convinces scientists a calving event is near.  The Larsen C already produced a huge collapse in 2002 of over 1200 square miles, but this even will release an incredible 3100 square miles of ice cap.  The shelf has been deteriorating since the early sixties when photographic record-keeping began.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Orca Tillicum Dies

After a lifetime of captivity and illness in his older years, the orca who became infamous for killing two handlers, Tillicum, died at SeaWorld in Orlando, FL.  Tillicum raised our awareness of the suffering and abuse captive whales endure to provide 'entertainment' for humans.  He was the subject of a documentary, "Blackfish" that was instrumental in pushing SeaWorld into ending its captive breeding program last year. {18.03.16} The theme park did not reveal the cause of his death at about 36, as a necropsy has yet to be completed.  He was afflicted by a persistent bacterial lung infection.

AP: Tillicum with Dawn Brancheau, killed during a performance
Besides his physical aliments many informed observers think that large captive orcas suffer mental illness too, due to their long confinement in small, featureless tanks.  Confined orcas show signs of stereotypic behavior exhibited by other caged animals, such as gnawing on gates and walls.  This behavior wears down their teeth even though they are fed fish directly into their gullets by their captors. Broken, worn teeth can lead to life-threatening infections. Some animal advocates think that Tillicum killed two humans because he suffered emotional or mental trauma related to his captivity.  Orcas are intensely family oriented, even more so than humans, and confinement disrupts these essential relationships.  The documentary in which Tillicum was the main subject, argues that keeping orcas in tanks makes males more aggressive. Former trainer John Hargrove said, "He lived a tortured existence in captivity.  All whales do, but if you had to pinpoint one of them, hands down I would say Tillicum."

Recent research lends credence to the conclusion that large, intelligent mammals such as whales suffer in captivity.  A study of Asian elephants shows that elephants working in forest lumber camps in Myanmar live twice as long as captive elephants.  Certainly working elephants are not free, and their work is strenuous, but they still enjoy a relatively natural environment during their lives [photo: Getty Images]. Sea World says an orca's life expectancy in captivity is 47 years, comparable to wild female orcas, but some scientists say this figure is not accurate.  They say their life expectancy is more on the order of 20-30 years.  SeaWorld planned to build bigger tanks with features that might be attractive, but orcas are known to swim one hundred miles a day, and the bigger tank plans are on hold now that the breeding program has ended.

Tillicum lives on in his many offspring.  He sired fourteen calves since he arrived at Sea World from a Canadian theme park in 1991.  Tillicum was born off Iceland where he was caught and taken to Canada to begin his more than three decades of custody. He was a large male, weighing over eleven thousand pounds, and twenty-two feet in length. SeaWorld still owns 29 orcas, half of which are under age 15.  May Tillicum's death be not in vain. Humans should look elsewhere to be entertained, and all captured orcas set free into sanctuaries, if necessary.  Thank you so much, Tillicum.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Toontime: From Russia, With Love

The Washington intelligence establishment is reacting badly to the impending reign of Trump.  Pressured by the Current Occupant to put together some evidence of official Russian involvement in the hacking scandal, the CIA complied this week with the release of an official report.  Let's hope the intel in it is more reliable than the informant known as "Curve Ball", whose tainted testimony was used to drum-up a war against Saddam Hussein.  Trump, who is sensitive to his business interests in Russia and the help Putin could give him, would rather believe Julian Assange, a founder of Wikileaks, who said in an interview that direct Russian involvement in hacking Democratic Party e-mails was unlikely, since a fourteen year-old hack could have done it.  Perhaps it was "Cozy Bear's" kid? US Person's estimate: more diversionary chaff that  Washington well knows how to generate.  See Operation Gladio for some real  interference in democratic processes.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Farewell Gift from Obama

The Current Occupant, Barack Obama, has given America a farewell gift in the form of two more national monuments that protect vital habitat and provide opportunities for humans to escape their artificial constraints and ubiquitous gadgets.  Bears Ears National Monument, Utah and Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada bring his total designations to 26, more than any other President, and enraging fascist reactionaries of all types who see the designations as nothing more than "arrogant land grabs".  550 million acres of public land are now protected from new development.  Both monuments were long sought by various interests groups including businesses, but because of Washington's political quagmire remained undesignated. 

Bears Ears in Utah contains abundant rock art and is considered sacred land by Native Americans.  Tribes in the Great Basin region have petitioned the federal government to protect this land which they use for religious ceremonies, gathering handicraft materials, and collecting medicinal herbs and plants.  The spectacular landscape [photo courtesy Inter-Tribal Coalition] is a perpetual reminder of America's precious natural beauty and fragile wild habitat that is slowly disappearing under the bulldozer and concrete.  Its 1.35 million acres adjoins Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon Recreational Area, thus providing a refuge for  both large mammals and humans to roam.

Gold Butte, Nevada also contains remains of past native cultures.  [photo courtesy Friends of Nevada Wilderness] Impressive red sandstone canyons, cliffs and timbered mountains are home to the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise, about an hour drive from Las Vegas.  Monument designation does not lock the land away from all economic use, contrary to the right-wing's usual propaganda.  Existing uses that do not harm protected resources are allowed, nor are existing gas, oil and mining rights affected.

desert tortoise, credit C. Hensley
Navajo tribal president, Russel Begaye, praised the President for his designations, say he has a "consistent record" of working with tribal governments.  An inter-tribal coalition of Navajo, Hopi, Ute and Zuni natives led the effort to achieve the designations over opposition from conservative legislators who backed a parallel legislative effort.  However, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance called that bill, the "worst piece of wilderness legislation that has been introduced since the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964."  The Alliance said it worked with Utah legislators for three years to find a compromise to the bill that would allow fossil fuel development, motorized recreation and give control of public lands to Utah state government.  Thank you, Mr. President for doing the right thing.

Monday, January 02, 2017

China Agrees to Ban Ivory Trade

US Person begins his eleventh year writing at PNG with some good news. The world's largest market for illegal ivory, China, has finally agreed to ban all ivory sale and processing. He hopes this belated recognition by Chinese officials that ivory poaching is an existential threat to the African elephant is not too late for the Earth's largest land mammal to escape the tragic fate of extinction. Some estimates put the China's share of the world ivory market at 70%. The price of a kilo of ivory can reach $2100, its peak in 2014, more than enough motivation for organized criminals to slaughter the remaining elephants in the wild. The current price has dropped to between $450 and $900.Understandably conservationists welcomed China's announcement, and praised its leadership on stopping the tragic slaughter. CITIES banned world trade of ivory in 1989 after poaching eliminated half of Africa's wild elephant herds. "One-time sales" of stockpiled illegal ivory and burgeoning domestic trade in Asia allowed poached ivory to be laundered. The main reason Zimbabwe was recently denied permission to sell its stockpile by CITIES.

The complete ban is to be in place before the end of this year. According to China's official news agency, the ban will close some 143 trading venues and 34 processing centers. Of course, the effectiveness of this political decision is in the hands of law enforcement inside and outside of China's borders. China has a very mixed record of enforcing wildlife trafficking laws. However, China surprised delegates attending the CITIES conference in October with its backing for a world-wide ban on ivory trading. The recent Great Elephant Census shows that wild populations across Africa have been further reduced by a third in the last seven years. It is now estimated 352,271 African savannah elephants are still alive. Every one single one deserves human protection; not one was born to loose. Japan along with Hong Kong remain the last major markets for poached ivory in Asia, and pressure to follow China's lead is being assiduously applied.