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Wildlife

Shark Dragging Video Reveals Deeper Issues About How We Treat Wildlife

September 8, 2017
Shark Dragging Video

A group of young Florida men who recently posted an online video of them violently dragging a shark behind their boat at high speeds are now dealing with the consequences. The post made its way around social media and drew harsh criticism and disgust from many Internet users, including a well-known local sport fisherman.

Concerned citizens created a Change.org petition calling for charges against the men, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the situation.

The video shocked and disturbed many, but others didn’t appear to have too much of a problem with it. Of course, the people who posted it seemed to have no qualms about doing it, then publicly boasting about it by sharing their deeds online. This video reveals some unfortunate deeper problems with how we relate to and treat wildlife.

Consistent Mistreatment

The video shows the men laughing as they watch the shark being battered against the waves behind the boat as it’s pulled at high speeds by a rope. One of the men asks if the shark is dead yet, but experts say it’s still alive in the video.

However, if the dragging continued, the shark would have suffered a slow drowning death and probably would have been injured by the violent dragging.

Authorities haven’t released the names of any suspects, but the social media history of those in the video, as identified by Internet users and local media, reveals a pattern of animal abuse.

Previous social media pictures and video show them mistreating protected birds, illegally catching fish and shooting at fish. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service even investigated one of the men for the images that showed him gripping and mistreating birds that included the brown pelican and the cormorant. Officials determined he had committed seven violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act but were unable to charge him because they could not identify when or where the violations took place.

This makes the shark dragging video even more concerning because it shows a pattern of abuse, rather than a single occurrence.

How We Think About Wildlife

Although most of us probably wouldn’t treat wildlife like it’s treated in this video, the imagery shows us that people certainly do have the capacity to do so. There are people who mistreat wildlife consistently, and even groups of people who regularly do it together.

It seems the people in the video view non-human animals as being there for their entertainment — which, in this case, includes abusing the animals. Unfortunately, animal abuse is all too common. Perhaps we need to change the way we think about animals to help stop abuse.

People who abuse animals do not have respect for them. Showing people why they should respect animals may change attitudes about wildlife. Though we still need more research on the topic, the evidence points to the conclusion that animals experience similar emotions to humans. They feel fear, happiness, sadness, love and a range of other emotions. Anyone who’s spent considerable time around animals could provide evidence of this as well.

Beyond emotional appeal, animals are crucial to life on this planet. The ecosystems we depend on would not survive without the creatures that inhabit them. Animals aren’t just there for our enjoyment. We need them to survive.

Changing How We Relate to Animals

Though this video reveals some serious issues with how we treat wildlife, on the bright side, the reaction to the video shows that we as a society are becoming less and less accepting of animal cruelty.

It didn’t take long for people to call out the subjects of the video and express their distaste for their actions and for officials to launch an investigation. This backlash provides a bit of hope that the way we think about and treat animals may be improving.

Disrespecting and mistreating wildlife is a significant problem that is unfortunately rather widespread. It’s vital, however, that we treat wildlife with respect. Perhaps this video will inspire people to learn more about animals and discover why they should be treated with dignity.

Wildlife

Celebrating National Honey Bee Day: 11 Ways Honey Bees Improve Our Planet

August 18, 2017
National Honey Bee Day

Despite the common use of phrases such as “busy as a bee” and “make a beeline,” there is nothing routine about honey bees. In existence for approximately 125 million years, the honey bee provides many benefits to humans, our natural food sources and the planet. In honor of National Honey Bee Day on August 19, we’ve compiled 11 ways that bees make our world better.

1. Bee Products Fight Significant Disease

Bumblebee venom has been used to treat arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and depression. Studies have found honey, venom and royal jelly help to shrink cancerous tumors.

2. Honey Doesn’t Spoil

Its water content, at approximately 17 percent, is much lower than that of fungi or bacteria. Honey is the only food whose shelf life is forever.

3. Honey Works As an Antibiotic

As a medicinal aid, it offers unique antibacterial benefits for safe and effective wound care. Cuts, burns, psoriasis, eczema and even fungal infections respond positively to mindful topical honey applications.

4. Honey Bees Predict Storms

Exceptionally sensitive to environmental electromagnetic change, bees sense oncoming rainfall and thunderstorms. If you notice a sudden absence of bee activity, get ready for some extreme weather.

5. Honey Offers an Excellent After-Workout Replenishment

Its unique glycemic index equalizes blood sugar spikes, which typically occur after intense exercise. Honey’s distinct mineral composition targets muscle recuperation and may increase the output of subsequent workouts.

6. Bees Are Distinctively Symbiotic

No other creature on this planet performs its exclusive pollination service. Bees derive pollen necessary for honey and wax production from a wide variety of plants and flowers that, in turn, utilize powder delivered by bees for reproduction. Without pollen-producing plants, bees would cease to exist, and vice versa.

7. Bees Pollinate One-Third of Our Food

A vast majority of fruits and vegetables depend on pollination, including one important plant — alfalfa, which, in turn, feeds our beef and cattle. In the United States alone, bee-pollinated crops account for approximately $6.8 billion in sales.

8. Honey Bees Catalyze Crop Growth

In fact, active bee pollination spurs plants to produce up to 300 percent more per season. It’s no wonder beekeepers are welcome neighbors to savvy farmers and often compensated for their service.

9. Just a Spoonful of Honey Offers a Myriad of Preventive Benefits

Honey eliminates free radicals in the human body. It contains 27 minerals, 22 amino acids and over 5,000 protective enzymes. It’s no wonder royal jelly, bee pollen and raw honey all repeatedly earn superfood accolades.

10. Beeswax Has a Multitude of Uses Outside the Hive

In cosmetics, its natural ability to lock in moisture makes it ideal for lip balms and skin salves alike. Beeswax candles burn longer and cleaner than conventional paraffin alternatives without any soot. Did you know beeswax prevents rust formation on cast iron pieces and tools? Or that it is commonly used to seal natural cheeses? In a pinch, you can even use beeswax for polishing shoes. As such, it also provides weatherproof protection.

11. Honey Bees Promote Biodiversity

Bees routinely pollinate over 150 crop plants as well as a plethora of wild flowers and native brush. Our planet’s vital green space could not survive without the consistent reproductive service they provide. A healthy ecosystem regulates climate, purifies water, maintains soil balance and provides essential natural resources.

In a trickle-down scenario, the mighty work of bees can be hailed as a crucial element to the healthy maintenance of our planet. Now that’s cause for celebration. Happy National Honey Bee Day, indeed.

Wildlife

Why Can Some Animals Live in Urban Environments While Others Cannot?

August 11, 2017
Animals in Urban Environments

It’s common today to see animals in urban environments. Squirrels, opossums, badgers, foxes, otters, monkeys, birds and insects live happily various cities around the world.

Other species, though, just can’t seem to make it in the big city. Researchers have noticed this and have begun identifying characteristics that make some animals better than others at living in urban areas.

Adaptability

One of the overarching themes in the differences between those that thrive in cities and those that don’t is adaptability. Cities are quite different from animals’ natural habitats, and animals need to be able to adjust to these environments to survive.

Cities also change rapidly. Buildings go up, roads get paved and plants get cut down all the time. Animals need to be able to adjust quickly to these changes in their habitats.

Scientists have discovered that city living is actually altering the brains and behavior of animals. Species are not only adapting in the short term, but they’re also evolving as a species to thrive in urban environments.

Generalists

Animals that are generalists – that is, they don’t need highly specific things to survive — are better at adapting to urban environments. Food sources in cities can vary dramatically from day to day as new things are imported and people vary their diets. For this reason, animals that eat a wide range of foods survive better.

Other features change frequently in cities as well. Habitats are altered, new species are introduced and people’s attitudes toward animals can change rather quickly.

Non-Native Food Sources

Cities are often havens for non-native species that wouldn’t find what they need in the natural habitats outside of the cities they live in. That’s because people import and export a higher volume of items into and out of cities than in the countryside.

Plants that people import and use for decorative purposes feed non-native insects that often hitchhike their way into the city on these plants themselves. Non-native animals may just find that they prefer the availability of non-native food sources available in cities.

Intelligence

All of this adapting requires a lot of intelligence to pull off. Studies have confirmed that animals with bigger brains relative to their body size are more likely to be successful in cities.

Researchers at a university in Sweden conducted a study of 82 different species of birds and found the ones with larger brains, such as crows and wrens, were better city dwellers. This is also true with very similar species. Another research project found that white-footed mice and meadow voles that lived in cities had bigger brains than those that lived outside of urban areas.

Warmer City Environments

Because the man-made surfaces in cities absorb heat better than natural surfaces, cities are generally hotter than other nearby areas. This is often referred to as the “heat island effect.”

For this reason, animals that prefer warmer climates tend to do better in cities. Those who don’t do well with higher temperatures typically can’t survive. Sometimes, these heat-loving species are non-native ones that come from warmer climates.

Agility

Another feature of successful city dwellers has to do with their physical abilities. Urban areas contain lots of strange obstacles, such as fences and buildings. In order to get around, animals need to be able to comfortably climb these barriers.

Agility can also be crucial to finding food that’s lying in trash cans, dumpsters or other receptacles. Animals may also need to climb over or around obstacles to avoid roads and other dangerous areas.

Less Competition

Some species thrive in urban environments because the species they typically compete with don’t. If their predators or other animals that eat the same things as them aren’t around, there’s less danger or competition for food. This leads to spikes in these species’ populations and encourages them to stick around the cities where life is easier for them.

Urbanization is changing the environment as well as the ways animals live. As urban environments expand, wildlife is adapting, often out of necessity. As this continues, which it likely will, highly adaptable species will have some advantages over those that can’t change their lifestyles as readily.

Wildlife

Behind the Scenes of Wildlife Documentaries: Less Authentic Than You Might Think

July 17, 2017

While most of us never get the chance to get up close to animals in their natural habitats, we can catch a glimpse thanks to wildlife documentaries. These films and TV shows let us see shots of beautiful natural landscapes, learn how animals grow up and watch exhilarating footage of hunting.

But how natural are nature documentaries, really? Do the people that make them ever fake it?

As it turns out, they sometimes do. While most people that work on these projects certainly mean well, they sometimes revert to tricks and shortcuts some might deem deceptive.

Telling a Story

In order to make any media project interesting to people, you have to tell a story. While this is a normal part of filmmaking, some might say the storytelling tactics of nature documentarians can be deceiving.

The way a narrator frames footage can have a significant impact on how viewers perceive it, especially in combination with the soundtrack and special effects. For example, many wildlife documentaries frame predators as vicious monsters that will stop at nothing to kill.

This can make a scene more exciting, and cause you to sympathize with the prey, which makes you more involved in the story. It can also give frequently demonized creatures, like sharks, a bad reputation with people.

Shark for wildlife documentaries

Describing a hunt in this way is, of course, a dramatization. In reality, both creatures are just trying to survive.

Documentary makers might also leave out things that happened if they don’t fit with the story they want to convey.

For example, in the BBC’s “the Hunt,” the directors wanted viewers to emphasize more with the predators, so they didn’t show footage of what happened after prey was caught. This, they decided, would be upsetting to viewers and cast the predators in a bad light.

Faking It

While framing a story in a certain way might be permissible, sometimes documentary crews actually fake footage or manipulate animals to get them to do what they want.

The truth is some of the wildlife you see in wildlife documentaries might not be wild at all. People who work on these projects have admitted to using footage of animals in zoos or animals they rented from game farms. Some scenes are even augmented with CGI.

Sometimes, the sets have also been manipulated to make these scenes seem more real. For instance, BBC’s Frozen Planet included footage of a mother polar bear and her cubs in their den. The den, however, was man-made and was located at a Dutch zoo. What looked like snow in the film was actually wood chips. The film didn’t explain this to its viewers.

Sir David Attenborough, who narrated the project, defended the choice. He says nothing would have ruined the moment and made the film less enjoyable. Attenborough has publicly supported filming animals in captivity rather than in the wild, saying it keeps both animals and humans safer.

Clever Editing

To documentary filmmaker’s credit, the footage of non-wild specimens is often interlaced with actual shots of animals in the wild.

Patching together shots of various different animals is actually fairly common practice. When you’re listening to the story of how a family of lions raises its cubs for instance, you’re probably not watching the same family the whole time. The footage is more likely a compilation of various groups of lions.

Often, these scenes are edited in such a way that it looks like it’s all footage of the same animals. Some might call this deceptive, while others would say it’s a natural part of filmmaking. The narrator never actually said all of the footage was of the exact same animals.

You could make decent cases both for and against these practices of modern-day nature documentarians. On the one hand, most of them don’t deny using them, and they do make a more interesting film. On the other, they often don’t explicitly point them out either, and viewers reasonably assume they’re watching actual wildlife footage.

Wildlife

How Close is This Endangered Cat to Extinction?

July 10, 2017

“When you’re dealing with ecosystems, always assume you are wrong.” Allan Savory

During the last century, the world has lost over 97 percent of its tiger population, with numbers plummeting from 100,000 to 3,200 in 2010. We have seen at least two subspecies of the largest wild cat on earth disappear as human life continues to eviscerate its natural habitat, reduce its prey reserves and exploit its body for monetary profit. How close is this endangered cat to extinction? It’s a rhetorical question which deserves an answer as its significance remains a premonition for every ecosystem we know and rely upon.

Endangered Cat population

What Is Causing It?

The nine subspecies or potentially eight subspecies– of Panthera tigris roamed forestry freely across Asia, from Russia to Turkey and as far south as South East Asia. However, farmers have reclaimed 93% of their territory. Infrastructural requirements go hand-in-hand with Asia’s booming human birth rate. Competition for resources, including revenge killings, and poaching exploit the tiger’s body. Further complicating the situation, global warming increasingly threatens the Bengal tiger population, especially given the mangroves in the Sundarbans are sensitive to rising sea levels.

Our demands on the earth are changing, and our methods for getting what we want are adapting. We live in a world where educated individuals and environmentalists themselves are actively involved in hunting for celebrity status or poaching for the higher profits on skins and bones. The threat to tigers and every large mammal in our ecosystem has to evolve to overcome new obstacles and become more sophisticated. Organized crime and gangs now contribute heavily toward poaching operations and other illegal wildlife trade.

What Can Save This Endangered Cat?

It is only now we seem to understand the gravity of what has happened to our tiger population and the natural world around us. Each tiger requires 25,000 acres of habitat which involves protection of entire ecosystems to ensure survival. It is imperative to guard against the extinction of the largest wild cat we have ever encountered, as the consequences for thousands of other less apparent species would remain catastrophic. Ecosystems protect us more directly than we know. As such, the world responds to the desperate situation of the tiger and harnesses the power of various governments, worldwide NGOs and internationally recognized associations.

Collaboration and integration of efforts and resources involving both State and NGO are proving the only sustainable way forward. The critically endangered Indochinese tiger, making up only 350 of the world tiger population, was found reproducing in the wild in Thailand as a result of thirty years of harsh non-poaching laws and conservation efforts.

The WWF has had major impact recently through observing the criticality of the endangerment. Since 2010, tiger numbers have increased from 3,200 to just under 4,000. Furthermore, in 2010 the 13 tiger range countries committed to Tx2, a promise to double the number of wild tigers by 2022, the Chinese year of the Tiger. Russia, India, Nepal and Bhutan have all already conducted comprehensive surveys to gauge accurate representation of numbers of wild tigers in their respective countries. India continues to report its tiger population is increasing steadily, no doubt partly due to the widespread voluntary and state-supported relocation of villages in recognized tiger habitats. Lastly, to counteract the ever-changing and globalizing character of the illegal wildlife trade, worldwide standards have developed such as CA|TS and borderless bodies mobilized such as TRAFFIC.

While we cannot ensure the tiger species can be saved, numbers have increased and measures are taken more seriously than ever before. We can only hope this is the turning point in our global attitude toward conservation and in our understanding and respect for ecosystems.

You too can take action.

Wildlife

5 Things We Can Learn From Kenya’s Wildlife Conservation Strategy

July 3, 2017

Kenya is known for its wildlife. From elephants to cheetahs to rhinoceroses to zebras to baboons, the ecosystems in the country are beautiful and diverse. Many of these species, though, are endangered, threatened or vulnerable, which has caused Kenya to implement a new wildlife conservation strategy.

Poaching, conflicts with humans, habitat loss and more all contribute to the dangers these creatures face. The government and various other groups in Kenya are working to fix these issues and conserve wildlife and recently launched a new wildlife protection strategy.

Conservation efforts in Kenya are still far from perfect, but the nation has made some definite improvements in protecting its wildlife and ecosystems. In fact, there might be a few things we can learn from Kenya’s wildlife conservation strategy.

1. Consider Both Human and Wildlife Needs

One aspect of Kenya’s plan that has led to success is the fact that it accounts for the needs of both the animals and people involved. The welfare of animals and protecting the environment are key motivations for the program, but so are economic benefits.

Ecotourism is a huge industry in Kenya that stimulates the economy and improves people’s standard of living in the country. Kenyans are aware that if the lions and rhinos die out, so will their tourism income.

The conservation strategy emphasizes how attaining the goals of the program will help everyday people and local businesses, as well as wildlife and the environment.

2. Cooperation Is Crucial

Another pillar of Kenya’s wildlife protection plan involves facilitating more collaboration AMONG various government agencies. Cooperating with researchers and other governments could be helpful as well. Kenya has already started to do this by working with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Interior to fund its conservation strategy.

The Kenyan government has also begun cracking down on wildlife workers that help poachers. Certainly, having a unified and organized approach will help the effort be more successful.

3. Utilize Technology

Kenya is also using technology to make its efforts more efficient and effective. For example, researchers recently used an aerial count of the elephant buffalo populations. They also plan to use drones to keep an eye on animal populations and potential poachers.

Using these technologies allows conservationists to survey more land faster and get more accurate data. It also keeps them safer, because they don’t have to venture out into the wilderness where they could come face-to-face with poachers, as well as wildlife and environmental dangers.

4. Involve the Local Community

Kenya’s strategy also involves encouraging local communities to actively participate in wildlife conservation strategies. In Kenya, the Maasai people live near the country’s wildlife parks and game lands.

In Maasai culture, it is traditional for men to hunt lions when they are entering warriorhood. This began to contribute to a drop in lion populations.

As an alternative to lion hunting, the African Wildlife Foundation, Maasai leaders and other local partners launched the Maasai Olympics, which included competitions involving many of the skills essential to lion hunting. In addition, conservation programs employ some Maasai people.

Efforts like these, that get local people involved and benefit them, enormously boost conservation initiatives.

5. Take an Integrated Approach

There are many different factors that impact wildlife conservation, and Kenya takes as many of those into account as it can. Taking this integrated approach has contributed to its successes.

Kenya is not only cracking down on poaching—it’s also cracking down on wildlife employees who help poachers, working with local communities and encouraging collaboration among government agencies.

It’s also working to protect animal’s habitats, another major risk to wildlife. Additionally, Kenya is helping people protect their livestock from wild predators, change and replace traditions that harm wildlife and learn about the importance of these animals. It doesn’t just focus on the benefits for the animals, the ecosystem or even the planet. It also emphasizes the benefits to the very people they’re trying to reach.

While Kenya still has a long way to go when it comes to wildlife protection, there are a few things other countries could learn from its efforts. They can observe what worked well and what didn’t and begin to implement Kenya’s best strategies to save their own wildlife. Kenya has an incredible and diverse animal population. Now, the world is hoping its diverse plan can save them.