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Why I Think There Should Be a Pangolin Protection Law

January 8, 2018
Pangolin Protection Law

Which animal has it worst in the world of animal trafficking? Elephants and rhinos get most of the attention, but the highest-trafficked mammal is the pangolin, which resides in Asia and Africa.

Looking at the pangolin, you’d think of a cross between a pinecone and a badger. This “walking artichoke” is a fiercely adorable and determined creature just as important as an elephant or rhino.

Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in both China and Vietnam, and their scales are also in high demand in many countries. As a result, greedy poachers can earn a high profit from taking pangolins from their wild habitat and butchering them.

Many people don’t know the pangolin exists, which creates a knowledge gap interfering with the protection of the pangolin population across the world. Experts and conservationists rush to educate the public and governments on the existence of pangolins. Meanwhile, the threat of extinction escalates to near certainty.

When dire conservation needs arise, only then does the international community take action. Experts now warn the pangolin will be extinct within our lifetimes if the illegal trade continues at the current pace. Will the international community step up to save pangolins, or ignore their conservation needs?

I believe there should be a law that protects the species from any form of poaching, hunting, trade or pet ownership across international borders. Cruelty toward wildlife pervades in society, to the endangerment of biodiversity.

The Trouble With Capturing Pangolin Poachers and Traders

Humans illegally poached and traded more than a million pangolins in the last decade — more than elephants and rhinos combined. Many countries enact laws that protect pangolins, but punish lawbreakers with light fines. Lack of enforcement of these laws continues to harm the pangolin population.

Traders shifted to the African pangolin population to source parts for purchases as Asian species dramatically decreased. The African species faced increasing pressure from regional and local demand for traditional uses and bush meat.

Scale number and size commonly help identify living and dead pangolin specimens when authorities conduct checks. Enforcement of anti-poaching and anti-trading laws grew difficult to conduct, due to the trading of the small non-living meat and scale parts. Anything governments can do to cultivate a culture of unsustainable illegal trade will benefit endangered pangolins. Poachers and traders will continue to find a way around capture, but the lawbreakers eventually get caught. However, these criminals appear willing to face jail time.

In traditional Chinese medicine, lore states a pangolin’s scales cure cancer. This year, the Chinese government seized 12 tons of pangolin scales in Shenzhen. This discovery set a new record for the largest seizure of endangered pangolin parts. The hoard represents the butchering of 20,000 to 30,000 individual pangolins.

Positive Moves for Pangolin Preservation

The international community has stepped up to help pangolins in recent years. The International Fund for Animal Welfare put forward a petition to classify the eight pangolin species as endangered per the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in July 2015.

Thankfully, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) determined to take action to prevent the abuse of this vulnerable species — under international law, commercially trading the pangolin is now banned. More than 180 nations in attendance at the CITES 17th Conference of the Parties in South Africa in September 2016 voted to move pangolins from Appendix II to Appendix I. The decision shifted the status of all eight pangolin species from “threatened” to “endangered” under the ESA.

The Indonesian government opposed raising protection for two pangolin species, expressing interest in farming the species along with Uganda and China. Is it more ethical to farm pangolins? Does this successfully detract business from the illegal poaching and trading of pangolins in the wild? Unfortunately, pangolins rarely survive life in captivity, much less being bred.

Indonesia’s disapproval triggered a vote on trade ban proposals for two of the four Asian species. One hundred and fourteen governments voted in favor of the proposals, with Indonesia against and five countries abstaining.

The responsibility to enforce the laws approved by CITES falls on individual countries. Some avoid enacting the mandated measures, or impose light punishments. International encouragement must push these governments to step up and do their parts.

Pangolins’ official classification as an endangered species provides a higher call to action for governments to protect them. The ESA listing raises the need and action for protection in international eyes. Lawbreakers continue to poach and trade pangolins. The call to action must shift to swift and final decisiveness as an international movement to save pangolins from extinction. International governments must enact a full-spectrum protection law that protects all pangolin species from any form of poaching, hunting, trade or pet ownership.

Cloning Provides a Possible Pangolin Conservation Solution

Failure to enact an international protection law on pangolins opens the quandary to alternative conservation ideas. Though cloning technology is still developing, is cloning to save biodiversity an ethical decision? Could cloning the pangolin species save the population from extinction?

Cloning provides one possible solution to pangolin conservation. Assuming all goes well with successfully cloning pangolins, the opportunity to conserve the species offers long-term hope for preserving and cultivating biodiversity.

However, the species may not survive in the wild, even if successfully cloned pangolins lived several years into adulthood. Created in captivity, what chances do cloned species have to survive, and where would they go? Consider tigers as an example: Each tiger needs 25,000 acres of their natural environment, yet farmers consume more than 93 percent of their habitat. The same quandary exists for pangolins if cloned.

Even if successful, cloning will not solve the problem of illegal pangolin poaching or trading. Our global society must directly address this issue by creating a pangolin protection law. I urge the international community to reject all form of poaching, hunting, trade or pet ownership by enacting a full-spectrum protection law.

Let no illegal act go unpunished or ignored. The time to protect the pangolin population is now.


5 Empowering Conservation Jobs

December 8, 2017
empowering conservation jobs

Getting a job in conservation can be hard. There’s a lot of competition, and you might struggle to find a place for yourself if you don’t have the right degree or background. But that doesn’t make it impossible. What most conservationists look for, more than experience or a degree, are passion and a willingness to learn.

Conservation jobs are challenging. They can involve a lot of unusual work and can include travel, manual labor and working in all kinds of elements. You might expect to go in for an eight-hour day and instead work 12, or get called in for an emergency in the middle of the night. You can’t do that kind of job if you don’t care about it. If you do have the passion for the work, however, empowering conservation jobs could be the most rewarding career you’ll ever have.

1. Zookeeper or Zoo Director

Some people consider zoos to be inhumane or not in an animal’s best interest. In some cases, they’re right. Small, roadside zoos and traveling circuses often do not provide decent living conditions for the animals. However, large, nationally known zoos do some of the best conservation work around — both for their residents and for their wild counterparts.

There’s an option for zoos and even some wildlife sanctuaries to earn accreditation from the American Zoological Association. This official recognition means, in addition to meeting state and federal animal welfare laws, the organization goes above and beyond to make sure their animals get the best care possible. Part of that accreditation requires the zoos to work on conservation, donating money and research to protecting wild animals and their habitats.

Zookeepers themselves don’t make a lucrative paycheck, but their work is anything but boring. They act as both animal keeper and educator, teaching the public all about the species they work with. This job does come with some risks since you have to move potentially dangerous animals around and make sure everyone is healthy, safe and clean. A zoo director earns significantly more, but they miss out on the direct animal interactions.

2. Marine Biologist

If you love the ocean and fieldwork and have a background in science, marine biology might be the job for you! The field is incredibly competitive, so you should plan to major in it as an undergrad because getting into graduate programs is so difficult. For this job, you’ll need both a degree and a scuba certification. Getting there might be a challenge, but you can spend part of your job on a boat, diving with sharks and dolphins! Plus, you can help set up marine conservation efforts known as Hope Spots, to help the ocean recover from over-fishing and pollution.

3. Park Ranger

A park ranger is an excellent job for someone who likes to be out and about. You shouldn’t be afraid of the weather, and you should be able to keep yourself in good shape! While this job does involve some paperwork, it’s a lot more outdoorsy than others. Most of their job is to patrol national parks, including such beautiful areas as Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon.

While these jobs are exciting, they can be dangerous. Park rangers are expected to participate in search and rescue missions, give tours and answer questions, while also enforcing rules and keeping people safe. This job might be in danger, though. As we move through both a politically and environmentally changing environment, some of our national parks are facing budget cuts. Some of those may eliminate jobs in the almost $6.5 billion industry, which would make proper patrols more difficult. Soon, all our national park rangers could be volunteers.

4. Environmental Educator

One of the best ways to protect the environment is to teach other people how to do it. That can take a lot of different forms, but having it be your full-time job is an option, too! In a position like this, you may work with adults on occasion, but you’d probably spend most of your time with kids, either at a camp or within a larger kids’ program, like the YMCA. This job is the pe

rfect blend of conservationist and teacher. It gives you a chance to take kids who have never seen the forest before through one in an immersion trip. You can change people’s lives with one experience.

5. Wildlife Forensic Scientist

Being a forensic scientist will net you a decent living and allow you to work hard on improving conservation efforts in your area. However, it doesn’t always involve as much field work as some of the others on this list. Forensics is an excellent option for someone who loves conservation but isn’t as much of an outdoorsy type. It does require an advanced scientific degree, though.

Empowering conservation jobs aren’t for everyone. But if it is a good fit for your skill set and passions, you’ll never find another job that’s half as exciting or fulfilling.


Why Do Animals Attack Humans in the Wild?

November 3, 2017
why do animals attack humans

Animals do attack people, but those instances are rare. The question that then arises is why do animals attack humans? Well, there are a number of reasons these attacks occur. The first reason is media sensationalism. Reports are made on every animal attack, no matter how minor, and made to seem as if they happen all the time.

The other reason is that we’re trying to protect and reintroduce species that were threatened or eliminated from areas. That often means we’re trying to reintroduce large carnivore populations to areas where people aren’t used to dealing with them. Animals will attack and for a variety of reasons. Knowing why can help you understand what not to do.

Human Ignorance

Much of the time when people get attacked, it’s our fault. Let’s face it, moose are cool and seeing one is something many people want to take a picture of. But there’s a big difference between taking a picture of a moose from far off and trying to get close enough to any wild animal for a selfie. Unfortunately, many of the people going out exploring don’t know that. They invade a wild animals space and get attacked as a result.

Mistaken Identity

This is the most common cause of shark attacks. The animal often thinks we’re food because we kind of look like it, and they can’t see us very well. Surfers are more likely to be attacked because the shape of a surfboard makes them look like a seal, which is the perfect meal for a variety of shark species.

The other issue is that some sharks come into shallower water than others. Bull sharks, especially, are known for preferring shallow, murky water and even venturing upstream into rivers. Occasionally, other sharks like the Great White will also take a trip inland, but none are known to do so as the bull shark does. When they attack, it’s usually because they either think we’re food, or they’re trying to see if we are.


Sometimes animals attack because they have to, or think they have to. There was a recent video that showed an opossum, North America’s only native marsupial, being beaten with a baseball bat by some students at a college. Humans have, traditionally, attacked wild animals first and taken no prisoners. This has left animals with a deep-seated fear of us, and an increased inclination to attack if they feel threatened or cornered.

Combating this particular effect is difficult. We can start by trying to change the way we think about wildlife and show more compassion toward them. Teaching people why animals are essential to our environment and how they experience pain and emotions similar to people can be a starting point to change some minds.


Humans have effectively removed ourselves from the food chain. This is great in some ways. We don’t have to worry about being chased by wild animals on our commute to work, and we don’t usually have to go hunt down our prey for dinner after a long day crunching numbers. But in other ways, it makes us easy prey. We’re so unused to being hunted that when something does decide to have a go at us, we don’t usually put up a good fight. Various tiger attacks have shown that some animals learn to hunt humans.

We’re also large, as far as prey animals go. A 500-pound tiger can take us down with no problem, and we’ll provide a substantial meal for them. As we continue to meet up with wild animals, our sheltered lives can lead to trouble. We aren’t alert, we panic instead of fleeing or fighting, and we make for easy prey. In remote areas, being vigilant and moving in groups are our best defenses.

Expanding into New Territories

The human population is still growing. Developing nations have leveled off, and as China and India continue to develop a higher standard of living, their reproduction rates are also expected to stagnate. But there’s quite a bit of time before that happens, and those billions of new people need places to live.

As new homes are built, we can try to keep them in cities and already developed areas, but it’s not likely to happen everywhere. It’s inevitable that we will continue expanding and moving into new areas. As we do, we encounter new animals and increase chances of an attack. We have more laws in place now that protect some species, so we can’t simply kill populations because they’re in our way. We have to find new ways to deal with them, and that can mean we run a higher risk of getting attacked.

Wildlife will protect themselves, but they aren’t scary. It’s very rare that an animal learns to hunt people, and if they do, they are often killed as a result. Take care and be vigilant in the wilderness. You might save more lives than just your own.


Why I Think Zoos Should No Longer Exist

October 27, 2017
Zoos Should No Longer Exist

Many of us probably have a trip to the zoo tucked away in our album of childhood memories. It was thrilling to see animals up close that we otherwise might never have seen in the wild. We were too little to worry about whether the animals were happy in their enclosures, and our parents were merely glad to see us having a good time.

But now we’re all grown up, and we can’t see zoos through the innocence of our childhood eyes anymore. We see them for what they really are — small, unnatural enclosures where animals become trapped their entire lives, surrounded by a species that has brought them more harm than good. So here are some of the reasons I think zoos should no longer exist.

Zoos’ “Good Deeds” Aren’t Worth It

I won’t ignore the fact that zoos have improved greatly over the centuries since the first modern zoo opened in Paris in 1793. Zoos have slowly evolved from existing solely for entertainment to becoming centers for research and conservation, where scientists can monitor animals up close. Many zoos register as charity organizations and use their profits to fund species conservation and research.

But as much as they try to rebrand themselves and improve conditions for the animals, the very structure of zoos will always keep them from becoming truly helpful. The costs and resources used to accommodate crowds of visitors are unavoidable — like lighting, water, park maintenance and waste management. Many zoos have taken green initiatives to reduce their consumption, but it can’t be eliminated completely — unless the zoos close.

And no matter how much zoos remodel enclosures, they can never match the conditions that animals would have in the wild. Space is the biggest problem because many zoos are in urban areas and simply can’t expand to make enough room. This issue is why many animal rights activists call zoos “prison for animals”. And many species also become stressed from the crowds surrounding their exhibit every day.

What Should We Do Instead?

The research and repopulation efforts that scientists and veterinarians practice in zoos can be performed just as well in wildlife preserves. So it’s better to send people to native zones than to keep animals in artificial enclosures thousands of miles away from their natural habitat. Humans can adapt much more easily to different climates and ecosystems, so it makes sense that we should relocate rather than the animals.

People often credit zoos for educating children about animals, but this isn’t something that will be lost if zoos close their gates. Kids must first learn to appreciate nature and its inhabitants at home and in school, or else they will become adults who don’t respect wildlife. And closing zoos doesn’t mean that kids will never get the opportunity to see exotic species in person. I’ll be the first to admit that seeing a rhino in a video online isn’t anything like seeing one up close. But many wildlife preserves and rehabilitation centers welcome visitors on tours that are much more eco-friendly.

How Can We Make the Change?

The first step is to promote the cause until zoos themselves are willing to make the change. We also have to remember the infeasibility of shutting down all the zoos in one day. We can’t ship the thousands of animals that have been born and raised in captivity to their native homelands and set them free. Experts in animal care will have to create a plan for phasing out human interference that will likely take decades to complete.

That may sound daunting, but that’s why the sooner we get started, the better. And someday people will learn about zoos in history books the way we learn about gladiators — as a barbaric practice in the name of entertainment.


Can We Clone Endangered Species to Save Biodiversity?

October 13, 2017
Clone endangered species

You might remember hearing about Dolly the sheep. She was perhaps the most famous sheep in the world because of something that set her apart from other animals — she was a clone. Dolly represented the first successful cloning of an endangered species, a wild sheep called the European mouflon.

More than 20 years after the creation of Dolly, scientists are still playing with the idea of using cloning to help save endangered species. But the technology is still far from perfect, and not everyone agrees it’s a good idea.

A Still-Developing Technology

Dolly the sheep lived for about half as long as her species typically does. She died in 2003 from a lung infection that’s common in sheep, especially those kept indoors. Some said the fact that she was a clone led to her early death and that she may have been born with the genetic makeup of a six-year-old sheep, the age of the animal scientists cloned to create her. Other researchers, though, said they found no evidence that the cloning caused the early death.

It’s common, though, for cloned animals to have serious health problems. Scientists later managed to create a clone of an extinct species, the Pyrenean ibex, but the animal was born with deformed lungs and died a few minutes after being born.

The process is extremely inefficient, as well. In their efforts to create the ibex, scientists created 439 cloned embryos. Fifty-seven worked well enough to be transferred to goat mothers, seven pregnancies occurred and only one ibex was actually born. Today, cloning wild species is successful less than 1 percent of the time.

Cloning is still fraught with a high risk of failure, but some hold on to hope that the process could improve in the future and offer a viable solution.

Band-Aid or Long-Term Solution?

Even if cloning did work well, would it be able to help endangered species and preserve biodiversity? It might do some good, but it wouldn’t address the root of the problem.

Even if we could reliably bring back extinct species or create more individuals of endangered ones, they still might not be able to survive in the wild. The causes of their decline would still be present. Habitat loss, poaching and invasive species would still pose risks to them.

Each tiger, for example, requires 25,000 acres of habitat, but farmers have taken more than 93 percent of their natural environment. Even if we created more tigers, they’d still have nowhere to go.

Hope for the Future

While cloning extinct or endangered species might not solve the problem, it might help us in the future once we work out the other crucial parts of the equation. If we preserve these species’ DNA, it gives us the opportunity to possible bring them back sometime in the future once we’ve reestablished their habitats. We’ll also need to improve our cloning capabilities.

To this end, the Institute for Conservation Research at the San Diego Zoo created what’s known as a “frozen zoo,” a stockpile of tissue preserved on ice. Scientists in Brazil are working on a similar project. They’ve begun collecting genetic information from the country’s endangered species in hopes it might one day help save them.

The Brazilian scientists are also using the preserved DNA to work on improving cloning techniques, so we’ll be ready if the time comes to clone endangered species.

While cloning might not yet be a viable option and certainly is not a be-all and end-all for preserving biodiversity, it might one day play a role in helping save some of our endangered, or even extinct, species.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.