Friday, August 5, 2011

International Rhino Foundation: Protecting the Rhinos of the world

International Rhino Foundation logo
The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) was founded over 20 years ago to combat the threats of poaching to the Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis.  Their work with the Black Rhino was so successful (poaching was nearly eliminated) that they soon decided to expand their activities towards the protection of all five species of rhinoceros.  The International Rhino Foundation is and always has been run almost entirely by volunteer labor, made up of field biologists, zoo staff, and conservation biologists from around the world, with a handful of paid staff to deal with the daily requirements of the organization.  Their partners include the American Association of Zoo Keepers, a large number of zoos (e.g. the Albuquerque Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, Basel Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, Marwell Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Columbus Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Denver Zoo, Erie Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, White Oak Conservation Center, Fort Worth Zoo, Indianapolis Zoo, Taronga Zoo, Gladys Porter Zoo, Tulsa Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Great Plains Zoo, etc. etc.), and a mix of business interests, foundations and conservation organizations (e.g. Blue Rhino, Ecko Unlimited, Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation,  IUCN Species Survival Commission, Yayasan Badak Indonesia, etc. etc.), all of which are working together to enact a coherent plan for protecting the rhinos of the world.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Chester Zoo: Another zoo leading the way in conservation

Chester Zoo logo
The Chester Zoo in England is another world-class zoo that is making a huge difference in conservation around the globe.  Originally opened in 1931, from its earliest days the Chester Zoo was on the cutting edge of zoo technology and thinking and they continue to be to this day, with one of the larger and most comprehensive commitments to conservation projects found coming from any zoo internationally.  They are involved in training and assisting staff working with endangered species in situ (in their native lands), captive breeding animals ex situ (not in their native lands; i.e. at the Chester Zoo for non-native species), and assisting with reintroducing captive bred individuals of endangered species back into their native habitat, as well as sponsoring research into the biology of those endangered species and educational programs to minimize the threats to endangered species around the world.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme: Protecting the Most Endangered Dog in the World

Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme logo
The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP) was founded in 1995 by Claudio Sillero (who is also one of the people responsible for founding the Andean Cat Alliance) in an attempt to reverse the headlong plummet of the Ethiopian Wolf Canis simensis towards extinction.  The Ethiopian Wolf is the most endangered member of the Canidae (dog) family, with less than 450 of these wolves left alive today.  The largest threats to the Ethiopian Wolf come from the encroachment of humans and all that brings with it: habitat destruction for agriculture, road building, diseases brought from domestic dogs, and human hunting to eliminate perceived threats to livestock.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Peregrine Fund: Saving the birds of prey of the world

The Peregrine Fund logo
The Peregrine Fund was founded in 1970 by Tom Cade, a professor of Ornithology at Cornell University in an attempt to help save the Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus from disappearing from the western United States and to reintroduce it back into the eastern United States.  A captive breeding program with reintroduction of offspring was initiated and was wildly successful.  As a result, they now are able to focus their energies into saving other species of birds of prey and they have been involved in conservation efforts for ~100 raptor species (as well as some non-raptors, like the critically endangered Madagascar Pochard Aythya innotata).  They run the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, which is a breeding center as well as a zoo only for birds of prey (much like the International Crane Foundation has a breeding center and zoo specializing just on crane species) and they have had incredible successes there breeding large numbers of species like California Condors Gymnogyps californianus, Aplomado Falcons Falco femoralis, Bald Eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Mauritius Kestrels Falco punctatus, and many more.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

BirdLife International: They speak for the birds

BirdLife International logo
The good people at BirdLife International (formerly the International Council for Bird Preservation) have been working to protect endangered birds since 1922.  They are a coalition (the largest conservation coalition in the world) of many conservation and scientific organizations (like the National Audubon Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) that have banded together to unite resources, determining important directions in research and conservation to pursue and giving the bird conservation community a stronger lobbying position.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wildlife Conservation Society: 5 zoos and 116 years as one of the largest conservation organizations on Earth

Wildlife Conservation Society logo
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) was founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society with the mandate to promote wildlife conservation, promote the study of zoology, and create a zoo (the Bronx Zoo).  It immediately took heartily to all three goals.  Apart from running the Bronx Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and New York Aquarium, WCS also manages more than 200 million acres of protected wild lands globally, is engaged in over 500 field projects in 60 countries, and has over 200 scientists on staff.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: Over a century of saving birds

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds logo
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is extremely well known in the United Kingdom, but I am including it because it is much less well known outside of the UK even though it has been expanding more and more into international conservation projects, and also because it is an excellent example of how a local conservation organization can be run extremely successfully.  The RSPB has focused its efforts into three main arenas: protecting habitat through their series of 200+ reserves scattered around the United Kingdom, initiating programs to build up the numbers of endangered species, and using their political clout (due to their more than one million members) to affect positive change for wildlife and native habitats.
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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Proyecto Titi: Saving small monkeys with crazy hair for over 25 years

Proyecto Titi logo
Proyecto Titi is an organization that was formed to save Colombia's critically endangered Cotton-top Tamarins Saguinus oedipus from extinction, as well as preserve the habitats and biodiversity in the forest where they live.  Cotton-top Tamarins are a small primate species found only in the tropical forests of Colombia.  Although there are no accurate estimates of their original population size, they must have numbered at least in the tens of thousands since 20,000-30,000 were exported in the late 1960's for medical testing and the pet trade, and since at least 75% (and estimates are up to 98%) of their original habitat has now been cleared of forest.  The latest population estimate was that there could be up to 7,400 animals left, presumed to be 20% or less of the original population.  Unfortunately, the habitat destruction continues unabated, and 2 hydroelectric dams that are being built will flood much of the remaining forest.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Frankfurt Zoological Society: It's not ALL happening at the zoo

Frankfurt Zoological Society logo FZS

The Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) was originally founded to support Zoo Frankfurt over 150 years ago but has grown far past that function alone.  Progressive zoos today focus their energies not merely on entertainment, but towards utilizing their unique positions to improve the state of the natural world through research, education, conservation of species through both captive breeding and habitat protection, animal welfare, and sustainability.  The Frankfurt Zoological Society is among the leaders in the zoo field globally for their outstanding work in these areas.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

International Crane Foundation: Tall, lanky & in need of help

During my time as a zoo keeper I have fallen in love with cranes.  They may well be my second-favorite (after waterfowl) group of birds, and I have been incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with 12 of the 15 species of cranes at one time or another in zoos and to have seen 1 of the remaining 3 species in the wild on several occasions.  Given my tremendous love for cranes, I am vary familiar with the amazing work being done with cranes at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) because they are doing the bulk of the conservation work on cranes globally.  The International Crane Foundation was formed in the early 1970's by George Archibald and Ron Sauey to promote crane conservation through research, education, protection of native habitat, captive breeding, and release of captive birds into protected areas in the wild.  They have done an outstanding job in all of those areas.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

WildlifeDirect: Blogging for conservation

Since Paula Kuhumbu is being presented with a National Geographic/Buffett Award for Conservation Leadership for her work as the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect and the Kenya Land Conservation Trust (as well as being named a 2011 National Geographic Emerging Explorer), this seems like an excellent time to write a post on WildlifeDirect and the excellent work that they are doing.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Helping the rarest cat in the Americas: Alianza Gato Andino

Andean Cat Alliance logo
I am going to continue with my cat conservation trend by covering Alianza Gato Andino (AGA, The Andean Cat Alliance), the organization working to save the Andean Cat Leopardus (Oreailurus) jacobita, the most endangered cat in North & South America.  Populations of this small cat of the high mountain (above timberline) regions of the Andes in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru are very small and scattered, and densities of these secretive cats are extremely low.  This makes these cats extremely difficult to study, since they have only been spotted a few times by researchers in the wild and none are in captivity.  As a result, many of the Andean Cat researchers have spent many, many years studying this species without having ever seen one alive, or if so only catching a rare and fleeting glimpse of one.  That is a degree of dedication that is beyond most people- I am not used to meeting researchers who have not seen their study species, yet remain incredibly dedicated to their work.  It takes a rare person to work so diligently to save a species that they have never seen and may not ever see just because they know that it is important.  And so these researchers continue with their work because they think it is more important to save the cat than for them to see more than the traces that the cats have left behind, laboring on with the hopes of saving this cat (and one day catching a glimpse of one as well.)
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

King of the Mountain: The Snow Leopard Conservancy

Snow Leopard Conservancy logo
Some conservation organizations like the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust start because someone saw the devastation that was happening to much of the flora/fauna of the world and was determined to try to stop as much of it as possible.  Other organizations were founded by people who are extremely familiar with one species (often by researchers who were studying the species) and who found that they could not stand by impassively as a species that they were so familiar with plummeted towards extinction.  The Snow Leopard Conservancy is one of the latter conservation organizations.  Rodney Jackson is at the top of the field in Snow Leopard Panthera (Uncia) uncia research so he knows better than anyone how precarious their continued existence is and how many threats they have facing them.  Fortunately he also has a good understanding of what will be required to alleviate those threats as well as the drive needed to tackle them.  As a result he founded the Snow Leopard Conservancy and devoted himself to alleviating the threats against Snow Leopards.
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust: It all started with a zoo

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust logo
The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is an organization that was founded in 1963 (although technically the zoo, the first zoo to house only endangered species in the world, opened to the public on the isle of Jersey in the English Channel for that purpose in 1959) by conservationist, nature documentarian, and author Gerald Durrell to create breeding groups of endangered animals and plants in captivity for return back into the wild.  Since that time the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (formerly the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust) has been intensively involved in the protection of endangered species, much of it through captive breeding at the zoo (the Durrell Wildlife Park, formerly the Jersey Zoo).  They chose the Dodo Raphus cucullatus as their symbol to point out the importance of conservation work and to demonstrate what will happen to other species if conservation actions are not taken or are not strong enough.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Xerces Society: Helping those without backbones for 40 years

Xerces Society logo

The Xerces Society was formed 40 years ago to protect insects and other invertebrates and their habitats from extinction.  They were named after the Xerces Blue Glaucopsyche xerces, the first butterfly species in North America to go extinct.  The exact reason for the extinction of the Xerces Blue is not known because the ecology of the species was poorly understood before it went extinct, but currently the most likely guess is that it had a symbiotic relationship with a local ant species and when the most of the local ant species were displaced by invasive Argentine ants the butterfly lost a vital piece required to complete its life cycle.  Which just goes to show you that the little unloved species like ants need to be saved just as much as the glamorous mega-vertebrates like Giant Pandas, because all of those little invertebrate species form the base of the food web and every time one species at or near the bottom is pulled out it is likely to have a disproportionately large response on the species higher up the trophic pyramid.  While most conservation organizations are raising money to save adorable fluffy animals, the Xerces Society is fighting the good fight for the little guy, quite literally, and they are trying to save animals that you would be hard pressed to call cute but that are still just as deserving to survive as the most adorable little fluffy baby mammal.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Out of sight ≠ out of mind for the good folks at Bat Conservation International

Bat Conservation International logo

Although Bat Conservation International (BCI) is a conservation organization that has been around for decades doing crucial work to save the bat species of the world, this is an excellent time to support their work.  In 2006 White-nose Syndrome was discovered in the first bats in North America.  Scientists were not sure what it was at the time and it has unfortunately swept westward over the continent since then, killing nearly every bat that it comes into contact with on its way towards the Pacific.  This is one of the worst catastrophes to ever hit the wildlife of North America.  As a result, their work has taken on a new sense of urgency in the past several years.  It has been seen in 9 of North America's 47 bat species already.  Bat Conservation International has been funding research into the causes of White-nose Syndrome as well as attempts to stop it, but they need your financial help.

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Highway to Hell: Serengeti Watch

Spotted Hyaenas with baby in the Serengeti © Thomas Knight
While Serengeti Watch is not a long established conservation organization and does not have many huge successes to claim, I am including it because although it is an extremely new organization, its goal is crucial and time sensitive: to stop construction of a government-mandated highway straight through the most sensitive part of the Serengeti.  Construction of the highway is currently slated to begin next year, even though researchers from the Frankfurt Zoological Society working in the Serengeti, other scientists from around the globe, travel agents (and the tourism industry as a whole), and concerned individuals have been petitioning the government to rethink their decision and to instead reroute the highway to the South of the Serengeti, where it would also increase economic growth for those villages in its path and would garner increased traffic.  If the highway is built as is currently proposed, estimates are that at least 3/4 of the migratory wildebeest population will be decimated and may stop being migratory, there will be incalculable loss of wildlife due to roadkills, poaching of rhinos will increase substantially with the increased ease of access to the more sensitive portions of the reserve, and cost over-runs will eclipse the projected highway cost due to the clear need to build barriers to keep the wildlife off of the highway which have not been included in the current budget.
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Friday, June 3, 2011

Why a duck? The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT)

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust logo

Who doesn't love a duck?  Their rounded, rubbery bills, their endearing waddling gait, their happy tail-waggling, their wonderful calls- it's hard to hate ducks.  They have always been personal favorites of mine, and they are also personal favorites of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).  The WWT is a British nonprofit that was founded in 1946 by the naturalist Sir Peter Scott (who was one of the greatest conservation biologists of our time, also helping to found the World Wildlife Fund and to create the IUCN Red Data Books) and is committed to protecting, expanding, and creating wetlands and researching and protecting wetland species.  They have nine wetland visitor centers scatted around the country which are all spectacular (Martin Mere is the only one I have visited so far in my trips to the UK, but I was completely blown away by it and have heard that the other centers are equally beautiful and amazing and can't wait to visit them), but the WWT does not work only in Great Britain.  They work all around the world, attempting to save many endangered species.  Some of the many, many species that they have/are working with are:

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why would you bowl for a rhinoceros? AAZK's Bowling For Rhinos

Bowling for Rhinos BFR logo

Bowling for Rhinos is an annual event organized by the American Association of Zoo Keepers and run locally by ~55 groups of zoo keeper volunteers at zoos around North America. Each AAZK local chapter that participates sets up a bowl-a-thon (or similar event) in their community which usually also involves an auction of donated items and all proceeds (~ a quarter of a million dollars each year) are split between 3 different rhinoceros refuges: the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (with White Rhinos Ceratotherium simum and Black Rhinos Diceros bicornis) in Kenya, Ujung Kulon National Park (with Javan Rhinos Rhinoceros sondaicus) in Indonesia, & the Bukit Barisan Selatan & Way Kambas National Parks (with Sumatran Rhinos Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Indonesia. Since the entire operation is run by volunteers at every level and all of the administrative costs are covered by local chapters from other funds, all proceeds go directly to the parks to protect rhinos.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

And the winner for Coolest Nose On An Antelope... Saiga Conservation Alliance

Saiga Conservation Alliance logo

I am going to start off my conservation blogging efforts with a group that is working to save a species that was once extremely common throughout the grassland & semi-arid deserts of central Asia. The Saiga Saiga tatarica is a species of antelope that looks like something out of a Star Wars film, and is critically endangered as a result of poaching for horns for the Chinese medicine trade and for meat. The population has plummeted to only 4% of what it was in the 1970's. Since animals with horns are targeted, most of the animals killed have been males. As a result, the situation for the species is even worse than just having 4% of the population remaining; since the sex ratio is so strongly skewed in favor of females, there are not enough males around to breed with all of the remaining females, so the effective size of the population is even smaller in terms of breeding potential for recovery. Using the Thomas Knight Comparative Population Decimation Scale of Doom© we can see that losing 96% of the population is the equivalent of having all humans die from the continents of North & South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, and Europe, as well as all of the people throughout all of Asia except for those in the countries of Indonesia & Malaysia.   And that's only the population decline since the 1970's- long before that it had already been eradicated from large portions of its original range.  

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What I hope to accomplish, and the Thomas Knight Comparative Population Decimation Scale of Doom©

“Why start a blog about conservation?” you may well ask. “Hasn't enough been said about conservation? Aren't you just sullying the already murky depths of the internet with something that has already been done?” Perhaps, we will see. This may be useful, or it may not be, but I feel that there is a need for it and I will see if I can help to fill that need. If not, then at least I have tried, and you can't fault a person for trying (except I suppose the example of poor little Rebecca Black shows that isn't necessarily true) and in a worst case scenario at least I won't actually harm conservation efforts in any way. If only one person is motivated by this blog to do something, anything at all, then I feel like my labors here will not have been for nothing.

One way in which I hope to add something to the discussion is by providing a desperately needed scale to the issue. The population collapses of species around the globe are happening on scales that we simply can't make any sense of because they are far too large for our little primate brains (that originally evolved to help us figure out how to escape from predators & to find food & mates, not to process numbers in the hundreds, never mind millions or billions) to grasp. As a result, when looking at population declines in animal species, I will demonstrate what would happen to the human population of Earth if we lost a similar percentage of our species.

As an example for illustration purposes, when we hear that the White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, formerly possibly the most abundant large bird of prey in the world, has experienced a 99.9% population decrease in the past 10-15 years, it sounds horrible, but it is impossible to visualize what that really means. When using the Thomas Knight Comparative Population Decimation Scale of Doom© we can grasp the scale of it a bit better, because we are looking at how much of the entire human population would need to be wiped out to create a similar disaster within our own species. In this particular case, everyone in North America would be dead, as would the entire population of South America, Australia, Africa, and Europe. The scientists on Antarctica- also all gone. Which leaves Asia. Wipe them all out as well, all except for the handful of people living in the teeny tiny (keep zooming in on the map until you see it- then look at the scale) country of Hong Kong. And that is what would be left of our entire species on this planet: the people that currently live in Hong Kong. Everyone else on the planet would be dead. Still hard to grasp, but it helps to make what has happened to the White-rumped Vulture in the past 10-15 years a little more real. As astoundingly, mind-blowingly horrific as the genocides and wars that humans have committed against other humans have been, they pale in comparison with what we have done to the other species that share the planet with us. But the purpose of this blog is not to condemn the people destroying those species, but to celebrate the people who are working to stop the declines and to help them in their work. So join with me and help give these people & organizations some love/publicity/money/support!
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