In this episode, learn how climate change is killing fur seals in California, and find out all the latest news on…
…Aurora the beluga’s death, and what it means for cetaceans in captivity
…How the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is still harming birds six years later
…Why the Supreme Court of India banned the bull taming festival of Jallikattu
…Indonesia’s new strategy to control rat populations, and a more humane cutting-edge alternative
…How public outrage over frozen fish caused a Japanese skating rink to close its doors
…Why the Netherlands just killed 190,000 ducks and banned free range farming
…Kenya’s cattle invasion problem, and its dangerous consequences for people and wildlife alike
…Why Botswana is taking a stand against trophy hunting
…What a Florida panther’s river crossing means for her species
…and a new smartphone app that will save wild animals from becoming roadkill!
Research by Kim Rogers Bartlett
Presentation & editing by Wolf Gordon Clifton
Theme music: “Praetor,” courtesy Ross Bugden: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQKGLOK2FqmVgVwYferltKQ/
Hello! I’m Wolf, like the animal, reporting for Animal People World News.
BELUGA ‘AURORA’ DIES IN VANCOUVER AQUARIUM
In British Columbia, Canada, a beluga named Aurora passed away at the Vancouver Aquarium Friday. Her death came just nine days after the death of her daughter, Qila. Both are suspected to have succumbed to an unknown virus or toxin. Aurora was born wild, captured from Hudson Bay in 1990. Her daughter was the first beluga conceived and born in captivity. According to the Lifeforce Society, an advocacy group for marine mammals, Qila and Aurora are the 20th and 21st captive belugas to have died in association with the aquarium. Lifeforce is calling on the Vancouver city government to strengthen a bylaw intended to prevent the keeping of cetaceans in captivity, and the head of Vancouver’s park board is planning to propose a public referendum on the issue in the 2018 election.
DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL FOUND IN BIRDS YEARS LATER
In April 2010, a blowout at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico caused some five million barrels of oil to leak into the environment, the largest oil spill in United States history. Between 600,000 and 800,000 birds died in the spill, according to the environmental group Oceana. Six and a half years later, carbon from that spill has been found in the feathers and digestive tracts of seaside sparrows, according to a new study by scientists at Louisiana State and Austin Peay State Universities. The sparrows, which were collected lethally by shotgun, appear to have suffered reproductive losses as a result of the oil. Coupled with previous studies on zooplankton, this proves that Deepwater Horizon oil has entered the food chain, and demonstrates that besides the massive short-term carnage they cause, oil spills continue to damage the environment in more subtle ways for many years after they occur.
CLIMATE CHANGE KILLING CALIFORNIA FUR SEALS
In other environmental news, climate change is causing Guadalupe fur seals to wash up sick or dead in record numbers along the California coast. More than seventy-five seals have been reported stranded this year so far, already matching last year’s total and greatly exceeding any previous year. According to California’s Marine Mammal Center, which has responded to over thirty of the strandings, the number of seals treated before 2015 averaged only around five per year. Many more individuals are believed to have died at sea. Most of the seals reported are starving, and climate change is believed to be the cause, as warming waters drive fish and squid farther north and force the seals to swim ever farther in search of food. Guadalupe fur seals were hunted nearly to extinction in the nineteenth century, and are currently classified as a threatened species, with around fifteen thousand individuals restricted to a single breeding site on Guadalupe Island.
INDIA BAN ON BULL TAMING FESTIVAL UPHELD
The Supreme Court of India has upheld its decision to ban jallikattu, a bull taming festival held in the state of Tamil Nadu. In jallikattu, bulls are forced to run through crowds of young men, who attempt to grab their horns and wrestle them to the ground, sometimes resulting in severe injuries to the animals. In 2014 the Supreme Court banned jallikattu on the grounds that it violated the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, as well as the Indian Constitution, which lists “compassion for living creatures” as a fundamental civic duty. However, in January 2016 India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests issued an order to lift the ban, allowing jallikattu and similar practices to continue. The Tamil Nadu state government submitted a plea that the Court reconsider its verdict, arguing that jallikattu is rooted in harvest rituals and therefore protected under freedom of religion. On November 16th, the Court rejected this plea and reaffirmed its previous ban, writing,
“The fundamental concept runs counter to the welfare of the animal which is the basic foundation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. … We are unable to hold that there is any connection or association of jallikattu with the right of freedom of religion in Article 25.”
JAKARTA, INDONESIA OFFERS BOUNTY FOR RATS
Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, has begun offering a bounty for rats in order to control its rodent population. Residents are being offered 20,000 rupiahs, or about one and a half U.S. dollars, for every rat they capture alive. The bounty was introduced in order to control the population of rodents, blamed for damaging pipes and electrical wires and spreading disease. The rats are required to be captured alive so as to prevent the use of lethal weapons or poisons potentially harmful to the public, but are killed nonetheless, gassed to death with sulfur in steel drums. Animal activists have criticized the method of killing for causing unnecessary suffering, and warned that the program could backfire, inadvertently increasing the number of rats by creating an economic incentive to breed them, as has occurred with similar efforts in India and Vietnam.
A more humane and effective solution to Jakarta’s rat overpopulation may soon become available. Contrapest, a new product developed by SenesTech, is a form of non-lethal liquid birth control that, once eaten, renders male and female rats alike completely sterile for life. Field tests of Contrapest have shown large reductions of rat populations, including in Indonesian rice fields and the subway systems of New York City. The product has received regulatory approval and will soon go on sale to customers in the United States and Europe.
OUTRAGE OVER FISH FROZEN IN JAPANESE SKATING RINK
In Japan, a skating rink displaying dead fish frozen into its ice has been forced to close, following massive public outcry. The Space World amusement park in Kitakyushu arranged the bodies of five thousand sprats, mackerel, and other fish to spell “hello,” and point skaters in the direction to travel. Rumors circulated on social media that the fish had been frozen alive, and that sharks and rays had also been killed. Commentators from within Japan and around the world roundly condemned the display, calling it a waste of life, disrespectful, anti-Buddhist, and morally shameful. On Sunday, Space World clarified that the fish were bought already dead from a local market, and that larger animals displayed in the ice were merely enlarged photographs. Nonetheless, they apologized for the offense caused, saying,
“We seriously take to heart a lot of various opinions, such as ‘you shouldn’t use these creatures in entertainment or events,’ or ‘poor fish.’ … We deeply apologize to all who had unpleasant feelings about the ice aquarium.”
The park plans to melt the ice and use the bodies for fertilizer, and is considering holding a memorial service in the fishes’ honor.
DUCKS KILLED IN NETHERLANDS TO COMBAT FLU
In the Netherlands, one hundred and ninety thousand ducks were killed on Saturday, in an effort to combat avian flu. The H5N8 strain of avian flu has been reported in farms in several northern European countries after first appearing in South Korea in 2014, transmitted by wild migratory birds. While highly contagious to birds, H5N8 is so far not known to infect humans, although the related H5N1 and H7N9 viruses have killed hundreds of people. Saturday’s slaughter was the Netherlands’ first livestock cull in response to the disease. Earlier this month, the Netherlands closed petting zoos and banned duck hunting to combat its spread, and ordered that free range fowl be confined indoors to limit contact with wild birds. Switzerland has also banned free range farming in response to the epidemic. In the past month, Sweden has announced the killing of two hundred thousand birds, and Germany sixteen thousand turkeys. Gassing is the most common method of culling used in Europe, though birds may also be electrocuted or suffocated in nitrogen foam.
CATTLE INVASIONS SPARK CRISES IN KENYA
Violent conflict is brewing in Kenya, over a series of illegal land grabs by cattle herders. In Laikipia County, an estimated one hundred and twenty-five thousand cattle have entered from neighboring counties in the past two months. Local ranchers claim that their lands have been invaded and forcefully seized by herders armed with spears, knives, and firearms. Protected areas for wildlife conservation have also been invaded, including a conservancy for black rhinos, forcing the cancellation of a planned multi-million dollar conservation project.
Cattle invasions have been an ongoing problem across Kenya for several years now. Last year, herders invaded Tsavo West National Park with some four hundred thousand cattle, displacing wild herbivores and depleting their water supplies.
Environmental factors, including prolonged drought, play a role in driving the invasions. However, the root causes are largely political. Many of the invading animals are owned by politicians and government officials, who invest their wealth in cattle to avoid paying taxes or being investigated for corruption. The land grabs also serve as a form of voter suppression, displacing members of rival political parties.
Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery has ordered the herders to immediately vacate the invaded lands, or else have their animals taken and sold by the government. The situation remains precarious – last year, ten people were killed in a clash between illegal herders and local residents and security officers.
BOTSWANA REAFFIRMS ANTI-HUNTING COMMITMENT
Botswana, which banned hunting in 2014, has reaffirmed its commitment to protecting wildlife in spite of pressure from neighboring countries and the European Union. Botswana adopted the ban in response to data showing decreases in hooved animal populations due to trophy hunting, and that photographic tourism could generate more revenue for the country than hunting. The ban does not apply to private ranches, where canned hunting of captive-bred animals remains legal, and subsistence hunting by local communities such as the San, or bushmen, may soon be re-legalized.
During the most recent meeting of CITES, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Botswana supported increasing the protected status of elephants and banning trade in body parts from captive-bred lions, but these motions were defeated by pro-hunting nations including Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the European Union. In a recent press conference, Tshekedi Khama, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, stated that Botswana was under strong international pressure to lift its hunting ban, but would continue to stand its ground, saying,
“We have stopped hunting, but our neighbors still undertake trophy hunting and practice captive animal breeding. Our policy against wildlife hunting is working, that is why wildlife is relocating from neighboring countries to Botswana.”
FLORIDA RIVER CROSSING A VICTORY FOR PANTHERS
In the U.S. state of Florida, a female panther has been spotted north of the Caloosahatchee River for the first time in more than forty years. The Florida panther, a subspecies of puma or mountain lion, was decimated by hunting in the early twentieth century, and continues to suffer from inbreeding, deforestation, and collisions with vehicles. Although there are still fewer than two hundred Florida panthers alive today, conservationists celebrated the sighting as a significant victory, hoping that the female panther will breed with local males north of the river and expand her subspecies’ range.
CANADA SCIENTISTS CREATE APP TO STOP ROADKILL
Finally, in British Columbia, Canada, scientists and conservationists have unveiled a new app to help protect wildlife from automobiles. The app, called RoadWatchBC, allows iPhone and Android users to record animals they see crossing the road, logging them by species and location. The app’s creators – from the organizations Miistakis Institute, Wildsight, Western Transportation Institute, and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative – plan to use the data to identify locations where wildlife crossings are most common, and lobby transportation officials to build new underpasses and overpasses allowing animals to cross safely. They are hopeful their project will expand across Canada and to other regions in the future, helping wild animals to escape becoming roadkill.
This report covers just a few of the countless issues facing animals worldwide. More information can be found on the Animal People Forum, our online magazine and social networking site for people who care about animals. Sign up at animalpeopleforum dot org, and don’t forget to like and subscribe for future episodes of Animal People World News. Together we can help create a kinder world for all living creatures! Thank you.