Monday, March 28, 2005

International endangered species roundup

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch butterflies have an extraordinary migration. They fly from the groves in Mexico every winter, and travel in two groups across North America. They breed as they go, so the butterfly that leaves Mexico doesn't reach the end of the journey. The NRDC blog has a meditation on Vanishing Habitat:
And each year the news reports come back from Mexico that the habitats that sustain them over the winter, a few forested enclaves in northern Mexico are increasingly experiencing deforestation. Despite protected status, and at least some oversight from the authorities, illegal logging continues apace.
This is based on a story in the Times (reprinted here) about logging in the groves the monarchs use. Illegal logging in protected areas has degraded more than 40% of the highest quality forest.

In the good news column, Federal officials propose upgrading status of endangered crocodile:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed upgrading the crocodile's status from endangered to threatened, a change that would recognize the crocodile's improved prospects while leaving its legal protection intact. …

By the early 1970s, before the crocodile came under federal protection, it was dying out. Condominiums and hotels covered most of its old habitat along the coasts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. In its last stronghold in northern Florida Bay, people shot crocodiles "for sport" from passing boats, a practice that accounted for about half of human-caused crocodile deaths in the early 1970s, according to research cited by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

By the time the crocodile went on the endangered species list in 1976, the population had declined to 200 to 300, with just 10 to 20 breeding females.

Biologists attribute the crocodile's resurgence to a federal recovery effort, environmental restoration work at Everglades National Park, and the unintentional construction of excellent crocodile habitat in an illegal dredging operation in Key Largo and in the cooling canals of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant.

Habitat protections, restoration, and protection from hunting can save even very rare species.

In other news, War and Politics Threaten Congo's Endangered Rhinos:
"I do not believe that any rhinos will survive the year," predicted Thomas J. Foose, program director at the International Rhino Foundation, which is based in the United States and has been working for years in Garamba, the last refuge for the northern white rhino. The immediate culprits, according to conservation groups, are poachers from an offshoot of the janjaweed, the Arab militia groups that have been pillaging villages in the Darfur region of Sudan. Rather than attacking people, these militias are on a mission to make money. They steal over the border to kill elephants and rhinos, leaving the carcasses and taking the valuable tusks and horns, which are carried back in long donkey trains.
The Garamba park is the only place where the white rhinos are known to exist in the wild. These are incredibly rare animals, and Congo's post-colonial fear of Western intervention is making conservation hard. EU funding which paid park rangers to prevent poaching was killed when people started rumors that the money was buying rhinos to be shipped out of the country. Similar concerns are holding up a plan to create a new population in Kenya. What's interesting is that these conservation measures are being held up by national pride for the animal. Of course, the animals are rare because of hunting, habitat loss, and weak traditions of legal protections for natural resources.

In other poaching news, Tiger numbers across India show alarming drop:
A recent report released by the WWF has said that there may be no tigers in the Sariska forest, which was once a home to a rich population of about 16 to 17 tigers. It also said most of the damage to the tiger population in the forest took place in the period between the months of July and December 2004.

Last month a non-government group expressed concern saying that of the 48 tigers in the Ranthambore Park, famous for its tiger reserves, 18 are said to be missing. The Prime Minister of India, Mr.Manmohan Singh has decided to create a task force whose main aim is to save the endangered species and to investigate into the missing tigers.The main cause for this drop in the tiger population appears to be poaching for their skins which fetch around $50,000 in the open market.

Again, habitat loss and hunting in protected areas are driving a big, beautiful animal to extinction.

These stories all show the interplay between habitat protection (an important theme here) and species protection. Both are vital, and we need laws that do both. Internationally, the problem isn't just laws though. War, bad government, misunderstandings, and poverty all combine to make laws hard to enforce.

I guess that's a reason to pay close attention to how Paul Wolfowitz handles the World Bank.

Broken Butterflies” by Lucinda Williams from the album Essence (2001, 5:40).