Shooting Goats on the Rooftop of the World

“To protect a rare Central Asian goat—and the snow leopards that depend on it—conservationists are turning to an unlikely ally: trophy hunters,” writes wildlife reporter Jason G Goldman

Goldman is tracing the footsteps of avid trophy hunter Bill Campbell, a doctor with his own private psychiatry practice. Several months before, Campbell had made the 5,000 mile journey from the US to the ‘rooftop of the world’, the remote Pamir mountains of Tadjikistan with the single purpose of adding a rare markhor goat to his extensive trophy collection. He paid $120,000 for the privilege of shooting it.

“It’s probably the most expensive hunt in the world,” Campbell says. “This is basically where my income goes.”

This is what a markhor looks like (alive) with its characteristic twisted horns, and this is where they live.

By the early 90s in spite of their nigh-on inaccessible habitat, markhor were close to extinction, the inevitable result of local poaching for meat and a certain amount of illegal trophy hunting. In 1994, in stepped the IUCN, placing the goats on the Red List of species that are Critically Endangered. Over the following decade numbers rose sufficiently for the species to move up a level (or down, whichever way you look at it) to Near Threatened.

Goldman asserts that during his trip to Tadjikistan, I learned that wealthy hunters like Campbell are the main reason that Bukharan markhor still exist at all—despite how uncomfortable that truth may be.

“Some hunters, of course, are almost certainly engaged in a vainglorious pursuit of power. But after spending time with dozens of Tajik hunting guides and wildlife biologists on two markhor hunting concessions in southern Tajikistan, I discovered that painting the entire hunting community with such a broad brush ignores a reality: the trophy hunters who attempt to engage honestly with the thorny ethical quandaries underlying their pastime, who go out of their way to have their fun in an ecologically and socially responsible manner.”

Seriously? Who is he kidding? Is he really expecting us to feel for the mental and emotional turmoil the poor hunters suffer while they are ‘having their fun’, rather than for their innocent victims, trying to survive and rear young in a harsh environment, suddenly confronted by a man with a gun?

Goldman continues to embellish the myth of the sensitive soul that is the trophy hunter. He quotes the reflections of another of the super-rich, this time from South Africa, who trekked for days over inhospitable mountain terrain to get within shooting range of a markhor: “You’re faced with sadness and joy. Joy that you achieved what you did, but there’s a sadness associated with it. It’s a very emotional time when you look at an animal you’ve just killed.”

O  –  M  –  G

Sadly Bill Campbell’s hunt too was ‘successful’. “It was a beautiful animal in a beautiful setting. It was the most exciting hunt of my life.”

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the US is also a man who knows how to hit his target, but his weapon is words: “Cruel, self-aggrandizing, larcenous, and shameful,” is his judgement on trophy hunting.

The concession where Campbell bagged his markhor issues only one hunting licence per year. As Tadjikistan is an exporter of gold, the argument goes that selling licences to rich hunters like him enable privately held lands to be managed for wildlife, when they might well otherwise be despoiled by mining.

But licence money alone is not enough to halt the decline of these rare goats. Not unless villagers are incentivised to stop poaching. The goats’ value is not in some (illegal) internationally tradeable commodity like elephant ivory or rhino horn. Their value is as a local source of food.

The long-established Torghar Conservation Project in neighbouring Pakistan that both pays the locals as game guards and also turns over to them the ‘lion’s share’ of the meat from licensed hunting suggested a possible model for Tadjikistan.

Enter Panthera, the only organization in the world devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s wild cats. Panthera gives support to the local communities in the form of wildlife monitoring training, as well as hardware such as binoculars and vehicles. The organisation’s interest in conserving markhors however, is only as the preferred prey of snow leopards. More markhors mean more snow leopards.

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To this end they are happy to assist the local people not only to interface with their government and the IUCN, but also international hunting organisations. Not just WWF, then.

This is the official version of what happens to the $120,000 Campbell and his ilk hand over for their licence to kill:

  • $41,000 to the Tadjiki government
  • Of that money, $8,200 is channeled into national government coffers
  • According to the Mamadnazarbekov, Deputy Chair of the Committee for Environmental Protection, ‘a fair amount’ of that $8,200 is used ‘to benefit wildlife and the public’
  • The remaining $32,800 is split between regional and local authorities
  • ‘Most’ of what is left of the $120,000 after the government takes its cut stays with the private hunting concession and pays for the markhor’s protection, as well as community projects like water pipes and funding for schools

Even Goldman though, the hunters’ apologist is forced to admit:

“It’s hard to determine how much of what Mamadnazarbekov describes is true. Several sources told me that some money must also be spent making various payoffs that aren’t legally justifiable, and that the government doesn’t necessarily spend its share of the revenue as they are supposed to. In a country with a per capita GDP of just 804 U.S. dollars, it’s not hard to imagine why many people here would want a piece of the action. Bribery and corruption may simply be part of the cost of doing business, even when that business is wildlife conservation.”

How easily ethical concerns are dismissed when it comes to justifying trophy hunting.

Goldman continues, “It’s difficult to argue with the results, at least so far. More than 10 years of intense effort have allowed the markhor population in Southern Tajikistan to flourish.”

Well, as a matter of fact, we could argue with the results. Describing the markhor population as flourishing might be over-egging it. Remember that in 2015 the markhor graduated from Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List to Near Threatened? Well, this is how IUCN defines Near Threatened:

A taxon [species] is Near Threatened when it has been evaluated against the criteria but does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable now, but is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.”

Not quite out of the woods yet.

But Tanya Rosen, Panthera’s director of snow leopard protection, reckons to have seen a welcome rise in the cat’s population – we’re talking small numbers here, from 6 to 10. Nevertheless, the highest density of these rare and elusive creatures seen anywhere in the world.

Goldman concludes, Isn’t it better to sacrifice a few old animals [markhors] in order to maintain an entire functioning ecosystem?” Many of us would answer “NO, absolutely not”. The markhor may not be as iconic as the snow leopard, but its life counts just as much.

In a country with such amazing scenery, wildlife and culture (the ancient Silk Road from India to China runs right through the Pamir mountains), there is much for any visitor that does not come to kill.

BirdLife International has designated a large area around the famously beautiful turquoise Iskanderkul Lake in the Fann mountains an IBA (Important Bird & Biodiversity Area).

Migrant bird visitors and residents include Himalayan  snowcocks, saker falcons, cinereous vultures, yellow-billed choughs, Hume’s larks, sulphur-bellied warblers, wallcreepers, Himalayan rubythroats, white-winged redstarts, white-winged snowfinches, alpine accentors, rufous-streaked accentors, brown accentors, water pipits, fire-fronted serins, plain mountain-finches, crimson-winged finches, red-mantled rosefinches and white-winged grosbeaks.

The dramatic rugged terrain makes it a mecca not just for birders, but for all wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers, as well as trekkers, climbers and photographers.

Gutman_Karakul_lake
Karakul Lake – Wiki Creative Commons

Moreover, Pamir Mountains Ecotourism is ready and waiting to put together your own tailor-made tour. It wouldn’t be cheap, but I doubt it costs $120,000. And isn’t that a much better way to conserve the majestic landscape and all that call it home, human and nonhuman?

Yet no qualms about killing goats on the rooftop of the world trouble the conscience of psychiatrist/hunter Bill Campbell.  “I feel good about it in my heart because I feel like I’m promoting really effective conservation,he says.

Well that’s all right then.

It’s little surprise to find that Campbell is a buddy of dentist Walter Palmer, the infamous killer of Cecil the lion. “I feel sorry for him,” Campbell says. “I think that the people who lynched him [online] don’t realize how much he has done for conservation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Walt spends $250,000 to $500,000 a year hunting. And the people who are lynching him donate 25 bucks to the Sierra Club. Who’s done more for conservation? There’s no comparison.”

Spitting feathers anyone?

 

More petitions:

Please sign & share as many as you can – unrelated to Tadjikistan and the markhor, but  important nonetheless

BAN Breeding, Trading and Trophy Hunting of Wildlife in South Africa

Mr Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa: Ban ALL Forms of ‘Canned’ & ‘Trophy’ Hunting In South Africa

EU Please Ban The Import Of Wildlife “Trophies” into Europe

Yolanda Kakabadse WWF: End YOUR Trophy Hunting Safaris in Partnership with USA TH Dallas Safari Club

Stop trophy hunting giraffes

More to be found here. Some are closed, but many are not.

Sources

Shoot to Save – bioGraphic

Iskanderkul – Wiki

Related posts

Shooting lions (and other things that move)

What’s in a Name?

Endangered Animals As You’ve Never Seen Them Before

Man, Money & Rhinos – Unravelling the Tangled Knot of Poaching

 

 

An Enchantment of Birds

Chances are, when you wake up in the morning the first thing you hear is the joyful chirruping of birds. And does a day ever go by without at some hour being graced by their presence, even in the middle of the busiest metropolis?

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Of all wild animals, birds have to be the most familiar to us all, the least secretive, the easiest for us to spot. They usually – but sadly far from always – have little need to conceal themselves from dangerous humans, for it is they, not we, who possess the kingdom of the air.
With their dazzling colours, extravagant variety, and incredible abilities – the sheer magic they impart to our lives – isn’t An Enchantment of Birds exactly the right umbrella-term for the avian life of Planet Earth?

Here I’ve pieced together a crazily random patchwork of the new and not-so new, the bright interspersed with patches of a darker hue. And a few small ways we can give a helping hand to these animals that so enrich our lives.


It doesn’t get darker than murder. ‘A murder’ is the collective name bestowed – surely undeservedly – upon the common crow

What a slur on these sociable and clever birds. A murder of crows. Possibly acquired because where there were corpses there were crows. In times gone by, they cleaned up the human detritus from the gallows and the battlefield, and superstitions sprang up like a thicket around them. Nor has it done anything for their sadly besmirched reputation that their feathery finery is entirely black, the colour of night and dark deeds.

And that these remarkable animals actually hold funerals for their own deceased, serves only, in human eyes, to put the seal on their association with death.

The raven, another member of the the clever corvid family, is likewise cloaked in mystery and superstition
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Legend has it for example, that if ever the ravens abandon the Tower of London, the Tower and the kingdom will fall.

(Legends are engaging, but there is a sadness behind this one. By the time of King Charles 2nd in the 17th century, these magnificent birds had been nigh on exterminated throughout their natural range, including in the city of London. They were only able to find refuge at the Tower under the king’s protection. Then and ever since, 6 ravens have been kept at the Tower – with one wing clipped to prevent their flying away. Read why this is harmful to the birds and sign the petition here or below)

The Guardian in its report on some recent raven research incidentally cites other examples in myth and fiction of the bird’s supposed prescient powers:

  • Ravens have long been associated with powers of foresight
  • Their collective name is ‘a conspiracy’
  • In Greek mythology, they are associated with the god of prophecy
  • In the TV hit Game of Thrones a three-eyed raven appears in a prince’s prophetic visions
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting 1845 narrative poem The Raven, a cornerstone of American literature, features a raven as an uncanny harbinger of doom.

Enchantment indeed.

Who knows whether ravens can truly see into the future – nonhuman animals have such a variety of astonishing abilities that nothing would surprise me. Whatever, it did come as a surprise to the pair of Swedish scientists featured in the Guardian report, that ravens show great ability in planning for the future.

It’s little more than a decade since we humans were forced to concede, with the discovery that other Hominidae/Great Apes have the mental capacity to plan ahead, that our species is not, as was previously assumed, unique in this respect. Now it seems that in this exclusive but expanding club, ravens too can claim their rightful place. And indeed completely outshine species much closer to homo sapiens, like monkeys. No doubt many of us humans as well!

Researchers Mathias Osvath and Can Kabadayi reveal their discoveries

Is this perhaps another example of science finding ‘proof’ of something we’ve intuitively known for millennia?


There’s recycling, and then there’s recycling

What are nests but beautiful and ingenious examples of natural recycling? A new usefulness is found for dead twigs and leaves, moss, straw, feathers and sheep’s wool snagged on fences. But also man-made litter: string, twine, ribbon, lace, cotton, jute, yarn. Even the odd rubber tyre.

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And plastic. But it must be white. Transparent or green plastic will not do. Black kites have taken to adorning their nests with the stuff. Why? Not to dazzle a mate with their artistry, like the male bower bird. In the kite nest-building enterprise the male and female are equal partners. These embellishments of trash seem to serve pretty much the same purpose in the kite world as screwing an alarm box to the front of our house does in ours: sending a message to would-be intruders and thieves – Keep Out! This fascinating article in Science magazine will tell you more.

Recycling just got quirkier
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Image BBC News

In Mexican and Latin American cities today, house finches and sparrows are also busy recycling the waste humans leave behind. They are collecting discarded cigarette stubs from the streets to weave into their nests. This strange behaviour doesn’t arise from any shortage of nest-building materials. Or from dubious taste in architectural ornamentation. These little birds have discovered that the nicotine in the stubs works as an effective anti-parasitic, keeping their chicks free from infestations. Birds have long been known to line their nests with vegetation rich in compounds that drive away parasites, says Nature magazine. In the city, such vegetation may not come so readily to bird’s beak. But stubs there are a-plenty.

So, more feathered creatures putting human waste to good use – what’s not to like? Sadly, there is a dark side to this quirky story too. Cigarettes may possibly be as injurious to bird health as they are to ours. If the concentration of the tobacco parasiticides from the stubs in the nest becomes too great, it can harm the chromosomal development of unhatched chicks, with who knows what long term results. Read more – I promise this too is interesting stuff.


Meanwhile, members of the parrot family (collective name ‘a prattle’) – those Einsteins of the flying squad – have a different but equally remarkable trick up their feathered sleeves

The males have a nice line in rhythmic drumming to woo prospective mates. And they all create their own drum solos. As Science Advances rather stuffily puts it, Over 131 drumming sequences produced by 18 males, the beats occurred at non-random, regular intervals. Yet individual males differed significantly in the shape parameters describing the distribution of their beat patterns, indicating individual drumming styles.

What’s more, they’re very picky about their choice of drumsticks. Here is a male palm cockatoo showing us how it’s done.

(Thanks to AwarenessHelps for this little gem)

Enchanting as all members of the parrot family are, here’s Why We Should Think Twice Before Getting a Parrot for a Pet


And finally to a bird that endears itself to everyone, the penguin (collective name ‘a huddle’)

Is it because they remind us of comical waiters we have an especially soft spot for these cute and snappily-suited birds? Their precarious existence though is far from ‘cute’. Theirs is a harsh world full of dangers, many of them man-made – commercial fishing depleting the penguins’ available food source, entanglement in fishing nets, pollution, habitat disturbance, and of course climate change. 10 out of 18 of the world’s penguin species are sliding towards extinction.

As part of their “Protect a Penguin” campaign, BirdLife International joined forces with virtual reality producer, Visualise to bring us an amazing 5 minute immersive experience,”Walk with Penguins”, a 3D 360 nature film, the first of its kind.

Using 3D 360 film, we can get people closer to penguins and give people that magical feeling of being with them—and ultimately that can lead to a greater support for their conservation. 

As the sun sets on the penguin colony within which you stand, and you learn of their plight through the voice over, you can’t help but feel an emotional connection. Director of Conservation BirdLife International Richard Grimmett

To get the very best from the immersive experience check info here

Click on image if you would like to #ProtectaPenguin

Petitions

Free the Tower of London ravens

Stop Unregulated Domestic Breeding of Parrots in Canada

Save Newly Discovered Australian Parrot Species From Extinction

We’re well passed World Penguin Day (April 25th) but you can still sign this petition to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources asking them to establish what would be the world’s two largest marine sanctuaries around Antarctica

7 Penguins Drowned at Calgary Zoo: Shut Down the Exhibit!

 

Other sources

Ravens of the Tower of London – Wiki

Collective nouns for birds

Related posts

16 + 1 Dazzling Facts about Hummingbirds

World First – China’s Bird Airport

The App that Wakes You to s Sweet Dawn Chorus Any Time of the Day

Can You Help Save the 19 Billion?

Save

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

What happens? Nature fights back!

We’ve done our best to trash the planet. We’ve plundered the earth of precious stones, covered it in concrete to sell people things they don’t need, contaminated it with deadly radiation, declared a piece of it a DMZ to keep apart the heavily armed guards of two nations that hate each other, covered it in land mines, built factories on it for poison gas and chemical weapons so we can better kill each other, and even managed to dry out the 4th largest lake in the world by exploiting its water for our own questionable ends.

For me, two telling themes emerge from the wildlife stories below: the ruthless devil-take-the-hindmost greed of the capitalist system we humans have created; and our unbridled propensity for violence and war.

Yet even out of the trail of destruction we leave behind, Nature – which is so much bigger than the human race – takes over, nurturing life.

Given less than half a chance, just look what Nature does.

(Thanks to One Green Planet for the article below)


Haven for horses in the desert

kolmanskophorses
upload.wikimedia.org

Abandoned in 1954, Kolmanskop, Namibia was once a flourishing diamond mining town until the mines were eventually exhausted of their riches. The human inhabitants of the town moved on and left what had been their homes, schools and shops to be taken back by the desert and the rare Namib Horse.

abandondednamibia
shazandfrank.wordpress.com

Their origin is unknown as these horses are not indigenous to the region but by limiting human intervention, only offering water support during extreme drought, these horses have been able to adapt incredibly well to the unforgiving terrain and grow in numbers over the years in the ruins of this forgotten town.

Abercrombie and Fish?

abandonedkoi
boredpanda.com

Arson and safety issues plagued the New World Shopping Mall in Bangkok, Thailand until it was shuttered in 1997. The roofless structure sat empty, collecting rainwater in it’s basement until a 1600 square foot pond formed. Mosquitos began to take up residence, annoying locals around the forgotten structure so much that they introduced some koi and catfish into the pond to combat the problem.

Awesome Abandoned Places Around the World Occupied by Animals.

Left to breed uninhibited, the fish flourished  in their new environment and turned the mall into their own private aquarium. The future of the fish is unclear as there are questions about the stability of the building, but for now locals visit the fish to throw them food.

abandonedsquirrel
nhbs.com

While walking around the woods surrounding his summer home in Salo, Finland, photographer Kai Fagerström came upon a derelict house. Not one to miss a chance to snap some unique shots, Fagerström ventured inside to see that the house may have been derelict but it was far from empty.

abandoned-badgers
ngm.nationalgeographic.com

The house was teeming with animal tenants like badgers, mice, foxes and birds to name just a few. In fact, 12 different species of animals were all living together in harmony under the same roof, becoming the subjects to his photo book The House in the Woods.

Life finds a way in the shadow of disaster

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Very rare Przewalski horses

In 1986 the residents of Pripyat, Ukraine were forced to abandon their homes as the nearby Chernobyl Power Complex experienced what is considered the worst nuclear meltdown in history. The area has been deemed uninhabitable for the next 20,000 years as radiation levels in the area continue to measure off of the charts, but that hasn’t stopped a large variety of wildlife and insect species from moving in.

abandonedchernobyl
sullydish.files.wordpress.com

In fact, the native animal populations like wild boar, dogs and horses have thrived in the exclusion zone, making the area around Chernobyl a natural refuge in the absence of human occupants. Scientists have only recently been allowed access to study the area and its inhabitants, with the results providing an unsure glimpse at how the thriving populations will be effected by the radiation for generations to come. Only time will tell, but for now the city of Pripyat is populated with a diverse selection of life.

Wildlife can’t read the ‘Keep Out’ signs

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news.discovery.com

In place since the Korean War Armistice in 1953, a 250 km long and 4 km wide swath of land known as the Demilitarized Zone separates North and South Korea from coast to coast. With people only being allowed to enter through special permit over the last 60 years, the area has become the perfect place for a large variety of indigenous and critically endangered wildlife to live undisturbed.

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news.nationalgeographic.com

Animals like the endangered white necked crane, vulnerable Amur gorals, the asiatic black bear, Siberian musk dear and the nearly extinct Amur leopard are among the 2,716 different species thought to inhabit the area.

After the dust settled in the Falkland Islands War in 1982, the waters surrounding the area became so overfished that local penguin populations began to decrease dramatically.  Ironically, it was this very overfishing and the ravages of the war that preceded it that ended up creating a unique natural habitat for the penguins to start rebuilding their numbers and living freely.

abandonedpenguins
wondermando.com

As a deterrent to the British, the Argentinian army laid 20,000 land mines along the coast and pasture lands surrounding the capital that remain to this day. Too light to set them off, the penguin population lives happily and totally undisturbed in this unlikely sanctuary.

This subway car is going nowhere

abandonedsubway
fineprintnyc.com

Since 2001 the Mass Transit Authority of New York has been participating in a program that retires old subway cars and dumps them along the eastern seaboard to create artificial reefs. Known as Redbird Reef, the cars are stripped of floating materials and then cleaned before they’re dropped into the ocean from barges.

abandonedseaturtle
eventbrite.com

By 2010 the program had placed over 2500 cars into the water in the hopes of giving marine life in the area a home to breed and thrive, including black sea bass, flounder, turtles and barnacles.

Don’t forget to take your carrots!

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s1.dmcdn.net

The tiny island known as Okunoshima Island in Takehara, Japan is also colloquially known as Usagi Jima, or “Rabbit Island.” Abandoned after World War II, the island had been home to a poison gas facility.

abandonedusagijima
montrealgazette.com

How the rabbits came to be on the island is a source of debate but with larger animals like cats and dogs being banned from its shores, the bunnies of Usagi Jima are free to roam wild and multiply while taking the occasional carrot from an adoring tourist.

This island gets an (elephant) seal of approval

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cdn.c.photoshelter.com

Formerly a Coast Guard light station until it was abandoned in 1948,  Año Nuevo Island in California is teeming with wildlife. Now part of a nature preserve operated by the California State Parks, the island boasts one of the largest northern elephant seal mainland breeding colonies in the world.

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apt.ap1.netdna-cdn.com

It also plays host to cormorants, terns, otters, California sea lions as well as the rare and endangered San Francisco Garter Snake.

Just surreal

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i.imgur.com

What was once the fourth largest lake in the world at 26,300 sq mi – that’s bigger than all the Great Lakes of North America with the exception of Lake Superior, the Aral Sea in Central Asia is now on the verge of being completely dry due to rivers and dams diverting its water elsewhere. The effects of this were devastating and the area is being monitored so environmental improvements can be made. Leaving behind a sandy desert and stranded fishing boats, the dry lake bed now sees local camels roaming freely amongst wasted hulls to take a rest from the sun.

abandoned-camels
worldofmatter.net

Revitalization efforts are underway and showing real promise for the area and the wildlife that has moved in, including not only camels but asiatic foxes, wolves and boars.

A place dedicated to taking life becomes a place that preserves it

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cdn.colorado.com

Once a chemical munitions plant, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Commerce City, Colorado last saw production in 1982. Clean up and decontamination of the site kept humans from entering the area, which left a perfect opening for animals to move in and create an involuntary refuge.

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fws.gov

In 1986, much to the surprise of the U.S. Wildlife and Fish Service, it was discovered that not only was there a communal roost of bald eagles taking up residence but also 330 additional species of wildlife had moved in. Today the site is a National Wildlife Refuge and boasts deer, bison, coyotes and owls.


These good news wildlife stories leave a bitter aftertaste – in most cases (thankfully not all) the animals are making their lives in spite of the wreckage wrought by human hand.

The DMZ seems an apt metaphor for the present state of the planet: hostile peoples pointing killing machines at each other, and in the little space left between, Nature.

Nature generating and nurturing transformative life – in abundance.

Creating, not destroying.


Sources

Cover pic i.imgur.com

Awesome Abandoned Places Around the World Occupied by Animals | One Green Planet

Related posts

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

The Wildlife Haven that’s the UK’s Best Kept Secret

Dodos & Dinosaurs – Should We Bring Them Back?

Well, we can put the dinosaur question to bed right away, because it can’t be done. Those particular animals have been extinct for more than 65 million years and there simply is no viable DNA to recover.

Dodos? Yes. The dodo is on the list of ‘Candidate Species for De-extinction’. To be a possible candidate the chosen animal must have a living genetic relative, and the dodo does have one, and a very pretty one at that – the Nicobar pigeon, seen here

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Of the two main contenders for resurrection, one is large and iconic like the dinosaur – the woolly mammoth. And the other is a bird like the dodo – the great auk.

So how would it be done?

You have to start by retrieving the animal’s DNA, either from fossils in museums or from preserved tissue in permafrost. From that sample the whole genetic code is rebuilt. Enter our friend CRISPR and the DNA is edited into an embryo of its nearest living relative. (There are a couple of other methods if you want to read more)

With the mammoth (relative Asian elephant) we’re already at this stage. Next we need a mother to carry that embryo to term. Or if not a mother, at least a womb which in this case will be an artificial one.

Great auks could be edited into razorbill DNA with a mother goose as parent. Projects for ‘de-extincting’ heath hens and passenger pigeons are also on the move.

That said, it’s all – if not entirely a pipe-dream – still a long way off. Not in my lifetime anyway.

But why bother?

All projects for reviving extinct animals are being coordinated by Revive & Restore.

They are great believers in de-extinction and here’s why:

  • Preserving biodiversity and genetic diversity
  • Restoring ecosystems that have diminished since the animals went extinct
  • Importantly, estorative justice – undoing the harm that we humans did to them in the past
  • Advancing science to prevent future extinctions

An example of where de-extinction research is already proving beneficial is the American Chestnut tree. A fungus rendered it extinct in its natural environment, but the genome of lab specimens has been tweaked to make it fungus-resistant. And now it’s ready for successful reintroduction.

Homo Sapiens

In March, a panel of five experts discussed an intriguing topic the recent Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate in New York: if we went extinct ourselves, would it be a good idea for a superior life form to bring us humans back?

Not that we would get a say in such a scenario. But my own preemptive answer would be NO, NO, NO, bearing in mind the forces of destruction we’ve unleashed on the planet and all the other species we (don’t) share it with.

The panel’s objection to the idea was very different Their worry would be what this superior life form might do with us:

Were another intelligent life to de-extinctify humans, would they put us in a zoo-like environment? For a sentient being, that would beextremely frightening and scary,” said panelist Greg Kaebnick, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, an independent bioethics research institute in Garrison, New York. “The animal welfare concerns just get overwhelming.”

Funny how that matters for humans but not for any other sentient animals already held captive in zoos. Hard to believe an intelligent person could make such a remark and not pause to reflect on what he has just said. Come to think of it though, perhaps a zoo (where we could inflict no further harm) might be the best place to contain such a dangerous species as Homo Sapiens.

Why not to bother?

Let’s forget humans for a moment. Aside from the practical scientific difficulties, why is de-extinction problematical? There are many compelling reasons:

  • If the de-extinctified animal is not a perfect copy of its forebears, could it be classified as the same species, or would we actually be playing God and creating a whole new species, a Frankenstein’s monster?
  • What of failed attempts resulting in maimed, deformed, stillborn animals?
  • If the animal did turn out a perfect copy, wouldn’t it immediately have to go on the endangered Red List?
  • What if appropriate food sources and habitat no longer exist?
  • What if the microbiota (the bacterial life within the species’ body, vital in maintaining its functioning) no longer exists and cannot be replicated?
  • Alternatively what if the DNA of a virus had, unbeknownst to the de-extinctifiers, incorporated itself into the animals’ genetic code? De-extinction carries the possibility of apocalyptic fallout
  • What effects might there be on present ecosystems? Another dangerous unknown
  • How many animals of one species need to be de-extinctified to provide a wide enough gene pool? We know it can’t be done for dinosaurs, but even if it could, “It would take about 5,000 Velociraptors (or any dinosaur species, for that matter) to make a sustainable population with sufficient genetic diversity. “ Todd Marshall
  • Where exactly does human responsibility for the revived creatures end?
  • And most importantly of all to my mind, wouldn’t the money at present spent on de-extinction research, be put to better use protecting, and improving the habitat of, the huge numbers of species already at high risk of extinction?
  • And, might funding de-extinction of a small number of species actually threaten the survival chances of a larger number of already existing species?

For me it’s a no-brainer, and researchers in biodiversity agree. The answer to those last two questions is a resounding Yes. In New Zealand for example, government funds at present earmarked for reviving 11 extinct species threaten to sacrifice at least 31 existing ones. The negative impact on biodiversity looks to be even greater in Australia where funding is allocated for 5 extinct species. More than 8 times that number of existing threatened species could be saved for the same money.

We’re hopelessly failing to safeguard life forms in the here and now, so is it wise to use scientific expertise and precious funding to bring back the distant dead –  those that really are as dead as a dodo?

Jurassic Park? Inspired idea for a movie. Let’s just leave it where it belongs – on the silver screen.

 

Sources

Why We Do What We Do – Revive & Restore

Why we shouldn’t bring back the mammoth and other extinct animals – ZME

Were Humans to Go Extinct Should the Species Be Revived? – LiveScience

Should we resurrect extinct species? MNN

Is It Possible to Clone a Dinosaur? – LiveScience

Related posts

The Stripey Dog, CRISPR, & the Chimaera

Extinction is For Ever – Why We Need to Change to Save Animals

Remembrance Day for Lost Species

 

 

 

Walking the Talk – Danish Politicians Go Vegan

To save the planet no less, last year the UN’s International Research Panel expressed its wish to see every meat animal removed from the face of it, and along with them agri industry’s monstrous environmental footprint.

These are the damning facts
  • 45% of Earth’s land is occupied by livestock
  • 33% of arable land is devoted to growing feed for that livestock
  • 23% of the world’s fresh water supplies goes to livestock farming
  • 14.5% (a conservative estimate – some estimate as much as 51%) of GHGs are emitted by the sector.
  • And Florida’s International University didn’t even try to sugar the pill when their 2015 study published in the Science of Total Environment Journal revealed meat-eaters as the number one cause of worldwide species extinction.
With a growing world population and the increasing demand for meat and dairy in developing countries, as well as in the US, we have to change our ways – and fast –  if we want a planet left to live on.

The Danish Council of Ethics agrees, and recommends Denmark adopt the UN proposal of levying a tax on meat. It’s “an ethical obligation” to “send a clear signal” to the Danish public that their eating habits have to change – urgently.

Now politicians in Denmark from both the Alternative and the Red-Green Alliance parties are giving up animal products for 22 days to highlight how much damage intensive animal farming does to our planet.

Uffe Elbæk, leader of the Alternative party told the Metro“Western food production has an enormous climate footprint. Political action is needed, and I find it important that we, as politicians, take the first steps and begin to ‘walk the talk’.”

Maria Gjerding, the Red-Green Alliance’s environmental secretary, agrees, “We need to take action on both a personal and political level in order to address the serious issues of climate change.”

The Danes are following in the footsteps of Barbara Hendricks, Germany’s Federal Minister for the Environment, who recently banned meat at official functions.


Meanwhile, Bill Clinton is not the only ex-POTUS to stamp his seal of approval on plant-based eating: at the Global Food Innovation Summit held in Milan last week Barack Obama spoke of the need for societies worldwide to reduce meat consumption and find more efficient ways of producing protein, which are good for the health both of the planet and individuals. The former president though, might do well to follow the Danes example and walk the talk, because he ended on something of a a downer, “What is true is I am not a vegetarian. I respect vegetarians, but I am not one of them.”

Pretty hard to understand why two environmentally and socially conscious people like Barack and Michelle have yet to align their lives with their visions. What a blessing they could be to our planet. We live in hope.


jeremy-corbyn-1274443__340

This political leader may not be quite as high profile (even reproduced here 21 times!) as America’s ex-Commander in Chief, but he is vegetarian and has been so all his adult life. Here in the UK we are in full campaign mode for a June 8th general election. And on Tuesday Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party tweeted, “We are announcing plans to aid plant-based food manufacturers later this week.” Can’t wait to hear that announcement!


Check out here some of the other countries, organisations, multinationals and investors who’ve figured out meat is the bad guy and are already busy shaping a more plant-based future.

So. Ready to start eating green for the planet? Follow these 3 simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to giving Earth and all the amazing life on it real hope for the future.

#EatForThePlanet

1. Replace: Try to swap animal-based products in your daily diet with vegan alternatives (milk, butter, mayo, cheese, grilled chicken, beef crumbles, sausages, cold cuts, etc.)
2. Embrace: Add plant-based whole foods (local and organic when possible) to your diet like greens, fresh fruits, and vegetables, whole grains, plant proteins like lentils, nuts/seeds, beans, tofu, etc.
3. Moderate: Limit consumption of your favorite meats like beef, lamb, pork, etc.

There, that was easy wasn’t it? Now go vegan for the animals, for your health, for the environment and most of all for this jewel of the known universe, planet Earth.


Sources

Politicians in Denmark are Going Vegan to Help the Environment – One Green Planet

Politicians in Denmark are dropping animal products and going vegan to tackle climate change – the Metro

Barack Obama Urges World to Eat Less Meat – PETA

You Won’t Believe What This UK Politician Said – One Green Planet

Related posts

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy

Another Nation Trims Meat From Diet Advice

 

 

 

On April 29, We March for the Future

This is ‘From Truth to Justice’ Week. From the March for Science on Earth Day to the People’s Climate March this Saturday.
‘The Science March Was About Respecting Science, the People’s Climate March Is About Acting on It’
The president of the USA – who would be a joke if he weren’t so capriciously dangerous – may not care about what climate change is doing to the planet, but we do.
It is hard to avoid hyperbole when you talk about global warming. It is, after all, the biggest 
thing humans have ever done, and by a very large margin. In the past year, we’ve decimated the Great Barrier Reef, which is the largest living structure on Earth. In the drought-stricken territories around the Sahara, we’ve helped kick off what The New York Times called “one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since World War II.” We’ve melted ice at the poles at a record pace, because our emissions trap extra heat from the sun that’s equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima-size explosions a day.
PolarBearFamily_iStock_160X150As for wildlife, look no further than the tragedy of starving polar bears. Which is why, just maybe, you should come to Washington, DC, on April 29 for a series of big climate protests that will mark the 100th day of Trumptime. Maybe the biggest thing ever is worth a day. Bill McKibben for The Nation

For some of us Washington DC is too hard to reach, but not to worry, we can still hit the streets and make our voices heard for the planet at any one of hundreds of the Peoples Climate Movement ‘sister marches’ all over the USA, and indeed, all over the world. Click here to find one near you.

If you really can’t make any of the marches, join the Virtual Wildlife Climate March here

Watch writer and environmentalist Bill McKibben, and his guests talk about climate change and climate action in this short video.

Week of Action From Truth to Justice: – Earth Day to May Day 2017

One amongst an exciting calendar of events in the Week of Action really caught my eye: an invitation to stand with the 21 youth plaintiffs suing the federal government for ‘perpetrating climate chaos’, in the case Juliana vs U.S.  It is predicted to be ‘the trial of the century’.

The youth plaintiffs will speak out from the steps of the United States Supreme Court – where their case may eventually be heard. Joined by their lawyers, supporting U.S. Senators and others, these youth will share the latest updates on their case, as well as song, fiery speeches and invitations to show your support.

Check out the full week’s program here

Find out everything you need to know about the Peoples Climate March here

Since farming livestock is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gases globally, you could do much worse than join the Plant-Powered Planet Protectors at the March. Says it all, in four words, doesn’t it – whoever dreamed up that group name deserves a medal! If you are serious about your interest in wildlife and in doing your bit to mitigate the grim effects of climate change – think polar bear – take the Center for Biological Diversity’s pledge to Take Extinction off Your Plate

Find out which species of wildlife are affected by climate change: USA here, UK here

frs17-globe

And when all the fun and flag-waving is over for the day, sign up for the free Food Revolution Summit, a week of illuminating talks from, amongst others, eminent doctors such as Michael Greger and Kim Williams. John Robbins kicks the whole thing off with “Lift-Off: Taking Action to Heal Yourself & the World”

Other experts, include Nathan Runkle who while still a boy of 15, founded Mercy for Animals. Nathan is an internationally renowned leader in the field of animal advocacy. He is talking on “How Mercy for Animals Can Transform Your Life” Check out all 24 visionary speakers’ profiles and their topics here.

For yourself, for the animals and for the planet

Happy smiles in the rain – people and posters from the March for Science here

Further reading post March for Science & Earth Day:

Julian L Wong advocate of ‘A Whole Person Economy’ tells us that science alone will not solve Earth’s problems for us. We need a much more radical solution – overturning ‘a political and economic system based on the indefinite and continuous extraction, exploitation, and wealth-hoarding of resources by the powerful few on a planet of finite natural resources. Addressing this root cause requires much more than advances in science and technology, but also requires significant advances in our understanding of how to shift patterns of human behavior on a systems and planetary scale (essentially, world cultures) so that, for instance, we collectively stop measuring success and progress through erroneous notions of “economic growth.”’

Read more of his fascinating piece here

This is of interest too Climate-induced species migrations could upend human society

But don’t get depressed! Mike Bloomberg, 3 times mayor of NYC gives us Six Reasons to Be Hopeful about Climate Change

For pics of the best posters and happy people smiling in the rain at Earth Day’s Science March, click here and here

Update

May 1st People’s Climate March Draws Massive Crowd in D.C. – Ecowatch

Related posts

The Stripey Dog, CRISPR & the Chimaera

Cover pic from Pedigree Dogs Exposed

Two news items clicked together in the brain one week last year: one on the surface at least quite frivolous, and the other of such profound significance it has the potential to throw a bomb into life-as-we-know-it and blast us into utterly uncharted terrain.

Let’s start with the harebrained one. Do you remember when designer dogs first became the must-have accessory? Or maybe they always were. But a few years ago, someone came up with the bright idea of taking established breeds and cross-breeding them with each other in the search for the cutest combo-pup. Nowadays, puggles, goldendoodles, labskys and cockerpoos are everywhere. There was, and still is, good money to be made and breeders are cashing in.

Of course, this is nothing new. Humans have been interfering with natural selection for centuries, cross-breeding both animals and plants in the worlds of farming and horticulture, in search of desired ‘improvements’: more productive milk cows; heavier meatier livestock; disease-resistant crops; or just prettier flowers.

But cross-breeding as a way of getting what you want, is so yesterday. Make way for CRISPR.

CRISPR is not a typo, as one might be excused for thinking, describing how omnivores like their breakfast bacon. It is, apparently, the acronym for

Clustered   Regularly   Interspaced   Short   Palindromic   Repeats

Gene-editing to you and me. In the simplest of terms that I can understand, it means cutting out a section of the DNA double helix (see below) with something called Cas9 – biological scissors, in effect – and replacing the removed section with a new piece of DNA- which can be just about anything the scientists want it to be.

Gene-editing CRISPR Cas9 génome DNA double helix

What has made this biotechnology possible are the huge strides in genome mapping over the last couple of decades. Because of course, you don’t want to just cut out any old piece of DNA. Now, because each bit of the double helix can be identified, you can target the exact piece you want to remove, and replace it with the piece of your choice.

So your new designer dog can now be gene-edited any way you want. No more need for crossbreeding, lots more scope for innovation, and better control over results. Genetic-engineer James West has spotted the money-making potential. His Nashville-based firm AgGenetics engineered Angus cattle to have white coats instead of black or brown, to make them more heat-tolerant, thus doubling beef production. (And milk cows are already being gene-edited to be born without horns, so they no longer have to be burned off.)

Inevitably, it didn’t take Mr West long to realise that the change-the-coat-colour technique could be applied to other animals too. He tested his idea on mice, and produced poor little newborns sporting their little fur coats patterned with squares, stripes and spots.

dachshund-1532974_960_720

Maybe soon he will be taking orders for the customer’s choice of novelty designer dog picked from an online catalogue. There are so far four colourways: red, brown, yellow and black. And would you prefer squares or stripes, Sir/Madam?

Ludicrous as it sounds, gene-editing for striped dogs provokes serious questions. Who knows where it could lead, and what the implications could be – and not just for dogs?

And the designer stripey dog is one thing, but how about wiping out an entire species at will?

We ran across this even more worrying application for CRISPR earlier this year, in Should We Wipe Mosquitoes off the Face of the Earth? With CRISPR it’s possible, for instance, to delete the mosquito DNA involved in reproduction and replace that section of the sequence with DNA that makes the insect sterile. This ‘permanent solution’ for mosquitoes is being researched for obvious reasons – these insects carry malaria, zika and dengue fever, and by transmitting malaria in particular, have probably killed more than half the humans that have ever lived.

This seems to be the default human mindset: how can we use this new technology for the benefit of our own species before and above all others?

With CRISPR, humanity now holds in its hands the power of god, the power to gene-edit Nature. I’ll say it again,

Man now has the power to gene-edit life itself

And that is a terrifying prospect for us all.

In 2011 a group of geologists called for the recognition of a new era in the history of the Earth – the Anthropocene, to acknowledge the impact of humans on the planet. How much more apt now than it was just five short years ago.

So when we ask that question, how can these new technologies be used to further our own interests, there are other, and even more important questions that need to be addressed: Should we be doing this? What are the ethics controlling our ever-increasing powers? And who gets to decide?

This is what natural scientist and poet Melanie Challenger has to say about the new power we have, to deliberately wipe out a target species if we so choose (as opposed to accidentally wiping out random species which tragically, we’re proving spectacularly successful at)

If we start getting cavalier about the existence of a living being, if we start to think it’s OK to eradicate something because it’s a threat to us, we put other ideas about the sanctity of life in question”

Striped dogs, a world without mosquitoes, can it get any more bizarre and perturbing? Well yes it can – the Chimaera (chimera in the USA), already here. In Greek myth the Chimaera was a monstrous fire-breeding hybrid, a goat-headed lion with a serpent-head tail. These days, we’re more familiar with the electro-petroleum kind of hybrid on four wheels. But the very latest kind of Chimaera hybrid has more in common with the one of Greek myth – it’s a nightmarish combination of human and pig.

So what would you say to Organ Farms?

A while ago I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel ‘Never Let Me Go’. (Spoiler alert if you haven’t yet read it)  As you turn the pages you start to realise the horrible truth, that the young people we are getting to know as they grow up, are in fact clones. Then an even more disturbing truth is revealed – the characters have been created solely for their organs and will undergo a cycle of ‘donations’ until their bodies and their lives are consumed.

Well, reality is catching up with fiction once again. Only, as is always the case in the real world, it’s the infinitely useful nonhuman animal that humans deploy for the task. The unfortunate ‘donors’ will not be human but porcine. Pigs have drawn the short straw because their organs are about the size and weight of human organs. Not that they will be using the animals’ own organs though, because pig organs would be rejected by the human body. So what’s needed for the sick people on the long waiting list for transplants are proper healthy human organs.

No cloning here though – just CRISPR and the new Chimaera. This is what you do. You get a brand new pig embryo in your lab. You delete the genes responsible for the formation of, say, the pancreas. You introduce the appropriate human genes. You implant the genetically-engineered embryo into a female pig on your Organ Farm, and hey presto, there will be a lovely human pancreas ready to transplant into a human recipient in need. Farms of pigs incubating clean healthy human organs, and on demand.

images

Well, it’s not quite as simple as that, but that is where the research is heading. And it will happen. As the title of last night’s Panorama proclaimed, “Medicine’s Big Breakthrough”. The scientists are excited by CRISPR’s potential. So are the medical professionals. And who can blame those once considered incurably ill for holding on to such promise of a complete cure.

But what about the animals? And what about the planet? The waves in the wake of this technology could sink us before climate change gets a chance to.Just a final note to send you to bed with nightmares: there’s a guy in San Francisco selling Do-It-Yourself CRISPR kits online out of his garage, so everyone can do their own gene-editing at home. He calls it the democratisation of science. Sweet dreams.
Time now for an update

Above piece posted June 7th 2016, but there have been developments.

Gene-edited organs are on their way. Just last week (on the 26th January 2017) scientists in California were excited to announce a world first – Chimaera lives. They have indeed succeeded in making embryos containing both pig and human cells.

These so-called human-pig chimeras (which contained only a small number of human cells) were allowed to develop for several weeks in female pigs before the pregnancies were terminated, according to a new study.

“The ultimate goal is to grow functional and transplantable tissue or organs, but we are far away from that,” study researcher Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies’ Gene Expression Laboratory in La Jolla, California, said in a statement. “This is an important first step.” LiveScience

I don’t know about you but I find this deeply disturbing, and their triumphant announcement poses more ethical questions for me than it answers:

  • How exactly were the pregnancies terminated?
  • Did the sows give their consent? Silly question
  • What happened to the sows post-abortion?
  • Do we know the physical and emotional effect on the sows?

Scientists would dismiss such questions as irrelevant but that is exactly where the problem lies. Not only do they feel entirely justified in their research, but any thought that something could be horribly wrong here would never even come near to entering their heads.

How did the Nazis square their conscience over the barbaric experimentation they conducted on gypsies, Poles, Russian POWs, Jews, and even Germans if they were unlucky enough to be disabled? They were brainwashed by propaganda that created in their minds a ‘them and us’. Their victims were ‘other’, of a different and lesser order. They de-personalised them, designated them vermin. And of course, as we all know, nonhumans only exist for human use, human benefit, and ‘vermin’ are at the very bottom of the heap. For ‘vermin’, anything goes.

Last week the BBC news highlighted the terrible shortage of donor organs in the UK. Patients in need of transplants are going to Pakistan where they can buy an organ from the poorest, people in dire need of the money. And even worse, criminals are cashing in, lining their pockets trafficking people to harvest their organs by force.

The scientists at La Jolla are looking to forcibly harvest organs from the pigs. True, they’re not exploiting living beings for illegal personal gain like the traffickers. They would say they are doing it for science, for medicine, and indeed out of humanity. It is sanctioned by society. But only because society has also been indoctrinated into arbitrarily dividing animals into ‘them and us’, making the nonhuman animals other and lesser than the human animal, declaring, “We are not animals.” But we are. Bestowing on ourselves like gods the power over life and death. Holding the fate of those ‘others’ in the palm of our hands.

But cruelty, coercion and exploitation are always cruelty, coercion and exploitation. The end does not justify the means.

You might say to me, what if it was your son’s, your daughter’s life in the balance waiting for a transplant? A hard question to answer. But two things I can say:

  • There should be far better ways to increase the supply of donor organs. For instance, Wales now has an ‘opt-out’ system. If you don’t register as not wanting to donate your organs, you will automatically be considered as having no objection. Isn’t that preferable to harvesting organs for humans by violating pigs?
  • And secondly, are the sow’s powerful maternal feelings worth less consideration than ours? And isn’t hijacking her reproductive cycle in this way, as with dairy cows, as with laying hens, both sexist and speciesist?

Are we to accept any horror perpetrated on nonhuman animals if it is in human’s interests? Surely it is more than time to acknowledge that

“We are one species among many who share a common ancestry with all other species in the animal kingdom. The false dichotomy between us and them pits humans against the rest of the animal kingdom and reinforces the myth that humans are so superior from the other animals that it’s practically blasphemous to even suggest that other animals possess lives that matter to them in the way our human lives matter to us.” Robert Grillo

 eyes_collage

Postscript This is a huge topic with more ramifications than it is possible to imagine. I don’t pretend to any expertise and my descriptions of the science are just my way of getting my head around it a little bit. This is just skimming the surface of a technology of infinite significance that is surely ushering in the next Age of Life on Earth.

APOLOGIES – WORDPRESS HAS DONE SOMETHING WEIRD TO THE LAYOUT & I CAN’T SEEM TO CORRECT IT.

Update

23rd February 2017 – CRISPR promises a better way to stop mosquitoes spreading malaria, and without the need to render the insect extinct. Tony James from the University of California is “using the CRISPR-Cas9 technology to create a ‘gene drive’ system that spreads an anti-malaria gene inside the mosquito population. The gene basically destroys malaria, and then spreads on to the next generations.”

It sounds like a very promising approach, but it’s early days and the strategy would not be without its problems. Find out more from ZME Science.

10th August 2017 – pig to human organ transplants using CRISPR just got one step closer. “Using the genetic cut-and-paste tool CRISPR, scientists have removed DNA-based viruses that usually infect pig organs, raising the chances that these animal organs could be safely transplanted into human patients one day, a process known as xenotransplantation.” – LiveScience

Sources

Quote & pic Free from Harm

Let’s Not Buy Into Genetically Modified Fur – Care2 Causes

Medicine’s Big Breakthrough – Editing Your Genes – Panorama

Human/Nonhuman Chimera – Do We Really Want to Go There? – The Kimmela Centre

Related posts

Get Your Pet Fox Here

Planet at the Crossroads

Should We Wipe Mosquitoes off the Face of the Earth

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

9 Creatures Named After the Outgoing President. Obama Will Be Honored – Or Will He?

Two gruesome parasites, an extinct lizard, some blotchy lichen, a mean-looking fish – as well as two quite pretty ones. And a particularly hairy scary spider known to ambush unsuspecting snakes passing by its hidden trapdoors. (A political metaphor? We can but hope!)

What’s not for the President to love?
Seriously though, the discoverers of these new-to-science species have found some pretty cool reasons for honoring Mr Obama in this way. I’ve highlighted them because they are good.

 Jessica Boddy for Science magazine Dec. 29, 2016:

From the extinct Obamadon to the barackobamai spider, the outgoing U.S. president is a taxonomic inspiration.

Though U.S. President Barack Obama is leaving office soon, he will be forever immortalized in taxonomy thanks to scientists who have named species after him. Nine different species from extinct lizards to trapdoor spiders got their names from the 44th U.S. president, which is more than any of his predecessors. (Theodore Roosevelt comes in as a close second with seven.)

Here are the creatures that are saying “Thanks, Obama,” for their presidential names.

Aptostichus barackobamai (trapdoor spider)

unspecified
Jason E Bond/Wikimedia Commons

In 2012, biologist Jason Bond of Auburn University in Alabama declared the existence of 33 new trapdoor spider species in the journal ZooKeys. He named many of them after celebrities like Stephen Colbert (Aptostichus stephencolberti) and even one after the aggressive desert-burrowing menace from Star Wars called the sarlacc (A. sarlacc). But Bond named one spider A. barackobamai in appreciation for Obama.

“I feel like his presidency is noteworthy,” Bond told Wired. “He’s been a true statesman in the face of ridiculous opposition.”

You can find A. barackobamai among the redwoods in north-central California, ambushing countless dim-witted insects, frogs, and even snakes that venture past its hidden trapdoors.

Etheostoma Obama (spangled darter)

unspecified_0
Blake Markwell/Flickr

The longest river in Tennessee is home to the darter, a tiny fish named for its tendency to zip around cold, clear waters. When examining color variation in the common speckled darter, biologists Steve Layman from Geosyntec Consultants, an environmental consulting and engineering firm based in Atlanta, and Richard Mayden at Saint Louis University in Missouri realized they weren’t looking at just one species, but five. As they describe in their November 2012 paper in the Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History, the duo named one Etheostoma obama, or the spangled darter. Only about 45 millimeters long, the fish is wonderfully colored with iridescent blue and orange spots and stripes.

The biologists say they decided to name the darter after Obama because of his focus on clean energy and environmental protection.

Obamadon gracillis (extinct insectivorous lizard)

unspecified_1
Ben Hanelt, Matthew G. Bolek, Andreas Schmidt-Rhaesa/Wikimedia Commons

Five million years ago, a fearsome lizard roamed the land … well, fearsome to insects, anyway. The now extinct Obamadon gracilis, or just Obamadon, was only a third of a meter long and devoured insects using a set of impressively tall and straight teeth. Paleontologists discovered an Obamadon fossil in Hell Creek Formation in Montana and published their finding in the December 2012 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They were fascinated by the lizard’s impeccable choppers, which they say reminded them of President Obama’s smile.

Paragordius obamai (hairworm)

parasite_0
Ben Hanelt, Matthew G. Bolek, Andreas Schmidt-Rhaesa/Wikimedia Commons

Hairworms are gruesome parasites that grow up to 30 centimeters long inside the bodies of their hosts. Lucky for you, they only infect crickets. One particular hairworm species, the African hairworm, was discovered in Kenya in 2012. Biologist Ben Hanelt of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque was splitting open some crickets to check out their parasites, but was baffled when an entire population turned out to be female. Turns out he found the first species of parthenogenic hairworms—meaning the female parasites can reproduce without any male assistance, as noted in his PLOS ONE study published in April 2012.

Hanelt named the parasite Paragordius obamai in honor of Obama, as the president’s father and stepgrandmother are from a Kenyan town just 19 kilometers away from where he found the parasites.

Baracktrema obamai (turtle blood fluke)

unspecified_5
J. R. Roberts et. al. Journal of Parasitology 102, 4 (August 2016) © 2016 American Society of Parasitologists

Earlier this year, Obama had the honor of being named after a second parasite, this time one that lives in the blood of Malaysian freshwater turtles. As described in the August issue of the Journal of Parasitology, Baracktrema obamai are as thin as human hair and reside in the turtles’ lungs, where they lay their eggs. Thomas Platt, a biologist who retired from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, this year, assures the public this is meant as a compliment to Obama, not an insult.

He told the Associated Press B. obamai reminded him of the sitting president of the United States (POTUS) because of its resilience throughout its life cycle, in addition to the fact that “it’s long. It’s thin. And it’s cool as hell.”

Nystalus obamai (western striolated puffbird)

unspecified_2
Illustration by Hilary Burn from: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J. & Christie, D.A. eds. (2013). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Special Volume: New Species and Global Index. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

In 2008, biologist Bret Whitney at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge was doing field work in the Amazon when he heard a bird sing a song he’d never heard before. After analyzing its DNA, Whitney realized he’d found a new species of puffbird: stout, fluffy birds with exceptionally large heads that live mostly solitary lives in the Amazonian treetops.

Whitney named it Nystalus obamai in a June 2013 Handbook of the Birds of the World paper in honor of Obama’s impact on the development of green technology—particularly solar energy—that could help preserve ecosystems like N. obamai’s.

Teleogramma obamaorum (African cichlid species)

unspecified_3
Melanie L.J. SJassny

Along just 40 kilometers in a stream in the African Congo swims another Obama-monikered fish: Teleogramma obamaorum. The cichlid was discovered in 2011 when a drought caused water levels to dip down low, exposing the populations to researchers who were sampling the area. As noted in her April 2015 study in American Museum Novitates,

Melanie Stiassny, an ichthyologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, chose to name the fish the plural obamaorum in reference to both Michelle and Barack as a nod to their commitment to science education and environmental conservation in Africa.

Caloplaca obamae (firedot lichen)

unspecified_4
J. C. Lendemer

One species of orange-red lichen grows only on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California: firedot lichen. Discovered during an ecological survey in 2007, Caloplaca obamae was the first organism to be named after the 44th president.

Researchers made their final collections of the lichen for research at the suspenseful tail end of Obama’s presidential campaign,so they chose C. obamae in support of Obama’s appreciation for science and science education.

They reported their discovery in the March 2009 issue of the journal Opuscula Philolichenum.

Tosanoides obama (coral reef basslet)

sn-obamalist
Richard L. Pyle

The newest organism to bear Obama’s name is a pink, blue, and yellow coral reef fish. Tosanoides obama was discovered in June of this year, and given its name in the journal ZooKeys.

Obama is the only fish to live exclusively in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a protected reserve that President Obama expanded to 1,508,870 square kilometers this year in August. That decree made it the largest ecologically protected place on the planet, and it prohibits any commercial extraction like fishing or deep-sea mining within the monument.

Richard Pyle, a marine biologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, discovered and named the fish, and insists, like other biologists before him, that it’s meant as a compliment to honor POTUS’s respect and protection of the natural world.

Source: These nine different creatures have been named after Barack Obama | Science | AAAS

To find out more about President Obama’s environmental legacy by protecting sacred Navajo land at Bears Ears, click here

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Remembrance Day for Lost Species

Cover pic – Golden Toad Incilius Perigrenes Extinct Last seen 1989

All over the world on November 30th 2016, people will be gathering in small groups for rituals of grief to mourn species lost to extinction, and to reinvigorate their love for the natural world.

The age we are living in now is labelled by scientists the 6th Mass Extinction, or the Anthropocene. Anthropocene, because we humans are the ones responsible for wiping out animals, plants, their habitats, whole ecosystems, trashing the beautiful planet we share with them. Who knows how many species have been lost before they’ve even been discovered.

So how does it make us feel when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature publishes the latest additions to the Red List of species at threat of extinction?

Are those animals and plants meaningless names and numbers, easily swept to the furthest darkest recesses of the mind, and left there to gather dust? Are we living in denial?

“So much of the information we receive about extinctions and biodiversity decline today comes from science, not from personal experience in the wild. And while science is necessary, it is often represented in press releases that are bloodless, cold, even inhuman – a recitation of facts rather than a proper elegy for the lost.” Megan Hollingsworth

Or maybe the news does strike home and we feel helpless and hopeless, filled with sorrow, pain and frustration. Do we find ourselves suppressing our grief for fear it may overwhelm us?

Either way we are affected, the Remembrance Day for Lost Species on the 30th offers healing for ourselves, and a way to honour those earth-dwellers forever lost to the planet.

Find a grief ritual near you here

Read the rest of this fascinating and moving article here

 

Special thanks to Garry Rogers for sharing :Why don’t we grieve for extinct species? | GarryRogers Nature Conservation

 

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