Illegal cocoa plantations threaten Côte d’Ivoire’s parks and primates

by William Freedberg

The African country Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer of cocoa, also boasts an ecosystem of great biological richness and species diversity, with over 2,250 endemic plants and 270 vertebrate species.

Unfortunately, it also has the highest deforestation rate in all of sub-Saharan Africa, largely due to its rise as a significant player in the global agricultural economy after years of civil unrest.

The country’s wild primates have suffered particularly severe declines due to the establishment of illegal cocoa plantations inside protected areas, according to a new study published in mongabay.com’s open access journal, Tropical conservation Science

(read more: MongaBay)

photograph: Roloway Monkey by Hans Hillewaert

Great Barrier Reef reserves protected fish from cyclone

by Michael Slezak

Finally, some good news for fish. Banning fishing in certain areas doesn’t just boost local fish populations, it also helps them recover from climate events like tropical cyclones.

The news comes from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Michael Emslie from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and colleagues analysed data from underwater surveys done there between 1983 and 2012.

They found that when protected areas were expanded to cover 40 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the biomass of coral trout, an important fishery species, doubled inside many of the areas…

(read more: New Scientist)

photograph by WaterFrame/Alamy

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when michael nichols first photographed forest elephants in the lowland forests of the central african republic in 1991, he only caught fleeting moments of them, and at great peril. these sensitive giants were so afraid of ivory poachers hunting them down that they thundered off at the slightest hint of human activity.

it took him 16 years to encounter a heard of 600 savannah elephants who were not fearful of humans. he would end up living with them for two years in kenya’s samburu national reserve, where he came to understand their complex relationships and the depth of their intelligence and compassion (click pics for more).

he recounts, for example, a family mourning the death of a female and other matriarchs approaching and surround the corpse, touching it with their trunks and swaying back and forth. “they go to the corpse and they won’t leave it,” he said. “even when it’s just bones. once a year they’ll visit the bones and hold them with their trunk. i would call that mourning” (sixth photo).

“these are the most caring and sentient creatures on earth, yet they suffer so horribly at the hand of man,” he adds.  while in chad, nichols witnessed the massacre of forest elephants, the smaller and more elusive cousins of the better known savanna elephants, whose denser, pinker tusks fetch 90,000 dollars a pair on the black market.

forest elephant numbers have declined by two thirds in the last decade due to poaching, leaving only 20,000 left. ivory poachers are now killing a total of 22,000 african elephants a year, which means they are on course to be extinct within the decade.

says nichols, elephants “cannot be terrorized and massacred by a world that calls itself civilized. we have to forget about the absurd indulgence of ivory and put our focus and resources into the far more complex problem of how elephants and humans can share land in an overtaxed continent.” 

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yao ming recently launched a public awareness campaign in china targeting the nation’s consumption of ivory and rhino horn, after having spent twelve days last august in kenya and south africa.

poaching kills more than 25,000 african elephants annually, while 668 rhinos were killed last year in south africa alone, meaning that if current trends are not abated, both species will be extinct within our lifetime.

according to shark fin traders and hong kong import statistics, yao’s previous campaign against the shark fin trade is credited with a 50-70% reduction in chinese consumption last year.

"no one who sees the results firsthand, as i did, would buy ivory or rhino horn," yao stated. "i believe when people in china know what’s happening they will do the right thing and say no to these products."

he continued, “we would be outraged if people were killing our pandas. we should be just as upset with what’s happening to rhinos and elephants in africa.”

photos (including a baby elephant orphaned by poachers) by kristian schmidt in kenya for WildAid. from yao ming’s blog.

Happy 143rd birthday, Yellowstone National Park! On this day in 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park — starting a worldwide movement to protect special places. Today, millions visit Yellowstone to discover the park’s geysers and mud pots, forests and lakes, and historic cabins and prehistoric sites — not to mention it’s stunning waterfalls. Pictured here is a rainbow at Lower Falls on the park’s Uncle Tom trail. Photo by Kallem Phillips (www.sharetheexperience.org).

Arctic Ice Reaches a Low Winter Maximum

by DEREK WATKINS

The winter ice covering the Arctic Ocean has reached its annual peak, but the extent of sea ice cover this winter is smaller than it has been at the end of any winter since 1978, when scientists began keeping consistent satellite records.

The vast amount of sea ice covering the Arctic fluctuates on a seasonal basis, and the winter peak marks a turning point before a melting period during the warmer spring and summer months. Arctic sea ice typically expands to a maximum in March and shrinks to a minimum in September each year.

The National Snow & Ice Data Center said on Thursday that this year’s maximum occurred on Feb. 25, about two weeks earlier than the average, barring any unlikely additional growth of ice late in the season.

The center said that recent weather patterns partly explain why the maximum this year is smaller than in previous winters. The North Pacific was warm this year because the atmospheric jet stream of cold air looped farther north in that region than is typical. The jet stream also plunged farther south than usual near the United States, bringing cooling temperatures and triggering heavy snows in much of the country…

(read more: New York Times)

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where more than 100,000 wild tigers roamed the forests and grasslands of asia as recently as 100 years ago, today less than 3,200 tigers remain, and of those, less than a third are breeding females. though they’re quickly disappearing from the region, their presence dates back millions of years. all modern cats originated in southeast asia.

the causes of the decline are varied: the illegal wildlife trade, where poachers earn tens of thousands of dollars per tiger selling their parts for use in traditional asian medicines; humans over hunting the tiger’s natural prey; and human encroachment on their lands, leaving tigers only tiny pockets of isolated territory and forcing them into human contact. tigers now occupy only seven percent of their historic range.

steve winter has spent a decade in search of the remaining wild tigers, from myanmar’s leech infested jungles to the forbidden realm of poachers in sumatra, in the hopes of not only documenting the majestic animals but spuring global concern through his images. the photos have now been published in “tigers forever: saving the world’s most endangered big cat,” created in collaboration with panthera, the world’s largest big cat conservation organization.

the group’s mission is to increase tiger numbers by 50 percent throughout asia over a ten year period. only six tiger subspecies remain: bengal, indochinese, malayan, sumatran, siberian, and the south-china, which exists only in captivity. all are endangered. the last cambodian tiger died out in 2010, following the extinction of the javan and caspian tigers in the 1970s and the bali tiger in the 1940s.

in contrast, at least 5,000 captive tigers are privately owned in the united states, where a patchwork of lax federal laws and little to no state mandated regulatory oversight has meant the animals often live miserable, permanently caged lives, often only brought out for paying amateur photographers.  (see: nature of things documentary, “the american tiger”)

PUTTING THE AMAZING AMY VITALE ON BLAST FOR HER INCREDIBLE PHOTO!

AWARD WINNING PHOTO

This photo from Lewa, by Ami Vitale, won second prize in the nature category of the 2015 World Press Photo Contest, which has now been collected in a book.

Samburu warriors touch an orphaned rhino called Kilifi for the first time at Lewa wildlife conservancy in Kenya. None of the warriors had seen a rhino before and some had never seen a photo of one. The young warriors had been visiting to learn about conservation practices, as these communities hold the key to saving Africa’s great animals.

photo shared from Lewa Conservatory

Description from the guardian