Earlier this year President Obama announced that the U.S will propose a ban on the global trafficking in polar bear parts at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in March 2013. However, key European countries, including the UK, are still on the fence about stronger polar bear protection. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) asks us all to send a message to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to lead the European Union to a Yes vote on the US and Russian proposal.
The international trade in endangered species and their parts is governed by the CITES convention. In meeting an October 4 deadline for proposed changes to this convention, the Obama administration called for amendments that will protect a number of species, from sharks to turtles. Attracting most attention was the call by the US for an international ban on the commercial trade of polar bears; a single polar bear hide can fetch as much as $16,000 on the open market. It is significant that the Russian government has demonstrated agreement with the US position, but the US proposal will have the side effect of closing down traditional polar bear hunts by the native people.
If wolves could speak, perhaps they would ask us to work with compassion to protect them and consider the future of their families when we humans hunt them down, poison them or gas their pups in their dens. A Native American story says that once someone tried to change all animals to human beings but only succeeded in making human the eyes of the wolf.
Wolves used to roam most of the Northern hemisphere. Worldwide there are an estimated 200,000 in 57 countries, compared to up to 2 million in earlier times. Wolves were once common throughout all of North America but were killed in most areas of the United States by the mid 1930′s. An estimated 7,000 to 11,200 wolves live in Alaska and more than 5,000 in the lower 48 states. Today their range has been reduced to Canada and the following portions of the United States: Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Mexican wolves are found in New Mexico and Arizona.
Wolves live, travel and hunt in packs of about 4-7 animals. Packs include the mother and father wolves (called the alphas), their pups and several other subordinate or young animals. The alpha female and male are the pack leaders that track and hunt prey, choose den sites and establish the pack’s territory. Wolves develop close relationships and strong social bonds. They demonstrate deep affection for their family and may even sacrifice themselves to protect the family unit.
Wolf dens are 20 inches wide and 8 feet deep. The alpha wolves breed in January or February. Gestation is 63 days, after which 4-6 pups are born deaf and blind. In 11-15 days, their eyes open and they can see. The mortality rate is 60%. Pups need three times as much protein as the parents and food may be scarce. If they are wounded during play or become seriously ill the parents kill them.
Apex predators, wolves in the wild may live 8-9 years. Humans, however, including some government agencies, contribute to the decimation of the wolf populations through hunting, poisoning and gassing the dens.
Under the Endangered Species Act, Gray wolves have been listed as endangered throughout the U.S. except for Idaho, Montana and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah. In Alaska wolves are not listed under the Endangered Species Act. Wolves need to be protected under the ESA until viable populations are established but their status continually changes due to the whims of Congress and the Interior Department.
- Three types of wolves: Gray, Red and Mexican
- Life span 7-8 years in the wild
- Prey ranges from mouse to moose
- Do not howl at the moon
- Keep ecosystems balanced
- Complex communication system
- Show deep family affection
- Greatest threat: People’s fear and misunderstanding of years ago depicting wolves as evil
- Additional information sites: Defenders of Wildlife or Center for Biological Diversity
For the last couple of years the Endangered Species Action Team (ESAT) has been spreading the word about a tragedy involving several local bat species, the Indiana bat and the little brown bat. These bats are dying by the thousands and are now on the brink of extinction. And it is not just our bats here in Pennsylvania. Many bat populations in eastern North America are being wiped out. It is estimated that between 5.7 and 6.7 million bats have all died due to a certain fungus, White Nose Syndrome (WNS), so named by its first discoverers because all of the dead bats encountered had mysterious white fuzz on their noses. At first scientists weren’t certain that the fungus was responsible for their ultimate deaths. But recently it was reported by scientists in the journal, Nature, that the fungus itself is the killer, and it now has a name: Geomyces destructans. Although identifying the fungus and how it kills bats is a step forward, this information alone won’t stop the expected spread of the disease this coming hibernating season. Once again, the news is not good. There is no cure. But that hasn’t stopped the concerned, hard-working researchers who have devoted their lives to saving these bats.
Researchers from the Nature Conservancy are designing a man-made structure to house hibernating bats. With this artificial cave they can “manipulate the environment and kill the fungus with anti-fungal agents or heat while the bats are absent, without fear of impacting a natural ecosystem.” The artificial cave should be ready for the 2012-2013 hibernating season.
The US Fish and Wildlife service headed by Dan Ashe is also deeply concerned and the Service has set up a WNS national response plan in partnership with many federal, state and tribal and NGO scientists and other agencies. More than 140 partners recently met in Carlisle, PA for the 2012 Northeast Bat Working Group gathering, along with wildlife officials from Canada, to discuss the upcoming challenges. The Fish and Wildlife Service also funds numerous research projects and acts as the primary coordinator with all partners for up-to-date information and recommendations.
One ray of hope for bat survival was reported by the Associated Press and mentioned in the Altoona Mirror in December of 2011. According to the article, there is some evidence that a few bat colonies found in Pennsylvania and Vermont have survived the WNS and could possibly be able to repopulate at some point. Scientists are planning to research this possibility.
There are also some hopeful studies going on in New York. One paper appearing in the Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management gives evidence about the survival of a few little brown bats that were exposed to WNS. Other results suggest some bats healed from infection caused by WNS, and there is even some evidence of possible reproduction in some recaptured bats. You can read the entire article on their website.
As dire as the situation seems, as concerned citizens and nature lovers, we must not assume that there is nothing we can do. When asked by our members and the many people we encounter at our tabling events, “What can we do to help?”, we explain that there are ways for them to make a difference.
Here are a couple of our suggestions:
- Adopt a bat from Bat Conservation International (Money goes to research)
- Donate to institutions and labs that are doing research on bats. A few good organizations and their websites for donations are listed below:
- Build or purchase a bat house and install it on your property
- Help debunk the myths about bats and educate the public about their worth
- Join the ESA TEAM
- Write a letter or call your government representatives and ask them to support funding for White Nose Syndrome research. You can find all of the details and a sample letter at: (batcon.org)