Mexican Wolf Tourism Not So Far Fetched, Says Woman Who’s Tried It

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Wolf-watching expert Jean Ossorio camps a week to see one endangered Mexican gray wolf. Planned tours would work–if locals shot few of the endangered lobos.

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Mexican Wolf May Get Declared Endangered Finally

Mexican wolf. Credit: Jim Clark / USFWS

Down to about 40 wild animals, the Mexican gray wolf may get its own endangered species status, which could bring a real management plan and a less hostile reintroduction site.

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BP To Have Biologist On Board (Looking for Sea Turtles) When They Resume Oil Burns This Week

BP oil  burns

When BP restarts burning off spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico (possibly as early as Friday), they’ll have to have a trained biologist on board to search for sea turtles entrapped in the muck, thanks to a deal struck with wildlife groups July 2.

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Is the Desert Tortoise the New Spotted Owl?

Republicans have a new animal to hate as a liberal mascot: the threatened desert tortoise. Energy entrepreneurs want to put solar plants in the seemingly barren deserts of the southwest, especially on cheap government land. But conservation groups say this is the last hold-out of what they call a charismatic animal that used to all the way to Los Angeles.

Early settlers could have found as many as 1,000 turtles per square mile. That means if you had a football field with endzones, you’d probably find a couple of them. The uselessness of this land is what makes it so wonderful for the tortoises, which have been decimated by cattle grazing, auto accidents, off-roading, an illness caught from released pets,  rattlesnake roundups and just general development. It’s also what seems to infuriate conservatives, who don’t want this animal–which you can barely see because it spends 95% of its life underground–messing up the first decent attempts at massive solar plants.

“If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave desert, I don’t know where the hell we can put it,” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asked. Heavy equipment would crush the underground dwellers. If you move them, they try to go back to their old home and get eaten by coyotes. The Army tried to move about 1,000 of them when it expanded Fort Irwin and it was a disaster.

So far there isn’t an overall policy, so we’re likely to see these skirmishes  with every one of

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Santa Monica Sushi Restaurant Serves Whale, Makers of The Cove Document on Way to Pick Up An Oscar

Kujira Yukke

Sushi @ Tsukiji (Kujira Yukke) [whale sushi in Japan],courtesy of Hajime NAKANO.

The people who made The Cove, the documentary about Japanese Dolphin slaughter that won an Academy Award Sunday, used some of the same techniques to bust a hipster Santa Monica sushi restaurant for selling whale, the New York Times reports. DNA tests confirmed that a $60 piece of sushi that The Hump sold as whale was in fact the endangered Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis). that $60 piece of sushi was sei whale.

DNA-testing sushi is now becoming a food investigation mainstay; it’s almost as popular and fun as finding e. coli at food carts. But normally the results are the opposite: the fish is not what the restaurant says. It’s a cheap substitute. In this case it was on the Omakase, or tasting menu, and the wait staff told the undercover diners they were eating whale, sometimes calling it by its Japanese name, kujira.

The food blog Shizuokasushi explains how whale is served casually in Japan, though usually sperm whales. Japan hunts about 100 sei whales a year under the guise of “research,” according to the IUCN Red List.

Louie Psihoyos, photographer and director of The Cove, worked with “director of clandestine operations” Charles Hambleton, who made tiny cameras for diners to wear–once for themselves and a second time for investigators. An affadavit from investigators describes a search of the restaurant and suggests the whale may have arrived via a Mercedes parked out back.

It

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Jaguars, Extinct in US, Found Within 30 Miles of Border

A jaguar has been confirmed living–or at least roaming–within 30 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico. The Cougar Network, which tracks big cat sightings, sent out word that the Sky Island Alliance has two photos of jaguars eight days apart about 90 miles north of where everyone thought they lived in Sonora.

Conservation groups like the Northern Jaguar Project,  have worked for years to bring back the big, spotted cat that once ranged as far north as the Grand Canyon across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and possibly Louisiana.

The find would be significant because last year the last known U.S. jaguar died under circumstances that increasingly look dodgy. Arizona Fish and Game caught Macho B in a trap they said was for bears or cougars. They tranquilized and collared him. Days later the then-sluggish cat was euthanized. The capture and drugs may have hastened his death. Just last month investigators found that the capture was intentional, a possible felony since the jaguar (Panthera onca) is endangered.

Just last month the Fish and Wildlife service reversed a 2006 decision and determined that the jaguar deserves a critical habitat. Even the known population in the Northern Jaguar Preserve, 135 miles south of the border, is cut off by hundreds of miles from the the main population.

The motion-activated game cameras showed the jaguars from different sides, so no one is sure if it’s the same cat, Sergio Avila, an alliance biologist in Tucson, told the Arizona Daily

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China Says It Has Only 50 Wild Tigers Left

China’s own wildlife officials estimate that only 50 tigers survive within its borders, Xinhua News reports. And those shockingly low numbers include four subspecies. The World Wildlife Fund figures they’ll go extinct within 30 years, an estimate which seems optimistic. The IUCN range maps show that tigers are doing much better outside China, sometimes just outside its borders.

China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) says only 20 Siberian tigers remain in China’s northeast, 20 Bengal tigers in Tibet, and 10 Indochinese tigers in the southwest. And you can pretty much forget about the South China tiger. Zhu Chunquan, conservation director of biodiversity at WWF China, told AFP: “After the late 1970s, there has been no concrete evidence to show that there are any left.”

Siberian Tiger (Pantera tigris ssp. altaic) : endangered (20 in China)

What’s weird here is that there’s a Siberian Tiger Breeding Center in Harbin, capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, that brags that it’s bred 1,000 cats (some pictured here).

The center combines breeding and tourism, but has come under fire for animal cruelty. Specifically, it got in trouble for feeding the tigers live cows and sheep. That wouldn’t be bad if they were training tigers to hunt in the wild, but the videos show it’s more to make a buck off tourists. The bigger the animal killed, the more the tourist pays. Tourists on this video paid $60 (1,500 renminbi) to see a sheep slaughtered, not splurging $180 to witness a cow

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Five Questions Lesley Stahl Didn’t Ask the “Frozen Zoo”

Animal Tourism Blog Test Tube Wooly Mammoths

Last night on 60 Minutes Lesley Stahl went to see the Frozen Zoo, the Audubon Nature Institute’s Species Survival Center. The center is doing fascinating. historic, ground-breaking work storing the DNA of threatened species and even producing clones of endangered African wildcats. What was missing from the story, however, was a closer look at the context in which the center operates. If Stahl and 60 Minutes had asked the following questions, the piece might not have been as much of an inane exercise.

Who’s paying for all this?The nonprofit Audubon Nature Institute grew out of a once ailing, old New Orleans institution. They’re not related to the Audubon Club. ANI runs a zoo, insectarium and Imax theatre. So are they supporting the whole $43 million operation (including the $2.5 million it costs to save endangered species) by creeping out kids with bugs and selling zoo T-shirts? If so, that would be quite a feat and worth knowing. Too bad Stahl didn’t ask.

The issue is important because in 2007 the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott pointed out ANI’s ties to big oil, raising the possibility it used Chevron money to make a lame Katrina Imax movie that doesn’t mention oil’s role in destroying wetlands. (No way, say the film-maker and Audubon: Chevron was just ordered by a court to funnel cash to an environmental cause and they chose this one.)

According to finances posted online, the operation just about breaks even (a loss of $187,000 in 2008, the latest

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429 Dead Manatees found Last Year out of Population of 4,000; Only 37 Called Natural Deaths

A record 429 manatees were found dead off Florida last year out of a delicate population of just about 4,000. Could it be good news, reflecting a growing population? After all the the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission counted a record 3,807 manatees in their aerial surveys last year.

Not so fast, says the FWC:  “The situation is not that simple. Both the carcass totals and the annual counts from statewide aerial surveys are considered minimum numbers only, and they cannot be used to calculate long-term population trends.” In other words, both the 400 and 4,000 are wild-ass guesses (WAG)–though maybe scientific wild-ass guess (SWAG).

Last year was really cold, so the manatees crowded the power plants and springs like never before, making for stunning pictures (like the one here by  Tom Reinert) and high counts. But that’s not a complete or accurate count. The cold was a big factor: 56 died from cold stress, more than double the five-year average.

But there were record deaths from other factors, too. The data show only 37 were found to have died of natural causes. That doesn’t mean people killed all the rest. Humans were directly tied to 97 from boats, 5 from locks and gates and 7 from other human-related causes. The rest are somewhat a mystery and manatee advocates think humans are tied to many more. 114 were described as “perinatal,” just meaning they were very young, and they believe many are really tied to people.

What

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Happy Thylacine Day!

It’s not only Labor Day, it’s Thylacine Day! Australia has a day to pay attention to threatened species, marking the sad anniversary of the death of the last Thylacine.

The Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, is a creature so odd-looking you would think it was a cryptozoology hoax if there weren’t so much evidence it really existed. Thylacinus cynocephalus is a striped, marsupial carnivore that looks like a zebra – shiba inu mix. The Tassie Tiger was wiped out from Australia 3,000 years ago, but survived on Tasmania until shortly after people showed up. Sheep farmers killed them off, shooting the last wild one in 1930. On this day in 1936 the last Thylacine died in Hobart Zoo.

But since then people have said they’ve seen Thylacines in remote Tasmania and in Australia. Chris Rehberg’s blog Where Light Meets Dark put together a fantastic map of all thesightings here since the supposed extinction. Motion-activated cameras have turned up nothing. Yet. An effort to clone the Thylacine from cells of a preserved fetus have also been failures. So far. (And people who think the Thylacine is still out there don’t want it cloned.)

I went to see Jane Goodall speak about her new book, Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink, which is about how passionate biologists are rescuing or rediscovering animals on the edge of extinction. (Rehberg calls the study of extinct animals Eclipsazoology.) It’d be great if the Thylacine, instead of

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