Enjoying Your Local Coyotes (or Coywolves)

stealth cam coyote

My family in Illinois shares theories and gossip about the resident coyotes. Living in New York, I miss out. So I wanted to contribute to the family pastime when I visited over Christmas. The new tools this year: a game camera and Suburban Howls from John Way of the Eastern Coyote Research. The camera is great to see what’s going on at night, but Way’s book was exactly what we need to figure out what was going on.

My sister Mary Ann has been tracking these coyotes–really coywolfs–the longest. Like many animal-watchers, she gives them names based on their appearance or behavior, such as Fluffy, with the thick coat. Fluffy had pups this spring and in the fall a friend found the den in a thicket.

Last year I got Mary Ann a motion-activated camera designed for hunters, which she more or less ignored. Ok, she claims to have put it out but got nothing but raccoon pictures. We could see in the snow that two compost mounds were clearly high-value real estate in coyote-world. They had tons of tracks and pee. We set the camera there and got a picture the first night.

But without some knowledge of coyote world, we didn’t know how to explain what was going on. That’s where we really need Suburban Howls. Way does a great job of synthesizing the body of knowledge on eastern coyotes or coywolves and describing his own research and findings. We had theorized the coywolves liked the mounds

Keep reading Enjoying Your Local Coyotes (or Coywolves)

Share/Save

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

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

20 States Host Bald Eagle Festivals; Six This Weekend. Is There A Bald Eagle Near You?

See the full 2010 Eagle Calendar

In January and February rivers freeze and bald eagles have to come down from Canada to visit us. To capitalize on the event, Audubon clubs and parks around the country hold Bald Eagle Days or Festivals to give people a chance to see our national bird in places they haven’t been seen in generations. Within a couple hours of New York, Boston, Chicago and Dallas, you can see eagles.

Twenty states have bald eagle festivals, although two have cancelled this year because of the recession. The Upper Skagit Eagle Festival in WA and the CT Eagle Festival won’t be held this year. The eagles still show up, you just don’t get the luxury treatment, which usually entails scopes and hot chocolate. CT Audubon even still has $40 boat tours.

Current Eagle Festivals: AL, AK, AR, CO, ID, IL, IN, IA, KY, MD, NJ, NY, OK, PA, TN, TX, UT and WI

We’ve got six bald eagle events this weekend. We don’t just have a national bald eagle day because they show up at different times around the country. The peak for eagle days is the first weekend in February, with 11 states having eagle-watching events.

See the 2010 Calendar of Eagle EventsWhere to See Eagles Yearound

To see more animals go to animaltourism.com

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

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

Save Endangered Species; Make them Pets?

Tiger quoll giving tongue

Tiger quoll giving tongue,originally uploaded by pierre poliquin.

Australian biologist Michael Archer is hellbent to stop or reverse human-caused extinctions one way another. First he tried resurrecting the Thylacine, the mascot of tragically extinct animals, using DNA from museum specimens. Now, according to Time, he’s close to getting permission to let regular people keep endangered species as pets so they won’t go extinct in the wild.Archer, a professor at the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales, has been pushing this idea to the public for a while, as this 2000 article from the Telegraph shows. He told both publications something like: “No animal that human beings have turned into a domestic pet has ever died out. It’s the ones we don’t value that become extinct.”In particular Archer wants to try to save the quoll, a small marsupial with the spotted coat of a fawn. Quolls eat bugs, grubs and mice, but they’ve been wiped out by fox and cats. Cats often carry toxoplasmosis, which makes female quolls infertile, according the Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary, which that has been arduously them since 1986. Predictably, as when anybody wants to try some last-chance idea to help an animal, another animal lover pops up to criticize and impede them. In this case, animal rights activists worry it will play into the hands of the pet industry. More seriously scientists worry whether people will be able to provide appropriate homes.Captive breeding has already saved or helped

Keep reading Save Endangered Species; Make them Pets?

Meet the Coywolf, the New Canine Predator of North America

You can spend thousands of dollars watching wolves in Yellowstone or $50 – $200 to get a much closer and scientific view of the new canine species that is replacing the wolf: the coywolf. And if you’ll have trouble getting to Cape Cod by dusk or dawn, you can even stay in the house of wildlife biologist Dr. Jon Way so he can take you out to see the animal he studies.

Way can take you along for field work when he’s using his radio collars to track the animals that are laregely taking on the role of predator across the east, where the wolf was wiped out. He describes his accomodations as “rustic casual:” you sleep in the basement and eat with his family. But the real attraction is the coywolf  and Way, one of its strongest advocates. He is pushing to change the way the coywolf is classified and treated.

Some state wildlife agencies (in the mid-Atlantic) have been treating these coywolves, which are conspicuously larger than western coyotes, simply as an invasive species from the west. They appeared after the wolf was wiped out. Invasive (as opposed to native) means they don’t belong and were introduced by humans. The invasive designation means about the only management these new coyotes get is hunting by the federal government through its controversial Wildlife Services agency. Even in states where it’s not labeled invastive, there’s no bag limit and long hunting seasons–something Way wants to change.

“We should not be

Keep reading Meet the Coywolf, the New Canine Predator of North America

Paris Builds Contraceptive Communes for Pigeons

Paris loves pigeons

When I went to Paris recently I was surprised to see what looked like a beyond-huge pigeon house in a pocket park in Montmarte, not far from Sacre Couer. Did pigeons, detested throughout the world, find a warm welcome from Parisiennes? Were they like the Jerry Lewis of birds?Well, not quite.The pigeons like the giant communes, where they live comfortably in groups of up to 200. But it’s a trap. They’re designed so the pigeons don’t poop on buildings. And every week or so someone from a pest control company comes in and shakes their eggs so they won’t have baby pigeons.They do allow some reproduction. A Bloomberg report seems to say they let one egg per nest hatch. Le Figaro seems to say that workers let the first brood of each pair (La première couvée de chaque couple) hatch, then shake all the rest. Either way, it amounts to a lot of pigeons not being born, but a good life for those who do hatch.The League for the Protection of Birds [Oiseaux] (LPO) likes the plan. The Humane Society of the United States has been pushing contraceptive as the most sane, least cruel strategy for dealing with populations of animals that people find annoying.The big catch? Those fancy houses cost a lot of money. Like 20,000 euros ($30,000) to build and another 5,000 euros ($7,500) to maintain. But just one experimental house up five years is supposed to have prevented the birth of 5,000 pigeons. Depending on

Keep reading Paris Builds Contraceptive Communes for Pigeons

A Scourge of Bunny Rabbits?

Stadspark (City Park) in Antwerp, Belgium, has bunnies like Central Park has squirrels. At first I didn’t believe a local who told me of the roaming rabbits, but they aren’t hard to find. In fact, they were hard to miss. Black, white, multi-color rabbits that had clearly been released from careless pet owners, nonchalantly gathered in clusters and hopped across paths.

Antwerp is not alone. It’s just one of many places around the world facing a surging rabbit population. Stockholm parks managers kill thousands of rabbits a year, so many that this year they decided to start burning them as fuel. England is worried of a rabbit surge. Even Mike Ballast, the composer who wrote theme song for the embattled rabbits of Watership Down, has been wiping out rabbits on his estate. In British Columbia, the town of Kelowna has been hunting bunnies with air rifles, but will now catch them and try to give them to rabbit rescue groups or neuter them like feral cats.

What’s going on here? There are two kinds of rabbits: wild and dumped pets.Both groups are benefiting from some changes: in Europe 95% of rabbits were wiped out by the myxomatosis virus in the 1950s. But resistant rabbits thrived and over the decades the population came back to levels not seen in many people’s lifetimes. Some also think global warming lets them overwinter in places that were once inhospitable. And there’s the lack of natural predators. Or even unnatural predators, like unleashed

Keep reading A Scourge of Bunny Rabbits?

See Turtles Connects Resume-Building Volunteers, Fishermen and Researchers

Baby Leatherback Turtle,Courtesy of Jennie – My Travels.

Whether you’re an aspiring biologist searching for hands-on experience or just a traveler who wants to watch a few turtles on vacation, See Turtles has an expedition for you, says Brad Nahill, marketing director and co-founder. While the See Turtle website showcases mainly the latter, a kind of turtle tourism lite for those with less time than money, the conservation group is branching out. They now connect longer term volunteers who have more time than money.

This is exactly what people are looking for in the age of the Great Recession, animal tourism and voluntourism. Recent college grads, facing 15% unemployment, are willing to take unpaid gigs in a related field. Since posting an application for volunteer opportunities in April, they’ve gotten 500 queries. Wealthier Gen Y grads latching onto the British concept of the Gap Year may be willing to pay thousands of dollars for a resume-boosting international experience. But Nahill hopes to offer the opportunity for a more reasonable fees that go directly to the community, along the lines of $20/day.

“Pretty much anyone can go down and measure a turtle and grab eggs,” says Nahill. “It’s not like darting a tiger…it’s safe.” And he should–that’s how he started out in turtle conservation after college. In many ways sea turtles–which are all either endangered or threatened–are the ideal eco-tourism target. Even the non-skilled can help–whether that’s doing research, patrolling beaches or just showing up on tours. Just the tourists

Keep reading See Turtles Connects Resume-Building Volunteers, Fishermen and Researchers

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

Keep reading Happy Thylacine Day!