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Archive for April 2011

Marcela Uhart, Wildlife Conservation Society’s field veterinarian in Patagonia, Argentina, talks about the impact of lead ammunition on wildlife. She reveals to “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme how spent ammunition remains in the environment where it can then be ingested by animals, especially waterfowl. Because they have no teeth, these birds swallow stones and seeds whole to help grind the food in their stomachs.

Argentina is known for its waterfowl hunting, and every year the number of birds killed is huge. However, switching from lead shot is a slow process because hunters have to accept the new ammunition and lead-free alternatives have to be available. In the United States, lead shot to hunt waterfowl in wetlands has been banned since 1991. This regulation came about mostly because bald eagles that preyed on the waterfowl were being poisoned. In addition, there are some more localized bans. For instance, California has banned the use of lead ammunition in the range of the endangered California Condor and Arizona has a voluntary ban. Also, early in 2010, the National Park Service announced a plan to ban lead ammunition and fishing tackle in the parks. Currently, twenty-nine other countries have adopted voluntary or legislative restrictions, with some of the most aggressive regulations having been adopted in Europe.

Dr. Uhart is trying to get similar restrictions in Argentina by studying the impact of lead pellets on waterfowl in Patagonia. Her research on recently-killed ducks has found lead in their blood, which indicates recent exposure, and their bones, which shows lead accumulation over time. Because she is sampling ducks who were healthy enough to fly and be shot, her research probably underestimates the full effects of lead toxicity. Consequently, her next step will be to assess sub-lethal impacts, such as changes in bone density.

Born and raised on a ranch in the Argentine pampas, Marcela Uhart has been a veterinarian with the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Field Veterinary Program since 1996. She spends much of her time in the field and often collaborates with numerous non-governmental organizations and researchers in Argentina while providing veterinary expertise in wildlife handling and immobilizations, translocations and health monitoring of wildlife populations. She has worked on a variety of species, including sea lions, elephant seals, penguins, small carnivores, caiman and raptors, as well as "agricultural-conflictive" species such as rheas, large rodents and large ungulates, including guanaco and pampas deer. Marcela has helped to introduce new policy measures to benefit wildlife, such as the establishment of a program to control agricultural pesticide use, implemented with the support and endorsement of an Argentine government research agency known as INTA. Marcela also acts as a consultant to field researchers and local conservation groups and has traveled to Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and other Latin American countries to provide her services. In November 1998, she became one of the founding members of the first Association of Latin American Wildlife Veterinarians. She is also the IUCN’s Wildlife Health Specialist Group (WHSG) coordinator for South America. In this role she hopes to reinforce and revitalize the relationship between wildlife specialists from the developed and developing nations. In fact, since she started at WCS, Marcela has worked tirelessly to address the critical shortage of training opportunities for young veterinarians in Latin America. Professional outreach remains a major focus of her work, as does collaborating with local universities and leading workshops in several Latin American countries. This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on April 25, 2010.

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Carol Foster talks about wildlife filmmaking. She tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme, how she and her filmmaker husband, Richard Foster, have constructed a special studio in the jungle of Belize that allows them to film wild behavior that would not otherwise be possible. For instance, they’ve captured a baby cantil viper wriggling the green tip of its tail over its head to attract and capture frogs, and also filmed flower mites hitchhiking in the nostrils of a hummingbird.

Carol and Richard Foster are documentary filmmakers specializing in natural history and the environment. Working out of their jungle studio, they have made films for the major networks including National Geographic and BBC. Both Carol and Richard are highly experienced at bringing to the screen the intricate hidden stories of natural behavior. Both have worked all over the world winning multiple awards for their work. They are currently using their skills to highlight the threats to the environment and nature by humans and climate change--subjects to which they are passionately committed. This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on April 18, 2011.

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Stephanie Vergniault, Founder and Executive Director of SOS Elephants, talks about elephant poaching in Chad. She tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme that the situation is spiraling out of control. In just two-weeks, in February 2011, 20 elephants were killed in Chad for their ivory. All were killed outside of protected areas, making them easy targets. Vergniault notes that if poaching continues at this rate, “not a single elephant will be alive in Chad in three years time.”

Vergniault is doing all she can to stop this trend. For example, SOS Elephants has developed a network of 100 to 200 local people who inform the NGO about poaching activity, including providing positions of poachers or elephants. It then can alert Chadian government forces, (namely Mobile Forces of Protection of the Environment,) about the incidents. In fact, in mid-March 2011, government forces apprehended the poachers involved in the February incident. They also seized AK-47s, horses and 15 ivory tusks.

While in some regions tourism might provide an economic alternative, in Chad the prospects are limited because the elephants there have become so aggressive and often charge at people. “They are used to poachers,” Vergniault explains. “They have a good memory. To them, humans are bad.” As a result, SOS Elephants focuses on education and training in rural areas, discussing non-lethal alternatives, such as solar barriers or red pepper to discourage elephants from raiding crops and planting outside of elephant migration corridors. Vergniault knows that changing public attitudes both towards elephants and towards ivory is the only way to stop the killing, so SOS Elephants also spreads the word through sport. It’s NGO-sponsored soccer team, The Elephants, serves as an ambassador for the real elephants, furthering the message. It’s working, as more and more local teams are springing up spontaneously across the country.

Stephanie Vergniault is the founder and Executive Director of SOS Elephants in Chad. As a French lawyer specializing in elections and governance, she became passionate about her work overseas and traveled around the world to work in places like Nicaragua, Venezuela, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gabon, and Chad. She first came to Chad in 1995 to work with the government on electoral assistance. At that time, as a guest of the Head of State, she had a desire to see the elephants and was struck by their dire situation. When she returned in 2007, she was shocked by the massive slaughter that was occurring. That’s when she decided to take action and, in 2009, Stephanie created the non-governmental organization in Chad called SOS Elephants. SOS Elephants is dedicated to the preservation of elephants and their habitats in Chad and its neighbors. It works through a combination of methods including research, education, conservation and counter poaching actions. Vergniault now lives in Chad and works closely with local communities. One of the newest projects Stephanie has undertaken is building an elephant orphanage for the baby elephants who are orphaned after their mothers are poached for their ivory. This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on April 11, 2011.

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Jessica Speart, author of Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World's Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler, discusses illegal trade of rare butterflies. She tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme about the real-life characters in her book: Yoshi Kojima, the world’s most wanted butterfly smuggler, and the rookie US Fish and Wildlife agent, Ed Newcomer, who finally brings him down. The trade in rare butterfly species is a lucrative business. While there is much trade that is legal, the illegal butterfly trade could be worth up to $200 million each year. “Butterfly collectors with the financial means will do whatever necessary to obtain the specimens they want,” Speart says. For some, it’s like stamp collecting. For others, it’s the equivalent of collecting a Renoir or Van Gogh.

 

While habitat loss is the most significant threat to butterflies, poaching adds to the stress on these delicate insects – so much so that when criminals target the rare species, extinction becomes a real possibility. Butterfly poachers often pursue the most endangered species, and many prowl national parks where they collect butterfly eggs to raise in a controlled environment. They do this so that they can end up with perfect specimens—and a higher price. Whenever the wings are damaged, the value of the butterfly drops dramatically. As Speart describes in this interview, “The way you get a perfect specimen is to kill them shortly after they’re born.” There’s no other way to make sure its wings remain unused and in perfect condition.

 

Jessica Speart is a freelance journalist specializing in wildlife enforcement issues. She's been published in the New York Times Magazine, OMNI, Travel + Leisure, Audubon, National Wildlife, Mother Jones, Delta's Sky magazine, and many others. She is also the author of ten crime novels featuring the fictional character of US Fish and Wildlife Service special agent Rachel Porter. Rachel has an unwavering devotion to tracking down the enemies of rare and endangered species and, in each book, solves a mystery focused around real world wildlife crimes. Her most recent book, Winged Obsession, is Jessica’s first non-fiction book.  This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on April 4, 2011.

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