The leopard (Panthera pardus), one of the world’s most iconic big cats, has lost as much as 75 percent of its historic range. Animal agriculture, as well as illegal trade in leopard skins and parts and legal trophy hunting, are having a devastating effect on leopards.
Recent research challenges the conventional assumption in many areas that leopards remain relatively abundant and not seriously threatened. The leopard is a famously elusive animal, which is likely why it has taken so long to recognize its global decline.
Leopards historically occupied a vast range of approximately 35 million square kilometers (13.5 million square miles) throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Today, however, they are restricted to approximately 8.5 million square kilometers (3.3 million square miles).
Scientists from the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative, the Zoological Society of London, Panthera and the International Union for Conservation of Nature spent three years reviewing more than 1,300 sources on the leopard’s historic and current range. The results confirmed conservationists’ suspicions that, while the entire species is not yet as threatened as some other big cats, leopards are facing a multitude of growing threats in the wild, and three subspecies have already been almost completely eradicated.
In addition, while African leopards face considerable threats, particularly in North and West Africa, leopards have also almost completely disappeared from several regions across Asia, including much of the Arabian Peninsula and vast areas of former range in China and Southeast Asia. The amount of habitat in each of these regions is plummeting, having declined by nearly 98 percent.
Leopards’ secretive nature, coupled with the occasional, brazen appearance of individual animals within mega-cities like Mumbai and Johannesburg, perpetuates the misconception that these big cats continue to thrive in the wild — when actually they are increasingly threatened. A severe blind spot has existed in the conservation of the leopard.
The status of the leopard in Southeast Asia is as perilous as the highly endangered tiger. The international conservation community must double down in support of initiatives ––protecting the species. Our next steps in this very moment will determine the leopard’s fate.
Leopards are capable of surviving in human-dominated landscapes provided they have sufficient cover, access to wild prey and tolerance from local people. In many areas, however, habitat is converted to farmland and native herbivores are replaced with livestock for growing human populations. This habitat loss, prey decline, conflict with livestock owners, illegal trade in leopard skins and parts and legal trophy hunting are all factors contributing to leopard decline.
More research is needed on the less studied subspecies. Of these subspecies, one — the Javan leopard (P. p. melas) — is currently classified as critically endangered by the IUCN, while another — the Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya) — is classified as endangered, highlighting the urgent need to understand what can be done to arrest these worrying declines.
Despite this troubling picture, some areas of the world inspire hope. Even with historic declines in the Caucasus Mountains and the Russian Far East/Northeast China, leopard populations in these areas appear to have stabilized and may even be rebounding with significant conservation investment through the establishment of protected areas and increased anti-poaching measures.
Leopards have a broad diet and are remarkably adaptable. Sometimes the elimination of active persecution by government or local communities is enough to jumpstart leopard recovery. However, with many populations ranging across international boundaries, political cooperation is critical.
Corals are popular as souvenirs, for home decor and in costume jewelry, yet corals are living animals that eat, grow, and reproduce. It takes corals decades or longer to create reef structures, so leave corals and other marine life on the reef.
Corals have long been popular as souvenirs, for home decor, and in jewelry, but many consumers are unaware that these beautiful structures are made by living creatures. Fewer still realize that corals are dying off at alarming rates around the world.
Coral reefs are some of the most biologically rich and valuable ecosystems on Earth, but they are threatened by an increasing array of impacts—primarily from global climate change, unsustainable fishing, and pollution. Strong consumer demand for coral, heightened over the holiday season, is another factor that is contributing to the decline of coral reefs. Each year, the U.S. imports tons of dead coral for home decorations and curios. Most of these corals are shallow-water species.
The U.S. is also the world's largest documented consumer of Corallium, red and pink corals often used to create jewelry. Finished pieces of jewelry and art crafted from this type of coral can fetch anywhere between $20 and $20,000 in the marketplace. Continued consumer demand is contributing to the decline of these delicate corals around the world.
Commercial harvesting to satisfy the demand for coral jewelry has reduced colony size, density, and age structure of Corallium over time. Harvesting is also lowering the reproduction capability of this species and is decreasing its genetic diversity. Research indicates that removal of red and pink corals for the global jewelry and art trade is also leading to smaller and smaller Corallium in the wild.
Corals grow very slowly, are extremely long-lived, and take years to reach maturity. It takes corals decades or longer to create reef structures. Once coral is harvested—especially when it's extracted at a young age—surrounding coral beds often do not recover. That's why it's best to leave corals and other marine life on the reef.
Remember: corals are already a gift. Don't give them as presents.
There were almost 100,000 tigers roaming the wilds of the planet in the early 1900's. The drastic fall in the population of this magnificent beast to just a few thousands within the span of a century tells a lot about human callousness and cruelty towards wildlife.
Until a couple of decades ago, the tiger was killed purely for sport, especially in India. The times of the maharajahs abound with folklore of how these unfortunate animals were hunted down and showcased in village squares, courtyards and drawing rooms of the wealthy. But with the advent of wildlife reserves and stricter curbs on hunting, the downslide in tiger numbers was somewhat arrested. But the problems for the animal did not end there.
India has nearly two-thirds of the current world tiger population of around 3,890. Competing with that is the human population. At 1.25 billion, and with a growth-rate that shows no signs of abating, India's population is just 10 percent less than China's. But India's populace live in an area that is only one-third of its larger neighbor. A growing population translates into demand for more food and more agricultural space. Thus, encroachment of tiger reserves is an obvious fallout.
Towards the eastern part of the country, changes in climate are causing sea levels of the Bay of Bengal to rise, submerging the Sundarban jungles and its precious mangrove forests. These forests are home to one of the most magnificent beasts in the world, the Royal Bengal tiger. Apart from the threat of a rising sea, the Sundarbans are also witnessing increasing numbers of people, desperately searching for farming land. The tiger is cornered and has nowhere to go. The Sundarban forests of Bengal has been its natural habitat for thousands of years, long before man came.
The tiger population of Indonesia stood at only 371 in 2016. Most are concentrated in the island state of Sumatra. The Sumatran tiger is an endangered species and is the smallest of all tiger species. Ignition of wild forest fires, deforestation by an avaricious palm oil and timber industry, are constant threats to this animal. As a result, they have been squeezed into small pockets of dense hill forests of the island.
Among the most critically endangered species of all animals is the South China tiger. Most alarming, there have been no sightings of the animal in the past two decades – leading experts to believe that it may have become extinct.
The underlying story of the tiger in countries with huge population density is the same, be it India, Bangladesh, Nepal , Malaysia or Indonesia. Hunting land for the animals is shrinking in the face of increasing demand for industry and agriculture, and they are getting much less to eat than before. Domestic animals like cattle, dogs, and, in rare instances, even humans, have become the new food for the big cats. Villagers in search of wood (used as fuel for cooking) often fall prey to tigers. Ironically, the tigers now become the encroachers and end up being killed or hunted down by villagers in the name of self-defense.
Nowhere on earth can the population-land mismatch be more glaring than in Indonesia. The archipelago has a population as large as the United States but a land area just one-tenth the size, broken up into a few thousand islands. Virtually all of Indonesia's low-lying forests have been cleared for cultivation of its staple food, rice. Just imagine where all of this leaves the Indonesian tiger.
While the report card for tiger species safety indicates the lowest levels of threat for the Siberian tiger, the biggest of all wild cats numbering around 400 and having the largest habitat of all, the same cannot be said of the South East Asian species (Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand). Urgent action needs to be taken before the crushing human density in these regions squeeze the tiger into extinction.
Add to the threat for tigers is widespread poaching. Tiger skins and other vital organs are in great demand in the underground black-market trade for wildlife exotica, especially in Thailand and China. Forest and wildlife departments are too understaffed or corrupt to keep poachers at bay. There's a lack of training, motivation and compensation for risk among forest personnel. Firearms, communications equipment, and vehicles for use by forest protection enforcement are either inadequate or antiquated.
There is hope. Thanks to the combined efforts of organizations and governments that have woken up to the importance of preserving this wonderful animal, the population of tigers has quite astonishingly shown a turn-around for the first time in over a century. There's been an impressive 22 percent rise in numbers in the last 6 years.
The figures compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) show increases in tiger populations in India, Russia (home of the great Siberian tiger), Nepal and Bhutan. Improved protection measures, stricter laws concerning the safety of the animals, and enhanced conservation and breeding techniques adopted and put into practice by authorities, have given tiger enthusiasts reasons to cheer after a very long struggle.
As palm oil production expands from Southeast Asia into tropical regions of the Americas and Africa, vulnerable forests and species on four continents now face increased risk of loss.
The largest areas of vulnerable forest are in Africa and South America, where more than 30 percent of forests within land suitable for oil palm plantations remain unprotected, according to a Duke University study. Rates of recent deforestation have been highest in Southeast Asia and South America, particularly Indonesia, Ecuador and Peru, where more than half of all oil palms are grown on land cleared since 1989.
Palm oil is now the world’s most widely traded vegetable oil, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The oil, which is harvested from oil palms, and its derivatives are common ingredients in many processed foods and personal care products. As global demand grows, large swaths of tropical forest are being converted into oil palm plantations in 43 countries.
Almost all oil palm is grown in places that once were tropical forests, forests containing high concentrations of different mammal and bird species at risk of extinction or extirpation. Clearing these forests threatens biodiversity and increases greenhouse gas emissions. By identifying where the greatest extent of palm oil-driven deforestation has recently occurred, and modeling where future expansion is most likely, scientists are hoping to guide efforts to reduce these adverse impacts.
While the Amazon and Indonesia have many species of globally threatened mammals and birds, other areas such as the Congo Basin and the coastal forests of Colombia are home to species with small ranges that make them especially vulnerable to habitat loss despite not being classified as threatened or endangered. This also needs to be considered in conservation planning.
The palm oil industry has a legacy of deforestation, but consumer pressure is pushing companies toward deforestation-free sources of palm oil. Government regulations and voluntary market interventions must reshape oil palm plantation expansion in ways that protect biodiversity-rich ecosystems and prevent deforestation.
You can send a clear message to the palm oil industry by reducing or eliminating your purchases of products containing palm oil.
Since life began on Earth, countless creatures have come and gone, rendered extinct by naturally changing physical and biological conditions. Since extinction is part of the natural order, and if many other species remain, some people ask: “Why save endangered species? Why should we spend money and effort to conserve them? How do we benefit?”
Congress answered these questions in the preamble to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, recognizing that endangered and threatened species of wildlife and plants “are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.” In this statement, Congress summarized convincing arguments made by scientists, conservationists, and others who are concerned by the disappearance of unique creatures. Congress further stated its intent that the Act should conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend.
Although extinctions occur naturally, scientific evidence strongly indicates that the current rate of extinction is much higher than the natural or background rate of the past. The main force driving this higher rate of loss is habitat loss. Over-exploitation of wildlife for commercial purposes, the introduction of harmful exotic (nonnative) organisms, environmental pollution, and the spread of diseases also pose serious threats to our world’s biological heritage.
Conservation actions carried out in the United States under the Endangered Species Act have been successful in preventing extinction for 99 percent of the species that are listed as endangered or threatened. However, species loss on a global scale continues to increase due to the environmental effects of human activities.
Biologists estimate that since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, more than 500 species, subspecies, and varieties of our nation’s plants and animals have become extinct. The situation in earth’s most biologically rich ecosystems is even worse. Tropical rainforests around the world, which may contain up to one half of all living species, are losing millions of acres every year. Uncounted species are lost as these habitats are destroyed. In short, there is nothing natural about today’s rate of extinction.
BENEFITS OF DIVERSITY
How many species of plants and animals are there? Although scientists have classified approximately 1.7 million organisms, they recognize that the overwhelming majority have not yet been cataloged. Between 10 and 50 million species may inhabit our planet. None of these creatures exists in a vacuum. All living things are part of a complex, often delicately balanced network called the biosphere. The earth’s biosphere, in turn, is composed of countless ecosystems, which include plants and animals and their physical environments. No one knows how the extinction of organisms will affect the other members of its ecosystem, but the removal of a single species can set off a chain reaction affecting many others. This is especially true for “keystone” species, whose loss can transform or undermine the ecological processes or fundamentally change the species composition of the wildlife community.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO MEDICINE
One of the many tangible benefits of biological diversity has been its contributions to the field of medicine. Each living thing contains a unique reservoir of genetic material that has evolved over eons. This material cannot be retrieved or duplicated if lost. So far, scientists have investigated only a small fraction of the world’s species and have just begun to unravel their chemical secrets to find possible human health benefits to mankind.
No matter how small or obscure a species, it could one day be of direct importance to us all. It was “only” a fungus that gave us penicillin, and certain plants have yielded substances used in drugs to treat heart disease, cancer and a variety of other illnesses. More than a quarter of all prescriptions written annually in the United States contain chemicals discovered in plants. If these organisms had been destroyed before their unique chemistries were known, their secrets would have died with them.
A few hundred wild species have stocked our pharmacies with antibiotics, anti-cancer agents, pain killers and blood thinners. The biochemistry of unexamined species is an unfathomed reservoir of new and potentially more effective substances. The reason is found in the principles of evolutionary biology. Caught in an endless “arms race” with other forms of life, these species have devised myriad ways to combat microbes and cancer-causing runaway cells. Plants can make strange molecules that may never occur to a chemist. For example, the anti-cancer compound taxol, originally extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, is “too fiendishly complex” a chemical structure for researchers to have invented on their own, said a scientist with the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Taxol has become the standard treatment for advanced cases of ovarian cancer, which strikes thousands of women every year. But until the discovery of taxol’s effectiveness, the Pacific yew was considered a weed tree of no value and was routinely destroyed during logging operations.
BIODIVERSITY & AGRICULTURE
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture, especially a breadgrain.” It has been estimated that there are almost 80,000 species of edible plants, of which fewer than 20 produce 90 percent of the world’s food. If underutilized species are conserved, they could help to feed growing populations. One grain native to the Great Lakes States, Indian wild rice, is superior in protein to most domesticated rice, and its increasing commercial production earns millions of dollars annually.
Many individual species are uniquely important as indicators of environmental quality. The rapid decline in bald eagles and peregrine falcons in the mid-20th century was a dramatic warning of the dangers of DDT—a strong, once widely used pesticide that accumulates in body tissues. (It hampered fertility and egghatching success in these species.) In another example, lichens and certain plants like the eastern white pine are good indicators of excess ozone, sulfur dioxide, and other air pollutants. Species like these can alert us to the effects of some contaminants before more damage is done.
Freshwater mussels are also very effective environmental indicators. The eastern United States boasts the richest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world. These animals are filter feeders, drawing in water and straining out food particles. Their method of feeding helps to keep our waters clean. But because mussels filter material from the water, they are often the first animals to be affected by water pollution. They tend to accumulate whatever toxins, such as chemicals in agricultural and industrial runoff, are present in their habitat. Too much pollution can eliminate the mussels. Other threats to mussel populations include siltation, the introduction of competing nonnative mussels, stream channelization and dredging, and the impoundment of free-flowing streams and rivers. Today, most native freshwater mussel species are considered to be endangered, threatened or of special concern.
As the pioneering naturalist Aldo Leopold once stated, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” As we tinker with ecosystems through our effects on the environment, what unexpected changes could occur? One subject of increasing concern is the impacts these effects can have on “ecosystem services,” which is a term for the fundamental life-support services provided by our environment.
Ecosystem services include air and water purification, detoxification and decomposition of wastes, climate regulation, regeneration of soil fertility, and the production and maintenance of biological diversity. These are the key ingredients of our agricultural, pharmaceutical, and industrial enterprises. Such services are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars annually. Yet because most of these services are not traded in economic markets, they carry no price tags that could alert society to changes in their supply or declines in their functioning. We tend to pay attention only when they decline or fail.
An emerging field called phytoremediation is an example of the ecosystem services provided by plants. Phytoremediation is a process that uses plants to remove, transfer, stabilize and destroy contaminants in soil and sediment. Certain plant species known as metal hyperaccumulators have the ability to extract elements from the soil and concentrate them in the easily harvested plant stems, shoots, and leaves. The alpine pennycress, for example, doesn’t just thrive on soils contaminated with zinc and cadmium; it cleans them up by removing the excess metals. In the home, houseplants under some conditions can effectively remove benzene, formaldehyde and certain other pollutants from the air.
OTHER ECONOMIC VALUES
Some benefits of animals and plants can be quantified. For example, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department calls birding “the nation’s fastest growing outdoor recreation.” It estimates that birders pump an estimated $400 million each year into the state’s economy. A host of small rural towns host festivals to vie for the attention of these birders. Nationwide, the benefits are even more amazing. Wildlife watching—not just bird watching—generates billions of dollars in economic benefits to nations each year.
If imperiled plants and animals lack a known benefit to mankind, should we care if they disappear? If a species evolves over millennia or is created by divine intent, do we have a right to cause its extinction? Would our descendants forgive us for exterminating a unique form of life? Such questions are not exclusive to scientists or philosophers. Many people believe that every creature has an intrinsic value. The loss of plant and animal species, they say, is not only shortsighted but wrong, especially since an extinct species can never be replaced. Eliminating entire species has been compared to ripping pages out of books that have not yet been read. We are accustomed to a rich diversity in nature. This diversity has provided inspiration for countless writers and artists, and all others who treasure variety in the natural world.
Three quarters of the world’s threatened species are imperiled because people are converting their habitat into agricultural lands and overharvesting their populations. 72 percent of species are imperiled by overexploitation (the harvesting of species from the wild at rates that cannot be compensated for by reproduction or regrowth), while 62 percent of species are imperiled by agricultural activity (the production of food, fodder, fiber and fuel crops; livestock farming; aquaculture; and the cultivation of trees). In comparison, 19 percent are considered threatened by climate change.
There are 5,407 species threatened by agriculture alone, according to the University of Queensland, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Illegal hunting is decimating populations of all rhinoceros and elephant species, western gorilla and Chinese pangolin. Other threats are affecting substantially fewer species, for example hooded seals being threatened by climate change. Climate change is ranked 7th among 11 threats.
Addressing overharvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the biodiversity extinction crisis. This must be at the forefront of the conservation agenda. Government and society must focus on proposing and funding actions that deal with the biggest current threats to biodiversity.
History has taught us that minimizing impacts from overharvesting and agriculture requires a variety of conservation actions, but these can be achieved. Actions such as well managed protected areas, enforcement of hunting regulations, and managing agricultural systems in ways that allow threatened species to persist within them, all have a major role to play in reducing the biodiversity crisis. These activities need to be well funded and prioritized in areas that will reduce threat, according to scientists.
While overharvesting and agricultural activities are currently the predominant threats to species, this may change in the coming decades. Reducing immediate impacts is essential to tackling the biodiversity crisis, but climate change could become an increasingly dominant threat for species.
Thankfully, those actions that best reduce current threats such as unsustainable use, habitat destruction, and invasive species are also the best solutions in responding to the challenges of rapid climate change.
The giraffe is loved and known across the world, but very few people are aware that we are losing both this iconic species and its close relative, the okapi, at an unprecedented and alarming rate.
Giraffe and okapi are the only living species in the Giraffidae family and share a number of common features, such as elongated necks and long, dark-colored tongues (both adaptations for feeding on tree leaves). The giraffe is found in savannah regions of 21 countries across sub-Saharan Africa while okapi are restricted to the dense, lowland rainforests of central and north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Giraffe numbers have plummeted from 140,000 in the late 1990s to less than 80,000 today. In the past 30 years, giraffes have become extinct in at least 7 African countries and okapi numbers are thought to have halved. This dramatic loss has gone largely unnoticed. The main threats to both species are habitat loss and, increasingly, hunting and poaching.
Giraffes, as well as all 9 subspecies, are expected to end up in one of the IUCN Red List threatened categories. The okapi was recently listed as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List.
The giraffe is an African icon and the drop in numbers surprises even the most seasoned conservationists, as giraffes appear to be everywhere. Recent research is only starting to paint the bleak picture facing these gentle giants. It is time for the international community to stick their necks out to save giraffes before it is too late.
Despite being one of the most iconic and recognizable animals in the world, giraffes are probably the least researched large mammals in Africa. New studies are providing important information on the ecology, population and distribution of giraffes and okapi, shedding light on poorly-understood behaviors such as the function of all-male giraffe herds and the leadership role taken by older females in the group. But we still know little about these animals and more research is needed, as well as improved monitoring of both species.
Fifteen animal species are at the greatest risk of becoming extinct very soon. Expertise and money is needed to save them and other highly threatened species.
According to a recent study of highly threatened species, 841 endangered animal species can be saved, but only if conservation efforts are implemented immediately and with an investment of an estimated US $1.3 billion annually to ensure the species' habitat protection and management. For 15 species, the chances of conservation success are really low.
The 15 species with the lowest chances for survival in the wild and in captivity are:
Mount Lefo brush-furred mouse, Lophuromys eisentrauti, Cameroon
Chiapan climbing rat, Tylomys bullaris, Mexico
Tropical pocket gopher, Geomys tropicalis
Bay Lycian salamander, Lyciasalamandra billae, Turkey
Perereca Bokermannohyla izecksohni, Brazil
Campo Grande tree frog, Hypsiboas dulcimer, Brazil
Santa Cruz dwarf frog, Physalaemus soaresi, Brazil
Zorro bubble-nest frog, Pseudophilautus zorro, Sri Lanka
Allobates juanii, Colombia
Ash's lark, Mirafra ashi, Somalia
Tahiti monarch, Pomarea nigra, French Polynesia
Zino's petrel, Pterodroma madeira, Madeira
Mascarene petrel, Pseudobulweria aterrima, Reunion Island
Wilkins's finch, Nesospiza wilkinsi, Tristan da Cunha
Amsterdam albatross, Diomedea amsterdamensis, New Amsterdam (Amsterdam Island)
Their low chance for survival is due to high probability of their habitat becoming urbanized; political instability; and high costs of habitat protection and management.
The opportunity of establishing an insurance population in captivity for these 15 species is low, due to high costs or lack of breeding expertise for the species.
Although the cost seems high, safeguarding endangered species is essential if we want to reduce the extinction rate by 2020. When compared to global government spending on other sectors - e.g., US defense spending, which is more than 500 times greater - an investment in protecting high biodiversity value sites is minor.
Always turn off lights when you leave the room, unless... You should always turn off the light when you leave a room. This can save a lot of energy. But if you have special light bulbs called CFLs, you don't always have to turn them off. Turning them on and off too many times shortens their lifespans. You should turn them off if you'll be gone for 15 minutes of more. If you'll be right back, you can leave them on.
Coal is king, but not everywhere. In the United States, coal makes 39% of our electricity. It's burned in a power plant, and the heat is used to boil water. The steam moves a turbine and generates electricity. In West Virginia, over 90% of the electricity is generated from coal. But in California, only 1% of electricity is generated from this fossil fuel.
Daylight saving time is good for the planet. When we turn our clocks forward each spring, we move an hour of daylight toward the end of the day. In 2008, we had four extra weeks of Daylight Saving Time. Scientists studied how much energy we saved. Turns out, we saved 0.5% of electricity. Even though that sounds small, it's actually 1.3 billion kilowatt-hours. That's how much electricity 100,000 houses use in a whole year.
Every state uses hydropower for electricity. A flowing river is powerful. We can use the flow to make electricity. Ancient Greeks built water wheels to grind grain thousands of years ago. Today, every state uses hydropower, which is electricity from the flow water. In Washington State, 70% of the electricity comes from hydropower. Hydropower plants are inside dams, like the Hoover dam. Some places don't build dams. They use just part of a river to make electricity.
The United States is a world leader in wind. Wind has been a source of renewable energy since the invention of the windmill thousands of years ago. Today's wind power is made from big wind turbines. They're over 300 feet tall. Some have 8,000 parts. Along with China, Germany, Spain, and others, the United States is using wind to make lots of electricity.
The first solar powered satellite is still in orbit. The sun gives us lots of energy everyday. It hits us with 10,000 times the world's total energy use. The space industry has used solar power since the 1960s. It's great for spacecraft. Vanguard 1 was the first spacecraft to use solar cells. It's the oldest artificial satellite still in orbit around Earth.
We can get energy from trash. All that waste we flush down the toilet and put in our trashcans doesn't have to go to, well, waste! When waste breaks down, it can release methane, a natural gas. We can trap that gas and use it to make electricity. This is also helpful because methane is a greenhouse gas. If we use it, we keep it out of the atmosphere. This is great for the environment.
Electric vehicles are great, but not everywhere. Cars that run on electricity instead of gas don't release pollution. But when you charge the car at home, where does that electricity come from? If the electricity comes from renewable sources, electric cars are great for the environment. But if you charge a car with electricity made from coal, it's not as good. The car doesn't pollute, but the power plant that charges that car does.
We need better batteries. You might be surprised, but batteries need a lot of work. They don't store enough energy. For us to use solar power and wind power, we need to be able to store a lot of energy. That way, we can still have electricity on cloudy days with no wind. Lots of researchers are working to make better batteries that last longer and hold more energy.
We measure energy in BTUs. When we talk about energy, we all need to use the same unit to compare numbers. Just like we might use feet or meters to talk about length, we need a unit for energy. The standard unit of energy is called the BTU. That stands for British Thermal Unit. It's the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of a pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. When you burn a four-inch kitchen match, it releases about 1 BTU of energy.
Although protected areas such as national parks can play a crucial role in conserving wildlife, most species of large carnivores and large herbivores also depend on being able to occupy human-dominated landscapes. This sharing of space is often associated with conflicts between humans and wildlife, and between different groups of humans with divergent interests. In order to achieve a situation that can be described as "coexistence", there is a need to develop a more nuanced and realistic understanding of what this state looks like.
Recent research looks at ways to improve the ability of humans and carnivores to co-exist, which is crucial to carnivore conservation efforts around the world. Based on studies in areas as diverse as North America, Europe and Asia on species such as wolves, tigers, leopards, lynx and bears, researchers note that large carnivores need larger ranges than many protected areas afford. This means that carnivores often come in contact with human populations that are sometimes less than welcoming.
What actions could help mitigate the negative impacts of these contacts, allowing both humans and carnivores to more peacefully coexist in shared landscapes? Scientists suggest that mutual adaptations are key to success. Not only do wild animals have to behaviorally adapt to the presence of humans, but humans also have to adapt their behavior to the presence of wild animals.
Studies have shown that many species of large carnivores show an incredible ability to occupy heavily modified human-dominated landscapes. Many human societies also show a wide range of adaptations to the proximity of large carnivores. This includes changes to the way they farm and the adoption of cultural or religious practices to "negotiate" their relationship with their wild neighbors.
However, in many areas these adaptations have been lost, either due to a temporary absence of large carnivores or in the face of changing social-economic situations. The result is often severe conflicts of both an economic and social nature. Realizing the necessity of adaptation by both humans and the carnivores is a key first step towards transforming conflict to coexistence. Conservation efforts that fail to focus on both halves of the equation are doomed to fail.
A factor for success has to do with recognizing that a state of coexistence does not involve an idealized absence of conflict. Rather than trying to eliminate all risk, which can mean eliminating a species, we must explore ways to keep risks below tolerable levels. That involves understanding what factors influence tolerance.
While some communities may not tolerate any risks from carnivores, others may tolerate high risks because they attribute carnivores with ecological and cultural benefits that exceed those risks. In many communities, the priorities of various stakeholder groups are still sometimes at odds, and there is a reduced trust in authorities. Interventions such as new policies must take into account local concerns such as the adoption of novel decision-making strategies that give voice to varying viewpoints.
The challenges are surmountable through the help of community leaders, conservation organizations, and state or federal agencies. Insights from studies on coexistence can help reconcile debates about carnivore conservation in shared landscapes and advance broader discourses in conservation such as those related to rewilding, novel ecosystems, and land-sharing vs. land-sparing.
In many ways, large carnivores represent the ultimate test for human willingness to make space for wildlife on a shared planet. If it is possible to find ways to coexist with these species, it should be possible to coexist with any species.
Descendants of monkeys found in Africa and Arabia, gorillas are herbivorous apes found only in the African continent. There are two broad species of this African animal. One is the Eastern gorilla and the other the Western gorilla. The Eastern gorilla has two subspecies. The Western gorilla also has two subspecies. All gorilla species are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Gorilla populations have been greatly reduced by habitat loss, disease and poaching. Protecting gorilla populations has proved difficult due to the vast dense areas in which they live. Conservation efforts by governmental and non governmental organizations are desperately trying to save gorillas from extinction.
The Eastern Lowland gorilla, or Grauer's gorilla, is mostly found on the plains and lower slopes of the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa. This habitat area of the ape entirely falls in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This huge, hairy ape, with a shiny black coat, can measure up to 5 feet-6 inches while standing to its full height. They weigh as much as 550 lbs or 250 kilograms. The population of this subspecies has been reduced from around 5,000 in 2004 to only 3,800 .
The mountain gorillas are an endangered species exclusively dwelling in the Rwandan half of the Virunga volcanic mountains at altitudes of 7,000 to 14,000 feet. Like their Eastern lowland cousins, they have jet black hair but with a slight bluish tinge. While standing totally erect, the mountain gorilla is an impressive sight. Reaching a height of 6 feet-2 inches, it has an enormous arm span of 8 feet-6 inches and can weigh almost 500 lbs. There are only 880 of this sub-species left. Mountain gorillas were popularized by the film "Gorillas of the Mist" that portrayed the life of Diane Fossey, who spent two intrepid decades in the Rwandan mountains studying and fighting for the preservation of the apes.
For the mountain gorillas, major threats come from forest clearance and degradation as poor Rwandans desperately try to eke out a living. Clearing out land for agriculture and deforestation for firewood also puts a lot of pressure on the natural resources of the region and eventually on the habitat of these rare apes.
The Western lowland gorilla's habitat spans plains, forests and swamps of countries like Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, DRC, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. They are smaller in size to the Eastern gorillas and have longer black hair covering almost their entire body. They number almost 125,000 and are inhumanely kept captive in zoos all over the world for human entertainment and profit.
The Cross River gorilla is a species found essentially in the Cross-Niger transition forests on the western half of the Cross River flowing into South-western Nigeria. Most of these hilly forests fall in Cameroon. They are a distinctive sub-species with short body hair and shorter skulls, smaller palates and smaller cranial vaults compared to the Western lowland gorillas.
The Western gorillas, that inhabit as many as 11 countries of Western Africa, are under threat from logging, hunting, disease and even trigger-happy militia. They often come into direct confrontation with man. Many of them are killed for their meat by impoverished and hungry tribesmen. Apes can be seen as a nuisance, too. Forced to move away from a shrinking habitat, the animals raid crops. A single group of gorillas can easily destroy an entire harvest. Villagers feel they have no recourse but to kill the animals. Only 250 to 300 of these creatures are left, making them one of the most endangered animals on the planet.
Threats To Gorillas
The greatest threat to gorillas is human poverty. They inhabit countries which are among the poorest in the world but with a high density of human population.
Being closely related to the humans anatomically, apes are susceptible to disease as much as man. Not just from poachers and militia groups, but exposure to well-meaning humans like tourists, conservationists, scientists, rangers and local communities poses a threat. Gorillas have been known to succumb to skin diseases and respiratory disorders. Outbreaks of Ebola can take many more gorilla lives than humans.
Poaching of infant mountain gorillas to cater to the illicit animal trade became a common threat in the early 2000s. Civil unrest also took a toll on the apes. The Rwandan genocide of the 1990s, and the Angolan wars of the 1980s, had an unsettling effect on the movement and habitat of gorillas. Large movements of refugees fleeing unrest, debris left behind by them, and warring militias posed major threats.
Weak local governments, virtual absence of forest regulations or conservation policies, and impoverished and disenchanted local communities all pose serious challenges to the survival of the apes.
The only ray of hope for saving gorillas from extinction is conservation. A gradual rise in the population of mountain gorillas has taken place thanks to conservation programs. From the lowest point in 1980 when its numbers were just 254, it has now grown to 880.
Similar efforts in the Campo Ma’an National Park in Cameroon and Cross River National Park of Nigeria has held some hope for the tiny population of Cross-river gorillas dwelling there. Recent surveys show that the counts for these apes have not gone below the 300 mark.
But applying conservation measures to the lowland gorillas will be far more challenging given their wider habitat coverage. Efforts must be made to save the apes before it's too late.
More than half the world’s sea turtles have ingested plastic or other human rubbish. Recent research indicates that approximately 52 percent of turtles world-wide have eaten debris.
Threats to marine turtle species come from an estimated four million to 12 million tons of plastic which enter the oceans annually. Plastic ingestion can kill turtles by blocking the gut or piercing the gut wall, and can cause other problems through the release of toxic chemicals into the animals’ tissues.
Plastics and other litter that enter marine environments are mistaken for food or eaten accidentally by turtles and other wildlife. Olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) are at the highest risk, due to their feeding behavior and distribution. Olive ridley turtles commonly eat jellyfish and other floating animals, and often feed in the open ocean, where debris accumulates.
The east coasts of Australia and North America, Southeast Asia, southern Africa, and Hawaii are particularly dangerous for turtles due to a combination of debris loads and high species diversity.
Other reptiles, aquatic mammals and fish are common victims of ocean litter. Seabirds are especially high risk for for marine debris. A study discovered that more than 60 percent of seabird species had ingested debris, and that number is expected to reach 99 percent by 2050.
Coal is our most abundant “fossil fuel”. China is now the chief coal producer, followed by the United States. Other major coal producers are Australia and India. Five countries – China, the United States, India, Japan and Russia – account for more than 75% of worldwide coal consumption.
The US has more coal than the rest of the world has oil. There is still enough coal underground in the United States alone to provide energy for the next 200 to 300 years. But coal is far from a perfect fuel. Trapped inside coal are traces of impurities like sulfur and nitrogen. When coal burns, these impurities are released into the air.
While floating in the air, these substances can combine with water vapor (for example, in clouds) and form droplets that fall to earth as weak forms of sulfuric and nitric acid – scientists call it “acid rain.” There are also tiny specks of minerals, including common dirt, mixed in coal. These tiny particles don't burn and make up the ash left behind in a coal combustor. Some of the tiny particles also get caught up in the swirling combustion gases and, along with water vapor, form the smoke that comes out of a coal plant's smokestack.
Also, coal, like all fossil fuels, is formed out of carbon. All living things, even people, are made up of carbon. But when coal burns, its carbon combines with oxygen in the air and forms carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless gas, but in the atmosphere, it is one of several gases that can trap the Earth's heat. Many scientists believe this is causing the Earth's temperature to rise, and this warming could be altering the Earth's climate.
Threats To Wildlife From Coal Mining
Surface mining of coal is the method resorted to by the industry when coal deposits are found just below the Earth's surface. This happens to be the most used mining methodology of coal world over and has a direct and negative effect on ecosystems, environment and wildlife of places where such activity is carried out.
Excavation of the soil and heaping of spoils damages the Earth's surface beyond repair and causes decimation and displacement of wildlife species. It's worse for sedentary species like reptiles, small mammals, beavers and burrowing rodents, all of whose primary habitat is the Earth's surface.
Pollution of aquatic habitats is another outcome of surface mining for coal. Wastes and chemicals from it trickle and seep into streams, rivers and underground water-bodies. As a result, effects are manifested in places that are far away from mining sites. Most damaging are the kinds of chemicals pumped into the ground through pipes – mercury, methyl-mercury, cyanide and arsenic.
Mercury contamination is one of the most detrimental outcomes of coal mining. In the North-east mountain ranges of the US, it's been known to contaminate fresh-water lakes and in turn affect fish and fish-eating birds while damaging their neurological and reproductive systems. Studies show that 92 species from 11 North-Eastern states from Maine to Virginia are vulnerable to mercury contamination.
The wetlands that support a vast array of bird-life are especially open to one of the worst forms of pollution – methyl-mercury poisoning. Air pollution arising out of coal mining can quickly acidify water bodies. It hastens the process by which bacteria convert inorganic mercury from coal into organic methyl-mercury. Bogs, coastal marshes, beaver ponds, foggy mountaintops and forest floors are all absorbers of methyl-mercury. From such wetlands, it permeates into terrestrial grounds and this can corrupt an entire food web. Biomagnification takes over, and with each step of the food chain concentrations of mercury rise. This happens when creatures in these wet habitats feed on plant debris containing mercury, allowing it to enter terrestrial food sources. Rusty blackbirds and Saltmarsh sparrows have shown the highest levels of mercury contamination. Mercury poisoning of Virginia water-bodies threaten to hamper the Saltmarsh sparrow's ability to choose safe nesting sites.
Small traces of methyl-mercury, that were previously ignored as being harmful, have now revealed the adverse effects it can have on reproduction of species. Just a minuscule amount of 1.2 parts per million of methyl-mercury found in the blood of the Carolina wren have accounted for a 20 percent drop in their reproductive capacities. The wrens are scavengers and glean the forest floors for spiders, which too are contaminated.
Most surprising is the case of the tiny Dome Island in the middle of the pristine Lake George in the uplands of New York State. This untouched 16-acre island in the Adirondack region is considered to be a conservation gem and is home to species of songbirds like the red-eyed vireos, black-capped chickadees and song sparrows that flutter among ancient cedars, beech, hickory and oak. Shockingly, these birds have revealed the highest concentrations of mercury in the North-east region. They are victims of airborne mercury pollution. Almost 50 tons of neurotoxins are belched into the atmosphere annually by coal-based power plants in the US. This “atmospheric deposition” of mercury is a global hazard, but is more pronounced in the bio-diversity rich hotspots that lie downwind to coal-burning epicenters of Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
Wanton mining practices elsewhere in the world have results in coal fires that can burn for decades, as in the case of numerous mines in Eastern India. It releases fly ash into the atmosphere, along with smoke full of toxic chemicals and greenhouse gasses. Coal mine methane, a greenhouse gas emitted by mining of the mineral, is 20 times more toxic than carbon dioxide.
In China, even though 95 percent of the mines are underground, the threat of a methane outburst always looms.
Other problems that have environmental consequences are coal storage piles or waste piles. These afflict countries like China, Russia, the US, Indonesia, Australia and South Africa in a considerable way.
The biggest threat to the environment comes from countries with huge reserves of coal. A fear for these countries is there could be alternative sources of energy in the future that could replace a fossil-fuel like coal. So the idea of mining and finishing whatever stocks of coal remain before such a replacement happens weighs heavily on the minds of policy makers. Hence the near-frenetic activity in coal mining in places like India and China. Also, both depend heavily on this mineral to make-up for the huge shortfall in oil to meet their ever-growing energy needs.
Coal Impact On Climate
Coal is an abundant fuel source that is relatively inexpensive to produce and convert to useful energy. However, producing and using coal impacts the environment.
Climate change is one of the greatest environmental challenges we face. Climate impacts affect the entire planet. Unchecked carbon pollution leads to long-lasting changes in our climate, such as rising global temperatures; rising sea level; changes in weather and precipitation patterns; and changes in ecosystems, habitats and species diversity. These changes threaten human and wildlife health and welfare.
Environmental risks include more heat waves and drought; worsening smog (also called ground-level ozone pollution); increasing the intensity of extreme events, like hurricanes, extreme precipitation and flooding; and increasing the range of ticks and mosquitoes, which can spread disease such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus.
Overwhelmingly, the best scientists in the world are telling us that our activities are causing climate change – based on troves of data and millions of measurements collected over the course of decades on land, in air and water, at sea and from space.
Emissions From Burning Coal
Most of the coal consumed is used as a fuel to generate electricity. Burning coal produces emissions that adversely affect the environment and human health.
There are several principal emissions resulting from coal combustion:
Sulfur dioxide (SO2), which contributes to acid rain and respiratory illnesses
Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to smog and respiratory illnesses
Particulates, which contribute to smog, haze, and respiratory illnesses and lung disease
Carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the primary greenhouse gas emission produced from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas)
Mercury and other heavy metals, which have been linked to both neurological and developmental damage in humans and other animals
Fly ash and bottom ash, which are residues created when coal is burned at power plants. Fly ash is generally stored near power plants or placed in landfills. Pollution leaching from ash storage and landfills into groundwater and the rupture of several large impoundments of ash are environmental concerns.
Coal And Water
Coal not only pollutes our skies and fuels climate change, it also deprives us of our most precious resources: water. The world’s rapidly dwindling freshwater resources could be further depleted if plans for hundreds of new coal power plants worldwide go ahead, threatening severe drought and competition.
If all the current proposed coal plants are allowed to be built, the water consumed by coal power plants around the world would almost double. Globally, coal power plant units already consume enough water to meet the basic water needs of 1 billion people. A quarter of the proposed new coal plants are planned in regions already running a freshwater deficit, where water is used faster than it is naturally replenishing.
Coal is one of the most water-intensive methods of generating electricity. According to the International Energy Agency, coal will account for 50% of the growth in global water consumption for power generation over the next 20 years. Research shows that if the proposed coal plants come online, their consumption of water will increase by 90%.
Public Lands Mismanaged
America has more coal than any other fossil fuel resource. The United States also has more coal reserves than any other single country in the world. In fact, just over 1/4 of all the known coal in the world is in the US. The United States has more coal that can be mined than the rest of the world has oil that can be pumped from the ground. Currently, coal is mined in 26 of the 50 states.
The Bureau Of Land Management (BLM) has responsibility for coal leasing on approximately 570 million acres where the coal mineral estate is owned by the Federal Government. The surface estate of these lands could be controlled by BLM, the United States Forest Service, private land owners, state land owners, or other Federal agencies. BLM receives revenues on coal leasing at three points: a bonus paid at the time BLM issues the lease; an annual rental payment of $3.00 per acre or fraction thereof; and royalties paid on the value of the coal after it has been mined. The Department of the Interior and the state where the coal was mined share the revenues.
Surface mines (sometimes called strip mines) are the source of about 65% of the coal that is mined in the US. These mining operations remove the soil and rock above coal deposits, or seams. Mountaintop removal and valley fill mining has affected large areas of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and Kentucky. In this form of coal extraction, the tops of mountains are removed using explosives. As a result of this technique, the landscape is changed, and streams may be covered with rock and dirt. The water draining from these filled valleys may contain pollutants that can harm aquatic wildlife downstream. Although mountaintop mining has existed since the 1970s, its use became more widespread and controversial beginning in the 1990s.
Underground mines have less of an impact on the environment compared to surface mines. The largest impact of underground mining may be the methane gas that must be vented out of mines to make the mines a safe place to work. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas, meaning that on an equal-weight basis its global warming potential is much higher than other greenhouse gases. Surface mines contributed about 2% of total US methane emissions. The ground above mine tunnels can also collapse, and acidic water can drain from abandoned underground mines.
Using public lands for coal mining poses a significant threat to natural heritage. Coal mining dramatically alters the landscape, destroys wildlife habitat, causes erosion, and leads to the deterioration of drinking water.
Time For Changes
The ecological devastation from coal activities is disturbing. Action needs to be taken. Innovative technologies for improved mining and processing must be a priority to respond better to global environmental challenges, while governments and private sectors need to shift to alternative energy sources.
Human impact continues to have a devastating effect on the natural world, with wildlife species across the globe under threat from poaching, hunting and the consequences of climate change. Recent studies indicate that 59 percent of the world's largest carnivores and sixty percent of the largest herbivores are currently threatened with extinction.
Scores of species across the globe, including tigers, lions and rhinos, are at risk of extinction due to a plethora of threats imposed by mankind. We will lose many of these incredible species unless swift, decisive and collective action is taken by the global community.
Every country should strive to do more to protect its wildlife, but the richest countries, who can afford to do the most, are not doing enough. Less affluent countries are more committed to conservation of their large animals than richer ones. In comparison to the more affluent, developed world, biodiversity is a higher priority in poorer areas such as the African nations, which contribute more to conservation than any other region.
Researchers from Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) have created a Mega-Fauna Conservation Index (MCI) of 152 nations to evaluate their conservation footprint. The benchmarking system evaluates three key measures: a) the proportion of the country occupied by each mega-fauna species that survives in the country (countries with more species covering a higher proportion of the country scoring higher); b) the proportion of mega-fauna species range that is protected (higher proportions score higher); c) and the amount of money spent on conservation - either domestically or internationally, relative to GDP.
The findings show that poorer countries tend to take a more active approach to biodiversity protection than richer nations. Ninety percent of countries in North and Central America and 70 percent of countries in Africa are classified as major or above-average in their mega-fauna conservation efforts.
Despite facing a number of domestic challenges, such as poverty and political instability in many parts of the continent, Africa prioritizes wildlife preservation and contributes more to conservation than any other region of the world. African countries make up four of the five top-performing mega-fauna conservation nations, with Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe topping the list. By contrast, the United States ranks nineteenth out of the twenty performing countries. Approximately one-quarter of countries in Asia and Europe are identified as significantly underperforming in their commitment to mega-fauna conservation.
Mega-fauna species are associated with strong 'existence values', where just knowing that large wild animals exist makes people feel happier. In some cases, such as the African nations, this link explains why some countries are more concerned with conservation than others. Larger mammal species like wild cats, gorillas and elephants play a key role in ecological processes as well as tourism industries, which are an economic lifeline in poorer regions.
The conservation index is intended as a call to action for the world to acknowledge its responsibility to wildlife protection. By highlighting the disparity in each nations' contributions it hopes to see increased efforts and renewed commitment to biodiversity preservation.
There are three ways countries can improve their MCI scores:
They can 're-wild' their landscapes by reintroducing mega-fauna and/or by allowing the distribution of such species to increase;
They can set aside more land as strictly protected areas;
And they can invest more in conservation, either at home or abroad.
Some of the poorest countries in the world are making the biggest investments in a global asset and should be congratulated. Some of the richest nations just aren't doing enough.
Strategies for preserving tropical forests can operate on local to international scales. On a local scale, governments and non-governmental organizations are working with forest communities to encourage low-impact agricultural activities, such as shade farming, as well as the sustainable harvesting of non-wood forest products such as rubber, cork, produce, or medicinal plants. Parks and protected areas that draw tourists—ecotourism—can provide employment and educational opportunities for local people as well as creating or stimulating related service-sector economies.
On the national scale, tropical countries must integrate existing research on human impacts on tropical ecosystems into national land use and economic development plans. For tropical forests to survive, governments must develop realistic scenarios for future deforestation that take into account what scientists already know about the causes and consequences of deforestation, including the unintended deforestation that results from road-building, accidental fire, selective logging, and economic development incentives such as timber concessions and agricultural subsidies.
Scientists are encouraging the conservation community to re-consider the belief that vast, pristine parks and protected areas are the holy grail of forest conservation. Scientists using satellite and ground-based data in the Amazon demonstrated that far less “unfettered” deforestation occurred in recent decades within territories occupied and managed by indigenous people than occurred in parks and other protected areas. The deforestation in the protected areas resulted from a combination of illegal logging and devastating fires that raged through logging-damaged forests during drought. While some might argue that these losses could be prevented in the future through better enforcement of environmental laws, it may also be true that inhabited forest reserves are a more realistic strategy for preserving the majority of biodiversity in larger areas than parks alone can accomplish.
Finally, on the national and international scale, an increasing value in the global marketplace for products that are certified as sustainably produced or harvested—timber, coffee, soy—may provide incentives for landowners to adopt more forest-friendly practices, and for regional and national governments to create and enforce forest-preservation policies. Direct payments to tropical countries for the ecosystem services that intact tropical forest provide, particularly for carbon storage to offset greenhouse gas emissions, are likely to become an important international mechanism for sustaining tropical forests as more countries begin to seriously tackle the problem of global warming.
Approximately one-third of the Earth's land surface is desert, arid land with meager rainfall that supports only sparse vegetation and a limited population of people and animals. Deserts stark, sometimes mysterious worlds have been portrayed as fascinating environments of adventure and exploration from narratives such as that of Lawrence of Arabia to movies such as "Dune." These arid regions are called deserts because they are dry. They may be hot, they may be cold. They may be regions of sand or vast areas of rocks and gravel peppered with occasional plants. But deserts are always dry.
Deserts are natural laboratories in which to study the interactions of wind and sometimes water on the arid surfaces of planets. They contain valuable mineral deposits that were formed in the arid environment or that were exposed by erosion. Because deserts are dry, they are ideal places for human artifacts and fossils to be preserved.
Deserts are also fragile environments. The misuse of these lands is a serious and growing problem in parts of our world.
There are almost as many definitions of deserts and classification systems as there are deserts in the world. Most classifications rely on some combination of the number of days of rainfall, the total amount of annual rainfall, temperature, humidity, or other factors. In 1953, Peveril Meigs divided desert regions on Earth into three categories according to the amount of precipitation they received. In this now widely accepted system, extremely arid lands have at least 12 consecutive months without rainfall, arid lands have less than 250 millimeters of annual rainfall, and semiarid lands have a mean annual precipitation of between 250 and 500 millimeters. Arid and extremely arid land are deserts, and semiarid grasslands generally are referred to as steppes.
How The Atmosphere Influences Aridity
We live at the bottom of a gaseous envelope since the atmosphere is bound gravitationally to the planet. The circulation of our atmosphere is a complex process because of the Earth's rotation and the tilt of its axis. The Earth's axis is inclined 231/2° from the ecliptic, the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. Due to this inclination, vertical rays of the sun strike 231/2° N. latitude, the Tropic of Cancer, at summer solstice in late June. At winter solstice, the vertical rays strike 23 1/2° S. latitude, the Tropic of Capricorn.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice day has the most daylight hours, and the winter solstice has the fewest daylight hours each year. The tilt of the axis allows differential heating of the Earth's surface, which causes seasonal changes in the global circulation. On a planetary scale, the circulation of air between the hot Equator and the cold North and South Poles creates pressure belts that influence the weather. Most of the nonpolar deserts lie within the two trade winds belts. Air warmed by the sun rises at the Equator, cools as it moves toward the poles, descends as cold air over the poles, and warms again as it moves over the surface of the Earth toward the Equator.
This simple pattern of atmospheric convection, however, is complicated by the rotation of the Earth, which introduces the Coriolis Effect. To appreciate the origin of this effect, consider the following. A stick placed vertically in the ground at the North Pole would simply turn around as the Earth rotates. A stick at the Equator would move in a large circle of almost 40,000 kilometers with the Earth as it rotates.
The Coriolis Effect illustrates Newton's first law of motion: a body in motion will maintain its speed and direction of motion unless acted on by some outside force. Thus, a wind traveling north from the equator will maintain the velocity acquired at the equator while the Earth under it is moving slower. This effect accounts for the generally east-west direction of winds, or streams of air, on the Earth's surface. Winds blow between areas of different atmospheric pressures. The Coriolis Effect influences the circulation pattern of the Earth's atmosphere. In the zone between about 30° N. and 30° S., the surface air flows toward the Equator and the flow aloft is poleward. A low-pressure area of calm, light variable winds near the equator is known to mariners as the doldrums.
Around 30° N. and S., the poleward flowing air begins to descend toward the surface in subtropical high-pressure belts. The sinking air is relatively dry because its moisture has already been released near the Equator above the tropical rain forests. Near the center of this high-pressure zone of descending air, called the "Horse Latitudes," the winds at the surface are weak and variable. The name for this area is believed to have been given by colonial, sailors, who, becalmed sometimes at these latitudes while crossing the oceans with horses as cargo, were forced to throw a few horses overboard to conserve water.
The surface air that flows from these subtropical high-pressure belts toward the Equator is deflected toward the west in both hemispheres by the Coriolis Effect. Because winds are named for the direction from which the wind is blowing, these winds are called the northeast trade winds in the Northern Hemisphere and the southeast trade winds in the Southern Hemisphere. The trade winds meet at the doldrums. Surface winds known as "westerlies" flow from the Horse Latitudes toward the poles. The "westerlies" meet "easterlies" from the polar highs at about 50-60° N. and S. Near the ground, wind direction is affected by friction and by changes in topography. Winds may be seasonal, sporadic, or daily. They range from gentle breezes to violent gusts at speeds greater than 300 kilometers/hour.
Where Deserts Form
Dry areas created by global circulation patterns contain most of the deserts on the Earth. The deserts of our world are not restricted by latitude, longitude, or elevation. They occur from areas close to the poles down to areas near the Equator. The People's Republic of China has both the highest desert, the Qaidam Depression that is 2,600 meters above sea level, and one of the lowest deserts, the Turpan Depression that is 150 meters below sea level.
Deserts are not confined to Earth. The atmospheric circulation patterns of other terrestrial planets with gaseous envelopes also depend on the rotation of those planets, the tilts of their axes, their distances from the sun, and the composition and density of their atmospheres. Except for the poles, the entire surface of Mars is a desert. Venus also may support deserts.
Wilderness or wildlands are natural places on our planet that have not been significantly modified by humans. These last, truly wild places that have not been developed with industry, roads, buildings and houses are critical for the survival of many plant and animal species. They also provide humans with educational and recreational opportunities, and are deeply valued for aesthetic, cultural, moral and spiritual reasons.
Some wildlands are protected, preserving natural areas for humans, animals, flora and fauna. Others are dissapearing at alarming rates, and simply drawing lines around specific areas is not enough. All of our planet is intricately connected. What happens outside a specific wilderness area affects what happens inside it.
Many wildlife habitats have become fragmented due to human development. Without the protection of vast expanses of wildlands to meet the minimum requirements of the largest, most widely roaming members of the ecosystem, they may dwindle or vanish forever. The loss of any species effects the entire ecosystem.
Biomes, or ecosystems, are large regions of the planet with shared characteristics such as climate, soils, plants and animals. Climate is an important factor that shapes the nature of an ecosystem, as well as precipitation, humidity, elevation, topography and latitude.
The five major biomes include aquatic, desert, forest, grassland and tundra biomes. Each biome also includes numerous types of sub-habitats.
By protecting and preserving ecosystems, we protect and preserve plant and animal species...including our own species.
A habitat consists of the ecosystem or environment in which an animal, plant or other living organism has lived and evolved over a considerable period of time. A habitat provides all the necessary ingredients they need to survive - food, water, shelter, the right temperatures, resources to ward off possible predators, and the right environs for reproduction and avoiding disease.
Without a habitat, a creature is virtually homeless and faces certain death. The habitat is a complete and intricate network of dependability provided to a species or many species by nature. A decimation of a habitat could spell doom for the biodiversity thriving in it, be it animals, insects, plants and other organisms.
Causes Of Loss Of Habitat
Causes of habitat loss can be natural factors like climate changes or catastrophes such as flooding, earthquakes, storms, volcanoes or other geological changes. Habitat loss can also be man-made. Excessive exploitation and destruction of natural resources through logging, fishing, mining, oil and gas exploration, development, road construction, animal agriculture, callous disposal of industrial waste and the introduction of unwanted species all contribute in depleting or destroying the richness of habitats.
Fragmentation and alteration of natural habitats are also serious threats to ecostystems.
Habitat Loss And Endangered Species
85 percent of species on the IUCN's Red List are considered truly threatened by loss of their habitats. For endemic species, the ones that are only to be found in one particular kind of habitat uniquely suited to its survival, the challenge to ward off extinction is truly serious. When an endemic species' habitat is destroyed, it has no other ecosystem to fallback on like generalized species. In absence of a suitable habitat, death becomes imminent.
Habitats of many species could cover large areas and overlap. But for species with extremely low populations, habitats are specialized and small, making them susceptible to extinction. In the event of catastrophes, the genetic limitations of a threatened species make it almost impossible to survive. The lack of genetic diversity among critically endangered species also breeds reproductive failure.
Tools used to measure habitat size are more scaled towards those with large contiguous areas than smaller ones. In the 1970s and 1980s, the debate over whether a single large or several small reserves was the answer to optimum conversation ultimately saw the emergence of the former theory as the accepted premise that large-sized habitats proved better survival grounds than smaller habitats. Bigger habitats act as buffers to human disruptions and also facilitates migration and food gathering.
Presently, conservation efforts are dictated by the habitat condition or status of an endangered species. Certain delicate ecosystems and bio-diversities warrant conservation endeavors to such a degree that they fall under the category of biodiversity "hotspots". Endemic wildlife and near-extinction species harbored by such ecosystems are the focus of intense conservation efforts. Much of the risk comes from human encroachment.
Nearly 34 places of the world have been identified as biodiversity hotspots. These cover almost 2.3 percent of the earth's surface, but have lost almost 70 percent of their original vegetation. Endemic to these hotspots are an astonishing 50 percent of the world's plant species, and 42 percent of animal species. Efforts to preserve such biodiversity zones are at the forefront of conservation endeavors.
But while around 98% of the Earth has less species diversity, these ecosystems need just as much help as areas with lots of biodiversity. In fact, some biodiversity "coldspots" are home to very rare plants and animals. Protecting these areas before too much destruction occurs prevents us from having to work backwards.
Like most endangered creatures, the giant panda has had to bear the brunt of man's frantic quest for development. No place embodies this phenomena more starkly than China, of which this furry animal is a native. The panda population in the plains of China have completely vanished over the millennia, and the only giant pandas remaining are those found in the Qinling Mountains of the Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces of Central China. These rain-soaked forests are at elevations from 5,000 to 8,000 feet and are generally covered in clouds and mist.
An adult male panda can weigh over 350 lbs, the female 275 lbs, and measure from 2 to 3 feet in height up to its shoulders. With its huge round white-colored body, two black patches around the eyes, black ears and stout black legs, the panda looks very much like an over-bloated raccoon.
The breeding age of the pandas starts from about 4 to 8 years and remains reproductive up to the age of 20. The female gives birth between 95 to 150 days, and the panda cub is probably one of the most difficult creatures to raise. Almost blind, hairless and pink, the baby is 1/900th the size of its mother. The cubs remain without eyesight for a period of six to eight weeks and are just able to move around after three months.
Bird meat, rodents, carrion and grass form a part of the animal's diet, but these are secondary. Their primary diet is bamboo, which is available in plenty in the Qinling Mountains. The panda's huge round face is suggestive of a powerful set of jaws which itself is an adaption to a coarse diet such as the bamboo. The flowers of the bamboo have more nutrition than the stems. Re-flowering of the bamboos is a slow natural process and there is a fragile balance between it and the slow reproductive rate of the pandas – something that has evolved over a million years in these mountains.
Changes in climate threatens to upset this delicate balance. It presents a genuine threat to the habitat of the panda. A 3 to 4 degree rise in temperatures could easily wipe out half the bamboo forests and leave the panda starving. Scientists opine that owing to the serious damage to the ozone layer, a fallout of China's manic industrialization drive, temperatures could rise up to such a point that there would be none of these precious bamboo forests left after 50 to 100 years. While bamboo could be cultivated in other areas, it would have none of the nutritional value of the Qinling mountain bamboo. There's still plenty of bamboo being cultivated in China, but for the panda to move out of its habitat in search of its vital food will put it in direct confrontation with humans.
Poaching is another menace, and pandas have been captured over the years for exhibition in private zoos. Their pelts fetch a high price in the illegal wildlife trade. Giant pandas sometimes end up in traps laid for other animals and receive grievous injuries. The Chinese government has put in place strict penalties for panda poaching that entails a ten-year sentence and confiscation of property.
Authorities in the Shaanxi Province enacted a regional law in 2007 that marked the Qinling Mountains as a protected zone. The law also states that all development projects in the vicinity of the zone will be assessed for their impact on the ecology and bio-diversity of the region. The Natural Forest Protection Project, implemented by the Chinese Government, has gone a long way in securing a future for the pandas.
Despite these efforts, China has been criticized for showing little interest in true conservation. The Chinese government rents pandas to zoos around the world. Few pandas have been born in zoos, and only a handful of those have been released into the wild; the majority of which did not survive. The enormous amount of money spent on panda breeding programs has been criticized, as the money could be used much more effectively by saving wild habitats.
Zoo pandas suffer the same stresses all wild animals face in captivity. They are moved from zoo to zoo, usually more for political and economic reasons rather than genetic management. Their natural habitat can never be truly simulated, leading to changes in behavior, prolonged inactivity, health problems, stereotypical behavior and lower levels of immunity creating higher susceptibility to illness and disease.
Animal advocates argue that the pandas' welfare should be put above propaganda and profits; pandas should be put in refuges out of the public eye to eliminate the stress they endure due to such exposure.
Wildlife organizations have had an impact by establishing panda natural reserves and conservation programs. Integrating reserves with forest farms and bamboo corridors enable pandas to forage for more food and come into contact with new breeding mates.
A 17 percent rise in the panda population has been witnessed in the past decade. From a count of 1,596 individuals in 2003, it has risen to 1,864. Of these, though, 50 pandas are condemned to captivity in 18 zoos spanning 13 countries.
Around half of the planet's population now lives in a city. The move towards urban living has increased city sizes tremendously with an enormous impact on ecosystems. Once wild landscapes have been transformed into urban centers, changing animal habitats both inside and outside the areas.
Animals in these areas have had to adapt. They have learned to create new homes within their artificial environments. They have also discovered new food sources, including waste created by humans. Food chains of numerous species have been altered.
Urban areas range from fully urban with little green space and mostly covered by paving or buildings, to suburban areas with gardens and parks. Different types of urban areas support different kinds of wildlife. Some animals find shelter in city parks, trees and water sources. Some live inside the city; others just outside the urban habitat.
Insects, reptiles and rodents make nests inside buildings in small gaps and crevices to find shelter from the elements and protection from predators. Birds nest on buildings. Some animals live under homes and buildings. Some make homes in city sewer systems.
Animals have cleverly adapted to their changing world. Some city animals have become nocturnal, using city lights to aid in finding prey. Feral dogs have learned to use subway systems. Urban monkeys and penguins raid human homes to take food. Some steal fruit from vendors. Older deer learn to look both ways before crossing streets. Birds flock to city centers to snack on the food dropped in the streets.
Numerous threats for urban animals include traffic, litter, pollution, noise pollution, bright lighting and lack of space.
It is important to reserve space within urban environments for wildlife, and to conserve natural environments outside cities.