Humans dispose of trillions of tons of garbage every year. The average person in a developed country produces about 2.6 pounds of garbage every single day.
Landfills take in most of this garbage, while a substantial amount of litter finds its way into the natural environment. Tens of thousands of cans and bottles are thrown out of moving vehicles everyday. An enormous amounts of waste is left behind on beaches, parks and river banks. One clean-up drive alone along a US coastline collected over 3.5 million tons of garbage. A two-mile highway stretch of West Virginia yielded over 30,000 items of litter.
Imagine if that litter was being tossed into your home. For wildlife, this is the disturbing and dangerous reality of litter.
What is litter to us, unwittingly becomes food for hungry animals. This litter may seem useful to animals, but it is often harmful or deadly. Discarded foods are prone to quick contamination and the microorganisms that cause food poisoning can be fatal to animals.
Broken glass can cut the feet of wild animals, and unbroken bottles can be a death trap. Hungry animals in search of food remains at the bottom of a jar or can often get their heads stuck, causing fatal suffocation. Even the tiniest of creatures can be lured by something like a beer or soda can. The sharp edges of a discarded can can be a threat to such delicate creatures seeking shelter or a taste of what remains inside.
Highways have become deathbeds for many unwary animals foraging for food. Litter tossed out of car windows onto freeways attracts inquisitive deer, coyotes, raccoons and skunks. Foxes forage for garbage on our streets at night, followed by pigeons during the day feasting on the night's leftovers. In addition to the hazards posed by litter, these animals often suffer serious injuries or death from vehicle collisions.
Aquatic animals are among the worst affected by human litter. Trash tossed carelessly outside washes into storm drains and creeks, which empty into rivers that eventually flow to the oceans. Trash adversely affects the habitat of marine and other aquatic environments causing death and injury to seabirds, fish, marine mammals, turtles and countless other species through swallowing and entanglement. Fishing hooks are often injested by pelicans, turtles, seabirds and other aquatic creatures. Often, larger items like nets, fishing line, and abandoned crab pots snare or trap animals. Entanglement can lead to injury, illness, suffocation, starvation, and death. Seabirds suffer lead poisoning from ingesting small lead fishing weights. Seabirds have also moved inland to garbage dumps where they injest a variety of rubbish.
Plastic bags on the seafloor take 10 to 20 years to decompose. Plastic bottles take much longer. As a result, one piece can kill more than one animal. An animal killed by ingesting plastic will decompose long before the plastic, allowing the plastic to kill again.
Litter along our coastlines, much of it plastic, is often digested by seabirds, turtles and whales. Seagulls act as scavengers and consume litter from food leftovers on beaches. Serious consequences for these creatures include stomach and bowel damage, strangulation and death. Many more animals are ensnared by plastic six-pack holders.
Cigarette butt waste is not only unsightly, but when ingested may be hazardous to the health of animals. Cigarette butts are commonly discarded onto beaches, sidewalks, streets, parks and many other public places where domestic animals and wildlife may be exposed to risk of ingestion. When carelessly discarded, they are carried from storm sewers and beaches to streams, lakes and oceans. Sea creatures, birds and companion animals are indiscriminate eaters. Ingested cigarette butts can choke an animal or poison it with toxins. Animals may not be able to regurgitate such items, with some acquiring gastrointestinal bezoars that can lead to a false sense of satiation and subsequent under-nutrition.
Balloons are great at birthdays, weddings, graduations and more, but once they get loose, balloons can pose a threat to many animals. Birds, turtles and other wildlife commonly mistake balloons for food, which can harm or kill them. In addition, many animals become entangled in balloon strings, which can injury or even strangle them.
Attitudes towards litter management seem to be shifting towards the positive, albeit slowly. Landfills, the biggest receivers of garbage, have made some progress concerning the protection of wildlife. Improving package design and construction can reduce needless waste and render them less harmful to animals. But real change has to come from individuals. Recycling techniques adopted domestically can reduce outflow of litter from homes dramatically. Education on basic rudiments of garbage management and disposal at the domestic level can indeed go a long way in mitigating the threat to animals foraging for litter.
At the root of this growing hunger for trash lies the shrinking natural habitat of animals affected by unwarranted development. In the human quest for faster progress, the environment is the biggest casualty and animals are the victims. It is our responsibility to save animals from the hazards we have created. With the mountain of garbage being added daily to the earth's surface and seas by our teeming billions, a huge challenge faces us into the future.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Fighting the litter problem begins at home.
- Cut back on the amount of trash you produce.
- Opt for reusable items instead of single-use products.
- Recycle as much of your trash as you can.
- Join local efforts to pick up trash.
- Keep streets, sidewalks, parking lots, and storm drains free of trash.
- Don’t litter. Common litter includes plastic bags, paper, candy wrappers, fast-food packaging, bottle caps, glass bottles, plastic six-pack rings and plastic straws.
- Spend one hour picking up litter. Organize a team of family, friends, or co-workers to pick up litter in your local neighborhood, wildlife refuge or park. Enjoy making a difference, getting exercise, getting to know people better and having cleaner surroundings.
- Don't host balloon releases. Encourage others to substitute balloons for other, more ecologically responsible, party favors.
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.
Greenwashing is hiding harmful activities behind the guise of environmentalism and conservation. It's a tactic many corporations and organizations use to manipulate and deceive the public.
A clean, safe and healthy environment is important, and everyone wants to see it protected. With this goal, many people donate millions of dollars each year to organizations that say they are working to protect the environment and wildlife. Many people also buy products that they believe to be animal and environmentally friendly. But how much do we really know about these organizations, companies and products? For example, do their campaigns demand a ban on toxic chemicals or take the bureaucratic route and call for more testing? Are they concerned about protecting animals as well as people, or do they at least ensure that their activities do not harm animals?
Many generous contributors are shocked to learn that some "environmental" and "conservation" groups use people's donations to support activities that are extremely harmful to the earth and animals and accomplish little or nothing to protect the environment. Some organizations support and even promote the poisoning of animals to test pesticides and other chemicals already known to be toxic. In fact, several well-known environmental groups are directly responsible for the creation of what have become the most massive animal-testing programs in history.
For example, despite killing hundreds of thousands of animals in cruel chemical toxicity tests, the EPA has not banned a single toxic industrial chemical in more than 10 years using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The chemical industry has long approved of the EPA's near-exclusive reliance on animal tests because their results are easily manipulated. In addition, required testing means that a company's products are safe from regulation for years while the products are tested and retested on animals. And, after decades of practice, industry representatives have perfected the art of arguing both sides of the animal-testing issue.
Here's how they do it: If a chemical is shown to cause cancer or other harmful effects in animals, industry representatives claim that the results aren't applicable to humans. At the same time, company officials happily display the results of EPA-required studies that suggest that their chemicals are not harmful. In these cases, companies laud the predictability of animal-testing and claim that their products are safe for humans. This is exactly what happened with cigarettes for more than 20 years, as industry scientists claimed that tobacco was safe for humans because animal tests, many of which involved cutting holes in the throats of dogs and forcing them to inhale cigarette smoke, did not cause cancer in animals.
The EPA's addiction to animal testing is so pervasive that even when evidence from human population studies implicates a chemical, the results are ignored by the EPA for the sake of conducting more and more animal studies. For years, population studies have shown that arsenic in drinking water causes cancer in humans. Yet the EPA dragged its feet for more than 20 years while thousands of animals were killed in tests that attempted to reproduce the effects already seen in humans.
The matter is made worse by the fact that the EPA refuses to subject animal-based test methods to the same level of scientific validation to determine their reliability and relevance to humans that all non-animal test methods must meet before they are accepted and used. The results of nonvalidated animal tests are scientifically useless as a basis upon which to regulate dangerous chemicals. So, the EPA's animal-testing programs do not protect either people or the environment, despite causing enormous animal suffering. Yet some environmental groups continue to call for ever-more animal-testing and defend every animal test, no matter how cruel or irrelevant.
Many companies and organizations spend more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. Research products and companies before making purchases. If you are a member of, or donate money to environmental or conservation groups, be sure to inquire that your donations are not being used to support greenwashing activities that harm animals and the environment.
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.
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.
Forest biomes are dominated by trees and extend over one-third of the earth's land surface. There are three main types of forests—temperate, tropical and boreal. Each type has a different assortment of animals, climate characteristics and species compositions.
● Temperate forests are in temperate regions of the earth including North America, Europe and Asia. They have four well-defined seasons and a growing season between 140 and 200 days. Rainfall takes place throughout the year and soils are nutrient-rich.
● Tropical forests are located in equatorial regions between 23.5°N and 23.5°S latitude. They experience two seasons, a dry season and a rainy season. The length of each day varies little throughout the year. Soils in tropical forests are nutrient-poor and acidic.
● Boreal forests make up the largest terrestrial habitat. They are a band of coniferous forests located in the high northern latitudes between about 50°N and 70°N. Boreal forests create a circumpolar band of habitat from Canada, to northern Europe, to eastern Russia. They are bordered by tundra habitat to the north and temperate forest habitat to the south.
Some of the wildlife that inhabit the forest biome include deer, bears, wolves, moose, caribou, gorillas, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, reptiles and insects.
Temperate forests are found in a wide range of climates and are some of the richest habitats earth. Temperate forests are home to a variety of plants and animals. Some live within them year-round, while migratory animals visit them seasonally.
The two main types of temperate forests are deciduous forests and evergreen forests.
Deciduous forests contain trees that loose their leaves in the fall. They are usually located in the Northern Hemisphere in parts of North America, Europe and Japan.
Evergreen forests are made up of trees that don't lose their leaves in the fall. They usually are found in warmer climates in South America, southern Europe, South Africa and parts of southern Australia. A more varied range of wildlife is often found in evergreen forests than deciduous forests.
A wide variety of animals call temperate forests home. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects live in temperate forests. The most common mammals are deer, squirrels, birds and wild boars.
Since food is plentiful in evergreen forests year round, even more varieties of wildlife inhabit them. Reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and insects are plentiful in evergreen forests.
Temperate forests once covered huge areas of the Northern Hemisphere. As a result of logging and deforestation for agriculture, most forests are already gone.
Coniferous forests are located in the far north, many within the Arctic Circle. They are predominantly home to conifers, the toughest and longest living trees. Conifers grow close together resulting in dense forests that are sheltered.
Coniferous forests include boreal forests and temperate forests.
Boreal forests stretch across the far north. Temperate coniferous forests are located in western North America, New Zealand and Chile. Some trees in the temperate coniferous forests in North America are over 500 years old.
Boreal coniferous forests stretch across the far north from Siberia, through Northern Europe, to Alaska, covering a distance of 6 million square miles. They are 1,000 miles wide in places. A large proportion of boreal coniferous forest is in the Arctic Circle, where plants and animals are well adapted to cold temperatures.
While fewer plant and animal species are found in coniferous forests compared to temperate forests and rainforests, many plants and animals still live within them. Conifer trees withstand the cold. Their pine needles are acidic, which passes into the soil when needles drop, allowing only acid loving plants to survive in coniferous forests. Only herbivores that survive on acidic plants can inhabit coniferous forests.
Insects make up the majority of animals found in coniferous forests. The dense trees provide ideal habitat for them to build their nests. Deer, elk, wolves and bears are also common in coniferous forests.
Coniferous forests are the least affected forests by humans. The trees are softwood and usually only used for making paper. Larger areas of coniferous forests are being logged however, as paper demand increases.
Rainforests are home to more than 50% of all living species on the planet. They receive an abundance of rain and contain extremely diverse wildlife. The two main types of rainforest are tropical rainforests and seasonal rainforests.
Tropical rainforests are close to the Equator where the climate is warm, providing ideal conditions for plants. 170,000 of the world’s 250,000 known plant species are found in tropical rainforests. They have various layers of canopy providing a wide variety of habitats for animals. A large collection of tall tree species is made possible by a constant water flow. Tropical forests are home to smaller primates and bird species than seasonal rainforests.
Seasonal rainforests are usually further away from the Equator. Their climate is less stable then tropical rainforests. Rather than rain being dispersed evenly throughout the year, it comes all at once in what is called the monsoon. Trees in seasonal rainforests are generally much smaller than those in tropical rainforests. Larger animals inhabit the changing seasonal rainforests, such as tigers, primates and large snakes.
The broad array of animals found in rainforests include mammals, reptiles, birds and invertebrates. Mammals include primates, wildcats and tapirs. Reptiles include a variety of snakes, turtles and lizards. Numerous species of birds and insects live in rainforests. Fungi is common, which feed on the decomposing remains of plants and animals. Many animal species have adopted a tree-dwelling (arboreal) lifestyle in the rainforest. Food is abundant in the forests due to the amount of water and plant life.
Numerous plant and animal species are rapidly disappearing from rainforests due to deforestation, habitat loss and other human activities. Around 50 million people live in rainforests. Their habitat and culture is also threatened as an alarming amount of rainforest land disappears each year.
Earth isn’t perfectly round. Earth is thicker around the equator, the belt around the middle. How much thicker? Well, it’s about 0.3% thicker. It’s not much, so when you see a photo of Earth, it appears round. But it’s just barely not.
Days are getting longer. When Earth first formed 4.6 billion years ago, a day was about six hours long. Since then, the Earth has slowed down. It takes longer to spin around. Every 100 years, the day gets 0.0017 seconds longer. Why? The moon is slowing down Earth’s rotation with the tides it creates. As the tides rise and fall all over Earth, it creates a force that slows down Earth’s rotation.
Continents are always on the move. About 250 million years ago, all the continents we see today were one big supercontinent called Pangaea. They’ve slowly moved ever since to spread out and form the continents we see today: North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica. But Pangaea wasn’t the first supercontinent. About 800 million years ago, all the continents were pushed together too. We call this previous supercontinent Rodinia.
There wasn’t just one Ice Age. You may have heard of the Ice Age on Earth. It was a time when woolly mammoths roamed. But this didn’t just happen one time 30,000 years ago. There may have been as many as four different Ice Ages in the past. During these times, Earth would have been covered completely in ice.
The driest place on Earth is near the ocean. The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the driest place on Earth. It is said that a city there went without rain for 400 years! And yet, this desert is right next to the biggest body of water on Earth, the Pacific Ocean. Do you know what they say about the ocean? Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.
Earth’s gravity isn’t the same everywhere on Earth. If the Earth were smooth and perfect, gravity would be the same everywhere. But Earth has mountains, oceans, valleys, and other features. The differences in gravity across Earth are called gravity anomalies. A mission called GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) has a satellite that orbits Earth and maps the gravity across the surface.
Sea levels have changed in the past. During the last Ice Age, so much water was trapped in icy glaciers that the sea level dropped by as much as 390 feet (120 meters). That’s about as tall as building 40 stories high. Long before that, the sea level was actually much higher than it is now. It was as much as 230 feet higher. There are parts of land today that used to be far beneath the ocean waters.
The sun won’t shine forever. Don’t worry, the sun isn’t going anywhere for a very long time. But nothing in the whole universe lasts forever and ever. Our sun will run out of energy in about five billion years. If anyone is around when it happens, they’ll have to leave Earth and find a new planet. Luckily, we have these next five billion years to plan for that.
Earth has other “moons.” Besides our moon, there are two other objects in space that orbit near Earth. They're not truly "moons," but they are there. One of them is an asteroid that follows Earth as we orbit around the sun. It’s called Cruithne. A different asteroid orbits the sun near us but its orbit is horseshoe-shaped, so it only gets near Earth every 95 years.
Before a big storm hits, sometimes there is a moment of calm. When a storm grows, it pulls in warm, wet air around it. The air goes into the storm cloud, and when it gets to the top, it rolls out over the big head of the cloud. Then it falls back down. As it falls, it becomes warmer and drier, which makes for stable, calm weather. This is the calm that can happen right before the storm hits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A few years ago, northern parts of the central United States got an unexpected visitor in the summer. Actually, it got thousands of them. The area experienced an invasion of a brown and yellow bird named the dickcissel.
Dickcissels are common to many areas in the United States. They are not common in northern parts like North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Why did the dickcissel show up in these areas? Extreme weather caused by climate change may have forced them to find a new home.
Climate change does a lot more than just heat up our planet. Climate change can also cause more intense weather. That could mean more hurricanes, floods, heat waves, droughts, and even cold spells. This extreme weather can be trouble for birds.
Scientists have noticed that when extreme weather happens, fewer birds show up in the places they call home. Why? One idea is that the birds avoid the extreme weather by moving to a friendlier area.
Amazingly, scientists can use satellites to test this idea. Even though these satellites are high above Earth, they can tell us a lot about what is happening on the ground. The scientists use two types of satellites. One type works like a big 3D camera that takes pictures of the ground. They use this kind to map the neighborhoods of different species of birds. The second type looks at weather and climate. These satellites can measure things like temperature, precipitation and evaporation, and cloudiness. Scientists can then combine this information to see when extreme weather happens in the areas that different birds call home.
But how do they know if these weather events are affecting the birds? This is where field scientists, amateur birders, and everyone can help by collecting data on where birds show up (and where they don’t show up). Using this data, scientists can see when and where birds travel.
If scientists find a bird species in a new area at the same time their regular home experiences extreme weather, this could explain why there appear to be fewer birds. Their numbers don’t shrink—they just move somewhere else.
Scientists have just begun to use satellites to figure out what happens to birds during extreme weather. Their work is very important. If birds are moving to other areas because of climate change, they may need our help. We may need to protect their new habitats. Thanks to satellites, we can get the clearest picture so far of where these new habitats could be.
Tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year, one every 15 minutes. Driven by demand for ivory as a symbol of wealth or prestige, the illicit profits of ivory trade finance wars, terrorism, illegal drugs and human trafficing.
Trade in ivory has been around for centuries. It reached its peak when Africa was colonized. This coincided with the industrial revolution in United Kingdom, Western Europe and America creating a vast demand for ivory. It found use in diverse objects like piano keys, billiard balls, ornaments, jewelry, bow clips, hair pins, needles, buttons, etc. The worst and obvious victims of the trade were the elephants.
Entire populations of this beast was wiped out in North Africa about a thousand years ago, before the Europeans came. The colonization period saw the virtual decimation of the elephant in South Africa during the 19th century and West Africa in the 20th century. The two World Wars in the 20th century saw a sharp fall in ivory trade and provided some respite to the elephants. But the rising affluence from Japan's industrial revival, and the burgeoning wealth of the Middle-eastern oil-rich states in the 1970's, brought back a renewed interest in ivory. The affluent middle class in China since the 1990's created another great market for the product.
The Asian elephant's population has witnessed a decline of nearly 50 percent, from over a 100,000 a century ago to just over 50,000 presently. The male elephant carries tusks while the female does not. The tusk can reach a length of 5 feet and weigh up to 47 kilograms. The tusk of the Asian elephant is in demand for products that require intricate carving. Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf states are some areas where this ivory is in high demand.
The African elephant consists of two subspecies. The forest elephants are shorter and darker than their Savannah cousins. They are found in the central and western equatorial forests of Africa, primarily in Congo. The 1890's and early 1900's witnessed the mass decimation of this animal by the Belgian colonialists when slave labor was extensively used to transport ivory to North African ports for its ultimate destination in Western Europe.
The bush elephant that inhabited the bush areas of Kalahari in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe is another sub-species that was driven to extinction from rampant hunting by the Dutch and British colonialists.
But the main targets of the ivory trade have always been the Savannah elephants, the largest of all species, known for their huge and magnificent tusks. The male tusks can measure up to 7-8 feet and weigh up to 100 lbs. Unlike their Asian counterparts, even the females have tusks. These mighty creatures are often seen in the vast expanses of the Savannah grassland plains straddling Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The most shocking decline of this elephant species has been witnessed recently in Tanzania in a span of just six years. The count reduced dramatically from 109,000 to 43,000, which is a devastating drop of 60 percent. The Selous Game Reserve is a gold mine for ivory looters who have accounted for as many as 32,000 Savannah elephant deaths.
There are only about 470,000 elephants roaming the continent of Africa presently. Compare this to 3 to 5 million that roamed the vast expanses at the beginning of the 20th century. It's a frightening drop of 90 percent.
Governments and wildlife agencies have woken up to this terrible loss of wildlife. Virtually every country in the continent, from South Africa to Zimbabwe to Uganda and Tanzania, have placed a ban on ivory trading. Although these bans were put into effect decades ago, only 20 percent of the African elephant habitat is under formal protection.
From over 100 seizures made in the continent in the last 15 years, almost 465,000 pounds of ivory were recovered. That translates into the deaths of over 30,000 elephants. But this hasn't dampened the illegal trade in ivory. Tens of thousands of elephants are lost every year; one killed every 15 minutes.
Organized crime is involved in the transportation of ivory to its preferred destinations, mostly the US and China. The US has put a complete ban on the sale of ivory and ivory items. The immense demand for ornaments and jewellery carved from ivory make China the biggest consumer for the product. Steps have been taken in China to end domestic sales of ivory. In places like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, ivory is in demand for its alleged medicinal properties.
Despite recent efforts, elephant poaching is at its highest level in decades. Valued at US$19 billion annually, illegal wildlife trade ranks fifth globally in terms of value. Domestic ivory markets provides cover for criminals to launder illegal ivory from poached animals. The Internet is utilized for secret, fast and convenient communications and transactions. The criminals that smuggle ivory also smuggle guns, people, and drugs.
Unless the slaughter of elephants is halted, we will likely see these magnificent animals disappear within a few decades. Stopping the crisis will require efforts from a diverse coalition of governments, institutions, organizations, media, scientists, and individuals.
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.
Woodchucks are harmless, comical vegetarians who are commonly sighted in suburban backyards and along roadways. Conflicts usually arise over who gets to eat the garden vegetables. Suburban landscapes provide perfect habitat for woodchucks. Our raised decks provide cover and a perfect place to raise young, and our lush lawns provide a virtual buffet. Most woodchuck conflicts occur in spring and summer, just when birthing season has begun. That's why problems need to be solved in a way that doesn't leave orphaned young behind.
KEEPING WOODCHUCKS OUT OF GARDENS
The best way to exclude woodchucks is by putting up a simple chicken wire or mesh fence. All you need is a roll of 4-foot high chicken wire and some wooden stakes. Once the job is done, it won't matter how many woodchucks are in the neighborhood because they won't be getting into your garden.
There are 2 secrets for making a successful fence:
Tip #1: The top portion of the fence only needs to be 2 ½ to 3 feet high but it should be staked so that it's wobbly -- i.e. the mesh should not be pulled tight between the stakes but rather, there should be some "give" so that when the woodchuck tries to climb the fence, it will wobble which will discourage him. Then he'll try to dig under the fence, so:
Tip #2: Extend your mesh fence 4 inches straight down into the ground and then bend it and extend the final 8-12 inches outward, away from the garden, in a "L"-shape which creates a false bottom (you can also put this mesh "flap" on top of the ground but be sure to secure it firmly with landscaping staples or the woodchuck will go under it). When the woodchuck digs down and hits this mesh flap, he'll think he can't dig any farther and give up. It won't occur to him to stand back a foot and THEN start digging!
IF YOU AREN'T WILLING TO PUT UP A FENCE, you can also try the following scare techniques, which do work in some cases:
1) Line your garden with helium-filled, silver mylar balloons or make a low fence of twisted, reflective mylar tape bought at your local party store. Be sure to purchase heavier weights to attach to the bottom of the balloons. The balloons bobbing in the wind will scare the woodchucks.
2) Sprinkle cayenne pepper around the plants and spray your plants with a taste repellent such as Ropel (available at garden stores) every 2 weeks.
GETTING WOODCHUCKS OUT FROM UNDER SHEDS
Woodchucks don't undermine foundations and really aren't likely to damage your shed. In spring and summer, the woodchuck under your shed is probably a mother nursing her young, which is why you should consider leaving them alone. Be sure you really need to evict the woodchuck before taking action. If you must, put some dirty kitty litter down the woodchuck burrow -- the urinated part acts as a predator odor, which often causes the entire family to leave. Ammonia-sprinkled rags or sweaty, smelling socks placed in the burrow may also cause self-eviction.
WOODCHUCKS & CHILDREN
Woodchucks are harmless vegetarians who flee when scared. Remember that even a small child looks like a giant predator to the woodchuck. There is no cause for alarm. Woodchucks live under houses and day care centers all over the country. Healthy woodchucks simply don't attack children or pets. If chased, woodchucks will quickly flee to their burrows.
WOODCHUCKS & RABIES
Woodchucks have a higher susceptibility to rabies than other rodents, yet the incidence of rabies in woodchucks is still very low. Woodchucks are much more susceptible to the roundworm brain parasite, which causes symptoms that look exactly like rabies. Roundworm is NOT airborne -- it can only be transmitted through the oral-fecal route, i.e. the ingestion of an infected animal's feces.
SETTING A TRAP FOR WOODCHUCKS & CATCHING A SKUNK
This is a common occurrence when traps are left open at night. You can let the skunk out without getting sprayed just by knowing that skunks have terrible eyesight and only spray when something comes at them fast, like a dog. If you move slowly and talk soothingly, you shouldn't get sprayed. Skunks stamp their front feet as a warning when they're nervous, so if the skunk stamps, just remain motionless for a minute until he stops stamping, then proceed. You can drape a towel -- slowly-- over the trap prior to opening it. Once the trap door is opened, the skunk will beeline for home. If you must trap and relocate a woodchuck, remember to close the trap at night so another skunk doesn't get caught.
Trapping won't solve the problem. As long as woodchuck habitat is available, there will be woodchucks. Even in studies where all the woodchucks are trapped out of an area, others from the surrounding area quickly move into the vacated niche. In addition, trapping and relocating woodchucks may lead to starving young being left behind. Homeowners are then horrified to smell a foul odor. It's much more effective to simply exclude woodchucks from areas where they're not wanted. Don't trap unless an animal is stuck somewhere and can't get out, or poses an immediate threat to humans or domestic animals.
Widely hailed as a renewable natural resource, tropical timber from old-growth
tropical forests is selectively logged worldwide at an unprecedented scale. But
research now reveals that these sources of timber are far from sustainable and
Studies reveal that once prime tropical hardwoods – such as Brazilian cedars, ipe
(Brazilian walnut), and rosewood – have been logged, they do not grow back to
commercial levels and are at risk from disappearing altogether.
Slow growing and "commercially valuable" species of all kinds have been overexploited
over the course of human history – just look at the whaling industry or fisheries.
Yet many tropical timber species are still thought of as a renewable resource.
We are only beginning to see over-exploitation parallels in tree species. Many
high-value timber species are logged until their populations collapse altogether.
Timber harvests in Pará equate to almost half of all native forest roundlog production
in Brazilian Amazonia – the largest old-growth tropical timber reserve controlled
by any country. Brazil accounts for 85 percent of all native neotropical forest
roundlog production. Researchers have found that loggers can no longer depend
on areas where high-value species were formerly abundant to fetch high economic
returns. This means that logging operations are continuously forced to extract
timber trees from new areas of unlogged primary forests.
Even so-called ‘reduced-impact logging’ in tropical forests can rarely be defined
as sustainable in terms of forest composition and dynamics in the aftermath of
logging – never mind the greater susceptibility of logged forests to catastrophic
fires. Environmental licensing and market certification of logging concessions
need to take this into account, and review minimum preconditions in terms of
volumetric quotas of roundlogs harvested per species and regeneration standards
over multi-decade logging cycles.
After selective logging, there is no evidence that the composition of timber species
and total forest value recovers beyond the first-cut. The most commercially-valuable
timber species become predictably rare or economically extinct in old logging
Only recent logging operations, which are furthest away from heavy-traffic roads,
are the most selective, concentrating gross revenues on a few high-value species.
Managing yields of selectively-logged forests is crucial for the long-term integrity
of forest biodiversity and financial viability of local industries.
Current commercial agreements could lead to ‘peak timber’ and then widespread economic
extinctions across other tropical regions. We can already see a market shift,
in which loggers in old depleted logging Amazonian frontiers are forced to depend
on fast growing, soft-wood timber species.
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.
Deserts are classified by their geographical location and dominant weather pattern as trade wind, midlatitude, rain shadow, coastal, monsoon, or polar deserts. Former desert areas presently in nonarid environments are paleodeserts, and extraterrestrial deserts exist on other planets.
Trade Wind Deserts
The trade winds in two belts on the equatorial sides of the Horse Latitudes heat up as they move toward the Equator. These dry winds dissipate cloud cover, allowing more sunlight to heat the land. Most of the major deserts of the world lie in areas crossed by the trade winds. The world's largest desert, the Sahara of North Africa, which has experienced temperatures as high as 57° G, is a trade wind desert.
Midlatitude deserts occur between 30° and 50° N. and S., poleward of the subtropical highpressure zones. These deserts are in interior drainage basins far from oceans and have a wide range of annual temperatures. The Sohoran Desert of southwestern North America- is a typical midlatitude desert.
Rain Shadow Deserts
Rain shadow deserts are formed because tall mountain ranges prevent moisture-rich clouds from reaching areas on the lee, or protected side, of the range. As air rises over the mountain, water is precipitated and the air loses its moisture content. A desert is formed in the leeside "shadow" of the range.
Coastal deserts generally are found on the western edges of continents near the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. They are affected by cold ocean currents that parallel the coast. Because local wind systems dominate the trade winds, these deserts are less stable than other deserts. Winter fogs, produced by upwelling cold currents, frequently blanket coastal deserts and block solar radiation. Coastal deserts are relatively complex because they are at the juncture of terrestrial, oceanic, and atmospheric systems. A coastal desert, the Atacama of South America, is the Earth's driest desert. In the Atacama, measurable rainfall 1 millimeter or more of rain may occur as infrequently as once every 5-20 years. Crescent-shaped dunes are common in coastal deserts such as the Namib, Africa, with prevailing onshore winds.
"Monsoon," derived from an Arabic word for "season," refers to a wind system with pronounced seasonal reversal. Monsoons develop in response to temperature variations between continents and oceans. The southeast trade winds of the Indian Ocean, for example, provide heavy summer rains in India as they move onshore. As the monsoon crosses India, it loses moisture on the eastern slopes of the Aravalli Range. The Rajasthan Desert of India and the Thar Desert of Pakistan are parts of a monsoon desert region west of the range.
Polar deserts are areas with annual precipitation less than 250 millimeters and a mean temperature during the warmest month of less than 10° C. Polar deserts on the Earth cover nearly 5 million square kilometers and are mostly bedrock or gravel plains. Sand dunes are not prominent features in these deserts, but snow dunes occur commonly in areas where precipitation is locally more abundant. Temperature changes in polar deserts frequently cross the freezing point of water. This "freezethaw" alternation forms patterned textures on the ground, as much as 5 meters in diameter.
They're called fossil fuels because the fuel in your gas tank comes from the chemical remains of prehistoric plants and animals. All living things on Earth contain carbon. Even you contain carbon. Lots of it. If you weigh 100 pounds, 18 pounds of you is pure carbon. And plants are almost half carbon. You are 18 percent carbon. Plants are 45 percent carbon.
With so much carbon, why isn't everything black and sooty? How can dogs be white and trees green? Because carbon, an element, combines easily with other elements to form new materials. The new stuff, called compounds, are quite different from pure carbon.
An atom is the tiniest possible particle of any element, like carbon or oxygen. A carbon atom combines easily with two oxygen atoms to make the compound carbon dioxide. "C" stands for carbon, "O" stands for oxygen, so carbon dioxide is often called "C-O-2, and written "CO2." CO2 is a gas. It is invisible. CO2 is really important.
How does carbon get into living things? Plants take in CO2. They keep the carbon and give away the oxygen. Animals breathe in the oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Plants and animals depend on each other. It works out well. For hundreds of millions of years, plants and animals have lived and died. Their remains have gotten buried deep beneath Earth's surface. So for hundreds of millions of years, this material has been getting squished and cooked by lots of pressure and heat.
For hundreds of millions of years, dead plants and animals were buried under water and dirt. Heat and pressure turned the dead plants and animals into oil, coal, and natural gas.
So what happens to all this dead plant and animal stuff? It turns into what we call fossil fuels: oil, coal, and natural gas. This is the stuff we now use to energize our world. We burn these carbon-rich materials in cars, trucks, planes, trains, power plants, heaters, speed boats, barbecues, and many other things that require energy.
How does the carbon get out of living things? When fossil fuels burn, we mostly get three things: heat, water, and CO2. We also get some solid forms of carbon, like soot and grease. So that's where all the old carbon goes. All that carbon stored in all those plants and animals over hundreds of millions of years is getting pumped back into the atmosphere over just one or two hundred years.
Is carbon in the air good, bad, or just ugly? Here's the big, important thing about CO2: It's a greenhouse gas. That means CO2 in the atmosphere works to trap heat close to Earth. It helps Earth to hold on to some of the energy it gets from the sun so the energy doesn't all leak back out into space. If it weren't for this greenhouse effect, Earth's oceans would be frozen solid. Earth would not be the beautiful blue and green planet of life that it is. If not for the greenhouse effect, Earth would be an ice ball.
So, CO2 and other greenhouse gases are good—up to a point. But CO2 is so good at holding in heat from the Sun, that even a small increase in CO2 in the atmosphere can cause Earth to get even warmer.
Throughout Earth's history, whenever the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has gone up, the temperature of Earth has also gone up. And when the temperature goes up, the CO2 in the atmosphere goes up even more.
Tundra is a cold habitat with long winters, low temperatures, permafrost soils, short vegetation, brief growing seasons and little drainage. The Alpine tundra exists on mountains around the planet at elevations above the tree line. The Arctic tundra is near the North Pole, extending southward to where coniferous forests grow.
● Arctic tundra in the Northern Hemisphere is between the North Pole and the boreal forest. In the Southern Hemisphere it exists on remote islands off the coast of Antarctica and on the Antarctic peninsula. The Arctic and Antarctic tundra are home to over 1,700 species of plants including grasses, mosses, sedges, lichens and shrubs.
● Alpine tundra is a high-altitude ecosystem located on mountains around the earth at elevations above the tree line. Alpine tundra soils are well drained compared to tundra soils. Alpine tundra is home to small shrubs, dwarf trees, tussock grasses and heaths.
The tundra is home to the arctic fox, wolverines, polar bears, northern bog lemmings, muskox, arctic terns, muskoxen and snow buntings.
Tundra are the coldest areas on the planet and are quite different from every other habitat on earth. During the summer, the days receive 24 hours of sun. During the winter, the sun is almost absent entirely. Animals of the polar regions are adapted to frigid temperatures, often with thick layers of fat or blubber to insulate their bodies.
The two main polar regions are the Arctic and the Antarctic. The Arctic Circle and Arctic Tundra are located at the North Pole and stretch 5 million square miles to the top of the Northern Hemisphere. The Antarctic is located at the South Pole. While the animals differ greatly at each pole, the polar regions are similar environments.
The Arctic is an ice continent floating on the ocean. The Antarctic is a rocky continent that is covered in ice. Little rainfall occurs in the polar regions, and there is very little water in the air. The Arctic is connected to Canada and Europe, so more plant and animal species are found there.
The Antarctic is completely isolated from other land masses, so fewer plants and animals are found there. The Arctic Circle also features warmer springs and summers, encouraging the growth of plants. Herbivorous animals are attracted to feed on the plants and grasses.
1,700 species of plants and 48 species of land mammals are known to live in the tundra. Millions of birds also migrate there each year for the marshes. Few frogs or lizards live in the tundra. Foxes, lemmings, Arctic hares and Arctic owls live in the tundra. Wolves are the top predators. Polar bears dominate the frozen waters. Seals, sea lions, orcas, whales, walruses and narwhals feed on fish in the Arctic Circle.
In Antarctica, no plants grow on the surface so animals live on carnivorous diets. Numerous species of fish, crustacean and mollusc are found in the waters beneath the ice for birds and mammals to feed on. Penguins are the most common animal. Larger predators include leopard seals, orcas and whales.
Changes in the climate are the biggest threat to polar regions. Increasing temperatures can cause the ice to melt, threatening habitats.
The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 prevents Antarctica from being commercially exploited. The Arctic is not protected where mining for oil and minerals, over-fishing and hunting threatens species and habitats.