News of the week
Good news (mostly) for long-eared bats, caribou, and Cambodian crocodiles
Proposed Endangered species listing for the northern long-eared bat
If you grew up in the eastern part of the United States—New England down through the Appalachians, into the Midwest—chances are that you’ve seen a northern long-eared bat. In open farmlands, by lakes and ponds, in city parks, even sometimes in the streets of small towns, generations of North Americans have seen these bats flitting around at dusk, scouring the darkening skies for their evening meals of moths, beetles, and other insects.
White-nose syndrome has devastated the northern long-eared bat in recent years, destroying 97 percent of its colonies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stepped in, and this past week proposed the listing of the northern long-eared bat as Endangered. Since 2015, the bat has been listed as Threatened by the agency. The change in status would give the bat greater protections.
White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, a disease most likely introduced from Europe. It was first detected in New York state in 2006, spreading to half of the U.S. and five Canadian provinces by 2016. It affects a great number of North American bat species, usually causing steep population declines. So named because of the white discoloration the fungus leave on bats’ muzzles and wings, the disease wears away and weakens the animals during their winter hibernation. Other species that are severely affected by white-nose syndrome are the once numerous little brown bat and the Indiana bat.
Bats are the only mammals to fly. Flying squirrels are called flying squirrels, but as David Attenborough will tell you, flying squirrels actually just glide through the air. (Curiously, flying squirrels are nocturnal, like most bats.) Bats have few predators. This might be because they just (literally) hang around. Most bats hunt for two hours a day, groom for another two hours, and spend the rest of the day, up to 20 hours, sleeping. They perform important ecological functions: some species of bats keep insect populations in check; others are pollinator species. Saguaro cacti rely on bats for their pollination. The same is true of bananas.
The Endangered listing for the northern long-eared bat will not affect wind energy and transportation projects that already have Endangered Species Act compliance. The listing could nonetheless affect future projects. It’s been known for a long time that wind generation turbines kill bats, as well as birds.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments to the proposal through May 23, 2022. If you want to comment, click this link and follow the instructions at the bottom of the page.
Caribou comeback in British Columbia
Largely due to the efforts of two indigenous groups, caribou have made a tremendous comeback in northern British Columbia, nearly tripling their numbers.
A collaborative recovery effort led by West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations takes a new approach of pairing short-term recovery strategies, such as predator reduction and guarding special “maturity pens” during calving season, with more long-term efforts of securing caribou habitat.
The particular herd of caribou that is the object of the recovery effort is the Klinse-Za mountain caribou. In less than ten years, due to the recovery program, the number of this herd has increased from 38 adult individuals to 114.
Caribou are a species of deer, the only species in which both males and females grow antlers. In Europe, caribou are called reindeer. So yes, Rudolph and his eight friends pulling Santa’s sleigh are caribou. Caribou have declined throughout Canada in recent years, mostly due to human activity, such as habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation.
Bing Crosby, who was probably the hippest dude on the planet, sings about Rudolph. Would Bing sing about the caribou?
Return of the Siamese crocodile
The Siamese crocodile used to range over a great deal of Southeast Asia. Human activity has reduced it range by 99 percent. The reduction was so great that the lizard was thought to be extinct, until it was rediscovered by a survey team more than 20 years ago in the remote Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia’s western region. It is thought that the remaining individuals, numbering around 250 adults, are now only to be found in this part of Cambodia.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the world’s oldest international wildlife conservation organization, is now spearheading an effort to safeguard the species. Working with other conservation partners in Cambodia, FFI established the first-ever captive breeding program for the Asian crocodile.
Captive breeding programs can protect the genetic diversity of a species. In such programs the male and female of a mating pair are brought together from differing geographic areas, or it is otherwise ensured that the individuals’ genetic backgrounds are diverse. FFI and the other organizations involved in the project have just released 25 crocodiles to the wild, the largest ever release of captive-bred Siamese crocodiles.
Crocodiles are reptiles that evolved from the Euparkeria dinosaur, which roamed the earth 235 million years ago. Birds also evolved from Euparkeria, making crocodiles the nearest living relatives of birds. Crocodiles live in and around humid lowlands of the tropics of the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
FFI is also working with the Cambodian government and local communities to create crocodile sanctuaries, in the hope of safeguarding the crocodiles and their habitat. The sanctuaries are administered by local community wardens, who conduct surveys and look for threats to the crocodiles, such as fishing nets.
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