Bizarre: tadpoles seen wiggling inside daddy’s vocal sac (video)

April 28th, 2011

Males gobbling babies. Wiggly tadpoles bulging beneath the skin. Yeah, okay, that’s bizarre, but it’s also the lifestyle of Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma darwinii), an endangered species that was found by Charles Darwin himself. While the females carry the eggs, the male Dawin frogs carry the young tadpoles in its vocal sac (of all places!) for a fortnight. The footage was filmed and produced by EDGE Fellow Claudio Soto-Azat.

To read more about Darwin’s frog, see the EDGE blog: Life Within a Vocal Sac.

Photo: abused cheetahs returned to the wild

April 27th, 2011

An adult cheetah, which had been smuggled and abused for the illegal pet trade, returns to the wild in Tanzania.  Photo by: Annette Simonson
An adult cheetah, which had been smuggled and abused for the illegal pet trade, returns to the wild in Tanzania. Photo by: Annette Simonson.

Few people realize that cheetah’s, one of Africa’s great cats, are a target of the global wildlife trade. Yet these speedy predators are sought as exotic ‘pets’, especially in the Middle East.

As apart of this illegal pet trade, three adult cheetahs were recently seized at a residence in Tanzania’s capital, Arusha. According to a press release from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the cheetah’s were being held in cages so low they could barely stand. ZSL worked with the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), and the Tanzania Wildlife Division to secure the release of the cheetahs and then re-released them back into the wild at Tarangire National Park.

Satellite collars were fitted to two of the three cheetahs (including the one photographed) so they could be tracked by researchers.

“This is the first known case of cheetah trafficking in Tanzania and it worryingly suggests that the illegal trade of this protected species is increasing,” said Dr Sarah Durant of ZSL and WCS in a press release. “We hope the plight of these three cheetahs will raise awareness of the demand for big cats as pets in places such as the Middle East, and encourage increased law-enforcement at key trading hubs.”

The cheetah has been fitted with a satellite collar as seen in this close-up.  Photo by: Annette Simonson.
The cheetah has been fitted with a satellite collar as seen in this close-up. Photo by: Annette Simonson.

Activism: ban Atrazine in the US for the frogs (and yourself)

April 27th, 2011

Note: does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue in comments.

For the third annual Save the Frogs Day (Friday, April 29th), amphibian-lovers are taking the fight to Washington DC to rally at the Environmental Protection Agency for a ban on the herbicide Atrazine. Banned in the EU since 2004, Atrazine has been shown to chemically-castrate frogs at incredibly small quantities. In addition, the herbicide has been shown to cause cancer in mammals.

Save the Frogs! petition: Atrazine – Let’s Get It Banned.

According to the organization Save the Frogs! : “Atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that turns male frogs into females at concentrations as low as 2.5 parts per billion. This horrible chemical causes cancer in laboratory mammals and developmental problems in fish. Atrazine is one of the most commonly detected pesticides in rainwater, groundwater and tapwater in the USA: atrazine spray gets lifted into the clouds, travels hundreds of miles and then falls down from the sky in rainwater — half a million pounds of it each year. Atrazine is one of the world’s most common pesticides: over 80 million pounds of it were used on American crops last year, and it has been in use for 50 years. Frogs and humans share half our DNA, so Atrazine can’t be good for humans either. That’s likely why the European Union banned the harmful pesticide in 2004. Now we need your help to get it banned in the United States.”

For more information on Save the Frogs! and the global Save the Frogs Day:

Save the Frogs Day focuses on banning Atrazine in US

(04/26/2011) This year’s Save the Frogs Day (Friday, April 29th) is focusing on a campaign to ban the herbicide Atrazine in the US with a rally at the steps of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Kerry Kriger, executive director of frog-focused NGO Save the Frogs! and creator of Save the Frogs Day, says that Atrazine is an important target in the attempt to save amphibians worldwide, which are currently facing extinction rates that are estimated at 200 times the average. “Atrazine weakens amphibians’ immune systems, and can cause hermaphroditism and complete sex reversal in male frogs at concentrations as low as 2.5 parts per billion,” Kriger told

Photo: zoo elephants enjoy spring

April 26th, 2011

Three Asian elephants from the Zoological Society of London’s Whipsnade Zoo take a spring stroll under blossoming Japanese miniature cherry trees. Photo by: Hannah Thompson. recently conducted an interview on how wild Asian elephants, and their African counterparts, are vital to ‘gardening’ the continent’s tropical forests. To read more:

Elephants: the gardeners of Asia’s and Africa’s forests

(04/25/2011) It seems difficult to imagine elephants delicately tending a garden, but these pachyderms may well be the world’s weightiest horticulturalist. Elephants both in Asia and Africa eat abundant amounts of fruit when available; seeds pass through their guts, and after expelled—sometimes tens of miles down the trail—sprouts a new plant if conditions are right. This process is known by ecologists as ‘seed dispersal’, and scientists have long studied the ‘gardening’ capacities of monkeys, birds, bats, and rodents. Recently, however, researchers have begun to document the seed dispersal capacity of the world’s largest land animal, the elephant, proving that this species may be among the world’s most important tropical gardeners.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron visit indigenous community threatened by mega-dam (video)

April 26th, 2011

Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron visit an Arara village on the Big Bend of the Xingu River, which is imperiled by Brazil’s mega-dam Belo Monte.

For more information on the Belo Monte:

Bill Clinton takes on Brazil’s megadams, James Cameron backs tribal groups

(03/28/2011) Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke out against Brazil’s megadams at the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, which was also attended by former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and film director, James Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the most famous of the controversial dams, the Belo Monte on the Xingu River.

World’s most controversial dam, Brazil’s Belo Monte, back on

(03/06/2011) A recent injunction against controversial dam, Belo Monte, in Brazil has been overturned, allowing the first phase of construction to go ahead. The ruling by a higher court argued that not all environmental conditions must be met on the dam in order for construction to start.

Half a million people sign petition against Belo Monte, Brazilian mega-dam

(02/08/2011) In a protest today in Brasilia, Brazil, indigenous people delivered a petition to authorities signed by 500,000 people calling on them to cancel the controversial Belo Monte dam. They hope the petition, organized by online activist group Avaaz, will help convince Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, to cancel the project. However, actions by Brazil’s first female president have pushed the dam forward.

Elementary school children urge KFC to stop cutting down forests (video)

April 25th, 2011

With 6,000 hand-drawn postcards, four elementary school kids travel from Charlotte, North Carolina to Louisville, Kentucky (350 miles) to urge KFC to use recycled paper and stop endangering forests on North Carolina’s coast.

Lead by 10-year-old forest activist, Cole Rasenberger, the group delivered the postcards to executives at KFC.

“I had a second grade project to be an environmental activist,” Rasenberger explains. “I found that the forests in North Carolina are being cut down and animals are being endangered and so I did [work to get] McDonald’s to change and they switched to 100% post-consumer recycled bags. Now I am doing KFC.”

Watch the video to see how it turns out!

KFC sources its paper packaging, including the bucket, from companies that are destroying endangered forests along the North Carolina coast, according to Dogwood Alliance, an NGO devoted to protecting forests in the southern US.

For more information on Cole Rasenberger: Meet The South’s Coolest 8 Year Old .

Photos: Meerkats celebrating Easter

April 23rd, 2011

Meerkats opening a giant easter egg
Keepers at ZSL London Zoo use Easter eggs as an enrichment activity for meerkats.

The keepers filled a giant “egg” with mealworms — beetle larvae — and provided colored hard-boiled eggs to the group of eight meerkats.

Meerkats opening easter eggs

“Not only does the act of cracking open the eggs give the meerkats good enrichment but the hard-boiled eggs are a tasty and healthy treat,” said Caroline Westlake, a keeper at ZSL.

Meerkats opening easter eggs
Photos courtesy of ZSL.

Photo: A giant tree

April 23rd, 2011

a giant tree
Me in front of a giant kapok or ceiba tree on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. This is nowhere near the largest kapok tree I’ve ever seen — they get considerably bigger — but it is nonetheless gigantic.

the big tree
The same ceiba, which is called “The Big Tree”, seen from a distance.

kapok tree
The same ceiba tree seen from a boat on Lake Gatun (e.g. Panama Canal).

ceiba tree
Looking up the trunk of the kapok tree

rhett butler in front of a kapok tree in panama
Again, me for scale.

Bill McKibben at Powershift: “there is no one else: it’s you”

April 21st, 2011

Bill McKibben speaking at Powershift.

Selection from the speech:

“Twenty-two years ago, I wrote the first book about climate change and I’ve gotten to watch it all, and I know that simply persuasion will not do. We need to fight. Now, we need to fight non-violently and with civil disobedience. […] One thing you need to make sure that you manage to get across in your witness is that you are not the radicals in this fight. The radicals are the people who are fundamentally altering the composition of the atmosphere. That is the most radical thing people have ever done. We need to fight with art and with music, too. Not just the side with our brain that likes bar graphs and pie graphs, but with all our heart and all our soul. […]
We need to fight with unity. We need to have a coherent voice. […] We need to speak with one loud voice, because we are fighting for your future.”


“We fight not just for ourselves, we fight for the beauty of this place. For cool trout streams and deep spruce woods. For chilly fog rising off the Pacific and deep snow blanketing the mountains. We fight for all the creation that shares this planet with us. We don’t know half the species on Earth we’re wiping out. And of course, we fight alongside our brothers and sisters around the world. You’ve seen the pictures as I talk: these are our comrades. Most of these people, as you see, come from places that have not caused this problem, and yet they’re willing to be in deep solidarity with us. That’s truly admirable and it puts a real moral burden on us. Never let anyone tell you, that environmentalism is something that rich, white people do. Most of the people that we work with around the world are poor and black and brown and Asian and young, because that’s what most of the world is made up of, and they care about the future as anyone else.

“We have to fight, finally, without any guarantee that we are going to win. We have waited late to get started and our adversaries are strong and we do not know how this is going to come out. If you were a betting person, you might bet we were going to lose because so far that’s what happened, but that’s not a bet you’re allowed to make. The only thing that a morally awake person to do when the worst thing that’s ever happened is happening is try to change those odds.”

Conservation on the ground: how traditional fishermen saved sharks in Madagascar

April 20th, 2011

Malagasy family helping fisherman take his boat out to sea . Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Or, Guitarfish a Go-Go- Bribes and barrages in Belo-sur-Mer

By: Brian Jones, Blue Ventures Conservation in Belo-sur-Mer, Menabe, Madagascar.

YOU’VE got to admire the mettle of people who, despite the cards being seemingly insurmountably stacked against them, can still stick to their guns and stand up for what they believe in.

I didn’t give them much of a chance, but nevertheless, there they went, one-by-one, to stand in front of the assembled group of villagers and local authorities who had packed themselves into the sweltering cinderblock and sheet metal town hall. Each to express their exasperation over the arrival and unrelenting progress of the monstrosity that had come to be known simply as “the barrage”- a 4 kilometre long (although by some accounts as much as 8 km long) bottom-set fishing net aimed at catching sharks and guitarfish for their high value fins. Everyone who stood to say their bit that afternoon knew that healthy amounts of money had likely already passed into the hands of various authorities in the interest of a blind-eye being turned. Still, undaunted, there they went, to air their qualms, for better or worse.

“I mean, come on, the name gives it away – a “barrage”… barrages, by definition, block everything that comes their way. Obviously this is not in the interest of us local fishermen!” pleaded an exasperated Franҫois, the president of the local youth association.
Another young fisherman put it more bluntly: “If we allow this to continue, all that our grandchildren will know of sharks is from a picture in a book.”

The response by the representatives sent from the 70 strong team of shark fishermen who mostly hailed from Diego Suarez, a regional city at the northern tip of Madagascar, a few thousand kilometers away, was that all of their paperwork was in order, they all had their cards which proved they were registered traditional fishermen, their nets were of legal mesh size, and they were not breaking any Malagasy fishing laws. In a poverty-stricken country wrought by political turmoil, corruption and inadequate fisheries legislation, it’s quite possible they were right.

Be that as it may, considering the disparity between their 4+ kilometre shark nets and motorised vessels (bankrolled by a Chinese investor who had been denied a fishing permit by the National Fisheries Ministry, as one of them divulged after a few too many beers one evening) and the 100-200m nets cast from traditional dugout canoes by the local fishermen, it seems absurd to suggest that this is fair play.

The debate became more heated, as the “barrage-ists” became agitated, insisting, “There’s nothing you, the villagers, can do to kick us out. We’re going to keep fishing, like it or not!”

I tend to take a back seat in these type of meetings, and let the community take the lead, but I hastily pointed out that not one of the community members had mentioned kicking them out, simply that the size of their nets was unacceptable, and that they were welcome to stay if they used fishing gear more in-line with what the locals use, and more in the interests of promoting local sustainability. I suggested that their haste to mention that they were being kicked out was perhaps a sign of paranoia and indicative of the fact that they knew what they were doing was wrong, regardless of its legality.

As the meeting descended into chaos, and the unlit town hall descended into darkness, it was agreed that the barrage fishermen would produce all of their paperwork the next day (oh no, not the next day, as it’s a Sunday, and everyone needs their day off, but the day after that. . . ) which would then be sent to the regional authorities, and then on to the national authorities for verification, and then back to the blah blah blah. . . An accomplished exercise in buck-passing and stalling, resulting in a bureaucratic marathon that would surely result in the extirpation of the local shark population before anything was decided or actionable.

The meeting having achieved very few tangible results, the community hatched a plan. With the Kirindy-Mite Marine Protected Area (MPA) having recently received official protected status, they would secretly follow the barrage fishermen out the next morning when they checked their net, and verify whether or not the net was placed within the MPA limits. Spies staked out the barrage fishermen’s camp, and as they left just before dawn the next morning, one boat headed south and one headed north to check on their massive nets, the community members sprung into action. Cell phones relayed the trajectory of the two boats, and the one headed south was soon being tailed at a distance by a motorised canoe with angry, GPS and digital camera wielding fishermen and representatives of the National Parks Service.

Despite their repeated claims that their nets were not being placed within the MPA, there it was, clear as day, about one kilometre north of the island of Nosy Andriangory, smack dab in the heart of the protected area. After a brief verbal exchange, the net was hauled in, and within days the Captain of the regional police had been called to the village and the law had been laid down: If they wanted to avoid going to prison, the barrage fishermen were to get all of their nets out of the water immediately and were to leave the village within a week.

Traditional fishermen: 1
Bank-rolled outsiders: 0