Tourism puts the Galapagos at risk

by | 5th January 2008

Mother and baby sea lions in the Galapagos

A booming “ecotourism” industry is bringing new threats to the Galapagos, reports a feature in the Wall Street Journal.

Unsustainable tourism development, an influx of workers from the mainland, and introduced species are putting endemic biodiversity and habitats at risk.

“The islands’ fragile ecosystem can be easily disrupted, particularly as the increasing number of planes and ships landing in the Galapagos bring foreign species. Whether insects, snakes or feral cats and dogs, the invaders can wreak havoc by destroying plants and other food sources, eating eggs or attacking birds or mammals,” writes Stan Sesser.

While the Ecuadorian government has recently announced measures to control commercial fishing, restrict immigration, and mitigating damage from alien invasive species, its toughest challenge is addressing tourism.

“It’s not a simple solution, because to limit tourism will be to limit income,” Mauricio Castillo, an official for Unesco in Quito, told the paper.

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A Rainforest in France?

by | 5th January 2008

Colombia rainforest

A study suggests that France was once covered with tropical vegetation, reports LiveScience.

Writing in the Jan. 4 issue of The Journal of Organic Chemistry, researchers report “the discovery of a new organic compound in amber called “quesnoin,” whose precursor exists only in sap produced by a tree currently growing only in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.”

The researchers say the amber likely dripped from a similar tree that once covered France millions of years before the continents drifted into their current positions.


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Zoos bolster PR strategy to counter criticism after animal escapes

by | 5th January 2008

Siberian tiger

Today’s Wall Street Journal [$ubscription required] features a story on the changing PR strategies of zoos in the midst of animal escapes and attacks like the tiger mauling at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day.  The article says that says are increasingly forthcoming in disclosing details about escape incidents and animal deaths.

The nation’s largest zoos are in the midst of a public-relations campaign led by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums — a trade group that accredits zoos — to counter recent accusations by animal-rights groups that captive creatures are mistreated. They’re launching educational campaigns about the animal aging process, for example, to show that when an animal dies it is often due to natural causes. They’re also talking publicly about incidents, including escapes, that they might not have disclosed in the past.

The article says zoo the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has also beefed up its crisis-management system to handle situations like the tiger attack.  It also notes that as zoos built more naturalistic habitats, animals are healthier and more capable of escaping.

“The more natural you make an exhibit, the more natural behaviors the animal shows,” David Orndorff, director of the Mill Mountain Zoo in Roanoke, told the paper.




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The First World Consumption Factor

by | 4th January 2008

Uighur woman in front of her Lake Karakul yurt

In a New York Times editorial published January 2, Jared Diamond examines the large discrepancy between consumption in first world countries versus developing countries: citizens of the rich world consume an average of 32 times the resources as those in poor countries.

The estimated one billion people who live in developed countries have a relative per capita consumption rate of 32. Most of the world’s other 5.5 billion people constitute the developing world, with relative per capita consumption rates below 32, mostly down toward 1.

The population especially of the developing world is growing, and some people remain fixated on this. They note that populations of countries like Kenya are growing rapidly, and they say that’s a big problem. Yes, it is a problem for Kenya’s more than 30 million people, but it’s not a burden on the whole world, because Kenyans consume so little. (Their relative per capita rate is 1.) A real problem for the world is that each of us 300 million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya does.

Diamond observes that as poor countries try to catch up with the rich world, resource consumption and resulting pollution will soar.

Per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours, but let’s suppose they rise to our level… China’s catching up alone would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil consumption would increase by 106 percent, for instance, and world metal consumption by 94 percent.

If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned
to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).

What’s Your Consumption Factor?

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Jaguar conservation in Brazil’s Pantanal

by | 1st January 2008

 Jaguar in Colombia

Today The New York Times featured an article by J. MADELEINE NASH on conflicts between jaguar conservation efforts and cattle ranchers in the Pantanal.  A couple of interesting points:

  •  Panthera, a big cat conservation group, has recently acquired two ranches which it plans to operate for the purpose of testing techniques for reducing livestock-jaguar interactions.  The results may help other ranchers in the region to “adopt range management practices that encourage co-existence over conflict.”
  • The Pantanal may contain 15 percent of the world’s remaining population of jaguars
  • On some ranches jaguars provide landowners with an additional source of income in the form of ecotourism: “several ranches in the Pantanal, San Francisco among them, run ecotourism operations that have turned a liability into a valuable asset.”
  • Keeping water buffalo with cattle herds reducing depredation by jaguars.  Buffalo “appear to surround cattle in a broad, protective umbra.”
  • While it is illegal to kill jaguar in Brazil, laws are poorly enforced and perverse incentives encourage the practice.
  • Ranchers exaggerate their cattle losses to jaguar while understating larger causes of mortality (i.e. disease). Jaguar found scavenging livestock corpses are often blamed for killing animals that died from another cause.

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Agricultural benefits of deforestation are short-lived

by | 26th December 2007

Slash-and-burn agriculture in the rain forest

BBC news reports on a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found the benefits of converting rainforests for agriculture land are short-lived in terms of soil nutrients.

    “US researchers studied deforested land in Mexico and found that soil levels of phosphorus, a key nutrient for plants, fell by 44% after three growing cycles. In the long-term, the land risked becoming so degraded that it would be uneconomic to farm.”

The researchers said the loss of forest canopy hampered an area’s ability to replenish phosphorus levels.

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