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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Sparky the Survivor - Lightning Won't Stop This Bison

Sparky the Bison
Sparky the bison at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge by Karen Viste-Sparkman/USFWS. Interested in sharing Sparky's story? Feel free to use Sparky's photo with credit to Karen Viste-Sparkman/USFWS. You can download the original file from Flickr. If you have questions, please contact Tina Shaw.

Can you imagine being struck by lightning? Sparky, a bison at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa knows exactly what it’s like! Sparky was struck in 2013, and is doing surprisingly well. We recently checked in with Wildlife Biologist Karen Viste-Sparkman to learn more about Sparky’s amazing story.

Sparky joined the herd at Neal Smith in 2006 after being transferred from the National Bison Range in Montana. As you may have guessed, Sparky earned his name after the lightning strike and is the only bison that has been struck at the refuge - although it does occasionally happen across the country.

Karen does regular checks on the bison to watch for signs of illness and check body condition. During a survey in late July 2013, she noticed a bull standing by himself. When she took a closer look through her binoculars, she noticed that Sparky looked bloody. This wasn't entirely surprising because bison bulls will often fight during the mating season and July tends to be a prime time for injuries. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that Sparky had been burned over a large area. His hump was missing hair and there was a large lump on his hind leg, which must have been the exit wound, meaning Sparky was lying down at the time of the strike.

Sparky was thin after the strike and wasn't expected to live long. Since a lightning strike is something that could easily occur in wild bison anywhere, the refuge let nature take its course. There are no natural predators in the bison area, so injured bison are monitored regularly and euthanized if they're unable to eat or walk. Sparky was standing when his injuries were discovered, which was a promising sign. Karen kept checking on Sparky and was able to watch his wounds slowly heal. With a limp, Sparky kept walking.

At 11 years old and about 1,600 pounds, Sparky is a bit thinner than the rest of the bison, but he still stands strong. Before being struck, Sparky fathered three calves. Genetic testing will tell us if he successfully reproduced after the strike, but we're hoping that he does because he's one tough bison!

If you ever find yourself near Des Moines, stop by Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and see if you can spot Sparky. He tends to spend his time just like other bulls - hanging out in small groups or enjoying some quiet time alone.

-- Courtney Celley, Public Affairs Specialist, Midwest Region


California Condor AC-4 Returns to the Wild After 30 Years

California condor AC-4 soars above Hudson Ranch, which would later become Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Photo taken on September 22, 1982 by USFWS.

In 1985,we first saw Marty McFly zooming Back to the Future to make sure he and his family didn’t disappear. 

Also in 1985, our biologists were capturing California condors in an effort to make sure the species didn’t disappear. Between 1983 and 1987, the Service-led California Condor Recovery Program captured 22 California condors --  were only ones left in the wild anywhere on Earth. The goal was to breed the birds in captivity and release them back into the wild.

MORE: Find photos and video interviews

On August 7, 1985, our biologists captured 5-year-old male California condor AC-4 at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Kern County, California. AC-4 turned out to be integral to the recovery of the California condor population. He successfully sired 30 chicks that have been released into the wild population -- the third most productive sire in the program. He was also part of the pair that produced the first egg and first chick from wild birds in captivity in 1988.

Fast forward to December 29, 2015, 35-year-old AC-4, re-branded as California condor number 20, was released in the same area where he was captured. He is one of four remaining condors of the original 22 birds brought into captivity in the 1980s.  Condors can live to 60.


It Takes a Village to Save a Fish

Arctic grayling. Photo Courtesy of Mark Conlin

Thanks to individual landowners and state and federal biologists in Montana’s Big Hole and Centennial Valleys, Montana’s arctic grayling (a fish) has made huge progress in its recovery. These stakeholders completed 250 voluntary conservation projects, significantly improving habitat quality, which helped more than double grayling populations!

Learn More

Cats Off to 2015! An Update on Florida Panthers

We’ve seen your questions about Florida panthers, so we’re closing out 2015 by answering your top three panther questions. 

If you don’t see your question here, never fear! We will do a follow-up piece in 2016. 

Florida Panther

1. Are Florida panthers really Florida panthers? 

Florida panthers are an Endangered subspecies of Puma concolor, also known as cougars and mountain lions.

The Florida panther once ranged throughout the southeastern United States, but by 1995 only about 20-30 Florida panthers remained in the wild. Because of genetic complications from inbreeding, eight female pumas from Texas were relocated to south Florida to restore genetic variability to the population. However, Florida panthers are still distinct from the other subspecies and today represent the only breeding population of puma in the eastern United States.

Learn more about the science behind the Florida panther’s taxonomy from our state partners. 

2. What is the population of Florida panthers?
The FWC reports the current population range as 100-180 panthers in south Florida.
This population range does not include kittens traveling with their mothers.

Because of their secretive nature, counting pumas is extremely difficult, and Florida panthers are no exception. We’re working to utilize the newest science techniques to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date population count.

In addition, twenty-five percent of Florida panther habitat is on private lands, which is why private landowners play a crucial role in the conservation of panthers.

3. What can I do to help Florida panthers? 
Road kills are a leading cause of death for Florida panthers. The best thing you can do is to be mindful when driving in panther country. Be alert, slow down and increase your distance between other cars. Panther activity is greatest between dusk and dawn, and driving slower allows you time to react.

Timeline: A Few Florida Panther Moments from Facebook

2012 - Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge captures photos of uncollared Florida panther moving her kittens.

2013 - Successful releases of a male and female Florida panther.

2013 - Recently released, raised in captivity Florida panther gives birth to female kitten.

2013 - Agencies and a private rancher worked together to raise the $6.6 million to purchase the property to help Florida panthers.

2014 - Someone comes across a Florida panther when they were hog hunting. 

2015 - Florida panther released after surviving automobile collision injuries. 

Endangered Species Act Moments in 2015 Worth Revisiting

greater sage-grouse
A greater sage-grouse male struts at a lek (dancing or mating ground) to attract a mate. One of the largest conservation efforts in U.S. history benefits the greater sage-grouse. Photo by Jeannie Stafford/USFWS

The Endangered Species Act shone in 2015, helping threatened and endangered species across the globe. These milestones reaffirm both the importance of the act and our commitment to working with partners to conserve imperiled animals, plants and their habitats.

Notable Delistings - Species Making a Comeback

Recovery of the Delmarva Fox Squirrel
After more than 40 years of federal protection, this resident of the Delmarva Peninsula was successfully recovered and removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife! It was one of the first species listed in 1967 under the precursor to the Endangered Species Act, and thanks to the dedication of numerous partners to conserve this animal and its habitat, the population is thriving. 

An Oregon chub swims at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge in Corvallis, Oregon. Photo by Rick Swart, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Recovery of the Oregon Chub and Modoc Sucker

This year saw the first two fish removed from Endangered Species Act protection due to recovery! Now populations of the Modoc Sucker and Oregon Chub are no longer at risk of extinction.

Working Together For Wildlife

Landmark Conservation Collaboration for Sage Grouse

If you didn’t know it, 2015 hosted one of the largest conservation efforts in U.S. history. As a result, the greater sage-grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Service Director Dan Ashe, four western governors and multiple partners celebrated the success of 11 western states, federal agencies, private landowners and industry in securing the future of the greater sage-grouse and its unique sagebrush habitat. We also made announcements of numerous other species that will not need Endangered Species Act protection due to proactive conservation efforts.   

Citizen Science Engagement Around Endangered Species
We teamed up with FishBrain – the world's largest free-to-use app and social network for anglers – to launch a new feature of the app that will help the American public identify and document threatened, endangered, and candidate species.  

red-cockaded woodpecker
Red-cockaded woodpeckers have been big beneficiaries of Safe Harbor Agreements. Photo by Eric Spadgenske/USFWS

20th Anniversary of the Safe Harbor Program
We, along with our partners, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first-ever Safe Harbor Agreement, created in 1995 to protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. That first agreement not only helped turn around the fortunes of the red-cockaded woodpecker in North Carolina and other states, but also heralded in an era of proactive collaboration between private landowners, states and federal agencies under the Endangered Species Act to conserve America's most imperiled wildlife.

Listing Species That Need Our Protection

Lions Protected Under Endangered Species Act
Lions across the globe were protected under the Endangered Species Act. In addition to listing lions as threatened and endangered, Director Ashe issued an order prohibiting those that violate wildlife laws from getting permits for wildlife-related activities, including sport-hunted trophies.

Mother and baby chimp climbing in tree. The baby is touching its mother's chin.
Chimpanzees Bahati and her baby Baroza at Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Credit: © the Jane Goodall Institute

All Chimpanzees Were Given Endangered Species Act Protection
Both wild and captive chimpanzees were given Endangered Species Act protection, a globally significant decision that was lauded by conservation hero Dr. Jane Goodall herself.  

Don't Forget the Monarch

Unless you live on parts of the California coast or near their Mexican wintering grounds, you probably aren’t seeing monarch butterflies these days. But don’t forget them!

The Lions We Listed Are Not Extinct

Heidi Ruffler, African Lions

When you search the scientific names of the lion subspecies that we recently listed, you may see them listed as extinct. We wanted to acknowledge the questions we've received around this and explain why this is the case. 

First, Some Background: 

When it comes to listing a species as endangered or threatened on the Endangered Species Act (ESA), we rely on the best available scientific information. In the proposed rule, we addressed the scientific community’s review of lion taxonomy, but at that time of the proposed rule it had not been resolved.  At that time, the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission Cat Specialist Group commissioned a Cat Classification Task Force from among its experts to determine a consensus on the taxonomy.  

The results of the IUCN review is reflected in our final rule. Namely, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepts the IUCN’s two subspecies taxonomy for Panthera leo (lion): Panthera leo leo for the central, western and Indian populations of lion and Panthera leo melanochaita for the southern and eastern populations of lion.  

Why It Seems Weird: You’ve Done Your Research, But the Sites Aren’t Up to Date

With the recent lion ruling, there has been some confusion around whether the subspecies we have listed are extinct. This is likely because when people Googled or searched the scientific names they were sent to results that only showcased extinct lions. But this information will be updated as the scientific community catches up to recent studies.

It’s largely because the proposed taxonomic change just recently came out, that all of the links that are being shared around are not up to date. It was a recent assessment that IUCN did that altered the distinction between lions:

“In June 2015, after the close of the comment period on our proposed rule, IUCN posted an updated Red List Assessment for lion. In this assessment, a new two-subspecies classification is proposed based on the recommendation of the IUCN Cat Classification Task Force: P. l. leo of Asia (India) and western, central, and northern Africa, and P. l. melanochaita for southern and eastern Africa (Bauer et al. 2015a, unpaginated) (Figure 1), which is supported by Barnett et al. (2014, p. 6), Dubachet al. (2013, p. 746), Bertola et al. (2011, entire), Antunes et al. (2008, entire), and Barnett et al. (2006a, pp. 511–512)."

Couple of Facts:

  1. There are only two subspecies of lions. And as of January 22nd they will all be listed. We called the two subspecies out to be thorough, but for all who are wondering, all lions are now listed.

  2. All Panthera leo, which includes its only two subspecies (P. l. leo and P. l. melanochaita) are listed under the Endangered Species Act. There are no other subspecies of Panthera leo.

  3. It may take some time for the scientific community to adopt this taxonomy and start using these names. Keep an eye on this link or download the PDF for more information.

Additional Questions

What is different between the proposed and final rule to list lions?
The Service received new information from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that the western and central populations of lions are genetically closely related to the currently endangered Asiatic lion (formerly the endangered Panthera leo persica), and the IUCN has named this subspecies Panthera leo leo. The IUCN also found that the southern and eastern populations of lions are now their own subspecies, Panthera leo melanochaita. The Service has determined the two subspecies of lion qualify for different statuses under the ESA.

What happens if the names change again? Will the lions still be protected? 
Should the taxonomy of lions change in the future, we would issue a notice to notify the public and would do a technical correction. The point is to protect these lions but as the science evolves so will the language in the ruling.

What's going on with Panthera leo persica?
Currently, the Asiatic lion (P. l. persica) is listed as an endangered species under the ESA. Based on the new taxonomic classification for lions, we are revising the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife at 50 CFR 17.11(h). In the Regulation Promulgation section of this document, we implement a taxonomic change by removing the invalid subspecies P. l. persica. This entity is now included in the assessment of the lion species (P. leo).

We know it's a long document, but if you're really curious about what we're doing behind it, we recommend you read this. 

More Sources About the Recent Lion Listing:

More specific information:

Photo Gallery: Snowy Winter Wildlife

Whether you're spending the rest of the year in shorts or bundled up, winter has officially arrived. To honor the winter solstice, we've compiled an album of wildlife in the snow at wildlife refuges across the country. Let's embrace the beauty of the season!

Red Foxes at Alaska Penninsula NWR

Ugashik River Foxtrot by Robert DreeszenSparring red foxes at the Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge by Robert Dreeszen.

Bison at National Elk Refuge in Wyoming

Bison with Frosty Face
Bison with a frosty mask at National Elk Refuge by Chris Clapp, volunteer.

Red-tailed Hawk at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk
Juvenile red-tailed hawk at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge by Mike Guyant, volunteer.

River Otters at Squaw Creek NWR in Missouri

River Otters at Squaw Creek
River otters enjoy the partially frozen wetlands at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge by Kenny Bahr.

Deer at John Heinz NWR in Pennsylvania

Deer with Snow on Nose
Deer with a sprinkle of snow on its nose at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge by Barbara Wheeler Photography, volunteer.

Loggerhead Shrike at Malheur NWR in Oregon

Loggerhead Shrike in Snow
Loggerhead shrike in snow at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by Craig Lewis, USFWS.

Muskrat at Great Meadows NWR in Massachusetts

Muskrat Eating
This photo of a muskrat chowing down at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is copyright (c) 2013 Bob Travis and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR in Colorado

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs
Black-tailed prairie dogs at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge by Lee Winnike, 2012 photo contest winner.

Bald Eagle at Camas NWR in Idaho

Bald Eagle in Snow Covered Tree
Bald eagle in a snow covered tree at Camas National Wildlife Refuge by Lance Roberts, USFWS.

Sandhill Crane at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico

Sandhill Crane in Snow
This photo, "Sandhill Crane in snow Bosque del Apache NWR" is copyright (c) 2015 Mark Watson and made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Tundra Hare at Yukon Delta NWR in Alaska

Tundra Hare on Frozen Pond
Tundra hare crosses a partially frozen pond at Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge by Allen Stegeman.

Coyote at Seedskadee NWR in Wyoming

Coyote in Hoar Frost
Coyote in hoar frost at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge by Tom Koerner, USFWS.

The Changing Climate of the Delaware Bay: Knot an Easy Solution

Red Knots and Horseshoe Crab
Red knots depend on horseshoe crab eggs. Photo by Gregory Breese/USFWS

The red knot is a robin-sized shorebird with one of the longest yearly migrations, traveling as many as 9,300 miles from its Arctic breeding grounds to the tip of South America. The Delaware Bay is important for red knots during their annual migration, because they depend on the energy-rich eggs laid by nesting horseshoe crabs to gain enough weight to complete the last leg of the spring migration to their breeding grounds in the arctic tundra. Unfortunately, the red knot population has declined by more than 75 percent over the past 30 years, prompting the bird to be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. One of the many threats responsible for the listing is climate change, which is expected to accelerate as temperatures continue to rise, sea levels increase, and storms become more intense and erratic. Learn more about what the Service is doing to strengthen our coastal resilience: http://1.usa.gov/1Z7Eebg

Kodiak Brown Bears Love Their Elderberries

Kodiak bear
It's no surprise that many of Kodiak's bears rely on salmon for a large part of their diet - but questions remain about how bears move across a landscape to "surf" the variable timing of returning salmon, what factors influence their choice of fishing areas, and when bears may utilize other food resources like berries. Photo by Lisa Hupp/USFWS

In 2014, researchers uncovered something odd at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. While studying the relationship between Kodiak brown bears and salmon, they saw the bears largely abandon salmon streams in July and August to chow down on elderberries

This year, the Kodiak Bear Crew (refuge bear biologist William Leacock, University of Montana doctoral student Will Deacy, biological science technician Caroline Cheung, and volunteers Shelby Flemming, Kristina Hsu and Andy Orlando) spent May through October in the remote southwest corner of the refuge to learn more about the ecological relationship between the spawning runs of the sockeye salmon and the Kodiak brown bear. 

PHOTOS: Explore Kodiak Refuge and its Bears


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