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A Talk on the Wild Side.

In the Words of Marty the Zebra: This lemur project in Madagascar is crackalackin’!

Madagasar Madagascar, “Lemur Land.” Photo by Son of Groucho, creative commons license

Betsy Painter of our International Affairs team tells us about some important work in Madagascar.

When the motley crew of African animals in the animated movie, Madagascar, encounters King Julien, “self-proclaimed Lord of the Lemurs” and “Robot King of the Monkey Things” for the first time, they are baffled by his bright, beady eyes, long nose, lean, furry body and big bushy tail, not to mention the bizarre crown of leaves on his head.

“He’s got style.”-Marty the Zebra. “What is he, like, king of the guinea pigs?”-Alex the Lion. “I think it’s a squirrel.”-Melman the Giraffe. “Definitely a squirrel.”-Alex the Lion.

 lemur Ring-tailed Lemur, King Julien’s species. Photo by Tambako The Jaguar,creative commons license

Inspired by nature’s actual lemur species, King Julien and his lively, lovable subjects are not far off from the real thing when it comes to location and looks. Just as in the film, lemurs live on Madagascar, the fourth-largest island in the world, and are found nowhere else in the wild.

The island was once a part of a massive supercontinent known as Gondwana, until it broke away from Africa and India millions of years ago. It drifted off on its own like a boat driven by plate tectonics, brimming with numerous plants and animals onboard. Years of isolation allowed Madagascar to evolve into its own magical world with a unique richness of species spread over jungles, plateaus, mountains, rivers and coastlines.

Over time, lemurs adapted to fit specific spots around the island, which is why they came to have different facial attributes, coat markings and body types, as seen in the movie. Peculiar at first glance, they are not monkeys or guinea pigs or squirrels, but a primate species of their own accord, part of a group called “promisimians.” They are delightfully different from any other mammal on earth, with their constantly curious dispositions and life rhythms reflecting their deep connection to nature’s seasons. For instance, they hibernate when vegetation and insects become too scarce during dry seasons of the year. Their only nemesis in nature, like in the film, is the fossa (pronounced “foosa”), a cat-like predator also endemic to the island. However, not mentioned in the cartoon, are the other, perhaps more preeminent threats: habitat destruction and hunting by humans. To battle the human threats, we partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to protect a critically endangered species of lemur, the silky sifaka, in Madagascar’s Makira Natural Park. 


HERstory: Angela Palacios James

Angela James
Angela James electrofishing Gila River. Photo by Eileen Henry/USFWS

March is Women’s History Month. We would like to recognize women in our ranks conserving our natural resources in the Fish and Wildlife Service. See others at www.flickr.com/groups/womeninscience/pool/.

It’s been said we become what catches us unawares. Angela Palacios James, a fish biologist at the New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, was caught by the Missouri Department of Conservation in its endeavor to reach inner-city youth in Kansas City. At age 17, she landed a summer job as a Conservation Aide that afforded copious field experience. It was with the help of her father, says James, that through his diligence that she got to her summer job every day, 50 minutes from home.   

Though it was toward a doctor of veterinary medicine degree she first steered in college, she eventually majored in Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Arizona.  In college, she learned to track javelina with radio telemetry, handle live raptors, and care for amphibians and reptiles. 

Presently, James maintains aquaculture facilities in her Albuquerque office and in the field she assists with population surveys of fishes in rivers throughout New Mexico, from Gila trout to Colorado pikeminnow.

“There are no bad days,” says James. “I can feed fish in the morning, maintain tank systems, and spend time in the rivers or in classrooms with young students.”

James is the lead biologist in her office for education activities, such as Native Fish in the Classroom. Children in area schools learn about native New Mexican fishes under James’ tutelage by raising them in aquaria where they watch them live and grow, daily. And who knows, maybe one of the youngsters will be caught unawares by James’ work and steer toward a career in conservation, too. 

Learn more about the work of Angela Palacio James, here: www.fws.gov/southwest/fisheries/nmfwco/index.html

Returning Endangered Black Footed Ferrets to the Colorado Prairie

black-footed ferret
Louise wanders in the "ferret box."

 Open Spaces is featuring regular posts by Student Conservation Association(SCA) interns working to promote, protect and study wildlife on public lands all over the United States. Since 1957, SCA has been connecting young people from all backgrounds with life-changing, career-making conservation service opportunities. Learn how you can get involved at www.thesca.orgToday, Lauren Kurtz, an SCA environmental education intern at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver, Colorado, checks in.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is many things. It’s a tongue-twisting designation for one. It’s a former EPA Superfund site. Situated on Colorado’s eastern plains with  the city of Denver on one side and the largest airport in America on the other, it’s the largest Urban Wildlife Refuge in the country. This unique place is also safe haven for wildlife including bison, bald eagles, burrowing owls, and most recently, one of the most endangered mammals in North America, the black-footed ferret.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal has been planning for the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets for nearly two years. When I started in May, ferrets were a routine topic of conversation. For months, staff meetings were jam-packed with phrases like “prairie dog transects” and “ferret box.”

black-footed ferret
A black-footed ferret checks out its surroundings.

One priority was deciding the best location for the ferrets. Since a ferret’s diet consists almost entirely of prairie dogs and they use abandoned burrows for their shelter, this meant surveying prairie dog towns this summer and last. Surveyors walked 107 miles through prairie dog habitat to get approximate prairie dog density per square mile and to find towns with ideal burrow distribution for the ferrets’ eventual reproduction and dispersal.


Monarch Conservation Takes Hold in Des Moines, Iowa

Monarch butterfly on switchgrass. Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS

Des Moines Mayor T. M. Franklin Cownie recently became the first in Iowa to pledge his support for monarch butterfly recovery as part of the National Wildlife Federation Mayor’s Monarch Pledge. Now, more than 600,000 people in the greater Des Moines area can help  create a future filled with monarchs. Your town can join in the fight to save the butterfly, too.

10 Photos to Welcome Spring

This weekend is the official first day of spring, but you may have seen some of these early signs already. Frozen ponds start to melt, frogs call, flowers start to pop and birds sing. Take a moment to breathe in the season (unless you have allergies).

1. Bluebirds

Mountain Bluebird at Seedskadee National Wildlife RefugeMountain bluebird in a narrow leaf cottonwood at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge by Tom Koerner, USFWS.

2. Garter Snakes

Garter Snake at DeSoto and Boyer Chute National Wildlife RefugesAs warmer weather arrives in Iowa, DeSoto and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuges see snakes, frogs and turtles out and about. Photo by Veronica Kelly, USFWS.

3. Spring Beauties

Spring Beauties at Port Louisa National Wildlife RefugeSpring beauties are often one of the first wildflowers to bloom. Photo taken at Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa by Jessica Bolser, USFWS.

4. Spring Peepers

Spring Peepr in FloridaSpring peepers, wood frogs and Pacific chorus frogs are among early spring frog species you may hear calling. Photo courtesy of Kevin Enge, FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

5. Birds with Nesting Material

Eastern Bluebird with Nesting MaterialBirds carrying around nest material reminds us that spring (and chicks) will arrive soon. This photo of an eastern bluebird is courtesy of John Benson, made available with a CC BY 2.0 license.

6. Salamanders

Oregon Slender SalamanderAs salamanders move to their seasonal pools, they're more commonly seen and mark spring's approach. This photo of an Oregon slender salamander is courtesy of aposematic herpetologist, made available with a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

7. California Poppies

California Poppies at Don Edwards National Wildlife RefugeCalifornia Poppies at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge by Britta Heise and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

8. Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon EggsBy March, and the onset of Spring, Atlantic salmon eggs are well developed. The eggs hatch in late spring and the yolk sac is gradually absorbed. Photo by Peter Steenstra at the Green Lake National Fish Hatchery.

9. Robin with Worms

Robin with WormsWatching an early-morning robin snag a worm (or several) is an experience that feels a lot like spring. This photo is courtesy of Ingrid Taylar, made available with a CC BY 2.0 license.

10. Killdeer

KilldeerAn early sign of spring in the Midwest is the shrill call of the killdeer. Photo by Tom Koerner, USFWS.

Are You a Bird Nerd?


Birds are fascinating – how do robins find their wormy meals in our lawns, for instance – and even if you don’t consider yourself a “Bird Nerd,” you can still be a birder. One way our Pacific Region is celebrating the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial is by asking birders why they love to bird watch and to then share the reason on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #iBirdBecause. Let us know! 

Where in the World is the Wintering Piping Plover?

Piping plover with chick at their summer nesting site. Credit: USFWS

Many federally protected piping plovers spend their winters in the southern United States, along the beaches of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Biologists know more wintering spots exist but haven’t found them all. Researchers recently found some on the Turks and Caicos Islands, an island group in the northern Caribbean just east of the Bahamas and Cuba,

Read More

5 Fascinating Facts about the Harpy Eagle

Harpy EagleA Harpy Eagle. Credit: Jeff Cremer / PeruNature.com / cc license

logoThis week we are excited to feature a series of articles about some of the most important landscapes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps to protect in Central America, that are home to an incredibly biodiverse array of wildlife. As part of “Central America Week,” we invite you to learn more about our cornerstone strategy with Wildlife Conservation Society to protect Central America’s five largest remaining wild places. We will also be spotlighting some of the charismatic species that live in these critical habitats. All of our Central America Week stories can be found here.

Harpy eagles are one of the most impressive birds of prey in the world. They range from Mexico to northern Argentina. Here are 5 fascinating facts about this eagle species you probably didn’t know:

Harpy EagleA harpy eagle in flight. Credit: Mdf / cc license

1. Harpy eagles are the largest eagle in the Americas, with a wingspan of up to six and a half feet wide, and are considered the most powerful raptors in the Amazon. You may call them the avian emperors of the Americas.

Harpy EagleA harpy eagle feasts on an iguana. Credit: Dave Curtis / cc license

2. As apex predators in the rainforest canopies they call home, they prey on species as big as monkeys, sloths and even brocket deer! It’s not a bad life being on top of the food chain.

Harpy EagleBeware the talons. Credit: mirshasha / cc license

  1. 3. The back talons on this fierce bird can reach up to 5 inches long. To put that into perspective, that’s longer than a grizzly bear’s claws! It’s no wonder they manage to make meals out of moderately sized mammals.

Harpy EagleA harpy eagle nest. Credit: Aaron Pomerantz / cc license

4. Harpy eagles are also infamously known for having nests that are extremely rare and a challenge for even the most skilled explorers to find. This is because their nests are sparingly spaced out over large amounts of rainforest and well hidden up in the massive trees. Plus, they only reproduce every two to three years, and even then it’s just one chick at a time.

Harpy EagleCredit: mirsasha / cc license

5. Female harpy eagles can weigh up to twice as much as her mate. I guess we know who runs the show in these nests!

Story by Betsy Painter, International Affairs. For more stories from Central America week, please click here.

Protecting Central America’s Five Largest Wild Places: Darién Gap

oncillaAn oncilla watches from above in Darién. Credit: Simon Ruf / cc license

logoThis week we are excited to feature a series of articles about some of the most important landscapes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps to protect in Central America, that are home to an incredibly biodiverse array of wildlife. As part of “Central America Week,” we invite you to learn more about our cornerstone strategy with Wildlife Conservation Society to protect Central America’s five largest remaining wild places. We will also be spotlighting some of the charismatic sp

Darién Gap is a daring adventure for anyone who seeks the challenge of exploring untamed wilderness and some of nature’s last remaining realms largely untouched by human influences. Darién’s wilderness is unbridled in such a manner that many sections cannot be reached by road. In fact, there is no road.

Darién Gap serves as a natural land-bridge between Central and South America, and it is the only patch of wilderness in the way of the completed construction of a 16,000-mile-long system of roads stretching all the way from Alaska to the tip of South America. Darién is a 160 km missing link in the road, made up of flourishing rainforest and nourishing wetlands within Panama's Darién Province in Central America and Colombia’s Chocó Department in South America. This natural roadblock is a biodiversity hotspot with scores of hidden scientific discoveries yet to be made and holds a rich array of species such as the harpy eagle, bushdog, jaguar, marine turtles, giant anteaters, tapirs and tamarins.

Species Spotlight: Read 5 Fun Facts about Harpy Eagles

One of the most remarkable occurrences in the Darién Gap is the annual visit from humpback whales near the Colombian Pacific coast. The whales travel there to mate, give birth and feed their calves in these waters. This special natural event, which contributes greatly to the tourist industry­, is an example of an alternative, sustainable source of income for coastal communities.

Besides a breathtaking combination of awe-inspiring species, Darién Gap hosts an impressive complex of habitat ranging from beaches, mountains, mangroves, swamps and lowland and upland tropical forests. Unfortunately, this deep wilderness area is increasingly exposed to deforestation, illegal wildlife harvests and timber trafficking.

In the past, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has supported the formation of a conservation communications culture in Colombia and Panama. Conferences between relevant experts and practitioners from around the world came together in 2013 in Colombia In partnership with Ecological Research and Training, Ltd., to share information, strategic solutions, best practices and new opportunities in the area of capacity building for conservation in the Latin America and Caribbean region, as well as to discuss ways to promote a social approach to biodiversity conservation. This also included support for the making of a short film sharing valuable conservation information surrounding the Darién Gap.

Another important form of communicating conservation needs is through public awareness outreach and education. In this respect, the Service supported efforts with Fundación Proyecto Titi to expand sustainable development activities for rural communities in order to reduce forest resource extraction along with youth environmental education programs in local schools.

Some of the most promising work in the future within the Darién Gap will be through the 5-year agreement with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to conserve and champion the last wildernesses of Central America through a coordinated approach to conservation amongst Mesoamerican partners. This entails enhancing a regional conservation vision, strengthening the management and protection of protected sites, and building the capacity of all parties involved in the conservation of these valuable, unique natural treasures.  

When conservation initiatives are long-term and aimed at large landscape levels, high-aiming goals, like a sustainable future, are closer to grasp and more attainable. We are excited for this partnership and the good, lasting work that will result from assisting Central American countries with the safeguarding of their natural heritage and natural wonders, like the Darién Gap.

Story by Betsy Painter, International Affairs. For more stories from Central America Week, please click here. 

What’s Your Favorite Wildlife Refuge?

What’s YOUR favorite national wildlife refuge? 
We asked several people around the country. Read what they had to say. We’d like to hear from you, too. Share your favorites on Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtag #WildlifeRefuge. Include a photo of yourself at the refuge, if you can.  


Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM

Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache NWRSnow geese cast their reflections in still water at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico by Deidre Lantz.

Deidre Lantz

Deidre Lantz
Photo lab worker, Portland, OR
Interests: Amateur photography, birding, drawing
Favorite refuge:  Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM
Why: “It has so much going on during all seasons of the year. There is no bad time to visit. The variety of wildlife at the refuge from winter to spring is so different. My favorite birds are sandhill cranes and roadrunners.”


Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, CA

Condors at Bitter Creek NWRCondors rise on a thermal at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo by Jackie Wollner.

Jackie Wollner

Jackie Wollner
Marketer/contractor, Los Angeles
Interests: Animals, photography, birding, environment, investing, politics, technology
Favorite refuge:  Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Why: “It’s where condors gather in numbers, where teams of scientists study them and protect them, where they test the birds for lead on a regular basis and monitor the birds’ nesting sites. It’s very much like winning the lottery to see a condor in the wild. I feel privileged to have seen them. I saw them with the Friends of the California Condor. They deserve credit. They’ve put a lot of work into this. I’m the beneficiary of their effort.”


Patuxent Research Refuge, MD

Fall Colors at Patuxent Research RefugeThe golden hues of autumn suffuse a woodland trail at Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland.

Brittany LeavittBrittany Leavitt
Preschool teacher and leader in Outdoor Afro, Baltimore
Interests: Nature photography, hiking, yoga, climbing
Favorite refuge: Patuxent Research Refuge, MD
Why: "I grew up going there all the time. I went a few times on school field trips. I also went with my family. We lived 15 minutes away. We’d walk on the trails, take tram rides, see inside the museum. As a kid, I was really into that. I learned how to identify animal tracks.  The refuge is still one of my favorite spots. I like to walk the trails, understand more about the environment."


Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, MN

Red-winged Blackbird Eats Ticks on Deer at Big Stone NWRA red-winged blackbird eats ticks on a deer at Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Naomi Ballard.

Greg Graves

Greg Graves
Coffee company logistics manager, Minneapolis
Interests:hunting, hiking, canoeing, and exploring
Favorite refuge:  Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, MN
Why: “Wide open spaces, coupled with visions of grasslands like you imagine them to be in days gone by. It is quality habitat with abundant waterfowl, respectable populations of upland birds, easy access, and sparse crowds. What’s not to like? I have hunted Big Stone with friends from dawn to dusk, while watching scores of migrating birds arrive from the north and depart to the south. Big Stone will make you work hard for pheasants, but that's a good way to explore every nook and cranny of the land, often without another soul in sight. It's a beautiful public space that is a stone's throw from home.”


San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge, CA

Red and Grey Fox at San Joaquin NWRA red fox and a grey fox vie for dominance at San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo courtesy of Rick Kimble.

Raquel Rangel at San Joaquin NWR

Raquel Rangel
College biology student and leader in Latino Outdoors, Stockton, CA
Interests: birding, camping, leading nature hikes, helping people discover area parks and public lands
Favorite refuge:  San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Why: “It’s really small and close by. You never know what you will see. I’ve been going there for three years, at different times of the year, different times of day. One time I saw a nest of black phoebes on top of the men’s restroom. I’ve seen killdeer eggs on the gravel parking lot. When I was hiking one time with my baby brother, he looked around the bend, and he goes, ‘Raquel there’s a dog.’ I said, ‘That can’t be. There are no dogs allowed here.’ I looked and there’s a coyote.”


John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, PA

Bald Eagle Chicks at John Heinz NWRA bald eagle keeps watch over eaglets in the nest at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Pennsylvania. Photo by Bill Buchanan.

Leonard StewartLeonard Stewart   
Retiree and neighborhood activist, Philadelphia
Interests: Neighborhood activism, fishing, environmental protection
Favorite refuge:  John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, PA
Why: "I live three blocks from the refuge. I’m out there every day walking my dog or fishing for large carp – catch and release. I used to come up years ago to go fishing there with my nephew before it became a refuge. I like walking the trails, too. Every once in a while, I take my binoculars. A lot of times there are bald eagles. You can look across the impoundment and see the nest wherjonae the eagles are. Whenever Heinz Refuge has an event, they include our Eastwick community group."


Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, FL

Roseate Spoonbills at Merritt Island NWRRoseate spoonbills display their bright pink plumage at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Milak.

Angela TribbleAngela Tribble
Sales rep, New Smyrna Beach, FL
Interests: Nature photography
Favorite refuge: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, FL
Why: “When I visit, I know that I’m always going to see something – especially in winter. The birds are so thick there. It’s fantastic. It’s very relaxing. It’s quiet. I’ve gone there for 30-plus years. I go there for stress relief. [The refuge] is kind of my little escape. It recharges my batteries.”


Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, NY

Great Egret at Montezuma NWRA great egret prepares to down a fish at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York. Photo by Doug Racine.

Mary CollinsMary Collins
College administrator and accounting professor, Skaneateles, NY
Interests: Wildlife nature photography
Favorite refuge:  Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, NY
Why: “It’s close and filled with all kinds of wildlife. None of my visits has ever been uneventful. That’s why I started carrying a camera. A mallard would swim by. All of a sudden, he’d fly up in the air because a muskrat would surface right beneath him. Or a bald eagle would glide straight toward me. I’ve been there when foxes and deer have gone by. God bless refuges for giving me a place to play with photography. I love nature. I think it’s important for everybody to understand what wonder-filled natural resources we have so close at hand.”

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