Facebook icon Twitter icon Flicker icon You Tube icon

Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Wildlife Chucklers

   a tricolored heron turns head backward while shaking off sea water. Along Florida’s Gulf Coast, a tricolored heron executes what looks like an advanced yoga move while shaking off sea water. See tricolored herons at Florida’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and many other coastal refuges. Photo: Copyright Mia McPherson

It’s hard to resist laughing at some wildlife photos.   

Judging by your response to our first installment of amusing wildlife photos that we shared back in August, you agree.

So we’re sharing a new group of chucklers.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most were taken at national wildlife refuges. Where better than refuges to spot so many birds and animals in the wild?  

Try not to laugh at these wildlife photos:  https://www.fws.gov/refuges/features/WildlifeChucklers.html 

Look for a new online story about your national wildlife refuges every Wednesday on the Refuge System home page.

Susan Morse, National Wildlife Refuge System communications

The Night Lives of Forest Elephants

elephants seen in infared   Elephants gather in a bai under the safe cover of night. Photo by Peter Wrege/Elephant Listening Project

“Elusive megafauna” may sound like an oxymoron, but in the case of the Congo Basin’s forest elephants, it is not. Dr. Peter Wrege of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Elephant Listening Project has been recording the sounds of elephants for 10 years in Central Africa, often in natural clearings called bais, where elephants gather to socialize and drink mineral-rich water. Observing large mammals in clearings may sound easy, but 80 percent of elephants’ activities at bais now take place under cover of night, a shift in behavior in response to human activities in the daytime. In addition, elephants communicate using a range of vocalizations, most of which are below the range audible to human ears.

   Peter Wrege and team deploying acoustic recording unit
Peter Wrege and team deploy acoustic recording units in Gabon. Photo by Michelle Gadd/USFWS

To reveal what these secretive giants are doing in the dark, Wrege devised audio recording devices to listen to elephant calling activity and deployed night vision and thermal imaging equipment. Bais are hotspots of elephant activity, but unfortunately they also attract humans – poachers in search of ivory. Thanks to acoustic monitoring, Wrege can not only determine how many elephants are visiting a bai and when, but also detect poaching attempts (by recording gunshots) and the impacts of human activities such as encroachment from logging operations and oil exploration. Wrege and colleagues engage with governments, logging companies and local communities to continuously monitor and secure the most important bais.

  • Elephants at a bai

Wrege’s ongoing acoustic projects, supported in part by USFWS African Elephant Conservation Fund since 2009, have made valuable contributions to elephant conservation. Acoustic surveys have been found to estimate elephant numbers as accurately as the standard method of counting piles of elephant dung along straight lines known as transects; they also sample a larger area making them more cost-effective. By measuring the patterns of gunshots in the forest, Wrege and team can help better inform anti-poaching efforts and measure their effectiveness. The recording devices have also helped show other disturbances in the forest, including the arrival of industrial activity and construction: In response to the noise associated with seismic exploration by oil companies, elephants appeared to shift their activities more to the night. The recordings showed a lower likelihood of calling during the day and an increase in the likelihood of calling after dark. By knowing which activities are detrimental to elephants, we can recommend better standard practices for extractive industries.

   elephant in infared
A bull elephant in musth, a period during which adult male elephants are eager to mate. The heat emanating from his temporal glands and other areas can be visibly seen with the use of thermal imaging. Photo by Peter Wrege/Elephant Listening Project

In collaboration with Dr. Andrea Turkalo, a pioneering forest elephant biologist and USFWS grantee, Wrege employed thermal imaging to further investigate elephants’ nocturnal activities over a three-year period in Dzanga Bai, in the Central African Republic.

“The thermal work was an eye-opener, visually compelling. It confirmed what we suspected we were hearing,” Wrege says. Analysis of thousands of hours of recordings from several bais showed that the composition of vocalization types was different during the night than during the day. “Something was going on at night – different behaviors or a different mix of ages and sexes – but the acoustics alone couldn’t tell us.”

Thermal imaging proved to be a valuable complement to the acoustic information. It enabled Wrege to count individual elephants, estimate sex ratio, record the structure of family groups and link specific behaviors to specific vocalizations. Even more exciting, Wrege could observe the social interactions even on the darkest of nights.

elephants seen in infared   That elephants feel secure enough to mate in bais at night makes bais all the more important to ensuring their future reproduction and therefore survival. Photo by Peter Wrege/Elephant Listening Project

The thermal imaging helped Wrege reveal that bais may be mating hotspots for forest elephants, emphasizing the importance of these sites for elephant conservation. “Elephants’ sexual behavior was an order of magnitude higher after dark,” he says. The number of mature bulls did not increase as it got dark, but many more females and their families began entering the bai after dusk, increasing until midnight. “Maybe there were just more possible mating opportunities with more females around – or perhaps sex under the cover of darkness reduces interference by other bulls.”

Protecting bais is essential to the survival of forest elephants. Wrege is passing his knowledge on and training local biologists in the use of acoustic and other equipment to study forest elephants. As part of this training initiative, Wrege has recently created video tutorials in French and English for analyzing sound data.

   Toussaint Ogombet
Toussaint Ogombet with notebook and spotting scope on an observation platform overlooking a bai. Photo by Peter Wrege/Elephant Listening Project

Toussaint Ogombet is one of Wrege’s latest mentees. Ogombet has in turn been sharing his skills with a logging company in Gabon to oversee its wildlife management efforts. The company is supporting his use of acoustics to monitor wildlife as part of its obligations for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. Two other logging companies active in the area have since expressed interest in using acoustics to monitor and protect wildlife on the land they manage.

Wrege’s tenacious and innovative application of technology to conserve elephants persists: He is now establishing a monitoring network to follow elephant activities in an 8,000 square kilometer area in northern Republic of the Congo, including training a dedicated team of four Congolese researchers. As part of this effort he is refining an automated elephant call detector that will expedite the analysis of sound files in situ, and developing a real-time gunshot detection system to reinforce anti-poaching efforts. These efforts will help wildlife managers get information more quickly about changes in elephants’ movements and the threats they face – facilitating more rapid and strategic anti-poaching patrols.

SuperbOwl Weekend

 Saw whet owl

No matter who you root for this weekend, don't forget the SuperbOwls.

Read More and check out these really superbOwls.

We Want Young Artists to Inspire the Conservation World

Several contests give young visual artists a chance to show off their talent in support of conservation. I write for a living but know that picture or photo can make a story. Art can stop people in their tracks and connect with them on a deep emotional level. Please take a look at these contests and see whether you have what it takes. 

   Through Young Eyes collage

• At their recent meeting, the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) accepted a resolution to encourage youth engagement. The resolution was presented by FWS’ Megan Reed. The theme of World Wildlife Day on March 3 is “Listen to Young Voices,” and the Through Young Eyes photo contest is way to connect with young people. Photographers can either show some of the world’s amazing wildlife or young people working to conserve these species. The deadline is February 13. Details and Rules: https://cites.org/eng/WWD2017_photo_competition_call_for_entries_14012016  

ES artCalifornian Miles Yun, 15, won last year's Endangered Species Youth Art Contest. 

•The Endangered Species Youth Art Contest is open to students in grades K-12, including those who are homeschooled or belong to a youth/art program. Artwork should highlight one or more land- or ocean-dwelling threatened or endangered species, or a recovered one, found in the United States. (The contest has lists of eligible species under “Subject Matter.”)The competition provides students an opportunity to learn about imperiled wildlife and show support for conservation. Entries must be submitted electronically no later than March 1. Details and Rules: http://www.endangered.org/campaigns/endangered-species-day/saving-endangered-species-youth-art-contest/

Jr Duck Stamp16-year-old Stacy Shen, took top honors at the National Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest.

• A few weeks later is the deadline for the National Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest: March 15. (Mostly. A few states have different deadlines.) Students K-12 attending public, private or homeschool in the United States may enter their states’ contest, and the one “Best of Show” in each state or territory goes on to the national contest. The winning art at the national level is made into the Junior Duck Stamp, which sells for $5 and raises money for environmental education. Details and Rules: https://www.fws.gov/birds/education/junior-duck-stamp-conservation-program/junior-duck-stamp-contest-information.php 

Tracks in the Snow

   snow tracksWhy did a large-winged bird leave such a deep impression in the snow at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota? Photo by Lee Kensinger/USFWS

Who goes there?

Now’s your chance to find out.

Winter is a great time to find signs of wildlife on national wildlife refuges. You can learn surprising things by studying animal tracks and imprints in the snow.

Snow prints may reveal clues to an animal’s size, diet, gait and habits. Some prints tell stories of struggle and survival.

If you’re hunting, reading animal tracks can mean the difference between finding your quarry and leaving empty-handed. If you’re simply enjoying nature, interpreting snow tracks can be a source of wonder and fun. 

Test your snowprint interpreting skills at https://www.fws.gov/refuges/features/SnowTracks.html

Look for a new online story about your national wildlife refuges every Wednesday on the Refuge System home page

Susan Morse, National Wildlife Refuge System communications

Seedskadee Refuge Inspires River Whyless

Last summer, acclaimed folk-rock band River Whyless visited Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Wyoming. Inspired by their amazing experience in this sagebrush ecosystem, the band wrote a song called “Hold Me To Ya.” 




Salmon SuperHwy Project Improves Habitat for Fish, Infrastructure for People

   Stillwell Creek before and after

There’s a highway along the Oregon coast that you won’t find on a map. It’s one of the most used highways, with travelers crowding 10 wide at times. It’s the Salmon SuperHighway, a strategic, comprehensive effort across a six-river landscape to reconnect fish populations with the habitat they need by updating road crossings and other barriers, while also addressing flooding and road damage. When complete, it’ll span 178 river miles reconnect a 940-square-mile landscape on the North Oregon Coast that feeds Tillamook and Nestucca bays.

Read More

Fall in Love All Over Again

The Department of the Interior is getting ready for its annual Valentine’s Day video (last year's is above)  and needs your help. Send your videos and photos of your weddings or proposals in national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands to newmedia@ios.doi.gov. Please identify the location, remove watermarks and submit videos and photos no later than Monday, February 6, for a chance to be in the special Valentine’s Day video.

No Poppin’ these Collars, Key Deer

   Running Key deerA Key deer scampers away after being fitted with a radio collar. Photo by Christine Ogura/USFWS

Ken Warren updates us on the New World screwworm situation at National Key Deer Refuge in Florida.

Thirty adult female Key deer have new collars, and there’ll be no “poppin’” these radio collars. 

Over a three-day period that started January 16, specially trained Key deer researchers from Texas A&M University and veterinarians and biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured and placed electronic tracking collars on Key deer at Big Pine and No Name keys. These are small, lightweight flexible vinyl collars, specially made for Key deer. 

   Putting collar on Key deerA team from the Service and Texas A&M University carefully subdue a doe before placing a radio collar on her. Photo by Christine Ogura/USFWS

These collars allow the Service to more easily find, and in turn, closely monitor these Key deer does now, and more importantly, during the upcoming fawning season for possible screwworm infestation.  Fawning season, which usually starts in March or April each year, will be a critical timeframe because of how these parasites lay eggs in open wounds, which hatch and become flesh-eating maggots. Does and fawns are particularly vulnerable during the birthing process. 

   Matt GrassiBiological Technician Matt Grassi uses a handheld telemetry receiver and antenna to track Key deer on Big Pine Key. Photo By Noah Strong/USFWS

Using the radio telemetry gear, Service biologists are checking on these collared does several times a week.  When fawning season begins, Service biologists will increase observations to a daily schedule. 

“We’ve got to be especially vigilant with fawning season coming,” says Dan Clark, refuge manager at Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex. “Should fertile screwworm flies be detected or an infested animal confirmed, Key deer does and fawns will be at higher risk.  If it happens, we’ll be prepared to move swiftly with preventative treatments and/or other contingency operations already planned and established to protect the subspecies.” 

As an added precaution against the parasite, the deer that have received advanced veterinary care have a number shaved onto their sides for relocation and monitoring. The Service has been visually monitoring these deer as they are observed, and will continue to do so through the next few months as a sort of welfare check. 

While significant strides have been made toward eliminating fertile screwworm flies from the environment, complete eradication remains elusive.  On January 13, two Key deer from Big and Little Munson islands, respectively, were confirmed to have been infested with screwworm by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory.  One of these was dead when it was found, and the other was euthanized on January 7 for its own welfare. 

   Collar on Key deerA close-up look at one of the radio collars worn by a Key deer. Photo by USFWS

The radio collars will also provide data to improve the Service’s ability to estimate the population and identify changes in population numbers during the incident. 

The presence of New World screwworm was confirmed on National Key Deer Refuge on September 30. Since then, we have worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Monroe County, Florida, and others to eradicate this parasite and protect the endangered Key deer and other wildlife from infestation.


For the Birds: People Turn out to Celebrate Centennial of Migratory Bird Treaty

intern with bird on her head

In 2016, the Service and partners celebrated all over the country the centennial of the most important document to aid in the protection of migratory birds in North America. The Convention between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds – also called the Migratory Bird Treaty – was signed August 16, 1916, codifying the United States’ and Canada’s commitment to protecting our shared bird resources. In 1918, the United States signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the domestic legislation that formally implements the United States' commitment to the 1916 treaty. This treaty and three subsequent international conventions, with Mexico (1936), Japan (1972) and Russia (1976) provide for the protection of migratory birds that travel among and inhabit these nations.

Photo: Intern Rozz gets acquainted with a lorikeet at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Photo by USFWS

Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.


More Entries