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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Happy Valentine's Day

Still looking for that special something? Wildlife know the fine art of courtship.

A Fish Points to the Future in Lake Champlain

   pre-smolt salmon in waterFor communities in the Lake Champlain Basin, salmon are both a cultural icon and a natural asset. Photo by E. Peter Steenstra/USFWS

The Service leads work on Atlantic salmon habitat restoration in the Lake Champlain Basin. But the effort isn’t explicitly focused on salmon. Rather, it’s about improving the overall health of a watershed that is home to many other species, including humans. It’s about sustaining the surrounding landscape and communities.

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Solving a “Cattle Conundrum” to Protect Wildlife in Honduras

   jaguar walking Jaguars are one of the most well-known species found within Honduras’ wildlands. Photo by Levi Novey/USFWS

Levi Novey, an Outreach and Education Specialist in our International Affairs Program, recently traveled with other members of the Service's team to Honduras. Their goals were to meet some of our conservation partners and better understand the challenges they face, particularly with protecting the area known as La Moskitia. 

Moskitia is one of the five largest remaining wild areas in Central America. Protecting the Moskitia and the other four areas is the essential cornerstone of our agency’s Central American wildlife conservation strategy. While there are certainly other important areas that interest us and remain ecologically intact in Central America, these five wild places represent the best chance to conserve large, contiguous areas of habitat for the benefit of Central America’s wildlife and people. 

Working with our partners at Wildlife Conservation Society, we launched a project last March to fly over the Moskitia and the other four priority areas to document and assess the human footprint on these areas. Unfortunately, the Moskitia is perhaps the most threatened of the five areas, with illegal cattle ranching reaching deep into its areas designated for conservation. This is not to say that the other areas don’t face other significant conservation threats, but what is happening in Honduras is particularly troubling. 

Our aim is not to “say no” to beef and cattle ranching, but to certainly “say no” to illegal cattle ranching in areas of Honduras that are designated for conservation. So how is that achieved? We can’t claim to have a single solution in mind that will solve the cattle conundrum, but we do have a few ideas.

Read more about the trip, this "cattle conundrum" and our strategies to solve it.

Veterinarians, Biologists and Concerned Citizens Turn Around Dire Situation for Key Deer

   Biologist Kate Watts gives a Key deer an oral dose of anti-parasitic medication.
  Biologist Kate Watts gives a Key deer an oral dose of anti-parasitic medication. Photo by USFWS

The situation for Key deer, once beset by flesh-eating New World screwworm maggots, continues to improve as Ken Warren tells us.

Seeing the word “recovered” on her Key deer data sheet puts a broad smile on Kate Watts’ face. 

It was heartbreaking for Kate and her co-workers at National Key Deer Refuge in October 2016 when Key deer infested with flesh-eating New World screwworm maggots were being euthanized almost daily, but now those heartaches have been replaced with relief and a sense of fulfillment as they’re seeing many treated deer doing well--40 of which received direct veterinary care. 

As a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, Kate knew it was their best option at the time and the right thing to do, but she was still burdened by the number of Key deer that had to be put down. 

Of the 40 animals receiving individualized veterinary treatment at the peak of the incident, nearly half have made full recoveries. Given how far the situation has improved over the past few months Kate is seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. 

   people work on Key  deer   Veterinarians and biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission treat a Key deer infested with screwworm maggots. Photo by Jeff Adams/USFWS 

“It’s been amazing that we were able to turn around a situation from needing to euthanize late-stage infested deer, to monitoring deer to ensure that they’re doing well,” Kate says. “It was a whole suite of actions that got us to where we are--the USDA releasing sterile flies, our staff, partners and volunteers administering oral preventative medication, the use of self-medication stations, vets darting and treating deer...”  

As Kate notes, the efforts of a cadre of veterinarians and biologists from the Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) played an important part in creating a more manageable situation. 

side view of Marco   The 10th Key deer that received direct care from a team of veterinarians and biologists displays his tagged antlers and number 10 shaved into his fur for identification purposes. The locals dubbed him Marco. Photo by Valerie Preziosi

"The public really responded favorably to seeing deer recover from early-onset screwworm infestations, and being a part of the solution,” she says.

Valerie Preziosi of Big Pine Key is certainly part of the solution. 

   Marco swimming across the lagoon
Volunteer Valerie Preziosi took this snapshot of Marco swimming across a lagoon to her family's property on Big Pine Key. Photo by Valerie Preziosi  

One day she noticed a buck acting strangely. “He was very agitated and kept shaking his head and there were flies buzzing all around him,” Valerie says.  “He’d just be standing there and then all of a sudden he’d start running around like he was trying to get away from something.” 

Valerie reported what she was seeing.  She soon had a yard full of officials who confirmed that the deer was infested with screwworm maggots.  The response team went on to safely dart, sedate and treat the deer on October 26 as Valerie and her neighbors watched. 

Over the ensuing weeks Valerie and her neighbors formed somewhat of a neighborhood watch group to keep track of this buck, who they nicknamed Marco. “His infested area seems to be improving. He’s doing well,” she says.

Among the veterinarians involved in the overall response was the Service’s Dr. Samantha Gibbs.  She says of their efforts, “It cured many animals of what would have been a fatal infestation and all darted animals recovered well.”

   key deer looking at camera
  This young buck--nicknamed Tres--was treated for screwworm infestation in October and is now fully recovered. Photo by USFWS

Samantha was part of the crew that treated a 100-pound buck found on the property of a nearby resort. “Tres, Spanish for three, was named by the staff at the resort.  Coincidentally, he was also the third animal we treated,” she says.

“He had a moderate head wound infested with screwworms, which we were able to treat successfully with manual removal of the maggots and application of medications to kill any remaining maggots and antibiotics to assist wound healing. By last report from the staff, Tres is doing well.” 

FWC veterinarians Dr. Mark Cunningham and Dr. Lara Cusack also treated Key deer during this effort.  “Treatment was one more tool in the arsenal. Interagency cooperation was also important with the Service, USDA, FWC and the public working closely together to provide treatment,” Mark says. 

Dan Clark, Project Leader for the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex, lauds the government teams and community supporters like Valerie for their “outstanding work.”

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“The vets’ and biologists’ work, coupled with great support from folks in the community, resulted in several of these animals surviving,” he says. “That’s success, but we typically want to manage the herd instead of taking care of individuals. But this was an emergency situation. The survival of this endangered species was at stake.” 

Since the screwworm situation has stabilized and appears to be moving in the right direction, Service veterinarians determined they can support the incident from their home stations in Florida. However, they’re on call to respond at a moment’s notice if questions arise or if screwworm cases ramp back up.

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.

AUDIO
  • 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.” 

 

 

 

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