Large carnivores’ tough life: Lion and Buffalo fight to death

I usually hear people saying that herbivores are prey and are vulnerable to be killed at any moment. They have fear, and while grazing/browsing are vigilant and ready to run if anything similar to a predator has been spotted or smelled in the surroundings. They are seen as the weakest against the powerful predators armed with sharped claws and muscled jaws that hold an army of threatening canines.

From my point of view, the truth is slightly different. Predators do not have an easy life neither. They have to compete with other powerful and armed carnivores of their same and other species for food, space, access to reproduction, survival, etc. They also have to cope with diseases, human persecution (their biggest challenge in life!) and always have to be in good shape. They must be successful hunters which required skills and techniques that need to be constantly improved throughout their life.

Quite a difficult task too… who is afraid now?

Next pictures were published in the Daily Mail two weeks ago. They were taken by Matt Armstrong-Ford, who works as a safari guide in the South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

I thought interesting to share them as they well illustrate the predators’ tough life.

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Desesperate six-year-old male lion suffering from mange was waiting nearby a waterhole for a meal when the lone female buffalo appeared in the scene.

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The feline is tossed around in the air as he attempts to mount his adversary.

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The amateur photographer said that the fight lasted up to an hour. The buffalo managed to shake the lion itself off several times but instead of trying to escape just stood there. Both animals stared at each other both too exhausted to move. After a few minutes of rest the lion then went for the buffalo and another ten-minute battle ensued.

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As it looked like fortune was favouring the exhausted but ravenous lion a member of the buffalo’s herd came to its aid and delivered a deadly blow.

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After this the lion managed to drag himself under a bush to lick his wounds. Both animals were covered in blood by the end. Two days later the lion succumbed to his injuries, while the buffalo’s carcass was found two weeks later having failed to fight off infection

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2945904/Battle-death-Buffalo-lion-endure-epic-hour-long-fight-leaves-animals-fatal-injuries.html

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Camera-Trap Photo of the Year 2014

The most prestigious camera-trap competition has been overhauled with new categories for research and photographic achievement. This year saw a record number of entrants to BBC Wildlife Magazine’s Camera-Trap Photo of the Year competition. In five years it has grown into the world’s most prestigious recognition of the role that new technology plays in our understanding of the natural world.
Next some selected pictures. You can find more about prices and authors here.

http://www.discoverwildlife.com/gallery/bbc-wildlife-camera-trap-photo-year-2014-winners

http://www.discoverwildlife.com/gallery/bbc-wildlife-camera-trap-photo-year-2014-winners

http://www.discoverwildlife.com/gallery/bbc-wildlife-camera-trap-photo-year-2014-editors-choice

Predator Conservation relies on understanding human psychology

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Young Leopard. Bwabwata National Park, Zambezi Strip (Namibia). Credits: Ruben Portas

The world’s predators – mammals such as gray wolves, jaguars, tigers, African lions, European lynx, wolverines, and black and brown bears, along with sharks – are declining at an alarming rate. While those species are suffering for a variety of reasons, one of the main sources of mortality is human in origin. It’s a bit counterintuitive, since predators are some of the more charismatic of species. And charismatic critters are the easiest ones about which to convince people to care.

It would seem as if the best way to ensure the success of conservation programs aimed at preserving these most iconic of species would be to turn humans from enemies into allies. In other words, humans have to become more tolerant of predators. The problem, according to researchers Adrian Treves and Jeremy Bruskotter, is that we don’t know very much about what makes people tolerant of some predators and intolerant of others. In an article in this week’s issue of Science Magazine, they argue that wildlife conservation efforts ought to account for human psychology.

One of the primary assumptions driving research in conservation psychology is that intolerance toward predators, whether in the form of sanctioned eradication programs or culls (like gray wolves in the US orbears in parts of Europe or sharks in Australia) or in the form of illegal poaching, is driven mainly by the real or imagined need to retaliate against losses of livelihood, usually due to livestock predation. “Under this assumption,” Treves and Bruskotter write, “governments and private organizations aiming to protect predators have implemented economic incentives to reduce the perceived costs of predator conservation and raise tolerance for predators.”

One such program is implemented in Sweden. The government pays indigenous reindeer herders called Sami to tolerate the occasional loss of livestock to predators, and it seems to be effective for wolverines, brown bears, and lynxes. Each time a predator successfully reproduces, the Sami herders are paid.

But that strategy is only effective insofar as the source of predator intolerance is economic. That might work for some predators, but not for others. Fifty-one percent of Sweden’s wolves died from poaching between 1998 and 2009. The Swedish program has so far failed to protect gray wolves because the Sami perceive the costs of tolerance as weightier than the benefits. At present, wolves are effectively extirpated from parts of the country where reindeer graze.

An adjustment of social norms may succeed, however, where economic incentives fail. In Kenya, Maasai herders are not just compensated when lions kill their livestock; some community members are trained to warn villagers when lions approach, and monitor their movements. It reflects a different strategy, one of cautious coexistence driven by altered social norms rather than rigid defensiveness driven by externally imposed economic remuneration.

A similar effort is implemented in Brazil, for ranchers whose livestock graze near jaguar territories. In one study, researchers interviewed 268 cattle ranchers about their tolerance for jaguars, and found that perceived social norms were far more influential than economic disincentives when it came to determining any individual rancher’s likelihood to kill a jaguar. In other words, if ranchers thought that their neighboring ranchers killed jaguars, or if they thought that their neighbors would expect them to kill jaguars, they were more likely to do it. It’s the very same peer pressure that plays out in high schools across America, superimposed onto Brazilian rainforests. “The social facilitation that results in areas where poaching is common and accepted can create predator-free zones as neighbors and associates coordinate their actions explicitly or tacitly,” write Treves and Bruskotter.

Things aren’t so different in the industrialized West, where sport hunters are often thought of as valuable partners in conservation. The reasoning goes that since hunters at one time helped to conserve game species (like deer and ducks), then hunters would also help conserve predators who are designated as legal game. One program in Wisconsin was designed explicitly to increase tolerance for wolves by allowing 43 of the endangered canids to be killed each year. And yet while the program was in place, researchers found a decrease in tolerance and in increase in the desire to kill wolves. Legalizing the hunting of predators, even in a restricted way, didn’t have the intended outcome.

Wisconsin’s wolf hunting program wasn’t a controlled experiment, so the interpretation of the results is necessarily limited. However, some researchers did organize a controlled experiment to see how various approaches might improve tolerance for American black bears. The researchers discovered that providing people with information about the benefits derived from bears along with information about how to reduce the risks of negative bear encounters increased peoples’ tolerance for the animals. On the other hand, information about how to reduce risks alone, without the additional information about benefits, actually reduced their tolerance. Treves and Bruskotter suspect that’s because the risks were made more salient without the buffering effect of the bears’ benefits on local ecosystems. Similar results were seen for studies investigating the tolerance of tigers in Nepal.

Taken together, Treves and Bruskotter argue that while monetary incentives can be successful tools in the conservationist’s toolbox, poaching is influenced more strongly by social and cultural factors. “We therefore recommend caution in legalizing the killing of predators,” they say. They further argue that the best way to move forward in understanding when economic and social incentives are more or less effective is through explicit experimental manipulation, rather than through the haphazard patchwork of trial and error that has in many cases characterized predator conservation efforts. – Jason G. Goldman | 2 May 2014

Source: Treves A. & Bruskotter J. (2014). Tolerance for Predatory Wildlife, Science, 344 476-477. DOI:

http://conservationmagazine.org/2014/05/predator-conservation-relies-on-understanding-human-psychology/

“Cyberpoaching” Feared as New Threat to Rare Wildlife

Email hacking incident in India raises concerns, conservationists say

A tiger is fitted with a radio tracking collar by researchers in Thailand.

A tiger is fitted with a radio tracking collar by researchers in Thailand.

PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE WINTER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Hackers have broken into the websites of banks, news outlets, social media, and the government, but could key information on the whereabouts of endangered species be targeted as well?

Possibly, say conservationists: An incident in India has some concerned that wildlife poachers could use the Internet as another resource for criminal activity.

In July, Krishnamurthy Ramesh, head of the monitoring program at Panna Tiger Reserve in central India, received an email that alerted him to an attempt to access his professional email account. His inbox contained the encrypted geographic location of an endangered Bengal tiger. (See a National Geographic magazine interactive of big cats in danger.)

The tiger, a two-and-a-half-year-old male, had been fitted with a nearly $5,000 collar with both satellite and ground-tracking capabilities in February 2013. The collar was configured to provide GPS data every hour for the first three months and every four hours for the next five months (the collar lasts about eight months).

In July, the battery expired and the satellite feedback in the collar stopped working. Around the same time, Ramesh received the notice that someone in Pune (map)—more than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) away from his office in Dehradun (map)—had tried to access his email.

The attempt was promptly prevented by the server. Even if the GPS data had been obtained, it is encrypted and can be decoded only with specialized data-converter software and specific radio-collar product information, said Ramesh.

“They couldn’t even see the data—it would look like unusual numbers or symbols,” he said.

It’s unknown who was trying to access the data, or if it was simply an innocent mistake. The forest department of the state that contains the reserve, Madhya Pradesh, has started an inquiry in collaboration with the police.

Even so, the situation prompted Ramesh and others to consider the potential that online data about endangered species could fall into the wrong hands.

Wildlife Sales Go Virtual

The Internet has given a new shape to the booming illegal wildlife trade.

According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began spotting online sale postings for frozen tiger cubs in the late 1990s. (Read about a live tiger cub that was found in luggage in Thailand in 2010.)

By July 2002, the wildlife-trade monitoring network TRAFFIC found 33 tiger products on Chinese online auction websites, including bracelets, pendants, and tiger-bone glue. Ads even promoted “blood being visible in items.”

Such online sales are part of a bigger wildlife-trafficking industry, which the conservation nonprofit WWF estimates to be worth $7.8 to $10 billion per year.

Traffickers have reason to shift their efforts to the Internet: They can be anonymous and camouflage their intentions with code words, such as “ox bone,” which has been used to describe illegal elephant ivory items sold through eBay.

What’s more, online transactions can happen quickly and customers can come from virtually any corner of the world. These factors, as well as the difficulty of establishing jurisdiction when a trafficker is caught, pose stark challenges for police and enforcement agencies.

Whether or not the Indian incident was a thwarted attempt at poaching, wildlife-governance specialist Andrew Zakharenka of the Washington, D.C.-based Global Tiger Initiative points out that “with increasing income and connectivity to the Internet, especially in developing countries, there is a threat of increased demand for wildlife products.”

Zakharenka also said that wildlife criminals are increasingly using technology. He sees cell phones, SIM cards, and emails involved in cases of arrested criminals time and time again.

According to Shivani Bhalla, National Geographic explorer and lion conservationist, “Poaching is completely different than the way it used to be in the eighties.”

She’s heard documented stories of “tech-savvy wildlife crime groups who know to enter wildlife areas and kill so many animals.”

TRAFFIC has also reported that poachers are using increasingly sophisticated methods, such as veterinary drugs, to kill animals.

Technology Aids Conservation

Even so, technological advances can also be used to increase conservation successes.

Just four years ago, virtually every tiger in Madhya Pradesh had been lost to poaching. Even forest officials—from guards to officers—were involved in the suppression of poaching evidence and tiger death cases, according to an internal report filed by the reserve’s field director.

But thanks to a tiger reintroduction and monitoring program—touted as one of the most successful in the world—the reserve now has 22 tigers. There are fewer than 2,000 Bengal tigers left in the wild. (See “Tigers Making a Comeback in Parts of Asia.”)

“Technology has been a great support in Panna, and in fact, the tiger population recovery has advanced because of security-based monitoring involving such technology,” said Ramesh.

Conservationist Bhalla, who heads the organization Ewaso Lions, believes the collars provide vital information on behavior and movement, especially in human-dominated landscapes. For instance, on September 5, an eight-year-old male lion was shot, beheaded, and partially burned as retribution by villagers in northern Kenya.

Because the animal was wearing a collar that provided real-time radio-frequency signals and GPS locations, Bhalla and colleagues knew something was wrong right away.

“The last [geographical] point we received was at 8 a.m.,” said Bhalla. “The collar was able to tell us that he had been killed, where he had been killed, and we were able to track it straight to the community”—a remote village in Samburu.

Ramesh added that the advantages of technology outweigh the drawbacks.

“I tend to think we’re better placed than the poacher in terms of the technology, while not underestimating the desperation involved in poaching big cats,” he said. (See tiger pictures.)

Stepping Up Security

Since the possible hacking attempt, the collared tiger in Satpura Tiger Reserve has been seen more than three times and photographed twice. Ramesh said that a dedicated team stays within 1,600 feet (500 meters) of the tiger at all times to deter poachers.

The incident has also pushed Ramesh and colleagues to ramp up Panna’s security.

In January, the conservationists will deploy drones for surveillance and set up wireless sensors to detect human intrusions into the forest.

“We shall surely counter technology-based threats from poachers, if they ever resort to them,” Ramesh said.

Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131010-poaching-technology-tigers-endangered-animals-science/ 

Montana’s Glaciated Plains: Thinking Big Across Time and Space

Posted by Sean Gerrity of American Prairie Reserve, National Geographic Fellow on November 2, 2012 

American Prairie Reserve’s mission to create a reserve of more than three million acres represents one of the largest conservation projects in the United States today. The size of the project is hard to grasp – even a small piece of the 274,000 acres that currently comprise the Reserve seems like an endless “sea of grass” to both first-time and seasoned visitors. However, after ten weeks of research on historical wildlife populations of Montana’s glaciated plains, I have become increasingly convinced that APR’s vision is necessary. If we want to understand the behavior and ecology of grassland species, we need to think big.

America’s iconic species – bison, pronghorn, elk, wolves, grizzly bears – evolved over tens of thousands of years on a wide-open continent. Over this long period of time, these species became well adapted to environmental “stochasticity,” the highly dynamic and unpredictable nature of their habitat. In fact, the prairie is one of the most dynamic ecosystems in the world.

Pronghorn race across the plains. Photo courtesy of Diane Hargreaves.

Settlers came to Montana in the early 20th century after being told that if they turned the soil they could transform the rugged landscape and cultivate a fertile Eden. A few years of unusually (and well-timed) wet conditions in the 1910′s bolstered this belief, but a severe drought in the 1920′s caused devastation for most agricultural producers. Unlike its settlers, though, the region’s wildlife had evolved several adaptations to deal with these rapid and extreme fluctuations. It turns out that the key to persistence in a highly stochastic environment is to employ a range of survival techniques.

On a wide-open continent, ungulates like elk, deer and pronghorn thrived in many different habitats and were able to chose from a toolkit of survival strategies grounded in their history and experience on the land. If conditions were optimal, herds would be inclined to stay put, but in periods of high environmental variance, they would have had to choose a new strategy. For instance, when temperatures dropped abnormally low, ungulates fled the prairie and sought thermal refuge in the Missouri River Breaks or the Rocky Mountains.

Elk in Autumn. Photo courtesy of Gib Myers/APR.

Through my research, I also discovered the debate over whether bison were historically a migratory or a nomadic species. Did they follow specific migratory patterns, or did they move in a sporadic, localized manner related to the availability of food? We’re not sure, but the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless, much of the migratory behavior that we observe in terrestrial species today is shaped by human intervention. We have severely restricted the habitats of most wildlife species, and climate change threatens what marginal areas remain.

Recent studies predict that changes in climate, such as increases in severe weather events and changes in precipitation levels, will affect grassland ecosystems, from native plant and weed distribution to altered fire regimes. Conservation planners will have to react to these to the best of their ability within the limits of science, funds, and space.

For the ungulate species that American Prairie Reserve (APR) is trying to recover, bigger is better. A large reserve would allow wildlife to utilize more of the strategies in their survival toolbox. It may also be able to buffer the adverse effects of climate change by encompassing more habitat niches and providing more space for wildlife to disperse while still remaining within reserve boundaries. Furthermore, a large area has the capacity to support higher numbers of wildlife, which greatly reduces the risk of a population extinction event.

Late afternoon light on the Reserve. Photo courtesy of Michelle Berry.

American Prairie Reserve recently celebrated the acquisition of a 150,000-acre property that more than doubled the size of previous habitat and added 16 miles of shared border with the 1.1 million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Even though the goal of APR seems very ambitious at times, we must remember that wildlife persisted on a much larger landscape for thousands of years before Lewis and Clark ever walked on this land.

Thus, it is a mistake to conceptually box these species into a specific habitat-type or set of behaviors. As Lewis put it, the historical American West contained “immence herds of Buffaloe, Elk, deer and antelopes feeding in one common and boundless pasture.” While we will never be able to recapture the full picture of historical wildlife on the frontier, American Prairie Reserve can reestablish a pretty big chunk of that natural legacy.

American Prairie Reserve intern Michelle Berry is a Master’s student in environmental studies at Stanford. She has been tasked with examining historical works of literature and other primary sources to establish wildlife population estimates in the Reserve region of northeastern Montana.Her 10-week internship was made possible by the Bill Lane Center for the American West.

Source: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/11/02/montanas-glaciated-plains-thinking-big-across-time-and-space/