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Category: Wildlife

Madagascar's wildlife -- including some newly discovered species -- imperiled by unrest, WWF says

Ring-tailed lemurs

JOHANNESBURG — From giant palm trees to mouse-sized lemurs, unique plants and animals are threatened on Madagascar as political deadlock drags on after a 2009 coup.

The World Wildlife Fund conservation group drew attention to the Indian Ocean island's natural wealth in a report released Monday that looks at the more than 600 new species discovered on the island between 1999 and 2010. Many of the new finds are already endangered, the group said, in large part because deforestation is destroying their habitat.

"We as a species, the human race, we don't understand the complexities of the natural world around us," Richard Hughes, the WWF's Madagascar-based regional director, said in a telephone interview. Yet "we people are the one species with the most power to destroy or protect what's there."

Madagascar's rain forests, with their precious rosewood and other timber, were pillaged amid the instability and political and economic isolation that followed the 2009 coup, the WWF said in its report "Treasure Island: New biodiversity in Madagascar." The killing of forest animals, including lemurs, for food also increased, as did poverty as the crucial tourism trade suffered, the environmental group said.

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Judge denies U.S. motion to dismiss lawsuit from wild-horse advocates

Mustang Roundup

RENO — Horse protection advocates have claimed a rare legal victory as part of a larger effort to end federal roundups of free-roaming mustangs on public lands in the western United States.

A federal judge in Sacramento ruled Wednesday that In Defense of Animals and others can move forward with their lawsuit accusing the Bureau of Land Management of violating U.S. laws that protect the animals on the range.

Judge Morrison England Jr. denied the BLM's motion to dismiss the suit based on claims it is moot because the specific roundup in question was completed months ago in Nevada and California. He says if he ultimately finds the roundups illegal, he can order the horses returned to the range. He says he also can order the BLM to follow the law in future.

RELATED WILD HORSE NEWS:
Speakers at Las Vegas conference argue for the revival of U.S. horse slaughter industry
North Carolina wild horse population faces an uncertain future

-- Scott Sonner, Associated Press

Photo: Wild horses are herded by helicopter in Skull Valley, Utah, in a 2000 photo. Credit: Jason Olson / Associated Press

Deal is reportedly reached to let Yellowstone bison roam in Gardiner Basin conservation area

Bison in Yellowstone

BILLINGS, Mont. — Under a breakthrough agreement expected to be adopted this week, bison from Yellowstone National Park will roam freely across 75,000 acres in southern Montana where for years the animals were shipped to slaughter by the hundreds

The deal -- involving five state and federal agencies and several American Indian tribes -- still limits where bison will be free to go during their winter migrations. Officials say those that move beyond the newly opened habitat and head north into the Paradise Valley will continue to be shot to protect livestock against a disease carried by the wild animals.

But supporters say the agreement will bring some relief to Montana's bison management dilemma, which has dragged on for two decades and resulted in the slaughter of 3,800 bison.

A copy of the agreement obtained by the Associated Press shows bison will be free to roam within an area known as the Gardiner Basin when they migrate from the mountainous park during winter to graze. A map attached to the document depicts a "bison conservation area" estimated by a U.S. Forest Service official at 75,000 acres, although some of that land is too steep to support bison.

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SigAlert in black-and-white fur, with a happy ending

Driving through a hilly neighborhood the other day, I saw that four cars had stopped ahead of me, for no obvious reason.

It was a fairly quiet street, so why the backup?

Once the cars began to ease forward, I did too, and I saw what the drivers had all stopped for: a fat ol' skunk had been waddling with a slow, ungainly gait across the street. Once he or she had safely reached the other side, the cars, and the skunk, went on their way.

I'm sure some cynics would say the drivers just didn't want to hit the skunk and get their cars skunked with that smell. I like to credit Angeleno drivers, in whatever hurry they're in, with kinder intent than that.

RELATED GOOD NEWS ABOUT ANIMALS:
Japanese rescuers save finless porpoise stranded in rice paddy by tsunami
Animal lovers clamor to adopt Oklahoma puppy that survived euthanasia attempt

-- Patt Morrison

America's oldest known wild bird, a Laysan albatross, is found alive after fears it perished in tsunami

Wisdom the albatross

HONOLULU — The oldest known wild bird in the U.S. has returned to a remote atoll northwest of the main Hawaiian islands after surviving this month's tsunami.

Officials at the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Midway Atoll, said Monday that they are thrilled that the Laysan albatross survived the March 11 tsunami. The albatross, named Wisdom, is more than 60 years old.

Complex project leader Barry Stieglitz says the survival of the albatross reinforces the importance of breeding adults in the seabird population.

The tsunami generated by the massive earthquake off Japan killed at least 2,000 adult and 110,000 albatross chicks.

Stieglitz says it is "humbling" that the 8-pound bird is still producing chicks.

RELATED BIRD NEWS:
Researchers say penguins are harmed by the tracking bands used to study them
Two unusual albino blue-winged kookaburra chicks found in Queensland, Australia

-- Associated Press

Photo: Wisdom the Laysan albatross with a chick at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in February. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey / Associated Press

Obama administration officials and wildlife advocates reach uneasy agreement over gray wolves' status

A gray wolf in Montana

BILLINGS, Mont. — Facing mounting pressure from lawmakers over gray wolves, wildlife advocates reached an agreement with the Obama administration Friday to lift protections for the species in Montana and Idaho and allow hunting.

The settlement agreement, opposed by some environmentalists, is intended to resolve years of litigation that has kept wolves in the Northern Rockies shielded by the Endangered Species Act even as the population expanded dramatically.

It also is meant to preempt action by Congress, where western Republicans are leading efforts to strip wolves of their protections nationwide.

"For too long, wolf management in this country has been caught up in controversy and litigation instead of rooted in science, where it belongs. This proposed settlement provides a path forward," said Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes.

Court documents detailing the proposed agreement between the U.S. Department of Interior and ten conservation groups were filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Montana.

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Canadian harp seals coming to American waters in larger numbers

Harp Seal

PORTLAND, Maine — Harp seals from Canada are showing up in U.S. waters in greater numbers and farther south than usual, and biologists want to know why.

Small numbers of juvenile harp seals are typically found each winter stranded along the coast of the northeastern United States. But this year, well more than 100 adult harp seals -- not juveniles -- have been spotted, said Mendy Garron, regional marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Gloucester, Mass. The sightings are reported by 14 seal stranding and rehabilitation organizations in New England and the Middle Atlantic.

"In some areas they're reporting three times the normal number of sightings," Garron said. "This year, we've had four sightings of adult harp seals in North Carolina, which we've never had before. We typically don't see them that far south."

Seals are common in New England waters, where the most abundant type is the harbor seal, with a population estimated at about 100,000 the last time they were surveyed a decade ago. Gray seals are the second most common seal.

But those numbers are piddling compared to the number of harp seals found in the northwest Atlantic. Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans says 9 million of them can be found off Canada and Greenland.

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Federal judge hears arguments about Yellowstone grizzly bears' threatened status

Grizzly Bear

PORTLAND, Ore. — Dueling attorneys for a conservation group and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered starkly different opinions Monday about the future of the grizzly bear population in and around Yellowstone National Park if the bear is taken off the threatened species list.

Three 9th Circuit Court of Appeals justices heard half-hour arguments and rebuttals from each side more than a year after the grizzlies were returned to the list by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy.

The federal government is bullish on the bear's prospects, and state wildlife agencies from Montana and Wyoming have argued in briefs filed to the appellate court that officials are confident the bears won't go extinct if states are left to manage them.

Environmental groups say the bear's future is murky, and lifting protections now poses too great a risk to their survival.

Molloy's ruling, which resolved a lawsuit brought by the Montana-based Greater Yellowstone Coalition, highlighted the deaths of hundreds of thousands of whitebark pine trees over the last two decades.

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Conservationists work to save Hanoi's famous Hoan Kiem turtle

Hoan Kiem turtle

HANOI, Vietnam — Hundreds of people are working around the clock to clean up a lake in the heart of Vietnam's capital in hopes of saving a rare, ailing giant turtle that is considered a sacred symbol of Hanoi.

Some experts fear pollution at Hoan Kiem Lake is killing the giant freshwater turtle, which has a soft shell and is the size of a desk. It is one of the world's most-endangered species, with only four known to be alive worldwide.

Teams of people are cleaning debris, pumping fresh water into the lake and using sandbags to expand a tiny island to serve as a "turtle hospital." The rescuers may even try to net the animal for the first time as part of the effort.

The Hoan Kiem turtle is rooted in Vietnamese folklore, and some even believe the animal that lives in the lake today is the same mythical creature that helped a Vietnamese king fend off Chinese invaders nearly six centuries ago.

It swims alone in the lake and in the past has been glimpsed only rarely sticking its wrinkled neck out of the water. But it has recently surfaced much more frequently, alarming the public with visible raw open sores on its head, legs and shell.

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Rare Javan rhinoceroses caught on video in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Four of the world's rarest rhinoceroses were captured by camera traps in an Indonesian national park, an environmental group said Monday.

The footage from movement-triggered hidden cameras showed two mother Javan rhinos and two calves in Ujung Kulon National Park in November and December last year, said a release from the WWF-Indonesia.

Javan rhinos are one of the world's most endangered species, with an estimated population of no more than 50 in Ujung Kulon. A few others live in Vietnam's Cat Tien National Park.

"This is good news to ensure that the population is viable," said Adhi Hariyadi, WWF project leader in the park.

The first "video trap" footage recorded in November showed a mother and calf, identified later as a male, walking steadily toward the camera. Several more videos of the family were obtained later.

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