Posts Tagged ‘endangered species’

The Parrots Next Door

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Monday, December 17th, 2012
Thick-billed Parrot

Thick-billed Parrot © Tom Wood

The Parrots Next Door by Tom Wood

One of the saddest stories in American ornithology is the loss of the Carolina Parakeet, the only parrot native to the eastern United States, in 1918. I remember being brought almost to tears by the specimen of Carolina Parakeet on display at the Smithsonian Museum, imagining a southern swamp made alive by parrot voices.

Out west, we had another parrot that visited our border mountain ranges. The large, noisy, Thick-billed Parrot was a frequent visitor to the pine forests of Arizona and New Mexico as far north as the Verde River. They ventured north from their stronghold in Mexico in years when drought reduced their food supply and were commonly seen from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. In 1917-18 thousands of Thick-billed Parrots were present in the Arizona mountains. But the parrots are big, noisy and tasty – a dangerous combination in the days before regulated hunting. Historical photos show hunters and miners with dozens of dead parrots. The last wild bird in the U.S. was seen in the Chiricahua Mountains in 1938.

But Thick-billed Parrots are not extinct. In fact, across the border in the mountains of Mexico Thick—billed Parrots still fill the air with their raucous calls. The nearest population at Mesa de las Guacamayas (mesa of the parrots) is 50 miles from the border and within sight of the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. For years, we have been traveling 150 miles south from our home to the logging village of Madera, Chihuahua to see the parrots. We usually associate parrots with tropical forests, but here, high in a pine forest in Mexico the loud chatter of parrots is unmistakable. We usually hear the birds long before we see them; the call may carry two miles and the birds are rarely quiet. With local guides we visit the nesting site, groves of the largest aspens I have ever seen. High overhead the birds return to the roost in late afternoon after feeding in the nearby pine forests. It never fails to give me goosebumps.

These parrots are among the most endangered parrots in the world with an estimated population around 2000. A number of groups have been working on preserving this rare species, but no partners are more important than the local ejidos, the farming cooperatives that control the land. Locals have set aside areas protected from logging in order to protect the birds. Our birding trips help provide funds to the local community and encourage conservation.Efforts to reintroduce the birds into the U.S. were complicated by the complex social order of the flocks and the inability for naive captive bred birds to evade predators. Perhaps the best hope is to ensure that the birds do well in Mexico. If they decide to immigrate, the Chiricahuas are a one hour flight from Mesa de las Guacamayas.

Wishful Thinking – The Florida Panther

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Monday, September 24th, 2012

Wishful Thinking – The Florida Panther by Jungle Pete

Florida Panther

Florida Panther taken in Flamingo Gardens in Davie, FL by Jungle Pete Corradino

Twenty seven squirrel monkeys lived on an island at the Florida Monkey Sanctuary in Venice, Florida. They had no interest in swimming to freedom. There was no land close enough on the other side of the encircling moat that offered a chance to leap to. They were content on their island oasis.

My parents ran the sanctuary and we lived on the property when we were kids. One night while my siblings and I slept, our dogs made an awful racket. My mother asked my father to find out what was happening. He listened to the screams from the porch and stepped no further from them. One by one, the dogs returned, limping and bloodied. In the morning, my father investigated. All 27 monkeys were dead. He traced cat tracks the size of his hands; one adult and two kittens and determined that an endangered Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryii) swam across the moat with her young and hunted each and every one. Oddly, she ate none. My father’s theory was that she was teaching her kittens to hunt and quite effectively at that.

The Florida Panther is considered one of the most endangered animals on the planet. Technically they are a subspecies of the Mountain Lion, aka Puma, Cougar, Painter, Swamp Screamer and Catamount (mascot of my Alma mater – the University of Vermont – Go Cats Go!). The panthers are the last breeding population of the cats east of the Mississippi. They once ranged from Alaska, south to Tierra del Fuego in South America. In the United States they are restricted to the western states with the exception of 120-160 panthers that roam from the Caloosahatchee south to the Everglades.

Florida Panthers are slightly smaller than the Mountain Lions out west. Adult males weigh in at 165 lbs, compared to western cats that top off at 260 lbs. Panthers measure over seven feet in length from nose to the tip of tail.

There are many sightings of panthers with descriptions of spotted cats or black cats that I chalk up to wishful thinking. Typically these are Bobcats (Lynx rufus) or a trick of the eye. Bobcats are a third of the size and are spotted with a six inch tailed compare to a three foot tail. The notion of a black panther may come from the black leopards from the Tarzan movies, the political group, their appearance at dusk or melanistic bobcats that have been sighted in Florida. The panther is golden brown with fur similar in color to their food, the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

I was born and raised here and have yet to see a panther. I’ll keep looking and keep up my wishful thinking.

Mission Unaccomplished

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Monday, August 23rd, 2010

In 2007 the United Nations removed the Everglades from their list of endangered World Heritage sites at the behest of the US Department of the Interior. The decision made as much sense as proclaiming that sea water is no longer salty.

Let’s first consider why the Everglades is considered a World Heritage site in the first place. UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has ten criteria. At least one must be met to be considered a unique place of considerable significance. The Everglades meets three.

The flat topography and underlining limestone formations of South Florida have given rise to a subtropical wetland ecosystem like no other place in the world. Here can be found fresh and salt water marshes, hardwood hammocks, pine rocklands, the largest mangrove estuary in the western hemisphere along with sea grass beds that are paramount to the fisheries of the Gulf and Atlantic.

The Everglades provides habitat for well over 350 species of birds as well as an extensive variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects including more than 20 species of threatened or endangered species. Manatee, Florida Panther, Snail Kite, American Crocodile, Mangrove Fox Squirrel and the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow are just a few that reside in the Everglades and are included on the list.

UNESCO listed the Everglades as a World Heritage site in 1979 as well as labeling it a site in “Danger” in 1993. The threats to the ecosystem included urban development, agricultural encroachment and runoff, misguided water management, poaching, etc.

The purpose of the listing of the Everglades and any World Heritage site is to draw attention to an imperiled place of significance. The argument for delisting the Everglades in 2007 was that CERP – the 20 year, 30 billion dollar Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan drafted between 1996 and 1999 and underway starting in 2000 was a significant step towards reparations of the mangled 18,000 square mile Everglades Watershed. UNESCO disagreed but fulfilled the wishes of the U.S. to delist it.

Just as a doctor wouldn’t release a heart patient from the hospital because he has a plan to perform open heart surgery, the Everglades should not have been delisted because there was a plan to fix it. The US Secretary of the Interior has requested the Everglades once again be listed and UNESCO has done so as of August 2010.

Newspaper headlines proclaimed the Everglades is “once again in danger” and I would add that you still shouldn’t drink the sea water.