Tag Archives: Endangered Species Act

Endangered Species: An In-Depth Look at Elephants

Elephants mean different things to various cultures, ranging from being seen as simply a gorgeous animal that lives in your country to a revered god-like symbol to a token of good luck. Unfortunately they are also often idolized for their thick, leathery hides and gorgeous ivory tusks, which has led them to be listed as an endangered species.

Differences between Asian and African elephants.

The difference between Asian and African elephants. [Image: http://www.thomsonsafaris.com/]

African elephants are the largest mammals walking the Earth today, growing up to 11-feet tall, between 19 and 24 feet long, and weighing usually around six tons. There are two types of African elephants, the Savanna (bush) elephant and the forest elephant. Savanna elephants are the larger of the two and have tusks that curve outward, while forest elephants are smaller, darker, and have straighter tusks that point downward. Asian elephants, on the other hand, are very different from African elephants. They are noticeably smaller and their ears don’t fan out at the bottom like an African elephant. And while all African elephants, male or female, have tusks, only some male Asian elephants do.

Elephants are social creatures, living in herds made up of mostly females and calves while the males opt for isolation, usually leaving the herd at around 13 years old. The calves live with their mothers for a large portion of their early lives and are cared for by many of the other females in their herd. The females have the longest gestation period of any animal, lasting 22 months from conception. Throughout those 22 months, other females help the laboring mothers up until birth, acting as midwives to ensure that the entire process goes smoothly. Calves weigh about 230 pounds when they’re born, and the females don’t usually have more than four babies.

Adult elephants with a baby.

“Hey, I want to hug, too!” [Image: http://www.buzzfeed.com/]

They’re also incredibly sensitive animals. They have been known to express grief and sometimes cry, like in this heartbreaking video of a baby elephant crying after being rejected by its mother; show compassion, such as having a “greeting ceremony” for elephants they haven’t seen in awhile where they’ll “hug” by intertwining their trunks; and they also mourn the loss of fellow herd members. It’s true what they say—elephants have excellent memories, which is apparent in their varying emotional responses.

Elephants mourning.

When elephants come across the remains of a herd member, they’ll feel the crevices of each bone. [Image: http://scalar.usc.edu/works/]

These large creatures are also very resourceful. Although they’re the only mammal that can’t jump, they’re fantastic swimmers and can move swiftly and quietly, despite their enormity, due to soft pads protecting the bottoms of their feet. Their bodies have natural cooling methods as well, and they can sustain hot temperatures due to the many blood vessels coursing through their ears. On top of all this, elephants also use their tusks for many things, such as digging for water, finding food, defense, and lifting items. Similar to how humans are often left-or right-handed, elephants prefer using one tusk over the other.

Aside from utilizing their physical features in everyday life, both on a conscious and subconscious level, they’re also quite connected to their environment through the use of their senses. Their eyesight isn’t very strong, but their other senses make up for that. They have hearing capabilities that go far beyond a human’s limitations, opening them up to spatial experiences that we can’t quite begin to process. And they don’t just hear from their ears—elephants are able to pick up on sub-sonic sounds through their feet and can be found “listening” by pressing their trunks to the ground and positioning their feet in a certain way. Their trunks are also very fascinating and useful beyond its physical potentiality. Made up of more than 40,000 muscles, trunks can help elephants smell better, especially when waved from side to side, and can also help the creatures sense the size, shape, and temperature of an object.

Elephants hugging trunks.

Now don’t you wish you could get a hug from an elephant? [Image: https://www.pinterest.com/]

Although elephants don’t have any natural predators (aside from lions that sometimes prey on the weak or young), humans have led this amazing creature to become endangered. Asian elephants have been listed as endangered since 1975 and African elephants since 1989. Much of their population decline comes from poaching to support illegal ivory trading. Ivory trading was made illegal in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but there is still an unregulated market demanding it. Additionally, loss of habitat is also negatively affecting elephant populations. As humans expand further into their environments and practices like commercial logging continue, elephants end up on the losing side of the battle for more space.

Elephants.

Such a happy little family. [Image: https://iso.500px.com/]

Maintaining the areas that we visit and leaving the wildlife alone are the best ways we can help elephants and many other endangered species continue to thrive. Often we’ll see others partaking in experiences with these amazing creatures, such as viewing them in contained settings or riding on them—this is not the capacity that they were meant for, however, and we should do our best to let them live naturally. Wildlife viewing is an enjoyable part of any outdoor experience, and you can partake in it by using our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to explore parks that have diverse wildlife populations. And remember: The best approach when interacting with wildlife is to look and not touch.

Arf or Awoo? Distinguishing Wolves from Coyotes

Wolves have been the subject of conservation efforts in the United States since their alarming decline in the 1900s brought on by intensive predator control programs. Following this decline, conservation efforts were made to restore wolf populations; the Endangered Species Act (ESA), for instance, granted to wolves in 1974 helped elevate their population count in various states.

However, an accidental killing of a nursing red wolf just this past year arose concern in environmentalists while coyote hunting contests in some states stirred up more tensions between conservationists and hunters. Sparks of disagreement are clearly in the air, with one of the main stances being that some wolves might be killed during the coyote hunting contests. Therefore, this article will strive to tackle how to distinguish wolves from coyotes in the wild.

For visual reference, here is an image detailing differences between a wolf—a grey wolf, in particular—to a coyote:

A visual reference summarizing the major differences between a grey wolf and a coyote.

A visual reference summarizing the major differences between a grey wolf and a coyote. [Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

The grey wolf is the most common wolf in North America. Wolves have a variety of colors; the grey wolf, specifically, ranges from light grey to black with some cream-colored wolves, similar to Arctic wolves, among the pack as well.

A lone gray wolf happily running through a snowfield.

A lone grey wolf happily traversing through a snowy field. [Image: http://i.kinja-img.com/]

The grey wolf is the largest wolf subspecies in its family. Running up to 2.5 feet tall, it can grow to five to six feet long, with males averaging from 95–99 pounds and females 79–85 pounds. They are generally the ones found throughout North America and Eurasia. They also have a broader snout and less pointed features when compared to the red wolf.

The red wolf can also be easily confused with coyotes, seen with the recent incident involving the accidental shooting of a red wolf mistaken as a coyote. The red wolves are also commonly known as Florida wolves or Mississippi Valley wolves. They have been the subject of legal battles between nature conservancies due to their continually dwindling numbers and critically threatened conservation status.

A visual reference of the Red Wolf (Canis rufus) vs. a Coyote (Canis Latrans) showing differences between the two species.

A visual reference of the red wolf (Canis rufus) vs. a coyote (Canis Latrans), showing differences between the two species. [Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Red wolves are about 26 inches up to the shoulders, have a length of 4.5–5.5 feet long, and weigh about 50–80 pounds at maturity. They are much longer and more slender than the grey wolf, and their fur is grey-black with a reddish or tawny cast.

Red wolves.

A pack of three red wolves curiously watching their observers. [Image: http://b68389.medialib.glogster.com/

The coyotes, on the other hand, are much smaller in comparison to wolves, with body lengths averaging from 3–4.2 feet. Large coyotes are present, but rare, with the largest one recorded at 5.3 feet. Their fur color is a rich, fulvous red, usually interspersed with black, white, and light grey. It is much smaller than the grey wolf, with its defining characteristics being longer, pointier ears and a thinner frame, face, and muzzle.

A coyote is easily distinguishable through its much smaller and slender frame, long snout, and pointed ears.

A coyote is easily distinguishable through its much smaller and slender frame, long snout, and pointed ears. [Image: http://www.gpwmi.us/]

The vocalizations are also a give-away between wolves and coyotes. Wolves generally communicate through howls while coyotes communicate through yips, yaps, growls, yelps, and high-frequency whines. There isn’t much of a common ground between these two species. Wolves are pack hunters and considered to be apex predators—that is, predators that are at the top of the food chain in their habitat. Powerful muscles run through their broad bodies, like oiled machines that operate with an alpha pair and young pups. Perhaps the more common objections raised by farmers are because wolves can, at times, prey on livestock, although this happens somewhat rarely as wolves in large eat deer, boar, and caribou. Exceedingly territorial, wolves do not treat coyotes kindly, particularly when they are caught overstepping wolf boundaries or trying to take advantage of a wolf kill.

Grey wolf pack.

A beautiful grey wolf pack posing like well-versed models. These creatures are even more majestic in real life, but don’t confuse their tame appearance in this photo for a weakness—this pack will delightfully tear their prey apart if given the slightest chance! [Image: http://gb.fotolibra.com/]

At the moment, the wolves’ conservation status is still embroiled in a heated discussion on whether or not they should be kept on the endangered species list. It has been an on-and-off status battle between endangered and threatened since its first status assignment in 1974. The wolves play an important role in the ecosystem, with sufficient research finding that an introduction of wolf population regulates, and even is a cause of, declining coyote populations.

Wolves are generally aversive to humans due to a long-standing history of hunting. As such, due not only to their protected status but also to the history between wolves and humans, wolf sightings are generally uncommon except in designated wolf recovery areas. One of these more popular recovery areas is Yellowstone, which has about 95 wolves in the park alone and approximately 450 wolves in the entire Yellowstone ecosystem. If you wish to view these wondrous creatures in the wild, more information can be gathered by visiting Yellowstone’s website or the United States Fish & Wildlife’s page on wolf preservation efforts.

Don’t forget to utilize your Pocket Ranger® Rules & Regulations for related information on these wolves in your own state parks! Stay informed, and happy hunting!

How Now Sea Cow?

West Indian manatee.

A curious West Indian manatee. [Image: thedodo.com/]

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced a proposal earlier this month centered on the idea of upgrading the presently endangered West Indian manatee’s (or sea cow) status from endangered to threatened. For background, the designation of “endangered” means that, without management, a species is on the slippery slope toward extinction, while “threatened” means that a species’ habitat and population are sustainable but don’t do a great job of promoting the animal’s collective proliferation (aka the species is in danger of becoming endangered). As such, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife motion is a reflection of the manatee’s “significant improvement” in population sustainability and habitat strength and has many leaping for joy. Though there has been some wariness to temper the excitement and applause as well.

The West Indian manatee has been a gentle, rotund protectee of the Federal Endangered Species Act since the act was signed in 1973, though manatees have been federally recognized as an endangered species since the 1960s. At the time the ESA came about, the manatee’s population had dwindled down to an estimated 700 because of factors like boat-related deaths and destruction of habitat, among other things. Today, with the estimate grown to over 6,000 individuals, the species seems headed in the right direction in terms of its stability. That’s genuine cause for celebration across the board, but some groups concerned with manatee conservation are focused on what might happen if the species doesn’t get the protection that comes with the “endangered” status as well as the looming problems associated with an environmental phenomenon called red tide.

Manatee eating.

Manatee enjoying a snack. [Image: imgur.com/]

An example of this quandary is playing out at present in Brevard County, Florida, one of the counties where many manatees live, and coincidentally, an area with one of the highest rates of manatee mortality in the state. The county commissioners approved a resolution to ask Florida wildlife leaders to conduct research on how effective boat speed restrictions are at protecting the manatees that inhabit the county’s waterways. Conversely, Katie Tripp, a leader in the Save the Manatee Club, feels that the relatively high number of boat-related injuries and fatalities among manatees in Brevard County will only increase if the speed restrictions vanish. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife proposal is open for public comment until April 7, 2016.

Manatee.

As anthropomorphic as it is round, this manatee is definitely emoting what you think it’s emoting. [Image: wikipedia.com/]

If you want to enjoy the manatee in its element, there are plenty of ways to do so! One especially great way to see some adorable, sea grass-chomping examples of the order Sirenia, is to download the Official Guide for Florida State Parks & Beaches app powered by Pocket Ranger® and to also make your way to any of the state parks on this map!

Why Are Wolves So Scary?

 

Wolves with a crow

Image: www.pinterest.com

Wolves once roamed far and wide from Canada to Mexico, until the arrival of Europeans who killed them off to protect livestock and domesticated animals. Large-scale predator control programs continued in the U.S., further dwindling their numbers. To this day, some states allow the hunting of wolves although they’re listed as endangered. By the 20th century, the species had almost disappeared from the eastern U.S., except in some areas of the Appalachians and Northwestern Great Lakes Region. Wolves are natural predators, which makes our fears justified. But there are myths behind the obsession of killing wolves, which continues to exist despite their numbers low numbers. After all, why are wolves so scary?

Wolves Howling at the Moon and Other Myths

Image: www.tumblr.com

Image: www.tumblr.com

It’s widely accepted that wolves howl at the moon, but the function of howling has little to do with this folklore gossip. The Big Bad Wolf tales of Aesop’s fables, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and the werewolf further add to the gossip. Popular mythology, folklore, and let’s not forget movies, paint the wolf as an evil omen— a bloodthirsty animal who attacks children, cattle or sheep. Sheep are usually connected to a godly goodness, but the wolf is no better than the devil. Unlike the Europeans, Native Americans viewed the wolf as a guide, once being men and now seen as brothers. Some tribes respected their hunting skills and tried to emulate them.

It turns out that long howl, sometimes heard as far as 5 miles is a form of communication used to attract mates, assemble a pack, signal alarm or scare off predators. Wolf howling increases during evening and early dawn, and more so during winter or breeding season. The mythic image of a wolf howling at the moon fits right in since the moon is always hanging around when the wolf is howling!

What are the Benefits of Wolves in the Wild?

To prevent total extinction, wolves have been reintroduced in the wild. One of those efforts is the well-known, gray wolves restoration in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. During 1995 and 1996, 31 gray wolves from western Canada were relocated to Yellowstone where they had been absent since the 1920s. Now 20 years later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, estimates that there are 1,691 wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain in areas of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, and with a few brave ones venturing as far as Utah, California and Colorado.

The reintroduction of wolves in the wild is beneficial for biodiversity. Wolves are apex predators that eat off sick and dead animals, and also control the population of species. For example, elk eat vegetation, such as aspen and willow trees, grazing heavily to an unsustainable level. The presence of the wolves changes these patterns; the elk no longer venture far, instead they limit their grazing. This vegetation then becomes available to smaller species like the beaver, which in the case of Yellowstone National Park had become extinct. Experts say the red fox has recovered as well as small predators, rodents and birds thanks to wolves hunting coyotes. Without predators our ecosystems are out of balance. There are many levels and connections between organisms; by removing a level, this disrupts the balance, created from millions years of evolution.

Image: www.lh6.ggpht.com

Image: www.lh6.ggpht.com

There’s also an economic benefit as it relates to wildlife tourism. From 2004 to 2006, Yellowstone National Park conducted a survey of visitors, and found that more than 150,000 people a year from different parts of the world came to Yellowstone for one reason alone: wolves.

Should We Continue to Hunt Wolves?

The conventional reasoning for hunting wolves falls within this spectrum: to prevent attack on humans and and livestock. Wolves only occupy about 5 to 8 percent of their former range thanks to human persecution and destruction of habitats. A new study published last year finds that killing wolves to protect livestock is actually counterproductive. When a wolf is killed, livestock are more likely to get killed the following year, by 5 to 6 percent. More livestock die even when only a few wolves get killed off, possibly because wolf packs get broken up into two groups when either the alpha female or male die.

After recent recovery efforts and a praise-worthy rise in wolf population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections in 2011-2012 from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Montana, parts of Washington, Oregon, and Utah. Since their reintroduction into the wild, 2,000 wolves were killed by 2013. Wisconsin hunters killed more than 150 gray wolves just this past year during a state-sanctioned wolf hunt. Many wildlife advocates argued that it was too early to remove wolves from the Endangered Species list. Last year, the rule was overturned in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan after complaints from conservationists that hunting would ruin recovery efforts in those states. What’s worse is that even when the wolf is federally protected, rules allow shooting wolves when livestock are threatened. Hunting also continues in Alaska and Canada, where the wolf population is steady.

Farmers and ranchers worry about their livestock, and typically oppose the recovery of wolves and support hunting efforts. Defenders of Wildlife has compiled A Guide to Nonlethal Tools and Methods to Reduce Conflict with useful tips for farmers and cattle owners who want to keep wolves away from their livestock without killing them.

Human and Wolf Interaction

Human touching wolf's neck.

Image: www.alphahowlin.tumblr.com

Wolf attacks are considered rare but they do happen especially in the wild areas of Canada and Alaska. Wolf attacks are often in retaliation to the invasion of their habitats, but this is not always the case. They don’t readily attack humans who keep their distance, and not all wolves behave aggressively, but if provoked they will react like any other animal. A wolf’s hunting instincts detect weak animals or injured ones, knowing full well they’ll win in a fight.

Sometimes wolf attacks occur when prey are scarce, and they must resort to scavenging close to human areas. L. David Mech, a wildlife research Biologist with the International Wolf Center explains that wolves lose the fear of humans when there is a chance for reward. Though it’s not always true, this seems to be a necessary condition for an attack.

“This combination of lack of fear, proximity to humans, and the presence of many small children in heavy cover may promote in some bolder wolves the tendency to experiment with this new type of prey,” says Mech.

In some cases, wolves lose fear of humans, but yet they don’t attack. How is this possible? Since humans stand on two legs, they have a slight resemblance to bears and wolves generally avoid bears. None of a wolf’s prey stands on two legs. It’s also true that wolves have learned to avoid humans after all those years of persecution. For example, the wolves on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, which haven’t been harassed by humans since their arrival on the island in 1949, retain their extreme shyness of humans. There are a few places, however, where wolves have either lost their shyness of people or perhaps never developed it.

And while no one wants to be Timothy Treadwell, making the grave mistake of setting camp near bear-central in times of food scarcity, the video below illustrates how it’s possible for men to interact with some wild animals.

If you want to see where wolves still roam, download out Pocket Ranger® Guide for Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Apps. And if you spot a cool wolf, share it on our social media sites, like our Pocket Ranger® or Trophy Case Instagram accounts.