David Attenborough Still Has Hope for Our Future – The New York Times

LONDON — Take away the state-of-the-art drones and the gyro-stabilized 4K cameras from the BBC’s latest blue-chip natural history series, “A Perfect Planet.” Strip out the luscious score and the stunning close-ups of nature at its most intimate.

What you are left with are the same clipped tones and breathy, awe-struck commentary that entertained and educated the viewers of grainy black-and-white nature programs in the 1950s.

It is hard to find anything in modern television that has endured since the middle of the last century. Yet there is the British naturalist Sir David Attenborough and his reassuring, occasionally chiding, voice-of-God narration, virtually undimmed by age, still lending gravitas and luster to sequences of lesser flamingos in Tanzania, land iguanas on the Galápagos Islands and flamboyant cuttlefish off the coasts of Indonesia.

Repeatedly voted both the most trusted and popular person in his home country, Attenborough may be the most traveled human in history. (For his landmark 1979 series “Life on Earth” alone, he traveled 1.5 million miles.) “If the world is, indeed, to be saved,” writes the environmental journalist and activist Simon Barnes, “then Attenborough will have had more to do with its salvation than anyone else who ever lived.”

TV executives have been planning his retirement for more than 30 years, but at 94, Attenborough is still at the top of his food chain and being asked to front some of the most lavish and expensive productions to hit our screens.

Credit…Tui De Roy/Silverback Films

His latest, which debuts on Jan. 4 in the United States on the streaming service Discovery+, was filmed in 31 countries over four years (and six volcanic eruptions). Across five episodes, it will examine the forces of nature that shape all life: volcanoes, sunlight, weather, oceans and the newest: humans.”

Yale Experts Explain Biodiversity -Tom Lovejoy and Os Schmitz talk | Yale Sustainability

What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity – ‘biological’ (living) and ‘diversity’ – is the variety and variability of all life on Earth, including plants, animals, bacteria and microorganisms, and humans. The concept was introduced in 1980 by renowned conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy (BA ‘63; Ph.D. ‘71), who is now the University Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy department at George Mason University. Lovejoy explains that biodiversity gives life on Earth an unimaginable variety.
“A single animal or single plant is more complex than anything else in the universe,” Lovejoy says. “If you looked at one chromosome from the cell of a mouse, you would have more information than all editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica combined.”
Os Schmitz, the Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology at the Yale School of the Environment, finds it helpful to think of biodiversity like an orchestra. “You’ve got a variety of different instruments,” Schmitz says. “You’ve got string instruments, woodwinds, brass, and within each of those groups, you also have different shapes and sizes of instruments that function together to create a wonderful harmony. That’s the kind of diversity that we’re interested in with species on Earth. There are groups of species we call carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, or microbes, and then within those groups are also varieties of different species with different sizes and different abilities.”
What are the benefits of biodiversity? 
Lovejoy explains that this “collective variety in nature” is integral to the heathy functioning of ecosystems. “All of these different individual species interact with one another and contribute to natural systems,” Lovejoy says. “Even something as domestic as a backyard lawn is composed of many, many species doing a lot of different jobs. Every time you look around, there is some sort of ecosystem service going on.”
Ecosystem services are the environmental, economic, social, cultural and spiritual benefits that are made available due to complex species interactions on Earth. We as humans rely on these benefits every single day.  Biodiversity is responsible for the production of oxygen, the filtration of natural drinking water, the fertility of our soil, the pollination of plants that allow us to produce crops, the protection of coastlines from erosion, and more. Lovejoy estimates that these services provide trillions of dollars of benefits to the human economy.

Source: Yale Experts Explain Biodiversity | Yale Sustainability

Opinion | A 150,000-Bird Orchestra in the Sky – The New York Times


Contributing Opinion Writer

“NASHVILLE — At first they circle high in the evening sky. But as night descends, they, too, begin to descend, bird by bird, one at a time, and then all in a rush: 150,000 purple martins swirling together, each bird calling to the others in the failing light as they sweep past the tops of buildings in the heart of downtown Nashville. To anyone watching from the ground, they look like one great airborne beast, one unmistakable, singular mind.

Their music grows louder and louder as the circles tighten and the birds swing lower and lower, settling in the branches of sidewalk trees, or swerving to take off again as new waves of birds dip down. They circle the building and return. They lift off, circle, reverse, settle, lift off again. Again and again and again, until finally it is dark. Their chittering voices fall silent. Their rustling wings fall still.

It is not like Hitchcock: Watching these birds is nothing at all like watching crows and sea gulls and sparrows attack the characters in “The Birds,” Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film. The purple martins that have been gathering here the past few weeks are merely doing what purple martins always do this time of year: flocking together to fatten up on insects before making the long flight to South America, where they will spend the winter.”

Opinion | Nashville’s Plight: Coronavirus, Tornadoes, Power Outages… – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times


Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…William DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — By March 22, the day Mayor John Cooper issued a safer-at-home order here to slow the transmission of the coronavirus, the city had already been in crisis mode for nearly three weeks. Monster tornadoes had ripped through this region, killing 25 people and demolishing hundreds of buildings, including nearly 400 homes in Nashville alone. And it’s pretty hard to shelter in place when your shelter has just taken a ride through the sky.

The storms that hit last week were milder by comparison, but Tennesseans still began to mutter darkly about divine retribution. “Tornadoes, Covid, no power,” tweeted the musician Kendell Marvel, taking a shot at big-hat country radio, “it’s almost like Nashville is being punished for all the years of mediocre music.”

Part of the dismay stems from the unusual weather itself. A rare system called a derecho sent hurricane-force straight-line winds blowing across Middle Tennessee, toppling ancient trees and power poles and leaving 131,000 people without electricity. Heroic Nashville Electric Service crews — which, because of concerns about the coronavirus, were working through the night without the usual assistance from teams in nearby states — got that number down to about 80,000 on Monday. That was before a weather system called a wake low, also rare, triggered yet another round of powerful storms and brought the number of people without power back up, to 120,000.

Coming on the heels of a deadly virus that has never been seen in humans before, the unusual storms introduced a reasonable question: Why does the natural world keep finding new ways to kill us?

On the bright side, no sign of murder hornets here yet.”

“. . .  I figured a week of spit baths would be a good trade for nights around the kitchen table, all of us reading together by candlelight. Not everyone in my family feels this way, but for me those nights were a pure pleasure made perfect by the book at hand: “This Is Happiness” by the Irish novelist Niall Williams, about the coming of electricity to a remote village, a book so beautiful and so funny and so true that it will make you love the whole human race and forgive it all its trespasses.

Plus, this has been the loveliest spring imaginable, cool and damp and green, the old-timey kind of Middle Tennessee springtime that we used to get every year and now get almost never, a gentle, rainy springtime that keeps the flowers blooming for days and days and fills the trees with birdsong. Opening the windows to a spring like this one, at a time when the neighborhood machinery has fallen silent and the crickets and the screech owls are the only sounds in the air, is nothing less than a gift.

To take a walk at night in a city that has settled into silence and a darkness that has become far too rare is to return to something precious, something lost for so long you’ve forgotten to miss it. When it comes back to you unbidden, when that big pie plate of a moon and that star-drenched sky bless yu as you walk down the middle of your street, right down the middle of the street, with your head thrown back and your mouth fallen open, that’s something more than a gift. It’s a walk through the past, a walk in the present and possibly — if we can’t change our lives in time to head off the coming environmental collapse — a walk into the future. All at once.”

Poachers Kill More Rhinos as Coronavirus Halts Tourism to Africa – The New York Times


“The past few weeks have not been easy for Nico Jacobs, founder of Rhino 911, a nonprofit that provides emergency helicopter transport for rhinoceroses in need of rescue in South Africa. That’s because times are much worse for the rhinos.

Since South Africa announced a national lockdown on March 23 to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, Mr. Jacobs has had to respond to a rhino poaching incident nearly every day. On March 25, he rescued a 2-month-old white rhino calf whose mother had been killed by poachers. The next day he was called to rescue two black rhinos whose horns had been hacked off by poachers. When he finally tracked them down it was too late — both were dead.

“Just as soon as the lockdown hit South Africa, we started having an incursion almost every single day,” Mr. Jacobs said.

At least nine rhinos have been poached in South Africa’s North West province since the lockdown, he said, “and those are just the ones we know about.”

Grizzly Bear Death Rates Are Climbing – By Jim Robbins – The New York Times

ESSEX, Mont. — The long freight trains climb slowly over Marias Pass, through snow-draped mountains south of Glacier National Park and north of the Great Bear Wilderness, snaking through some of the wildest country in the Lower 48.

Some 25 trains a day, each a chain of 90 to 120 cars, make the journey over the Rocky Mountains in northern Montana at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. They have long been a threat to grizzly bears, and last year was the worst with eight of the bears — a federally protected species — run over by trains. On one day in June, a mother and her two cubs were killed by trains in two separate incidents. The long-term average for grizzly deaths by train is two a year.

“A train can sneak up on you,” said John Waller, the supervisory wildlife biologist for Glacier National Park, as he stopped to watch one chug through the forest. “They are amazingly quiet on the down grade and there are a lot of times the sound is blocked, coming in and out of the valleys.”

The death rate of grizzlies in this region has been rising, attributed not only to trains, but to poaching, cars and the removal of troublesome bears. In 2018, a record number — 51 — were killed in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, millions of acres in and around Glacier Park. And last year, 51 bears were killed. In 2017, just 29 bears were killed or euthanized.

At the same time, though, the region’s population of grizzly bears has come roaring back to a high of 1,051 from a low of about 350 to 400, when they were listed in 1975 as a threatened species. Some experts say the increase in mortality is a reflection of the fact that more bears are roaming in far more places than they used to, and argue that, so far, these higher death rates are not a threat to the species.”

Opinion | How Not to Kill an Animal – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times


Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — Last week, Walden’s Puddle, a nonprofit wildlife rescue organization in a rural area of Nashville, posted a set of photos of a barred owl caught in the jaws of a leg-hold trap. The first photo, which featured the owl on the ground, its wings spread wide and its eyes cast down, was emblazoned with the words “Graphic images ahead.” I didn’t click through to see the rest of the pictures. The sight of that magnificent creature of the air tethered to the ground was graphic enough to break my heart. I didn’t need to see what the rest of the images would inevitably reveal: sinews torn, bones splintered, flesh bloody and swollen, great yellow claws mangled beyond repair.

Walden’s Puddle rehabilitates and releases orphaned and injured animals, and its Instagram account is normally a feel-good feed of squirrels, songbirds, turtles, deer, raccoons, opossums, snakes, rabbits, foxes, skunks, groundhogs, bobcats — pretty much everything that flies or crawls or walks or swims — and all of them on the mend. The caption to the post about the barred owl, which had to be euthanized, was uncharacteristically fierce:

These traps are cruel, evil, disgusting and should be illegal, causing unimaginable suffering to any creature who gets caught in its unforgiving jaws. While it is illegal to harm protected bird species such as this one (though these situations rarely result in criminal charges), these types of traps are sadly still legal to use in the state of Tennessee and in many other places, though they’ve been outlawed for many years in other parts of the world. Because the law requires they only be checked every 36 hours, any animal stuck in its grip will experience unimaginable pain and fear, possibly for hours or days.

Although their use has been banned or severely curtailed in more than 120 countries, leg-hold traps are indeed legal in Tennessee and in most other states in this country. Traps are sometimes used by farmers and ranchers to catch livestock predators, but the primary use for leg-hold traps is to catch an animal in a way that preserves the value of its pelt. Fur-edged down parkas, a fashion trend kick-started by a 2013 Sports Illustrated cover featuring the model Kate Upton wearing a bikini and a fur-trimmed Canada Goose parka, are now so prevalent among the affluent that they have caused a boom in backwoods trapping.”

City Malaise, Cured by a Cloud Forest? – By Wei Tchou – The New York Times


Ms. Tchou is working on a book about her family and the cultural history of ferns.

“I liked Oaxaca as soon as I learned to say its name, all those airy vowels, each subsequent “a” a little fuller in my mouth. Last year, I was in the throes of a deep depression. But reading “Oaxaca Journal,” Oliver Sacks’s account of traveling that Mexican state to study its flora with the New York Fern Society, made me feel dreamy and brave. A flash of wanderlust, my fascination with the fern (which began when I failed at keeping one alive in my tiny Brooklyn studio) and a physical urge to escape the brutal careerism of New York all nudged me into opening my laptop, taking a chance on my savings and booking a one-way ticket to the region.

At the time I flew out, I didn’t know very much about southern Mexico or botany, just that after reading the journal, I wanted to experience the quasi-spiritual journey Dr. Sacks had reported: “Tree ferns, climbing ferns, filmy ferns, shoestring ferns, they are all here, in unparalleled diversity.” Endless gullies of serene maidenhair ferns and giant 15-foot horsetails, long streams filled with Kelly green hornworts — all tucked within the elevated cloud forests of the region, whose shrouds of mist seemed to hold the very healing power of natural wonder that Dr. Sacks, a neurologist and naturalist, loved to praise. At the time he wrote the journal there were 690 species in the state alone.

72 wild animals rescued in January – Environment – Vietnam News

A loris is rescued from a restaurant in Đồng Nai Province. – Photo courtesy of ENVViet Nam News

HÀ NỘI – At least 72 wild animals were released in their natural habitat in the first month of the year, according to Education for Nature Việt Nam (ENV).They include pangolins, monkeys, turtles, lizards, lorises and birds. Some of these animals were rescued by people and some by police after busting cases of animal trafficking.Illegal breeding of wild animals in homes and restaurants have been prevalent in the country. Many such cases were found out through ENV’s hotline number 18001522, ENV representatives said.On January 16, competent forces in southern Đồng Nai Province’s Thống Nhất District freed two lorises which were kept in a cage for show at a rest stop.

A monkey was rescued from a coffee shop in Đà Nẵng City and was released in Sơn Trà nature reserve centre on January 19.

Source: 72 wild animals rescued in January – Environment – Vietnam News | Politics, Business, Economy, Society, Life, Sports – VietNam News

1st elephant baby in Đắk Lắk in 20 years is stillborn – VietNam News

Ban Nang was the first domesticated elephant in Đắk Lắk Province to become pregnant during the past 20 years. — Photo vietnamnet.vn

Viet Nam NewsĐắk Lắk — The first domesticated elephant in the Central Highlands province of Đắk Lắk to become pregnant in 20 years delivered a stillborn calf last Sunday, the Elephant Conservation Centre has reported.The male baby weighed around 90kg.The 38-year-old mother, Ban Nang, had gone into labour but did not deliver for long, veterinarians at the centre said.The animal is owned by Y Mứ Bkrông of M’Liêng village, Liên Sơn town.Huỳnh Trung Luân, director of the centre, said veterinarians had gone into the forest every day to check on the creature and foreign experts too had been on the job.Ban Nang had been released into the forest when it was six months pregnant so that it could give birth in the wild, he said.But the delivery had possibly been difficult because Ban Nang was too old and the centre’s veterinarians had no experience in caring for pregnant elephants, he said.

Source: 1st elephant baby in Đắk Lắk in 20 years is stillborn – Society – Vietnam News | Politics, Business, Economy, Society, Life, Sports – VietNam News