Blog Archives

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Climate Change Plan Considers Trees, Elephants, People

I came across this article on my Twitter feed this morning. It relates to several topics within our ESS syllabus, such as Topic 4 – Conservation and Biodiversity, Topic 6 – Global Warming, and Topic 3 – Resources as Natural Capital.

It outlines the potential links between trading carbon credits on an international exchange, economic development in rural Africa, wildlife conservation, and the battle to combat ivory poaching.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140705-kenya-elephant-poaching-carbon-credits-world-science/

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The truth behind Yellowstone’s Wolves

My colleague Matt Erdosy passed the following article along this morning. It outlines the myths and new science surrounding the reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem in Montana and Wyoming, USA.

Is the Wolf a Real American Hero? – New York Times 9 March 2014

It turns out that the predator-prey relationship between wolves and elk is more complicated than we realized, and that there are many more factors influencing the rise and fall of populations within ecosystems than this classic model suggests. Read on!

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Tanzania’s Poaching Out of Control

There’s a serious problem with elephant poaching in Tanzania, and it seems to be getting worse by the day. The series of articles below outline some of what’s happening in this beautiful country and just how devastating the Asian demand for ivory is to Tanzania’s natural resources.

Confiscated ivory. Screen capture from photogtraphy4life.com.

Confiscated ivory. Image source: Screen capture from photogtraphy4life.org.

We can consider elephants as natural capital, a resource base which may be replenished given enough time for growth. However, it would appear that current rates of destruction from ivory poaching far outstrip elephants’ natural replacement rate, meaning that overall populations in Tanzania will continue to decline.

Have a read through the following articles, all of which were sent to me by my fellow science teacher, Matt Erdosy, while we wee in classes today. The first one describes the armed robbery of a tourist bus in the Ngorogoro Conservation Area (NCA) in northern Tanzania – a bold move on the poachers’ part, showing that they’re not too concerned about police enforcement here.

The second article details the other end of the ivory trade – the retailers in New York and other large cities who pass along ivory to the final consumers. This article in particular discusses the regulatory shortcomings of laws in the consumer countries.

The final few articles delve into some of the internal politics influencing the failure to effectively police ivory and rhino poaching in Tanzania, including a petition to return a government minister to his role combatting poaching.

At the current rate of killing, there may be no more elephants in Tanzania within a decade. That means no elephants on safari anywhere – not in Serengeti, not in Mikumi, or Selous, Ruaha, Katavi, or Tarangire. Nowhere!

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Earth WInd Map

Thanks to Mr Cody Taggart for sending this cool Earth wind map of current wind patterns all over Earth. Rotate the globe to any location to see what’s blowing there.

Earth wind map screen capture: http://earth.nullschool.net

Earth wind map screen capture: http://earth.nullschool.net

 

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Human evolution is stranger than we thought

This article from the New York Times is important for a couple of reasons. First, it describes the latest discovery in the long history of evidence supporting the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection, which is possibly the most thoroughly researched idea in science.

Baffling 400,000-year-old Clue to Human Origins

Screen capture from www.nytimes.com, 5 December 2013.

Screen capture from www.nytimes.com, 5 December 2013.

The second – and maybe more significant – reason this article is important is because it outlines the process by which new discoveries interplay with existing scientific ideas. No hypothesis or theory is sacred. As soon as objective evidence is unearthed, which undermines or challenges previously-held ideas, what we consider the ‘truth’ changes in response.

Non-scientists mistakenly think of this shift as somehow moving the goalposts or not actually believing in anything. I would argue that this model actually strengthens science’s claim to the ‘truth’ of human understanding because it demonstrates a faith in the process, rather than a specific set of ideas or dogma. Scientific ideas can – and should! – change as we learn more and more about the world around us. But the process of discovery, questioning, and realignment, which we call the Scientific Method, is unchanging and continues to lead to a deeper and more complete understanding of the forces which shape our world. Richard Feynman discusses this very idea in the video embedded below.

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More Information on East African Poaching

Here are a few more links relating to this topic, which seems to be all over the news lately.

This first item, from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the same organization which just declared the Western Black Rhino officially extinct) is a publication called Pachyderm. In it, there are several case studies about both rhinos and elephants, including some information on using micro-chemical evidence to trace the origin of poached ivory. Here’s the link to the complete PDF.

Edge of Existence is a website I recently stumbled across, and I think it has a lot of well-researched information about a lot of issues in wildlife conservation. EDGE stands for “Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered” species – unique creatures threatened by human activities around the world. Their page for elephants, linked here, has some really useful information on elephants’ role in maintaining the savanna ecosystem, conservation initiatives currently in use, links to organizations involved in elephant conservation, and references to more scientific information about Loxodonta africana.

The International.org posted a brief article in June 2012 about the impact of poaching on ecosystems, which is a nice model for the 9th grade poaching project currently underway.

A younger-looking Sir David Attenborough with lemurs from Madagascar. (Screen capture image from www.bbc.co.uk)

A younger-looking Sir David Attenborough with lemurs from Madagascar. (Screen capture image from www.bbc.co.uk)

And finally, no wildlife conservation unit would be complete without at least one video from Sir David Attenborough (probably my favorite scientist of all time). The short video clip linked here is from Sir David’s earlier work in Madagascar, so he looks a bit different than most of you are used to seeing him. It was originally released in 1961 – 52 years ago!

 

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Effects of Poaching on People and the Environment

The University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology released this study a few years ago, detailing the impact of poaching on elephant populations in Mikumi and Amboseli.

Graphic from University of Washington's Center for Conservation Biology

Graphic credit: University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology

I post this link for several reasons:

  1. The topic is clearly relevant to both the grade 9 biology unit, as well as ESS’s Topic 4 – Conservation and Biodiversity.
  2. The study was carried out in conjunction with Sokoine University in Morogoro, just a couple of hours from here.
  3. The targeted areas are Mikumi National Park in Tanzania and Amboseli in Kenya, so it’s entirely relevant to where we live.
  4. The inclusion of simple graphs with the article complement and support the written work of the authors, and it can serve as an example to you students about how to use visual aids in your scientific writing.
  5. Follow the ‘Research Programs’ and ‘Elephants’ tabs to see how DNA analysis is being used to track poached ivory.
  6. I like the graphic at the top of the page.

I also found this 2006 document from the World Wildlife Fund – the Wildlife Trade Factsheet 2006.PDF – which “is designed to give a broad overview of the environmental harm that illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade can cause, and to give examples of WWF and TRAFFIC’s work and solutions on the ground.”  (www.panda.org)

WWF Image Credit: Martin Harvey

WWF Image Credit: Martin Harvey