An ecosystem is the natural balance between organisms, plants, and animals in a particular place. Certain species of wildlife depend on particular species of plants, insects and organisms for survival. Even a small patch of forest can have a complete ecosystem of its own. So can a rivulet, a pond, a lake and sea. In any given landscape, there can be numerous ecosystems. This is what is called biodiversity.
Never before has biodiversity faced such destructive forces as it has in recent times from human activities. Almost half of what took millions of years to take shape and evolve has been destroyed by man in a very short time.
Man-made pollution is one of the main threats to wildlife habitat. Humans have regarded the air, water, and soil as waste receptacles, giving little consideration to the ecological consequences of pollution. Wildlife populations are constantly confronted with a massive array of pollutants released into the environment.
In the last 80 years, the world chemical output has grown 500-fold, contaminating entire landscapes, accumulating in bodies of animals and plants, and altering and disrupting the DNA of wildlife in those places. Out in the seas and oceans, destruction caused to marine life cannot be fathomed. Trash washed down rivers and city streets, mountains of plastic, garbage and debris, are finding their way into the oceans by the ton on a daily basis – causing massive disruption in coastal ecosystems. Pollution from industrial emissions, traffic and other commercial activities have eaten into the ozone layer and altered complete climatic patterns. Ecosystems that have survived and evolved through the ages, dependent on climate and seasonal cycles, have been totally derailed.
These destructive human activities are causing massive extinctions. Up to 30% of mammal, bird and amphibian species are already threatened with extinction, including: 1 out of 4 mammals, 1 out of 8 birds, 1 out of 3 amphibians, and 6 out of 7 marine turtles. A third of reef-building corals are threatened with extinction. If global temperatures rise by more than 3.5°C, up to 70% of the world’s known species risk extinction. Extinction risks are outpacing conservation successes.
Pollution Disrupting Ecosystems
Thousands of synthetic chemicals are being released into the environment at alarming rates, altering the distribution of naturally occurring substances. Wild animals are facing conditions they have never experienced before. These alien conditions disrupt the delicate biological balance that has evolved over thousands of years.
Toxic metals from human activities accumulate to create a bewildering number of hazards to wildlife. Animal agriculture, fossil fuels, mining, metal refining, and waste-water discharge create toxic levels of pollutants beyond what naturally cycles through soil, air and water.
Pollution is have detrimental effects on the health of wildlife. Synthetic chemicals, acid rain and oil are all toxic. Additional types of pollution harm wildlife in indirect ways, changing or destroying their habitats. Carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere, resulting in changes in climate and the distribution of habitats. The ozone layer is being damaged by chlorofluorocarbons, causing destruction from the effects of excessive ultraviolet radiation on wild animals and their food sources. Grasslands, marshes and canyons are being destroyed by solid waste landfills.
Air Pollution Harming Wildlife
Gases, solid particles and aerosols are polluting the air. Air pollution negatively affects wildlife by changing plant communities. Stunted plant growth from atmospheric ozone affects the quality of habitat and food sources.
Birds are threatened directly by coal power production exhaust, which damages their respiratory systems. Air pollution also indirectly threatens birds. pH level increases result in fish kills, causing a decline in food sources. Mercury accumulates in the food chain, wreaking havoc on predatory bird populations.
Acidic rivers and streams, resulting from acid rain, causes respiratory distress in fish. Clearer water from higher acid levels also results in temperature and light increases in the water, causing native fish to relocate to cooler and darker habitats. Amphibians have changed both physiologically and behaviorally due to air pollution. Ozone damages their immune systems.
Insects are especially susceptible to the dangers of air pollution. Air quality fluctuations can cause insects to relocate, affecting the plants and animals connected to them. Insects more resilient to air pollution digest organic waste less effectively, resulting in a buildup of organic waste when air pollution increases.
Metal smelters release toxic metals through tall smokestacks that have negative effects on wild animals. Pollutants cause environmental contamination both close to the source, and downwind of smelters.
Air pollution is damaging lung tissues of animals. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have damaged the ozone layer that protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation. Ozone molecules near the ground damage wildlife lung tissues and reduces plant respiration by blocking openings in leaves. A plant not able to photosynthesize at a high rate due to inadequate respiration cannot grow. Holes in the ozone layer also cause skin cancer in wildlife.
Greenhouse gases from air pollution are warming the planet. Through photosynthesis, plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and use the carbon to grow. But the amount of carbon dioxide being released by human activities is much greater than plants can convert. Ice and frozen ground are melting near the Poles. As a result, habitats and resources are changing for plants and animals. Ocean warming and rising sea levels are affecting shallow marine environments, including coral reefs. Less rainfall, caused by global warming, is limiting water resources for plants and animals.
Air pollution is particularly hazardous to animals when in the form of acid rain. Acid rains kills fish by increasing water acidity. Rising pH (a measure of acidity) levels are destroying plants and trees.
Acid Rain Killing Wild Animals
Acid rain, primarily caused by sulfur and nitrogen released into the atmosphere from automobiles and the combustion of oil and coal, discharges toxic aluminum into water systems. Acid rain has numerous disastrous effects on ecosystems, especially aquatic ecosystems. pH levels are changed, killing many wild animals outright and throwing ecosystems completely out of balance.
Gravity draws acid rain towards water bodies in low areas. When the acidity in these water bodies increases, fish and other organisms lose their ability to survive and reproduce. Acid rain has already killed off fish populations in hundreds of lakes.
Water Pollution Detrimental To Wildlife
Water pollution is detrimental to wildlife. Frogs species are in decline. Water bodies polluted with nutrients are causing massive growths of toxic algae that are eaten by animals, resulting in diseases and deaths.
Mining operations result in weathering waste rock and ore deposits, creating "acid mine drainage." Acid mine drainage creates toxic water pollution.
Monumental amounts of toxic metals are released into the air by industries and automobiles. These toxins settle to the ground and are then transported by fallen rain, along with pesticides. "Storm water runoff" is carried to local sewer systems, streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. It is one of the largest sources of toxic water pollution.
Oil spills result in the deaths of countless wild animals. Oil coats animal fur and feathers reducing their insulating properties, and exposes animals to deadly toxins. The long-term effects of oil spills are more subtle, but just as detrimental. Toxic chemicals on beaches, in the water, and in the food web results in anemia, decreased disease resistance, impaired reproduction, cancers, birth defects and neurological damage.
In coastal belts where human habitation concentration has grown the most in the past few decades, wanton garbage disposal, especially of plastic, has almost completely wiped out marine ecosystems within miles of the shores. Spectacular creatures such as whales and dolphins, that were once a common sight for beach goers, have been driven from their natural habitat into deep seas – having lost their centuries-old feeding grounds to pollutants.
In closeted water bodies like lakes, pollutants like oil, detergents, nitrogen and phosphate can create havoc in its ecosystems by stimulating growth of unwanted plants and choking the water of oxygen so essential to the survival of fish.
Wild Animals Affected By Noise Pollution
Pollution is not always physical. Sound waves from oil rigs, ships and sonar travel for miles disrupting communication, hunting, migration, and reproduction of aquatic animals. Noise pollution from gas and oil explorations are causing mass strandings and chronic stress.
Animal Agriculture A Major Threat To Wildlife
Pollution from animal agricultural is one of the biggest threats to wildlife. Pesticide usage in agriculture has jumped 26-fold in the last 50 years causing serious consequences for the environment. Lakes, streams, drains and groundwater have been contaminated to an extent that not only are they not fit for use, entire ecosystems around them have perished. Chemical runoff leaches into streams, waterways and groundwater. Fertilizers alter nutrient systems in waterways, creating explosive growths of algae that deplete oxygen in the water. Around 400 dead zones have already been created as a result.
Animal agriculture produces significantly more greenhouse gases than all of the traffic in the world combined. Spouting out huge percentages of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, the industry is leaving behind pollutants known to remain in the atmosphere for more than 100 years. Animal waste also produces toxic levels of methane and ammonia, which leads to climate change as well as acid rain. Cows alone produce approximately 120lbs of manure per day, resulting in about 150 billion gallons of methane each day. Unmanageable amounts of animal waste is collected in cesspools and is either sprayed on fields or left to sit. The toxic fumes from the pools are emitted into the air and harm the environment.
Pesticides not only harm wild animals through long-term exposure via the food web; direct exposure also kills wild animals. Pesticides drift, decimating mammal, bird and fish populations.
Littering Killing Wildlife
Littering causes the deaths of many wild animals. Toxic trash can be fatal. Entanglement in litter is a common threat. Tons of plastic litter finds its way into the oceans, washed off streets and blown from landfills. Animals often mistake litter for food and attempt to eat the litter, resulting in fatalities. Litter accumulates in giant patches. Some is transported by currents and washed onto shore. Trillions of other pieces of decomposing plastic create gigantic swirling garbage patches in the ocean.
Effects of Household Pollutants On Wild Animals
Many households products contain toxic metals. Household waste-water often transports toxic metals into aquatic environments. Toxic chemicals used in households are washed down drains and flushed down toilets. Even more massive amounts of solvents, cleansers, and other chemicals are used in industrial activities, adding toxic pollutants to industrial waste-waters.
We Must Act Now
Pollution, along with habitat loss and degradation, over-exploitation, unsustainable practices, and invasive alien species, are affecting biodiversity around the globe. The result is the massive destruction of ecosystems and a frightening reduction in biodiversity.
Earth's ecological system has been in balance for millions of years, but is now threatened by human activities. Current extinction rates are likely to result in collapses of ecosystems on a global scale.
Pollution has had devastating impacts on wildlife. Most types of pollution are not necessary, and others can be drastically reduced. Technology is available that can significantly reduce pollution. Reduced consumption of fossil fuels would also bring down emissions of toxic metals and acid rain. Shifting to plant-based, organic farming would eliminate the massive amounts of pollutants produced by the animal agriculture industry.
Awareness, creativity, and a willingness to modify our lifestyles will curtail threats that pollution causes to both wildlife and humans. You can help wildlife and ecosystems by supporting environmental groups that are fighting polluting practices, as well as by making your own conscious decisions regarding eating choices, waste management, harmful chemicals and irresponsible household products.
Mountain ranges are located all around the globe. They are the result of plate movements below the planet's crust. Mountains vary in height from small hills to Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Animals that inhabit mountainous regions must withstand dramatic temperature changes and lower oxygen levels.
The two main types of mountain ranges are temperate mountains and tropical mountains.
Temperate mountains are often cold all year and more seasonal than tropical mountains. They are found in North and South America, Europe and Central Asia. During spring and summer months a burst of plant life at high altitude occurs, encouraging herbivores up the mountain.
Tropical mountains feature warmer climates with plants adapted to high altitudes. They are located in South America, Africa and south-east Asia.
Mountain wildlife are adapted to high altitudes and changing temperatures. The higher up a mountain, the lower the temperature. Plants are usually seasonal in mountains. Those that do occur year round, such as conifers, are adapted to handling the cold temperatures.
Hoofed and herbivorous mammals, including deer, goats, llamas and sheep, are common in mountains. They are well suited to the terrain and graze on ledges and cliff faces. During the spring and summer, they move up the mountains when plants are plentiful. In the fall, they move back down the mountains in cooler weather when food is more scarce.
Large predators also inhabit mountain regions, including bears and mountain lions, who prey on the herbivores.
Some animal species do not live on the mountains, but inside of them. Caves provide habitat for amphibians, insects and bats.
Threats to mountain habitats include deforestation, quarrying and development. Changes in climate also affects the growth of plants at higher altitudes.
Monkeys have long been a common sight in temples and tourist destinations around the world. These intelligent animals once stayed away from urban hubs, restricting themselves to the fringes of big cities. But deforestation, animal agriculture, industrialization and fast expanding cities is reducing monkey habitat at an alarming rate. As a result, many species of monkeys are invading cities for food, shelter and water.
Many monkeys have long taken to temples, where they are often protected and fed. From these temples they radiate out to nearby forests. But urbanization has invaded temple areas, bringing the city to the monkeys.
As natural monkey habitats are continuously destroyed, monkeys are loosing their fear of humans. In search of new food sources, they raid farms, beg for food, and steal from homes and businesses. Urban areas offer monkeys easy access to shelter, food, water and large trees, causing population explosions. Telephone and electric wires give them easy access throughout the urban jungles.
Monkeys are now as plentiful as squirrels in many Asian cities. They hang out in train stations, beg at the side of roads, dig through trash cans, and steal food from humans.
Cows, stray dogs and cats have roamed the streets of the capital city of India, New Delhi, for centuries. Now, monkeys have taken over. There are tens of thousands of rhesus macaques skirting rooftops of buildings, darting through work places, raiding kitchens, scattering files and attacking workers. Instances of human-monkey conflicts include monkeys biting people, snatching foodstuffs, picking pockets, and even drunken monkeys misbehaving. Monkeys have spread to other Indian cities of northern states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Langurs, another species of monkey, are now seen on the rooftops of Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. Ironically, the langur was brought in to scare off the rhesus macaques.
While the rhesus macaques are having a free run of many Indian and Asian cities, the baboons have their sights set on the affluent neighborhoods of Cape Town, South Africa. Man and baboon have co-existed in the Western Cape for centuries, but tolerance for the creature seem to be running thin. Loss of habitat from development and urbanization is turning this once-friendly creature into an aggressive one. Baboons are breaking into glitzy estates on the Cape, raiding kitchens for food, rummaging into garbage cans and stealing whatever they think may be of use to them. Even restaurants haven't been spared.
Many urban communities feed the monkeys, often compounding the problem. The monkeys quickly loose their fear of humans and become dependent on human handouts. Thousands of monkeys went on a rampage in northern Thailand when the council ran out of rice for the monkeys after a drought. Shops, homes and restaurants were invaded by gangs of hungry monkeys.
Snow monkeys in Japan raid farms, invade towns and break into homes and businesses to steal food. Forestry has reduced their wild food sources, leaving the monkeys little choice.
While monkeys are not native to the US, vervet monkeys have made a tiny patch of forest near the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport their home. They have survived in the area for generations. Silver River, in central Florida, is home to rhesus macaques that were introduced to the central Florida wetlands to drum up tourism. They have lived there for decades and are now moving as far north as Jacksonville and as far south as Orlando.
Attempts to reduce urban monkey populations have ranged from outright elimination, to forced migration and awareness campaigns not to feed monkeys.
Many farmers have resorted to shooting monkeys to save their crops. A more humane attempt to avoid monkey damage is switching from fruit and vegetable crops to growing crops less likely to attract monkeys.
Culling methods are not only inhumane, but also ineffective. New monkeys soon move in from surrounding areas. Their numbers swell quickly to match the original populations. Culling also results in the monkeys becoming more aggressive.
Capturing city monkeys in cages, and keeping them in captivity before release, causes extreme stress to the animals. Relocation of monkeys only results in new troops entering the area. Diseases can also be spread by monkeys from one area to another.
Large-scale sterilization of monkeys has yet to be attempted. At least 1/3rd of the population needs to be sterilized to arrest the rate of population growth. Capturing enough monkeys to be effective is both challenging and expensive. Oral contraceptives for monkeys, that can be administered through food, are in the works.
In South Africa, "virtual fences" on the perimeters of cities are being created. These virtual fences are a line of speakers that emit sounds of predatory beasts, like the lion, to keep baboons at bay. Whether that will be a long term solution is a matter of conjecture.
Conservationists are proposing filling monkey habitat with food sufficient enough to dissuade them from venturing into cities. Some areas have proposed mass planting of trees to create green islands to provide habitation to monkeys.
To help save monkey and other wildlife habitats, humans must also shift from animal based agriculture to plant based farming. Expanding animal farming is the leading cause of deforestation, resulting in ever-increasing habitat loss. Animal agriculture takes up over 40% of the planet. 56 million acres of land are used to feed factory farmed animals, while only 4 million acres produce plants for human consumption. It takes 20 times less land to feed someone on a plant based diet than it does to feed meat eaters.
Urban monkey challenges have been created by humans, and must be solved by humans. Monkeys are not the villain. Monkey habitats and food-sources have been greatly depleted in the wild by irresponsible human activity. Coexistence is the only solution.
Humans are not the only species to show a strong work ethic and scruples. Researchers have found evidence of conscientiousness in insects, reptiles, birds, fish and other critters.
Attributes such as industriousness, neatness, tenacity, cautiousness and self-discipline have been proven to occur across a broad range of creatures great and small.
Just as in humans, conscientiousness in animals -- which includes working hard, paying attention to detail and striving to do the right thing -- has such evolutionary benefits as giving them an edge in hunting and gathering, attracting mates, procreating and fending off predators.
Honeybees, who are more likely to remove bee carcasses from their hive, have more offspring. Birds who keep their nests tidier are less susceptible to being preyed on. For many bird species, mastering song is key to mating success.
In some bird species, females carefully inspect the display nests that are built by males. Those males that build the best display nests, and that have chosen nesting sites that are well hidden from predators, are more likely to be selected as mates.
UC Berkeley psychologists have divided the conscientious characteristics in animals into two main categories: "order and industriousness," which includes organization and cleanliness, and "achievement striving and competence," which covers mastery and deliberation.
Birds and insects tend to fit into the orderliness category, whereas primates and other mammals fit more squarely into the achievement striving box.
Moreover, researchers say this split is reflected in the "phylogenetic" family tree in which primates and other mammals branched off from birds, reptiles, invertebrates and other species as their personality traits evolved to help them adapt to differing life conditions. Orderly and industrious tendencies appear to have originated in insects and fish, whereas achievement striving and competence may be more closely related to problem-solving, group living, and the complexity of the environment that those animals inhabit.
Among other tools, researchers track animal characteristics using the "Big Five" model, which breaks down personality into the five overarching categories of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Conscientiousness has been recognized throughout the animal kingdom.
We live on land, but our world is a water world. The ocean covers 70% of Earth's surface. The average depth of the ocean is about 2.7 miles. In some places, the ocean is deeper than the tallest mountains are high. The ocean contains about 97% of all the water on Earth.
The ocean plays a starring role in whatever happens with the environment. One big part of its role is to soak up energy (heat) and distribute it more evenly around the Earth. Another part is to soak up CO2.
In the ocean, all creatures depend on the supply of plankton (tiny plants and animals) at the bottom of the food chain.
The ocean does an excellent job of absorbing excess heat from the atmosphere. The top few meters of the ocean stores as much heat as Earth's entire atmosphere. So, as the planet warms, it's the ocean that gets most of the extra energy. But if the ocean gets too warm, then the plants and animals that live in it must adapt—or die.
Algae and plankton are at the bottom of the food chain. Plankton includes many different kinds of tiny animals, plants, or bacteria that just float and drift in the ocean. Other tiny animals such as krill (sort of like little shrimp) eat the plankton. Fish and even whales and seals feed on the krill. In some parts of the ocean, krill populations have dropped by over 80 percent. Why? Krill like to breed in really cold water near sea ice. What would happen if there were no sea ice? What would happen if there were very little plankton or krill? The whole food web could come unraveled.
Coral is another ocean creature in trouble. Coral is a very fragile animal that builds a shell around itself. It lives in harmony with a certain kind of colorful algae. The algae make food using sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. They share the food with the coral, and, in turn, the coral gives the algae a safe and sunny place to live. The two of them get along fine, living in clean, clear, shallow waters where the sun shines through brightly. Fish love coral too, because there are lots of nooks and crannies for them to hide in.
But the algae cannot carry out photosynthesis in water that is too warm. The algae either die, or the coral spits it out. Scientists are not sure exactly what happens, but it's bad for the algae, the coral, and the fish. The corals lose their colorful food sources and become weak. This sad event is called coral bleaching, and it is happening on a grand scale in many places around the world.
How does the ocean soak up CO2? The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere wherever air meets water. Wind causes waves and turbulence, giving more opportunity for the water to absorb the carbon dioxide. Fish and other animals in the ocean breathe oxygen and give off carbon dioxide (CO2), just like land animals. Ocean plants take in the carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, just like land plants. The ocean is great at sucking up CO2 from the air. It absorbs about one-quarter of the CO2 that we humans create when we burn fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas.) If not for the ocean, we'd be in even worse trouble with too much CO2. However, the ocean and everything in it are paying a price. The ocean is becoming more acidic.
What does this mean? Liquids are either acid or alkaline. Each liquid falls somewhere along a scale with acid at one end and alkaline at the other. Normally, ocean water is less acidic than fresh water. Unfortunately, as the ocean absorbs more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it becomes more acidic. Lemon juice is an example of an acidic liquid. Toothpaste is alkaline. The ocean is slightly alkaline.
However, when the ocean absorbs a lot of CO2, the water becomes more acidic. The alkalinity of the ocean is very important in maintaining a delicate balance needed for animals to make protective shells. If the water is too acidic, the animals may not be able to make strong shells. Corals could also be affected, since their skeletons are made of the same shell-like material.
But besides CO2 there are other greenhouse gases. These include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.
How does the ocean affect the climate? One way the ocean affects the climate is by carrying heat to the north in the Atlantic Ocean. Way up north, cold water in the North Atlantic ocean sinks very deep and spreads out all around the world. The sinking water is replaced by warm water near the surface that moves to the north. Scientists call this the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt. The heat carried north helps keep the Atlantic ocean warmer in the winter time, which warms the nearby countries as well. The "great ocean conveyor belt" refers to the major ocean currents that move warm water from the equator to the poles and cold water from the poles back toward the equator.
Does the salt in the ocean do anything? Fresh water has lower salinity (saltiness) than estuary water, where the ocean water mixes with river water. The ocean itself is most salty of all. The amount of salt in the ocean water also affects currents. Saltier water is heavier than less salty water. When salty ocean water freezes, the ice can no longer hold on to the salt. Instead, the salt mixes with the water below making it saltier and heavier. Glaciers, land ice and icebergs are made of fresh water, so what happens when this ice melts? The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt carries warmer, less salty water from the equator to the poles, and colder, saltier water from the poles back toward the equator. Colder water and very salty water are heavier than warmer water and less salty water.
The water in the North Atlantic sinks because it's cold, but also because it's salty. Being both cold AND salty makes it really heavy, so it can sink very far. But if too much ice melts in the North Atlantic, the water could become less salty. If that happens, what about the Ocean Conveyor Belt? Would it stop warming the North Atlantic?
There are many things we can do or not do to help the planet. But did you know you can help save the Earth by going green with your fork? By purchasing plants over meat you can help end the destruction of our soils, forests and oceans, eliminate water and air pollution, and even stop species extinction. Take the plunge into positively changing your life and the lives of billions of people on this planet by choosing a vegan diet.
The raising of the cows, heifers, beef cattle, calves, sheep, lambs, hogs, pigs, goats, horses and poultry not only pollute our bodies but also our environment. The livestock industry, more appropriately referred to as the factory farming industry, is a major player in the devastation of our environment – polluting our air and water while destroying our ecosystems.
Water and Air Pollution
The United Nations reports that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Factory livestock farms are the largest source of water pollution that contributes not only to the degradation of our streams, lakes, rivers and oceans but also to the land. The range of statistical analysis conducted, and the surmountable facts, all point to the cure; going vegan.
Did You Know?
- Factory farming is responsible for 18% of CO2 greenhouse emissions and 64% of ammonia which produces acid rain.
- Switching to a meat-dairy-egg free diet can save 50% more CO2 emissions than driving a Prius.
- Livestock animals produce toxic excrement from the high levels of antibiotics and hormones they are given.
- Cows and sheep account for 37% of the total methane generated.
- Methane is 25 to 100 times more damaging than CO2.
- Cows alone produce approximately 120lbs of manure per day, as many as 20 to 40 humans. And their manure produces about 150 billion gallons of methane per day.
- The overpopulation of animals in theses factories creates unmanageable amounts of waste. It is collected in cesspools and is either sprayed on fields or left to sit. The toxic fumes from the pools are emitted into the air and harm the environment – causing health issues to the people living in those areas.
- In the US 55% of water is consumed by animal agriculture while only 5% is used by households.
- 1 cow drinks up to 50 gallons of water per day. It takes 683 gallons of H2O to make 1 gallon of milk. 2,400 gallons of water are used to make 1lb of beef. 477 gallons are needed to produce 1lb of eggs, and 900 gallons are used in the process of making cheese.
- Runoff water from factory farms and livestock grazing is the leading cause of dead zones in our oceans and eutrophication in our freshwater sources.
Soil Erosion, Deforestation and Habitat Loss
From air and water to land, the business of animal agriculture is destroying our environment. With over 30% of Earth’s landmass being used to raise animals for food – including both grazing and growing feed crops – topsoil erosion, deforestation, habitat loss and species extinction are of major consequence.
Did You Know?
- 70% of the grain grown in the US is used to feed farmed animals.
- 56 million acres of land are used to feed factory farmed animals, while only 4 million acres produce plants for human consumption.
- It takes 20 times less land to feed someone on a plant based diet than it does to feed meat eaters.
- It takes 10lbs of grain to produce 1lb of meat.
- The rapid growth of livestock leads to deforestation, particularly in Latin America. 70% of the Amazon Rainforest has already been destroyed and is now occupied by pastures and feed crops.
- Tropical deforestation and forest clearing have adverse consequences that contribute to climate change, biodiversity loss, reduced timber supply, flooding and soil degradation.
- Unlike sustainable farming systems that work harmoniously with the natural environment by rotating crops to help replace nutrients, unsustainable industrial farming uses one crop that is not rotated which leads to loss of soil fertility.
- Low soil fertility causes farms to continuously move from place to place which leads to deforestation and rapid growth in weeds.
- The use of herbicides to combat weeds and pesticides to eliminate insects both harms the soil fertility and ultimately contaminates our water sources through runoff.
- Land based factory farming has caused more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead zones around the world.
Farmed animals are bred in mass amounts and consumed by masses of humans. The unsustainable ways in which we produce eggs, meat and dairy is a threat not only to public health, but is damaging our environment.
The positive effects of going vegan are limitless and results in significant reductions in climate change, rainforest destruction and pollution of our air, water and land. While one person alone cannot change the consequences that have been placed on our environment, we as a whole can use our knowledge and voices to spread the word that veganism is not just about health but is also about going green by eating green.
Rivers are essential to the health of the Earth. They are among the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Rivers can be degraded by many human activities, including pollution, channelization and watershed destruction – but dams have the greatest impacts.
Dams are barriers that hold back water and raise the water level, resulting in a reservoir. They are constructed for electric production, flood control, water supply and irrigation. Despite their benefits to humans, dams are destroying riparian ecosystems.
With an ever-increasing demand for energy and water, the amount and size of reservoirs is increasing around the world. Environmental consequences are outnumbering the benefits of dams – which degrade water quality, disrupt flows, affect the movement of sediment and nutrients, destroy habitats, and reduce recreational options. Dam reservoirs also slow and widen rivers, raising their temperatures. Water quality is degraded, and non-native species invade the ecosystems.
There is no such thing as “clean hydro power” on a large-scale. Hydro dams result in fluctuations in downstream flows, dewater stream channels, and cause the death and reduction of aquatic species.
Dams eliminate habitats both in the reservoirs and in the river below. Migratory fish may not survive their downstream travel, faced with numerous man-made obstacles. The return trip is even more challenging. Dams also contribute to global warming. Within the last 20 years, large dam methane emissions have equaled about the equivalent of 7.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide.
Degraded water quality results when organic materials from in and outside rivers build up behind dams. When the movement of sediment is disrupted, materials build up at the mouth of the reservoir, starving downriver ecosystems of vital ingredients. These backed-up materials, when decomposing, consume large amounts of oxygen, often resulting in algae blooms that create oxygen-starved “dead zones”. Temperatures of the water are affected, threatening marine life. When the oxygen-deprived, temperature affected water is released, downstream ecosystems also suffer.
Dam Development Out of Control
The United States has built thousands of dams, while some countries are just beginning to construct dams and are doing so at a disturbingly fast rate. Withing the next 30 years, thousands of new dams are expected to be constructed globally. Seventy percent of rivers impacted by the new dam construction are home to the greatest diversity of fish species on the planet. The irreversible destruction caused by these dams will affect both people and wildlife.
The Three Gorges Dam in China, built on the Yangtze River in 2003, supports a catchment area of almost 400,000 square miles. The Hubei region in which the dam is situated is home to 6,300 species of plants, 57 percent of which are endangered. This Central Yangtze region also supports 378 species of freshwater fish, 280 species of mammals and 166 species of reptiles. The project has severely affected temperatures of water and flow patterns that has taken a toll on aquatic life surrounding it. Instances of rotating turbine blades injuring fish abound. The most serious case of wildlife abuse has been the complete extinction of the Baiji, or Chinese river, dolphin.
Destruction of wetlands in the wake of the Three Gorges project has driven away tens and thousands of the rare Siberian crane that come to spend winters there. Today, only around 3,000 of these majestic birds are to be sighted in these wetlands. The Yangtze sturgeon, a species of fish endemic to the waters of this region, have been nearly driven to extinction. To make matters worse for wildlife survival, the human population in the Yangtze River Basin has doubled in the last 50 years which resulted in more dams to cater to the energy and irrigation needs of probably the biggest concentration of human population in the world. The number of dams in China is now 80,000, a majority of which have been constructed after 1949. What this has done to ecosystems and the biodiversity it supports is unfathomable.
Similarly, hydro power projects on the Mekong, Congo and Amazon rivers have caused incalculable losses to the once rich biodiversity and wildlife abounding their catchment areas. Dam construction on the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, threaten the existence of 50 species of fish unique to the waters of the lower Xingu.
Dams interfere with the natural water flow of rivers and cause intense harm to downstream flora and fauna. Dam projects on the Mekong River in South-East Asia are causing massive disruption to aquatic ecosystems the river supports. Nearly two-thirds of the freshwater fish are long-distance migratory species that travel downriver for spawning in the Lower Mekong. The construction of dams on the upper Mekong has blocked such migratory routes, causing a huge drop in the population of such fish. A massive reduction in commercial fish catch by as much as 30 percent is a poignant indicator of this.
The above are not just isolated instances; hundreds of them occur in various parts of the world. Forest areas totaling 9 million hectares have been submerged as a result of the 1,800-odd dams constructed between 1980 and 2000. Ecosystems supporting flora and fauna were obliterated overnight. Unlike humans, wild animals are incapable of being forewarned of impending floods and this creates panic among them. Wary of leaving their habitat, some of them simply drown and the more fortunate migrate to safer but unknown territories.
Canals or drainage for irrigation purposes can also act as obstructions to wildlife habitats; so can power lines cutting through forest patches. Dams also affect the biosphere by way of greenhouse emissions.
Nearly 500 dam projects are currently in the pipeline worldwide. This spells danger to the 4,000 unique species of fish in just three major rivers systems alone – the Amazon, the Mekong and the Congo. What lies in store in numerous other river systems of the world are the extinction of many fish and other aquatic species, the decimation of floodplains, wetlands and farmlands that support a vast array of bird life, and erosion of coastal deltas.
As communities begin to realize that the environmental, economic, and cultural consequences of dams outweigh the benefits, dam removal is becoming a popular occurrence. Removing dams helps to restore ecosystems and river flow for wild animals while restoring natural nutrient flow and sediment and nutrient flow.
Dam removal can also eliminate safety issues in a community, protect wetlands and coastal beaches, improve community water quality, restore recreational opportunities, and save taxpayer money.
Dams Are Not The Solution
To meet the needs of a burgeoning human population, plundering of natural resources and destruction of the world's ecosystem have been resorted to, posing a grievous threat to the future of Earth's wildlife. Among the millions of pinpricks inflicted on nature by man, one has been the wanton construction of dams.
Despite the construction of such a huge multitude of dams, over a billion people still are deprived of clean drinking water. Two billion are bereft of basic sanitation, and a similar number still lack electricity.
Scientific studies have shown that dams are not the green, clean and economical source of electricity they are made out be. For the sake of the world's dwindling wildlife population, governments and authorities must pay heed to their plight.
New technologies offer more environmentally responsible alternatives to dams. More efficient energy sources – including wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, wave and biomass options – can help eliminate our dependence on dams. Residential, commercial, and agricultural water reduction is also an effective solution to reducing the need for dams.
The majority of the world's fisheries are in a state of collapse. Too many boats are chasing too few fish. Many of the fish species currently in decline serve as important food sources for sea animals who, unlike humans, have no other food choices. In the Bering Sea, the effects of overfishing on marine animals are obvious. Fur-seal populations have not increased despite a long-standing ban on commercial hunting. The number of Steller's sea lions, which feed mostly on pollack (the number one ingredient in frozen fish sticks and served by fast food chains), has plunged 80% since the 1970s, and seabirds such as the red-legged kittiwake are also in trouble.
Modern fishing techniques have enabled humans to catch more fish than ever before, and the once seemingly abundant ocean is now being stripped of life.
In addition to the vast numbers of target fish being caught by today's fishermen, there are also non-target casualties. "Bycatch" is the name that fisheries have given to sea life that is caught, yet not wanted at the time. Bycatch may include dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds, starfish, or even commercially valuable fish not sought by a particular vessel.
DAMAGING FISHING TECHNIQUES
These are industrial fishing vessels with large-mouthed nets wide enough to encompass three Statues of Liberty lined up end to end. Upon being cast into the ocean, these nets catch just about everything they touch. "Trawling" and "trolling" are sometimes confused, but trolling refers to a vessel towing bait near the surface of the water. With trawling, for every pound of commercial catch, 10 to 20 pounds of bycatch is caught and discarded as waste. As the huge nets drag across the sea floor, they not only capture sea creatures, they literally clear-cut the ocean floor, grinding up coral reefs and other habitats. By removing the organisms that provide shelter for little fish, trawling is not only breaking the food chain, but may also be the underlying cause of the recent collapse of many commercial groundfish stocks, which include cod, haddock, pollock and flounder.
These are fishing lines up to 80 miles long, which carry several thousand baited hooks at a time. These may catch swordfish, sablefish and sometimes tuna. Frequently, longlines catch other sea animals including sharks and sea birds. Worldwide, an estimated 180,000 birds die on longline hooks each year. Scientists agree that longline fishing severely impacts at least 13 seabird species, 3 of which are globally threatened with extinction. About 10% of the world's wandering albatross population is killed each year by longlines. Sharks have also been severely impacted by longline fishing, often killed just for their fins to be used in soup. Sharks have slow growth and reproductive rates, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
These vessels will surround a school of fish with a large net, which is closed off at the bottom with a cable. This technique can trap an entire school of tuna as well as other fish. In the Eastern Pacific, yellow fin tuna often travel with dolphins (for reasons yet unknown), who are vulnerable to entanglement in purse seines if herded and encircled by the net.
MARINE MAMMAL CONFLICTS
Many marine mammals eat the same fish that humans do. In the past, subsistence cultures that fished only to meet the needs of their villages had few conflicts with marine mammals. Today, commercial fisheries strive to profit by catching as many fish as possible, while marine mammals are perceived as competition. The fish that these marine mammals eat to survive is considered lost industry profit. Too often, many marine mammals become scapegoats for declining fish stocks and are harassed or killed. Other times, certain types of fishing gear inadvertently harms non-target marine mammals. SEALS & FISHERY CONFLICTS
Fishermen claim that seals are a costly menace, because they damage nets and eat or wound fish that "belong" to the fishermen. Despite the fact that most of the world's fisheries are in trouble due to overfishing, fisheries mismanagement, and pollution, fishermen routinely blame seals for reduced catches. Complaints by fishermen often lead to seal slaughters or "culls," which are crude and cruel attempts to boost fishery yields. However, there is little scientific evidence that seal slaughters help replenish fish stocks. In fact, removing large numbers of seals may actually hurt fish stocks, as other animals usually eaten by seals also eat commercial fish or compete with them for the same food. Additionally, fish eaten by seals account for only a small proportion of the fish that are removed from the marine environment. In some cases, fishermen remove 25 times more than seals, while other fish may eat 30 times more.
OTTERS & SHELLFISH
To stay warm in the North Pacific's cool waters, a 50-pound adult otter will consume a quarter of its body weight each day, which equates to roughly 16 pounds of crab, lobster, urchins, oysters and clams. The shellfish industry of Southern California owes its success to the near eradication of the sea otter by fur traders almost 100 years ago. As the sea otter population is slowly recovering and has begun to reclaim its native range, the shellfish industry has pushed for the enforcement of "otter-free zones." These zones are created when otters are removed from their rightful place in the ecosystem, and relocated to less productive areas where fishermen, and subsequently otters, have little interest. Sea otter relocation efforts are doomed to fail, as otters cannot recognize the invisible line that surrounds an "otter-free zone." Once relocated, otters fail to thrive. Relocation not only disrupts the sea otter social structure, but it increases food competition and causes territorial disputes, which ultimately results in more otter deaths.
DOLPHINS & TUNA
Some species of tuna swim with dolphins. This special relationship has led to the depletion of both species, as fishermen locate tuna by looking for leaping dolphins. Scientists have confirmed that chasing and netting dolphins causes harm to their populations and suppresses their recovery. In 1986, before the original "dolphin safe" law went into effect, 133,000 dolphins were reported killed because of tuna fishing. In 1988, thanks to strict guidelines that prohibited the netting of dolphins, deaths were reported at less than 2,000. But in 1999, dolphin protection took a huge step backward. New guidelines have rendered the label meaningless, as tuna companies that encircle dolphins with huge nets are now allowed to label their tuna as "dolphin safe." Tuna are also in trouble from commercial fishing. Within the next few decades, blue fin tuna are expected to reduce to 10% of their historic range. Most blue fin on the market today are juveniles, as nearly all of the adults have been caught. Bigeye, yellowfin and albacore tuna populations are also declining.
SEA TURTLES & SHRIMP
All but one of the eight species of sea turtles are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List, and all are protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Despite this protection, it is estimated that worldwide 155,000 sea turtles drown in shrimp nets each year -- many in U.S. waters. "Turtle-Safe" shrimp is caught with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which attach to shrimp nets and allow turtles to escape. While sea turtle drownings are almost entirely eliminated by the use of TEDs and are required in U.S. waters, some fishermen disable them because they mistakenly believe that TEDs reduce shrimp catches. Shrimp that is imported to the U.S. is also supposed to be caught with TEDs, however, regulation and compliance of foreign vessels is very questionable. And unfortunately, while TEDs may help protect sea turtles, they are unable to remedy the devastating damage that shrimp nets cause as they drag across the sea floor, destroying critical habitat and food sources for sea turtles and other sea life.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Eliminate or decrease fish from your diet.
Support legislation that sets strict standards for commercial fishing.
Urge National Parks, National Marine Sanctuaries and National Wildlife Refuges to prohibit commercial and recreational fishing within their boundaries.
If you witness a marine mammal being harassed by fishermen or injured by fishing gear, contact the National Marine Fisheries Service. The toll-free, national phone number for the enforcement division is 1-800-853-1964.
If you witness any other wild animals (ducks, geese, raccoons, etc.) being harassed by fishermen or injured by fishing gear, call your state Fish and Wildlife or Fish and "Game" department listed in the Government section of your local phone book.
When visiting a beach, lake or river, pick up any discarded fishing gear that you see and dispose of it properly.
As the population of the world grows, more mouths to feed means more land needed for agriculture. Where will the land come from? From the denudation of forests, of course.
Rather than focusing on sustainable forms of vegetable farming, the modern farming industry continues to promote animal agribusiness. Raising animals for food results in massive amounts of forest destruction. It takes 12 times as much land, 13 times more fuel and 15 times more water to make a pound of animal protein than to make a pound of plant protein.
Subsistence agriculture is farming carried out with the sole aim of feeding the farmer and his family. Nearly half of the world's deforestation has been a result of subsistence farming. But commercial agriculture is now responsible for another third of the planet's deforestation, with one more acre of land cleared every second.
Up to the year 1947, nearly 6.2 million square miles of tropical forest covered the earth. Only 3.2 square miles remain now. Tropical forests hold 80% of the world's biodiversity. With the destruction of forests, entire ecosystem – in which millions of species of animals and organisms once thrived – are being eliminated.
Seventy percent of the Earth's plant and animals dwell in forests, and deforestation affects them directly. Once their habitat is lost, they are on their way to extinction. According to recent estimates, the world is losing 137 species of plants, animals and insects every day to deforestation. A horrifying 50,000 species become extinct each year.
Of the world's 3.2 million square miles of the planet's rain forests, 2.1 are in the Amazon alone. But much of these forests are vanishing at an alarming rate. The Brazilian Government's incentive to the meat and leather trades in the early 1990's led to massive deforestation between the years 1991 and 2004. During this time, jungles cleared in the Amazon for this purpose alone accounted for an astonishing 15 percent of the world's tropical forest cover. Three decades of continued deforestation have resulted in the complete extinction of 10 mammal, 20 bird, and 8 amphibian species. Another 20 percent of the species that still survive will slowly perish from the loss of habitat.
And it's not just the Amazon. 90 percent of eastern tropical jungles of Madagascar have vanished over the century and endanger the survival of the lemurs – those exotic creatures so unique to this island nation. In Haiti, what remains is a pitiable 1 percent of the original forest acreage. Countries like Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Laos, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana Ivory Coast, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras have lost between 30 to 50 percent of their forest cover within a century. In the United States, 260 million acres of forests have already been lost.
Below is a list of just some of the creatures that may soon be extinct due to massive deforestation.
Mountain Gorilla: The Mountain Gorilla is a critically endangered animal found primarily in the mountains of Rwanda in Central Africa. They captured the public imagination after the screening of the 1981 movie "Gorillas in the Mist". Only about 900 of this species remain today.
The Javan Rhinoceros: This animal is one of the rarest on earth and is listed as 'critically endangered' by the The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). There are just 60 of these animals surviving in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia.
The Bornean Orangutan: Illegal logging, a rampant palm-oil industry, and forest fires have taken a toll on one of the most intelligent species in the world. It is on the critically endangered list of the IUCN.
The Giant Panda: Ecological changes have accounted for the numbers of this lovable creature plummeting in a habitat in the Sichuan province of China.
The Golden Lion Tamarin: This tiny animal of the Amazon forest has seen its habitat evaporate in the face of extensive soy farming and timber-felling, which is why it finds itself in the IUCN's critically endangered list.
Organizations have endeavored to protect the forests of the world and its denizens for the past 50 years. Bill will it be enough? Forests now cover only 31 percent of the planet's surface. Unless drastic measures are taken to protect them from further denudation, that number will reduce to 10 percent by the year 2030. With so little forest cover, what the effect on the environment and wildlife will be is hard to imagine.
Conservation is the protection of things found in nature, including species, their habitats and ecosystems. It encourages the sensible use of the planet’s natural resources so they do not go extinct, and promotes keeping the environment clean and healthy.
The rapid decline of established biological systems around the world means that conservation biology is often referred to as a "Discipline With a Deadline" - we must act before it is too late.
Conservation is classified as either on-site conservation, which is protecting an endangered species in its natural habitat, or off-site conservation, which occurs outside of their natural habitat.
● In-situ (on-site) conservation involves protecting or cleaning up the habitat or defending the species from predators.
● Ex-situ (off-site) conservation may be used when in-situ conservation is too difficult or impossible. Animals may be removed from a threatened habitat and placed in a new location, which may be a wild area or within the care of humans.
Non-interference may also be used, which is called preservation.
Preservationists advocate for giving areas of nature and species a protected existence without interference from the humans. In this regard, conservationists differ from preservationists, as conservation engages society to seek solutions for both people and ecosystems.
Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and seeks to control pollution and protect plant and animal diversity.
Animal advocates believe humans have a moral responsibility to treat animals with respect, and that the interests of humans and animals should be considered equally.
ECOLOGY: PRESERVING BIODIVERSITY
Ecology is the relationship of living things to each other and what is around them. It includes not only how those living things interact with each other, but how they interact with their physical environment, such as soil, water and climate.
Scientists who study ecology are called ecologists. They learn about living things by observing, seeing what happens, then recording what they find - all part of the scientific method.
Some ecologists study a specific habitat or species. They might study the behavior of a certain type of animal to learn how it interacts with the environment or other organisms. Or they may study many different species that depend on, or compete with, each other. What ecologists learn from their observations helps us to preserve biodiversity.
BIODIVERSITY: THE VARIETY OF LIFE
Biodiversity refers to the all the variety of life on the planet, or the total variety of life in a certain area. It includes all the different species of plants, animals, fungi, and even microorganisms and bacteria on earth or a given area.
Biodiversity takes into account the similarities and differences among individuals of the same species, and includes communities of plants and animals that interact together.
We don’t know the total number of species in our world, but there are tens of thousands of species of plants and animals discovered so far, and more being discovered everyday.
Conserving animals and plants is important for the benefit of humans and the benefit of other species. Individual species help meet our basic needs, including providing materials for food, clothing, shelter and fuel. Plants produce the oxygen we need to breathe, and are the source of many medicines. Insects pollinate crops and control pest populations. Birds, reptiles, frogs and amphibians control insect and other animal populations. Microorganisms decompose waste and recycle nutrients. Biodiversity also provides us with recreation and contributes to our physical, mental and spiritual well being. Every species contributes to our world in its own unique way. Loosing any one species affects the balance of nature.
Threats to Biodiversity
Human activities on earth in the last century have led to an enormous amount biodiversity loss, which continues to increase. The number of plants and animals becoming extinct exceed those of prehistoric mass extinctions. Loss of biodiversity also leads to genetic diversity loss and a loss of ecosystems.
The biggest threats to biodiversity include:
● Pollution: Despite efforts to reduce pollution, pesticides, acid rain, fertilizers and other pollution continue to change the chemical balance of ecosystems, negatively affecting plants and animals.
● Habitat Destruction, Alteration and Fragmentation: The biggest cause in decline of species populations is loss of habitat. Development, wetland filling and other ecologically irresponsible activities reduce and fragment forests, grasslands, deserts and wetland habitats into areas too isolated and too small to support some animals.
● Invasive Species: The spread of invasive, non-native species also changes the composition of wildlife and wild lands, reducing or replacing native plants and animals.
● Illegal Collection and Hunting: Many animals are poached and collected for the pet trade. Commercial hunting has decimated species populations, and led to the extinction of some animals. Fish are threatened by overharvesting.
● Changes in Climate: Changes in the earth’s climate can be difficult for some species to adapt to, eventually leading to extinction.
The threats faced by wildlife around the world continue to increase. Each year, thousands of animal species are lost to extinction. Mountain areas provide one of the last safe havens for endangered plant and animal species. But even these last safe havens are now under threat by irresponsible human activities.
A large number of mammals have taken up homes in mountainous areas. The most cited reason for this is environmental variation, which is the evolution of different species that live in the valleys and mountains. But studies have revealed that the high level of biodiversity in mountains can also be attributed to the protection mountains offer to endangered species. Animals are taking refuge in mountains because we've driven them from other ecosystems.
Mountains provide safety to animals that have come near extinction. But these last safe areas for wildlife are continually faced with a myriad of challenges which include animal agriculture, human development, insufficient water, climatic changes, desertification and declines in biodiversity.
The brown bear once flourished in Asia, North America and Europe. But now they can only be found in mountainous areas due to the threats faced in lowlands. In the past 100 years, only 1% of the entire population of brown bears has survived in the United States.
Pumas, otherwise known as mountain lions, are mostly found in the mountains – especially in the Andes and Rockies. It took its home in these areas primarily due to the threats they face from the activities of man.
Red pandas are mostly found in the Himalayan mountain chain. Even though this region is reasonably inaccessible to humans, the red panda is having a difficult time surviving as bamboo, which it feeds on, continues to be depleted. For the giant panda to survive, three things are important; high mountains with deep valleys, lush bamboo vegetation, and rippling streams – all of which are threatened by human activities.
The golden eagle has its home in the Northern Hemisphere. Like many other endangered species, the number of golden eagles has plummeted due to human actions.
Not only do mountain forests serve as protection for wildlife, but billions of people depend on them for their income. 60% of the world’s fresh water comes from the mountains even though they cover just 12% of the Earth’s surface. The quality and quantity of water supplied to industries and lowland communities is influenced heavily by mountain forests. If there are no forests in the mountains, erosion is bound to occur, leaving the quality of water in jeopardy.
Most cities source their water supply from the mountains. For instance, 95% of Vienna’s water comes from mountain forests of the Northern Alps. Honduras and Tegucigalpa get 40% of their water supply from the cloud forest of La Tigra National Park. 97% of Kenya’s electricity is generated from Mount Kenya using hydroelectric technologies. The Tibetan plateau serves as a water tower for more than 3 billion Asians.
A large amount of carbon in contained in mountain forests. When these mountain forests are lost, a massive amounts of carbon will be released into the atmosphere.
Threats to Mountain Animals
Every day mountain forests continue to face threats from human activities.
As the world’s population continues to increase, farmers are migrating to higher lands, contributing to the depletion of forest life. More than half of Africa’s mountainous areas have been turned into grazing lands. Excessive grazing leads to the destruction of fragile vegetation. 10% is used for growing crops. This practice is unsustainable due to the fact that crops do not do well on highlands. Most mountainous areas are unproductive lands. Only a meager 3% of mountain land is suitable for growing crops.
About 25% of mountain lands across the world have been used for roads, dams, pipelines and mining projects. Every year, billions of minerals are extracted from mountains. Not only does road construction lead to erosion, it also provides easy access to cut down trees.
Mountain habitats are very susceptible to climatic changes. As glaciers continue to melt, snowcaps are receding. Scientists believe this will eventually lead to a series of landslides which will eventually affect water reserves. As climatic conditions continue to change, there will be an increase in the number of pests which further endanger forest life.
Civil wars have a devastating effect on mountain areas. Insurgents base their stations in the mountains. It has been estimated by the United Nations that 67% of African mountain regions have been used for violent activities.
Action Is Needed
Governments have slowly begun to take small steps to reduce forest depletion. National parks are being erected in different parts of the world to conserve some fragile regions and to serve as refuges to endangered species. Although national parks are protected, they are still subject to environmental pressure. The high rate at which animal species are being lost is a clear indication that mountain strongholds are still being attacked by poachers.
Mountains are vital to all life on earth, including humans. What happens on the highest mountain peak affects all life in the lowlands. Lands, freshwaters and even oceans are affected by moutains. Much larger steps must be taken now to save these last wild areas from animal agriculture, development and other human impacts.
Our oceans, seas, rivers and lakes are home to a large percentage of the animal species of earth. Many mammals have adapted to life in the water. Even those that never leave it still have lungs to breath oxygen and give birth to live young. Most of us know that whales and dolphins are aquatic mammals, living exclusively in the ocean, but there are semi-aquatic mammals, like seals, sealions, manatee and walrus, that live both in the sea and on the land. Among them, with a classification of its own, is one of earth’s largest carnivores: the polar bear.
The scientific name for the polar bear is ursus maritimus, or marine bear. Polar bears are uniquely adapted for life in the sea. Their front feet are large, flat and oar-like and they have long necks and narrow skulls that give them a streamlined shape. With these advantages, the polar bear is a powerful endurance swimmer. Individuals have been seen in open Arctic waters as far as 200 miles from any land.
Only the Kodiak bears of Southern Alaska can rival the Polar bear for size. Polar bear males weigh 550-1700 lbs (250-771 kg) and females 200-700 lbs (91-318 kg). The polar bear will gain a height of 8 to 10 feet (2.4 - 3m). To support their enormous size, such large animals must constantly hunt. They will travel great distances in search of prey, feeding largely on ringed seals and, to a lesser extent, on bearded seals. Under some conditions, they have been known to eat walrus, birds, vegetation, kelp, and even the carcasses of beluga and bowhead whales.
Polar bears don't need to drink water. Their prey provides them with all the liquid they need. Polar bear cubs are 12 to 14 inches long at birth and weigh around one pound. They will nurse until they are about 20-30 pounds before emerging from the den with their mother in March or April.
Polar bear populations are distributed in Artic regions throughout Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway. They must have pack ice to survive and can travel thousands of miles over the course of a year, following the advance and retreat of sea ice. Seal populations are abundant on pack ice, where currents and wind interact with the ice, continually melting and refreezing the edges, making it accessible to both predator and prey.
Older, stable pack ice is essential to the polar bear’s continued existence. It is where polar bears hunt, mate and den. Pregnant females make dens in the soft deep snows of the ice. They will give birth in these dens and the snow will insulate both mother and cubs over the harsh Arctic winter. Without a stable ice pack to accumulate sufficient snow, there can be no dens.
The ice is also the seal’s habitat. Polar bears are strong swimmers, but they are not adept at catching seals in open water. The ice is necessary for successful hunts, where the bears stalk the seals using their breathing holes. Changes in the conditions of the ice have forced seals to move and give birth in different areas, making it more difficult for the polar bears to find and feed on them. Without ready and plentiful food, pregnant female polar bears cannot build the fat reserves they need to survive a denning period.
With shrinking ice and inaccessibility to prey, polar bears could be extinct by 2050. Their habitat is melting away. When animals lose their natural habitat they will seek other means to secure food. Just as black bears will come into towns and communities in search of food, polar bears, attracted by garbage or animal carcasses, will enter areas of human population. When they do so, they can be killed. Although it is illegal to kill a polar bear, human caused mortality still remains a factor in the decline of this endangered animal.
To help save the polar bear, we must support strengthening of the Endangered Species Act and include the polar bears’ prey base, suspend new Arctic gas and oil development until the bear population and their sea-ice habitat are fully protected and eliminate all trophy hunting throughout the Artic. Laws against poaching must be strictly enforced and programs implemented that offer rewards for information leading to their conviction.
Vultures. Cartoon characters in parched deserts often wish them to disappear, since circling vultures are a stereotypical harbinger of death. In reality, vultures in some parts of the world are in danger of disappearing. And according to recent research, such a loss would have serious consequences for ecosystems and human populations alike.
The primary threat to vultures is the presence of toxins in the carrion they consume. On many continents, vultures are the unfortunate victims of poisoned carcasses — especially impactful because dozens — or even hundreds — of vultures can feast on a single carcass. Populations of most vulture species around the world are now either declining or on the brink of extinction.
Losses of vultures can allow other scavengers to flourish. Proliferation of such scavengers could bring bacteria and viruses from carcasses into human cities.
In 2004, Çağan Şekercioğlu from the University of Utah, published a study examining the respective extinction risks of all bird species throughout the world. He noted then that vultures represented the single most threatened group of birds. More than a decade later, Şekercioğlu and Evan Buechley examined factors affecting the extinction risk of more than 100 bird species, including 22 species of vultures, which eat carrion exclusively, and other scavenging birds that have broader diets. Their results suggest several inherent ecological traits that likely contribute to vultures’ extinction risk, including their large body masses, slow reproductive rates and highly specialized diets. The greatest external threat to vultures, however, is poisoning.
Poisoning is the greatest extinction risk facing vultures, and impacts 88 percent of threatened vulture species. The poisons come in many forms.
In North America, the California condor, a vulture, experienced sharp declines until only 22 individuals remained by 1982. The leading cause of decline? Toxic lead bullet fragments in the gut piles left behind by hunters after animals had been field-dressed. Intensive conservation efforts helped the species to rebound. The condors now number well over 400, and range over large areas of California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, Mexico.
In the mid-1990s India experienced a precipitous vulture decline, with more than 95 percent of vultures disappearing by the early 2000s. The cause was eventually traced to diclofenac, a veterinary anti-inflammatory drug that relieved pain in cattle, but proved highly toxic to vultures. Hundreds of vultures would flock to each cattle carcass. And if the cow had recently been treated with diclofenac, hundreds of vultures would die. Because of this highly gregarious feeding behavior, less than one percent of cattle carcasses contaminated with diclofenac could account for the steep vulture decline. Fortunately, international cooperation led to a total ban on veterinary diclofenac use. Buechley says the numbers of vultures have stabilized, and are now showing signs of slowly increasing.
Now, the center of the vulture crisis is in sub-Saharan Africa. Potent newly affordable poisons are used to control predatory pests, such as lions or jackals. The poisons are so toxic that they can cascade through ecosystems: birds, mammals and insects are often found littering the area around these poisoned carcasses. But, as the predominant scavenger, vultures take the brunt of the poisoning and face the largest number of casualties. For example, an elephant carcass poisoned in Namibia killed as many as 600 vultures. In other cases, vultures are the victims of poachers who poison carcasses so that vultures do not give away the location of illegally taken animals.
Rise Of The Facultative Scavengers
In vultures’ absence, other scavenger populations increase to take advantage of all of the uneaten carrion. By some estimates, in Central America, South America and Africa, vultures eat more meat than all predators combined. Without vultures, animals that eat carrion as a part of their diet (called facultative scavengers, as opposed to vultures, which eat only carrion) proliferate to take advantage of the available nutrients in a dead carcass.
Crows, rats, dogs — any of these species can suddenly become abundant and dominant, to the point of crowding out the remaining vultures. Hundreds of vultures on a carcass can easily frighten away packs of dogs. But when only a few vultures are left, the dogs can rule.
Such changes in populations of certain animal groups can upset the balance of food webs. All these facultative scavengers are also predators, and so they also go out and eat other organisms, causing a cascading effect.
The impact of vultures’ declines are not limited to the realm of ecology, however. Vultures are highly efficient consumers of carrion, sometimes locating and consuming carcasses within an hour, before other forms of decay can set in. And vultures’ stomachs are highly acidic, killing nearly all bacteria or viruses that may be present in carrion. Combined with the fact that vultures rarely come in contact with humans, vultures serve as a barrier to prevent diseases from proliferating in dead animals and spreading to humans. Other facultative scavengers are not so adapted, and could pass along those diseases into human populations, as many are already fixtures in cities.
For example, following the decline of vultures, India experienced a strong uptick in feral dogs — by an estimated seven million. The increase in dogs, potentially feeding on disease-ridden carcasses, is thought to have at least partially caused the rabies outbreak that was estimated to have killed 48,000 people from 1992-2006 in India — deaths that may have been avoided if not for the disappearance of vultures.
Members of the Parsi sect of Zoroastrianism experienced a different impact. For thousands of years, the Parsi people have placed their dead on exposed mountaintops or tall towers for vultures to consume. The practice is called “sky burial.” But with few vultures and unable to properly handle their dead, the Parsis experienced a crisis within the faith. Some constructed captive vulture aviaries. Others talked about desiccating bodies using focused solar mirrors. The Parsis’ plight exemplifies the vultures’ role in south Asian society — and the various impacts if the vultures aren’t there.
Learning From The Past
Although the vulture crisis in Africa is ongoing, scientists can predict what the outcome will be, based on previous experiences in India. Crows, gulls, rats and dogs will boom. And the rabies outbreak in India may just be a prologue, because several sub-Saharan Africa countries already have the highest per-capita rabies infection rates in the world. Rabies is only one of the many potential diseases that vultures had helped regulate.
The poisoning that is killing vultures is also affecting many other organisms throughout ecosystems. But vultures are the most sensitive canaries in ecological coal mines. The story of the California condor shows that recovery is possible, but at a high cost that countries in the developing world may not be able to pay.
“It’s good news and bad news,” Şekercioğlu says. “It shows that we can bring back these scavengers. But the bad news is that once we get to these numbers, it costs tens of millions of dollars and decades to bring them back. You don’t want to go there. And once you go there, we can afford to save only a few species.”
So, Buechley argues, “the better solution is to invest in vulture conservation here and now, in order to stem incalculable damage from trophic cascades and increased human disease burden in the developing world.”
Forests are vital for the health and well-being of humans, wildlife, and the Earth. They provide habitat for about two-thirds of all land-dwelling animals and plants. Around the world, these critical ecosystems are being ripped apart as a result of a booming demand for furniture, flooring, lumber, and other building materials. Trees are used to make paper, packaging materials, pencils, fuel for cooking and heat, and other wood-based products. In addition to wood products, logging is also occurring at an alarming rate to make room for animal agriculture and subsistence farming, oil and gas extraction, mining operations, and ever-increasing development. The world's natural forests cannot sustain the increasing global demands of current forest management practices.
Years of irresponsible exploitation have destroyed and degraded much of the planet's forests. Half of the Earth's global forest land has already been lost. In the United States, 90 percent of continental indigenous forests have been removed. Around the world, 15 billion trees are being cut down each year. The destruction of important wildlands is displacing communities, endangering habitats of rare and endangered plants and animals, and negatively affecting the environment. Most of the world’s remaining indigenous forests are located in Canada, Alaska, Russia and the Northwestern Amazon basin. We must protect what is left before it is too late.
Logging generally falls into two categories: selective logging and clear-cutting logging. Selective logging involves taking only trees of high value. Clear-cutting involves the taking of all trees in an area, thus clearing the entire forest. While selective logging is promoted as being more environmentally responsible than clear-cutting, it can be very damaging to the surrounding trees which are left standing. The heavy equipment used in logging often damages the surrounding trees. Around 40 out of 100 trees die from just one tree being selectively logged.
Logging Threatening Species
The massive activity of logging, both legal and illegal, involves the felling of trees on such a large scale that it is one of the major forms of deforestation. Only thirty-one percent of our Earth's surface is still covered by forests. Of this, rich tropical forests like those found in the Amazon, Congo River Basin and Mekong River Basin account for almost three-fourths of the covered area. For the timber industry, these precious million-year old forests are prime targets for logging. It is in such tropical forests of the world that 80 percent of endangered species reside. The impact on the general ecology and habitat of all living creatures is in danger when over fifty thousand hectares of forests continue to vanish every year.
Seven countries account for approximately 60 percent of the total deforestation on Earth, including Canada, the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, China, Russia and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. About half of world’s timber and up to 70% of paper is consumed by the United States, Europe and Japan. An estimated 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest are lost every year. One and a half acres of forest is cut down every second. Up to 28,000 species may become extinct in the next quarter of a century from deforestation.
Few consumers are aware that the timber used for their hardwood floors, kitchen tables and cabinets come from illegal felling operations carried out in African forests that house elephants, lions, rhinoceros, gorillas and many rare and endangered species. Illegal logging has resulted in loss of habitats in regions spread across wide geographies from the Amazon, Congo Basin, Borneo in Indonesia and the forests of Siberia. Particularly threatened by such activities are the dwarf gorillas of the southern Congo basin, orangutans in Borneo and the great Siberian tiger.
In a virtually dry continent like Australia, rare tropical forest cover has been reduced by half as a result of logging. Precious eucalyptus forests cover only 8 percent of Australia, but house 47 percent of its animals that use hollows in trees as their homes. The yellow-bellied glider, the brush-tailed phascogale, the greater glider, the Leadbeater’s possum and various squirrel species are some of the animals that depend on tree hollows and have been affected by logging. Australian blue gum plantations are home to thousands of the iconic koala bear and the continuous felling of these trees are a constant threat to the endangered animal.
In South-eastern Australia logging has led to increased light penetration that facilitates the growth of lantana, a toxic plant preferred by the bell miner – a species of bird that preys on insects that inhabit these plants. The bell miner drives out smaller species of birds that would have otherwise fed on such insects. Sudden increases in insect loads means they feed on eucalyptus leaves, eating into a vital food source of the koala bear.
In Pennsylvania an astonishing 99 percent of the population of the northern long-eared bat, and 75 percent of the Indiana bat, have been lost to intensive logging and related activities. These two species of bat depend largely on the older and larger trees of the forests for foraging and roosting.
Forests of Madagascar, isolated from mainlands for tens of millions of years, have developed a quality of timber unmatched anywhere in the world. Loggers in search premium wood have mercilessly felled trees over the decades for export to affluent markets of China and the Far-East. The bio-diversity evolved over the millions of years in Madagascar forests has created a stunning array of 200,000 species of plants, insects, mammals and birds found nowhere else in the world. Forests that house thousands of endemic species like baobabs, lemurs, and Uroplatus geckos, have halved in cover since the advent of man on the island just 1,000 years ago. The very survival of such wildlife is in danger.
Careful planning and the use of reduced-impact logging (RIL) practices can help avoid some of the destructive damage caused by logging. RIL practices include better planned logging roads, directional felling so that cut trees do not crush trees left standing, and cutting vines that may pull other trees down with those being harvested. However, any type of logging can result in devastating impacts on forest animals, and on mammals and amphibians in particular.
Humans must realize that even now seventy percent of our Earth's land animals live in forests. It's time for a proper substitute to timber. For the timber and paper industry, profits should take a back seat to conservation. We must save the only habitats the endangered wildlife of the world have left.
Logging Effects On Wildlife And The Environment
Logging causes a loss of bio-diversity. When forests are logged, species lose their habitat, food sources, and shelter. Primary trees also provide seeds for new trees. The seed source is lost when the trees are harvested.
Logging causes extinction. Many animal species rely on trees for their food sources and shelter.
Logging causes ecosystem fragmentation. Habitats are cut into fragments, affecting food availability, migration patterns and shelter. Forest fragmentation is threatening the survival of many species.
Logging causes erosion. Trees and leaf litter are essential nutrients for the soil in forests and prevent erosion by absorbing water – keeping nutrients in the top-soil from washing away.
Logging causes flooding. Trees stable soil by absorbing rain water. When trees are removed, flooding and mud-slides can result.
Logging obstructs streams and rivers. Erosion and flooding caused by logging causes soil and silt to flow into water systems. Clouded water can prevent fish and other species from laying eggs and constructing nests.
Logging is changing the climate. Trees store carbon. When forests are harvested, the carbon is released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. A greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide absorbs heat and creates global warming.
What You Can Do
You can help save forests by making responsible daily choices. By consuming less, eating sustainable food, choosing recycled or certified sustainable wood products, and opting for alternative products, you can reduce deforestation.
Choose more sustainable products whenever possible. Hemp is a fast-growing and sustainable crop that produces more construction-grade fiber per acre than most trees. Bamboo is also a fast-growing plant stronger than most slow-growing trees. Soy can be made into a variety of products and can make traditional wood products safer - replacing dangerous glues, formaldehyde, and other toxic solvents. Additional plant fibers and recycled materials are being used to create a vast array of items. Composite materials combine wood with other components.
When you do buy wood products, choose 100 percent post-consumer content materials when available. When purchasing products made from virgin forest fiber, look for a seal from a credible forestry certification system.
Support companies that have adopted forest-friendly policies.
Reduce, reuse and recycle to lower the need for more raw materials from trees.
Reduce or eliminate meat, eggs and dairy from your diet. A plant-based diet drastically reduces the devastating deforestation happening around the world from animal agriculture practices.
Educate others about how their everyday choices impacts forests.
What is a greenhouse? A greenhouse is a house made of glass. It has glass walls and a glass roof. People grow vegetables and flowers and other plants in them. A greenhouse stays warm inside, even during winter. Sunlight shines in and warms the plants and air inside. But the heat is trapped by the glass and can't escape. So during the daylight hours, it gets warmer and warmer inside a greenhouse, and stays pretty warm at night too.
How is Earth a greenhouse? Earth's atmosphere does the same thing as the greenhouse. Gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide do what the roof of a greenhouse does. During the day, the sun shines through the atmosphere. Earth's surface warms up in the sunlight. At night, Earth's surface cools, releasing the heat back into the air. But some of the heat is trapped by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That's what keeps our Earth a warm and cozy 59 degrees Fahrenheit, on average. Greenhouse effect of Earth's atmosphere keeps some of the sun's energy from escaping back into space at night.
You might think 59 degrees Fahrenheit is pretty cold. Or, you might think that's warm. It depends on what you are used to. That temperature would melt all the Arctic ice. Yes, it's colder than 59 degrees in a lot of places, and hotter than 59 degrees in a lot of places, but 59 is the average of all of the places.
If the atmosphere causes too much greenhouse effect, Earth just gets warmer and warmer. The point is, if the greenhouse effect is too strong, Earth gets warmer and warmer. This is what is happening now. Too much greenhouse gases in the air are making the greenhouse effect stronger.
Why can't we just plant more trees? You might well wonder, because, after all, trees—like all plants—take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Well, that might help a little. But, instead of planting more forests, some people are cutting them down and burning them to make more farm land to feed the growing human population. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together, a staggering 51 percent or more.
The ocean also absorbs a lot, but not all, of the excess carbon dioxide in the air. Unfortunately, the increased carbon dioxide in the ocean changes the water, making it more acidic. Ocean creatures don't like acidic water. Bleached out, unhealthy coral are just one example of what acidic water can do.
Don't clouds keep Earth cooler? Water in the atmosphere also acts as a greenhouse gas. The atmosphere contains a lot of water. This water can be in the form of a gas—water vapor—or in the form of a liquid—clouds. Clouds are water vapor that has cooled and condensed back into tiny droplets of liquid water. Water in the clouds holds in some of the heat from Earth's surface. But the bright white tops of clouds also reflect some of the sunlight back to space. So with clouds, some energy from the sun never even reaches Earth's surface. How much the clouds affect the warming or cooling of Earth's surface is one of those tricky questions that scientists are aiming to answer.
Here is a riddle—a serious one, not a joke: As the ocean warms up, more water evaporates into the air. So does more water vapor then mean more warming? And does more warming mean more water vapor? And ‘round and ‘round we go?
At night, clouds trap some of the heat from Earth's surface. Thus, it does not escape back into space. Or, since more water vapor means more clouds, will the fluffy white clouds reflect enough sunlight back into space to make up for the warming? During the day, clouds reflect the sun's energy back to space, before it has a chance to heat Earth's surface.
This cloud riddle has scientists scratching their heads and trying to figure it out.
The rhino is one of the largest and most powerful animals on earth, and one of the most ancient. Its origins can be traced back 50 million years when it was know as Paraceratherium, the giant rhinoceros. This monstrous creature weighed nearly 20 tons and roamed the grasslands that ranged from Europe to China. It survived the ravages of the Ice Age, migrated continents, fought against predatory adversaries like the crocodile and prehistoric hyenas, and evolved into what we know as the present day rhinoceros. Human hunting and unstable conditions of habitat have reduced this majestic animal, that once roamed half the earth, to just five broad species found only in pockets of Asia and Africa.
Rhinos are in serious danger of going extinct. Poaching of rhinos is on the rise by organized international criminal syndicates. Two rhinos are estimated to be killed by poachers every day in Africa. If rhino poaching is not stopped, African rhinos could be lost forever. Threats to Indian rhinos include expanding human populations, agriculture, and poaching.
Dagger handles made from rhino horns are symbols of status and wealth in Arab countries. In Far East countries, rhino horns are sought for alleged medicinal properties. There is no scientific evidence of their medical value, but they continue to be used in traditional Asian medicine – ground into powder to treat a variety of illnesses.
Rhino horns have fetched as much as an astonishing $50,000 on the black market. Its value tempts even subsistence farmers and poor herdsmen to be a part of the trade. Poaching gangs have reached great levels of sophistication and use night-vision equipment, veterinary drugs and even helicopters in their hunt for rhinos.
Northern White Rhinos
There are no longer any northern white rhinos in the wild. There were around 500 of them in the 1970's scattered over northwestern Uganda, northeastern Congo, parts of Central African Republic and on the eastern fringes of Lake Chad. By 1980 their numbers were down to just a paltry 15. Now only three of them are to be found in the Garamba National Park of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Southern White Rhinos
The southern white rhinoceros is the biggest of all species, standing almost 6 feet up to its shoulders. Its immense body weighs as much as 5,100 lbs (5 tons). They are pale grayish in color and have two horns, the front one curved and big at the snout of the nose, followed by a very small one behind it. They are found in the Savannah grasslands of South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and in some measure in the arid expanses of the Kalahari. From a position of complete extinction in the early part of the 20th century, the southern white rhinoceros has witnessed a dramatic rise in its numbers thanks to the efforts of conservationists, wildlife agencies, game sanctuary authorities and support of local governments. Presently, the number of these rhinoceros stand at 21,000. Despite now being the only rhinos that are not endangered, a surge of poaching in recent years once again threatens the southern white rhinoceros. Legal hunting also threatens their future, as white rhinos in South Africa and Swaziland were downlisted to Appendix II to allow the export of live rhinos and hunting trophies.
The black rhinoceros is another species that is making a comeback from the brink of extinction in the early 1980's to a count of 5,000 today. They are found in East Africa and South Africa. They are smaller in size in comparison to the white rhino. They have an acute sense of smell but very poor eyesight that make them easy targets for poachers. The growing number of rhinoceros in the Southern half of the continent, along with the great demand for horns among the nouveau riche Chinese, has created an incentive for poachers. Cases of poaching in South Africa are up from 15 in 2007, to an alarming 1,200 in 2014. Black rhino horns are in great demand in Vietnam and other South-East Asian countries where they are powdered and used for medicinal purposes.
The Indian rhinoceros, or the great one-horned rhino, is the predominant of the two Asian species. They are mostly found in the north-eastern state of Assam in India in reserves like the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary, Manas National Park and half a dozen sanctuaries scattered over the state. The rhinos found in the Kaziranga, Orang and Pobitara inhabit the alluvial flood plains of the river Brahmaputra that flows through the state. There are a little over a hundred of this species in the Jaldapara National Park of the West Bengal state bordering Assam. The sanctuaries of Parsa Wildlife Reserve, Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal hold about 645 of these animals.
The male Indian rhinoceros can stand up to a height of 5 feet 8 inches at its shoulders. It weighs up to 4,800 lbs and is much bigger than the female which weighs just 3,500 lbs. It has a thick skin that is grayish brown in color and has a single black-colored horn. Despite its poor eyesight, it has a heightened sense of smell and can become a scary looking animal when it breaks into runs of almost 55 kms per hour.
Although massive conservation efforts have resulted in the count of Indian rhinos rising to almost 2,600 from an extinction phase a couple of decades ago, threats in the form of expanding human population pressure, farmlands eating into rhino grasslands, and poaching remain. Organized crime networks are at work catering to the demand for Indian rhino horns, sought for their alleged medicinal values among the affluent Chinese and the rich of the South-East Asian countries. The forest protection personnel of India are not as well equipped as their South African counterparts and are poorly staffed. At the political level, conservation of rhinos is not a priority, and efforts to that end at the grassroots level become difficult. Massive seasonal flooding of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries are turning out to be a major threat to rhinos of Assam. There seems to be no solution in sight. Many of the creatures have drowned or died of sheer hunger, having being displaced from their habitat by raging waters.
The Javan rhinoceros is among the most endangered species of animal on earth. Just a century and a half ago, it roamed the wilds of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. Only 63 of these animals are presently found in the Ujung Kulon national park in the western-most tip of Java, Indonesia.
The Java species stand up to 5.5 feet and weigh up to 2,300 lbs. They have a single horn which is the smallest of all species and measures just 25 cms. It is amphibious like the Indian rhino, and spends a considerable amount of time in the shallow swampy waters of the Javan tropical jungles. Although protected by law, and numbers now too few to act as incentive to poachers, other threats exist. The Arenga palm, or Arenga pinnata, that is a native to Indonesia, poses a grave threat to plants which the rhinos of Java survive on. The Arenga palm is an invasive plant that grows and spreads quickly.
To counter the threat of real extinction this species is facing, a population is being kept in captivity outside of Ujung Kulon by wildlife conservationists. This may give the endangered Java rhinoceros a last chance of long-term survival.
Time Is Running Out
Several rhino species will likely be extinct in just a few decades. The others will follow in less than 100 years. Hunting, animal agriculture, habitat change, and human population growth are taking their toll on these magnificent animals. Without immediate intervention, they will disappear from the Earth causing ecological, social, and economic ramifications. We must act now, before it's too late.
The world's great deserts were formed by natural processes interacting over long intervals of time. During most of these times, deserts have grown and shrunk independent of human activities.
Paleodeserts, large sand seas now inactive because they are stabilized by vegetation, extend well beyond the present margins of core deserts, such as the Sahara. In some regions, deserts are separated sharply from surrounding, less arid areas by mountains and other contrasting landforms that reflect basic structural differences in the regional geology. In other areas, desert fringes form a gradual transition from a dry to a more humid environment, making it more difficult to define the desert border.
These transition zones have very fragile, delicately balanced ecosystems. Desert fringes often are a mosaic of microclimates. Small hollows support vegetation that picks up heat from the hot winds and protects the land from the prevailing winds. After rainfall the vegetated areas are distinctly cooler than the surroundings. In these marginal areas, human activity may stress the ecosystem beyond its tolerance limit, resulting in degradation of the land. By pounding the soil with their hooves, livestock compact the substrate, increase the proportion of fine material, and reduce the percolation rate of the soil, thus encouraging erosion by wind and water. Grazing and the collection of firewood reduces or eliminates plants that help to bind the soil.
This degradation of formerly productive land, desertification, is a complex process. It involves multiple causes, and it proceeds at varying rates in different climates. Desertification may intensify a general climatic trend toward greater aridity, or it may initiate a change in local climate.
Desertification does not occur in linear, easily mappable patterns. Deserts advance erratically, forming patches on their borders. Areas far from natural deserts can degrade quickly to barren soil, rock, or sand through poor land management. The presence of a nearby desert has no direct relationship to desertification.
Unfortunately, an area undergoing desertification is brought to public attention only after the process is well underway. Often little or no data are available to indicate the previous state of the ecosystem or the rate of degradation.
Scientists still question whether desertification, as a process of global change, is permanent or how and when it can be halted or reversed.
Desertification became well known in the 1930's, when parts of the Great Plains in the United States turned into the "Dust Bowl" as a result of drought and poor practices in farming, although the term itself was not used until almost 1950. During the dust bowl period, millions of people were forced to abandon their farms and livelihoods. Greatly improved methods of agriculture and land and water management in the Great Plains have prevented that disaster from recurring, but desertification presently affects millions of people in almost every continent.
Increased population and livestock pressure on marginal lands has accelerated desertification. In some areas, nomads moving to less arid areas disrupt the local ecosystem and increase the rate of erosion of the land. Nomads are trying to escape the desert, but because of their land-use practices, they are bringing the desert with them.
It is a misconception that droughts cause desertification. Droughts are common in arid and semiarid lands. Well-managed lands can recover from drought when the rains return. Continued land abuse during droughts, however, increases land degradation. By 1973, the drought that began in 1968 in the Sahel of West Africa and the land-use practices there had caused the deaths of more than 100,000 people and 12 million cattle, as well as the disruption of social organizations from villages to the national level.
In 1988 Ridley Nelson pointed out in an important scientific paper that off-road vehicles significantly increase soil loss in the delicate desert environment of the western United States. In a few seconds, soils that took hundreds of years to develop can be destroyed.
While desertification has received tremendous publicity by the political and news media, there are still many things that we don't know about the degradation of productive lands and the expansion of deserts. The desertification problem and processes are not clearly defined. There is no consensus among researchers as to the specific causes, extent, or degree of desertification. Contrary to many popular reports, desertification is actually a subtle and complex process of deterioration that may often be reversible.
In the last 25 years, satellites have begun to provide the global monitoring necessary for improving our understanding of desertification. Landsat images of the same area, taken several years apart but during the same point in the growing season, may indicate changes in the susceptibility of land to desertification. Studies using Landsat data help demonstrate the impact of people and animals on the Earth. However, other types of remote-sensing systems, land monitoring networks, and global data bases of field observations are needed before the process and problems of desertification will be completely understood.
At the local level, individuals and governments can help to reclaim and protect their lands. In areas of sand dunes, covering the dunes with large boulders or petroleum will interrupt the wind regime near the face of the dunes and prevent the sand from moving. Sand fences are used throughout the Middle East and the United States, in the same way snow fences are used in the north. Placement of straw grids, each up to a square meter in area, will also decrease the surface wind velocity. Shrubs and trees planted within the grids are protected by the straw until they take root. In areas where some water is available for irrigation, shrubs planted on the lower one-third of a dune's windward side will stabilize the dune. This vegetation decreases the wind velocity near the base of the dune and prevents much of the sand from moving. Higher velocity winds at the top of the dune level it off and trees can be planted atop these flattened surfaces.
Oases and farmlands in windy regions can be protected by planting tree fences or grass belts. Sand that manages to pass through the grass belts can be caught in strips of trees planted as wind breaks 50 to 100 meters apart adjacent to the belts. Small plots of trees may also be scattered inside oases to stabilize the area.
On a much larger scale, a "Green Wall," which will eventually stretch more than 5,700 kilometers in length, much longer than the famous Great Wall, is being planted in northeastern China to protect "sandy lands" deserts believed to have been created by human activity.
More efficient use of existing water resources and control of salinization are other effective tools for improving arid lands. New ways are being sought to use surface-water resources such as rain water harvesting or irrigating with seasonal runoff from adjacent highlands. New ways are also being sought to find and tap groundwater resources and to develop more effective ways of irrigating arid and semiarid lands.
Research on the reclamation of deserts also is focusing on discovering proper crop rotation to protect the fragile soil, and on understanding how sand-fixing plants can be adapted to local environments.
If we are to stop and reverse the degradation of arid and semiarid lands, we must understand how and why the rates of climate change, population growth, and food production adversely affect these environments. The most effective intervention can come only from the wise use of the best earth-science information available.
The image of seals and sea lions conjures up thousands of these creatures basking on the rocky beaches of the U.S. West coast, Australia and Tasmania and ice floes of the Arctics. While similarities between these two amphibious mammals seem apparent, there are some inherent differences.
The pinniped, the family to which these two belong, consists of the phocidae or true seals and otariidae or sea lions. True seals are believed to have descended from a terrestrial creature closely resembling the weasel, while the sea lion traces back its origins to a bear-like animal. True seals fall in the category of earless seals because they lack the external ear flap which sea lions, or "eared seals", have. The sea lions have much larger front and hind flippers than the seals, which allow far more locomotion. So while on land the seal slushes forward at snails' pace on its belly, the sea lion virtually gallops forward thanks to it bigger flippers. Like most aquatic mammals, both the seal and sea lion are expert swimmers.
All pinnipeds, like many other wildlife species, have not been spared the ravages of mankind. The hunting of millions of seals for their meat, blubbers and pelts reduced their numbers significantly. Later they were killed by fishermen who over-harvested fish, then blamed the seals for depleting fish stocks in the ocean.
Extensive commercial fishing has harmed pinnipeds in more ways than one. Reduced food, resulting from irresponsible fishing practices, is suspected to be behind a declining pinnped population. Seals and sea lions also get entangled in fishing gear, causing injury or death.
A high amount of industrial and toxic waste is a potent threat to the health of seals. Algal biotoxins and disease caused by such pollutants are proving to be fatal for seals and sea lions. Non-biodegradable marine debris, such as drifting trawling nets, plastic packaging straps and monofilament gill nets, are hazards that have killed nearly 2 percent of Tasmanian seals.
Climate change is also a deadly threat to seals and sea lions. Changes in temperatures in ocean currents has wreaked havoc in the food patterns of these mammals and affected their reproductive cycles. Species which primarily rely on ice – like the ribbon, ringed, spotted and bearded seals – have been direct victims of rapid ice loss leading to premature separation of mothers from their cubs during the milking period. The inability of the mammals to build dens during such periods of ice loss has resulted in high mortality among pups.
Other threats to seals and sea lions include introduced species and barbed wire. The introduction of animals like dogs, especially in Alaska, has made seals prone and exposed to disease. Barbed wire barriers have been erected that are known to cause severe injuries to sea lions.
Seals have long been commercially hunted for their pelts, meat and blubber. As a result, the Caribbean monk seal was hunted to extinction. In 1911 the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention made it illegal to hunt seals at sea, but hunting babies seals on land continued. All pinnipeds are now protected in U.S. waters under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but baby seals are still being killed in other countries for their fur.
Each year thousands of seals are killed in Canada. Although the Canadian seal hunt is the largest in the world and has the highest profile internationally, sealing is also carried out in a number of other countries across the world including Greenland, Namibia, Russia, Norway and Sweden.
Seal hunting is inhumane. Groups have campaigned on the issue for years and their evidence shows all the horror of the hunt.
Seals and sea lions are also common victims of the animal entertainment industry. Aquariums and marine mammal theme parks are part of a billion-dollar industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that is natural and important to them. Animals are taken from the wild; their families torn apart. Marine parks have shown no more interest in conserving marine mammals' natural habitats than they have in educating audiences.
Cetaceans do not belong in captivity where they are forced to perform meaningless tricks. They are often separated from family members when they’re shuffled between parks. Most die far short of their natural life spans. The living conditions at these attractions are often dismal, with animals confined to tiny, filthy, barren enclosures. Even the best artificial environments can’t come close to matching the space, diversity, and freedom that cetaceans have in their natural habitats.
The monk seal and the Galápagos fur seal are endangered. Local populations of some seals, such as gray seals in the Baltic Sea, are also endangered. The hooded seal and northern fur seal are vulnerable.
Antelopes are an increasing conservation concern, with one-third of the world's 87 species now listed as threatened. Loss of habitat, game hunting, poaching, and loss of grazing land to cattle farmers are some of the biggest threats to antelope populations. Adding to the threats to antelope populations is changes in climate.
For 82 percent of African antelope species, forecasts show a decline in suitable habitat by 2080 due to the effect of climate change. About one-quarter are likely to see their range size drop in half. None of Africa's antelopes are predicted to improve their threat status on the IUCN Red List as a result of changes in climate, and the threat status of ten species is predicted to worsen as a direct result of climate change. Antelopes preferring cooler and drier climates are likely to be the hardest hit.
Researchers say that climate change will cause a disproportionate decline in African antelopes with the smallest geographic ranges, placing the most-threatened taxa in "double jeopardy." Recent findings suggest that animals already living in the most-restricted areas will be hardest hit as the climate shifts in the coming decades.
Several antelope species are in need of urgent conservation action to avoid extinction. Scientists had suspected that animals with the smallest ranges to start with might be at the greatest risk as the climate changes. That's because small ranges imply that species thrive under a very narrow range of conditions. Even small changes in climate could push those species outside of their comfort zones.
Species that are found only in very restricted areas are usually more demanding in the combination of temperature and rainfall conditions they require, and therefore suitable areas are more likely to disappear when temperature and rainfall do not change together.
There is some good news: if we switch to more conservation-friendly land use, the threatened species with small ranges stand to benefit the most, having the greatest potential to expand their ranges. A major priority is to target the increasing fragmentation of wilderness areas, which prevents wildlife from tracking shifts in their environment.
Mountains have the power to move us. They have always been a source of wonder and inspiration for humans. Their majesty impresses us, their wildlife captivate us, and their tranquil ecosystems bring us peace. Millions of people visit mountains every year to take in their stunning scenery and relaxing atmospheres.
But these ancient and majestic mountains are in jeopardy. Once their remoteness protected them from excessive human exploitation, but now they are under increasing threat. These last wild areas are fast disappearing to animal agriculture, development and other human impacts. Changes in climate could destroy vast areas of mountainous regions.
Mountain environments cover a large portion of the world. Half the human population depends on their resources. Millions of people also live in mountainous areas. These ancient landscapes are more than breathtaking backdrops to peaceful pastoral lands. Their contributions to humans is immense.
Mountains are vital to all life on earth, including humans. What happens on the highest mountain peak affects all life in the lowlands. Lands, freshwaters and even oceans are affected by moutains.
About 80 percent of our planet's fresh water originates in mountains. Mountains are the source of most rivers. They provide the water of most reservoirs. Many areas derive practically all their water from mountains. About half the population of the planet lives in southern and eastern Asia and depends on precipitation that falls on the huge mountain chains of the Himalaya-Karakoram-Pamirs-Tibet regions.
Mountains conserve winter snow, slowly releasing moisture during spring and summer. In arid areas of the planet, irrigation often requires water from melting snows in distant mountains. Mountains often have forested slopes that absorb rain like a sponge, allowing water to travel downhill gently – preventing devastating floods.
Protected by their remoteness and limited agricultural potential, mountains have faced less human encroachment than other ecosystems. They have become sanctuaries for countless plants and animals that may have been eradicated in lowland areas. Over a third of land plants and vertebrates have been squeezed into less than 2 percent of the planet. Many of these species live in rich, unspoiled areas referred to as biological hot spots. Many hot spots are mountainous areas.
A small mountainous area in Malaysia, Kinabalu National Park, contains 4,500 species of plants—more than 25% of the amount of plant species in the entire United States.
The survival of many animals depends on mountains, including central Asia snow leopards, China's giant pandas, and the Andes condors.
Numerous mountain animals are threatened with extinction.
Many of our most important food crops came from wild plants in mountains. Corn came from the highlands of Mexico. Wheat came from the Caucasus. Tomatoes and potatoes came from the Peruvian Andes. Countless other food sources still await discovery.
A third of all parks and protected lands are found in mountainous areas due to their stunning natural beauty. They are a popular destination for tourists and their local communities benefit from the tourism industry.
Mountains are often valued purely for their abundant natural resources. But their inhabitants, both wildlife and humans, deserve just as much appreciation and protection. Indigenous humans of the mountains possess a body of ecological knowledge that often rivals modern science.
Traditional knowledge accumulated by mountain peoples is invaluable in protecting these vital ecosystems. This wealth of knowledge needs protected just as other mountain assets do.