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Posts tagged ‘Animal Kingdom’

Un-baaaaa-lievable: Goats invade locked-down Welsh town

March 31, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Un-baaaaa-lievable: This wild bunch is completely ignoring rules on social distancing. With humans sheltering indoors to escape the new coronavirus, mountain goats are taking advantage of the peace and space to roam in frisky clumps through the streets of Llandudno, a town in North Wales.

Andrew Stuart, a video producer for the Manchester Evening News, has been posting videos of the furry adventurers on his Twitter feed and they are racking up hundreds of thousands of views. He said the goats normally keep largely to themselves, in a country park that butts up against Llandudno. But now emboldened by the lack of people and cars, the long-horned animals are venturing deeper into the seaside town. The U.K. has been in lockdown for the past week to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“There’s no one around at the moment, because of the lockdown, so they take their chances and go as far as they can. And they are going further and further into the town,” Stuart told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday from his parents’ pub in Llandudno, where he is waiting out the pandemic.

His videos show the goats munching on people’s neatly trimmed hedges and trees in front yards and loitering casually on empty streets as if they own the place. “One of the videos on my Twitter shows that they were on a narrow side street and I was on the other side and they were scared of me. They were edging away from me. So they are still scared of people,” Stuart said. “But when there’s hardly anyone around on the big streets, they are taking their chances, they are absolutely going for it. And I think because it’s so quiet, and there’s hardly anyone around to scare them or anything, that they just don’t really care and are eating whatever they can.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Grrrrr! Angry herders secure bear ban from France’s Macron

January 15, 2020

PARIS (AP) — The bears have cute names — Bubble, Feather, Snowflake and the like — and look so soft and huggable when caught on video by remote cameras that study their habits. But to herders high in the Pyrenees mountains of southwest France, the animals are stone-cold killers, ravaging flocks and undermining farming livelihoods.

Pyrenean livestock farmers who raise sheep for meat and famously pungent cheeses are rejoicing after getting an assurance from President Emmanuel Macron that he won’t authorize the release into the wild of any more of the bears blamed for a surge in deadly attacks.

“He promised that the re-insertions (of bears) are finished, that he won’t release any more,” said Jean-Pierre Pommies, who raises sheep and cows. Pommies wore his broad farmer’s beret to Tuesday’s meeting with the suit-and-tied Macron in Pau, a Pyrenean town with sweeping views of the mountains.

“He was able to understand that it’s a big problem for us,” Pommies added. “We have reached the bottom, and the situation was ridiculous for Pyrenean herders.” When France’s last pocket of brown bears appeared headed for extinction in the Pyrenees in the 1990s, the country began importing animals from Slovenia, where the population is booming. A total of eight were freed into the wild in 1996, 1997 and 2006. Another release of two Slovenian female bears — Claverina and Sorita — followed in 2018, the first first full year of Macron’s presidency.

The population is now estimated at around 40 bears, doubling its size since 2010 and roaming over a long and expanding swath of the mountains that form the border between France and Spain, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

Bear attacks on livestock have grown, too. Having long been largely stable, mostly between 100 and 200 attacks per year across the Pyrenees, including Spain, France and Andorra, they surged to close to 400 in 2018, according to the most recent official annual report.

Herders who suffered included one of Pommies’ friends, whose flock was devastated in an attack last year, he said. The sheep took fright and plunged off a cliff together. “There were 256 piled up at the bottom,” he said. “They had to finish some of them off with their knives. For us shepherds, that is traumatic.”

He believes the presence of the predators is simply “incompatible” with the Pyrenean mountain economy that rests largely on herding. “I love bears. I’m passionate about them as animals. But I love that they live happily in Yellowstone, in Canada, in Romania and Slovenia,” he said. In the Pyrenees, “the people who are pro-bear say that it used to work for the old timers, that they used to deal with it. And that is completely false. History shows that men have always killed them.”

The Pyrenees are only one of the battlegrounds in Europe over efforts to preserve wild fauna and flora. In France’s other major mountain range, the Alps, wild wolves that also prey on flocks are a persistent source of tension between herders and those opposed to the deployment of large dogs to keep wolf packs at bay.

In Germany, wolves have been a source of political friction. The far-right opposition Alternative for Germany party accused the government of failing to defend farmers’ interests against the 75 wolf packs counted there in 2018. There is also debate in Belgium about the reappearance of wolves after infrared cameras spotted a pair together in woods and a pregnant wolf was killed in northern Belgium last summer.

Slovenia’s brown bear population is so plentiful that authorities are culling the animals that are becoming a headache for farmers, raiding beehives and even attacking people in the small Alpine state. Around 170 bears were shot in 2019, said Damjan Orazem, the Forest Service director.

Herders including Pommies pounced on Macron to talk about the Pyrenees’ bears when the French leader turned up at the Tour de France last year on a day when the bicycle race swung through the peaks. Pommies said he threatened to release his animals into the riders’ path unless Macron agreed to a meeting. That brief encounter elicited a pledge from Macron that he’d hold talks with them at length at a later date, an offer he made good on this week.

Emmanuelle Wargon, a deputy environment minister who attended the meeting, told broadcaster Sud Radio that Macron “reaffirmed that we don’t have any plans to reintroduce (more) bears,” adding: “It was important to tell them this.”

For bear preservationists, herders are greatly exaggerating the risk posed by the predators. Alain Reynes, director of the group Country of the Bear, said he believes the actual number of animals killed by bears is far smaller than the 1,500, mostly sheep, that Pyrenean herders claim they lost last year.

Reynes also said that Macron’s moratorium on bear releases can’t last, because France is obliged by European law to ensure that the bear population remains viable. “The president can only speak for the period of his mandate,” he said. “There have always been bears. The history in the Pyrenees is one of cohabitation, even if it hasn’t always been easy. … There have been bears in Europe for 250,000 years. This is their space.”

Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Strasbourg, France; Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.

Locust outbreak, most serious in 25 years, hits East Africa

January 17, 2020

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The most serious outbreak of locusts in 25 years is spreading across East Africa and posing an unprecedented threat to food security in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, authorities say. Unusual climate conditions are partly to blame.

The locust swarms hang like shimmering dark clouds on the horizon in some places. Roughly the length of a finger, the insects fly together by the millions and are devouring crops and forcing people in some areas to bodily wade through them. Near the Kenyan town of Isiolo on Thursday, one young camel herder swung a stick at them, with little effect. Others tried to shout them away.

An “extremely dangerous increase” in locust swarm activity has been reported in Kenya, the East African regional body reported this week. One swarm measured 60 kilometers (37 miles) long by 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide in the country’s northeast, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development said in a statement.

“A typical desert locust swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer,” it said. “Swarms migrate with the wind and can cover 100 to 150 kilometers in a day. An average swarm can destroy as much food crops in a day as is sufficient to feed 2,500 people.”

The outbreak of desert locusts, considered the most dangerous locust species, also has affected parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea and IGAD warns that parts of South Sudan and Uganda could be next.

The outbreak is making the region’s bad food security situation worse, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has warned. Hundreds of thousands of acres of crops have been destroyed. Already millions of people cope with the constant risk of drought or flooding, as well as deadly unrest in Ethiopia, extremist attacks in Somalia and lingering fighting in South Sudan as it emerges from civil war.

The further increase in locust swarms could last until June as favorable breeding conditions continue, IGAD said, helped along by unusually heavy flooding in parts of the region in recent weeks. Major locust outbreaks can be devastating. A major one between 2003 and 2005 cost more than $500 million to control across 20 countries in northern Africa, the FAO has said, with more than $2.5 billion in harvest losses.

To help prevent and control outbreaks, authorities analyze satellite images, stockpile pesticides and conduct aerial spraying. In Ethiopia, officials said they have deployed four small planes to help fight the invasion.

But one approach backfired in Kenya in recent days when the agriculture minister asked people to post photos on social media of suspected locusts, or “nzige” in Swahili. A mocking series of images of warthogs, cats, lizards and other beasts followed, with pleas for help in identifying them, and the appeal was ended.

Anna reported from Johannesburg.

3 women investigated for causing deadly blaze at German zoo

January 02, 2020

BERLIN (AP) — Three women are under investigation in Germany for launching paper sky lanterns for the new year which apparently ignited a devastating fire that killed more than 30 animals at a zoo, officials said Thursday.

The three local women — a mother and her two daughters, ages 30 to 60 — went to police in the western city of Krefeld on New Year’s Day after authorities held a news conference about the blaze, criminal police chief Gerd Hoppmann said.

The women are being investigated on suspicion of negligent arson, prosecutor Jens Frobel said. The offense can carry a prison sentence of up to five years. Many Germans welcome in the new year legally with fireworks at midnight. Sky lanterns, however, are both illegal and unusual in Germany. The mini hot-air balloons made of paper have been used in Asia for centuries.

The fire started in a corner of the ape house’s roof in the first minutes of the new year and spread rapidly. The zoo near the Dutch border says the ape house burned down and more than 30 animals — including five orangutans, two gorillas, a chimpanzee and several monkeys — were killed, as well as fruit bats and birds. The animals either burned to death or died from smoke inhalation, authorities said.

Hoppmann said the women had ordered five sky lanterns on the internet and told authorities that they had believed they were legal in Germany. He added that there was nothing in the product description showing that they were banned.

Hoppmann described the women as “completely normal people who seemed very sensible, very responsible” and said it was “very courageous” of them to come forward, saving authorities a tricky investigation. He added that they feared reprisals and authorities limited the details given about the suspects.

Investigators believe that just one lantern started the blaze. They found the other four later, with handwritten good wishes for the new year attached. The destroyed ape house lacked fire detectors and sprinklers, which weren’t required when it was built in the 1970s. The zoo said, however, that it had passed a regular fire protection check a few months ago.

The building’s roof had been renovated after a hailstorm a few years ago and plexiglass was added, Hoppmann said. He said while investigators were confident the sky lantern was to blame, they will look at other factors that may have contributed to the blaze, such as dry fallen leaves on the roof.

Investigators plan to carry out tests to help find out why the blaze spread so quickly. Firefighters were only able to rescue two chimpanzees. The zoo said Thursday it was satisfied with their condition.

Fire kills animals at zoo in western Germany

January 01, 2020

BERLIN (AP) — A fire at a zoo in western Germany killed a large number of animals in the early hours of the new year, authorities said. They did not comment on local media reports that the fire was started by celebratory fireworks.

The Krefeld zoo near the Dutch border said the entire ape house burned down and all the animals inside are dead. The dpa news agency, quoting officials, said the dead animals included chimpanzees, orangutans and two gorillas, as well as fruit bats and birds.

The zoo said the nearby Gorilla Garden didn’t go up in flames, however. Gorilla Kidogo and his family are alive, the zoo wrote on Facebook early Wednesday. “An unfathomable tragedy hit us shortly after midnight.” the zoo said. “Our ape building burned down to the foundation.”

Both the zoo and the city said that they didn’t know the cause of the fire and that police are investigating. Officials would not confirm reports by local media that New Year’s fireworks could have caused the blaze. The zoo will remain closed on Wednesday.

In Sweden’s Arctic, global warming threatens reindeer herds

December 10, 2019

KIRUNA, Sweden (AP) — Thick reindeer fur boots and a fur hat covering most of his face shielded Niila Inga from minus 20-degree Celsius (minus 4-degree Fahrenheit) winds as he raced his snowmobile up to a mountain top overlooking his reindeer in the Swedish arctic.

His community herds about 8,000 reindeer year-round, moving them between traditional grazing grounds in the high mountains bordering Norway in the summer and the forests farther east in the winter, just as his forebears in the Sami indigenous community have for generations.

But Inga is troubled: His reindeer are hungry, and he can do little about it. Climate change is altering weather patterns here and affecting the herd’s food supply. “If we don’t find better areas for them where they can graze and find food, then the reindeers will starve to death,” he said.

Already pressured by the mining and forestry industry, and other development that encroach on grazing land, Sami herding communities fear climate change could mean the end of their traditional lifestyle.

Slipping his hand from a massive reindeer skin mitten, Inga illustrated the problem, plunging his hand into the crusted snow and pulling out a hard piece of ice close to the soil. Unusually early snowfall in autumn was followed by rain that froze, trapping food under a thick layer of ice. Unable to eat, the hungry animals have scattered from their traditional migration routes in search of new grazing grounds.

Half the herd carried on east as planned, while the rest retreated to the mountains where predators abound, and the risk of avalanches is great. Elder Sami herders recall that they once had bad winters every decade or so, but Inga said that “extreme and strange weather are getting more and more normal, it happens several times a year.”

The arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Measurements by the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute show the country has warmed 1.64 degrees Celsius (2.95-degree Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times. In Sweden’s alpine region, this increase is even greater, with average winter temperatures between 1991 and 2017 up more than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4-degree Fahrenheit) compared with the 1961-1990 average.

Snowfall is common in these areas, but as temperatures increase, occasional rainfall occurs — and ‘rain-on-snow’ events are having devastating effects. The food is still there, but the reindeer can’t reach it. The animals grow weaker and females sometimes abort their calves while the survivors struggle to make it through the winter.

“We have winter here for eight months a year and when it starts in October with bad grazing conditions it won’t get any better,” Inga said. That is devastating to Sami herders, a once-nomadic people scattered across a region that spans the far north of Sweden, Norway, Finland and the northwestern corner of Russia. Until the 1960s, this indigenous minority were discouraged from reindeer herding and their language and culture were suppressed. Today, of the 70,000 Sami, only about 10% herd reindeer, making a limited income from meat, hides and antlers crafted into knife handles.

“Everyone wants to take the reindeers’ area where they find food. But with climate change, we need more flexibility to move around,” said Sanna Vannar, a young herder from a community living in the mountains surrounding Jokkmokk, an important Sami town just north of the Arctic Circle. “Here you can’t find food, but maybe you can find food there, but there they want to clear-cut the forest and that’s the problem.”

The 24-year-old is the president of the Swedish Sami Youth organization and, together with eight other families elsewhere in the world, they launched a legal action in 2018 to force the European Union to set more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this year, the European General Court rejected their case on procedural grounds, but the plaintiffs have appealed.

“We’ve said we don’t want money because we can’t buy better weather with money,” Vannar said. “We’ve said we need that the EU take action and they need to do it now.” The EU’s new executive Commission is expected to present a ‘European Green Deal’ on Wednesday, to coincide with a U.N. climate conference in Madrid.

Herders have also started working with Stockholm University, hoping to advance research that will broaden understanding about changing weather patterns. As part of this rare collaboration between Sami and science, weather stations deep in the forests of the Laevas community are recording air and ground temperature, rainfall, wind speed and snowfall density. Sami ancestral knowledge of the land and the climate complements analysis of data gathered, offering a more detailed understanding of weather events.

“With this data we can connect my traditional knowledge and I see what the effects of it are,” says Inga who has been working on the project since 2013 and has co-authored published scientific papers with Ninis Rosqvist, a professor of Natural Geography at Stockholm University.

Rosqvist directs a field station operating since the 1940s in the Swedish alpine region measuring glaciers and changes in snow and ice. But through the collaboration with Inga, she realized that less “exciting” areas in the forests may be most crucial to understanding the impacts of changing climate.

“As a scientist I can measure that something is happening, but I don’t know the impact of it on, in this case, the whole ecosystem. And that’s why you need their knowledge,” she said. Rosqvist hopes this research can help Sami communities argue their case with decision-makers legislating land use rights.

Back in the forest, Inga is releasing onto the winter pastures a group of reindeer that had been separated from the herd when the animals scattered earlier in autumn. Several other herders have spent more than a week high in the mountains searching for the other half of the herd and trying to bring the animals down, to no avail.

“As long as they are forced to stay there, they’ll get into worse and worse condition,” he warned.

Tens of thousands of goats munch Greek island into crisis

October 06, 2019

SAMOTHRAKI, Greece (AP) — With oak and chestnut forests, waterfalls and rugged coastline, Samothraki has a wild beauty and a remoteness that sets it apart from other Greek islands. There are no package holidays here or even a reliable ferry service to the mainland. Island authorities hope to achieve UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status. Yet still, the natural environment is under threat from an insatiable assailant.

Goats outnumber human inhabitants 15-fold and they are munching stretches of Samothraki into a moonscape. After decades of trying to find a solution, experts and locals are working together to find a 21st-century way to save the island’s ecology and economy.

Semi-wild, the goats roam across the island, which is roughly three times the size of Manhattan, and can be spotted on rooftops, in trees or on top of cars as they scour the landscape for anything to eat. Their unchecked overgrazing is causing crisis-level erosion.

Torrential rains two years ago swept away the island’s town hall and severed its roads. There were no trees or vegetation left on the steep, goat-eaten hillsides to stop the mudslides caused by the downpour.

“There are no big trees to hold the soil. And it’s a big problem, both financial and real because (the mud) will come down on our heads,” says George Maskalidis, who helps run Sustainable Samothraki Association, an environmental group.

Samothraki, in the northern Aegean Sea, is a two-hour ferry ride south of Alexandroupoli, a Greek city near the country’s border with Turkey. With just 3,000 inhabitants and hard to access, the island has largely missed out on Greece’s tourism boom. Mountain herding is still a way of life here and despite trying for three decades, regional authorities have found it hard to build a local consensus on how to deal with the issue.

The goat population, meanwhile, soared fivefold to an estimated 75,000 by the late 1990s. Some parts of the countryside were simply nibbled away. The goat numbers have since dropped to below 50,000 as there is little left to graze on. But this has left the island in a trap. Most of its goats are malnourished and too scrawny to be used commercially for meat, animal feed is too expensive to maintain a sustainable business and much of the soil is too depleted for trees to grow back.

At the same time, prices for wool, leather, meat and milk have dropped, leading Samothraki’s farmers to grow increasingly desperate. Yiannis Vavouras, a second-generation goat farmer, says many island farmers have few alternatives.

“Most of us are ready to give up. If I had another job, I would drop the goats,” he says, speaking over the noise of jangling goat bells. “It doesn’t make enough to buy you a coffee.” Herds soared due to European Union subsidies, under a system that critics say was poorly monitored and lacked any long-term planning. It now may have to be reversed as a livestock reduction appears inevitable, along with grazing limits.

But that correction doesn’t have to be painful, at least according to the island’s resident optimist Carlota Maranon, a Spanish lawyer who settled here a decade ago. She heads the sustainability initiative and has eased islanders’ deep-rooted mistrust of solutions from the mainland or beyond.

The environmental group has worked with overseas researchers and helped create a herd management app, among many other pilot projects, to tackle the issue. Fiercely independent livestock farmers have even joined a new cooperative to try to pool resources and establish a brand for the island.

“It is possible to do things in a more sustainable way,” Maranon says. “That might mean fewer goats but that could actually work out better for the farmers.” Having a tight-knit community, she says, will also help.

“Everyone here is connected to the herders in some way, so this issue affects everyone. To live off the land, you have to keep it alive,” she said.

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