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State of the Wild 2010-2011: A Global Portrait

State of the Wild 2010-2011: A Global Portrait

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State of the Wild 2010-2011: A Global Portrait

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Jun 22, 2012


State of the Wild is a biennial series that brings together international conservation experts and writers to discuss emerging issues in the conservation of wildlife and wild places. Each volume in the series combines evocative writings with a fascinating tour of conservation news highlights and vital statistics from around the world. One-third of each volume focuses on a topic of particular concern to conservationists. This 2010–2011 edition considers how destabilization and war affect wildlife and wild places. Only recently has the international community begun to appreciate the cof conflict—simmering tension, war, and reconstruction—on the natural world. This special section examines the role that conservation plays in the context of human conflict considering issues such as, Can the work of saving wildlife and wild places help ameliorate tensions? Can conservation deepen political understanding? Can conservation help in post-conflict situations? The book’s twenty essays are intermixed with poetry and beautiful photos that capture our connection to the wild. State of the Wild’s accessible approach educates a wide range of audiences while at the same time presenting leading-edge scientific overviews of hot topics in conservation. Uniquely structured with magazine-like features up front, conservation news in the middle, and essays from eminauthors and experienced scientists throughout, this landmark series is an essential addition to any environmental bookshelf.
Jun 22, 2012

Über den Autor

Founded in 1895, the Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places through science, international conservation, education, and the managemof the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo in New York City. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on earth.

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State of the Wild 2010-2011 - Eva Fearn


Introduction: Future States of the Wild


It is a remarkable thing that Afghanistan, in the midst of its long spiral of violence, recently declared its first national park. Band-e-Amir National Park, in the foothills of the Hindu Kush, was formally designated on April 22, 2009. When visiting this area in 1978, I was struck by the stunning juxtaposition of the azure blue waters, contained in intricate natural dams, and the tawny mountains. The dry, windy silence was broken only by the sound of small waterfalls. It is a beautiful place, displaying its life subtly and its scenery brazenly. Though much of the wildlife has disappeared from the area, it still contains ibex (a type of wild goat) and urial (a type of wild sheep), along with wolves, foxes, smaller mammals, and fish. The new park will also protect a broad range of bird species, including the Afghan snow finch (Montifringilla theresae), believed to be the only bird found exclusively in Afghanistan.

Creating the park was not easy, and sustaining it will be no easier. This act is a testament to the desire of the local people and the foresight of the Afghan government. Aldo Leopold wrote of living in a world of wounds due to the impacts humans have had on the natural world.¹ Unfortunately, this world of wounds extends to the violence done by people to other people, apparently an inescapable part of our human heritage, which, tragically, does not exist independent of violence toward the natural world. As in Afghanistan, all too often these two types of violence are intertwined, with environmental destruction either a strategy, a result of the conflict itself, or a consequence of the aftermath. But healing is possible, and the creation of Band-e-Amir National Park is a manifestation of the power of conservation to provide hope.

KENT H. REDFORD is director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Institute and vice president for conservation strategy at WCS. He previously worked at The Nature Conservancy and the University of Florida. His areas of interest include biodiversity conservation, sustainable use, the politics of conservation, and the mammals of South America.

In these times of financial upheaval and far-reaching social change, hope is a currency in short supply. But we can draw hope from conservation and create hope through conservation. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Institute created the State of the Wild series in 2006 as a vehicle for building support for the values of saving the wild. With this series, we aim to inform and inspire others who dream of the wild and care about ensuring its future.

Our objective is to fulfill a need for a science-based publication that focuses on achievable conservation of wildlife and wild places. We have four main goals: (1) to put out in the public forum insightful, timely analyses of the most pressing global conservation issues; (2) to present conservation news highlights; (3) to promote innovative, science-based solutions to conservation problems; and (4) to influence global public policy. We explore both successes and shortcomings of conservation practice based on WCS’s more than 100 years of doing conservation, and highlight an emerging theme of particular importance in each edition. The first volume of State of the Wild featured a section on hunting and wildlife trade, and the second volume focused on the intersection of the health of wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.

This third volume focuses on the interplay between conservation and war through five essays examining how the wild has been affected during times of human conflict, and how conservation can, in some circumstances, help ameliorate the effects of conflict. This theme is complemented by a range of essays clustered into sections addressing conservation of wildlife, conservation of wild places, and the art and practice of conservation. We have drawn upon the talents of scientists from WCS and other institutions, as well as environmental authors and poets.

In times of human crisis, it is easy to lose touch with the indispensable role nature plays in the continuing survival of humankind. Humans have become the most significant evolutionary force acting on the nonhuman world, but we remain largely ignorant of that which we are molding. For example, despite millennia of living with storks, people in Europe did not know where they flew when they disappeared each fall. As we see later in this volume, it was not until 1822, when a stork pierced with an arrow of unmistakable African origin returned to Germany, that stork migration to Africa was understood.² This pfeilstorch (a stork struck with an arrow), one of some 20 known from Europe, was, of course, shot, stuffed, and placed in a museum.

Although we remain the dominant evolutionary force, perhaps our impacts can be changed to bring a better life to both humans and the millions of other species that share the planet with us. We hope that State of the Wild can play a small part in this change.

To the Unseeable Animal

Being, whose flesh dissolves at our glance, knower of the secret sums and measures, you are always here, dwelling in the oldest sycamores, visiting the faithful springs when they are dark and the foxes have crept to their edges. I have come upon pools in streams, places overgrown with the woods’ shadow, where I knew you had rested, watching the little fish hang still in the flow; as I approached they seemed particles of your clear mind disappearing among the rocks. I have waked deep in the woods in the early morning, sure that while I slept your gaze passed over me. That we do not know you is your perfection and our hope. The darkness keeps us near you.




Our planet’s wild places—its myriad forests, grasslands, freshwaters, scrublands, and deserts, not to mention the largely unknown oceans—contain boundless biological interconnections. Exploring the natural world, directly through research and travel or indirectly through films and books, provides us an education on how wonderful and varied ecosystems are, and how our human societies are degrading the planet. Here, in State of the Wild, we share information on emerging issues in the conservation of wildlife and wild places over the past two years.

The opening essay, State of the Wild: Wounded Wilderness, reveals the discovery of mercury contamination in even our most remote wild places. Often, we hope that oceans, rivers, and forests will somehow absorb the unwanted output from our industries and cities, but the consequences of this practice are playing out on a planetary scale.

From this overarching view, the focus narrows to showcase conservation victories and losses around the world in Global Conservation News Highlights. These serve to describe the present state of the wild and, in sum, are both comforting and worrisome. Discoveries synthesizes news from the past two years in a different way, highlighting some of the new species that were discovered on the exhilarating expeditions of wildlife biologists and recreational naturalists. This is followed by Rarest of the Rare, a poignant catalogue of species in decline, some of which may not last beyond a few more generations unless conservation efforts are redoubled. We hope that Rarest of the Rare, rather than serving as an epitaph, will inspire a desire to learn more about wildlife and to work toward its long-term survival. The section continues as we follow a State of the Wild series tradition by returning to the theme of the previous volume (2008–2009)—Emerging Diseases and Conservation: One World–One Health—to explore why the intersection of wildlife, livestock, and human health continues to make headlines.

Caribou bulls cross the Alatna River, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska.


Wounded Wilderness


My canoe skimmed along a small lake in Alaska where I had traveled for a fishing trip. The quiet was punctuated only by the rippling water and distant bird calls. As I looked out upon snow-capped peaks, coniferous forests, and meadows carpeted with blueberries, I spotted a trail frequented by Dall’s sheep (Ovis dalli dalli) and a few bears. I tried to imagine just how far south this boreal forest ecosystem stretched from Alaska into Canada, imagining the miles and miles of trees and wilderness that separated me from the distant cities I know. All I could see before me was the cold blue waters of Takahula Lake below the Arrigetch Peaks in the Brooks Range, some 70 miles from the nearest settlement of any size. I had not considered Russia and China across the Arctic Sea to the west, a source of airborne pollutants that blow into this area. But my mind would soon have to grapple with the fact that I was now enjoying a contaminated wilderness.

GARY PAUL NABHAN is founder and facilitator of the Renewing America’s Food Traditions collaborative and is based on Tumamoc Hill in Arizona, the first restoration ecology site in the world and home of the Alliance for Reconciliation Ecology. His latest book is titled Where Our Food Comes From.

I had been out canoeing on Takahula Lake since seven in the morning, but the Arctic dawn had already occurred many hours earlier. It was July in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, and I was the only one on the water. That is to say, the only human, but there were plenty of Pacific loons (Gavia pacifica) and trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator), as well as moose wading on the far side of the lake. The air was crisp and clear; the water fresh from glacier melt; it seemed for a moment that I was partaking in the quintessential wilderness experience.

As I cast my line toward a shallow shoal between me and the shore, I saw the shimmering serpentine body of a green-spotted northern pike (Esox lucius) dodge its splash, then turn and spot the spoon-shaped lure. The fish lunged toward the lure, its boney jaw clamping down hard on the hook. Within half a minute, I had the pike in my hands, a sleek, 16-inch body quivering within my firm grip. I was thrilled.

But as I set about removing the hook from its upper jaw, I remembered what park ranger Pete Christian had said when Inupiaq elder James Nageak and I had gone out fishing the day before. Pete did not want to discourage us from fishing altogether but asked us to consider catch and release for a peculiar reason: high levels of mercury had been found in lake trout in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Noatak National Preserve. Many of the fish in a number of freshwater lakes in Alaska were already unfit to eat on a regular basis, primarily as a result of airborne contaminants that had blown in from factories and power stations thousands of miles away.

Levels of methylmercury found in loons’ blood and feathers serve as an indicator of the health of North American lakes.

Mercury? I was astounded that fish in a wilderness lake contained enough methylmercury to cause neurological damage and impair reproductive health in people as well as in other fish-eating animals. Because the risk threshold for humans is the consumption of only two fish per month, some physicians discourage anyone from eating more than six ounces of any kind of fish per week, and they warn pregnant women against eating fish considered to be apex predators. Why? It turns out that the deadliest forms of mercury are organic mercury compounds. Exposure to just a few drops of certain compounds may be enough to cause death. Methylmercury is the most persistent form, remaining stored in body tissues rather than being excreted away. From microbes to crustaceans to predatory fish, it bioaccumulates up the food chain.

Although I had caught a pike and not a lake trout, I was unsure whether I should bring the fish back to the kitchen for breakfast or release it. I hesitated for a moment, gripping the pike between my palms to sense the power of its wildness. Then I leaned over the wooden hull of the canoe and released the fish into the crystal clear but contaminated waters of Takahula Lake. I paddled back to camp, the fish bucket empty, but the memory of that slimy green pike still occupying my mind.

As an occasional visitor to Alaska from Arizona, I would not have been particularly vulnerable to mercury exposure by eating one or two fish during this trip. But nearly everyone else I was camping with was an Alaskan resident whose family and community depended on wild-caught fish and game for much of the year. Habitual consumption of either lake trout or pike from these parts would pose a real health risk for them.

When I returned home from the Arctic wilderness, I read a six-year study that the Western Airborne Contaminants Assessment project had undertaken in the most remote lakes in national parks across western North America. Two bodies of freshwater not far from Takahula—Burial Lake and Matcharak Lake—were among those sampled for evidence of airborne contaminants that can bioaccumulate up the food chain. The fish inhabiting these lakes carried not only dangerously high levels of mercury but also problematic levels of the insecticide dieldrin, a toxin known to be an immune-system depressant and endocrine disrupter, banned in the United States since 1987. Even though both lakes have relatively small watersheds nested entirely within the largest intact wilderness forest area remaining on the North American continent, the toxins had found their way here. The results of the monitoring assessment were sobering:

The dieldrin concentration in Burial Lake, as well as dieldrin concentrations in some individual Matcharak Lake fish, exceeded contaminant thresholds for subsistence fishers.... Mercury concentrations exceeded thresholds for wildlife health, and the median mercury concentration in Burial Lake and in some fish at Matcharak Lake exceeded the human contaminant health threshold.¹

The assessment concluded that, for the past 140 years, mercury had been accumulating on most lake bottoms within the Arctic Circle originating from coal burning and smelting operations. The mercury and dieldrin came from farther south in North America but also from coal-fired power plants, factories, and large agricultural fields across northern Europe, Russia, China, Korea, and Japan. The toxins know no boundaries, persist in the global environment for a very long time, and move with the wind, rain, and snow.

Fly fishing on Rangeview Lake, Alaska. Mercury levels in many Alaskan lakes make the fish unfit for human consumption.

Grizzly bears roam the Alaskan wilderness.

With this, I recalled writer Bill McKibben’s idea of the end of nature.² He referred to the notion that, at this point in history, virtually no place on Earth is without human influence—or contamination. In fact, in many places humans are at war with the integrity of the natural world, dramatically diminishing the health and resilience of what we once called wild ecosystems. And at this particular moment in our planet’s history, it seems like humans have nature surrounded.

At this point in history,

virtually no place on Earth is

without human influence—

or contamination.

Since my fishing foray into the Alaskan wilderness, I have mulled over the internal conflict I felt when holding that northern pike in my hands. My senses were emphatically alerting me that wild nature was alive and well, squirming between my hands, filling my nostrils with the fragrances of forest and lake, enriching my vision with the splendor of snowy slopes and moose sauntering across the sandbars and muskegs where I had recently seen the tracks of grizzly, caribou, and lynx. But my mind was picking up an altogether different signal : wild nature had somehow been compromised, contaminated, or corrupted. Although I found it difficult to say the phrase end of nature aloud, because its very implications were so repugnant to me, I certainly understood the sentiment.

The nature writer Aldo Leopold once lamented that most ecologists are painfully aware that they live in a world of wounds, whether they reside in an area directly damaged by political and military conflict or in an area contaminated by industrial, agricultural, or recreational waste, or nuclear fallout.


The past two years brought both good news and bad news for wildlife and wildlands conservation. A number of new protected areas and partnerships are safeguarding vulnerable species and places. At the same time, the effects of climate change have continued to reveal themselves worldwide, many sooner than predicted, and the world economy plummeted into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.


Recent challenges to African conservation include fluctuating commodity prices, political crises, unpredictable peace processes, and escalated poaching. Commodity prices rose in 2007–2008, leading to increased pressure from extractive industries across Africa, but declines in 2009 resulted in unemployment and an increase in poaching from Gabon to Zambia. Conflict over natural resources continued to plague Chad, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, imperiling globally important ecosystems and wildlife populations. Hopes are high, however, for the role that ecotourism and carbon markets can play in providing economic incentives to preserve species and habitats across the continent.

African elephants.

Africa: In 2008, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) reopened the international ivory trade, which had been banned since 1989. This allowed Japan and China to import ivory from southern African countries, which have stable or increasing elephant (Loxodonta africana) populations. Shortly afterward, South Africa permitted culling of elephants in Kruger National Park, sparking intense criticism by some conservationists. Anecdotal reports from eastern and central Africa strongly suggest that relaxing the ban has increased the market for illegal ivory, resulting in steep increases in poaching across the Congo Basin.;


Africa: The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands added the Ngiri-Tumba-Main-dombe Complex to its List of Wetlands of International Importance in 2008. At more than 16 million acres (6.5 million ha)—twice the size of Belgium—this swamp forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now the largest Ramsar site in the world and has recently been shown to harbor a previously unknown population of endangered bonobos (Pan paniscus). The region also provides important ecosystem services, including fish, watershed management for the Congo River, and significant carbon storage.

Grey-cheeked mangabey.

Uganda: In a rare victory for grassroots conservation activists in Africa, mass protests in Uganda persuaded the government to cancel plans to lease the largest remaining block of rainforest along the shores of Lake Victoria in the 75,000-acre (30,000 ha) Mabira Forest Reserve to a sugarcane manufacturer. Most of southern Uganda was once forested, and protesters argued that Mabira should be preserved for the enjoyment of the people of nearby Kampala rather than be sacrificed for short-term private gain. Mabira is home to over 300 species of birds, including Nahan’s francolin (Francolinus nahani), and a number of endemics, such as the grey-cheeked mangabey (Lophocebus albigena).;

Red ruffed lemur.

Madagascar: In early 2009, Madagascar’s president was overthrown by the country’s opposition leader. The ensuing political turmoil led to an escalating environmental crisis, with illegal loggers ravaging protected areas, and poachers killing endangered lemurs in order to sell them to restaurants. In the midst of this crisis, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has taken a lead role in raising awareness about natural resource exploitation and continues to work toward the creation of the Makira Forest Protected Area. Makira is home to species such as the critically endangered Madagascar serpent eagle (Eutriorchis astur), red ruffed lemur (Varencia variegata rubra), and silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus). Significant advances were made in developing a sustainable financing mechanism for Makira through the sale of carbon emission credits from avoided deforestation, and local communities are encouraged to participate in the management of the protected area through natural resource monitoring programs. Lisa Gaylord, Wildlife Conservation Society, pers. comm., 2009; 2009 /0820-madagascar.html.

Western lowland gorilla.

Republic of Congo: In August 2008 WCS announced that an estimated 125,000 western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are thriving across northern Republic of Congo. Scientists carrying out a survey of the region between 2006 and 2007 had believed that only about 50,000 gorillas remained in the area after bushmeat hunting and Ebola outbreaks decimated populations throughout central Africa. Approximately half of the estimated 125,000 reside in protected areas and logging concessions where WCS and its partners have pioneered landscape conservation since the mid-1980s. The other half were found in Ntokou-Pikounda, an unprotected and inaccessible expanse of dry and swamp forest, renewing efforts to designate this area as Congo’s newest national park.

Kongou Falls, Ivindo National Park, Gabon.

Gabon: The Gabonese government is working with the government of China on plans to extract Africa’s richest iron deposits from Belinga, located between Gabon’s Minkebe and Ivindo national parks. Pressure from local activists has led to the project’s suspension until environmental impact studies are completed. Major concerns include exacerbation of the bushmeat trade, water contamination, and the potential construction of a hydroelectric dam inside Ivindo to provide power to the mine. The dam could threaten endemic fish species and terrestrial wildlife habitat.;


All of Asia’s wildlife is under tremendous threat from heavy hunting, for both local consumption and wealthy urban or international markets, primarily for use in traditional medicines. In tropical and semitropical Asia, where most of the continent’s 4 billion humans live at some of the highest densities on the planet, only small islands of truly wild lands remain. In the colder and drier climes, grasslands face unsustainable land use, including desertification from overgrazing by livestock, while boreal regions face largely unregulated natural resource extraction.

Not all is lost, however, as innovative and tried-and-true conservation initiatives are gaining momentum. The global response to climate change is increasingly emphasizing avoided deforestation as a major intervention, and throughout Asia governments and nongovernmental organizations are producing functional forest protection projects. More familiar biodiversity conservation initiatives, such as protected areas and landscape-level local stakeholder engagement, are steadily becoming more effective, as governments and the conservation community race to save Asia’s vast diversity.

Travertine dam, Band-e-Amir National Park, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Despite more than a generation of nearly continuous warfare, the government of Afghanistan is working to establish protected areas and safeguard its endangered species. In April 2009, Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency announced the establishment of Band-e-Amir as the country’s first national park. A popular destination for tourists and religious pilgrims, Band-e-Amir features six clear blue lakes separated by dams made of travertine (a mineral deposit). Although some species have disappeared from the area, surveys indicate that Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica) and urial (Ovis orientalis) are still present, though some other species, including snow leopards (Uncia uncia), have disappeared. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided much of the funding that supported activities related

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