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Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

Bluefin tuna are swift, gigantic, tasty, and increasingly endangered.* Those last two items go together, of course, with tuna’s high market value encouraging over-exploitation of many populations.

But markets can also encourage creative efforts to preserve threatened species. Jason Kottke points to one example: bluefin farming in Japan. This 5-minute video raises a host of important questions, including the source of baby bluefin and the resource costs of their food. And, full warning, it doesn’t shy away from the bloody reality of bluefin harvesting:

On a closely related note, Felicity Barringer of the New York Times News Service writes about Utah’s market in hunting licenses for deer, elk, moose, and pronghorn.

The auction or sale of scarce licenses inevitably means that some will to well-heeled hunters, often from out-of-state, rather than typical residents. For some, that raises concerns about the marketplace intruding on what was once a natural resource held in public trust. On the other hand, by allocating some licenses to landowners who provide habitat, the program encourages conservation:

Here is how it works: The state has enticed ranchers with an allotment of vouchers for lucrative hunting licenses that they can sell for thousands of dollars as part of a private hunt on their land. Many used to complain bitterly to state officials about elk and other game eating forage meant for their cattle.

The vouchers for hunting licenses, handed out for more than 10 years now, give them ample economic incentive to nurture big game on their land and not get frustrated with ranching and sell their land to developers.

Both the video and the article are great fodder for a discussion of markets and wildlife conservation.

* Note for tuna enthusiasts: There are three species of bluefin (Atlantic, Pacific, and southern) that differ in size and degree of endangerment; see Wikipedia).

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Shortfin Mako

I probably ought to be blogging about the latest GDP data or how Twitter taught McDonald’s about the Congressional Budget Office (here and here; Mickey D’s is promoting its Cheddar Bacon Onion). But the heck with that. Instead, let’s celebrate Friday with this stunning photo of a shortfin mako by Sam Cahir as published in the Mail Online (ht: Rick MacPherson):

What a beautiful creature (click to enlarge).

At this point, I usually would encourage you to read the accompanying article. In this case, though, caveat lector – parts are incredibly overwrought. But the other photos are lovely, including one of the mako with a great white.

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The World’s Most Traveled Bird?

B95, aka Moonbird, has again touched down in New Jersey. After refueling, he will head north to the Canadian arctic for at least his 20th breeding season. Remarkable for a four-ounce red knot whose normal lifespan is just four or five years and whose annual migration begins and ends way down in Tierra del Fuego.

B95 has logged at least 320,000 miles over the years, probably more. That’s enough to go to the moon and halfway back, hence his nickname.

He’s even got a biography coming out this summer.

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The Greatest Insect Story Ever

A couple of regular readers (ht David and Wendy) recently noted that it’s been a while since I’ve done a “critter post”. (The one on the ivory-billed woodpecker is more of a statistics one.)

Well here’s a doozy for you. Over at NPR, Robert Krulwich recounts the greatest insect story ever.

It has everything: Giant stick insects, 12 cm long, affectionately known as tree lobsters. Driven to extinction when humans bring rats to their home in the South Pacific. But then a handful are rediscovered on a ridiculously precarious island nearby. Living under a single bush.

Well-meaning scientists collect four of the remaining 24 critters for captive breeding. Two perish. Which brings everything down to Adam and Eve at the Melbourne Zoo.

But Eve gets desperately sick. Krulwick then quotes Jane Goodall (yes, that Jane Goodall) on what happened next:

“Eve became very, very sick. Patrick [a scientist] … worked every night for a month desperately trying to cure her. … Eventually, based on gut instinct, Patrick concocted a mixture that included calcium and nectar and fed it to his patient, drop by drop, as she lay curled up in his hand.”

Thanks to that TLC, Eve recovers, and the world’s zoos start filling with new giant sticks. And what happens to Adam and Eve? Well, again according to Goodall: “they sleep at night, …, the male with three of his legs protectively over the female beside him.”

So there you have it. Giant, pair-bonding, spooning insects back from extinction. Well worth a read.

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The Best Photograph of the Year

Last week I made my nomination for the most important economic chart of the year. Now here’s my nomination for best photo:

Yes, that’s a photograph.

National Geographic’s Frans Lanting captured these camel thorn trees silhouetted against dunes welcoming the rising sun in Namib-Naukluft Park.

I love the photo for its sheer beauty and the optical illusion. My mind perceives it both as a two-dimensional painted canvas and as a three-dimensional photograph. (If you are having trouble seeing it as a photograph, pay attention to the “spots” in the distance.)

P.S. For more photos by Frans Lanting, go here.

P.P.S. You can see my much-less-impressive photos of the Namib-Naukluft dunes here.

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Posting has been light in recent weeks thanks to a two-week sojourn in Brazil and a week recovering therefrom.

I mostly turned off my inner economist to get in touch with my inner Darwin. So I have only a handful of economic observations:

  • After arriving in Rio, the car that picked us up was made in China, fueled by ethanol, and just as nice as a Subaru.
  • The weakness of the dollar vs. the real was noticeable.
  • Economic growth often poses environmental challenges. That’s certainly true in Brazil. But we also encountered repeated stories of how economic growth and conservation can be complements. Jaguars, for example, can be worth more alive than dead thanks to ecotourism. And the ease of getting jobs in the formal sector has reduced hunting pressure in some areas, sparking a virtuous cycle: more deer and more jaguars.

Like many first-timers, we visited Rio, Sao Paulo (briefly), and Iguacu Falls. But the highlight was three full days in the Pantanal.

To which you might ask, “the Panta-what?”

The Pantanal. It’s one of the world’s largest wetlands, home to jaguars, giant anteaters, innumerable birds, and the world’s densest concentration of crocodilians (the Yacare Caimans pictured above).

If you are into wildlife, the Pantanal is way more fun than the Amazon. Why? Because it’s easy to see critters when savannah mixes with small forests. In the Amazon, in contrast, many of the best birds and mammals are up in the tree canopy, 100+ feet above your head. In three days in the southern Pantanal, we saw 22 species of mammals and close to 150 species of birds (including Toco Toucans), many more than on a comparable trip to the Amazon.

For those into such things, my wife and I have a travel blog here and posted photos here. No jaguar photos, though. We heard them call at night and saw their tracks. But we didn’t see any (we did see an Ocelot). Clearly we will have to go back.

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It seems like only yesterday that I met Rocky. Probably because it was yesterday.

Our smallest cat Caramel was staring intently upward. Following his gaze, I spied Rocky tucked between two branches high in the silver maple near our deck.

Rocky didn’t look well. Raccoons aren’t usually out and about at 3:00 on a sunny afternoon. Lounging in the sun isn’t their thing.

Esther and I thought about calling the animal control authorities–rabies is not unheard of around here–but decided to wait until morning to see if Rocky looked better. No point harassing (or worse) the poor guy if he’s just an eccentric raccoon who wanted some sun.

A higher authority came calling overnight, though, and Esther found Rocky motionless under our deck.

Wild animals are one of my domestic responsibilities, so it fell to me to go poke Rocky with a stick to check his status. Result: deceased.

So what do you do with a dead raccoon?

This is precisely the sort of question at which the web excels. Sure enough, “dead raccoon” generates more than 30,000 hits on Google. But they boil down to only three flavors of advice: (1) Do it yourself, (2) Make it someone else’s problem, or (3) Turn it into a media sensation by claiming you’ve discovered a monster.

#3 wasn’t really an option – Rocky was clearly a raccoon — so I tried the nice version of #2, calling Montgomery County Animal Control to see if they handle deceased raccoons. No dice. If the deceased is on your property, it’s your responsibility – bag him and put in the trash was the advice. If he were on a county road, however, that would be a different matter. Then the county would pick him up.

Fair enough. Property rights ought to convey responsibilities as well as ownership. I’m good with that. But I couldn’t miss the implied incentive. If I were so inclined, I could simply pick Rocky up, suitably attired in latex gloves etc. (me, not him), and deposit him by the curb. I suspect such littering is a popular strategy. People do respond to incentives after all. See, e.g., Stacey Robinsmith’s dead raccoon trilogy.

Being a respecter of property rights and embracer of responsibility, however, I went with option #1. Here are some tips if you ever find yourself in a similar circumstance:

  • Fortune favors the swift. Rigor mortis is your friend. Just trust me on this.
  • Raccoons have claws; use extra bags. Several cheery folks recommended putting Rocky in a trash bag. Well, his claws sliced right through that when I placed him inside. I ended up going with a full-on Babushka doll solution – five nested bags. That might have been a teensy bit excessive. But I suspect the garbage collectors will appreciate it.
  • Burial would, of course, be a more natural solution. But given the number of dogs, cats, and other critters that roam the neighborhood and dig better than I do, that seemed like a bad idea with Rocky’s suspicious cause of death.
RIP Rocky.

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