TIME Zimbabwe

This Is How Many Animals Were Killed in Zimbabwe in the Last 20 Years

Angry about Cecil? Get ready to be angrier

The death of Cecil the lion at the hands of pilloried dentist Walter Palmer has sparked worldwide outrage, with virtual mobs tanking Palmer’s Yelp ratings, real mobs leaving angry messages at his office, and activists and celebrities alike calling for his metaphorical (or literal) head. But the tragic death of one lion belies a much more widespread and serious problem affecting wildlife in Zimbabwe.

The landlocked, southern African nation is one of the hardest-hit places on the continent when it comes to the killing of big game, both legal and illegal. It is a country where, Slate reports, “hunters exported 49 lion trophies in 2013 alone” and where, since Cecil’s death “it’s likely that at least a dozen other lions have been shot by trophy hunters.”A 2013 study in the journal Public Library of Science estimates that 96 lions were hunted per year between 1996 and 2006 in the country and 43 per year more recently. Lion trophy hunts were banned there in 2005 but allowed again after 2008.

The problem does not stop with lions. Poachers killed between 15 and 20 rhinos in the country in 2014, 60 rhinos in 2013 and 84 (the peak) in 2008. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 60% of the rhino population in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was killed between 2003 and 2005. Now, there are only 750 rhinos left in the entire country — compared to 2000 in the 1980s — making poaching numbers significant enough to merit round-the-clock guard in areas like Kyle Recreation Park in the country’s southern area, the Mail & Guardian reports.

Elephants, too have had a particularly difficult time in recent years. With a population of nearly 80,000, the animal does not benefit from as much protection as other species. In fact, Bloomberg reports, Zimbabwe requested in July 2014 to reverse the U.S. import ban on its ivory and continues to promote an elephant-hunting industry that generates $14 million a year and that it says is necessary to upkeep nature reserves and control the population. But Hwange National Park, where about half of the country’s elephants live (and which Cecil called home for 13 years) was the site of what the Telegraph called “the worst single massacre in southern African for 25 years” in 2013, when hunters after elephant tusks — a set of which can fetch up to $16,000 on the black market across the border in South Africa — poisoned watering holes with cyanide, killing as many as 300 elephants, many with their calves by their sides.

Zimbabwe’s tourist industry is just beginning to rebound, after decades languishing under dictator Robert Mugabe, and a visit may be one of the most effective ways that those up in arms over Cecil the Lion’s death can help avenge him, because tourism shines a spotlight on the activities of poachers. “Poachers don’t like to be seen,” ex-ranger and eco-travel promoter Mark Butcher told the Guardian in 2014. “This is the frontline where the war is being fought and tourists who get here are like eyes and ears against the enemy.”

TIME endangered species

This Guy Just Killed an Endangered Black Rhino After Paying $350,000

Warning: The video contains material that some viewers may find distressing

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A man from Texas has hunted and killed an endangered black rhino in Namibia after bidding $350,000 in an auction to win a hunting permit.

Since the auction last year, Corey Knowlton has faced intense criticism and even death threats from animal-rights advocates, but he said the hunt is an essential part of conservation work for saving black-rhino populations in Namibia.

The 36-year-old hunter from Dallas told CNN the rhinoceros he hunted was an older bull that was considered a threat to the herd, as it was harming younger males.

But opponents, including several animal-welfare groups, disagree with killing any endangered animal.

Read more on the debate at CNN.

TIME Environment

The Problem with U.S. Wildlife Protection Efforts

Getty Images

'It’s up to us to make sure these species have a place to live'

Since the Wilderness Act took effect in 1964, the United States government has protected more than 100 million acres of land for the purpose of conservation. About 8% of the continental U.S. is under protection, including natural treasures like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

But while these efforts have preserved some of the country’s most unique scenery, other areas that may be even richer in animal and plant biodiversity aren’t being protected, finds a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The U.S. has protected many areas, but it has yet to protect many of the most biologically important parts of the country,” says lead study author Clinton Jenkins, a visiting professor at the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil.

Map biodiversity endangered species
Courtesy of Clinton Jenkins, Institute for Ecological Research

Jenkins and his team analyzed thousands of species of animals and trees to identify areas with the richest endemic biological diversity. Some of those regions, like the Everglades, are already protected, but many others are not. The areas most in need of protection are the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and mountains on the California Coast, the study concluded.

“This is the most important scientific report of at least the last decade on the distribution of America’s parks and biodiversity, with implications for future policy on conservation and land use,” said study editor E.O. Wilson, Harvard University professor emeritus, in a statement.

Read More: Obama Moves to Protect 12 Million Acres of Alaskan Wildlife

Some of these regions might have been overlooked because of conservation policy that stretches back decades, says Jenkins. Land protection in the mid-twentieth century often focused on protecting “big beautiful landscapes, strange ecosystems and odd places,” rather than unique wildlife, Jenkins says. Conservationists also often found it difficult to enact protections on lands that could easily be used for other purposes like development or agriculture, even if they were rich in biodiversity. “There’s not as much competition for using that land,” Jenkins says.

Another factor in conservation policy has been the type of species facing extinction. Many conservation efforts have highlighted endangered mammals and birds while ignoring smaller and less visible reptiles and amphibians. The Southeastern U.S., for instance, is home to a wide variety of salamanders and fish, but has a lower percentage of its land protected than elsewhere in the country.

Jenkins says he hopes that conservation priorities will shift to include neglected regions and species, in part due to research like his. “If the U.S. doesn’t do something, they’re at risk of disappearing,” says Jenkins. “It’s not going to happen over night, but it’s up to us to make sure these species have a place to live.”

TIME Environment

Burmese Pythons Are Taking Over the Everglades

Biologists Track Northern African Pythons In Florida's Everglades
Joe Raedle—Getty Images Edward Mercer, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission non-native Wildlife Technician, holds a Burmese Python during a press conference in the Florida Everglades about the non-native species on January 29, 2015 in Miami.

Burmese pythons aren't your normal predators

True to their name, Burmese pythons are native to the tropics of southern and southeastern Asia, where the gigantic snakes—they can grow as long as 19 ft.—have carved out a comfortable niche for themselves, squeezing their prey to death. But sometime over the past few decades, Burmese pythons began appearing in Everglades National Park in south Florida. The snakes were most likely either pets that had been released into the wild or their descendants, and, like countless tourists before them, they took very well to the tropical heat and lush greenery of Florida.

Too well, as it turns out. A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B confirms what scientists have feared: predation from the Burmese pythons is already changing the delicate balance of the national park’s food chain. Scientists from the University of Florida, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released 26 marsh rabbits fitted with tracking devices into the park. The aim was to find out what effect the pythons would have on the rabbits, which are native to the Everglades but have all but vanished over the past decade—the same period of time when sightings of Burmese pythons became more frequent.

In the fall and winter, the marsh rabbits thrived, reproducing rapidly. But when the weather began to warm—which would have made the temperature-sensitive pythons more active—the marsh rabbits began to disappear. Where? Into the bellies of the Burmese pythons. The snakes hunted the rabbits ruthlessly—the researchers found that 77% of the tracked rabbits were eaten by Burmese pythons, a fact scientists knew because the trackers led them to the digested bodies of the rabbits inside the stomachs of the snakes. (At a control area outside the park, by contrast, no rabbits were killed by pythons, and most that died were eaten by native mammals like bobcats.) So voracious were the Burmese pythons that they essentially hunted the marsh rabbits to the point of extinction.

And that’s what worries scientists so much. Earlier research had linked a drastic decrease in the population of small mammals to the presence of the Burmese pythons, but those findings had been indirect—other factors, like environmental change, could have been behind the decline. The new study makes it much clearer that Burmese pythons are indeed changing the ecological balance of the Everglades for the worst—and perhaps singlehandedly.

That’s incredibly unusual—when it comes to invasive species, only human beings have managed to do so much damage on a continental mammal community. (There are frequent examples of invasive species, including snakes, eliminating species on small islands, but not in a large territory like the Everglades.) As study co-author Bob Reed of the U.S. Geological Society told CBS News:

All of us were shocked by the results. Rabbit populations are supposed to be regulated by factors other than predation, like drought, disease. They are so fecund. They are supposed to be hugely resilient to predation. You don’t expect a population to be wiped out by predation.

But Burmese pythons aren’t your normal predators, as I discovered for myself when I visited the Everglades for a cover story on invasive species. They can disappear at will, go months without eating and they’re afraid of absolutely nothing. The only way to save the Everglades may be to find and remove the snakes—but as this video above shows, that’s far from easy.

MORE: Invasive Species, Coming Soon to a Habitat Near You

TIME animals

See Photos of Endangered Species from the 1960s

Meet Zata, Henry and Hilda, who took a star turn in LIFE as the magazine documented efforts to restore populations of oryxes, ocelots, orangutans, okapi and more

This week, the Oregon chub was removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Animals, becoming the first fish ever to shed its endangered status. When it was placed on the list in 1993, there were fewer than 1,000 of the minnow species left. Today there are more than 140,000.

In the years since the first official list of threatened and endangered species was published in 1967, 28 species have been recovered, 10 have become (or were discovered to already be) extinct, and more than 2,000 species have joined the original 78.

Though the notion of extinction entered public awareness at the turn of the 20th century and the federal government began taking steps to protect certain species then, it wasn’t until the 1960s that environmental activism pressured the government to be more proactive in identifying and taking measures to protect threatened species. The first significant piece of legislation, the Endangered Species Protection Act, was passed in 1966, followed by an amendment in 1969 and a reworking in the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

In the period leading up to these legislative acts, the zookeeper community was collaborating on strategies they could undertake toward preservation. An August 1964 article in LIFE reported on the creation of “special survival and propagation centers where pairs and herds of endangered species can propagate in peace and quiet.” The magazine sent photographer Nina Leen on an assignment to document these species in the new habitats being set aside for them.

Nineteen U.S. zoos formed the Wild Animal Propagation Trust, addressing issues that had prevented species in captivity from successfully mating in the past. Rhinos in the wild are undisturbed during mating season; their new protected habitats would ensure the same treatment. Baby orangutans abandoned by their mothers would be raised in special nursery facilities. If the Trust succeeded in regenerating species, they hoped to reintroduce some of the animals into their natural habitats.

LIFE also explored advances in the scientific understanding of mating rituals. A male and female gorilla at the Bronx Zoo, Oka and Mambo, had expressed a “mammoth indifference for one another,” refusing to mate. Researchers came to understand that male gorillas raised in captivity, having no exposure to mating in the wild, had not learned proper mating behavior. Polar bears, which in the wild are accustomed to privacy during birth, were killing their newborn cubs because of the throngs of spectators present at their births. Understanding the animals’ behavior in the wild helped zookeepers create environments more conducive to procreation.

All of the species photographed for the story remain threatened or endangered 50 years later. The attention and, ultimately, funding that certain species get can be linked to the public’s awareness of and appreciation for them—the whales, for example, are high on many people’s list of animals in need of saving. So if you want to step in and support the underdog, consider the clam, of which more than 100 species are endangered. “Save the Georgia Pigtoe Clam” has a nice ring to it.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

TIME animals

Australia’s Mammals on the Verge of ‘Extinction Calamity,’ Scientists Say

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Getty Images Koala

11 percent of the country's 273 native mammals have gone extinct since 1788

Australia has lost more than a tenth of its native mammals over the past 200 years in what scientists are calling an “extinction calamity,” according to a new study.

Since 1788, about 11% of the country’s 273 native mammals have gone extinct, BBC reports. A major factor has been the introduction of the predatory red fox and feral cat from Europe, according to scientists at two Australian public universities and the Department of Parks and Wildlife in Wanneroo, who conducted the study published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Furthermore, 21% of the country’s mammals were found to be threatened. Large controlled fires used to manage land have also contributed to declining populations.

“No other country has had such a high rate and number of mammal extinctions over this period, and the number we report for Australia is substantially higher than previous estimates,” lead researcher John Woinarski said.

[BBC]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. China is the key to solving the problem of North Korea.

By Christopher Hill in Project Syndicate

2. Squeezing cells to make their walls temporarily permeable could open the door to new cancer and HIV treatments.

By Kevin Bullis at MIT Technology Review

3. Survivors of domestic violence are getting immediate protection from their abusers via videoconference with a court officer from their hospital beds.

By Laura Starecheski at National Public Radio

4. Japan is testing underwater turbines to harness the power of ocean currents for clean energy.

By Brian Merchant in Motherboard from Vice

5. Drones are the new tool of choice for biologists and ecologists studying endangered species.

By Aviva Rutkin in New Scientist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME animals

Unique Australian Turtle Is Critically Endangered

The White-throated snapping turtle
Stephen Zozaya The white-throated snapping turtle

The turtle breathes out of its butt

A white-throated snapping turtle (Elseya albagula) native to Australia is critically endangered.

James Cook University researchers are raising awareness for the turtle’s plight. The turtle, which lives in the Queensland’s Connors River, has a unique breathing mechanism: it breathes out of its rear. It’s a breathing process called “cloacal respiration.”

The now critically endangered turtle does best in clear-flowing water, but construction projects like dams have restricted the turtles’ movement, and increased land use has caused sedimentation and erosion that harms the animal’s nesting spots.

“If the increased water infrastructure development and drought in northern Australia continues, they will continue to get hammered,” says James Cook University researcher Jason Schaffer who has been studying the turtle for the last eight years.

“These turtles breathe out of their ass, which is super awesome,” Schaffer told Scientific American.

Schaffer is calling for more nest and habitat protection.

TIME climate change

The Unexpected Animal Group Dying from Climate Change

tree-frog
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It's affecting more than mammals

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The canary in the coal mine of climate change may actually be something a little less feathery and a lot more slimy: Amphibians. Many of these creatures have already been in decline due to disease, and climate changes appear to be accelerating the problem.

Jason Rohr, a University of South Florida biologist, says that some amphibians are already being forced to shift the timing of their breeding in response to climate change. Salamanders in the Appalachian mountains are shrinking. As climate trends continue, Rohr says we can expect to see amphibians further altering their behavior, moving to new grounds, and expect more overall declines in species.

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: What Will The Humans Do About Climate Change?

In the Western U.S., climate change is adding to the problems of amphibians already threatened by introduced predators. Starting in the late 1800s, wildlife officials have been stocking previously fish-free ponds and lakes across the western U.S with predatory trout. For a time, native frogs and salamanders were able to retreat to shallower ponds and waterways, but now a warming climate threatens to dry up these shelters—which are vital for both amphibian breeding and the survival of young tadpoles. To mitigate the damage, a group of researchers writing in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment recently recommended making use of hydrological models to evaluate the way climate change will affect amphibian habitats, and selectively removing fish from ponds.

“Amphibians in the West’s high-mountain areas find themselves in a vise, caught between climate-induced habitat loss and predation from introduced fish,” University of Washington researcher Maureen Ryan, a coauthor on the paper, said in a statement.

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: How Climate Change Is Already Dooming Some Mammals

The problem is even more dire in South America and Latin America. Frogs in the genus Atelopus have been decimated—71 out of about 113 species have gone extinct. Many of these extinctions are thought to be driven by interactions between climatic conditions and other factors, primarily the deadly chytrid fungus. Some scientists have argued that the the frogs’ tropical mountain habitats have been made more welcoming to the fungus by climate change, which has promoted the formation of clouds that lower daytime temperatures and raise nighttime temperatures, removing the extreme temperatures that may have previously kept the fungus in check.

“Disease is the bullet killing frogs, but climate change is pulling the trigger,” J. Alan Pounds, a scientist at Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, told National Geographic.

Not all scientists are convinced that the spread of chytrid fungus is hastened by climate change—one 2008 study in particular suggested there was little link between the two, and some researchers have argued that the periodic warming cycle known as El Nino is more to blame for high-profile frog extinctions, like that of the golden toad.

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: Your State Bird Could Be Extinct By 2080

But some of Rohr’s experiments looking directly at how frogs fight the fungus suggest that the temperature fluctuations linked to climate change shouldn’t be counted out just yet. In 2012, Rohr and colleagues found that the chytrid fungus thrives and kills more frogs in cooler environments—but that when frogs are suddenly switched from one temperature-controlled environment to the other, they fare even worse than frogs kept in a consistently hot or consistently cooler incubator. Frog extinctions are more complex than any one cause can explain.

As the climate changes in the future, the unique biology of amphibians may also make them less able to adapt to drier, hotter conditions than other groups of animals. “I think they are potentially at greater risk from desiccation than many organisms without permeable skin,” Rohr says. “Additionally, they are the most threatened vertebrate taxon on the planet, and thus they are already experiencing extremely high threats. Climate change could worsen this scenario.”

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

TIME Environment

Here Are 4 More Vulnerable Fish to Avoid Next Time You’re at the Sushi Bar

Blue-Fin Tuna Farm Operations At Kinki University Fisheries Laboratory As Seafood Proves Sweet Spot In Japanese Exports
Tomohiro Ohsumi—Bloomberg / Getty Images A farmed blue-fin tuna on board a boat at a fish farm operated by the laboratory in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014.

Pacific bluefin tuna, Chinese pufferfish, American eels and Chinese cobras named by conservationists as risking extinction due to overfishing

A dwindling population of bluefin tuna is among the species of fish that could vanish from the Pacific ocean for good, conservationists warned on Tuesday, unless constraints are placed on commercial fisheries that target the highly sought after fish.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature added Pacific bluefin tuna to its “vulnerable” list of more than 22,000 species threatened with extinction, according to IUCN’s conservationists. The tuna was joined by American eels, Chinese pufferfish, and Chinese cobras.

“The Pacific Bluefin Tuna market value continues to rise,” said the organization’s tuna and billfish specialist Bruce Collette. Without curbing catches of juvenile fish, he added, “we cannot expect its status to improve in the short term.” The group estimates that the population has diminished by 19% — 33% over the past 22 years.

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