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Bio Watch.

Pigs Stymied

CANADA -- Scientists at Ontario's University of Guelph have bio-engineered three little pigs to emit manure with less phosphorus, to reduce pollution from pig megafarms. Phosphorus robs water of oxygen, thus killing fish, and fosters algae blooms. The Enviropigs[TM] have an implanted mouse gene that helps them to digest phosphorus. It won't be known until the pigs reach breeding age whether they'll pass this gene along to offspring. After that, they'll need safety testing and approval before anyone can buy, breed, or eat them.

Howdy Howdy Howdy

US -- Captive-raised condors reintroduced to the wild near the Grand Canyon have been introducing themselves to humans too boldly. The young birds (who have no eiders to teach them proper condor behavior) have been seeking handouts in parking tots and campsites. One was shot when she ventured too close to a campsite. (Why the camper thought the condor posed a danger is not clear: Condors are scavengers, not predators.) Another condor was returned to captivity after repeatedly approaching river-rafters, and once strolling onto an airstrip. Wildlife experts ask humans to stay at least 300 feet from condors and they suggest that backcountry campers help give condors aversion therapy by screaming and flapping their arms when the birds get too close.

Mitigation for Migrants

US -- The new South San Diego Bay Wildlife Refuge -- 2,200 coastal wetland acres with 1,300 acres of salt ponds -- was dedicated last June. The refuge will protect an important Pacific flyway stopover for migrating birds. The bad news is that this "abates" the expansion of San Diego's Lindbergh Field airport onto the habitat of the endangered California least tern.

Help for Hawks

US -- District Court Judge Stanley Sporkin has ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to reassess its 1997 decision not to list Alaska's Queen Charlotte subspecies of goshawk as endangered. This has resulted in loud complaints from togging advocates, and may help protect part of the goshawk's native habitat, the Tongass rainforest. FWS complains that the secretive hawks are hard to count accurately.

Comfort for Canids

US -- The White House has joined enviro groups in trying to reverse a 1997 court order to remove gray wolves from Yellowstone. The American Farm Bureau, fearing attacks on livestock, opposes the wolf reintroduction program, which was started in 1995.

Grace for Geese

CANADA -- The Aleutian Canada goose, threatened by non-native foxes introduced by trappers and fur farmers, is recovering from a remnant population of 790, found on remote Buldir Island in 1975. The FWS removed foxes from some of the goose's nesting islands and relocated some geese to fox-free islands, as well as protecting migration routes. As a consequence, the population has rebounded to 32,000.

Fanfare for Falcons

US -- The Department of the Interior intends to remove the peregrine falcon from the endangered species Est. The continental US population was down to 39 pairs in the 1970s, because of DDT pollution which made eggshells so fragile that they were crushed during incubation. Some 3,000 peregrine pairs are estimated to exist today.

Scarlet Billows

HAWAI'I -- Shark-finning -- catching sharks, cutting off their fins for soup, and throwing them back to die -- now threatens several Pacific shark populations with extinction. (See report on page 7.) Shark fishing is completely unregulated and anecdotal evidence indicates wholesale slaughter. Sharks are stow to mature and reproduce, so populations cannot recover quickly. Atlantic shark populations already are in trouble. Hawai'i is a center of shark fishing. California has banned sharkfinning by fishing boats, but ships based in Asia continue to use tines up to 25-mites-long to catch sharks.

Why Rudolph Glows

ARCTIC -- Some 400 scientists in the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program found high revels of radioactive pollution in the Arctic Circle resulting from atmospheric nuclear testing between 1950 and 1980, releases from European reprocessing plants, and fallout from Chernobyl. Arctic indigenous people are about 50 times as radioactive as the average Earthling. Reindeer meat in northern Norway contained 500 to 2,500 Becquerel (Bq) of cesium-137 per kilogram. (Japan's official maximum tolerable level in food is 370 Bq per kg.)

Whizzing of Oz

AUSTRALIA -- More than 300 penguins on Australia's Phillip Island (Victoria) are being killed each year by passing ships flushing oily ship bunker tanks without filtering. Such dumping occurs in oceans worldwide.

Going Postal

CHINA -- Police in Yunnan province seized the skins of 11 Chinese tigers, a number of leopard and bear skins, and almost half a ton of cobra and viper skins when they broke a smuggling ring involving hundreds of people. The gang evaded border inspections by sending the contraband out of China through the (generally uninspected) mail Mailbags in Rule on the Burmese border carried the biggest animal-parts smuggling attempt discovered in 50 years. Inspectors also discovered elephant tusks, monkey skulls, and 575 python skins, all packed up and ready to mail. The gang is believed to have sent about 5,000 animal skins through the post. The illegal trade is fueled by huge profits from furs and the animal parts used in traditional Asian medicine. Fewer than 100 Chinese tigers are thought to survive in the wild. The animal parts seized were apparently bound for Southeast Asia.

The Crate Escape

CANADA -- Feral Atlantic salmon that have spawned in Vancouver rivers have some new company: 100,000 of Northwest Seafarms' salmonid inmates staged a mass breakout when seasonal tides overturned their floating pens near Bainbridge Island last summer. Fish fans fear that the exotic salmon will threaten native species, some already endangered, with competition and disease.

No Sanctuary

ANTARCTICA -- In 1999, Japanese "research" vessels funded by the food companies Maruha, Kyoku, and Nippon Suissan planned to kill approximately 450 whales in the Antarctica Wildlife Sanctuary. The whales are butchered and sold to restaurants and supermarkets for profit ($50 million), not science. Since 1994, Japan has butchered 3,767 whales inside the sanctuary.

Frankenfish

CANADA -- Scientists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (FOC) are hooked on the idea of creating "transgenic coho salmon." The goat is to create a new breed with "desirable characteristics ... such as enhanced growth or controlled reproduction." FOC's merry genetic pranksters already claim to have created "transgenic chinook and rainbow trout with accelerated growth performance" and they promise that fish "with novel phenotypic traits ... will soon be used in the international aquaculture industry." A reminder: It's not nice to FOC with Mother Nature.

More Farming: Fewer Songbirds

UK -- Over the past 25 years, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reports, 27 million British songbirds have vanished. According to the BBC, "the culprit is intensive farming, encouraged and rewarded by the European Union's common agricultural policy." RSPB Conservation Director Mark Avery warns that the promotion of intensive agriculture has turned farmlands into "wildlife-free zones." Skylarks, blackbirds, lapwings, and thrushes have suffered population losses ranging from 33 to 75 percent.

Bye-Bye Belugas?

ALASKA -- The southernmost population of Pacific beluga whales is in "imminent danger of complete annihilation" according to the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Action Alert. Cook Inlet is home to a genetically separate tribe of small white belugas. The 1999 beluga count was only 217 (down from 653 in 1994). Native hunters are allowed to kill belugas for edible muktuk, which is sold in Anchorage. In some years, as many as 150 beluga have been killed. The hunt has been suspended while native and government officials try to work out a "co-management agreement." The Animal Welfare Institute is contemplating court action to force the US government to grant the belugas protection under the Endangered Species Act. On September 14, Russian officials halted a planned beluga hunt in response to Letters from environmentalists, the US Marine Mammal Commission and a group of Congressmembers led by Rep. Delahunt

The Evaporation of Hope

US -- Plans to increase crop yields to feed expanding populations are built on a "Pillar of Sand," says a Worldwatch Institute report with that title. The world's human population is currently running a water deficit of about 160 billion cubic meters a year. In the next 25 years, the number of water-poor people will soar from 470 million to 3 billion. Humanity's growing need for water is sucking the planet's aquifers dry. Worldwatch is calling for a "blue revolution" to radically decrease water use. Drip irrigation systems can cut water use by as much as 70 percent. Without such remedies, declining water supplies eventually will Lead to starvation, civil unrest, and global water wars.

Franken-Corn Put to the Test

US -- Last spring, giant US food processors Archer Daniels Midland and A.E. Staley announced that they would no Longer accept genetically engineered corn for export. Farmers panicked and the marketplace responded. Molecular biologist John Fagan has created a DNA-Level test that can detect whether a corn sample contains genetically modified organisms and "how much of the tested corn sample" is contaminated. The Genetic ID [1760 Observatory Dr., Fairfield, IA 52556, www.genetic-id.com] tests can be done white the corn is still in the field and results can be returned in three business days. (But can it test your breakfast cornflakes?)

Elephant tears

US -- When a cast-off circus elephant named Shirley arrived at the Elephant Sanctuary [www.elephants.com] in Hohenwald, Tennessee, a National Geographic film crew was on hand as another elephant, Tarra, greeted her. "Tarra and Shirley intertwined trunks and made purring noises," reports Sanctuary Director Carol Buckley. "Shirley very deliberately showed Tarra each injury she had sustained at the circus and Tarra then gently moved her trunk over each injured part." Later that evening, an elephant named Jenny was placed in a stall next to Shirley. The two animals suddenly began to roar and struggled to reach one another. The gates were lowered and Shirley raced to Jenny's side. They have become inseparable, Eke "mother and daughter."

Only later did the Buckleys discover that Jenny and Shirley had been in the same circus when Jenny was a calf and Shirley was 30 years old -- 22 years ago.

Archaeopteris: The Tree of Life

MOROCCO -- Until recently, scientists believed that Archaeopteris, an extinct plant that thrived during the Devonian period 370 million years ago, had only deciduous branches that were shed each year or two. New fossil findings show that Archaeopteris also had permanent branches and lived as long as 50 years. The implications: The spread of these trees may have shaded and cooled the creeks where early amphibians evolved. The trees also captured carbon, produced oxygen, and lowered the Earth's temperature -- all essential to the evolution of life that led to the world we know today.

Brave New Forests

NEW ZEALAND -- A plan by Monsanto and New Zealand's Forest Research Agency to create plantations of sterile and identical genetically engineered trees threatens to bring on "a silent spring in the forests of the future" according to Britain's Daily Telegraph. Monsanto's biotech boughs would resist sprayings of Monsanto's patented herbicides; leaves would contain toxic chemicals designed to kill insects. "Such trees will grow faster than before, but will be devoid of the bees, butterflies, moths, birds and squirrels which depend on pollen, seed and nectar," the Telegraph reported. Fearing the uncontrolled spread of lab-made trees, scientists insisted that trees be genetically engineered to remain sterile. Oregon State University researchers have created trees with flower cells that poison themselves as soon as they form. George McGavin, curator of Entomology at Oxford University Museum, warns that plantations of so-called "terminator trees" would become biological deserts "with nothing but booklice and earwigs." Environmentalists fear that living forests would be cleared to make room for Monsanto's Franken-firs. World Wide Fund for Nature claims the new plantations would support "even Lower levels of biodiversity than conifer monocultures."

RELATED ARTICLE: Global Warming Puts Marine Life in Hot Water

US -- Turning Up the Heat: How Global Warming Threatens Life in the Sea, a joint Wrld Wildlife Fund/Marine Conservation Biology Institute report, warns that whole species could be wiped out by global warming.

Over the past century, surface sea temperatures have risen by about one degree Celsius. They are expected to increase three degrees more in the next century, at current emission rates.

"Global climate change is an additional stress on already stressed species and ecosystems," said the report. Recent Et Nino years may be a preview. Scientists have linked warmer water, declining reproduction and increased mortality among several species of seabirds, seals, and sea Eons along the US Pacific coast during El Nino years.

The warming phenomenon has devastated sardines anchovies and marine iguanas off Peru, kelp forests off California, and some species of seats, sea Lions, and seabirds.

Rising marine temperatures influence sea Level upwelling and the deep-ocean circulation between the poles and the tropics. The sea ice that houses marine mammals and penguins -- as welt as algae that produce phytoplankton -- is diminishing in both the Arctic and the Antarctic.

Antarctic penguins and crabeater seals are already declining. Reef fish and intertidal invertebrates -- anemones, crabs, and snails -- are shifting toward the poles in response to ocean warming. Pacific salmon, especially sockeye, are particularly vulnerable because the warmer their water, the more food they need. Higher winter sea temperatures may have led to the collapse of western Alaskan salmon populations in 1997-1998, the report suggests. Pacific sockeye and other salmon species may soon face extinction.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Earth Island Institute
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Earth Island Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 1999
Words:2207
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