Shifting Baselines: Understanding the True Extent of Wildlife Decline

Shifting Baselines: Understanding the True Extent of Wildlife Decline
May 30, 2020
By Andrew Rowan
Over the past few years, news stories describing the decline in global wildlife have generally referenced the Living Planet Index (LPI), which is based on methodology developed by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London. The LPI indicates that wildlife populations have declined by 60% from 1970 through 2014. The LPI does not estimate the extent of the wildlife decline that occurred before 1970.
In 1995, Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist in Vancouver, Canada, published a landmark paper, “Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries,” in which he notes that fisheries scientists sometimes failed to identify the correct “baseline” population (or how abundant a fish species was before human exploitation), which affected their estimates about a particular fishery’s sustainable harvest. As a result, long-term declines in wildlife populations become difficult to identify, since each generation redefines a new baseline for what is “natural.”
This concept has been widely discussed by marine and fisheries scientists but, as Sumaila and Pauly note in a chapter entitled “The ‘March of Folly’ in Global Fisheries” in a 2011 book on Shifting Baselines, global fishery policies have largely ignored the lessons of shifted baselines. The cod fishery off the eastern seaboard of Canada and New England is a classic example of a policy “folly.” The accompanying chart shows the proportion of cod landed in Labrador and Newfoundland from 1850 through 2010, and the inset shows the recruitment of young cod into the adult population.
From 1850 through to the 1960s, 150-250,000 tonnes of cod were landed every year by the primarily small-scale inshore fishery. The dramatic increase in the 1960s was due to foreign deep-sea trawlers. Canada imposed a 200-mile exclusion zone, but the foreign trawlers were then succeeded by Canadian ships. Recruitment of young fish plummeted and, by the beginning of the 21st century, the cod fishery was no more. It has still not recovered even though Canada has just increased the allowable catch by 30% – to 12,350 tonnes!.
While the “shifting baselines” syndrome is less evident when discussing land animals, each generation still tends to base its understanding of what is “natural” on its experiences when young. The following anecdote is a tiny snapshot of declining populations of yellow-nosed albatross nesting on Nightingale Island in the south Atlantic.
Tristan Yellow-Nosed Albatross
Nightingale is one of four islands that constitute the Tristan archipelago. Tristan, where 250 people live, is the only island in the archipelago that is inhabited and is considered one of the most remote human communities in the world. The nearest city is Cape Town, South Africa, over 1,500 miles and a 6-day boat trip away. Despite its remoteness, two series of photographs taken 66 years apart depicting the nests of the Yellow-nosed Albatross on Nightingale document a decline in albatross populations. The first photograph was taken in early November 1949 by Bertus Rowan on a trip to Nightingale. It shows hundreds of “mollies” (albatross) nesting on the island in what the locals referred to as Molly Pond 2.
The second photograph (taken almost precisely 66 years later, in November 2015 and showing the same nesting area from the same perspective) has very few albatross nests scattered across the “pond.”
Tristan Yellow-Nosed Albatross
Nightingale has never been inhabited by humans and has, so far, not suffered an invasion of rats, mice or other creatures that often travel with humans. Therefore, the decline in nesting albatross must be related to some other factor. Albatross in the southern oceans are particularly affected by long-line fishing, in which a single line of thousands of baited hooks stretching up to 100 kilometers in length is dragged behind fishing vessels to catch tuna and other open-ocean fish. According to Bird Life International, around 100,000 albatross a year are caught on these hooks and drown.
Human activities have contributed to declines in wildlife populations for centuries – not just the past 40 or 50 years. While recent reports of declining wildlife numbers are important to acknowledge these changes, we must constantly guard ourselves against viewing the state of the world 25 or 50 years ago as its “natural” condition. In fact, the history is far longer.

Global Dog Populations – Andrew Rowan May 2020 – Pres. Ltr.

Global Dog Populations


In human health management, we generally must know the size of the problem before we can manage it successfully. This is also true of the management of animals such as dogs and cats. This letter will address what we know about the number of dogs on the planet.
Dog on beach
Ray Coppinger, a world authority on dog behavior, started my investigations into global dog numbers at least 25 years ago when he asked me a simple question: How many dogs are there? At the time, we estimated that there were at least 400 million dogs, but this number has turned out to be far too low. In 2013, Matthew Gompper at the University of Missouri estimated there were around one billion domestic dogs, and his publication started my investigation of the issue in earnest.
I now agree with Gompper that there may be close to one billion domestic dogs globally, but this does not tell us where or how those dogs live. I have become disenchanted with metrics that measure dogs per square kilometer or some other unit of area. Dogs are not spread out evenly across the landscape – far from it – and are mostly clustered around humans. Therefore, a measure that compares the number of dogs to the number of humans is, in my opinion, a far more relevant and valuable way to estimate dog numbers. For several years now I have been using the measure of dogs per 1,000 humans, and I can report that dog populations in different regions and countries vary from around 1-2 per 1,000 people (on the Arabian peninsula) to as high as 800 per 1,000 humans (in rural communities in Chile).
This is a huge range, and we have very little insight into why dog numbers fluctuate so widely. It seems pretty obvious why there should be so few dogs in the Arabian Peninsula (Muslim attitudes to dogs tend to be negative), but why would Sweden have 80 dogs per 1,000 people compared to 140 in the UK and 240 in the USA? Or why would there be so few dogs in the New England states (around 110-140 per 1,000 people) and so many in some Rocky Mountain states (400 per 1,000 people in Montana)? These discrepancies are especially intriguing because these values have been stable for the past 30 to 40 years.
Fairly recently, a few colleagues and I began looking at the effect of human density on relative dog numbers. It has become evident that there is a strong inverse relationship between log human density and the relative number of dogs. A strong inverse density relationship has been found (R2 for the various trend lines ranges from 0.4 to 0.7). Such an inverse relationship has been documented for dog populations in US states, on the island of Mauritius, in the Indian state of Haryana, in Mumbai, in and around Rawalpindi in Pakistan and in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, even though the relative number of dogs varies from 10 to 400 dogs per 1,000 people and the human density varies from a few people per square kilometer to over 40,000 per square kilometer.
The inverse correlation of relative dog numbers with log human density offers an opportunity to develop reasonably reliable predictive models for dog populations in different countries.
We also need to determine whether the dogs are pets, strays or feral animals. WellBeing International is now classifying dogs as either Private dogs (mostly pets), whose movements are subject to some control, or Street dogs, whose movements are not controlled.
A child petting a dog
There will be overlap between Private dogs that are allowed to roam for some part of the day and the Street dog population, but using this two-phase classification is a simple way to describe dog populations around the world.
Several authors (e.g. Coppinger) have argued that Street dogs vastly outnumber Private dogs, but WBI has found that this is not the case. Private dogs now outnumber street dogs (perhaps by a 3:2 margin) and there has been a steady global drift – though not necessarily purposely – towards moving dogs off the streets and into homes. For example, in the USA in the 1960s it was estimated that around 25% of all dogs were Street dogs, but today Street dogs are very rare and are mostly found in inner-city or rural communities. The level of control of dogs in the USA has increased substantially since the 1960s, measured as the proportion of Private dogs entering shelters annually (from around 30% in the early 1970s to 5% today).
Other important metrics to consider when looking at global dog populations are overall per capita income and the rural/urban divide. In most High-Income Countries (HIC), Private dogs constitute the vast majority of the population (90-95% or more). In contrast, in Low-Income Countries (LIC) and Lower Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) nearly all rural dogs are Street dogs. In LIC and LMIC, a percentage of dogs in urban cities (maybe 30-60%) will be Street dogs. Thus, one can begin to draw a reasonably accurate picture of the global dog population by simply concentrating on country income levels and the proportion of the population classified as rural. Table 1 below provides estimated dog numbers for different regions of the world. The regional estimates have been derived from multiple surveys of both Private and Street dog populations. Note that Street dogs are in the majority where the rural proportion of the population is above 50%.
Global Dog Population table
The regional dog estimates indicate that there are approximately 800 million dogs existing today, of which around 300 million are Street dogs. In other words, the majority of the dogs are Private dogs living as pets or guard dogs, and Street dogs compose only around 35-40% of the total – not 85% as some have claimed. Another common misconception is that Street dogs are all unowned strays. Some are certainly strays, but many are claimed to be “owned” by one household or another. Admittedly, these “owned” Street dogs are not treated in the same way as “owned” Private dogs, but they do receive some care.
Dog populations across the world are slowly shifting from the streets to the exercise of greater control by individual households. At the same time, the number of small animal veterinary clinics is exploding. For example, Malaysia’s first small animal clinic opened in 1980 but today there are around 500. In Jaipur, India, there were only a couple of small animal clinics at the turn of the century but today there are more than ten in the city. The number of small animal veterinary clinics is likely an indirect measure of the level of control of dog populations exercised by individual households.  See also Global Dog Campaign.


Spillover. Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. 2012. W. W. Norton & Company, New York (nominated a notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review)
by David Quammen
Reviewed by Andrew Rowan
This book by science writer and journalist David Quammen about pandemic threats to humans arising from animal pathogens (zoonotic) was first published in 2012, eight years before the current coronavirus pandemic that appears to come from bats, possibly with a contribution from pangolins. Spending quite a bit of time these days reading books, I decided that it was time to read Spillover. I also have harbored a hope to someday meet David Quammen since we were both privileged to be able to spend time studying at Oxford. So, I bought a Kindle version of Spillover and started to read – all 522 pages of text plus an additional 68 pages of acknowledgments, notes, references, and index.
It is a gripping and sobering read. It is gripping because Quammen takes you seamlessly through many different human adventures with different zoonotic bugs (those that come from animals to infect humans) introducing all sorts of interesting characters along the way. He also introduces one to extra-ordinary treks through different landscapes that he has made, glossing over the heat, the pests, the suspect foods and the negotiations with many different bureaucrats so that his journey through Darkest Africa seemed little more dangerous than a stroll through Central Park in New York. I admired his sangfroid in the face of all the threats of his exotic trips (“don’t look up because you might get a mouthful or eyeful of bat urine” was one warning by a guide), but I also envied his ability to explain complex science in plain English and entertainingly!
The book is sobering because of the subject. Throughout the 522 pages, one comes across numerous references to the Next Big One (NBO) – namely, a new, emergent zoonotic bug that has the ability to pass easily from human to human, that does so before most victims feel ill, and that has the capacity to kill a significant proportion of those it infects. Today, a pathogen that infects half the human race and kills one percent of those it infects would end up killing 38 million people – almost as many as the estimated death toll from the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. Covid19 appears to have this sort of potential.
Nonetheless, I ended the book feeling hopeful. Quammen interviews many scientists who are studying such emergent pathogens and who are providing insight and ideas about how humans might prevent or mitigate the NBO. In the case of Covid19, there are now over 70 new vaccine initiatives and at least three are undergoing trials in humans. This is a remarkable record for a new infectious agent that was unknown just a few months ago. Now we can just hope that our governments, both national and local, can act with sufficient speed and insight and that they will pay appropriate attention to those who know whereof they speak.

The Context for the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Context for the Coronavirus Pandemic
March 31, 2020
by Andrew Rowan
At the beginning of this century, a review paper (Daszak et al, 2000) highlighted the importance of the consumption of wildlife as a major source of a series of dangerous new “emerging” pathogens.
Maps are derived for EID events caused by a, zoonotic pathogens from wildlife, b, zoonotic pathogens from non-wildlife, c, drug-resistant pathogens and d, vector-borne pathogens. Illustration from Jones et al,2008, Nature 451,
The most well-known of these is the AIDS virus that was first recognized in 1981 and that has to date been responsible for over 32 million human deaths, over 75 million human infections, and annual global expenditures for prevention and treatment now running at around $20 billion a year. A later study reported that the number of new human pathogens emerging from wildlife was increasing and this article’s accompanying image indicates the hot spots for emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) for various types of pathogen.
The world has been living with blinders on. Periodically, a new study will raise questions about the dangers of wildlife consumption, but little has been done to slow or end such consumption. There are many constraints on the movement of domestic animals to prevent disease outbreaks, but relatively little effort has been devoted to containing the movement of wild animals from one country to another. AIDS illustrates the human health (and economic consequences) of new emerging diseases, but countries have been slow to establish controls to reduce and prevent the threat from such new pathogens. The relatively mild and quickly contained SARS outbreak cost the world $40 to $80 billion in just a few months. The COVID-19 pandemic, the estimated global economic impact of which is now running to $1 trillion or more, will hopefully accelerate new policies to prevent and mitigate the impact of new emerging pathogens and possibly give new impetus to ending wildlife consumption and habitat destruction.
Several reports have found that bats are the host mammals for a significantly higher proportion of zoonotic viruses than other mammalian groups. The latest published papers on COVID-19 indicate that the virus appears to be the most recent to have originated in bats, although pangolins (a much trafficked and consumed wild animal) have also been involved in its evolution. Apart from the restrictions placed on human travel, steps are now finally being taken to shut down the “wet” markets where one can buy and trade wild animals for consumption. These markets have long been recognized as a potential threat to human health and the Chinese government briefly closed them after the emergence of SARS in 2003.
“Wet” markets are found across the world. They are places where the shopper is confronted by a toxic mix of wild and domestic animals, blood, entrails, excrement and other waste creating ideal conditions for disease to migrate from animals to people. However, such markets are not the only source of new emerging viruses and pathogens. Our intensive animal agriculture facilities also provide a breeding ground for new pathogens. In 2009, the novel flu virus (H1N1) emerged from pigs though it was fortunately not particularly pathogenic. Although 60 million Americans caught the H1N1 “swine” flu virus, “only” around 13,000 deaths were attributed to it (mortality of 0.02%). But intensive animal agriculture operations continue to be a significant risk factor for emerging diseases, including both new viruses and drug-resistant pathogens, and especially new flu viruses.
The Chinese have now passed a law banning all “wet” markets in the country and regional authorities have begun to extend such bans. Shenzhen is proposing an additional ban on dog and cat meat consumption as well. But it is not clear just how far the ban on “wet” markets and wildlife consumption might extend. There is a very large network of wildlife farms in China producing live animals to be sold in “wet” markets as well as wildlife meat and wildlife parts sourced for Traditional Chinese Medicine. In a 2017 report, the Chinese Academy of Engineering estimated that more than 14 million people were employed in the farming of wildlife and that the industry had annual sales of $74 billion. It is not clear how the new laws will affect this industry or if they will be permanent.
China is due to host the 15th Conference of Parties of the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming, a southern Chinese city of around 5 million people and a major trade hub for South-east Asia. The theme for this meeting was announced last year as “Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth” but the emphasis continues to be on economic development and human interests despite the call to build “a shared future for all life” by “leveraging green sustainable development.” The current Coronavirus outbreak will no doubt have a considerable impact on this event, which is currently planned for October 2020.
The world has to take the threat of emerging pandemics much more seriously. First, the controls on wildlife trading across countries have to be strengthened considerably. Second, we should start discussing efforts to end the human consumption of terrestrial wildlife. With the world population reaching 8 billion and global wildlife populations and wildlife habitat declining rapidly, we can no longer afford to view consumption of wild animals as a human right. The COVID-19 pandemic is simply the latest and possibly the most serious manifestation of the threat to humans posed by the consumption of wild animals. And human demands for wildlife products are driving many species to the edge. Wild mammals now constitute only about 4% of global mammalian biomass but avian, amphibian and invertebrate populations are also plummeting, leading to grave threats to crops that require insect pollination.
The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that our political leaders can act decisively when faced with an acute threat. Let us see if we can push those leaders to show the same decisiveness in dealing with threats that are no less real but that develop over longer periods of time.

The State of Well-Being – Andrew Rowan Mar 2020 – Pres. Ltr.

The State of Well-Being

In February 2019, Wellbeing News carried an article discussing ideas relating to the state of well-being of People, Animals and the Environment. This article was followed by an item on the United Nations’ World Happiness Report in Tales of WellBeing. The World Happiness Report is issued annually in March, although this year, with the world struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, there has consequently been very little attention paid to the 2020 Happiness report or to the UN’s International Day of Happiness on March 20. In the midst of a disaster it is difficult to consider that there may be prospects for a silver lining, but there is always some potential for positive outcomes.
Viktor Frankl, the Viennese psychiatrist who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning (first published in German in 1946) after he had survived three horrendous years in Dachau and Auschwitz, argued that a person’s primary goal in life is a quest for meaning – not pleasure as Freud argued, nor power as Adler held. Frankl saw three possible sources for achieving a meaningful life: doing something significant in one’s work; engaging in loving relationships and caring for others; or showing courage during difficult times. What do the new studies in global happiness contribute to our understanding of human well-being?
Defining and measuring human well-being (beyond the relatively narrow measure of material wealth or growth in Gross Domestic Product) has only started to become a significant focus of public policy in the 21st Century following Bhutan’s 1998 initiative to measure the state of the country via a Gross National Happiness index. Other countries are now developing their own “national happiness” indices, and the first World Happiness Report, drawing extensively on Gallup’s World Poll data, was published in 2012. The 2020 World Happiness Report is the eighth in the series and the groups involved in producing it include centers at Columbia University, the London School of Economics, the University of British Columbia and Oxford University and the Gallup organization.
This year’s report looks at how global patterns of happiness are affected by a country’s social environment, whether a person lives in a city or the country, and the impact of the natural environment. Regarding the social environment, the report finds that the amount of trust in a country’s people and institutions is a very important factor in raising one’s level of well-being. The report suggests that high levels of such trust in the Nordic countries are a major factor in their position leading the globe in measured levels of happiness (The Table shown is extracted from the World Happiness Report, 2020).
The analysis of rural/urban differences in happiness found that urban communities were generally happier than rural communities, probably because of the increased economic opportunities found in cities. However, as the level of economic development in a country increases, one finds that people living in rural communities tend to be happier than those living in cities. But cities that combine high levels of income with high levels of trust and connectedness are less likely to see a decline in well-being as they become richer. In Canada, for instance, life evaluations are 0.18 points higher (on a 10-point scale) in rural neighborhoods than in urban ones but this gap is reduced in well-maintained cities.
Finally, the report looks at the impact of the natural environment through the lens of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It found that progress towards the SDGs was higher in countries with high life evaluations (i.e. where people were happier). The authors of the report suggest that people are “happier when they trust each other and their shared institutions, and care about the welfare of others. Such caring attitudes are then typically extended to cover those elsewhere in the world and in future generations.” This explanation also agrees with Frankl’s suggestion that caring for others is an important element to giving an individual’s life meaning.
Amid the current gloom and doom, we hope people will be encouraged to know that, until COVID-19 shut down the globe, the planet was making significant progress towards improving human and domestic animal well-being. We still have a long way to go to address environmental health and well-being but, as the nGram plot below indicates, attention to the well-being of the environment in the PAE triad is also increasing.
Google NGram Viewer Chart – Frequency of Terms in Millions of Books Scanned by Google. An nGram chart documents the frequency (by year) of specific terms appearing in the texts of millions of books that Google has scanned and digitized. These nGrams provide a rough sense of social interest and trends over time (at least in countries that speak English).
Andrew N. Rowan, President, WellBeing International

Sustainable Development – Andrew Rowan Apr 2020 – Pres. Ltr.

Sustainable Development

The news these days is, not surprisingly, dominated by Covid-19 stories and how different communities and countries are adapting to the pandemic. This issue of WellBeing News will be no different with two items from Mark Jones of Born Free and Jill Robinson of Animals Asia. Mark is leading Born Free’s activities to engage global policymakers and to take action to prevent future pandemics caused by zoonotic agents (we need to stop wildlife consumption and habitat loss). Jill Robinson was a pioneering animal advocate in China and East Asia and provides a perspective on what we have come to call “wet markets” in that part of the world. WBI will let them carry the message of what we need to do now. In this “Letter,” we will address the question of sustainable development and trophy hunting as a “sustainable” activity.
Sustainability has become a popular term encompassing the notion that we need to promote and pursue policies that will allow future generations of humans to live and benefit from the wealth provided by the Earth. In 2015, the United Nations (UN) adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that identifies 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasizing, in the words of the UN, “a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.” This is a huge and hugely ambitious project, and it is astonishing that the world has been able to unite behind it through the agency of the UN. The complexity and ambition of the SDGs can be appreciated by scanning the 169 targets and 232 unique indicators that have been established to track progress. ‘Our World in Data’ at Oxford University has now set up an SDG Tracker where progress towards the SDG targets can be followed. A few minutes browsing this tracker (seven of 10 targets for Life in the Oceans and five of 12 for Life on Land do not have data that can be used to track progress) indicates just how complicated this initiative is. It is not possible to describe and evaluate even one of the SDGs in a brief essay, so we will look at only one tiny aspect of the sustainability question – namely, a recent discussion of trophy hunting in the media.
In 2019, Bertrand Chardonnet, a veterinarian with extensive experience in Africa (he has worked in 40 African countries), produced a report for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on reconfiguring the protected areas of Africa. He pointed out that trophy hunting in Tanzania had mostly collapsed (see figure of lions shot per year). The number of elephants shot also declined dramatically (see figure below).
Ref- See pg. 35 of Chardonnet report.
Ref- See pg. 35 of Chardonnet report.
Elsewhere, the number of trophy hunters visiting South Africa had dropped from 16,549 in 2008 to 6,539 in 2016. Don Pinnock, a South African journalist who has argued against trophy hunting in his writings, produced an article that drew heavily on the Chardonnet report, published in the Daily Maverick on 30 April 2019, entitled “Trophy Hunting, Part Two: End of the Game.” His article argued that trophy hunting in Africa was on its way out.
This prompted a response from a number of people, including representatives of hunting organizations and members of the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group. The response “clarified” that the Chardonnet report was commissioned by an IUCN section to stimulate discussion only and that IUCN policy, described in an earlier 2016 briefing paper, encouraged trophy hunting because of its conservation and livelihood benefits. They further argued that the report was about the future of protected areas rather than trophy hunting per se, as if that invalidated the data on trophy hunting trends and economic returns in the Chardonnet report. Their response also argued that the decline in trophy hunting in Tanzania was largely due to a ban on trophy imports instituted by the United States, despite the fact that the bulk of the decline in trophy animals shot occurred before the US instituted bans on trophy imports.
Chardonnet argues that protected areas in Africa require an average of $7-$8 per hectare to manage successfully and that trophy hunting concessions typically bring in a tiny fraction of that figure. The Bubye Conservancy in Zimbabwe has been promoted as an example of the conservation benefits of trophy hunting. It is true that Bubye, which was established in 1994 by a wealthy investor, has restored wildlife to what was once a denuded and over-exploited cattle ranch, and that its lion population has gone from zero to around 500 (amongst the highest lion densities in Africa) with associated increases in other wildlife. But even in Bubye (which does spend around $7-8 per hectare in maintaining the 370,000-hectare conservancy), only around 33% of the annual running costs are generated from lion trophy hunting.
After the shooting of Cecil in Zimbabwe in 2015, trophy hunting has been under siege. It has been associated with several unsavory practices (e.g. the breeding and shooting of lions in “canned” circumstances in South Africa and government corruption). It is also a consistency problem to allow wealthy international visitors to shoot a few wild animals while local residents are prosecuted for poaching when they trap and kill animals. Chardonnet argues in his report that trophy hunting does not produce sufficient income to pay for proper conservation of wild lands. He further notes that these lands will be under increasing human pressure as the African population grows from 1.2 billion today to a projected 4 billion in 2100.
WBI called for an end to the consumptive use of terrestrial wildlife at a Conservation Geopolitics conference in Oxford (March, 2019). At the very least, we should end the killing of terrestrial wildlife for frivolous (e.g. trophy hunting) and luxury (e.g. ivory, rhino horn) purposes and build a consistent message that wildlife needs to be protected and not traded or killed, no matter the potential short-term benefits. Trophy hunting fees will not save wildlife and we need to construct new systems and policies that will produce a land ethic and sufficient economic resources leading to a truly sustainable future for the relatively few remaining wild places and the animals that inhabit them.
Andrew N. Rowan, President, WellBeing International
Note: the figures above are taken from page 35 of the 2019 report by B Chardonnet on Reconfiguring the Protected Areas in Africa. The report was commissioned by the IUCN but is not an official IUCN document. Additional documents addressing trophy hunting and sustainable use are available on the IUCN website.

Zakouma, Chad – A Dying to Living Story

Zakouma, Chad – A Dying to Living Story
March 13, 2020
by Andrew Rowan
Elephant calf drinking in Zakouma, NP, Chad as part of the largest elephant herd in Africa. Photo by Thomas Clode
The Chadian government established the Zakouma National Park, a 3,000 Km2 area in the south-east of the country, in 1963. At the turn of this century, the park was home to 4,000 elephants. Unfortunately, in 2002 it was targeted by poachers, and by 2010 it was estimated that there were only around 450 elephants left. Virtually all breeding had stopped because the survivors were so stressed. Chad then contracted with African Parks, a relatively new NGO, to manage Zakouma and gave it complete authority over the park.In short order, the NGO engineered a remarkable turnaround. In 2010, there were very few or no elephant births and in 2011, African Parks counted only one elephant under five years old in the park. But by 2018, there were 127 young elephants under five. The elephant population is now approaching 600 individuals. Since 2010, only 24 elephants have been poached compared to hundreds per year from 2002 to 2010.
This is not just a wildlife success story. African Parks has also built strong relations with the communities around the park who had suffered along with the animals because of a general lack of security. The African Parks team developed relationships and trust among the local communities and, having established safety and security, the park is now home to an astonishing array of wildlife and is the largest employer in the region. Education, especially environmental education, is also a focus of the park’s managers. From 2013 to 2018, 17 schools were built and supported, and over 6,500 children received an education. The Zakouma veterinarian has been vaccinating local cattle against anthrax and support has been obtained for human health services as well.
There have been over 25,000 visitors to the park since 2010, half of them local Chadian citizens, and in 2018 tourists generated almost $700,000 of revenue.
In the wake of this success, the government of Chad has now asked African Parks to manage the Ennedi Natural and Cultural Reserve, a 50,000 Km2 area where approximately 30,000 people live. The Ennedi Massif was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016 for its extraordinary rock formations and significant collection of rock art. It also is home to relict fauna and flora including desert-adapted crocodiles. African Parks has started working with local communities to ensure that Ennedi is also conserved in a way that benefits people, animals and the environment.

Wildlife Rescue – The Guide

Wildlife Rescue – The Guide
March 13, 2020
Review by Andrew Rowan
Photo from The Ultimate Wildlife Rescue Guide by Rachel Brown
Most of us will have had an occasion to rescue an injured or ill wild animal, whether it be a mouse that the cat has caught, a bird that has flown into a window or something more exotic. I suspect that we then scramble to figure out what, if anything we can do. There are many guides around that offer advice, some of it very detailed, but I was impressed by the practical guide, The Ultimate Wildlife Rescue Guide, produced by Rachel Brown, who provides gardening advice in the UK. Her advice focuses on British wildlife but most of what she has to say is relevant to North America and other parts of the world.
The Three Approaches to Wildlife Rescue
There are three approaches to helping wildlife and it can be hard to choose the right course of action, especially if you’re stressed and nervous. If in doubt, call a wildlife rescue center for advice.
  1. Leave it alone. Sometimes a wild animal is not injured but has been left by a parent so it can gather food. For example, young deer and fledgling birds should not be touched unless they are in danger.
  2. Let the animal recover from shock in a cool, dark place. A wild animal that has had a knock, say flying into a window or being hit by a car, could be concussed and may recover given time.
  3. Take the animal to a wildlife center or a veterinarian. Injured wildlife needs specialist attention. The most responsible course of action is taking injured wildlife to someone who knows exactly what to do to prevent any further suffering.
There are steps you can take now to prepare for the time when you encounter an injured wild animal!
Look up your nearest wildlife center online to find out what wildlife they can treat and where they are based. This will save stressful emergency phone calls with an injured animal in tow. Keep a cardboard box and a couple of towels in your car. If you do not have a pet registered with a veterinarian, also take a look at what 24-hour veterinarians are nearby. Save the numbers to your phone so they’re ready to go when you find an injured animal.

In the UK, the following websites are recommended for a list of wildlife rehabilitator:

In North America, start with the following websites for a list of wildlife rehabilitators:

In Australia, start with:

  • WIRES – For NSW wildlife rescue calls or email reporting

Impact of the Coronavirus Outbreak on Wildlife

Impact of the Coronavirus Outbreak on Wildlife
February 26, 2020
by Andrew Rowan
Health authorities around the world are now bracing to deal with the growing threat of the latest coronavirus zoonosis. But there are already silver linings beginning to appear on this particular dark cloud. The Chinese government very recently (and very quickly) passed a new nationwide law banning the consumption of meat from all wild animals (whether imported or grown domestically). It is still unclear how this law will be implemented but the reported 20,000 farms inside China raising wild animals to serve the demand for “wild” meat are very anxious. In addition. Shenzhen, a Chinese industrial hub just across from Hong Kong, has just proposed adding to the wild meat ban an additional prohibition on the consumption of dog and cat meat! The Shenzhen proposal states as a reason for this additional proposed ban that dogs and cats are now family members of many Shenzhen households. It is true that pet-keeping has exploded in China over the last few years. Euromonitor reports that the pet (dogs and cats) population in China has risen from 88.1million in 2014 to 188.5 million in 2019 (a 16% year-over-year increase) and, in 2019, the Chinese were projected to spend almost $29 billion on their pets. It should be noted that the dog and cat meat market is only a small fraction of current pet expenditures.
Photo by: REST-Maria Diekmann
Pangolin meat is e a delicacy in China however, it was considered to be a source of the latest coronavirus outbreak.

In Search of Explanations and the Truth

In Search of Explanations and the Truth
February 27, 2020
by Andrew Rowan
Photo by: Ondreji Presicky
In the search to explain the world around us, there have been occasions where a particular set of observations produces a narrative that appears to provide an elegant explanation of what is happening, even though it might not be entirely accurate. One such story is that of Arizona’s protected Kaibab Plateau, which President Roosevelt established as a game preserve in 1906 and where deer hunting was prohibited. At the same time, bounty hunters exterminated large predators and, as the story went, the lack of predation led to a deer population explosion. This increased population ate all the browse on the plateau, leading to starvation and a population crash of as much as 60%. This narrative was told and retold in ecology classrooms and textbooks until the 1970s, when doubts were raised about the accuracy of the Kaibab deer population estimates.
The classic graph showing a rapid rise and equally rapid fall in deer numbers disappeared from the textbooks. More recently, research on the ages of aspen trees on the Kaibab plateau (a measure that can be used as an index of deer browsing)suggests that there were several periods over the past 120 years when the survival of aspen saplings was abnormally low, and one such period coincided with the reported die-off of deer (Binkley et al, 2006, Ecosystems 9:227).
Now it seems that we are facing another such problem with a widely accepted story identifying how dogs might have become domesticated and developed their neotenic traits (tamer, floppy ears, white color patches and more juvenile faces with smaller jaws).
The narrative follows the following lines. A Russian scientist, Dmitry Belyaev, acquired a number of fur foxes (which typically are very fearful and aggressive in the presence of humans) and began a selective breeding program based on a single behavioral trait – namely, affiliative behavior and a willingness to approach and be handled by humans. According to the story, the foxes that were selected for their tolerance of humans changed their appearance and morphology over relatively few (10-20) generations. The phenotypic changes included the development of neotenized skulls (e.g. shorter muzzles), floppy ears, curly tails and piebald coat colors. The tamer foxes also reportedly “barked.” These observations led to the acceptance of a “domestication syndrome” that could be elicited by selective breeding based simply on an affiliative behavior phenotype.
But just like with the mule deer on the Kaibab Plateau, there may be more than meets the eye. Now Elinor Karlsson and her colleagues have reported that Belyaev’s foxes were not from wild stock but were sourced from fur farm foxes from Prince Edward Island, Canada that had been raised and bred on fur farms since the late 1800s (approximately thirty or more generations before the fur fox experiment in Russia) (Trends in Ecol. & Evol. 2019). The authors found no reports of intentional selection for behavior on Canadian fur farms, but the foxes were reported to be unusually friendly (and also reproduced successfully). In 1928, 65 pairs of foxes were exported from Canada into Russia. By 1959, when Belyaev started the Russian behavioral experiment, his foxes consisted of the multi-generational descendants of these friendly Canadian foxes.
While Belyaev’s breeding project is still a very useful trove of data on the genetics of canid behavior, Karlsson and her fellow authors argue it does not support claims that there is a “domestication syndrome” that can be recapitulated simply by selecting for affiliative behavior. It is really too bad. The story provided an attractive and compelling narrative. These characteristics may be why it was picked up and disseminated so widely. But, to borrow from American journalist and iconoclast HL Mencken, this explanation may be “neat, plausible, and wrong.”
For additional reading, see Science News, Psychology Today, Gizmodo.