Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

Oct08

Yaks: The Bison of the Mountains

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By Hitesh Pant

Originating in the “roof of the world,” the yak is an important animal, providing a host of nutritional and practical benefits to the people of the Tibetan plateau. It can withstand freezing temperatures and sparse vegetation, and is a major source of meat, milk, fiber, and hide. Although the population of Bos mustus sharply declined due to the arrival of new farmers who poached their meat for commercial gains, the domesticated yak (Bos grunniens) gradually migrated into Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia, becoming an essential driver of economic development in these regions.

Wild yaks are now regionally extinct in Nepal and India, and the demand for domestic pastures has sharply reduced their food source, and with it their population (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Similar in appearance to the North American bison, the yak is characterized by its thick black coat and large dewclaws, both of which are adaptations to the harsh climate of the Himalayas. Perhaps the most striking feature is its round and thick horns, whose open arch gives this bovine an intimidating appearance. The yak reaches sexual maturity by age six, and has an average life span of 23 years.

Seasonal variation of environmental conditions is the biggest limiting factor in yak growth and the main determinant of individual productivity; approximately 25 percent of the body weight gained during the summer is lost over winter and spring, an amount that is difficult to regenerate given the limited availability of year-round grasses. Despite the limitations on growth that they face—low annual rainfall, mean temperatures below 5°C, and seasonal shifts in vegetation—yaks have continued to supplement subsistence farming in the Himalayas and have become an important ecosystem service for the area.

Yak milk is very dense and thick, and its high fat (5.5-7 percent) and protein (4-5.5 percent) content makes it a valuable source of amino acids. Meat, which is primarily derived from castrated or ‘surplus’ males, is an important source of income to the herding families. The thick fur that coats the yak has been extensively used for insulating tin roofs and the growing demand for their fur has resulted in an increase in crossbreeding to bear individuals with the thickest fiber. Although the quality of their hide is lower in comparison to cattle, yak hide is a major source of rawhide in China and is used to pack raw butter, wrap boxes for storage, and felt boots and soles. Farmers use yak feces to make pens and enclosures for winter stocks, and they also paint it on fences to fill cracks.

Known locally as the ‘boat of the plateau,’ the yak serves as an important draft animal and is used for plowing and threshing grain. Likewise, its high endurance makes it ideal to carry loads across large distances without having the need to continually replenish it with water.

Unfortunately, the introduction of motor vehicles in rural Tibet coincided with an increase in commercial poaching, and coupled with the interbreeding of domestic and wild animals, looks to have gradually resigned yaks to the same fate as the bison. Wild yaks are now regionally extinct in Nepal and India, and the demand for domestic pastures has sharply reduced their food source, and with it their population.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Aug21

First Peoples Worldwide Awards Over US$1 Million in Grants to Indigenous Communities

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By Sophie Wenzlau

This past July, First Peoples Worldwide (FPW) reached a milestone of US$1.2 million in grants awarded “directly to Indigenous projects, programs, and communities” around the world. First Peoples, an international, Indigenous-led advocacy organization, seeks to promote economic determination and strengthen Indigenous communities by awarding grants directly to Indigenous Peoples. To fulfill these objectives, the organization provides “Indigenous Peoples with the tools, information and relationships they need to build community capacity to leverage assets for sustainable economic development.”

First Peoples Worldwide has surpassed $1 million in grants to Indigenous organizations. (Image credit: FPW)

According to the United Nations’ State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, “Indigenous Peoples all over the world continue to suffer from disproportionally high rates of poverty, health problems, crime, and human rights abuses.” In the United States, for example, Indigenous Peoples are 600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis and 62 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Worldwide, Indigenous Peoples’ life expectancy is 20 years lower than the non-Indigenous average.

Despite these sobering statistics, Indigenous Peoples are responsible for some of the most vibrant and diverse cultures on earth. Of the world’s 7,000 languages, the UN estimates that over 4,000 are spoken by Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous communities are also strongholds of traditional knowledge, preserving ancient technologies, skills, and beliefs.

The grants awarded by FPW have funded innovative projects in countries like Botswana, Bolivia, Ghana, and Sri Lanka, and have focused on topics as diverse as land reclamation, water development, and traditional medicine.

In Ghana, FPW funded a project designed to prevent wild elephants from destroying farms located along the boundaries of Kakum National Park. The Association of Beekeepers in Ghana, the organization that received the grant, developed the novel idea of constructing a beehive barrier along the community’s perimeter. According to FPW, “the presence of the hives has naturally prevented elephants from crossing the grounds, and the honey production has increased income for farmers through sales, which has improved local commerce.”

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Aug17

Aquaculture Feeding World’s Insatiable Appetite for Seafood

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By Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Spoden

Total global fish production, including both wild capture fish and aquaculture, reached an all-time high of 154 million tons in 2011, and aquaculture is set to top 60 percent of production by 2020, according to new research conducted for Worldwatch’s Vital Signs Online service. Wild capture was 90.4 million tons in 2011, up 2 percent from 2010. Aquaculture, in contrast, has been expanding steadily for the last 25 years and saw a rise of 6.2 percent in 2011.

The global demand for farmed fish is increasing (Photo Credit: Vera Kratochvil)

Growth in fish farming can be a double-edged sword, however. Despite its potential to affordably feed an ever-growing global population, it can also contribute to problems of habitat destruction, waste disposal, invasions of exotic species and pathogens, and depletion of wild fish stock.

Humans ate 130.8 million tons of fish in 2011. The remaining 23.2 million tons of fish went to non-food uses such as fishmeal, fish oil, culture, bait, and pharmaceuticals. The human consumption figure has increased 14.4 percent over the last five years. And consumption of farmed fish has risen tenfold since 1970, at an annual average of 6.6 percent per year. Asia consumes two thirds of the fish caught or grown for consumption.

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Aug09

COMACO strengthens incentives, expands efforts to western Luangwa Valley

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By Graham Salinger 

Community Markets for Conservation(COMACO), the group behind the It’s Wild local food brand in Zambia that sells everything from organic rice to honey, is expanding its conservation efforts to the western regions of the Luangwa Valley.

COMACO hopes that a recent plan to strengthen incentives for practicing sustainable agriculture will help preserve the Luangwa Valley’s environment and wildlife (Photo Credit: Paola Bouley).

COMACO was founded thirty years ago and helps farmers in Zambia grow indigenous crops instead of relying on poaching wildlife as their primary source of income. COMACO also works to reduce the practice of chitemene, which involves cutting down and burning trees as a method of producing ash to improve crop yield. The organization focuses on training farmers in conservation methods and establishing markets to sell products through the It’s Wild brand. The It’s Wild brand is sold in major supermarket chains across Zambia, including ShopRite, Checkers, and Spar.

COMACO has provided training for more than 40,000 small-scale farming families living across the Luangwa Valley. In 2009 it purchased over 3,000 tons of agricultural commodities from small scale farmers. COMACO works with over 1,329 former hunters in efforts to use agriculture as an alternative to poaching.

Looking to build on these successes, COMACO is working with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) to extend its operations to areas in the west that have not been involved in the process. This year, ZAWA has given COMACO data on areas where illegal poaching is still common, allowing COMACO to target its efforts to specific regions. The new plan offers increased incentives for people to give up hunting in favor of farming, “the whole principle of COMACO is to offer communities a choice: a better life with skills, trade and food security through COMACO—or –a continued reliance on natural resource destruction at their own risk….”explained COMACO in announcing plans to strengthen current efforts.

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Jul16

Cobia: Out of the Ocean, Into the Pen

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By Joseph Zaleski & Jeffrey Lamoureux

Many of the world’s most popular fish species are being overfished to satisfy growing demand for seafood. For researchers, the challenge is to find species that can be sustainably harvested with minimal damage to the world’s ecosystems. The cobia, Rachycentron canadum, is a promising species.

Cobia produce flavorful, healthy filets. (Image credit: Florida Sport Fishing)

Cobia is found throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical waters. Dark brown with white stripes along the sides of their long, spindle-shaped bodies, they can grow to be six feet long and live for 15 years. Because of their size they are occasionally mistaken for sharks, and are often called “crabeaters” because the bulk of their diet is crustaceans and other invertebrates.

Cobia is flavorful and is used regularly in sashimi, ceviche, and grilled dishes throughout Asia and the Americas. It is a good, low-fat source of protein and several vitamins and minerals. Cobia is not a household name, however, because the fish are difficult to produce on a large scale. Cobia is generally solitary and stays near the ocean surface, preferring the shade of objects like buoys, piers, and platforms. This makes them a great catch for recreational fishers, but unviable for commercial fishermen.

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Jul09

The Kuri: A Unique Study in Natural Selection

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By Edyth Parker

The Kuri cattle are a rare breed, found along the shores of Lake Chad Basin as well as across north-eastern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and Niger. Kuri are classified as humpless longhorns, but are known by many other names such as Baharie, Dongolé, Koubouri, or Buduma. The most common name, Kuri, stems from the regional tribe who herded the breed for centuries in the Lake Chad area.

The Kuri male. (Photo credit: International Livestock Research Institute)

This natural habitat of the Kuri is hot, with an average temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit, and semi-arid with an extremely seasonal rainfall pattern. Lake Chad is surrounded by semi-aquatic and aquatic vegetation, which is the main food source of the Kuri. Their reliance on aquatic food sources and water as cooling mechanism has required some interesting adaptations in their physical appearance.

The Kuri breed is characterized by its unique horns. Though the horns can be anything from 60-150 cm in length, the internal fibrous material and thin exterior casing leaves the horns surprisingly lightweight. These hollow horns are used as flotation devices, necessitated by their semi-aquatic habitat.

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Jul07

Sushi with a Side of Conservation

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By Graham Salinger 

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” so the saying goes.   But how do we feed ourselves once we run out of fish? The U.N.Food and Agriculture Origination (FAO) reports that the number of people around the world who rely on fish for protein is increasing. And, as a result, the world‘s fish resources are being depleted.

A sushi restaurant in Portland helps preserve marine protected areas (Photo credit: Bamboo Sushi)

According to Nourishing the Planet’s research for the Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs Online, global fish production is at its highest level. Meanwhile, the FAO reports that an estimated 53 percent of fisheries are considered fully exploited. Furthermore, scientists predict that by 2030 an additional 37 million tons of farmed fish will need to be produced per year in order to meet demand.

To address some the challenges that overfishing present to people’s livelihood, Kristofor Lofgren started a sustainable sushi restaurant in Portland, Oregon. He created the restaurant to involve consumers in the process of conserving food resources.  He calls it the principle of “consumer regeneration” and he believes that it will help food lovers give back to the environment.Menu items at Lofgren’s Bamboo Sushi restaurant include salmon, tuna, and other sushi favorites. Conservation is also on the menu as patrons are invited to make donations to help save endangered sea life.

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Sep21

Nourishing the Planet TV: It’s All About the Process

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In this week’s episode, research intern Jenna Banning discusses the benefits of processing. By providing the right tools and services, organizations such as the Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) and the East Africa Dairy Development, are helping farmers improve their livelihoods and communities.

Video: http://youtu.be/H46OA_RPsR4

To read more about processing, see Innovation of the Week: It’s All About the Process 

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Jul07

Innovation of the week: Agroforestry project restores wildlife habitat and generates income in Borneo

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By Matt Styslinger

Since 2002, on a 2,000 hectare plot of deforested land in the Indonesian state of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, an organization called Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) has been regenerating forest to create habitat for orangutans. By combining agriculture and forestry, the Samboja Lestari project has planted more than a million trees—including 1,000 different species. The reforestation efforts have not only established a safe haven for orangutans, it has improved food security and incomes of the local community, stabilized the local micro-climate, increased the availability of water, and begun to established a sustainable agroforestry system managed by local people.

The Samboja Lestari project is using agroforestry to regenerate forest in Borneo to improve rural livelihoods and provide habitat for orangutans (Photo credit: RARE Conservation)

Borneo is the third largest island in the world and historically has been covered with rainforest. Borneo’s forest is around 130 million years old, making it the world’s oldest rainforest. But the island has lost an estimated 50 percent of its forest cover since the 1970s due to logging, slash and burn agriculture, and the establishment of large-scale oil palm plantations to produce biofuels. The rapid loss of forest has produced massive amounts of CO2, making Indonesia the third largest producer of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China. Deforestation jeopardizes the future of many rare species—including clouded leopards, Sumatran rhinos, and orangutans. It has also impoverished rural communities who have lost important resources, such as clean water, fish, fertile soil, and forest-grown food and medicines.

Biologist, and founder of BOS, Willie Smits has dedicated his career to saving the wild orangutan, which live exclusively on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. BOS hosts over 1,000 orphaned orangutans. “This is proof of our failure to save them in the wild,” says Smits in a TED talk about Samboja Lestari. “Deforestation, especially for oil palm to provide biofuel for the western countries, is what’s causing these problems… [These are] peat swamp forests, on 20 meters of peat, the largest accumulation of organic material in the world. When you open this for growing oil palm, you’re creating CO2 volcanoes,” he says.

Smits believes that the only way to help the orangutans is to integrate local people in the restoration of their habitat. “We have to make sure that local people are the ones that benefit,” he says. “We set up the infrastructure and management and monitoring [of the project]. But we made sure that in every step of the way the local people were going to be fully involved so that no outside forces would be able to interfere.”

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Jun23

Win-Win: Maintaining Agricultural Yields while Increasing Biodiversity with Wildlife Friendly Farming

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By Grant Potter

Modern agriculture often operates at great expense to natural habitats. Cultivating a plot of land can replace most of the indigenous flora and fauna with food crops.  This displacement of native biodiversity will accelerate as “global food production…must double by 2050 to head off mass hunger,” according to Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

In a given plot of land, the density of trees (y-axis) does not affect the agricultural yields (x-axis). (Graphic credit: PNAS)

Wildlife-friendly farming, a process that allows for the coexistence of cultivated crops and local wildlife, has been largely overlooked as a solution to this growing demand. The assumption persists that a zero-sum relationship exists between crop yields and biodiversity where an increase in one will necessarily cause an equal decrease in the other. A study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), however, refutes this long-standing assumption. Their hypothesis is that a causal link between biodiversity and crop yields does not exist. An increase in local wildlife should not affect agricultural yields.

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