Wildlife Report

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1999:

Bird habitat
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service credits killing
thousands of nest-parasitizing cowbirds since 1991 with bringing
the least Bell’s vireo up from just 268 known pairs in 1991
to more than 2,000 in 1999. “Just as important,” explained Los
Angeles Times reporter Gary Polakovic, “the vireo’s comeback
may prove that habitat along streams in Southern
California is recovering––a critical indicator of environmental
health in a state that has lost 97% of its riparian woodlands,
more than any other.” As Illinois Natural History Survey
scientist Scott Robinson observed in 1995, after examining the
relationship between vanishing songbirds and cowbirds,
“Small nature preserves, which work fine for preserving plants,
don’t work for migratory birds,” whose nesting sites become
vulnerable to cowbirds when deforestation removes their cover.
“The [British] Royal Society for the Protection of
Birds are completely barking,” Game Conservancy Trust
head of grouse research David Baines recently told Daily
Telegraph environment editor Charles Clover, because after
five years of intensively killing crows and foxes to protect a
rare grouse called the capercaillie, the RSPB has experimented
since 1995 with not killing predators. The capercaillie population
is down from 2,200 in 1995 to about 1,000. But the RSPB
says the main reasons for the drop have been bad weather at
nesting season and, wrote Clover, “the death of up to a third of
its capercallie by flying into deer fences put up to allow the
regeneration of native pines.”

The parks department of Mercer Island, Washington,
plans to drain and refill Ellis Pond, the only freshwater
habitat on the island, to kill non-native large-mouth bass and
bullfrogs. The bass have eaten every duckling hatched in the
past two years by a rare urban wood duck colony. The bullfrogs,
also non-native, threaten local tree frogs and salamanders.
Would-be frog-giggers may have brought the bullfrogs.
The bass followed circa 1996, brought either by fishers or as
an attempted brake on the bullfrogs. The project is funded by
the King Conservation District.

Small mammals
Residents of Kamakura, Japan, have formed the
Victims of the Taiwan Squirrel Society to incite a purge of
the squirrels, descended from pets brought back by Japanese
troops who occupied Taiwan 1895-1945. The Japan Wild
Bird Assoc-iation says the squirrel population has more than
tripled since 1990, taking advantage of handouts from squirrellovers
and of maturing urban forests, now recovered from
World War II firebomb damage.
Erin Quinney of Sooke, British Columbia, h a s
contracted with the Capital Health Region to save 400 feral rabbits
who formerly occupied the General Hospital grounds in
Victoria, B.C., but were to be killed as an alleged public
health hazard. Hoping to adopt the rabbits out as pets,
Quinney placed 10 of the first 75 she caught. Greater Victoria
Animal Crusaders paid for neutering the first 16.

Down Under
Farmers and government officials killed nearly
two million poultry and 2,000 aviary birds to halt the spread
of a new form of Newcastle disease in New South Wales,
Australia, during late 1998 and early 1999. Most authorities
blamed the outbreak on an unknown bird who was alleged to
have brought the disease from abroad. That served the purposes
of both agribusiness seeking trade protection for Australian
poultry and bioxenophobic conservationists. But C o m m o n –
wealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization scientist
Peter Daniels told the 11th International Congress of
Virology on August 11 that genetic testing “clearly showed that
the outbreak was caused by a highly virulent Newcastle disease
virus that had mutated from an existing milder strain already
present in Australia” for more than 30 years.
“Concerned that we have more wallabies grazing
our pastures on Kangaroo Island than we do sheep,” a n d
that the sheep-and-cattle disease Ovine Johnes might cross into
wildlife, after hitting 23 of the 350 farms on the island since
June 1998, Australian veterinarian Debbie Lehmann and her
husband Greg Johnsson, also a vet, recently tested 10 kangaroos,
34 tammar wallabies, and 46 brushtail possums. They
found two tammar wallabies also carrying the Ovine Johnes
bacteria––which means wiping out the disease by killing the
livestock may not work unless the wallabies are all killed too.
“We have a national treasure, a small herd of
brumbies (wild horses) living in Coffin Bay National Park,”
writes Marie Bishop from South Australia. “They are a managed
herd, by agreement: only 20 mares and one stallion, to
minimize ecological damage. Descended from Timoran
imports, they are the breed who established all Australian horses,
and have lived there for over 150 years––but now the government
wants them removed.” Bishop has posted further
details and addresses for letter-writing at the Coffin Bay Pony
Society web site, >>www.box.net.au/~bishop<<.

In Defense of Animals field representative Bill
D y e r on September 1 announced that private citizens and 11
national animal protection groups had donated the $25,000
needed to move about 70% of the last 250-350 feral goats on
Catalina Island to Goats R Us, which Dyer described as “a
humane organization that provides fire control grazing services,”
based in Orinda, California. The relocation was to
start on September 15, with a deadline for completion of
January 1, 2000. Brought by Spanish settlers in 1826, up to
40,000 goats lived on Catalina before the Nature Conservancy
and National Park Service began purging non-native species
from the Channel Islands in 1978. Most of the other goats were
shot, as will be any who can’t be caught. Dyer was unable to
find sanctuaries able to accept the unknown number of pigs on
Catalina, who are also scheduled to be shot.
USDA Wildlife Services and U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service staff shot 42 goats from a helicopter over the
Makua Valley in Hawaii on August 17, but an estimated eight
to 28 goats escaped––enough to rebuild the herd if they remain
at large. Wildlife Services has shot goats in the valley since
1996, ostensibly to protect 29 endangered plant species. The
U.S. Army used the valley as a target range for nearly 60 years,
but halted live firing in 1998 pending an ecological assessment.
Prohunt New Zealand director Norm Macdonald
led a helicopter assault team of four gunners and six dogs who
in early September killed 232 of the estimated 250 to 300 feral
goats on the Ontong Java Atoll, also known as Lord Howe
Island, in the North Solomons. The Lord Howe Island Board
is to pay Macdonald et al $90,000 when all the goats are dead.
Macdonald and team will reportedly next try to exterminate the
estimated 500,000 goats in the Galapagos Islands.

“Marvelous example”
Armand M. Kuris and colleagues at the University
of California, Santa Barbara, in August said they had
achieved “the first successful eradication of a well-established
non-native marine pest,” an abalone worm from South Africa
that infested all 17 California abalone farms circa 1993 and
then hit an estimated 2.5 million wild abalone and black turban
snails. Kuris et al extirpated the worm––they think––by killing
1.5 million of the native turban snails to eliminate its main local
host. “It’s a marvelous example of the way we should deal
with eradications,” said Roger Mann of the Institute of Marine
Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
A four-year study by Bowling Green State
University fisheries biologist Jeffrey G. Miner indicates that
round gobies might cut the Great Lakes zebra mussel population
by two-thirds in five years. This, Miner warns, could hurt
water quality, as zebra mussels eat mostly blue-green algae
which consume sewage and manure runoff but reduce water
clarity and has a bad taste and smell. Some types of the algae
can turn deadly; three dogs died in August after licking algae
mats alongside Lake Champlain. Round gobies, native to
Europe, have been found throughout the Great Lakes in recent
years, about 20 years after zebra mussels––the most feared
invaders of the 1980s––came from the same habitat.

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