What is National Wildlife Day?

Today, September 4, is National Wildlife Day. I had never heard of it before, but a Nature Conservancy newsletter that arrived today happened to mention it. It’s been around since 2006.

According to the National Wildlife Day website, the day is brought to us by the Animal Miracle Network. And if you have never heard of that either, that’s because it’s a pet rescue organization. (I could not find any media on any of this that was not a rehash of a press release, or just a press release.)

Again, according to the website, animal advocate Colleen Paige, founder of the Animal Miracle Network, created the day in 2006 to honor Animal Planet star Steve Irwin and the zoos and animal sanctuaries that preserve endangered wildlife and educate the public about their plight.

The website says that National Wildlife Day aims to focus attention on the endangered animals that need to be preserved and rescued. (I would just quote the sentence from the website, but the website denies that use without prior permission, even though it would be “fair use,” under copyright law.) So you can kind of see the train of thought here: rescuing cats and dogs, rescuing wildlife.

Don’t get me wrong, I love zoos, respect their work, and honor the way they allow people to connect with animals. But if this is the point, how about calling it National Zoo Day?

A day devoted to the idea that keeping endangered wildlife captive is a way to protect it is worrisome. This, of course, is just one tool, and a last-ditch one, in a very large toolbox. It feels like the guiding spirit here is the pet-ification of wildlife (my clues are the photos of the founder hugging a wolf and kissing a bear), although it may be simply retro, or even deliberately choosing to focus on this tiny piece of the conservation puzzle even though it’s not the dominant technique.

National Wildlife Day is doing its best to control the message that goes out under its name, which is really too bad. Who can argue against a day to recognize wildlife, except, as is the case, if it focuses on one tiny aspect of wildlife — endangered species — and just one of many techniques for helping those species. As far as I know, it’s not an official day, of the sort recognized by Congress or a state legislature.

In fact, National Wildlife Day didn’t make the “Days of the Year” website (which is just a random website, and is also not official), but the much more mainstream Endangered Species Day (May 16, 2014 — mark your calendars) did.

Read a press release about National Wildlife Day from Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma on the EIN News site, here.

Colorado’s Urban Bears, Interim Report

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) biologist Heather Johnson recently gave an interim report on her five-year black bear study to the state Parks and Wildlife Commission, the Durango Herald reports.

According to the CPW website, the study is intended to gather more information about the increase in conflicts between black bears and humans in the state. Does the increase reflect black bear population trends, or a change in behavior? To that end, the website says, the study:

1) tests management strategies for reducing bear-human conflicts, including a large-scale treatment/control urban-food-removal experiment; 2) determines the consequences of bear use of urban environments on regional bear population dynamics; 3) develops population and habitat models to support the sustainable monitoring and management of bears in Colorado; and 4) examines human attitudes and perceptions related bear-human conflicts and management practices.

One and a half years in, Johnson has found that female black bear behavior of the 51 collared bears she tracks is highly variable. One collared female never left a three block area in Durango, another wandered for 200 miles.

Up next is an experiment comparing conflicts in an area with bear-proof trash cans to one without the cans. That experiment will begin in the spring.

Read more about the study in the Durango Herald, here.
Read brief discriptions of CPW’s black bear research, here.

Photo: Heather Johnson, courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Python Forecast: Cloudy

In 2008 the US Geological Survey published a report that said that the entire southern third of the United States could provide habitat for the invasive Burmese python that has been roiling the Florida Everglades ecoystem.

A recent paper in the journal Integrative Zoology says that occasional hard freezes and widespread winter temperatures that are too low for too many months of the year to allow the snakes to digest food will keep the snakes in the Everglades.

Interestingly, one of the authors of that paper is a python breeder. Another two are with USDA Wildlife Services. The lead author, a professor at a veterinary school testified before Congress in 2009 against listing constrictors as an injurious animal. (The fifth author is an expert in Burmese python digestion.)

Read the article in Integrative Zoology

A previous paper in PLoS ONE reached a similar conclusion, but for a different reason. This paper reasoned that there wasn’t enough marshy habitat north of the Everglades for pythons to spread. One notable finding in that paper was that, given climate change, the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest might someday become warm enough to be suitable habitat for pythons.

The PLoS One paper is open access.

The question is, how big of a worry is pythons crawling their way out of the Everglades into the rest of the South compared to the worry pythons becoming established in some other warm, swampy place in the United States due to the release of unwanted pets?

I would say that pythons crawling north from the Everglades through Disney World to reach the Okefenokee Swamp is a minor concern. Having another area of the US become infested with released pythons is something worth keeping an eye on.

Map: From the original 2008 USGS report. Green shows areas of the continental United States with climate matching that of the pythons’ native range in Asia.