My top 5 wildlife stories of 2015

2015 was a year for new marine sanctuaries, protections for hunted wildlife, help for bees, and much, much more. Credit: Erica Cirino

2015 was a year for new marine sanctuaries, protections for hunted wildlife, help for bees, and much, much more. Credit: Erica Cirino

December 31, 2015: Again we are at the end of another year, a time for reflection and resolutions—and countdown lists.

Like New Year’s goals, these lists are an inevitable part of crossing from one year into the next, at least in the journalism world.  As an environmental and science writer, I’ve spent much of the year reviewing stories in these two fields, particularly stories in my area of specialty, wildlife.

There are many reasons why I choose to write about the wild creatures that call this planet home: They are living relics of nature in a world quick to embrace and employ technology. They have incredible power to change entire ecosystems, and yet can be extremely vulnerable to changes in their habitat. And, perhaps most important to me, they are simply amazing to study and observe.

So, in the spirit of the New Year, I bring to you my top 5 wildlife stories of 2015:

5. U.S. creates plan to protect pollinators

The use of modern pesticides, namely, neonicotinoids, as well as climate change, viruses and habitat loss are resulting in the tremendous loss of bees. Recognizing these dangers to bee health—and thus U.S. crops—in May the Obama administration announced a plan to help cut honeybee losses down to no more than 15 percent per year, by 2025.

The plan also protects other pollinators, like butterflies, through initiatives such as public education, expanding/preserving pollinator habitat and studying pollinators more closely.

4. New ocean sanctuaries established

While fishing, ocean acidification and rising water temperatures still pose significant threats to the health and safety of marine wildlife, several important new marine sanctuaries meant to protect these creatures were established this year. This includes one of the world’s first marine protected area for sharks and rays, located in the Philippines. Other marine sanctuaries were established off the coast of Maryland and in Lake Michigan, as well as an enormous marine sanctuary around the islands of Palau.

3. Pioneering research studies crow cognizance

Wildlife scientists long knew crows were smart, and have observed them using tools (mainly designed to find and consume food) in the laboratory setting. But in a recently published paper two scientists describe how they caught crows making and using tools in the wild—and caught it all on camera. It’s the first instance of tool- making and use being observed in crows outside the laboratory setting.

2.  U.S. and China promise to end the ivory trade

With elephant and other wildlife poaching causing major species losses, U.S. President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping this year announced they would work together to stop the sale and trade of all commercial ivory.

The U.S. already has almost a complete ban on commercial ivory and some individual states have enacted or proposed even stricter laws. What makes this plan so momentous is that China’s involvement in the agreement is a new turn for the country, which historically helped enable the ivory trade to thrive.

1. U.S. restricts trophy hunting six months after death of Cecil the lion

Six months after Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer caused a global uproar with his killing of Cecil the lion, a well known male lion in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made changes to the Endangered Species Act that would make it harder to bring lions, dead or alive, into the country.

The changes create two lion subspecies listed under the act: lions from India, West and Central Africa; and lions from East and Southern Africa. The former group, with a population of about 1,400 would be listed as endangered, while the latter, with a population of about 17,000, would be classified as threatened.

Those importing endangered lions would need to receive a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after it’s approved the importation will benefit lion conservation efforts. To bring threatened lions into the U.S., hunters would need to secure permits from countries with a “scientifically sound” approach to lion management—in other words, that they do not endorse the so-called “canned hunting” and hunting-for-profit methods associated with the death of Cecil.

The changes also make it more difficult for trophy hunters convicted of wildlife law violations to import lion trophies.

Let’s hope for positive progress in wildlife science and conservation in 2016!


Lingering thoughts:

  • What new legislation or rules benefitting wildlife would you like to see in 2016?
  • What are your top 5 wildlife stories of 2015?
  • What wild animals do you think are most in need of conservation help?