These Arctic heavyweights use their massive bow-shaped heads to crash through sea ice—and they also smash a couple of records. Weighing in at up to 60 tons, bowhead whales hold the record for the biggest mouth of any living animal and they have the densest blubber, measuring up to 2-feet thick.
In a whale’s world it’s a bonus to be big, and that means bowheads have few natural predators. Even so, by the early 20th century, whalers had nearly pushed the population into the abyss, relentlessly hunting bowheads for their bones and blubber—key ingredients in household products of the day like corsets and oil.
Today many countries including the United States have strict laws prohibiting commercial whaling, but threats persist. Scientists say that new plans to drill for oil off Alaska’s northern coast could harm these graceful goliaths. If they’re right, being “hardheaded” may not be enough for bowheads to hang on.
Take a look at the leaner greenerDefenders. Check out “A Bird’s Eye View” on climate change to see the startling impacts already occurring. Meet Chris Haney, our chief scientist and find out what can be done to help our feathered friends. Get some good news on Mexican wolves. Learn what Defenders is doing to make sure renewable energy is smart from the start. And celebrate other wildlife successes thanks to you, our great members and activists.
Scar Face. Silver Eye. Ma di Tau—no, these characters have nothing to do with Al Pacino or James Bond. They’re wild animals in Botswana’s Okavango Delta and central figures in National Geographic’s feature documentary The Last Lions.
The film follows the harsh travails of Ma di Tau, a lone lioness, as she tries to protect her cubs from an invading pride of lions. Every last hunting instinct is tested as she tracks a herd of water buffalo in search of a much-needed meal. The only things that stand in her way are Silver Eye, the head lioness of the rival pride, and Scar Face, the headstrong bull leading the buffalo herd. (Not to mention giant alligators, sporadic brush fire, and the advancing edges of human civilization).
Lions may sit atop the food chain, but life is anything but easy for these sophisticated predators. They compete fiercely with each other over territory. They must be able to take down animals five times their size. They must fend off scavenging packs of hyenas. They must protect their young which are virtually helpless for the first year of their lives.
Each day presents a new challenge that hones their survival skills, and these difficult days are beautifully captured in The Last Lions.
This true story is the latest work from Emmy-award-winning filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who have studied wildlife in Africa for nearly three decades. The Jouberts have been “explorers-in-residence” at National Geographic for the last four years where they helped established the Big Cats Initiative to raise awareness and promote lasting conservation solutions. More recently, the Jouberts have started to collaborate with Defenders, including contributing an article, Can We Save Lions? for the Fall 2010 issue of Defenders Magazine. (Make sure you check out the slideshow of amazing photos that accompanies the piece!)
African lions, in particular, are in critical need of help. In just 50 years, the population has plummeted from an estimated 450,000 lions to as few as 20,000. Poaching, trophy hunting, commercial trade, disease, habitat destruction and conflicts with local communities are all significant threats to the long-term survival of lions in Africa.
Maasai Lion Guardians in Kenya.
Last year, Defenders helped provide funding for the Lion Guardians program in Kenya that trains Maasai warriors to track lions and prevent conflict with livestock. And Defenders President Rodger Schlickeisen will travel to Africa once again this summer to see what else can be done to help save African lions.
In the meantime, don’t miss the gripping tale of Ma di Tau and her cubs in The Last Lions, premiering in theatres across the country this week. Find a showing near you.
VIDEO: Jeff Corwin explores the impacts of climate change on monarch butterflies
Autumn is one of the coolest times of year — and I don’t just mean “coolest” as in “brrr.” After all, it’s when we see leaves all over change color and fall, squirrels gather nuts and great flocks of birds head south for the winter.
But if you’re lucky, you’ll see fall’s most enchanting spectacle: 250 million monarch butterflies filling the autumn sky on their annual migration from the eastern United States and Canada to Central Mexico. You can find migrating monarchs in the Great Lakes region, in the Midwest, along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in Texas.
Courtesy of U.S. National Park Service
Scientists can neither explain exactly why monarchs migrate, nor say precisely how monarchs navigate the 3,000-mile-long journey — just that the sun keeps them on course.
The monarch’s amazing instincts are also of great interest to researchers. “Migrating monarchs live for eight or nine months, compared to just two to five weeks for monarchs at other life stages,” according to a report in Defenders magazine. Yet they somehow know which direction to go, how high to fly, and other bits of knowledge – perhaps inherited from generations past.
One thing is certain, however, the mystery behind their journey makes it all the more magical.
But monarch migrations may one day disappear. Habitat loss due to logging in Mexico, agriculture, forest fires and climate change are some of the many threats facing this “regal” butterfly.
Over the years, bats have gained a fearsome reputation due to their nocturnal behaviors and Dracula’s fame. But if you actually take a closer look, you’ll find that instead of looking scary, bats are actually quite cute! More important, they are vital members of the natural world because they pollinate plants and eat pest insects that damage crops.
Bats with white nose syndrome
What’s really scary is that many of those insect-eating bats in the Northeast are dying in large numbers from a mysterious disease called white nose syndrome (WNS), which is a fungal infection that affects hibernating bats in cave ecosystems. The fungus responsible for WNS is new to science and is named Geomyces destructens. A fuzzy white growth on the bats’ muzzles gives the disease its name, but the fungal growth has also been found on their ears, tails and the tender tissue of their wings. Scientists believe that bats are waking up more often during winter, perhaps as a result of the disease, and are dying because they use up all their already depleted fat reserves.
Now what are the economic impacts of these bat die-offs? An average of one million bats, the number of estimated WNS fatalities to date, consume around 700 tons of insects, most of which are crop pests. So in the absence of these natural pest controllers, farmers will have to spend a lot more to manage the pest insects that affect their crops.
Six species of bats have been affected by the disease, and little brown bats have taken the brunt of it. If the disease rages on at current levels, they will soon lose their status as the most abundant bat species in the U.S.
WNS first drew public attention in 2006 when wildlife officials and cavers began to see hundreds of dead bats littering the floors of caves. Since then, it has spread so rapidly that it is now present in states all the way from Vermont to Missouri and Oklahoma – as of now, it has been documented in 13 states. Six species of bats have been affected by the disease, and little brown bats have taken the brunt of it. If the disease rages on at current levels, they will soon lose their status as the most abundant bat species in the U.S. Endangered species like Indiana and gray bats are also highly vulnerable to this disease, and since they hibernate in a few select colonies, it wouldn’t take much at all to drive these two species to extinction.
While scientists continue to discover new information about the disease every day, there are still many unknowns. Extensive research is needed to answer these questions, and in turn, funding is necessary to carry out this research. You can help by writing to your Congress members and asking them to increase federal funding for WNS research. Find out more about this deadly disease in the latest issue of Defenders magazine.
We love them. We fear them. We stand in awe of them.
Lions have inspired strong emotions in humans since prehistoric times. These great cats have come to symbolize power, nobility and fearlessness in cultures around the world, and their images appear everywhere—on flags, currency, statues, corporate logos, sports teams’ uniforms.
But our esteem for lions hasn’t stopped us from killing them mercilessly. In just the past half century, lion numbers have dropped from about 450,000 to 20,000 or fewer today. If we don’t act now, the “king of beasts” could disappear from the wild in a decade, says noted wildlife filmmaker Dereck Joubert in the latest issue of Defenders magazine.
Dereck and his wife, Beverly, have spent most of the past 30 years in the African bush observing, filming and documenting lions and other big cats for the National Geographic Society and other major publishers and broadcasters. They have witnessed first-hand the toll on lions taken by hunting, poaching, habitat loss, the trade in traditional medicines and, lately, poisoning and global warming.
In just the past half century, lion numbers have dropped from about 450,000 to 20,000 or fewer today. If we don’t act now, the “king of beasts” could disappear from the wild in a decade.
Seeing these grisly impacts and alarmed about the future of their beloved cats, “Beverly and I decided that inspiring people is just not enough—we had to roll up our sleeves and get involved directly in conservation,” writes Dereck. They have set up the Big Cats Initiative, and with help from National Geographic and Defenders of Wildlife, they are working to halt the decline in lion numbers by 2015. In addition to educating people around the world about the big cats’ plight, they are working with African communities to set up ecotourism projects, compensate herders for livestock losses from lions and other steps to bolster local support for protecting big cats.