(TMU) – As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grind on, endangering human lives and inflicting massive losses on the economy, many parts of the world are getting ready to enter their third month of lockdown.
However, the crisis being experienced by society continues to have a silver lining when it comes to wildlife and ecology – especially at a popular national park in Thailand, which been reclaimed by wild elephants.
The Khao Yai National Park is typically bustling with massive crowds of tourists. But as a result of over two months of restrictions on travel and tourism – unprecedented since the park opened nearly 60 years ago – the Southeast Asian animal sanctuary is enjoying a renaissance, with the park’s elephants enjoying the benefits of an absence of humans.
The New York Times reports that the park’s elephants have been able to enjoy a number of locations in the park that had been developed and thus off-limits for several years. However, with the pandemic continuing to prevent tourists from visiting – and thus packing the area with jeeps and crowds – the park’s 300 or so elephants have been free to roam cement-paved parts of the park that had prevented their access to the river.
Khao Yai was established in 1962 as Thailand’s first national park, and spans over 775 square miles (2,000 square km) of rainforest, evergreen forest, and grassland. In addition to the hundreds of elephant residents, the park is also home to wild animals such as gibbons, pig-tailed macaques, porcupines, civets, numerous bear species. Around 445 species of birds and 85 species of reptile also reside in the national park, according to Thai National Parks.
The park was the site of tragedy last October when a large number of elephants fell to their deaths as they each attempted to rescue a baby elephant that slipped and fell from the edge of a waterfall known as Haew Narok, or “Hell’s Fall.”
While initial reports focused on the on the six dead elephants that were found at the site, officials later found that eleven elephants had died – including the three-year-old baby elephant calf whose drowning compelled the other members of the herd to jump into the “Ravine of Hell.”
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In 1992, a herd of eight elephants died also after falling from the waterfall.
Prominent conservationist Kemthong Morat launched a hunger strike to bring attention to the threat to elephants posed by the development of the lush region. The Thai activist told The Times:
“The deaths of the 11 elephants were preventable and the mismanagement by the park was preventable.
“They seem to forget that the national park’s purpose is for research and conservation. Khao Yai’s big tourism revenues made them forget the main purpose of the park.”
However, the current respite has been obvious to the park’s workers. On the official Khao Yai Facebook page, posts have celebrated otters returning to sunbathe in the river while chipmunk pups can be seen jumping through tree branches. Local endemic species such as the serow and dhole can also be seen scampering through the park’s lush meadows.
Posted by อุทยานแห่งชาติเขาใหญ่ – Khao Yai National Park on Sunday, May 31, 2020
Meanwhile, elephants have been free to dine on foliage and stroll through the roads without having to flee to dangerous cliffsides in fear of fast-moving vehicles and loud, thronging tourist crowds.
And with wildlife enjoying this apparent resurgence, national park veterinarian Chananya believes that the lockdown’s effects should be an eye-opener for authorities.
“We should consider if we should close down the park every year. Nature can restore itself to its fullest,” she said.
Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida
A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.
In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.
“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.
Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.
Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.
Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.
Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.
However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.
Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son
A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.
The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.
The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.
“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.
“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.
The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.
The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.
“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.
The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.
Blue Whales Return to Spain’s Coast After Disappearing for 40 Years
Blue whales have been returning to the Atlantic coast of Spain after an absence of over 40 years in the region, when whaling industries drove the species to the brink of extinction.
Blue whales, which are the world’s largest mammals, had long disappeared from the region until the recent sightings.
The first was spotted off the coast of Galicia near Ons Island by marine biologist Bruno Díaz, who heads the Bottlenose Dolphin Research.
Another one of the majestic creatures was spotted the following year in 2018 and yet another in 2019. In 2020, two whales again made their return to the area.
It remains unclear as of yet as to why the creatures have returned to the area, but controls on local whaling industries are believed to play a role.
“I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” Díaz remarked, according to the Guardian. “In the 1970s, just before the ban was introduced, an entire generation of blue whales disappeared. Now, more than 40 years later, we’re seeing the return of the descendants of the few that survived.”
Whaling had been a traditional industry in Galicia for hundreds of years before Spain finally acted to ban whaling in 1986, long after the blue whale’s presence in the region had faded away.
Some fear that the return of the massive sea mammals is a sign of global warming.
“I’m pessimistic because there’s a high possibility that climate change is having a major impact on the blue whale’s habitat,” said marine biologist Alfredo López in comments to La Voz de Galicia.
“Firstly, because they never venture south of the equator, and if global warming pushes this line north, their habitat will be reduced,” he continued “And secondly, if it means the food they normally eat is disappearing, then what we’re seeing is dramatic and not something to celebrate.”
Díaz said that while the data certainly supports this theory, it is too early to determine climate as the precise cause.
“It is true that the data we have points to this trend [climate change] but it is not enough yet,” he told Público news.
Another possibility is that the ancestral memory of the old creatures or even a longing for their home may offer an explanation, according to Díaz.
“In recent years it’s been discovered that the blue whale’s migration is driven by memory, not by environmental conditions,” he said. “This year there hasn’t been a notable increase in plankton, but here they are. Experiences are retained in the collective memory and drive the species to return.”
In recent years, researchers have found that migratory patterns are also driven by the cultural knowledge existing in many groups of species.
Researchers believe this type of folk memory, or cultural knowledge, exists in many species and is key to their survival.
A typical blue whale is 20-24 metres long and weighs 120 tonnes – equivalent to 16 elephants – but specimens of up to 30 metres and 170 tonnes have been found.