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“Hundreds of thousands, if not millions” of migratory birds drop dead across New Mexico

Wildlife experts are looking at the smoke from wildfires across western states as one of the main culprits.

Elias Marat

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(TMU) – Wildlife researchers in New Mexico and Colorado are aghast as a growing number of birds across the region are being discovered to have mysteriously died off in massive numbers.

In recent days, residents across the region have been finding the corpses of various migratory birds along hiking trails, missile ranges, and other locations.

Experts remain unclear about why exactly the huge die-off is occurring, although some believe that it could possibly be tied to a recent cold front, ongoing droughts, or even the tremendous amount of smoke being pumped out of the wildfires across western states.

“It is terribly frightening,” Prof. Martha Desmond of New Mexico State University’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology told Las Cruces Sun-News. “We’ve never seen anything like this. … We’re losing probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of migratory birds.”

Desmond and a team of wildlife experts at the Bureau of Land Management, NMSU, and White Sands Missile Range have been trying to ascertain the drastic and unexpected rise in bird deaths.

The impacted bird species include blackbirds, warblers, sparrows, swallows, flycatchers, and the western wood pewee.

“A number of these species are already in trouble,” Desmond said. “They are already experiencing huge population declines and then to have a traumatic event like this is – it’s devastating.” 

“People have been reporting that the birds look sleepy … they’re just really lethargic,” said Trish Cutler, a biologist at White Sands Missile Range.. “One thing we’re not seeing is our resident birds mixed in with these dead birds. We have resident birds that live here, some of them migrate and some of them don’t, but we’re not getting birds like roadrunners or quail or doves.” 

The cold snap that passed through the state is being looked at as one potential reason for the deaths.

However, Desmond told KOB that “What is odd is the fact that we’re seeing this occur beforehand and we’re seeing it occur since then.”

The ongoing dry spell in the state may have also played a role in the die-off, as could the toxic conditions created by the rampant wildfires plaguing the region.

“It can be related to some of the drought conditions,” Desmond said. “It could also be related to the fires in the west.”

 “There may have been some damage to these birds in their lungs [due to the fires],” Desmond added.

“They may have been pushed out before they were ready to migrate,” she explained. “They have to put on a certain amount of fat for them to be able to survive the migration. These birds migrate at night and they get up in the jet stream, and they might migrate for three nights in succession, they’ll come down and they’ll feed like crazy, put on more fat and go again.”

In video footage captured on Sept. 13 by journalist Austin Fisher while he was hiking in northern Rio Arriba County, large clusters of dead birds can be seen strewn across the trail.

“I have no idea,” Fisher can be heard saying while he panned the camera to reveal dozens of dead birds lying across the ground.

And as western states have been plunged into an unprecedented deluge of fires across multiple states, reports have emerged of birds disappearing from skies or worse, turning up dead.

Much still remains unknown about how wildfire smoke impacts bird populations, but researchers have noted that birds perpetually live on the edge.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently wrote on Twitter that “not much is known about the impacts of smoke and wildfires on birds.”

However, veterinarians and bird scientists have found that smoke can leave a damaging impact on the lung tissue of captive birds, leaving them susceptible to deadly respiratory infections, reports the Audubon Society. Research has also found that exposure to air pollution causes respiratory distress in birds and increases their susceptibility to respiratory infections.

“We do know that exposure to particulate matter, which of course is of great concern for human health, can affect birds as well,” said Olivia Sanderfoot, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Washington Seattle who studies the impact of air pollution on birds.

Since 1970, bird populations in North America have plummeted by 29 percent, or three billion birds. According to a 2019 study, rampant high temperatures resulting from climate change are drastically altering the migration patterns of bird species. With pastures and grasslands being converted to crops, nesting places have dwindled along with the mass die-offs of insects eliminated by pesticides.

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Animals

Surfing Sea Lions Have a Blast as They Ride and Flip Through Gnarly California Waves in Video

Elias Marat

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Surfers know that in terms of the best places to catch the best breaks and surf zones, few regions can compete with California’s central coast. From Malibu through Ventura to Santa Barbara County, up through SLO to the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz, the Gold Coast arguably has no rivals in the U.S. in terms of its natural beauty and spectacular waves.

But while California’s beaches have long been synonymous with the surfing world, it would appear that actual sea lions from the regional are also enjoying the gnarly wakesurfs and sick swells on offer throughout the central coast.

In brilliant video captured last week off Santa Barbara Island, within the Channel Islands National Park just west of Los Angeles, sea lions can be seen surfing the massive waves with the sort of natural skill that only evolutionary forces can mold.

In the footage, the nimble pinnipeds can be seen riding and flipping about while taking huge leaps through the giant swells. The video was captured via high-speed photography, far too fast for sound to be recorded.

So Ryan Lawler, who runs Pacific Offshore Expeditions, paired the footage to the iconic hit from the Surfaris, “Wipeout.”

The energetic footage was captured by a documentary crew that included a National Geographic cameraman during a Jan. 7 outing with Pacific Offshore Expeditions.

 “Our trip to Santa Barbara Island was bumpy and dive conditions questionable,” the company wrote on its Instagram post of the video. “But what we found in light of this was a wonderful surprise: surfing sea lions! None of us had ever seen such sustained and enthusiastic wave riding from pinnipeds before. It was a joy to watch!”

The scene was so remarkable that the crew eagerly returned to Santa Barbara Island for more footage after checking out the footage that they shot.

“On the exposed side of the island the swell was huge but we found some sun,” Lawler told For The Win Outdoors. “As we rounded the southern portion of the island, which has an islet called Sutil Island, we noticed sea lions flying out of the back of the waves. It was an awesome moment.”

Like most priceless moments in the majestic Channel Islands, however, the session was all too brief – and was totally skunked by the thick, foggy marine layer of an unseasonably hot January.

“I had never seen that before at this island, which is well known for its sea lions,” Lawler continued. “So we stayed there for 20 minutes, observing and waiting for the sun to break up the fog. Then we dove for about 90 minutes and came back, but all the sea lions had disappeared.”

Sea lions have long been known to be powerful and agile swimmers who are even known to body surf on occasion, but scenes such as these are very difficult to capture.

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Federal Investigation Launched For Florida Manatee Found With ‘TRUMP’ Scraped on Its Back

Elias Marat

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While the United States remains caught in the throes of the fallout of last week’s storming of the U.S. Capitol Building by pro-Trump rioters, authorities are seeking the details of a far different type of political crime far from Washington.

Last Sunday, an endangered Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) was discovered by a boat captain in the waters of the Homosassa River with the word “TRUMP” written on its back. The case of animal abuse was first reported by the Citrus County Chronicle.

The sad assault on wildlife would seem shocking until recent years, but it’s only the latest in a disturbing trend of animals being branded with the names of politicians, with a black bear in Asheville, North Carolina, also being found last year with a Trump 2020 sticker affixed to its collar.

However, officials with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are taking this latest incident very seriously and have launched a full investigation of the harassment of a federally protected marine mammal. Anyone found responsible for this latest crime could find themselves liable to pay up to $100,000 while also facing up to a year in federal prisons.

Fortunately, early reports that the word was “carved” into the manatee’s back proved to be inaccurate, so it appears that the manatee hasn’t been injured. According to a statement by USFWS quoted by the Miami Herald, “it seems the word was written in algae on the animal’s back.”

“Manatees aren’t billboards, and people shouldn’t be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), in a press release. “However, this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it’s a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws.”

Florida manatees enjoy a range of special protections due to their unfortunate position as a threatened and very slow-moving animal. Any interference with the gentle giants carries heavy penalties under the 1972 U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, the 1973 U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the 1978 Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. Even President Trump himself signed into law the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act in 2019, which makes intentional acts of cruelty to animals a crime punishable by federal law that could result in seven years in prison and heavy fines.

Regardless of whether the creature sustained a serious injury, authorities are keen on bringing the vandal to justice, with the CBD offering a $5,000 reward for any information that can lead to apprehending the culprit of the crime.

“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” Lopez told the Herald. “It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately.”

The specific animal is a West Indian manatee, which is a species known to congregate in secluded, spring-fed waters of Citrus County during this time of the year.

“This is very out of character for this community,” said Craig Cavanna, a senior federal wildlife officer and current investigating officer. “Wildlife conservation is a core value in Citrus County. That’s why it’s called the Nature Coast.”

Manatees are lovingly known as “sea cows” due to their placid, bovine disposition and penchant for munching on water grasses, weeds and algae. In addition to being the Sunshine State’s marine mammal, the manatee is also one of the most strange and charismatic aquatic creatures in the United States. Its gassy diet means that it retains a large amount of methane in its gut, which it uses to regulate its buoyancy and reach the surface easily. Whenever it wants to sink back to the depths, it simply farts to release its gas.

Such a gentle and unique creature hardly deserves to have the name of America’s outgoing president scrawled onto its skin, so anyone with information related to this incident is encouraged to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 or the USFWS wildlife crime tips hotline at 1-844-397-8477 and email at [email protected]

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Ex-Soldier Raids Animal Shelter With Assault Rifle, in Full Tactical Gear, To Get Cat Back

Elias Marat

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An ex-soldier in full tactical gear armed with an assault rifle launched a one-man raid on an animal shelter after he believed that his missing cat was being held at the facility.

The strange chain of events unfolded Monday in the southeastern suburbs of Melbourne, a court has learned, and offers a strange twist on your Rambo-style tale of a combat veteran running amok in the civilian world.

Tony Wittmann, a 44-year-old father of three and veteran of the Australian Army, was reportedly so enraged when he was informed by workers at the Lost Dogs’ Home in Melbourne that he threatened the shelter worker with a loaded assault rifle before tying her up and holding her captive in the parking lot of the facility.

“Do as I say and listen to me, I won’t shoot you,” he allegedly threatened her, according to reports from the court. “Don’t try anything or I’ll shoot you.”

The former soldier, who was discharged for a failure to render efficient service, is now facing multiple serious charges including kidnapping, false imprisonment, and armed robbery.

Wittmann was clad in a military-style flak vest, balaclava, and tactical helmet when he stormed the Cranbourne West animal shelter on Monday night after learning that his cat was being held overnight at the shelter.

Upon learning that the shelter would be unable to release his feline friend until the next morning, the former soldier decided to escalate matters by invading the premises and brandishing his assault weapon at the worker. According to her, the firearm looked like “something a SWAT team in the movies would use.”

The unhinged gunman then proceeded to grill the woman about “where all the cats were” as he continued brandishing the weapon with his finger on the trigger. He eventually forced the woman to get on her knees before he tied her hands behind her back with zip-ties.

“The accused said, ‘I’m going to close this door. If I see you, I’ll shoot you,’” Detective Senior Constable Jo MacDonald told the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

After Wittmann left, the woman eventually managed to free herself before notifying her boss, who promptly alerted local authorities.

The next morning, as detectives combed over the scene for any evidence of the strange incursion, Wittmann returned to retrieve his cat. In addition to failing to get his cat back, he was also detained and jailed, and has been deprived of the right to post bail.

“The community would be at risk personally of him committing further offences if granted bail,” Magistrate Greg McNamara said. “The strength of the prosecution case is a very strong one. Firearms were involved, loaded firearms.”

The crime has also left victims in a state of fear over what transpired, according to officials.

“On this occasion, [Wittman has] acted to get back possession of a cat, which he was only going to be without for possibly 10 hours,” MacDonald informed the court. “The victim and her work colleagues are absolutely traumatized by what’s happened.”

“He’s aware of their workplace. He lives close by. He has shown a complete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of the general public,” MacDonald continued.

“He has collected a series of weapons. I’ve looked through his mobile telephone which highlights he’s purchased further weapons which are due to be delivered to his home address.”

In Wittmann’s defense, attorney Crystle Gomez Vasquez said that he had suffered a number of physical injuries and was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder due to his military service.

Wittmann is due to return to court in April.

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