(TMU) – A vast swathe of the Amazon is teetering on the brink of disaster and risks crossing the tipping point of transforming from a closed canopy rainforest teeming with life to an open savannah with few trees as climate conditions deprive the region of rainfall and effectively kill its unique ecosystem, scientists have warned.
Rainforests are extremely sensitive to even the slightest changes in rainfall and moisture levels, and extended periods of drought and fire can be devastating in areas that rely on rain for sustenance. In the Amazon, such conditions would transform the lush rainforest into a semi-arid savannah-like mixture of woodland and grassland while also boosting the risk of fire.
While such dramatic changes to the Amazon were believed to be worst-case scenarios that could happen decades away, a team of Europe-based scientists warned on Monday that the tipping point is now dangerously close.
A new study published in the journal Nature Communications found that as much as 40 percent of the existing Amazon rainforest is already seeing so little rainfall that it could exist as a savannah-like environment, deprived of its canopy-like tree coverage and with far less biodiversity.
Researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Center used computer models and data analysis to stimulate the effect of continued climate change resulting from emissions from burning fossil fuels from now until the end of the century to find the results.
Rainforests typically create their own rainfall through water vapor, which then sustains and even extends the reach of tree levels.
However, when rain levels plummet, forest land also begins to fade away and degrade – resulting in a drier landscape that becomes more susceptible to the ravages of fire, drought, and ultimately, total deforestation.
The situation in the Amazon has only grown worse as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has stubbornly pushed forward the opening of the rainforest to economic development, unleashing a wave of human-caused fires meant to illegally clear one of the region so that it can be exploited by miners, cattle ranchers, loggers, and big agricultural interests.
This year’s fires in the Brazilian Amazon are the worst in a decade, marking a dizzying 60 percent rise in fire hotspots compared to last year’s infamous blazes.
The rainforest is so delicate that even the most subtle changes in climate conditions can have an outsized impact on the ecological balance of the environment, said the study’s lead author, Arie Staal.
“As forests grow and spread across a region, this affects rainfall,” he told The Guardian. “Forests create their own rain because leaves give off water vapor and this falls as rain further downwind. Rainfall means fewer fires leading to even more forests.”
However, the loss of large areas of rainforest mean a precipitous drop in rainfall levels across the region.
“Drier conditions make it harder for the forest to recover and increase the flammability of the ecosystem,” Staal said.
At that point, the rainforest crosses a threshold and converts into a savannah-type environment – a conversion that is difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.
“It is harder to return from the ‘trap’ caused by the feedback mechanism in which the open, grassy ecosystem is more flammable, and the fires, in turn, keep the ecosystem open,” Staal said.
Experts have warned that the Amazon rainforest is a crucial barrier to the catastrophic breakdown of global climate conditions. Without the Amazon rainforest, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions could become out of control and drive global warming to intolerable levels while the change in rainfall patterns could impact the entire Western Hemisphere.
Tragically, the loss of rainforests like the Amazon would also entail the extermination of a huge portion of global species.
“We understand now that rainforests on all continents are very sensitive to global change and can rapidly lose their ability to adapt,” said study co-author Ingo Fetzer of the Stockholm Research Center. “Once gone, their recovery will take many decades to return to their original state. And given that rainforests host the majority of all global species, all this will be forever lost.”
World’s Only White Giraffe Gets GPS Tracker After Poachers Killed His Family
The only known white giraffe in the world has been fitted with a tracking device to keep poachers away after its entire family was killed.
The unique creature has an extremely rare genetic trait known as leucism, which results in its white color. Unlike albinism, the loss of pigmentation is partial. However, the unusual coloration makes the animal desirable to unscrupulous poachers seeking a rare find in the wilderness.
The giraffe is currently staying at the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy in southeast Kenya. Earlier this month, conservationists fitted one of his horns with a GPS tracking device to ensure its survival, reports the BBC.
Conservationists say that the giraffe is the last of its kind that exists in the world, and have expressed concern that poachers could come to kill him after his two family members were killed in March.
The two relatives, a female and a seven-month-old calf with similar white skin, were found dead in a conservation zone in Garissa County in northeast Kenya, a large unfenced area where the male giraffe resides.
The three white giraffes had been “an immense source of pride in the Ishaqbini community” and garnered international attention over the years, the trust said in a Tuesday statement.
“The giraffe’s grazing range has been blessed with good rains in the recent past and the abundant vegetation bodes well for the future of the white male,” said Mohammed Ahmednoor, the manager of the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy.
The nonprofit group added that the tracking device would allow conservationists to see hourly updates on the whereabouts of the giraffe, granting rangers the ability to “keep the unique animal safe from poachers.”
The Kenya Wildlife Society, the main conservationist group overseeing the plight of wild animals in the eastern African nation, said that it was happy to assist any efforts on the ground to safeguard “unique wildlife like the only known white giraffe.”
The extremely rare creature was first spotted in March 2016, roughly two months after a reported sighting in neighboring Tanzania.
White giraffes appeared in world headlines one year later after the mother and her calf were caught on camera at the Garissa County conservancy.
Giraffes are native to over 15 African countries and are the world’s tallest mammals, reaching heights exceeding 18 feet. They primarily reside in savanna and woodland habitats, and subsist on a diet that includes flowers, fruits, leaves, and stems.
However, giraffes are coveted by poachers for their meat, skin, and body parts.
Around 40 percent of the giraffe population has been lost in the last 30 years, with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) blaming poaching and wildlife tracking for the precipitous decline. Fortunately, many giraffe populations enjoy various degrees of legal protection and are the focus of conservation efforts in their range states.
There are over 68,000 giraffes across the world, according to the foundation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List classifies the species as vulnerable, with one of the main threats to the animal coming from poaching as well as habitat loss due to uncontrolled mining and land conversion.
Playful Baby Elephant Caught Eating Sugarcane, Innocently Tries Hiding Behind Narrow Pole
An adorable baby elephant has been captured in photos while trying its best to hide behind a narrow light pole after being caught red-handed feasting upon sugar cane in a farm in Thailand.
The super-cute calf was caught on camera in Chiang Mai, large city in the mountainous north of the country where sugar cane is widely cultivated.
The playful baby elephant apparently believed that it could hide behind the slender light pole after humans approached it, in spite of its body being significantly wider and obviously noticeable.
When locals entered the farmer’s field with flashlights and approached the elephant, the innocent calf apparently attempted to stand perfectly still in the vain hope that it wouldn’t be detected.
The baby elephant’s hijinks, captured perfectly in photos, soon became the source of uproarious laughter for locals, Thai citizens, and countless people online as it made its rounds through social networks.
Some 7,000 elephants live in Thailand, with about half of the creatures living in captivity. The wild mammals live in the deep jungle and legal protections in national parks, but there is also significant friction with humans who gather and cultivate food in rural zones.
As a result, poor people including older rural folk and agricultural workers tend to have a negative outlook about the large mammals and see them as pests, according to a study by Thai foundation Bring the Elephant Home (BTEH). About 70 percent of the plantation owners working for sugar industry giants even wish that elephants would be totally eradicated, compared to 34 percent of households.
Elephants are a protected species in Thailand, and the killing of elephants carries a maximum prison term of up to three years and a 1,000 baht (USD $33) fine.
The elephant is a national animal of the country, and is seen as representing strength, resilience, and loyalty. The creature has held an important place in Thai and Buddhist culture and has been the basis of folklore in the Southeast Asian nation throughout its modern history. Elephants can be found in the clothing, popular culture, and even beer bottles of the country, and were even featured on the national flag until 1917.
Until 1989, elephants played a crucial role as laborers in the country’s commercial logging industries. When the country suspended logging, unemployed elephants could be found meandering across farmland or seeking shelter in highway underpasses.
Modern urban Thai architecture also features the huge mammal, with one example being the iconic Elephant Building, a high-rise that was built in 1997 in Bangkok and is shaped like an elephant.
Elephants in Thailand belong to the Indian elephant subspecies and the family of Asian elephants, which can be distinguished from their African counterparts by their noticeably smaller ears.
Indigenous Community in Canada Mourns After Poachers Kill Sacred White “Spirit Moose”
First Nation communities in Canada are in a state of shock and anger after a rare white moose, seen as a “spirit” animal to indigenous people, was killed by suspected poachers.
The rare white moose, seen as a sacred creature by the native culture, was killed by poachers near the city of Timmins, Ontario, leaving locals in a state of mourning.
The corpses of two female moose, including a majestic white cow, were discovered shot and discarded along a service road with their entire bodies intact, including the head, reports The Guardian.
Local residents have traditionally revered the white moose population – as wel as white animals including bison, ravens, and grizzly bears – who have a ghostly pallor due to a recessive gene, and have been sighted moving quietly among the aspen and pine forests of the region.
Community leaders are perplexed about the seemingly needless execution of the creature.
“Everybody is outraged and sad. Why would you shoot it? No one needs one that bad,” remarked Chief Murray Ray of the Flying Post First Nation. “If you have a license to shoot a cow moose, you could shoot another one. Just leave the white ones alone.”
The incident is now under investigation by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Signs around the area warn against killing the creatures, which are now under legal protection under laws that locals fought hard for.
“I really hope they find the people that are responsible for this and they’re charged,” Murray added.
Troy Woodhouse, a fellow member of the Flying Post First Nation community, noted that anyone who sees the moose in person would likely realize “how much of a sacred animal it is and rare and majestic to see.”
“It saddens me that somebody would take such a beautiful animal,” Woodhouse added. “Nobody knows exactly how many are in the area, so the loss of a single spirit moose is one too many.”
Woodhouse fondly remembers the first time that he saw a young white bull moose alongside his wife near the home of his grandfather’s home, which is also in the region.
“It was a sign that he’s watching over us on the land. It was very special to me,” he said.
Woodhouse has personally volunteered to give CAD $1,000 to anyone who volunteers any information that leads to the hunters’ arrest, or for them if the killing was a mistake and they decide to turn themselves in. Others, including animal rights activists and a drilling company, have contributed CAD $8,000 (USD $6,121) for a pool that will go to anyone who can help find the culprit.
“Maybe hunters tried to get one moose and got the other by accident,” he added. “If a person does come forward and admit what they did, I would put my portion towards any of their legal fees. There’s so much negativity in the world today. It’s nice to just see some people banding together and trying to turn this into something positive.”
The creatures are extremely rare in the region. Wildlife photographer Mark Clement, who says that he has seen at least four over the years, estimates that only 30 of the white moose reside in the area.
This isn’t the first time that the slaying of the creatures has outraged indigenous communities in Canada.
In 2013, three hunters killed a white moose in Nova Scotia and faced charges by the Mi’kmaq people. They were eventually forced to return the animal’s pelt to Mi’kmaq authorities so that a days-long mourning ceremony could be held to honor the rare and majestic creatures.
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