Earth Day is a time to reflect! It is a wonderful world of nature that we live in, but so much is threatened. So much is at risk. What will the experiences of nature be for our grandchildren, and for their grandchildren. This post is a compilation of some of the beauty I have experienced, along with a few reflections.
An old lion, returning to its harem. Seen in the Madikwe Reserve in South Africa. Lions are stable in population in protected areas in South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana but have declined by about 90% over the last century. Poaching is a serious problem.
Iceberg at dusk, Twillingate, NL. Icebergs are an appropriate symbol for climate change, as they break off from the melting icecaps of the Arctic and Antarctic.
The Aletsch Glacier of Jungfrau in Switzerland. The glaciers of the Alps are in serious decline.
Melting glacial water from the Columbia Icefields in Alberta.
Plains bison fighting in North Dakota. Prior to European colonization, it is estimated that there were between 30 – 60 million plains bison in North America. They were brought to near- extinction by the late Nineteenth Century. Protection of herds, and establishment of wildlife refuges has brought their population back to the range of 20 000 animals. Their status is classified as “Near Threatened”.
Whooping crane chick with parent and sandhill crane, Wheeler National Wildlife Area in Alabama. Another species nearly brought to extinction (only 21 alive in 1941). A great deal of effort has gone into preserving the species since then. There is now a stable migrating whooping crane population in Western North America of some 700 birds. The numbers in Eastern North America are much lower- now estimated at 75. It has been estimated that 20% of the migratory birds in the East over the last twenty years have been shot. Although substantial fines can be levied for illegal shooting of whooping cranes, the imposition of fines is erratic. One individual in Indiana was fined only one dollar plus $500 in court fees by the judge who heard the case.
Humpback whale, starting a dive, Bulls Bay NL. This whale, like so many other whale species was hunted excessively (95 % reduction in numbers). This whale grows to a length of up to 55 feet, and can be found in every ocean of the world. With the end of whale hunting by most countries in the world in the 1960’s and with significant conservation efforts, their numbers have increased and it is generally estimated that there are now about 100 000. Collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing gear and climate change are the most significant hazards for these giants.
Woodland caribou. NL. This species has probably been extirpated in the lower 48 states. There are seriously declining numbers in most of Canada although populations are strong in Newfoundland (estimate of 85 000). The reduction in numbers is due to human activity. While wolves are a natural predator, it is loss of habitat and human activity that have had the greatest impact on populations.
Yellow lady slipper (orchid), Bruce Peninsula, ON. While this species of wild orchid is not particularly threatened, there are more than 200 species of orchid in North America that are threatened due to loss of habitat or illegal harvesting.
Monarch butterfly, MN. This beautiful insect has one of the most interesting migration stories of any species. A complete migration cycle (up to 2500 miles in each direction) requires four generations, while each generation has four stages (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly). Habitat loss in the wintering grounds and heavy use of herbicides that has substantially reduced the presence of milkweed (required for monarch eggs) threatens this species.
Northern elephant seals, northern California. This is another species, hunted to near extinction in the Nineteenth Century. Conservation efforts have been successful and it is estimated there are now more than 120 000.
Northern gannets, Cape St. Mary, NL. This is the largest sea bird of the North Atlantic and breeds on high, largely inaccessible cliffs above the North Atlantic, where they are generally free from predators. Populations are stable despite declining fish populations, but this is a bird that has shown remarkable adaptation. It is a fish feeder and can dive to great depths. It however has learned to look for fishing boats that discard unwanted species. (Research done by the University of Exeter). In the longer term, it is threatened by declining fish stocks.