Archive for November, 2009

Ilya, the Florida manatee rescued from New York harbor two weeks ago, should be well enough to be released in the Florida Keys in about a month, says Dr. Maya Rodriguez, the veterinarian at the Miami Seaquarium, which supplied the picture of Ilya (left) swimming with his poolmate.

“We expect him to get a clean medical mill in next couple weeks,” says Dr. Rodriguez. Identified by his mangled tail and white scar on his forehead, Ilya at least didn’t pick up any new distinguishing scars on his journey up to Cape Cod that perplexed marine biologists. 
Stuck in the cold water of New York harbor, Ilya initially suffered cold stress, which can shut down manatees’ long digestive track and immune system. He lost about 100 of his 1,200 pounds, had low blood sugar and was having trouble digesting, Dr. Rodriguez says. A video (below) of the event shows him getting wrapped in mylar survival blankets and getting spritzed with water to keep moist.

Ilya is recuperating in a 82 degree saltwater pool at the Seaquarium with an orphaned, female,  18-month-old manatee picked up in the Everglades and named Glade. Normally Dr. Rodriguez would be reluctant to put such a big male in with her but Ilya has been very gentle. “He’s just a really docile manatee,” Dr. Rodriguez says. 
Ilya is unusual among manatees, which normally handle food just with their prehensible lips, because he grabs with his flippers. “He’s all flippers,” says Dr. Rodriguez. Ilya, who touches noses with Glade, has even taught his new companion to pick up lettuce with flippers.

Since the water in Florida is still warm, Dr. Rodriguez will wait a bit to release him so he isn’t tempted to head north again. Manatees need to stay in Florida (often by the warm water of hot springs or power plant outflows) over the winter but migrate in all directions away in the summer. Ilya was caught on the third attempt near the outflow of the Conoco-Phillips in the Arthur Kill, which separates New Jersey from Staten Island. 

Ilya kept coming back for the 75 degree water even though it was in a heavily industrialized area; the rest of the harbor was in the 50s. Plant workers kept a close eye out for him and alerted rescuers when he returned. The video shows the rescue workers lining up and splashing the water to goad him towards the giant net. A huge team of oil workers, volunteers from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, local EMT divers and federal wildlife agencies pitched in to save the endangered manatee.

Wanna see a manatee at one of the places they huddle to keep warm this winter? Try these hotspots.

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Literary agent Pamela Brodowsky people who travel to see animals will want have to dream about travel adventures. Destination Wildlife: An international site-by-site guide to the best places to experience endangered, rare and fascinating animals an their habitats gives you places and animals to aspire to see around the globe.

The book is exactly what you’d want to have on hand through a cold winter weekend when you’re dreaming about where you could travel next year. You’ll need some other books to get into the specifics of travel to all those destinations, but this is a nice way to browse your options. Written with the National Wildlife Federation, you can be pretty sure these are ways to see animals that aren’t going to hurt or exploit them.

Brodowsky is extremely diplomatic in describing the one place in the book I’d question: the wild horses of Assateague and Chincoteague. She describes the roundup of horses, some of which will be sold, adding “Depending on your personal preference, you might want to join or avoid the pony-swim crowd.” Fair enough, but I’d go further and say that many people who love wild horses would be disturbed by the round-up–especially since the horses are managed so differently on each side of the Maryland-Virginia border. The Maryland folks use the Humane Society’s birth control procedures (and allow dogs); the Virginian manage the herd to sell off horses every year to support their fire department (and ban dogs from the island, even inside cars). Which would you rather support? 

I would have liked to see some glossy color pictures and maps, a fuller representation of wildlife everywhere and a greater willingness to consider places outside big national parks and sanctuaries. Animaltourism.com tries to give people practical wildlife options close to home. But we need all kinds of wildlife watchers and guides to promote sustainable, responsible wildlife watching. Brodowsky does uncover a few rare gems, like Monkeyland, a primate sanctuary in South Africa, and specific inns to stay at to see the friendly gray whales off Baja, California. I bet her book inspires lots of great adventures.

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A Scourge of Bunny Rabbits?

Stadspark (City Park) in Antwerp, Belgium, has bunnies like Central Park has squirrels. At first I didn’t believe a local who told me of the roaming rabbits, but they aren’t hard to find. In fact, they were hard to miss. Black, white, multi-color rabbits that had clearly been released from careless pet owners, nonchalantly gathered in clusters and hopped across paths.

Antwerp is not alone. It’s just one of many places around the world facing a surging rabbit population. Stockholm parks managers kill thousands of rabbits a year, so many that this year they decided to start burning them as fuel. England is worried of a rabbit surge. Even Mike Ballast, the composer who wrote theme song for the embattled rabbits of Watership Down, has been wiping out rabbits on his estate. In British Columbia, the town of Kelowna has been hunting bunnies with air rifles, but will now catch them and try to give them to rabbit rescue groups or neuter them like feral cats.

What’s going on here? There are two kinds of rabbits: wild and dumped pets.Both groups are benefiting from some changes: in Europe 95% of rabbits were wiped out by the myxomatosis virus in the 1950s. But resistant rabbits thrived and over the decades the population came back to levels not seen in many people’s lifetimes. Some also think global warming lets them overwinter in places that were once inhospitable. And there’s the lack of natural predators. Or even unnatural predators, like unleashed dogs, which have vanished since the 1950s.

The dumped pets generally can’t survive in a real forest; they starve to death or are eaten by predators, according to the House Rabbit Society. A predator-free city park with human feeders can be another story. Some of the rabbits I saw in Antwerp were babies–too cute to have been dumped. So I think they’re successful enough to breed. People who dump pets are hard to catch–unless the cities start requiring microchips in rabbits, which could quickly put an end to the problem.

What’s odd is that there’s been little effort to introduce natural predators. That’s admittedly difficult in a city park. But fox and rabbits are the classic population cycle relationship biologists have been using for decades. English pest control agents are using ferrets to chase them out of holes. If there are any natural predators out there, they’re likely to start surging on their own with this healthy diet.

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