In my first piece for Discover's "The Crux" blog I take a look at the tentative resurgence of South Asia's vulture species, which were almost driven to extinction through eating the carcasses of livestock treated with an anti-inflammatory drug call diclofenac--good for cattle, deadly for vultures. Especially in India, where cattle are considered sacred and beef is verboten among observant Hindus, the pileups of deceased cattle pose enormous health risks in the form of disease outbreaks, It's hoped that the delegalization of diclofenac will allow these aerial purifiers the chance to once again clean the subcontinent.
In today's Mongabay I take a long hard look at the incessant corruption and failure to enforce poorly-drafted legal codes that is crippling efforts to preserve orangutans, gibbons, gorillas and chimpanzees in Southeast Asia and West Africa. Industrial agriculture--much of it in the form of palm oil plantations--is benefitting from corrupt local officials and centralized despots to destroy ape habitat in tropical forests.
The lovely Iberian lynx is slowly recovering from near extinction due to habitat loss and poaching, but a new threat could send populations plummeting again: climate change. For my first piece for Yale Environment360, I take a look at the work being done by Spanish and Portuguese scientists to ensure that this lovely little predator will stalk the maquis thickets and sere grasslands of Iberia for centuries to come.
For my second feature for Mongabay I took a look at the insidious network of trafficking in wildlife--the living and the dead--that is plundering the world's richest rainforest of its wonderful wildlife. In writing this piece I learned two surprising things: first, that the market for live animals for the "pet" trade isn't just about exporting macaws overseas, but that Latin American cultures are very much mired in an ingrained fixation on the display of captive native wildlife for social appeal. Second, that one of the biggest markets for wildlife and their organs, skins, bones and lives is right here in the US, which next to China is the largest market in the world for endangered species.
A few years ago I wrote a feature about white-nose syndrome, the devastating exotic disease that has wiped out millions of bats in the eastern US. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the plague is now moving westward into Nebraska, and if a cure isn't found soon scientists worry it will infect such meccas for America's flying mammals as Carlsbad Caverns. Who wants to live in a world without bats?
As a fan of vultures since childhood (what kind of Kentucky boy isn't?) it's awful to see the rate at which Africa's beautiful giants are being annihilated by poachers, traffickers and herders poisoning livestock carcasses in a misguided attempt to kill predators. For my first piece for the online environmental magazine Mongabay.com, I take a look at how the loss of these marvelous animals would spread disease and radically impact ecosystem health on a continent undergoing an annihilative war for its wildlife.
Earlier this summer an article of mine, on the Africa's only wolf and the world's most endangered canid, was posted to the African Wildlife Foundation's blog. These marvelous predators, under immediate threat of extinction from an exploding human population and diseases spread by domestic dogs, have a remarkable hunting strategy that involves a baboon-like giant monkey called the gelada, about which my colleague wrote in his excellent blog for Scientific America, "Extinction Countdown." I'll be writing about this relationship myself shortly, again for the AWF; the Ethiopian wolf is an absolutely unique species in desperate need of our help. For more information have a look at AWF's website and that of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme.
Too often when weighing the economic or social costs of preserving dwindling species and their habitats we tend to justify these expenditures in purely selfish terms, grasping for potential medical, monetary or technological benefits that might accrue to us if we choose to allow some species or other to go on living. As conservation writer Richard Conniff succinctly points out in a recent post to the New York Times, the sheer beauty, terror and wonder of the natural world has value in and of itself, and swaddling the real need for conservation in the dreary language of cost/benefit only degrades efforts at environmental preservation by sullying the empiric right of other animals to simply survive the Anthropocene.
William H. Funk
I'm a freelance writer focusing on natural history, conservation, and environmental law, policy and politics.