While California communities await the worst, El Niño is already taking a toll on local wildlife
As West Coast communities brace for what many are calling “Godzilla” El Niño, scientists are looking beneath the waves to learn more about the upcoming storm season. And if this year’s wildlife anomalies are any indication, this El Niño could be the strongest in decades. In this America Tonight excerpt, Joie Chen looks at what could be the strongest El Niño on record.
SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. plans to phase out killer-whale shows at its San Diego park next year and launch a program in 2017 that would focus on conservation and keeping the animals in a more natural setting, company officials said Monday.
Hundreds of illegal hunters of the rhinoceros in South Africa’s Kruger national park have been shot dead by rangers in the past five years, but the temptation of a rich reward to end an impoverished life in Mozambique keeps them coming
The well-heeled tourists filing through the modest airport at Hoedspruit – Afrikaans for Hat Creek – look carefree and expectant. Guides are standing by to transport them to luxurious bush lodges offering spa treatments, campfire dinners and dawn and dusk game drives offering a potential glimpse of Africa’s “big five”.
But something is different from the safaris enjoyed by the privileged generations of the past. At the 36,000-acre Moditlo private game reserve near Kruger national park, for example, the rhinos do not have horns – they have been removed for their own safety. And during night safaris on dirt tracks under the majesty of a star-studded sky visitors are warned not to use torches, lest they be confused with poachers. When guests – usually affluent and white – gaze from air-conditioned bedrooms into the perfect darkness of the bush, few are likely to consider the murderous chase taking place there between poacher, ranger and rhino. For the poachers – usually poor and black – the risks are immense, but so are the rewards.
“When you look at the impoverished communities around us and the unemployment rate in South Africa, you’d have to be naive to think it’s not going to explode,” said Tim Parker, a warden managing Moditlo and Thornybush Nature Reserve, where anti-poaching costs have gone up 500% in the past three years. “Soon there are going to be gun battles. I can see it coming.”
South Africa has more than four-fifths of the world’s rhino population. Poaching is at an unprecedented level, driven by demand in countries such as Vietnam, where horns, used in traditional medicine or as a middle-class delicacy, fetch up to $65,000 (£42,000) a kilo, more expensive than gold. A record 1,215 rhinos were killed last year, almost treble the 448 lost in 2011. As of late August this year, 749 rhinos were known to have been poached – 544 of them in Kruger park, where officials estimate 6,000 well-armed poachers are at large.
But there is another, less reported death toll. Nearly 500 poachers from neighbouring Mozambique alone have been shot dead by rangers in Kruger park over the past five years, it was claimed recently. Joaquim Chissano, Mozambique’s former president, said 82 alleged poachers from the country were killed in the first half of this year, describing them as “destitute, poor people recruited by crime networks who make the real money … Each of these dead Mozambicans means more poverty for his family, because they can no longer count on him to fight for better living conditions,” Chissano noted.
SeaWorld has said it plans to challenge a ruling banning the company from breeding captive killer whales.
The announcement comes a week after the California Coastal Commission backed a $100m (£64.8m) expansion of SeaWorld’s orca tanks in San Diego.
However, the enclosure improvements also outlined a series of restrictions, including a ban on breeding the whales.
SeaWorld said it would “pursue legal action” over the ruling.
Company President Joel Manby said: “The Coastal Commission went way beyond its jurisdiction and authority when it banned breeding by killer whales at SeaWorld.
“It simply defies common sense that a straightforward land-use permit approval would turn into a ban on animal husbandry practices.
“To say that this is a dubious decision with no legal basis is an understatement, which is why we must and will challenge the Commission’s decision.”
Antibiotic resistance is now considered a catastrophic threat to public health, as more and more deadly, drug-resistant bacteria have been appearing in our cities, farms, and hospitals. In theory, the solution should be simple: We need to stop overusing antibiotics. Yet nearly every attempt to do so thus far has failed.
Now California is taking drastic measures. This weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown signedthe toughest restrictions yet on antibiotic use in the United States, banning the state’s livestock producers from using certain antibiotics for routine disease prevention and growth promotion.
“The science is clear that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock has contributed to the spread of antibiotic resistance and the undermining of decades of lifesaving advances in medicine,” Brown said in a statement.
This is, potentially, a huge deal. Across the United States, more than 70 percent of medically important antibiotics are sold for use in animals, so curbing overuse in this area has always been a priority for public health reformers. And California’s new law could push other states to follow suit.
Why curbing antibiotic use on farms is so controversial
The science behind drug resistance is straightforward enough. The more we use antibiotics to kill off disease-causing bacteria, the more likely those bacteria are to evolve resistance, developing random mutations to outwit our drugs. And overuse has become a huge problem. In the United States alone, antibiotic-resistant infections are now associated with 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses every year.
So public health experts have been looking for places to curtail misuse. It would help, for instance, if doctors stopped prescribing unnecessary antibiotics. But another key place to look is on farms, where the vast majority of medically important antibiotics are sold.
Antibiotics on farms are typically used in three ways: to treat sick animals, to prevent infections, and to fatten up animals. The first use is uncontroversial: Everyone agrees that it’s okay to use antibiotics to treat animals that come down with disease. But public health experts have criticized the latter two uses. They argue that many livestock producers needlessly overuse antibiotics to prevent infections and promote growth — essentially relying on them as an alternative to hygiene and good nutrition. These are considered “nontherapeutic” uses.
And experts argue this overuse has real consequences. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have told Congress that there’s a link between the routine, nontherapeutic use of antibiotics on farms and the superbug crisis in humans.