Being described as ‘the salt of the earth’ is usually a good thing, going by the old saying. But with at least 20 per cent of the world’s irrigable soils damaged by salinization, according to a United Nations agency, there is, it seems, more truth to another old saw: that you can get too much of a good thing.While the right amount of sodium chloride is a necessary nutrient and staple that brings out the best in most meals, too much of it is not only bad for you, but also leaves soils less fertile and less productive, thereby posing “a threat to the global fight against hunger and poverty,” the Food and Agriculture Organization says.
Domestic cats have long been fingered as voracious hunters, causing dozens of native-mammal extinctions in Australia alone. But the purring predators bring with them another threat to the wild, according to research published by Britain’s Royal Society: the spread of disease. Scientists at the University of British Columbia in Canada said the prevalence of toxoplasmosis, which can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and cysts in wild animals, can be traced to the world’s estimated 600 million housecats, with the incidence of disease rising among wild animals in regions where pet cats are common.
The Norwegian Blue may only have been a fictional parrot species made famous by a Monty Python comedy sketch about a dead caged bird “pining for the fjords,” but real live pet parrots do, it seems, get the blues in captivity. That’s according to new research published by the Britain’s Royal Society, which suggests the bigger the captive bird’s brain, the more likely it is to exhibit “forms of abnormal behaviour,” such as chewing the bars of its cage or plucking its own feathers. The extent to which more intelligent parrot species are “prone to disease” and “apparently shortened lifespans” appears equivalent to the “mismatch” between captivity and life in the wild.
Images of grinning, gun-toting, khaki-clad hunters posingI over dead lions and elephants have long provoked outrage, scorn and bewilderment. But safari trophy-seekers are not the biggest threat to some protected animals, including several species closely related to humans, according to a report published by the UN’s Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). According to the study, “most migratory ungulates” as well as “all chimpanzee subspecies and three of the four gorilla subspecies” are “experiencing large population declines” that can in part be blamed on them ending up on people’s dinner plates. Of the 105 species covered in the study, which was prepared by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), 47 are hunted for so-called “bush meat” markets and another 20 are taken for other reasons, including “sport hunting.”
DUBLIN — Some of the world’s most recognisable trees, including oak, magnolia and maple, are among the 30 per cent of species at risk of extinction, according to Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). Published on Wednesday, the BGCI’s State of the World’s Trees report warned that over 17,000 of the world’s 60,000 kinds of tree could soon be no more due to logging, forest clearances, farming and extreme weather. The most vulnerable are 440 species which “have fewer than 50 individuals remaining,” according to the report, which the BGCI said was based on five years of work involving 60 institutions and 500 researchers. Around one in five tree species are used by humans “for food, fuel, timber, medicines, horticulture,” the BGCI said, with only around 40 per cent of species confirmed as not at risk.
DUBLIN — Some of the world’s most majestic eagles and swiftest hawks could soon be no more, according to research published by the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Up to thirty per cent of the planet’s 557 species of raptors “are at risk of extinction,” say researchers from the National Autonomous University in Mexico, a country home to over 90 different kinds of raptor, the fourth-highest number after Indonesia, Colombia and Ecuador. According to the team, the past three decades have seen “many species” experience “severe population declines” due to “habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, human–wildlife conflicts, and global climate alterations.” While raptors such as falcons have been kept for hunting and underpinned family prestige by appearing on heraldry, others have been “persecuted,” the authors said, due to “predation of game species and livestock.”
DUBLIN — Asia’s land and freshwater species are “among the most vulnerable” to plastic contamination, according to a new report that the United Nations said is the first to look into how migratory animals are affected by the pollution. The UN’s Secretariat for the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) looked at the plight of animals living around the Mekong and Ganges river basins, from where around 200,000 tons of plastic rubbish flow into the Indian and Pacific Oceans each year. The CMS found that freshwater mammals such as river dolphins and dugongs are “particularly at risk” from drowning after getting tangled in rubbish such as discarded fishing gear or after swallowing plastic. Birds and smaller mammals along the two rivers have been found tangled in kite strings and fishing nets.
DUBLIN — More work is needed to stop potential “spillover” of pathogens from animals to humans, according to scientists investigating pandemic prevention. In a report published on Wednesday by Harvard University, scientists from several continents argued governments should “integrate” public health and nature conservation measures to help prevent animal-human disease spread. The team believes that “reducing deforestation and regulating the wildlife trade” could come in at “as little” as 22 billion dollars a year, roughly around 2 per cent of “the economic and mortality costs of responding to Covid-19.”
DUBLIN — A NASA-led research team has developed a “unique” satellite-based deforestation tracking system they hope could avert a “tipping point” for the world’s shrinking jungles. The plan is for the new “tropical vulnerability index” to enhance “early warning” about rainforests facing destruction. According to Sassan Saatchi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “frequent droughts, higher temperature and longer dry seasons, along with increasing pressures from deforestation and degradation in the last two decades, have pushed the tropical rainforests to the verge of a tipping point.”
DUBLIN — The world’s 1.3 billion smokers “improperly dispose of” an estimated 4.5 trillion cigarettes each year, making the butts “the most littered item on the planet,” according to STOP, an anti-tobacco organization. But even that deluge is “only a portion of the environmental harm caused by the tobacco industry,” STOP said, as tobacco is not only “grown on deforested lands” but its production “degrades soil and pollutes air, land and water.” Billions of trees are chopped down each year to make cigarettes, accounting for 5 per cent of global deforestation, according to STOP, which said cigarette butts make up around 20 per cent of debris gathered during ocean clean-ups.