EnviroQuest

Photography by Larry A Lyons

Posts tagged ‘conservation’

Wildlife of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Happy 100th Year Anniversary to the National Park Service responsible for managing and preserving the national parks, monuments and reservations of the United States. Yellowstone, being the first national park, was declared a national park in 1872. The U.S. army was originally responsible for managing and protecting the park until the formation of the National Park Service in 1916.

Bison Silhouettes

‘Yellowstone Bison’ © Larry A Lyons

Two previous posts described the landscape and the geological features of ‘Yellowstone National Park’ and ‘Grand Teton National Park’. Both of these national parks are a part of the ‘Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’.

This post provides a “glimpse” into some of the more iconic wildlife species that inhabit this diverse ecosystem. The intent is not only to provide awareness on some of the behavior of these animals but also to further assess our understanding on the importance of maintaining and developing adequate buffer zones surrounding our national reserves. This is essential for sustaining wildlife populations within a healthy and natural ecosystem for future generations.

Geysers and Steam Vents Galore

Geysers and Steam Vents Galore’ © Larry A Lyons

The core of the ‘Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’ (GYE) is Yellowstone National Park. This ecosystem extends well beyond the boundaries of our first national park encompassing approximately 22.6 million acres. It includes the Grand Teton National Park, state parks, portions of five national forests, three wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management holdings, private lands, and tribal lands. It extends from the northwestern region of Wyoming into Montana and Idaho. Federal government agencies, state governments, tribal governments and private individuals are responsible for managing this ecosystem.

The GYE has been recognized as a model of an extremely important concept known as “Ecosystem Management”. Ecosystem management involves a complex and long-term process that serves to conserve the integrity of natural resources and wildlife populations. It encompasses some of the following objectives:

  • Sustaining healthy wildlife populations from apex species (e.g., gray wolf, grizzly bear, cougars) to iconic and prey species (e.g., elk, bison, pronghorn, moose) to the hundreds of other animal and plant species that are an integral part of this ecosystem. It requires maintaining a delicate and complex balance between species and an understanding of the carrying capacity of this ecosystem for each wildlife population.
  • Protecting public and private lands that will continue to require curtailing and controlling the expansion of human development.
  • Learning to co-exist with wildlife.
  • Continue to secure crucial habitat that will provide an appropriate buffer zone for the sustainability of this ecosystem for future generations.
  • Protecting and restoring vital rivers, lakes and streams. Healthy aquatic systems are not only essential for maintaining the health of the GYE, but the headwaters for three critical river systems – the Missouri, the Columbia, and the Colorado – begin in this ecosystem.
  • Protecting endangered or threatened species.
  • Requiring and utilizing scientific knowledge to process management decisions and objectives.
'Oxbow Bend' © Larry A Lyons

‘Oxbow Bend’ © Larry A Lyons

The collaborations of people, institutions and organizations are absolutely critical in managing and achieving all of these goals. Park rangers are the core wearing many different hats including protecting the reserves, insuring that people maintain a safe distance from the wildlife, rescuing wildlife, and being a great resource of information for the public.

Bison Calf Rescue

‘Bison Calf Rescue’ © Larry A Lyons

In addition, there are several ‘key’ non-profit and grassroots organizations – including, ‘The Greater Yellowstone Commission’, and ‘Defenders of Wildlife’ – that have been instrumental in defending and advocating the importance of this ecosystem. Indeed, the complexity and patience of addressing all of the diverse human interests and priorities is as challenging as developing, managing and administering an expansive and vital ecosystem.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

‘Grand Canyon of Yellowstone’ © Larry A Lyons

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The ‘Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’ is home to over 50 species of mammals and 300 species of birds. All images herein were captured within Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Let’s start with the ‘Majestic Elk’ and begin to get a perspective of the importance of ecosystem management.

Majestic Elk 2

‘Majestic Elk’ © Larry A Lyons

Elk have been living in Yellowstone for more than 1,000 years and at one time they ranged across most of North America. Today they live mostly in western North America, particularly in mountainous landscapes such as, Yellowstone and the National Elk Refuge located in Jackson Hole Valley within the Grand Teton National Park.

There are between 30,000 to 40,000 elk within several different herds living and migrating within the GYE. They tend to migrate as large herds into areas of higher altitude in the spring once the snow has receded and then return to lower altitudes or valleys in the fall before the harsh winter commences. These migrations are necessary to move into areas where forage is more accessible. Elk forage on native grasses, tree bark, flowering plants, and tree sprouts, particularly aspen and willow sprouts.

Majestic Elk

‘Stands Nine Feet Tall’ © Larry A Lyons

A decline of elks for some of the herds has been recorded. This decline is being attributed to a number of factors including the predation by the re-introduced gray wolf, predation by a greater bear population, food quality, climate, harvesting by hunters, and drought related impacts on pregnancy and survival. Hence, scientific investigations become necessary to understand not only the carrying capacity (i.e., the proper balance of food sources and habitat for sustaining a population) within the GYE, but also to understand the complex interactions that affect a wildlife population.

Elk Bugling 2

‘Elk Bedding Down’ © Larry A Lyons

The antlers of a bull elk can reach four feet above its head so that the animal towers nine feet tall. Bull Elks retain their antlers through the winter, but the antlers are shed in the spring. They begin to grow new antlers soon after in preparation for the late summer breeding season.

Elks have a defined rump area with a short tail. Bull elks will dig holes in the ground where they will urinate and roll their body. A male elk’s urethra points upward so that urine is sprayed at right angle to the penis. The urine soaks into their hair giving them a distinct smell to attract cows.

Elk Perfume

‘Elk Perfume’ © Larry A Lyons

Bull elks have a very distinctive and loud screaming sound known as ‘bugling’ that can be heard for miles. It is an iconic sound to be heard for miles away in the fall. Females are attracted to the males that bugle more often and have the loudest sound.

Elk Bugling

‘Elk Bulging’ © Larry A Lyons

During the mating season, mature bulls compete for the attentions of the cow elk. A bull elk will defend his harem of 20 cows or more from competing bulls and predators.

Harem

‘An Elk Harem’ © Larry A Lyons

Cow elks do not have antlers and are 60% smaller than mature bull elks. They do grow in a thick coat of hair in the fall for insulation during the severe winters.

Female Elk and Calf

‘Female Elk and Calf’ © Larry A Lyons

Gray wolves, bears and cougars, and coyote packs are considered the primary predators of elk. Here a large grizzly bear was seen feeding on an elk.

Grizzly Feeding On Elk

‘Grizzly Bear Feeding On An Elk’ © Larry A Lyons

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This photographer did not get the opportunity to capture any gray wolf images during this particular expedition, but the story of the re-introduction of the gray wolf provides a miraculous example of reviving not only an endangered species, but also resulted in immensely improving the overall health of the entire ecosystem.

There were no gray wolves in Yellowstone in 1994. Wolves were reintroduced back into the greater Yellowstone area in 1995 and 1996. There are now over 500 descendants living in this ecosystem. The return of the wolf population within the GYE has resulted in restoring the habitats that have been seriously declining. This decline was primarily attributed to the elk becoming overly populated since wolves, being their primary predator, were not present. The overpopulation of elk caused the decline of habitats by the overgrazing of woody tree stands of aspens, cottonwoods and willows. However, once the wolves were restored back into the GYE, the elk numbers began to decline and the tree stands began to recover. This further resulted in a number of other benefits including an increase in beaver populations that resulted due to the increased presence of willow trees that are needed for beavers to survive. Beaver dams contribute an important component to this ecosystem. The dams not only reduce erosion along river banks, but also create ponds and marsh habitats for moose, otters, mink, wading birds, and a diversity of aquatic organisms.

Beaver Dam On Snake River

‘Beaver Dam on Snake River’ © Larry A Lyons

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Coyotes have become quite adaptable in all sorts of habitats and landscapes and are spread throughout North America.

Coyote

‘Coyote’ © Larry A Lyons

The coyotes residing within GYE tend to be amongst the largest coyotes within the United States ranging is size from 30 to 40 pounds (13 to 18 kg).

prowling Coyotes

‘Prowling Coyotes’ © Larry A Lyons

Coyotes have a keen sense of smell and eyesight. They can run up to 40 miles (64 km.) per hour. They will hunt rabbits, rodents, fish, frogs, and even deer. Coyote packs will even prey on elk calves or weakened adults. They also will feed on insects, snakes, fruit and carrion. They will form packs, particularly in the fall and winter, for more effective hunting. Wolves and cougars are coyotes’ main predators.

The coyote population within the GYE has decreased since the re-introduction of the gray wolf, which is primarily attributed to competing for habitat and prey and also being preyed upon by wolves. However, the suppression of coyotes has resulted in an increase of their prey including rabbits, mice, and young deer. This increase of coyote prey has resulted in improving red fox populations. Indeed, an ecosystem with a healthy food web is bloody, complex, and natural.

Stalking For Prey

‘Stalking For Prey’ © Larry A Lyons

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Moose are well suited for the Yellowstone ecosystem. Moose’s long legs allow them to adapt to the deep snow conditions in the winter and allows them to wade into aquatic environments to browse on aquatic plants (i.e., water lilies, duckweed) but their primary food source are the leaves and twigs of the willow trees.

Bullwinkle's Lady

‘Bullwinkle’s Lady’ © Larry A Lyons

However, moose populations have been seriously declining since the 1990’s. Climate changes and heat stress caused by global warming, poaching, reintroduction of wolves, and parasitic diseases are factors that may be attributing to their decline.

Moose are solitary animals that do not form herds. This female moose (cow) has been growing in a thick layer of fur in preparation for the upcoming and harsh winters in the GYE. Their mating season is in the autumn and the cow can be heard grunting in search of a mate. Cows are pregnant through the winter with a gestation period of about 8 months.

Female Moose

‘Female Moose’ © Larry A Lyons

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Mule deer are indigenous to western North America deriving their name from their large mule-like ears. The buck sheds its antlers in the spring and then begins to grow new antlers in preparing for the fall mating season. The antlers fork as they grow. The primary predators of the mule deer, besides humans, are the gray wolves, coyotes and cougars.

Mule Deer

‘Mule Deer’ © Larry A Lyons

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Pronghorns are found in the western United States with the highest number of pronghorns can be found in Wyoming within the Yellowstone ecosystem. Pronghorns are herbivores consuming grasses, flowering plants and sagebrush. They like open plains, fields, grasslands, deserts and basins. Their eyes are quite remarkable in that they can pick up movement three miles away allowing them to spot predators (coyotes and wolves) at some distance.

Pronghorn Overlook

‘Pronghorn Overlook’ © Larry A Lyons

Both males and females have horns referred to as pronghorns. The female has a pair of short horns on the top of the head, while the horns of the male are 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) long. The male horns have unique characteristics with the horns pointing backwards along with a short prong extending in the front of the horn.

Male and Female Pronghorns

‘Male and Female Pronghorns’ © Larry A Lyons

Pronghorns breed in late summer or fall. A male pronghorn will establish a breeding territory with a group of females and will breed with multiple females. The male keeps a constant vigilance over his harem and is quite aggressive about protecting the harem. If a female wonders off, the male quickly corrals the female back. Vocalization and body language of the male dictates a strict social structure.

Pronghorns Mating

‘Pronghorns Mating’ © Larry A Lyons

After mating, the females will be pregnant throughout the winter and will give birth in the spring.

Pronghorn Harem

‘Pronghorn Harem’ © Larry A Lyons

Pronghorn antelope is considered the fastest land animal in North America with speeds up to 60 miles/hour (96 km/hr). Pronghorns will migrate long distances (150 to 200 miles one way) between summer and winter feeding grounds. Their migration is a perilous journey being threatened by vehicles, impassable fences and development. The creation of wildlife corridors that can reduce the conflict between animals and people is an ongoing challenge and objective of the National Wildlife Federation and other affiliates.

Pronghorn Vocalizing

‘Pronghorn Vocalizing’ © Larry A Lyons

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An important lesson was learned in regards to managing bear populations in Yellowstone over the past several decades. Prior to 1969 bears were attracted to developed areas of Yellowstone National Park by the availability of human foods either as handouts or garbage. The bears essentially relied on these human food sources instead of foraging naturally. Then in 1970 an intensive bear management program was activated that included strict regulations prohibiting the feeding of bears. The intent was to restore the bears back to foraging naturally. However, it took awhile for the bears to learn to hunt and forage for themselves. In the interim the bears became more aggressive particularly in camps. Evidently, it seems that this necessitated in euthanizing over 100 bears that almost created near extinction of the grizzly bear population. In 1975 it was listed as a threatened species. In 2007 the grizzly bear was removed from the endangered species list. The grizzly bear population within the GYE is estimated being between 300 to 600 bears.

Grizzly Bear

‘Grizzly Bear’ © Larry A Lyons

Grizzly bears are omnivores having a very diversified diet of plants and animals. They will prey on large mammals including elk, moose, mule deer, and bison. They will feed on trout and a variety of small mammals. They also will consume berries, insects, tubers and grubs (insect larvae). Bears need to build-up their reserves in preparation for their winter hibernation. Here this mother and cub were foraging for grubs in a ravine.

Learning The Ropes

‘Learning The Ropes’ © Larry A Lyons

Mother and Cub

‘Mother and Cub’ © Larry A Lyons

The hump on their shoulders is a distinctive characteristic identifying a grizzly bear. Mother bears rear their cubs for two to three years. Female bears will try to avoid male bears since they can be a danger to the cubs. This mother with its cub was just checking that the photographers and onlookers at the top of the ravine had no intentions of moving closer.

Grizzly and Cub

Mother and Cub Grizzlies’ © Larry A Lyons

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Nearly 300 species of birds have been sighted within Yellowstone Park, of which 150 species nest in the park. Some of the resident populations of birds in Yellowstone include trumpeter swans, common loons, American white pelicans, sandhill cranes and bald eagles.

Eagle Close-up

‘Bald Eagle Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

Bald eagles can often be seen perched along riverbanks waiting to prey on fish. Their wingspan can reach up to 7 feet (2 meters). In 1995 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the bald eagle from an endangered species to threatened for the GYE.

Bald Eagle Takeoff

‘Pursing A Trout Dinner’ © Larry A Lyons

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Somewhere between 30 and 60 million bison roamed North America around 1850. Then they were slaughtered almost to extinction. The quest to settle the American West caused this massive slaughter of the bison. It evolved from the commercial hunting and slaughter of the bison for their hides, from the development of railroads heading west, from settlers wanting to transform the Great Plains used by the bison for farming and ranching, and from the settlement of U.S. Army forts. All of this resulted in restricting the Native American Tribes of the Great Plains whose livelihood was dependent on moving with the migratory herds of bison.

By 1883 nearly all of the bison were gone. Only a few dozen plains bison survived and were provided refuge in the 1870’s upon the formation of Yellowstone National Park. However, poaching of the bison persisted. It was the Lacey Act of 1894 that allowed stronger punishment for poachers. No more than 25 bison remained in 1902. Today’s Yellowstone bison are the descendants of those 25 ‘wild’ bison.

'Bison Roaming Free' © Larry A Lyons

‘Bison Roaming Free’ © Larry A Lyons

Today most bison are managed as domestic livestock. It is primarily the Yellowstone and the Jackson Hole bison herds that have retained their ‘wild’ status. A ‘wild’ bison population is one that roams freely within a defined conservation area, where the loss of existing genetic variation is mitigated with sufficient animals, and is subject to forces of natural selection (e.g., predation, harsh environmental conditions, mating, searching for food).

Bull Bison

‘Bull Bison’ © Larry A Lyons

Unfortunately, the ecosystem management efforts for these remaining ‘wild’ bison populations have been inadequate in a manner that will provide long-term sustainability. The two Yellowstone bison herds in Yellowstone National Park and the Jackson Hole herd in the Grand Teton National Park are not only restricted to staying within the boundaries of these two national parks but are also severely restricted in the total numbers allowed to roam freely in these parks. The two sub-herds in Yellowstone are being maintained at 3,000 individuals and the Teton herd is maintained at 600 individuals.

There has been a severe lack of tolerance for wild bison to roam outside of the parks within the GYE primarily because of the potential concern of spreading the bovine brucellosis disease. This disease is a spillover disease from cattle to elk and bison and now spills back from elk to cattle. It is the rigorous management actions of keeping cattle and bison spatially and temporally separated that have eliminated the transmission of the disease from bison to cattle. It is this realization that reasonable management practices can effectively control the potential spread of brucellosis between cattle and bison that is beginning to allow a greater tolerance for Yellowstone wild bison to roam beyond the park.

After years of campaigning by many people and organizations to allow wild bison to expand within the GYE, the impasse has been lifted to the extend that will allow Yellowstone’s wild bison to roam in some 400 square miles outside the park. This area establishes year- round bison habitat as well as tolerance areas north and west of Yellowstone National Park into the state of Montana.. It is considered a major first step that should curtail the hazing and killing of bison around Yellowstone. It is a huge win for wild bison.

'Mother and Calf Bison' © Larry A Lyons

‘Mother and Calf Bison’ © Larry A Lyons

Bison are nomadic grazers that roam grassy plateaus in the summer but in the winter finding suitable areas to graze particularly during extended periods of deep snow conditions is challenging particularly if their area to roam is restricted. When grazing in the winter, they swing their large heads from side to side to clear the snow to feed on the grass.

'Bison Grazing' © Larry A Lyons

‘Bison Grazing’ © Larry A Lyons

Bison are massive animals. The bull (male) bison stands 6 feet (2 m) tall and weighs up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg) while and the cow (female) bison weighs about 1,000 pounds (500 kg). Both the bull and cow have horns curved upward that are retained for their life span. Young bison entering their first winter have a high risk of dying. About 20 to 40 of every 100 first-year calves may die from accidents, winter exposure or predation.

In spite of their size bison are very agile. They can run 35 miles per hour (55 km/ hr) and can jump over objects 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall. You must not approach them too closely. As the Greater Yellowstone Coalition has stated about bison, ‘They’re wildlife and they deserve to be treated as wildlife”.

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The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) has the largest concentration of wildlife within the continental United States. The abundance and the distribution of these wildlife species depend on their interactions with each other and on the quality and extent of their habitat. The development of reasonable buffer zones is absolutely essential to conserve the integrity of our natural resources and wildlife populations.

The re-introduction of the gray wolf, the return of the grizzly bear from near extinction, the proper control and sustainability of elk populations, the establishment of wildlife corridors to allow the migration of the pronghorns, the continued effort to provide adequate habitat for the ‘wild’ bison populations to prosper are a testament to the resiliency of nature if we apply sensible ecosystem management practices. It is bringing ‘wild’ back into the ‘wilderness’.

Scientific investigations and monitoring needs to be continually funded to understand and assess the carrying capacities and health of the wildlife populations within the GYE. These studies are also necessary to understand how climate change is and will be affecting the GYE. We must continue to learn to co-exist with wildlife. We must never forget that we are the custodians of the natural world.

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Resources:

Buffalo Field Campaign (http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org)

Defenders of Wildlife (http://www.defenders.org)

Greater Yellowstone Coalition (http://greateryellowstone.org/)

National Wildlife Federation (http://www.nwf.org/wildlife/wildlife-library/mammals/pronghorn.aspx)

National Park Service (https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm)

Yellowstone, National Geographic Magazine, May 2016

Yellowstone Science (https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/yellowstone-science.htm)

Yellowstone Bison: Conserving an American Icon in Modern Society, Edited by P.J. White, R.L. White, D.E. Hallac, Yellowstone Association and Yellowstone National Park, 2015.

 

 

 

Endangered Manatee – A Gentle Giant

The manatee is an endangered species living in coastal estuaries and freshwaters in Florida. It is currently estimated that the “minimum” current population stands at about 5,000 manatees within the state of Florida.

'Endangered Manatee' © Larry A Lyons

‘Endangered Manatee’ © Larry A Lyons

The endangered manatee is a large mammal also known as a sea cow. Manatees are believed to evolve from plant-eating and wading-like mammals with their closest relative being the elephant. In spite of their cuddly-like appearance and non-aggressive manner, manatees are as wild as free-ranging elephants.

'The Graceful Manatee' © Larry A Lyons

‘The Graceful Manatee’ © Larry A Lyons

Manatees are migratory animals and in the summer will migrate along the eastern and western coasts of Florida. Some individuals will migrate as far north as the Carolinas and as far west as Texas. However, during the winter calendar months manatees do tend to concentrate near warm water springs or near thermal discharges of power plants within Florida. When water temperatures go below 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Centigrade), the stress from the colder waters can be fatal. In the winter of 2010, more than 280 manatees died from an extended period of cold weather.

One of the longest-term threats to the manatees is the loss of habitat of warm water habitats. Residential development in Florida continues to encroach on these warm water spring habitats that are essential for their survival. Although power plant discharges do provide the essential warm water for a large portion of the manatee populations, the expectations of these power plants not shutting down because of equipment failure or even being decommissioned creates a high risk to the manatee populations. A means of conserving “natural” warm water habitats within Florida is absolutely critical.

'The Sea Cow' © Larry A Lyons

‘The Sea Cow’ © Larry A Lyons

The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge including the Kings Bay in Florida, which is also referred to as the manatee capital of the world, was established for the protection of the endangered manatees in 1983. The warm water springs originating from Crystal River provide a critical sanctuary for the manatee populations that migrate there each year from November to April. During the winter months it is estimated that up to 600 manatees migrate into this sanctuary.

All of these images were captured at the Crystal River sanctuary using a Nikonas V underwater film camera in January 1995. The Crystal River sanctuary has become a tourist attraction where it is estimated that 150,000 visitors come each year. Visitors are permitted to snorkel with the endangered manatees within designated areas following specific guidelines. Unfortunately there have been disturbing instances in which people have been harassing the manatees and swimming in areas that are strictly for manatees only. Of particular importance is that all watercraft travelling through manatee sanctuaries do so cautiously and at idle speed.

It really is a remarkable and unforgettable experience to be able to swim with these gentle giants. If you have the opportunity, be sure to abide to the specific guidelines defined by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

'Vulnerable Swimmer' © Larry A Lyons

‘Vulnerable Swimmer’ © Larry A Lyons

Manatees are graceful swimmers powered by a strong tail. They generally swim along at three to five miles (5 to 8 kilometers) an hour, but they can swim up to 15 miles (24 kilometers) an hour on short bursts. Manatees are generally observed swimming close to the surface that creates a high level of risk of being injured or killed from outboard motors.

Manatee mortalities are recorded each year by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. These mortality counts define whether mortalities are the result of watercraft accidents, cold stress, natural causes, perinatal causes, undetermined causes, and other causes. From 2007 through 2013 it is estimated on the average that at least 20 percent of the manatee mortalities resulted from being struck by watercraft. It is also important to note that this 20 percent mortality from watercraft does not include all of the mortalities that were undetermined or the mortalities that go unreported.

'Manatee Close-up' © Larry A Lyons

‘Manatee Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

The manatee with their small eyes and no outer ears do have good sight and hearing. Manatees emit a variety of sounds used in communication. They can also communicate by smell, taste and touch. Their face contains over 600 vibrissae (whisker-like hairs), but the sensory function of the whiskers is unknown.

'Taking A Breath' © Larry A Lyons

‘Taking A Breath’ © Larry A Lyons

Manatees must resurface regularly to breathe air through their nostrils. When just resting, manatees may resurface every 20 minutes. However, when they are moving about and consuming energy, they may resurface for a breath every three to five minutes. Resurfacing to breathe or just resting in shallow waters creates a high level of vulnerability for their survival from being accidently hit by boats. In fact, researchers can often identify many surviving manatees by the scars that have resulted from being injured from outboard motors.

'Herbivorous Mammal' © Larry A Lyons

‘Herbivorous Mammal’ © Larry A Lyons

Manatees are herbivores grazing on algae, sea grass and a variety of other aquatic plants. They consume 10 to 15% of their body weight in vegetation each day. By far, sea grass beds would be the most important source of vegetation for the manatees. The manatee above is grazing on algae and stirring–up sediment in the process.

'Gentle Giant' © Larry A Lyons

‘Gentle Giant’ © Larry A Lyons

Manatees are gentle giants with an average length of ten feet (3 meters) and weighing up to 1,200 lbs. (540 kg). This manatee was attempting to remove any algae on this rope that was dangling in the water.

Red tides are another major threat to the manatees. Red tides are algal blooms of a specific algae that contain neurotoxins. Red tides are naturally occurring events that will occur offshore. If the blooms move inshore, an extended algal bloom can occur from nutrient loading by urban and agricultural runoff. Manatees are exposed to the neurotoxins when they come to the surface to breathe and when grazing on grasses coated with the algae. The neurotoxins cause seizures and subsequent drowning of manatees. In 2013 it was estimated that as a many as 276 mortalities may have resulted from red tidal events. It is also important to note that the total mortality count for 2013 was 829 manatees, which is more than twice the mortalities reported in 2012.

'Pair Resting' © Larry A Lyons

‘Pair Resting’ © Larry A Lyons

Female manatee is usually larger than the male and breeds only once every few years. It is believed that only one calf is born every two to five years. The gestation period is 12 months. The calf is dependent on its mother for a 12 to 18 month period. This low reproduction cycle creates a high level of risk for their long-term survival.

News Flash: A July 2nd, 2014 news flash from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) stated that the agency is in the process of considering removing the manatee from the endangered species list to merely a species that is threatened. The USFWS is responding to a lawsuit originating from a citizens group, Save Crystal River, Inc. This citizens group is concerned about new idle-speed rules for watercraft and the expansion of manatee refuge areas in Kings Bay. It will be interesting to see how the USFWS decides on protecting the manatees.

'Protect The Manatee' © Larry A Lyons

‘Protect The Manatee’ © Larry A Lyons

So let’s recap on the vulnerability of manatee populations in Florida and why this gentle giant should remain as an endangered species for maximum protection. Manatees require warm water sanctuaries like the Crystal River for appropriate habitat during the winter months for their survival. Manatee dependence of thermal discharges from power plants for warm water habitat should be cautiously monitored. Conservation efforts to enhance and manage ‘natural’ warm water sanctuaries in Florida are critical.

Manatees have a low reproduction cycle with only one calf being born every two to five years. Manatees living, grazing and moving about in shallow waters causes a high level of risk from being killed or injured from the ever-increasing boat traffic in Floridian waters.

In addition to the high vulnerability from watercraft, manatees are vulnerable to the loss of turtle grass habitat, which is their main food staple. The population is quite vulnerable to any extended cold winters. In addition, the sudden appearance of red tides can decimate a large portion of the manatee population. The possibility of even sustaining the current manatee population should be one of grave concern.

 

References:

Save The Manatee Club

Defenders of Wildlife

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Everyday Faces of South Africa

Like seeing squirrels or rabbits in our backyards, the wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, impalas and warthogs were common everyday faces observed at the Thanda Game Reserve. They help depict the diversity of life on the African prairie. All five of these species are herbivores and also become an important food source for lions, leopards, wild dogs, cheetahs and hyenas.

All of these images were captured in South Africa at the Thanda Game Reserve while volunteering for six weeks with the African Impact Organization (www.africanimpact.com) in September through October 2012.

'Everyday Faces of South Africa' © Larry A Lyons

‘Everyday Faces of South Africa’ © Larry A Lyons

The wildebeest is an antelope, but it looks like part buffalo, part horse, and part antelope. They are primarily grazers with grasses being their predominant choice.

'Wildebeest Profile I' © Larry A Lyons

‘Wildebeest Profile I’ © Larry A Lyons

'Wildebeest Profile II' © Larry A Lyons

‘Wildebeest Profile II’ © Larry A Lyons

'Wildebeest Close-up' © Larry A Lyons

‘Wildebeest Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

At the Thanda Game Reserve, the wildebeests are often seen in small herds of about eight to ten cows.

'Small Wildebeest Herd' © Larry A Lyons

‘Small Wildebeest Herd’ © Larry A Lyons

Time for a dust bath says this wildebeest.

'Got An Itch' © Larry A Lyons

‘Got An Itch’ © Larry A Lyons

Wildebeests can spend one-third of their day grazing with the remainder roaming about or taking a rest.

'Taking A Break' © Larry A Lyons

‘Taking A Break’ © Larry A Lyons

Wildebeest predators include lions, leopards, wild dogs and hyenas. Everything is recycled on the African savanna.

'Yesterday's Dinner' © Larry A Lyons

‘Yesterday’s Dinner’ © Larry A Lyons

Wildebeest prefer to stay close to water. They cannot go without water for more than a few days, particularly during dry seasons.

'Drink Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Drink Time’ © Larry A Lyons

The giraffe, the tallest in the animal kingdom reaching heights of 18 feet (5.5 m), is just simply a gentle giant.  Often observed on the reserve’s roadways, it is, of course, given the ‘right of way’.

'Right of Way' © Larry A Lyons

‘Right of Way’ © Larry A Lyons

Giraffes are social with other animals (zebras, wildebeest, impalas). Their size allows them to overlook the landscape for predators and provide an early warning for all.

'Size Matters' © Larry A Lyons

‘Size Matters’ © Larry A Lyons

Because of their long necks, giraffes can feed on foliage from trees and shrubs that would not be accessible to other herbivores. The principal food source at the Thanda Reserve is the leaves of the Acacia tree with its long spikes.

'Feeding Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Feeding Time’ © Larry A Lyons

The giraffe has a long prehensile tongue that is able to pull branches even with these long spikes into their mouth and then strip the leaves off the branches with their teeth.

'Tongue Envy' © Larry A Lyons

‘Tongue Envy’ © Larry A Lyons

This baby giraffe is less than one month old and already stands six feet tall. Baby giraffes will drink milk from their mother during the first few months. After that time, the babies will begin eating leaves. If the baby cannot reach trees with leaves, mothers will pull leaves off and feed them to the babies.

'Staying Close to Mother' © Larry A Lyons

‘Staying Close to Mother’ © Larry A Lyons

Baby giraffes will gain most of their height and weight during the first three years of life. Giraffes are considered fully mature at four years of age.

'Frolicking Youth' © Larry A Lyons

‘Frolicking Youth’ © Larry A Lyons

'Young Giraffe Close-up' © Larry A Lyons

‘Young Giraffe Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

Usually the giraffe calves are more vulnerable to predation by lions, leopards, wild dogs and hyenas. However, this adult giraffe became the feast of a lion pride from the previous evening.

'A Lion Feast' © Larry A Lyons

‘A Lion Feast’ © Larry A Lyons

Here is a yellow-bellied oxipecker clearing the ticks off of a giraffe.

'Personal Tick Remover' © Larry A Lyons

‘Personal Tick Remover’ © Larry A Lyons

One of the most wonderful encounters is when you can meet-up with male giraffes while they are engaged in necking. Necking is a ritual in which male giraffes are establishing dominance with their necks swaying and touching each other. You think of “Fantasia” while watching these encounters.

'Fantasia I' @ Larry A Lyons

‘Fantasia I’ @ Larry A Lyons

There is almost absolute silence when this necking is occurring and then they just seem to gently make-up.

'Necking' @ Larry A Lyons

‘Necking’ @ Larry A Lyons

The zebra belongs to the horse family. Zebras are sociable animals and are often seen with other herbivores, like giraffes, wildebeests and impalas.

'Zebra Profile' © Larry A Lyons

‘Zebra Profile’ © Larry A Lyons

Zebras live in small family units, called harems, led by a stallion.

'Harem' © Larry A Lyons

‘Harem’ © Larry A Lyons

Stallions disputing over dominance of the harem.

'Stallion Dispute' © Larry A Lyons

‘Stallion Dispute’ © Larry A Lyons

Each zebra has its own striking pattern of stripes. They are like the fingerprints of humans. Members of a family supposedly can recognize each other by their patterns. The stripes provide good camouflage, particularly from a distance, from predators.

'Zebra Patterns' © Larry A Lyons

‘Zebra Patterns’ © Larry A Lyons

'Zebra Patterns II' © Larry A Lyons

‘Zebra Patterns II’ © Larry A Lyons

Zebras are prey to lions and hyenas. This zebra has a visible scar on its neck. The scar is its’ “badge of courage” from escaping a lion attack.

'Badge of Courage' © Larry A Lyons

‘Badge of Courage’ © Larry A Lyons

The greatest threat to the zebra is habitat loss from farming and ranching, as well as, competition for water with livestock. Game reserves, like Thanda, provide an important refuge for their livelihood.

'Young Zebra' © Larry A Lyons

‘Young Zebra’ © Larry A Lyons

Beauty only a mother can appreciate. The warthog is a wild member of the pig family.

'Oh So Pretty' © Larry A Lyons

‘Oh So Pretty’ © Larry A Lyons

'Proud To Be A Warthog' © Larry A Lyons

‘Proud To Be A Warthog’ © Larry A Lyons

Male Warthogs have two large pairs of warts that are situated below the eyes and between the eyes and the tusks. The female warthog has one pair of warts below the eyes. Two pairs of peculiar looking tusks protrude from its mouth. The tusks are used for digging, combat between each other, and defense.

'My Better Side' © Larry A Lyons

‘My Better Side’ © Larry A Lyons

At the Thanda Reserve, warthogs can never be missed since they are commonly seen browsing within the camp.

'Warthog Gathering' © Larry A Lyons

‘Warthog Gathering’ © Larry A Lyons

This warthog was observed exiting a tunnel during a night safari drive.

'Spelunking' © Larry A Lyons

‘Spelunking’ © Larry A Lyons

Predators of the warthog are humans, lions, leopards, crocodiles and hyenas. The warthog’s primary defense is to quickly sprint from the scene.

'Sprinting' © Larry A Lyons

‘Sprinting’ © Larry A Lyons

Impalas are one of the most common antelopes in South Africa. Male impalas are quite distinct with their graceful lyre-shaped horns.

'Proud Impala' © Larry A Lyons

‘Proud Impala’ © Larry A Lyons

Female impalas look like the males without the horns.

'Female Impala' © Larry A Lyons

‘Female Impala’ © Larry A Lyons

Impalas graze on grasses and shrubbery.

'Impala Grazing' © Larry A Lyons

‘Impala Grazing’ © Larry A Lyons

Male impalas become quite territorial shepherding females about their land. These dueling males are displaying a common ritual over maintaining dominance of the herd of females.

'Dueling Impalas' © Larry A Lyons

‘Dueling Impalas’ © Larry A Lyons

'Herd of Female Impalas' © Larry A Lyons

‘Herd of Female Impalas’ © Larry A Lyons

Most large carnivores will prey upon impalas. They are always on the alert and will snort an alarm when there is danger. The whole herd will scatter.

'Alarmed' © Larry A Lyons

‘Alarmed’ © Larry A Lyons

Impalas have a distinct scent gland that is covered with tufts of black hair on the back of their hind legs. The scent gland releases signals that aids in keeping the herd together particularly when they are rapidly running away from a predator.

'Rams Dueling' © Larry A Lyons

‘Rams Dueling’ © Larry A Lyons

So were you able to imagine these “Everyday Faces” roaming in your backyard. There is nothing like a wildlife experience in Africa.

There will be forthcoming posts on South Africa and the Thanda Game Reserve. So stay tuned.

The Big Five of South Africa

“The Big Five” animals of South Africa are the elephant, leopard, rhinoceros, buffalo and lion.  The term “Big Five” game was a term derived by hunters designating the most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt. The impressive conservation practices and extensive national and private reserves in South Africa has significantly aided in protecting the survival of these animals. However, poaching of rhinos and elephants for their horns and tusks continues to be a significant problem for the survival of these species.

All of these images were captured in South Africa at the Thanda Game Reserve or nearby reserves while volunteering for six weeks with the African Impact Organization (www.africanimpact.com) in September through October 2012.

The Big Five of South Africa  © Larry A Lyons

The Big Five of South Africa © Larry A Lyons

This family portrait of a baby, young teenager and two adult female elephants was photographed from a boat when a herd of 50 or more elephants gathered at the lake for a drink and bath. Herds of elephants are made-up of related females and their young. Male elephants usually leave the herd when reaching adolescence forming bachelor herds. Later, the adult male elephants lead a solitary life.

'Family Portrait II'  © Larry A Lyons

‘Family Portrait II’ © Larry A Lyons

Calves are the primary focus of the family unit and are cared for by their mothers during at least their first three years.

'Family Portrait III'  © Larry A Lyons

‘Family Portrait III’ © Larry A Lyons

These dueling male elephants were photographed from a boat with a long lens. Male African bush elephants weigh up to 12,000 pounds and have periods of extreme aggression not only between each other, but anything that comes across its path. Here the two bulls are fighting for dominance. Besides fighting, tusks are also used for marking, feeding, and digging.

Poaching of the tusks for the ivory trade is one of the greatest threats to the elephant populations.

'Dueling Elephants' © Larry A Lyons

‘Dueling Elephants’ © Larry A Lyons

The elephant’s trunk has many functions including breathing, feeding, smelling, touching, grasping, producing sound, drinking and bathing.

'Bath Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Bath Time’ © Larry A Lyons

Elephants are herbivores and will consume leaves, fruit, twigs, bark and roots. They also will consume up to 11 gallons (40 liters) of water each day.

'Thirsty'  © Larry A Lyons

‘Thirsty’ © Larry A Lyons

Elephants prefer to stay near water.

'Wait For Me' © Larry A Lyons

‘Wait For Me’ © Larry A Lyons

Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild. This bull elephant has a crust of bark on its forehead probably from recently mowing down a tree for consumption.

'The Big One'  © Larry A Lyons

‘The Big One’ © Larry A Lyons

The leopard is the most secretive and elusive of the large carnivore cats. They are basically solitary and go out of their way to avoid one another. Leopards are primarily nocturnal and their spotted coat provides almost perfect camouflage. They move about their home ranges and seldom stay in an area for more than two or three days. Subsequently, leopard sightings tend to be rare. While at the Thanda reserve, the opportunity to see a leopard on three different occasions was most fortunate.

'Leopard Posing' © Larry A Lyons

‘Leopard Posing’ © Larry A Lyons

'Leopard Portrait I' © Larry A Lyons

‘Leopard Portrait I’ © Larry A Lyons

'Seated Leopard' © Larry A Lyons

‘Seated Leopard’ © Larry A Lyons

Leopards are opportunistic hunters that will consume a wide variety of animals including antelopes, monkeys, foxes, jackals, rodents, amphibians, and birds. The leopard’s stealth, rapid speed, and strength to drag their prey up into a tree provide a forbidding predator.

'Leopard Prowling' © Larry A Lyons

‘Leopard Prowling’ © Larry A Lyons

Leopard is a stunning beautiful animal.

'Pensive Leopard' © Larry A Lyons

‘Pensive Leopard’ © Larry A Lyons

Lions are the only cats that live in groups called prides. Lions once roamed most of Africa, but today they are only found in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Two prides co-exist at the Thanda Reserve. It is the through the conservation efforts of South Africa and private reserves like Thanda that make it possible for lion prides to roam free.

This young adult male with its mane still growing in and the two females perched in the tree belong to the North pride. Male lions defend the pride’s territory while females are the pride’s primary hunters.

'Born Free" © Larry A Lyons

‘Born Free” © Larry A Lyons

This female lioness is staking some high ground to keep vigilance over the savanna. Female lions, being the pride’s primary hunters, often work together to prey upon wildebeest, antelopes, zebra and other large animals of the open grasslands. Many of these animals are faster than lions, so teamwork pays off.

'Eyeing You" © Larry A Lyons

‘Eyeing You” © Larry A Lyons

The roaring sound of these lions when mating was quite intense. The rolling eyes and their display of teeth further imply that nothing interrupts this activity.  This image was captured from a safari jeep at a distance of 20 feet.

'Savannah Love' © Larry A Lyons

‘Savannah Love’ © Larry A Lyons

These cubs were about one month old.

"Family Reflection" © Larry A Lyons

“Family Reflection” © Larry A Lyons

Lions within a pride are quite affectionate and attentive between themselves and their cubs.

'Quality Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Quality Time’ © Larry A Lyons

'Mother and Cub' © Larry A Lyons

‘Mother and Cub’ © Larry A Lyons

'Ferocious' © Larry A Lyons

‘Ferocious’ © Larry A Lyons

Hunting is often a nocturnal event. Here a team of female lions stalked and ambushed this wildebeest.

'Wildebeest Kill' © Larry A Lyons

‘Wildebeest Kill’ © Larry A Lyons

Everything is recycled on the African savanna. Here are the remains of that wildebeest.

'Yesterday's Dinner' © Larry A Lyons

‘Yesterday’s Dinner’ © Larry A Lyons

Lion populations have been reduced to 21,000 in all of Africa and are now only found in parts of the south Sahara desert and parts of eastern and southern Africa. Reserves, like the Thanda Game Reserve, are crucial for their survival.

'Close-up' © Larry A Lyons

‘Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

Don’t let this smile fool you, the African buffalo is known for its unpredictable behavior.  It is regarded as a very dangerous animal and is supposedly responsible for killing 200 people per year.

'Smiley' © Larry A Lyons

‘Smiley’ © Larry A Lyons

Adult bulls can be observed sparing quite regularly. Most sparing seems to be harmless and short-lived.

'Rumble Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Rumble Time’ © Larry A Lyons

'Watch Out' © Larry A Lyons

‘Watch Out’ © Larry A Lyons

'My Turn' © Larry A Lyons

‘My Turn’ © Larry A Lyons

Yes, Buffalos do it too! Mating occurs between March and May.

'Time to Mate' © Larry A Lyons

‘Time to Mate’ © Larry A Lyons

Single Calves are born between January and April.  They are gregarious with herds varying in size of up to several hundred.

'Buffalo Family'  © Larry A Lyons

‘Buffalo Family’ © Larry A Lyons

Buffalos are herbivores. These female beauties are distinguished by their smaller horns.

'Buffalo Beauties' © Larry A Lyons

‘Buffalo Beauties’ © Larry A Lyons

This older looking bull posing here had just come from a mud bath. Its particular thick horns would indicate that it is a dominant bull within the herd.

'The Elder' © Larry A Lyons

‘The Elder’ © Larry A Lyons

The African Rhinos, both the Black Rhino and the White Rhino, are facing extinction.  This White Rhinoceros, which is actually grey in color, has a square muzzle that is adapted for grazing on grasses.

'White Rhino Close-up" © Larry A Lyons

‘White Rhino Close-up” © Larry A Lyons

This Black Rhino, photographed during a night safari drive, has more of a beak shaped lip that is used for browsing leaves, buds and shoots of bushes and trees. The cause of the injury to this rhino is unknown, bit it appears that it may have been gored by one of its own.

'Black Rhino' © Larry A Lyons

‘Black Rhino’ © Larry A Lyons

Both White and Black Rhinos are at risk of extinction because of poaching of their horns. There is a fallacy that the horns have some medicinal value, even for curing cancer (in Asia), and as a result there is market that provides a premium price for the horns. However, Rhino horns are simply made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails. Poachers brutally kill the rhinos and remove the horns. An averaged sized rhino horn can bring a quarter of million dollars in Vietnam.

'Rhino Horn' © Larry A Lyons

‘Rhino Horn’ © Larry A Lyons

Rhinos are also in trouble because of the lack of habitat from agriculture and deforestation. The importance of game reserves, like Thanda, is crucial for their survival.

'Rhinos Grazing' © Larry A Lyons

‘Rhinos Grazing’ © Larry A Lyons

The female gestation period lasts 15 to 16 months and usually only one calf is born.

'White Rhino and Calf' © Larry A Lyons

‘White Rhino and Calf’ © Larry A Lyons

Baby rhinos begin to grow their horn when they are only a few weeks old. During the first year the calf only feeds on the milk from the mother. A calf remains near its mother for the first four to five years for protection.

'Rhino Calf Close-up' © Larry A Lyons

‘Rhino Calf Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

Rhinos have no natural predators, except for man.  Rhinos are considered critically endangered. There are several organizations, including the African Wildlife Foundation, that have programs working to “Save the Rhino”.

'Save The Rhino'  Larry A Lyons

‘Save The Rhino’ Larry A Lyons

See the Big Five of South Africa gallery