5 Animals that Made it Off of the Endangered List

Conservation efforts are saving biodiversity.

The Panda is an example of a species that was once endangered but is now vulnerable. Photo by Ju Santana C.C. 2.0.

The Panda is an example of a species that was once endangered but is now vulnerable. Photo by Ju Santana C.C. 2.0.

It’s no secret that in order for our planet to survive, we need an array of species to fulfill different niches. However, when humans over hunt animals, destroy their natural habitats, or disrupt their environment, species can die out, or become extinct. This threatens the status quo of our planet, and the safety of all living organisms. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) created the “Red List” in 1964 to keep track of species that are threatened by extinction. Conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund use this list to determine their course of action. 


There are three categories to measure species that are threatened by extinction, from lowest risk to highest risk: Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered. Because of the efforts of conservation organizations, as well as government acts (such as the 1973 Endangered Species Act), animals have had their endangered status lessened. Here are five animals that you might recognize.

Photo by David Ellis C.C. 2.0.

Photo by David Ellis C.C. 2.0.

The Giant Panda: Endangered to Vulnerable 

1. The Giant Panda, native to the bamboo forests of China, was once endangered. They are threatened due to loss of their habitat. Forest destruction to make way for roads in China means that Pandas lose access to bamboo, their main source of nutrients. Additionally, they are threatened by hunters who kill them for their fur. However, now there are more than 50 panda reservations in China, and the population has rebounded. 

Photo by La Chiquita. C.C. 2.0.

Photo by La Chiquita. C.C. 2.0.

Manatees: Endangered to Vulnerable

2. Manatees were also marked as vulnerable or threatened instead of endangered. Manatees feed on seagrass, which is found in shallow waters. This leaves them vulnerable to boats and jet skies. Conservations have been created to help protect Manatees from trash and boats. However, not everyone was enthused about the reclassification, as advocates think it could undermine the urgency to continue protection efforts for manatees. 

Photo by National Marine Sanctuaries.

Photo by National Marine Sanctuaries.

Humpback Whales: Delisted

3. Some populations of Humpback Whales were delisted from the US government’s endangered species list. In 2016, 9 out of the 14 populations of Humpback whales were delisted. Most whales are threatened by collisions with ships and entanglements in fishing gear. The entire species wasn’t delisted, as Humpback Whales are geographically separated and face different risks. The Marine Mammal Protection Act, and an international ban on whaling serve to continue protecting the species. 

Photo by J. Phillip Krone. C.C. 2.0.

Photo by J. Phillip Krone. C.C. 2.0.

American Alligator: Delisted

4. The American Alligator is found in Southeastern United States. The species was put on the endangered list in the 1960s because of hunters and habitat loss. However, after the Endangered Species Act prohibited hunting, the species was able to recover. In 1987, it was removed from the endangered list. 

Photo by Clive. C.C. 2.0.

Photo by Clive. C.C. 2.0.

The White Rhino: Delisted

5. The White Rhino is found in South Africa. The species was on the brink of extinction after poachers killed them to take their horns. Due to regulation of poaching and an effort to stop illegal trade, the species has since been removed from the endangered list. 





Even though these species have had their categories lessened, or have been removed from the list entirely, conservation efforts are needed to preserve the species and foster the regrowth of their population. Consider volunteering with organizations like the World Wildlife Fund to get involved. 






ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur. 




The Lungs of the Earth are Burning

 The Amazon Rainforest is currently burning and has been for weeks, while little to no coverage has been given to the immediate and dire situation. 

Fire. Cullan Smith. Unsplash.

Fire. Cullan Smith. Unsplash.

The Amazon is on fire and has been for a little over a month. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “40,000 different types of plants” are estimated to have been affected by the fires raging in the Amazon. The Amazon fires have been burning for a while now, but coverage on the fires has been little to none. Now, though, through the outcry on social media, attention has been brought and countries across the globe are pitching in, trying to do their part in reversing and stopping the fires. 

According to a NY Times article, “Hours after leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest countries pledged more than $22 million to help combat fires in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s government angrily rejected the offer, in effect telling the other nations to mind their own business — only to later lay out potential terms for the aid’s acceptance and then, on Tuesday evening, accepting some aid from Britain.”

Denying the aid could prove detrimental to the people and animals living in the Amazon forest. According to a CNN video, Daniel Aristizabel, a member of the Amazon Conservation team, states that the fires are affecting tons of the wildlife in the Amazon, stating “if you lose one species, you cause a chain reaction”. This “chain reaction” can cause a major shift in our ecosystem and possibly put many animals on the endangered species list. 

Being far-removed from the fires makes it difficult to understand the scope and how big of areas the fires are covering. In an ABC video, Andres Ruzo from National Geographic Explorer and Conservationist and also the Director of the Boiling River Project states that “we could be losing, in certain areas, as much as 3 soccer fields of jungle every single minute”. The rate at which the Amazon is burning is huge and will have an impact on ourselves. To put the size in perspective, CNN reporter also adds that the amount of land burning is equivalent to “two thirds the size of the contenential United States”. The Amazon Rainforest has often been called the lungs of the Earth but now they are clogged with smoke. 

Senior VP of Forests, WWF, Kerry Cesareo, states “we have seen a dramatic increase in deforestation in the Amazon, recently, and it is driven by humans and this is happening in part due to demand for food and other resources from the forests and exacerbated by the decline and enforcement of laws”. The apparent need for land for farming is the reason behind the fires. A great need for profit and resources are killing the Earth’s lungs.

If you would like to contribute to the efforts of saving the Amazon rainforest, you can donate to Protect and Acre Fund at https://act.ran.org/page/11127/donate/1 which “has distributed more than one million dollars in grants to more than 150 frontline communities, indigenous-led organizations, and allies, helping their efforts to secure protection for millions of acres of traditional territory in forests around the world.” You can also reduce your wood, paper, and beef consumption as those are the top reasons deforestation is currently happening to the Amazon. 






OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form. 



Sustainable Future: The New Plastic

Life in plastic can be fantastic now that Sandra Pascoe Oritz has created a material that could possibly replace regular plastic and help fight the growing climate conditions.

Nopal cactus leaves. genericavatar. CC by-NC 2.0.

Nopal cactus leaves. genericavatar. CC by-NC 2.0.

Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, a Mexican researcher, has created a “plastic” dupe from cacti. Oritz states, “My idea is to produce a plastic from natural ingredients and substitute it for some of the plastics we use today”. Her invention will not only aid the fight against the growing climate crisis, but provide a more efficient way of mass producing cheaper products that will not affect our future in the long-run. The material Ortiz created takes one month to biodegrade in soil and a few days to biodegrade in water. That ensures that the product will quickly be erased, allowing for no buildup or junk yards to pollute the Earth.

Also, the material she created is so natural that it is edible. “All the materials we use can be ingested both by humans or animals and they wouldn’t cause harm.” This means that when the product does biodegrade, it should not affect the surrounding ecosystem, instead contributing to it. 

But what is her process? First, she cuts the leaves off the cactus - the big round part that we associate with the general look of the cactus. Then, she peels the leaves, shaving off the outside spikey layer. Next, she presses the shaved cacti into juice placing the juice into the fridge. After some time, she takes the juice out of the fridge, mixes the non-toxic formula into the juice and after the concoctions are mixed, she laminates the mixture, letting it dry. 

Oritz is currently testing many different ways the new material can be used. “We can obtain different colours, shapes, thicknesses; we can make plastics that are very smooth or very flexible and we can make others that are more rigid.” The material is malleable enough that it can possibly replace most of the functions that plastic is used for. 

Currently, as Ortiz does everything by hand, the process of creating the new “plastic” takes up to 10 days. Ortiz believes that upgrading the process into an industrial factor, the process can be sped up. 

The best part about the whole process? The substance is made up entirely of renewable resources. “The nopal cactus is a plant endemic in Mexico”. To continue the process, the plant must stay alive to create more leaves, ensuring overcropping will not be the result. Although the material is still in development, it shines a light for a hopeful future filled with less plastic and a more sustainable future. 






OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form.

OLIVIA HAMMOND copy.png




It’s Not Just Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest That’s Ablaze – Bolivian Fires are Threatening People and Wildlife

Firefighters and volunteers have been working around the clock to tackle the flames. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Firefighters and volunteers have been working around the clock to tackle the flames. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Up to 800,000 hectares of the unique Chiquitano forest were burned to the ground in Bolivia between August 18 and August 23. That’s more forest than is usually destroyed across the country in two years. Experts say that it will take at least two centuries to repair the ecological damage done by the fires, while at least 500 species are said to be at risk from the flames.

The Chiquitano dry forest in Bolivia was the largest healthy tropical dry forest in the world. It’s now unclear whether it will retain that status. The forest is home to Indigenous peoples as well as iconic wildlife such as jaguars, giant armadillos, and tapirs. Some species in the Chiquitano are found nowhere else on Earth. Distressing photographs and videos from the area show many animals have burned to death in the recent fires.

The burnt region also encompasses farmland and towns, with thousands of people evacuated and many more affected by the smoke. Food and water are being sent to the region, while children are being kept home from school in many districts where the air pollution is double what is considered extreme. Many families are still without drinking water. While the media has focused on Brazil, Bolivians are asking the world to notice their unfolding tragedy – and to send help in combating the flames.

Dry forests of the Chiquitanos before the fires. Alfredo Romero-Muñoz, Author provided

Dry forests of the Chiquitanos before the fires. Alfredo Romero-Muñoz, Author provided

It’s thought that the fires were started deliberately to clear the land for farming, but quickly got out of control. The perpetrators aren’t known, but Bolivian President Evo Morales has justified people starting fires, saying: “If small families don’t set fires, what are they going to live on?”

The disaster comes just a month after Morales announced a new “supreme decree” aimed at increasing beef production for export. Twenty-one civil society organisations are calling for the repeal of this decree, arguing that it has helped cause the fires and violates Bolivia’s environmental laws. Government officials say that fire setting is a normal activity at this time of year and isn’t linked to the decree.

Fires burn across Santa Cruz state. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Fires burn across Santa Cruz state. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Morales has repeatedly said that international help isn’t needed, despite having sent just three helicopters to tackle the raging fires. He argued that the fires are dying out in some areas – although they continue to burn in others and have now reached Bolivia’s largest city, Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Many say that the fires could have been contained far sooner with international help, as videos show volunteers trying to beat back the fires with branches.

As the fires worsened, people gathered to protest in Santa Cruz state. Chanting “we want your help”, they complained that the smoke was so bad they were struggling to breathe. They want Morales to request international aid to fight the fires. While firefighters and volunteers struggle to tackle the blaze in 55℃ heat, Bolivians have set up a fundraiser to tackle the fires themselves.

The extreme heat has made fighting the fires intolerable for those involved. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

The extreme heat has made fighting the fires intolerable for those involved. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

A fortnight after the fires began, a supertanker aeroplane of water arrived, hired from the US. But if the reactions to the president’s announcement on Twitter are anything to go by, many Bolivians think this is too little, too late. Morales is fighting a general election and has faced criticism for staying on the campaign trail while the fires spread.

Some Indigenous leaders are asking for a trial to determine responsibility for the fires, and the response to them. Alex Villca, an Indigenous leader and spokesperson, said:

It is President Evo Morales who should be held accountable. What are these accountabilities going to be? A trial of responsibilities for this number of events that are occurring in the country, this number of violations of Indigenous peoples and also the rights of Mother Nature.

The dry forest understorey ignites while firefighters deploy fire breaks. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

The dry forest understorey ignites while firefighters deploy fire breaks. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

President Morales came to power in Bolivia in 2006, on a platform of socialism, Indigenous rights, and environmental protection. He passed the famous “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” in 2010, which placed the intrinsic value of nature alongside that of humans. His environmental rhetoric has been strong but his policies have been contradictory. Morales has approved widespread deforestation, as well as roads and gas exploration in national parks.

While the fires in the Chiquitano have dominated the media within the country, hundreds more rage across Bolivia, assisted by the recent drought. It’s unclear whether the response to these fires will affect the October election outcome, but sentiments are running high in the country, where more than 70% of people prioritise environmental protection over economic growth.

Bolsonaro and Brazil might grab the headlines, but Bolivia too is now host to a desperately serious humanitarian and environmental situation.

CLAIRE F.R. WORDLEY is a Research Associate, Conservation Evidence, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION.


Enter Kenya’s Rose Oasis

Some of the best roses in the world bloom in Kenya. While the country is widely known for its scenic national parks and wildlife reserves, it’s also a major flower producer. Winnie Gathonie Njonge is the production manager at Nini Flowers, which sits on the shores of Lake Naivasha. She knows all there is about growing perfect roses and oversees the harvesting of 300,000 to 450,000 a day. “The ultimate goal of growing roses is to make other people happy,” she says. It brings her joy to know the roses she cultivates are sent to the United States, Japan and other countries, spreading love and beauty all over the world.

Saving India’s Most Sacred River

Each year, about 8 million tons of flowers are dumped into India’s rivers. As flowers hold a sacred place in Hindu rituals, they are often thrown into the Ganges, India’s holiest river. Unfortunately, pesticides and other chemicals from these flowers are mixing with the water, exacerbating an ecosystem already plagued with pollution. Enter HelpUsGreen, an organization that has begun collecting the waste flowers and upcycling them into products like incense, soap and biodegradable styrofoam. Through the group’s efforts, they’re addressing an environmental threat while giving the flowers a new life.

The Abandoned Whaling Station Nature Reclaimed

Rusty boats and barrels dot the shore of the British Island of South Georgia. They’re relics of a whaling station known as Grytviken that ceased operation in 1966 after the whale population had been nearly depleted by hunting. Today, the remote island, which sits 1,500 miles from the foot of Argentina, is home to millions of penguins and as well as seals. What was once the scene of one of the worst wildlife massacres in history is now a space that nature itself has reclaimed.

Preserving Prehistoric Lizards With the 'Iguanero'

We’ve all met a crazy cat lady or maybe a neighbor with an insane collection of pet turtles. Now, let us introduce you to Ramón Medina Archundia: the iguana guy. Archundia loves iguanas so much that he fosters hundreds of them in his front yard in Manzanilla, Mexico. Forty-one years ago, he adopted about 40 of these prehistoric-looking lizards to protect them from hunters and bring awareness to their dwindling numbers. Now, each one represents a new family member that he cares for and treats as if they were his own children. Leapin’ lizards!

Fighting Human Extinction in London and Beyond

Over the past week, governmental officials and police say, protesters have wreaked havoc in London—but it’s all part of an effort to address the sociopolitical factors wreaking havoc on our planet.

Parliament Square on April 19. DAVID HOLT. CC BY 2.0

Parliament Square on April 19. DAVID HOLT. CC BY 2.0

In the early afternoon of Monday, April 22, about 100 people entered London’s Natural History Museum and made their way to Hintze Hall. As sunlight streamed in from the skylights and illuminated the Romanesque arches that punctuate the stone walls, the protestors positioned themselves underneath Hope—the enormous blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling—and lay down on the ground. After about half an hour, most concluded their “die-in,” but a few remained; wearing face paint and crimson robes, they gave a classical music performance on the steps beneath the skeleton.

This unusual demonstration was part of a massive mobilization by Extinction Rebellion (abbreviated as XR), a non-partisan movement aiming to revise environmental policy with the goals of slowing climate change and minimizing the possibility of imminent human extinction. The group launched in the United Kingdom in October of 2018—in response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report announcing that we have just 12 years to halt catastrophic change—and quickly proliferated worldwide.


Today, the movement boasts about 130 groups across the UK, and is active in countries from the U.S. to South Africa to Australia. Its core demands are threefold: Honesty and transparency from governments regarding the ecological crisis; reduction of carbon emissions to zero by 2025; and the implementation of a participatory democracy to monitor progress towards these goals.

The current actions in London, advertised on XR’s website as “UK Rebellion—Shut Down London!,” are the focal point of a constellation of protests planned in 80 cities across 33 countries. Beginning on April 15, thousands of protestors poured into the heart of London, blocking five major landmarks: Waterloo Bridge, Marble Arch, Parliament Square, Oxford Circus, and Piccadilly Circus. From the beginning, group members made it clear that they weren’t going anywhere, filling the bridge with trees and flowers and even setting up a skate park and stage. Live music emanated from Oxford Circus, and a life-sized model of a boat with “Tell the Truth” painted on the side blocked the center of the bustling junction.

Nearby at Piccadilly Circus, younger protestors chalked messages on the pavement, while inside an open-sided truck at Marble Arch, bands entertained hundreds of onlookers. In Parliament Square on April 15, Jamie Kelsey Fry—contributing editor for the Oxford-based New Internationalist magazine—encouraged demonstrators from an octagonal stage.

Chalk message on April 17. Felton Davis. CC BY 2.0

Chalk message on April 17. Felton Davis. CC BY 2.0

The audience waved flags and banners emblazoned with the symbol of the movement, dubbed by Steve Rose of The Guardian as the ubiquitous logo of 2019. According to Rose, the “X” signifies extinction, and the horizontal lines suggest an hourglass—reminding us once again that time is running out.

A high point for protestors was a visit from 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg on Sunday, April 21. The Swedish teenager, who staged a “School Strike for Climate” at Sweden’s Parliament last year and initiated the weekly #FridaysforFuture school walkouts, received chants of “We love you” as she took the stage at Marble Arch.

Demonstrating on London’s Blackfriars Bridge last November. Julia Hawkins. CC BY 2.0

Demonstrating on London’s Blackfriars Bridge last November. Julia Hawkins. CC BY 2.0

While the protests have in some ways resembled a modern-day Woodstock, full of music and goodwill, London authorities—who have deployed some 9,000 police officers in response—see a different side of the story. As of April 22, more than 1,000 people had been arrested since the demonstrations began; the youngest to be charged was 19, and the oldest 74.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said that the protest was taking a toll on London’s police forces and businesses, commenting, “I'm extremely concerned about the impact the protests are having on our ability to tackle issues like violent crime.” Protestors, for their part, view the stress on police as unavoidable: “We wish we didn’t have to distract police resources,” their website states. “80 year old grandfathers would rather not be putting themselves in the physically uncomfortable position of being in a police cell and children don’t want to be skipping school  – but 30 years of government inaction have left us with no choice.”

Tent set up in Parliament Square. DAVID HOLT. CC BY 2.0

Tent set up in Parliament Square. DAVID HOLT. CC BY 2.0

As protesters continue to be removed from the scene one by one by the police, with more rushing in to take their place, the question is whether or not the government will be responsive to XR’s message. On the first day of the mobilization, XR wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May outlining its demands, requesting talks, and issuing a stern warning: Failing government action, the group’s disruptive demonstrations would only escalate over the coming weeks. On April 22—the day of the Natural History Museum die-in, and also Earth Day—the group said that they would soon hold a “people’s assembly” to determine next steps. The next day, protesters marched on Parliament in a renewed push to open dialogue with government officials.


London’s Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit has said that XR’s demand for carbon neutrality by 2025 “technically, economically and politically has absolutely no chance of being fulfilled,” but nevertheless supports the message behind the movement and the actions it has engendered. For XR, surmounting the impossible is the only way forward to ensure that human beings can continue to inhabit the earth: Their website reads, “Only a peaceful planet-wide mobilisation of the scale of World War II will give us a chance to avoid the worst case scenarios and restore a safe climate.” Only time will tell whether those in power agree.





TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.








This Small Mexican Border Town Prizes its Human and Environmental Links with the US

Lucia Orosco holding her daughter, Arely, in Boquillas. Much of the embroidery created here reads ‘no el muro’ (no wall). Matthew Moran,  CC BY-ND

Lucia Orosco holding her daughter, Arely, in Boquillas. Much of the embroidery created here reads ‘no el muro’ (no wall). Matthew Moran, CC BY-ND

The tiny Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen sits nestled between the Sierra del Carmen Mountains and the Rio Grande. Its Chihuahuan Desert location is strikingly beautiful, with green vegetation along the river, the brown soil of the surrounding desert and pink mountain cliffs creating splendid color contrasts.

I have been taking students to this magnificent landscape for 20 years – mostly to Big Bend National Park in Texas, just a mile north of Boquillas. My colleagues and I have also studied the ecological and economic value of this habitat, one of the most biodiverse and ecologically important desert regions in the world.

Recently I returned to study the ecotourism and conservation potential of Boquillas. In the process, I learned about a local vision for the border that is markedly different from the prevailing U.S. view.

Mexican jays range north into the U.S. through the Big Bend region and in southeastern Arizona.  NPS/Cookie Ballou

Mexican jays range north into the U.S. through the Big Bend region and in southeastern Arizona. NPS/Cookie Ballou

Here the Rio Grande forms the line between the United States and Mexico. The river is an ecological gathering place that draws humans and wildlife. For Boquillas residents, the idea of building a wall here is sacrilegious. As Lilia Falcon, manager of a local restaurant, said to me, “We have friends on both sides of the river, we want these interactions to continue.” Her husband, Bernardo Rogel, was more succinct: “We love both countries.”

View of Boquillas, Mexico. Matthew Moran,  CC BY-ND

View of Boquillas, Mexico. Matthew Moran, CC BY-ND

A fragile ecotourism economy

Boquillas was originally a mining town, with local deposits of silver, lead and zinc that attracted prospectors. By the early 20th century, 2,000 people lived there and a thriving industry was exporting ore.

That boom turned to bust, and by the end of World War I the mines were closed. The town nearly disappeared in the 1960s, but in 1999 when I first visited there, it had about 200 residents. They made their living from cross-border tourism, with U.S. visitors to Big Bend National Park entering Mexico via a legal but unofficial border crossing.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, however, the United States closed all of these informal crossings. Overnight Boquillas lost its income source, ruining livelihoods and jeopardizing years of effort by residents and government officials to build cooperative border relations.

The nearest place to get supplies was now a 300-mile round trip over rough roads deep into rural Mexico. Just three miles away on the U.S. side, gas, food and services in Big Bend National Park’s Rio Grande Village campground were now inaccessible. Relatives who were citizens on opposite sides of the border were separated, 115 miles from the nearest legal crossing point.

After more than a decade of lobbying by residents, the U.S. government created a “remote” passport facility, where people crossing the border could present their documentation by phone to a border agent located in El Paso. Boquillas reopened and merchants and guides returned. In 2018 more than 11,000 visitors crossed over from the United States.

Crossing to Boquillas by rowboat from Big Bend National Park.  NPS / T. VandenBerg

Crossing to Boquillas by rowboat from Big Bend National Park. NPS / T. VandenBerg

Today Boquillas residents are working again to teach visitors about this part of Mexico, and ecotourism companies are expanding. People here envision a future for the border in which respect, cooperation and shared economic gain will create a prosperous and sustainable future for communities on both sides.

Welcoming visitors and valuing connections

It is obvious to me that people in Boquillas love their town and are hopeful about the future. “I want to show visitors the beauty of my home and to have a more prosperous life for my family,” Lacho Falcón, a local guide whose family owns the only grocery store in town, told me on my most recent visit as we hiked into Boquillas canyon, its massive vertical walls gleaming in soft morning light.

Lacho Falcón (second from left, rear) and his family in Boquillas. Matthew Moran,  CC BY-ND

Lacho Falcón (second from left, rear) and his family in Boquillas. Matthew Moran, CC BY-ND

I have heard that sentiment repeated many times as I have gotten to know more people in the town. Thanks to economic activity from tourism, “We have been able to buy a vehicle, improve our house, and most importantly, send our oldest daughter Wendy to college,” said Lucia Orosco. She sells crafts to help support her family, which includes husband Adrián, who manages the ferry crossing over the Rio Grande, and their three children.

Canoeing the Rio Grande is a favorite tourist activity. The river cuts through spectacular canyons, supports abundant wildlife and provides water for this thirsty land. I spoke with Ernesto Hernández Morales from Vera Cruz, Mexico and Mike Davidson from Terlingua, Texas about the river’s potential to unify their countries. As partners with Boquillas Adventures, a Mexican registered ecotourism company that focuses on natural and historic interpretation, they are working to expand sustainable tourism opportunities in nearby protected areas, hiring local residents as guides.

“We see our work as more than a business,” said Hernández Morales. “It’s an opportunity to show Mexico and the U.S. working together for security and prosperity.” Davidson concurs: “It is our goal to provide our guests a high-quality, safe experience…and offer them a glimpse of daily reality on this part of the border.”

Ernesto Hernández Morales helps run Boquillas Adventures, an ecotourism company in the Boquillas region. Matthew Moran,  CC BY-ND

Ernesto Hernández Morales helps run Boquillas Adventures, an ecotourism company in the Boquillas region. Matthew Moran, CC BY-ND

Chalo Diaz, a local guide who takes visitors on river trips, is excited about his work. “Boquillas is a beautiful town where you can visit friendly people. Now that the border has reopened, we have improved it and are connected to the world,” he told me.

United ecologically, separated politically?

In 2011 Mexico and the United States signed a cooperative agreement to conserve the spectacular Chihuahuan Desert landscape. This initiative builds on proposals dating back nearly a century to create a cross-border international peace park.

American black bears, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and a host of smaller animals, as well as over 400 species of birds, move across this landscape. Studies show that conserving this region requires maintaining free movement for wildlife. Researchers warn that building a border wall through the area could threaten thousands of plant and animal species by preventing them from moving between patches of the best habitat.

Currently Boquillas is the only access point where people can cross between the protected areas in this region. This makes it critical to future conservation success. People in Boquillas believe that building a border wall would sever this connection, causing hardship and insecurity on both sides.

MATTHEW D. MORAN is a Professor of Biology at Hendrix College.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION.

The Floating Forests of India

Located in the Indian state of Manipur, Keibul Lamjao National Park is the world’s only floating wildlife sanctuary. The park’s Loktak Lake—the largest freshwater lake in northern India—is a spectacular sight, dotted with green patches and rings of vegetation known as “phumdi” that float atop the water. A biodiverse park, Keibul Lamjao provides sustenance to the people and animals of Manipur—including sangai, an endangered subspecies of brow-antlered deer revered by locals as the binding soul between humans and nature.

Black-Winged Mynah Birds are Critically Endangered, Despite Thousands in Captivity

A black-winged mynah bird on a branch in Kerala, India. Ambady Sasi. CC0.

A black-winged mynah bird on a branch in Kerala, India. Ambady Sasi. CC0.

Indonesia’s illegal pet trade is an old evil, with animals from tortoises to wild birds caught in its trap. For beauty, prestige, or simply the siren call of money, Indonesian wildlife has undergone massive unasked-for change, particularly because of its bountiful resources and impressive biodiversity.

Three similar species—black-winged mynahs, grey-humped mynahs, and grey-backed mynahs—are all coveted for their brilliant plumage as well for as their vocalizations, to the point that they are explicitly captured out of the wild for songbird competitions in Indonesia. According to National Geographic, around 40,000 live in captivity, while an estimated 500 remain in the wild.

Collectively, these three species are known as black-winged mynahs, and were once thought to be one species. Members of the starling family, these birds’ plumage is distinct, with their tails and parts of their wings being glossy black, while the rest of their bodies are white. They are able to make a range of vocalizations, from trills to chirps, which is one of their most prized attributes for people. In 2010, the status of the black-winged mynah was changed from “endangered” to “critically endangered”. It is estimated that their population shrank 80 percent in the last 10 to 15 years.

Indonesia overall is an epicenter for the illegal wildlife trade, and according to data from WWF-Indonesia, the country accounts that around 85 percent of the animals traded were from illegal hunting. The loss of key animals in the biosphere disrupts the food chain that the ecosystem has built up over millions of years. In turn, this damages human food sustainability, particularly for the foods we obtain from flora and fauna. For example, declining tiger populations causes the wild boar population to rise, which causes issues for farmers in the same areas. WWF-Indonesia is currently raising awareness of the world’s wildlife, as well as how the trade ultimately destroys what we all need to survive.

Indonesia has a long history of keeping birds as pets, even to the point of mentioning the prestige of owning birds in sayings. However, this has led to what some are calling the “Asian Songbird Crisis”. Capturing birds in the wild is cheaper than breeding them. On the other hand, breeding birds in captivity is at least legal. Though breeders are supposed to release 10 percent of the birds they breed back into the wild, this is rarely done, or if it is, it’s entirely possible that the birds could be released in the wrong areas. The crisis has become so rampant that prices have dropped low enough (to an estimated $73) for black-winged mynahs to become a common pet for the middle classes, according to National Geographic.

In April 2018, a revision was submitted to the Indonesian government for an overhaul of the country’s 28-year-old conservation law. Though the draft made some steps to curb the illegal wildlife trade, it also opened many loopholes, to the point where critics saw it as a regression, according to Mongabay. Though Indonesia added 919 birds to their protected species list this past August, revising it for the first time since 1999, nothing seems to have changed about their conservation laws.

Indonesia’s illegal wildlife and pet trade still has an uncertain future, with nothing more uncertain than the eventual fate of the species driven further to extinction, including the three that make up the collective black-winged mynah birds.


NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.

CHILE: Patagonia

Torres del Paine National Park is in Chile’s Patagonia region and known for its beautiful mountain ranges, icebergs and glaciers, and golden pampas, which are the grasslands that shelter wildlife such as guanacos. Some of its most iconic sites are the 3 granite towers from which the park takes its name and the horn-shaped peaks called Cuernos del Paine.

The Eerie History and Uncertain Future of Japan’s Rabbit Island

Ōkunoshima and its imperiled bunny population remind us that wildlife and tourism don’t always mix.

A cluster of bunnies on Rabbit Island. Cindy Pepper. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A cluster of bunnies on Rabbit Island. Cindy Pepper. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

From its many “cat islands,” which boast more feline than human residents, to Jigokudani Monkey Park, where visitors can observe macaques bathing in the naturally occurring hot springs, Japan seems to overflow with fantastical wildlife enclaves. Perhaps the most adorable of all is Ōkunoshima, or “Rabbit Island”—but the cotton-tailed denizens for which this island is known belie its sinister past and ambiguous future.

While Ōkunoshima, located in the Hiroshima Prefecture, is a popular tourist destination for those looking to get their kawaii fix, it was once hidden from maps due to its clandestine status as a World War II military location. Production of chemical weapons in the island’s poison gas factory began in 1929, and apart from factory workers and army higher-ups, few citizens were aware of its existence.

Ōkunoshima was chosen for its location: discreet enough for goings-on there to remain under the radar, and far enough from densely populated cities like Tokyo to prevent mass casualties in case of an accident. The factory there eventually produced more than 6,000 tons of gas—primarily mustard gas and the irritant lewisite—before its closure at the end of the war. Chemicals wereould be shipped to Kitakyushu in the Fukuoka Prefecture to be weaponized, eventually resulting in more than 80,000 casualties (including and more than 6,000 deaths) among Chinese soldiers and civilians.

Despite the fact that Japan was a signatory to the 1929 Geneva Convention banning the use of chemical weapons, none of the country’s citizens were prosecuted for employing poison gas. After Japan’s defeat in the war, most of the Ōkunoshima factory was destroyed, but laboratory buildings, the shell of a power plant, an army barracks, and a few other edifices remain. In 1988, local governmental entities and citizens opened the Poison Gas Museum to pay tribute to this dark and little-known facet of Japanese history. Displays include the ineffective protective gear worn by workers at the factory, which left them vulnerable to exposure and subsequent illness, as well as equipment used to manufacture the gases.

So where did the bunnies enter the equation? We know that a colony of rabbits was brought to the factory during its operational years to test the effects of poisons, but beyond that, theories diverge. Some suggest that the original crop of rabbits was destroyed along with the factory, while others claim that workers set the bunnies free after the war. Another theory asserts that schoolchildren brought eight rabbits to the island in 1971, where they bred until they reached their current population of approximately 1,000.

Tadanoumi Port viewed from the ferry to Ōkunoshima. Brian Shamblen. CC 2.0

Tadanoumi Port viewed from the ferry to Ōkunoshima. Brian Shamblen. CC 2.0

Today, Ōkunoshima is easily accessible via a 15-minute ferry, and embodies peace, rest, and relaxation for tourists and locals alike. Visitors can easily explore it on foot (the island is less than 2.5 miles in circumference), collect souvenirs, dine, play tennis, swim in the ocean, and bathe in the hot spring—apart from communing with the wildlife, of course. Rabbit Island’s website describes it as a place to seek good fortune for your own family’s fertility, and advertises whipped ice cream and “original rabbit items” for sale, as well as octopus kelp rolls, a local delicacy known to pair well with sake.

Yet even the island’s thriving tourist industry and booming bunny population has a more sinister flip side. The wild rabbits depend on visitors for their food and water, but tourists often come bearing snacks that are harmful to the creatures’ delicate digestive systems—such as cabbage or vegetable peelings, which can cause fatal bloating. And while visitors are keen to share photos of their new fluffy friends online, social media has played a key role in destabilizing the rabbit population: Viral videos and articles have led to a vast influx of tourists in the past decade, and the resultant avalanche of snacks and treats has contributed to a breeding boom that the island’s ecosystem is unable to handle. These factors have combined to lower the bunnies’ life expectancy to only two years, compared to the three-to-five-year lifespan of the average wild rabbit.

The plight of the Ōkunoshima rabbits is just one example of the widespread harm social media has inflicted on wildlife populations across the globe: For instance, viral YouTube videos of slow lorises, wide-eyed nocturnal primates native to Southeast Asia, have led to people taking home lorises from the wild to keep as their own. Unfortunately, captivity is unhealthy for the animals, and they often end up relegated to props in tourist photos—or worse, sold into the illegal pet trade, and possibly slaughtered for use in cuisine or medicinals.

A curious bunny on Ōkunoshima seems to have mistaken the camera for a snack. Brian Shamblen. CC 2.0

A curious bunny on Ōkunoshima seems to have mistaken the camera for a snack. Brian Shamblen. CC 2.0

Ultimately, bunny lovers need not be deterred from visiting Ōkunoshima, but following the rules is essential in order to treat the creatures kindly and foster their health and wellness. The Rabbit Island website lays out guidelines for responsible rabbit enthusiasts—including “refill water pans” and “check under your car,” as curious bunnies might hide underneath to escape the hot sun—and travelers can use their visit as an opportunity to educate friends and family about the unique perils posed to wildlife in the digital age. Approaching this mystical island mindfully is a small yet important step in helping the myriad diverse populations of the animal kingdom survive and thrive for many years to come.


TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.

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Extreme Evolution: Widespread Poaching Spawns Generation of Tuskless Elephants

An elephant's tusks are used as foraging tools and weapons in combat. David Clode. Public Use.

An elephant's tusks are used as foraging tools and weapons in combat. David Clode. Public Use.

When scientists and journalists examine poaching in Africa, they tend to focus on actions taken by human beings to protect a hunted species. What hasn't been examined is how nature itself may intervene on behalf of endangered animals and prevent their extinction. For example, scientists in Mozambique are investigating a peculiar phenomenon in which more and more elephants are being born without tusks. This is believed to be an evolutionary response to the widespread poaching that threatens elephant populations.

An elephant’s tusks are basically overgrown teeth and about a third of those teeth lie embedded in the animal’s skull—removing the tusks is generally fatal to the elephants themselves. Conservationists who would readily saw off the horns of a rhinoceros to make it unattractive to poachers are unable to take similar measures with elephants and must instead rely on militarized anti-poaching units to keep the animals safe.  Despite the efforts of these units and an international ban on the ivory trade, poachers have managed to leave a permanent mark on elephant population numbers. A civil war that ravaged Mozambique for 15 years saw the deaths of many elephants, as their ivory funded military operations and their meat fed soldiers. During that time, only about two to four percent of female elephants in Mozambique were born without tusks. But the widespread slaughter of tusked females made the tuskless gene more common: about thirty percent of female elephants born after the war had no tusks, while male elephants, who are always born with tusks, had tusks much smaller than those of their predecessors.

Elephants can survive without tusks, and the elephants born in Mozambique seem healthy. Still, scientists are curious to see what long-term effects this phenomenon will have on the elephant population. Elephants are among the most intelligent creatures on the planet, with a sophisticated, highly social culture. Tusks are a vital part of that culture, serving as tools for foraging and weapons for sparring.  Some experts think that a lack of tusks may force elephants to travel greater distances in search of food. Elephants also act as nature’s bulldozers, clearing away trees and making areas of the forest more accessible to other animals. A tuskless elephant would have greater difficulty performing such a task and this may cause ripples in Mozambique’s environment. Scientists will have to wait and see how nature adapts, and what steps it will take moving forward.





JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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Scientists Find Elusive Orcas off the Coast of Chile

Orcas, or "Killer Whales" as they are commonly known, are actually members of the dolphin family. Steve Halama. Public Use.

Orcas, or "Killer Whales" as they are commonly known, are actually members of the dolphin family. Steve Halama. Public Use.

The Earth is about 71 percent water, 95 percent of that water unexplored. Every few years, animals emerge from the depths that force the scientific community to rewrite its rhetoric on oceanic life. With climate change upsetting the environmental landscape these occurrences may become more common. In January scientists found what could be a new species of orca off the coast of Cape Horn in Chile. The animals are said to share a common ancestor with the Orcinus orca that we often see in movies and documentaries, and the two have coexisted for thousands of years, a testament to how little we know about the deep.

Orcas, commonly called killer whales, are not whales at all, but the largest species of dolphin. They are found in virtually all of the world's oceans and seas and are widely considered to be apex predators, surpassing even the great white shark. For years, captive orcas have performed at water parks for the amusement of spectators, a practice that has become increasingly unpopular with the release of the documentary Blackfish. Now their wild counterparts facing their own challenges the form of climate change, which alters the weather patterns in an area and redistributes the animals that live there.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were drawn to Cape Horn by reports from the local fishermen who were allegedly losing their catches to the orcas. Upon arrival, they found a group of 30 individuals who spent three hours investigating the scientists while they themselves were being filmed. These “Type D” orcas were first documented in 1955 when a pod washed up on a beach in New Zealand. The animals live in the subantarctic region, home to some of the stormiest waters on the planet, which makes them near impossible to study. Thanks to climate change, however, these waters are warming at an alarming rate, and it could have an effect on the orcas themselves or the food they eat.  In addition to physical analysis, NOAA scientists were able to collect skin and blood samples. Type D orcas have rounder heads and narrower fins than their more commonly known cousins. At around 25 feet, they are also a bit smaller, and their white eyepatches, a defining characteristic of orcas, are almost non-existent. The animals’ blood is still being analyzed, but experts believe that when the test results come back the Type D Orca will be the largest undescribed animal left in the world—at least, for now.





JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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Wildlife War: Africa's Militaristic Approach to Animal Conservation

A group of rangers on patrol in Zimbabwe. Bumihillsfoundation.CC BY-SA 4.0

A group of rangers on patrol in Zimbabwe. Bumihillsfoundation.CC BY-SA 4.0

The plight of endangered elephants and rhinos in Africa is fairly well known to the world: Elephants are hunted by poachers for their tusks, which are carved into jewelry while rhinos are hunted for their horns which are believed in many cultures to carry medicinal value. The widespread poaching of these animals has pushed their population numbers back, causing a ripple effect in local ecosystems and presenting the possibility of extinction for the animals themselves. There is a very real chance that future generations may not grow up with these animals present as the current generation did. What is not as well known is that for years now, Africa has taken a militarized approach to prevent this outcome from becoming a reality, with armed conservation groups authorized to impose the harshest penalties on would-be poachers.

Poaching in Africa reached its zenith in the 1970s and 80s. In 1989 Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi appointed famed paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey as head of Kenya’s Wildlife Conservation and Management Department, and Dr. Leaky created the first armed anti-poaching units. He then implemented a “shoot to kill” policy for dealing with poachers that drastically reduced environmental crime in the region. Several African nations followed suit and the practice of using arms to protect animals expanded throughout the continent, becoming more sophisticated over the years. Today conservation in Africa is a well known and a viable career path, with militarized conservation groups being trained by ex-soldiers from around the world. Nir Karlon, a former Israeli commando, manages the Maisha Group, a private security firm that focuses on preventing environmental crime in the Congo. In Zimbabwe, a nerve center of the African elephant population, Damian Mander of the Australian Royal Navy heads up the first all-female ranger team called “Akashinga” which means, “Brave Ones”. The group initially faced criticism from male conservationists who doubted that women would be able to perform the arduous physical tasks associated with the job. The Brave Ones, however, proved to be as capable as any man when it came to military conservation. New recruits to ranger units often go through several days of rigorous training before being offered a position. Some groups accept volunteers in unarmed positions, but most conservationists still carry weapons and are still authorized to use deadly force.

The job is not without risks. In the last decade, 1000 rangers have been killed while on duty. Death can come from the poachers they pursue or the animals they protect. Much of Africa’s poaching is carried out by crime syndicates and local militants who have found that ivory can be used as currency to buy weapons and fund campaigns. Encounters between conservationists and poachers have on occasion erupted into full-on firefights, and some critics have expressed concern that the rangers' methods may be too brutal. With this in mind, many ranger groups have made community outreach an even greater priority than battling poachers, as support from the locals will always be more effective than a gun. Education seminars at local schools help the rangers strengthen their relationships with people living in protected areas, with a long term goal of increasing awareness and surveillance of animal poaching in Africa.





JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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The Impacts of Climate Change on Native Alaskan Communities

A female walrus and her pup sitting on an ice flow. US Geological Survey.

A female walrus and her pup sitting on an ice flow. US Geological Survey.

While climate change affects everyone, its effects are especially strong in northern, cold climates. In Alaska, for instance, temperatures are rising faster than any other state, according to the National Climate Assessment. Although the dramatic rise in temperatures has lengthened the agricultural growing season, Alaska will now face water shortages, coastal erosion, and melting sea ice.

Alaska holds 40% of the United States’ native population, and Alaskan native populations are more susceptible to climate change than non-native Alaskans. Often living in remote locations, native Alaskans depend on the oceans for fish, and the land for hunting and agriculture. One threat facing native communities is a decline in sea ice. The National Climate Assessment predicts that northern waters will be ice free by 2030, which will likely result in a decline in food sources. Many native communities rely on walruses for food, and walruses need sea ice in order to survive. In 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service recorded that the number of walruses caught by Alaskans fell by a third of the amount caught at the turn of the century. A reduction in sea ice will also reveal underwater possibilities for ocean oil rigs which were once concealed by ice. This will make the Alaskan coast prone to oil spills, which could have a detrimental effect on oceanic ecosystems.

The increase in temperatures will also cause permafrost, a thick layer of frozen soil, to thaw beneath lakes and ponds. Permafrost often contains organic material which will release carbon dioxide into the air as it melts. However, the thawing permafrost is causing the land to become unstable. This will make once stable lands unstable, and cause coastal erosion, landslides, and floods.

The coastal erosion caused by thawing permafrost is the most pressing issue facing Alaskans. Many native communities, such as the Yup’ik aboriginal peoples of Newtok, Alaska, have been forced to relocate because their homeland is now uninhabitable, due to coastal erosion caused by permafrost. The coastal community of Shishmaref, Alaska is slowly eroding into the ocean, and by 2023 almost half of the village is estimated to be eroded by raising temperatures. Newtok and Shishmaref are unfortunately not unique cases for native communities; as of 2017, there were 12 native towns considering relocation.

Although some countries are attempting to minimize their carbon footprint, their efforts are undermined by the many countries who choose to ignore the realities of climate change. Thus, climate change is only accelerating, and Alaskan indigenous communities will be affected at greater rates in the future. The National Climate Assessment estimates that temperatures will rise by 10 degrees fahrenheit  to 12 degrees fahrenheit in the north, and 8 degrees fahrenheit to 10 degrees fahrenheit in the interior. The United States has allocated $15 million to Newtok to cover the cost of relocating to a more stable environment, yet little is being done on a grand scale to put an end to climate change. Although it was kind to offer aid to native communities, it is unfair to forced to communities to relocate due to forces out of their control. One can only hope that in the future, governments will take a more proactive role in preventing damage from climate change, so that areas like those in Alaska will not undergo major challenges due to the warming climate.

GINNY KEENAN is an NYU student currently studying abroad in London. She intends to major in journalism, and reads in her free time. She is always looking for new travel opportunities.

Spirit of Kenya

Wow Tapes has taken us across the globe through videos demonstrating experiences have been as culturally exhilarating as this one. The filmmakers were accepted with broad smiles and open arms into a wonderful campfire evening with one of the many tribal groups in Masai Mara. Sitting under the moonlight, they heard tribal legends and felt the human-aspect of the animal-dominated savannah.