State of the Wild: A Global Portrait

State of the Wild: A Global Portrait


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State of the Wild is a biennial series that brings together international conservation experts and writers to discuss emerging issues in the conservation of wildlife and wild places.

In addition to evocative writings and a fascinating tour of conservation news highlights and vital statistics from around the world, this 2010-2011 edition examines how destabilization and war affect wildlife and wild places.
State of the Wild's accessible approach educates a wide range of audiences while at the same time presenting leading-edge scientific overviews of hot topics in conservation. Uniquely structured with magazine-like features up front, conservation news in the middle, and essays from eminent authors and experienced scientists throughout, this landmark series is an essential addition to any environmental bookshelf.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597266789
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 03/02/2010
Series: State of the Wild Series , #3
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Founded in 1895, the Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places through science, international conservation, education, and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo in New York City. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on earth.

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State of the Wild 2010-2011

A Global Portrait

By Eva Fearn


Copyright © 2010 Wildlife Conservation Society
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59726-678-9



Our planet's wild places—its myriad forests, grasslands, freshwaters, scrublands, and deserts, not to mention the largely unknown oceans—contain boundless biological interconnections. Exploring the natural world, directly through research and travel or indirectly through films and books, provides us an education on how wonderful and varied ecosystems are, and how our human societies are degrading the planet. Here, in State of the Wild, we share information on emerging issues in the conservation of wildlife and wild places over the past two years.

The opening essay, "State of the Wild: Wounded Wilderness," reveals the discovery of mercury contamination in even our most remote wild places. Often, we hope that oceans, rivers, and forests will somehow absorb the unwanted output from our industries and cities, but the consequences of this practice are playing out on a planetary scale.

From this overarching view, the focus narrows to showcase conservation victories and losses around the world in "Global Conservation News Highlights." These serve to describe the present state of the wild and, in sum, are both comforting and worrisome. "Discoveries" synthesizes news from the past two years in a different way, highlighting some of the new species that were discovered on the exhilarating expeditions of wildlife biologists and recreational naturalists. This is followed by "Rarest of the Rare," a poignant catalogue of species in decline, some of which may not last beyond a few more generations unless conservation efforts are redoubled. We hope that "Rarest of the Rare," rather than serving as an epitaph, will inspire a desire to learn more about wildlife and to work toward its long-term survival. The section continues as we follow a State of the Wild series tradition by returning to the theme of the previous volume (2008–2009)—Emerging Diseases and Conservation: One World–One Health—to explore why the intersection of wildlife, livestock, and human health continues to make headlines.

With the background and context provided by these pieces, we can better appreciate the contributions made by the 2010–2011 "Champions of the Wild"—individuals who have truly dedicated their lives to conservation. Subsequent parts of the book analyze wildlife conservation challenges, both local and global, and contemplate the theme of this edition: the conservation of wildlife during times of conflict. We hope you are inspired by the science, issues, species, and places presented in this book.


Wounded Wilderness


My canoe skimmed along a small lake in Alaska where I had traveled for a fishing trip. The quiet was punctuated only by the rippling water and distant bird calls. As I looked out upon snow-capped peaks, coniferous forests, and meadows carpeted with blueberries, I spotted a trail frequented by Dall's sheep (Ovis dalli dalli) and a few bears. I tried to imagine just how far south this boreal forest ecosystem stretched from Alaska into Canada, imagining the miles and miles of trees and wilderness that separated me from the distant cities I know. All I could see before me was the cold blue waters of Takahula Lake below the Arrigetch Peaks in the Brooks Range, some 70 miles from the nearest settlement of any size. I had not considered Russia and China across the Arctic Sea to the west, a source of airborne pollutants that blow into this area. But my mind would soon have to grapple with the fact that I was now enjoying a contaminated wilderness.

GARY PAUL NABHAN is founder and facilitator of the Renewing America's Food Traditions collaborative and is based on Tumamoc Hill in Arizona, the first restoration ecology site in the world and home of the Alliance for Reconciliation Ecology. His latest book is titled Where Our Food Comes From.

I had been out canoeing on Takahula Lake since seven in the morning, but the Arctic dawn had already occurred many hours earlier. It was July in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, and I was the only one on the water. That is to say, the only human, but there were plenty of Pacific loons (Gavia pacifica) and trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator), as well as moose wading on the far side of the lake. The air was crisp and clear; the water fresh from glacier melt; it seemed for a moment that I was partaking in the quintessential wilderness experience.

As I cast my line toward a shallow shoal between me and the shore, I saw the shimmering serpentine body of a green-spotted northern pike (Esox lucius) dodge its splash, then turn and spot the spoon-shaped lure. The fish lunged toward the lure, its boney jaw clamping down hard on the hook. Within half a minute, I had the pike in my hands, a sleek, 16-inch body quivering within my firm grip. I was thrilled.

But as I set about removing the hook from its upper jaw, I remembered what park ranger Pete Christian had said when Inupiaq elder James Nageak and I had gone out fishing the day before. Pete did not want to discourage us from fishing altogether but asked us to consider catch and release for a peculiar reason: high levels of mercury had been found in lake trout in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Noatak National Preserve. Many of the fish in a number of freshwater lakes in Alaska were already unfit to eat on a regular basis, primarily as a result of airborne contaminants that had blown in from factories and power stations thousands of miles away.

Mercury? I was astounded that fish in a wilderness lake contained enough methylmercury to cause neurological damage and impair reproductive health in people as well as in other fish-eating animals. Because the risk threshold for humans is the consumption of only two fish per month, some physicians discourage anyone from eating more than six ounces of any kind of fish per week, and they warn pregnant women against eating fish considered to be "apex predators." Why? It turns out that the deadliest forms of mercury are organic mercury compounds. Exposure to just a few drops of certain compounds may be enough to cause death. Methylmercury is the most persistent form, remaining stored in body tissues rather than being excreted away. From microbes to crustaceans to predatory fish, it bioaccumulates up the food chain.

Although I had caught a pike and not a lake trout, I was unsure whether I should bring the fish back to the kitchen for breakfast or release it. I hesitated for a moment, gripping the pike between my palms to sense the power of its wildness. Then I leaned over the wooden hull of the canoe and released the fish into the crystal clear but contaminated waters of Takahula Lake. I paddled back to camp, the fish bucket empty, but the memory of that slimy green pike still occupying my mind.

As an occasional visitor to Alaska from Arizona, I would not have been particularly vulnerable to mercury exposure by eating one or two fish during this trip. But nearly everyone else I was camping with was an Alaskan resident whose family and community depended on wild-caught fish and game for much of the year. Habitual consumption of either lake trout or pike from these parts would pose a real health risk for them.

When I returned home from the Arctic wilderness, I read a six-year study that the Western Airborne Contaminants Assessment project had undertaken in the most remote lakes in national parks across western North America. Two bodies of freshwater not far from Takahula—Burial Lake and Matcharak Lake—were among those sampled for evidence of airborne contaminants that can bioaccumulate up the food chain. The fish inhabiting these lakes carried not only dangerously high levels of mercury but also problematic levels of the insecticide dieldrin, a toxin known to be an immune-system depressant and endocrine disrupter, banned in the United States since 1987. Even though both lakes have relatively small watersheds nested entirely within the largest intact wilderness forest area remaining on the North American continent, the toxins had found their way here. The results of the monitoring assessment were sobering:

The dieldrin concentration in Burial Lake, as well as dieldrin concentrations in some individual Matcharak Lake fish, exceeded contaminant thresholds for subsistence fishers.... Mercury concentrations exceeded thresholds for wildlife health, and the median mercury concentration in Burial Lake and in some fish at Matcharak Lake exceeded the human contaminant health threshold.

The assessment concluded that, for the past 140 years, mercury had been accumulating on most lake bottoms within the Arctic Circle originating from coal burning and smelting operations. The mercury and dieldrin came from farther south in North America but also from coal-fired power plants, factories, and large agricultural fields across northern Europe, Russia, China, Korea, and Japan. The toxins know no boundaries, persist in the global environment for a very long time, and move with the wind, rain, and snow.

With this, I recalled writer Bill McKibben's idea of the end of nature. He referred to the notion that, at this point in history, virtually no place on Earth is without human influence—or contamination. In fact, in many places humans are at war with the integrity of the natural world, dramatically diminishing the health and resilience of what we once called wild ecosystems. And at this particular moment in our planet's history, it seems like humans have nature surrounded.

Since my fishing foray into the Alaskan wilderness, I have mulled over the internal conflict I felt when holding that northern pike in my hands. My senses were emphatically alerting me that "wild nature" was alive and well, squirming between my hands, filling my nostrils with the fragrances of forest and lake, enriching my vision with the splendor of snowy slopes and moose sauntering across the sandbars and muskegs where I had recently seen the tracks of grizzly, caribou, and lynx. But my mind was picking up an altogether different signal : wild nature had somehow been compromised, contaminated, or corrupted. Although I found it difficult to say the phrase "end of nature" aloud, because its very implications were so repugnant to me, I certainly understood the sentiment.

The nature writer Aldo Leopold once lamented that most ecologists are painfully aware that they live "in a world of wounds," whether they reside in an area directly damaged by political and military conflict or in an area contaminated by industrial, agricultural, or recreational waste, or nuclear fallout. And yet, most ecologists I know do not write off "wounded landscapes" any more than a medical practitioner would abandon care for a wounded patient. We must engage in their healing through the processes of remediation and ecological restoration, and we must also begin to deal with the root causes. The counterpoint to Leopold's recognition that we have caused wounds is that we can heal many of them, and, though that healing takes time, it is worthy of our efforts. We have the capacity to restore the world and to stand in awe of its wonders once more. I look forward to the day when my grandchildren can fish in an Arctic lake and take back to camp a pike that is not only uncontaminated but a thrill to grill and eat.


The past two years brought both good news and bad news for wildlife and wildlands conservation. A number of new protected areas and partnerships are safeguarding vulnerable species and places. At the same time, the effects of climate change have continued to reveal themselves worldwide, many sooner than predicted, and the world economy plummeted into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The following pages provide a glimpse into a set of the most pressing issues and trends affecting biodiversity in every region of the globe, and show that amidst some very troubling developments exist successes and glimmers of hope.


Recent challenges to African conservation include fluctuating commodity prices, political crises, unpredictable peace processes, and escalated poaching. Commodity prices rose in 2007–2008, leading to increased pressure from extractive industries across Africa, but declines in 2009 resulted in unemployment and an increase in poaching from Gabon to Zambia. Conflict over natural resources continued to plague Chad, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, imperiling globally important ecosystems and wildlife populations. Hopes are high, however, for the role that ecotourism and carbon markets can play in providing economic incentives to preserve species and habitats across the continent.


All of Asia's wildlife is under tremendous threat from heavy hunting, for both local consumption and wealthy urban or international markets, primarily for use in traditional medicines. In tropical and semitropical Asia, where most of the continent's 4 billion humans live at some of the highest densities on the planet, only small islands of truly wild lands remain. In the colder and drier climes, grasslands face unsustainable land use, including desertification from overgrazing by livestock, while boreal regions face largely unregulated natural resource extraction.

Not all is lost, however, as innovative and tried-and-true conservation initiatives are gaining momentum. The global response to climate change is increasingly emphasizing avoided deforestation as a major intervention, and throughout Asia governments and nongovernmental organizations are producing functional forest protection projects.

More familiar biodiversity conservation initiatives, such as protected areas and landscape-level local stakeholder engagement, are steadily becoming more effective, as governments and the conservation community race to save Asia's vast diversity.

Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands

The Pacific region's remoteness and vast size have not spared it from human disturbance. Here the effects of habitat loss, overexploitation of resources, and invasive species—including predators, rats, and large herbivores—are among the most severe in the world, and further losses of species and ecological processes seem almost inevitable.

Despite this gloomy outlook, government agencies, scientists, conservation volunteers, and many communities are fighting back. New Zealand has pioneered methods to remove rats and other introduced mammals from its islands, and innovative Australian techniques are being used to efficiently identify areas of highest conservation priority. New reproductive technologies are being developed to conserve endemics, from a large ground frog (Platymantis vitianus) in Fiji to Gilbert's potoroo (Potorous gilberti) in Western Australia, and heroic efforts are being made to recover ailing flagship animals such as the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) and New Zealand kakapo (Strigops habroptila). As sea levels are predicted to rise, temperatures to increase, and rainfall to diminish over much of the Pacific in coming decades, the region will need to call upon its ingenuity to meet the challenges that its wildlife and peoples will face.

Central and South America

Several Latin American governments define natural resource prospection and development as matters of national interest and are allowing private companies to operate in remote wilderness areas, which are often occupied by indigenous peoples and sometimes have protected area status. Grassroots organizations are frequently effective in contesting development efforts that do not include careful consideration of conservation priorities. For example, indigenous Amazonian peoples in Peru succeeded in overturning decrees permitting the sale of collective lands to private investors for mining, logging, and drilling.

Meanwhile, state governments in Brazil are developing creative financial mechanisms to encourage preservation of remaining forest. While this effort has not yet been reflected in reduced rates of deforestation, the initiative offers hope for the future and shows that conservation constituencies are effective at the state level. Carbon sequestration and valuing of ecosystem services may also help reduce the rate of destruction in the Amazon and around the world.


The European Union (EU) continues to spread south and east with 27 member states as of 2008. Some of the newest members—Bulgaria and Romania, for example—are some of Europe's least developed and most wildlife-rich countries. The sheer diversity of territories and cultures making up the EU brings many challenges for the protection of wildlife and the natural environment. Membership in the EU and the resulting access to funds available to newcomers have inevitably brought to new members an increase in development pressures, from intensification of traditional agriculture to the construction of new coastal communities and highways across unspoiled landscapes. The expanding free-trade area of the European Single Market has also stretched its borders south and east, making the illicit trade of wildlife goods from outside of Europe considerably easier across internal borders. Largely as a result of land use changes encouraged by EU farming, forestry, and development policies, the latter third of the twentieth century was disastrous for wildlife across western Europe, from the United Kingdom to Spain. The next five years should reveal whether wildlife in the newest member states will suffer a similar fate to their more advanced neighbors.


Excerpted from State of the Wild 2010-2011 by Eva Fearn. Copyright © 2010 Wildlife Conservation Society. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

About the Wildlife Conservation Society
By the Numbers: Wildlife Conservation in a Time of War
Foreword: Conservation and the Global Economic Recession
Introduction: Future States of the Wild
PART I. State of the Wild
-State of the Wild: Wounded Wilderness
- Global Conservation News Highlights
-The Rarest of the Rare
-Rarest Ecosystems
-Emerging Diseases and Conservation: An Update on One World–One Health
-Champions of the Wild
PART II. Focus on the Wild
-Conservation Amid War
-Conservation and Governance: Lessons from the Reconstruction Effort in Afghanistan
-Marine Life in Times of Conflict
-Who Owns the Wild?: Civil Conflict in Africa
-Parks as Peace Makers: The Peru–Ecuador Divide
PART III. Emerging Issues in the Wild
Section 1. Conservation of Wildlife
-Vanishing Asian Turtles
-What Future for Forest Elephants?
-Restoration of the Guanaco, Icon of Patagonia
-Changing Flyways: Migratory Birds in a Warming World
Section 2. Conservation of Wild Places
-The Boreal Forest: Trouble in Canada's Great Wilderness
-Inspiring Ocean Conservation
-The Wild and the City
-Life Waters: Wetlands and Climate Change
-Conservation Controversy: Can Paying for Ecosystem Services Save Biodiversity?
Section 3. The Art and Practice of Conservation
-Faith, Hope, and Conservation
-Canine Detection Teams and Conservation
-Agriculture and Wildlife in Europe
-The Dilemma of Confiscated Wildlife
-The Evolving Practice of Conservation in Rwanda
-Final Thoughts: Safe Havens for Wildlife and People in Contested Holy Lands

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