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Animal Defenders International
Animal Defenders International

International Wildlife Conference Declines to Increase Protection of African Lions

Animal Defenders International
Animal Defenders International

At the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), nine countries from west and central Africa proposed reclassifying African lions as needing the highest level of protection. Instead, the 182 countries in attendance at the 17th Conference of the Parties reached a “compromise” that will allow continued international trade in lion bones and other parts. 

The proposed ruling would have changed the listing of African lions (Panthera leo) from Appendix II to Appendix I, the highest protection possible. Animals in Appendix I—including Asian lions—are considered “threatened with extinction,” and it’s illegal to buy and sell them.

Such a ban can’t come soon enough for African lions, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. But it’s not just cats in the wild that need protecting; the bones and skins of lions in circuses, breeding facilities, and private reserves are sought after too. So conservationists proposed a total ban, one that would extend protection to both wild and captive-bred lions. Before the conference, organizations like Animal Defenders International enlisted celebrities to champion their cause.

Even Ricky Gervais took it seriously. “The survival of the African lion hangs in the balance,” he said in a statement. “We must stop blood-thirsty hunters from decimating our wildlife for a barbaric adrenaline rush or trophy piece to show off to their mates.”

But the issue is a complicated one: Trophy hunting, ecotourism, and trade in animal parts are enormous money-makers in some African countries, which means that governments aren't easily swayed.

Still, the lions’ danger was not written off altogether. Instead, conference attendees reached a compromise: African lions will stay Appendix II. There will be a zero export quota for commercial trade in lion bones, bone pieces, products, claws, skeletons, skulls, and teeth (but not skins)—except in South Africa. It will be legal to trade in unlimited quantities of all these items as long as they come from captive-bred lions.

In response to public outcry, one representative from the European Union (which helped finalize the arrangement) told The Guardian, “It is the nature of compromise that not everyone gets what they want."

The CITES delegate from Zimbabwe—former home of Cecil the lion—argued that hunting lions is necessary for their survival. “The coexistence of people and lions can only be protected by putting a value on lions,” he said in The Guardian, “through eco-tourism and sport hunting, with the money ploughed back into conservation.”

On the other side, Colman O’Criodain, a wildlife trade specialist for the World Wildlife Fund, told The Guardian, “WWF believes that, as with the trade of parts of captive-bred tigers, the trade in bone from captive-bred lion keeps demand for big cat bone alive, and complicates enforcement efforts.”

Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, agreed. “Countries not currently trading in lion bones will now want to join the trade,” she said in a statement. “To allow this beautiful animal to disappear from the wild would be a tragedy for us all, so we must not give up.”

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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