The Northeast Louisiana Master Naturalists’ Program Explained

Inspecting a wax cap fungus near Farmerville, Louisiana.

Inspecting a wax cap fungus at Crawfish Springs near Farmerville, Louisiana. K.Paxton image and copyright.

Here’s a date for your diaries next Saturday! Are you a keen naturalist? Would you like to learn more about the Northeast Louisiana Master Naturalists’ Program? If so, why not come along and hear all about it at the Union Museum of History and Art on Saturday, February 17th at 13.00 where Bette Kauffman will show you how you can join in various educational and conservation activities and how to become one.

For more information please see the dedicated website Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast.


Blazing sunset at D'Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge. C.Paxton image and copyright.

Blazing sunset at D’Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge. C.Paxton image and copyright.

WILD Art Exhibition and Events at Union Museum of History and Art

Alan Futch, Dean of Flowers, has again amazed us and produced an exciting layout of varied high quality art work from a range of talented artists, this time on a natural theme

Alan Futch, Dean of Flowers, has again amazed us and produced an exciting layout, this time of varied high quality art work from a range of talented artists on a natural theme.

I loved seeing my work exhibited alongside some truly breathtaking wood sculptures, taxidermy tableaux, oil paintings, photographs, mixed media and pencil and water colour pictures. I submitted images of Southern wildlife alongside some very accomplished artists, many of these works are available for sale via the museum, mine printed in full colour at high resolution on foam core by ABP Associated Business Printing in West Monroe.

Today my short wildlife film “Fins, Feathers, Fur and Fangs” made its public debut running as a loop at the exhibition. At 33 minutes, it provides a quick taste of some of the region’s glorious biodiversity. Furthermore, if you are a landowner with prime wildlife habitat that you want to conserve you can read up about how to register your land with the protected areas program.

Exhibiting artists gathered for the opening party at Union Museum of History and Art in Farmerville. K. Paxton image

Exhibiting artists gathered for the opening party at Union Museum of History and Art in Farmerville. K. Paxton image

Together with this fabulous display of art on the theme of the natural world, Union Museum of History and Art will also be hosting the following events which promise to be very good indeed.

Thursday, Feb. 1, 4:30 p.m. – Kelby Ouchley, wildlife biologist and author, will discuss “American Alligator: Ancient Predator in the Modern World.” *

Saturday, Feb. 17, 1 p.m. – Bette Kauffman will discuss the Louisiana Master Naturalists program. She is president of the newly formed Northeast Louisiana chapter of the organization.

Wednesday, Feb. 28, 3:30 p.m. – Children’s program on “Louisiana Wild Things” by Nova Clarke, Black Bayou Lake Wildlife Refuge ranger.

Wednesday, March 7, 3:30 p.m. – Children’s program on “Raptors: Deadly Hunters,” by Kim Dooley of the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe.

You can keep up with the latest museum developments at their Facebook Page


*See my earlier review of this superb book here.

Many Types of US Snakes Targeted by Killer Fungus

Blue Ribbon Snake in the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. In 2008 the pathogenic fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola was discovered, it is now thought to be capable of afflicting any kind of snake in the southeastern and southcentral USA with lesions that hamper them and can even lead to death from infection according to the article in Science News online.

Wildopeneye is alarmed by this news that all types of US snakes within the area are being injured and ultimately weakened to death from secondary infections by a killer fungus that was first discovered in 2008.

See for more details.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library

By C. Paxton

Illustration of an Alligator Gar

Illustration of an Alligator Gar from The Alligator Gar by Alfred C. Weed

Wildopeneye stretched a bit wider this morning and watered a little when I learned via an article on Open Culture that there are now over two million images of nature available online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)! What a wonderful resource for writers, teachers and students worldwide! It is not just the images that are available either, the associated scientific literature is also there.

According to the Biodiversity Heritage Library STRATEGIC PLAN: 2015-2017, the goal is identified in BHL’s Mission statement as “Inspiring discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge” and the improvement of “research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community.”

I ran a search on “Alligator Gar” and have become engrossed in The Alligator Gar by Alfred C. Weed, Curator of Fishes originally published by the FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY in CHICAGO in 1923. It’s great stuff! On page 67,  Weed mentions a fascinating link between the gar and the local mother-of-pearl industry in the Mississippi drainage region:

“The total value of gars as food, as game or as
scavengers may not be very great but it is, at least,
worth mentioning. Their value to the pearl button industry
is probably as great, but the connection is so
obscure that it has not been suspected until very recently.
The relation between a pearl-handled knife
and an Alligator Gar may not seem very close and yet
the best shells for making knife handles and other
novelties could not live without the gars.”

Some local clam species, some of them of economic importance in the shell industry depend upon a parasitic relationship with the gar in their reproduction, free-floating eggs lodge within the gills of the fish and hatch into larvae that remain there, embedded for differing periods of their development. He goes on to say that the Alligator gar “is one of the three species that seem to be neccessary for the breeding of the best button shell.”

What an amazing environmental education resource.  I am going to explore it further before saying anything more on the subject!

Lousiana Master Naturalists Northeast Flock To Black Bayou For General Interest Meeting

A flock of ibises heading to roost over Black BayouYesterday evening (Oct 3) Kimmie and I went to The Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge to attend the first open meeting of the group that aims to serve as the northeastern chapter of the statewide Louisiana Master Naturalists.

As if to salute the formation of the group,  a flock of 20 Ibises performed a fly-by as the sun set over the woods and water.

We had to get back shortly after the meeting ended, but it seemed that there were a good mixture of people interested in the group including specialist ornithologists and aquatic biologists, botanists and generalists, kayakers and photographers like us. So, it seems to be off to a good start.

This group is open to anybody:

  • who is interested in the natural world,
  • wants to learn more about it,
  • is commited to conservation,

and lives in the northeastern portion of Louisiana who wishes to join.

It costs $20 and requires 20 hrs annually devoted to a range of environmental conservation and education activities.

For more information, check out the northeastern chapter of the statewide Louisiana Master Naturalists’ website

and ses their Facebook page at




Book Review: American Alligator, Ancient Predator in the Modern World

American Alligator Feeding at Black Bayou, Monroe Louisiana. C.Paxton image and copyright

American Alligator Alligator Mississippiensis Feeding at Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge, Monroe, Louisiana. Cropped image from Panasonic Lumix GX8 with Lumix G Vario 100-300mm zoom. C . Paxton image and copyright.

by C.Paxton for wildopeneye.

When it comes to environmental education there’s nothing like a good book, and the one I’m reading at the moment called American Alligator, Ancient Predator in the Modern World by Kelby Ouchley is superb. Full of interesting facts and anecdotes and good clear images that not only illustrate key points in the text, but also effectively convey the spirit of this iconic key-stone species, I’d say this book is ideal for anyone wanting to become better acquainted with these fascinating creatures.

I like my literature to read easily and above all to clarify my understanding as there’s plenty of mystery in the natural world as it is, and I like Ouchley’s well researched, no-nonsence treatment of these powerful, resilient, amphibious reptiles.   This book conveys their long and distinguished natural history, intriguing biology and ethology, their essential roles as prey, apex predators and ecological engineers, their shorter history of interaction with mankind so far, their recovery from over-exploitation and the relationship between trade and conservation, and the future promise for their role in immunoscience.

To the best ability of the available research this book answers many and varied questions that arise about these apex-predators and keystone species of North America’s southern freshwaters. Interestingly, the book also reaveals areas where our scientific understanding of these creatures can be improved. I thought I knew a lot about them before, but I really didn’t, I learned a huge amount more from this book and revised the many falsehoods that I had believed to be facts.

Admirable qualities – parental care, fisheries maintenance, hydological engineering and a great chomp!

I was at first particularly interested to learn about their biology and behaviours, but the author maintained my interest to the end of the book and I found myself turned from disliking gator farming for fashion accessories to approving of it as I learned of the annual replenishment of the wild stock by the farms and the economic inducement to maintain prime swamp habitat enjoyed by so many other creatures, and people.

There is much to admire about these creatures.

  • They are tender, devoted parents and protect their young long after hatching. It is exciting to come upon youngsters but we don’t hang around them for more than a few pictures because they call out to their mama to come and eat you!
  • They benefit a wide range of wildlife by digging out ‘gator holes that can be up to 50ft wide and deep enough to sustain fish through drought periods, clearing access channels in the swamps and heaping up mud and vegetation to inadvertently provide flood-free nesting habitat for turtles and wading birds!
  • They play an important role in protecting fisheries, yes counter-intuitively, if you want more fish then maintain the alligator population because, as babies they eat crawfish that in turn eat masses of fish eggs and later on they eat the powerful gar fish that take out adult fish.
  • Their curvaceous jaw-line, reminiscent of the more powerful garden loppers looks so much more business-like than the straighter jaws of the crocodile and their bite has been measured as the most forceful in the animal kingdom. A large adult male ‘gator can exert almost three times the force of a hyena’s in terms of psi, and hyenas can chew up light aircraft tyres!

Unsavoury habits

The book doesn’t gloss over what we might consider to be alligators’ bad habits, cannibalism probably being their worst in all honesty, as it seems they eat far more of each other than they do of us, they don’t actually eat many people when you consider the numbers. The book has a lot of interesting historical material and also an interesting section on alligators’ attacks upon humans. It seems you can reduce your chances of adverse experience by:

  • keeping kids and dogs away from their reach, i.e. the waters edge, as their relatively smaller size makes them potential prey for relatively smaller alligators. A six footer might consider tackling a toddler.
  • avoiding splashing, swimming, wading, putting hands or limbs in the water where they eat and when they eat. Late afternoon, evening and night they more often hunt. They hunt more in the warmer times of year as they have to put on weight in order to survive bumation in the cooler months of winter.

    Adult male American Alligator at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. C.Paxton image and copyright.

    Adult male American Alligator at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. C.Paxton image and copyright.

Alligator conservation and threats

The author describes alligators as key indicator species for the ecological health of their home swamps, Mr. Ouchely describes them as “canaries in the coal mine” and presents a good case for their continued conservation as they are a key-stone species in one of America’s richest ecological biomes,  a group of animals upon which the well-being of many other species depend including a good many humans. It comforts me to know that they are protected by law, and by strong economic incentives, with wildlife harvests carefully restricted in order to maintain healthy populations. Read the book for a compelling picture of how commercial trade in alligators for their meat and hides is actually good for this species and their cohabiatant other species in the swamps, rivers and coastal marshes, as the farms are obliged to return the same percentage of adolescents to the wild as would have survived naturally to that age from the selection of eggs, to maintain the wild population. As long as landowners can make money this way, they won’t need to develop the wetlands for other purposes in ways that reduce biodiversity.

The book describes that though some gators are killed by traffic and drown in nets, habitat loss and extreme climate events represent the greatest threats to these amazing creatures. Harsh cold snaps and strong hurricanes can be lethal apparently. While Climate change might eventually extend their living range by a certain degree it actually presents more risks than benefits to alligators, because stronger storms threaten coastal marshes with storm surge and alligators are actually stressed by salt water. Apart from being battered to death, strong hurricanes wreck their habitat, drown nests and also disperse individuals. So climate change and coastal erosion hurt alligators.

Adult bull alligator chasing off a young pretender at Texas's awesome Brazos Bend State Park. C. Paxton image and copyright.

Adult bull alligator chasing off a young pretender at Texas’s awesome Brazos Bend State Park. C. Paxton image and copyright.

Where we’ve seen alligators

As a kayaker, I must confess that I love seeing alligators despite being rather nervous of them. I know that I am not their first choice of food, but I also know that they’d eat me if

Young American Alligator at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana. C.Paxton image and copyright.

Young American Alligator facing right at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana. C.Paxton image and copyright.

they could and that knowledge instills a healthy respect for them. The swamp is their kingdom and it is I who am the stranger in it.

An encounter with an alligator of any size elevates an excursion from the pedestrian to the extraordinary. These primordial creatures have survived the dinosaurian extinction and the depredations of the C19th and C20th centuries, kudos to them!

When photographing alligators use your telephoto lens rather than trying to get a close-up, remember that they make their living as ambush predators and their acceleration is remarkable, they can swim very fast and lunge quickly over short distances. On land they can sprint short distances in a straight line.

Where to go in the US to see American Alligators? They occur naturally from coastal parts of North Carolina down through Florida and west to southern Texas. Florida is famous for them, but in terms of numbers, Louisiana takes the crown. Louisiana has the most ‘gators, there are over two million alligators throughout the state and they can live in every naturally occuring fresh water and brackish water body, but they dislike sea water.

We’ve seen them at Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge, Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, Bayou De Loutre, Corney Creek, Bayou Bartholomew and the Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge. We braked for a five footer crossing the road on the Creole Nature Trail. That was awe-inspiring!

At Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge in July we enjoyed over a dozen sightings of young alligators within the first twenty minutes in the brackish canals. Fantastic!

It isn’t essential to be waterborne yourselves to see them. We have had wonderful encounters on river banks, boardwalks and beside ponds.

Southern Texas

Texas is great for alligator watching and for seeing BIG ‘gators! We’ve seen big adults at Brazos Bend State Park and Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, a pod of babies at San Benardino National Wildlife Refuge and they’re also at Brazzoria and Anhuac National Wildlife Refuges.

Having read this book it is impossible not to respect alligators,  marvel at how perfectly adapted to their watery world they really are and delight at the opportunities that they represent as photographic subjects.

My brother will be getting a copy this Christmas, it will hasten his visit to these parts, I’m sure!

Young adult American Alligator at Trinity River Wildlife Refuge near Dayton, Texas.

Young adult American Alligator at Trinity River Wildlife Refuge near Dayton, Texas.




The author received no financial or other reward for this blog article.




Inspired By Nature, Haikus Celebrating Nature for Biodiversity Day 2017

Click the book cover above to access the very artistic collection of Haiku Inspired By Nature by UNDP GEF

Click the book cover above to access the very artistic collection of Haiku Inspired By Nature by UNDP GEF

Wildopeneye is celebrating 2017’s International Biodiversity Day (May 22) by sharing the link to a very fine collection of Haiku poetry published by UNDP to celebrate global biodiversity, “Inspired By Nature”.

A haiku is a form of Japanese poem with a rhythm of five syllables in the first line, followed by seven in the second and then five again in the final line. They are by tradition, succinct and pithy. Most are powerfully evocative, they can also be very beautiful indeed. Many have an element of mystery about them and like Dr. Who’s TARDIS they defy known physical laws by containing more meaning than you’d think possible in such few words.  These haiku are fine examples of the tradition, sourced from conservationists around the world and derive force that well-spring of personal motivation and from direct observation. The accompanying fine illustrations and photographs make this an altogether inspiring collection. It is hard to pick a favourite, I think they are all great, but different haiku will apeal more to particular people, as they strike chords with them. I think this is not just a work of art, but herein lie very powerfully persuasive messages, ideally suited to bill board ads and slideshow presentations, PSA’s etc.

I quote two that appeal to me very powerfully:

Tim Scott’s haiku about sharks and predation:

“Fins slicing water

Fins sliced out of water

                                                            Who is the real killer?

                                                                                                  – Tim Scott”

Also Saskia Marijnissen’s haiku about the tortoise:

“Old is the tortoise

He has seen the world change fast

While people act slow”

– Saskia Marijnissen

I love this project, it really is a tour de force and I think Andy Luck would have loved it too. Who knows it may inspire you to write a haiku or two of your own?

It inspired me to write one:


“Slivers of silver,

flashing bright through Gourd bayou,

nature is fecund.”

Shoal of fish fry swimming at the suface in Russel Sage WMA's Gourd Bayou, Monroe, Louisiana. C. Paxton image and copyright.

Shoal of fish fry swimming at the suface in Russel Sage WMA’s Gourd Bayou, Monroe, Louisiana. C. Paxton image and copyright.

Free Course in Sustainable Consumption and Production

How do we move towards more sustainable business and consumer choices? In what could well be the world’s biggest environmental education initiative the UNDP is launching a massive open online course (MOOC) on the subject of Greening Consumption and Production from Wednesday 31 May to Wednesday 12 July 2017.

Learn more during the free, tri-lingual facilitated, 6-week open online course on greening consumption & production – Register now by clicking the image below and following the instructions on the NBSAP webpage.

Click here to access the registration page for UNDP Greening Consumption and Production Massive Open Online Course

Click here to access the registration page for UNDP Greening Consumption and Production Massive Open Online Course


Registration is open!
In the past 20 years, humanity added 1.6 billion people to the planet, while losing 20% of the world’s wilderness, and exploiting 90% of the world’s fisheries. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets and UN Sustainable Development Goals help shape a global policy agenda that strives to conserve the world’s ecosystems while meeting development priorities. How do we develop national policies and approaches that keep the global impacts of natural resources use within safe ecological limits?
This six-week facilitated course, from Wed. 31 May to Wed. 12 July 2017, will provide you with the answers to this question. It is aimed at policymakers and practitioners working in the area of sustainable consumption and production (SCP). By taking this course, you will gain an overview of key issues related to SCP and sustainable commodity supply chains. You will become proficient in mechanisms to facilitate SCP at the international level and in your own country, and have the chance to interact with world-known specialists from UNDP, the private sector, NGOs and national ministries. We will also encourage you to think critically about your resource use patterns in the context of international, national, and local SCP approaches to greening consumption and production.
The course will cover the following topics:

  • Week 1: What is green consumption and production?
  • Week 2: Key concepts and principles
  • Week 3: International policy framework
  • Week 4: Greening key production sectors
  • Week 5: Sustainable commodity supply chains
  • Week 6: Mainstreaming biodiversity into development planning

A certificate of completion will be provided by UNDP, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and The Nature Conservancy. The course is available in English, Spanish and French.
Follow the steps below to register today.

Step 1: Create an Account on the Conservation Training Website

The course is hosted on The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Training website. Before you can register for the course, you must create a Conservation Training account. If you already have an account, please log in. If you have forgotten your username or password, click here.

Step 2: Enroll in the Greening Consumption & Production Course 

Once you are logged in to, you can enroll. This simple process does not require an access key. Here are the steps:

  1. Navigate to the Curriculums menu. Find the NBSAP Curriculum and click it. Alternatively, click here.
  2. This action will take you to the NBSAP learning page, which offers five different e-learning modules. Your course – Greening Consumption & Production – is the first listing. Click on the course name or access it here.
  3. This action will prompt you to “confirm enrollment”. Click “Yes” and you will be taken to the course homepage. You now have full access to the course! All course materials will become available on Wed., 24 May. Until then, there is basic information about the course and schedule available in the course room.
  4. Once you are registered, log in to the website to access the courseroom.

Step 3: Register for the Webinar Sessions

Each Wed., from 31 May to 5 July, we will enrich your learning experience by offering webinars in English, French and Spanish. The webinar format (live or prerecorded) may vary due to speaker availability. Information on each week’s webinar will be posted on the “latest news” page in the courseroom and sent by email. We will use the Go-To-Webinar platform to host the webinars. Therefore, you need to separately enroll in the webinar series.

Here are the steps:

  1. Click the link of the webinar series you are interested in attending (no limit):
    • French – 8:00 am – 9:30 am EDT/NY
    • English – 9:45 am – 11:15 am EDT/NY
    • Spanish – 11:30 am – 1:00 pm EDT/NY
  2. You will be redirected to a registration page and prompted to enter your first name, last name and email.
  3. Go-To-Webinar will send you a personalized link to access the classroom. You must retain this code and use it each week to access the webinar.
  4. Each Wednesday, follow the link to access the webinar. Two hours before each webinar, you will also receive an email reminding you of this information.

If you can’t make a webinar, don’t worry! We will post it in the course room – under that week’s ‘activities’ – by 5:00pm EDT/NY the day it is hosted.

Mark your calendar! The first webinar is on Wednesday 31 May, 2017!

Step 4: Join the NBSAP Forum

The NBSAP Forum is an online community of practice that supports conservation planning practitioners to develop and implement effective National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). UNDP, the Secretariat of Convention on Biological Diversity, and the UN Environment Programme host the Forum. The NBSAP Forum has a page dedicated to Aichi Biodiversity Target Four: SCP, where we will post webinar recordings, course resource and weekly course summaries. You are also encouraged to share your assignments and join discussions on the Forum. Find updates about the course here.

Steps to Join:

  1. Access the NBSAP Forum.
  2. Create a member profile. Add your first and last name, email address and protect your profile with a password.
  3. After logging into your profile, click on your name in the upper right portion of the screen. This step takes you to your “Member Profile” page. Once there, upload a brief bio, headshot and information on your countries/regions of focus, languages and expertise. For multiple option selection, press the Control (Ctrl) button on your keyboard and select all applicable options. See this member profile sample.
  4. Make sure to visit our SCP page and click “follow this community” to receive updates. We will also post course updates on this here.
We look forward to your participation!

Greening Consumption & Production will begin on
Wednesday, 31 May

Until then, follow us in social media for updates:

Copyright © 2017 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), All rights reserved.

‘The Doctor of Change’ Wins Top United Nations Environmental Award

Crucifixion image on a moth. C.Paxton image and copyright.

Design in nature. Crucifixion image on a moth. C.Paxton image and copyright.

Sustainability Innovator and Influencer Wins Top United Nations Environmental Award
2 December, 2016 – Australian designer and innovator Dr. Leyla Acaroglu has been announced as one of the winners of the United Nations’ highest environmental accolade for her science-based yet creative work on bringing about change for sustainability.

UN Environment is giving its Champions of the Earth award to Dr. Acaroglu in the Science and Innovation category in recognition of  her innovative, award-winning designs and projects that instigate positive environmental and social change.

Doctor of Change, Dr.Leyla Acaroglu speaking at the UN Champions of The Earth meeting. UN image and copyright.

Doctor of Change, Dr.Leyla Acaroglu speaking at the UN Champions of The Earth meeting. UN image and copyright.

A designer and social scientist from Melbourne, Australia, Dr. Acaroglu’s achievements include her UnSchool of Disruptive Design and its unique training modules, produced and led by her company Disrupt Design, and her ongoing efforts to transform the basis of human thinking, systems and design in support of a sustainable future.

Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said, “Dr. Acaroglu inspires and helps people to equip themselves with the personal agency and relevant tools, deep self-awareness and knowledge they need to participate, shape the world and make a real difference in it.

“She has framed the impact of design on the way we live and the choices we have, in a way that is relatable, understandable and possible to act on. This gets to the root of sustainability: having the knowledge, skills and awareness needed to transform our lifestyles and make interventions that challenge the status quo.”

Dr. Acaroglu rallies an actively engaged creative community in New York and around the world to curate experiences that evoke positive change for us all. She has developed toolkits that help designers and creative practitioners engage with problem solving for sustainability and social change. She developed the Disruptive Design Method to transfer systems and sustainability sciences across disciplines so that people can engage with substance-based problem solving for complex local and global issues.

Dr. Acaroglu said: “Design is a fundamental and profoundly influential practice, but it struck me just how little awareness there is of the incredibly influential force that the designed world has on us all — the majority of the world is scripted. The things we design, design us, and we can use design to create positive change so the future works better for all of us.”

Often referred to as ‘The Doctor of Change’, she explores counterintuitive ideas about what sustainability is and how we can use them to create innovative design solutions.

About Champions of the Earth

The annual Champions of the Earth prize is awarded to outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose actions have had a positive impact on the environment.

Since being founded twelve years ago, the awards have recognized 78 laureates – ranging from leaders of nations to grassroots activists – in the categories of policy, science, business and civil society.

Dr. Acaroglu joins Jose Sarukhan Kermez, Mexican research biologist (Life-time Achievement); Afroz Shah, Indian environmental organizer (Action and Inspiration); Rwandan President, Paul Kagame (Policy Leadership); Moroccan Sustainable Energy Agency, Masen (Entrepreneurial Vision); and a posthumous Action and Inspiration award for Berta Cáceres, Honduran rights campaigner killed in March 2016.

The awards will be given out as part of a high-level reception hosted by the Government of Mexico at the 13th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Cancun, December 2, 2016.


For more information and to arrange interviews, please contact:

Regional Media Officer: Satwant Kaur, (Bangkok) +662 288 2127,;
Laura Fuller, (Washington) + 202 974-1305,
UNEP Newsdesk (Nairobi), +254 715 876 185,

World’s Wildlife Population Down Almost 60% Since 1970

Green Heron swallowing White Perch at Black Bayou. Life in the wetlands has suffered disproportionally severe losses since the 1970s.

Green Heron swallowing White Perch at Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge. Life in other wetlands has suffered disproportionally severe losses since the 1970s.

The Living Planet Report 2016 confirms that alongside extinction, i.e. biodiversity loss, the loss of wildlife in terms of absolute numbers is extremely alarming. The Title Risk and Resilience In A New Era sums up the contents very well.

I heard about the Living Planet Report 2016 on the BBC News this morning. The report is compiled from a joint study of global data by London’s Zoological Society (ZSL) and the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF). This figure of 58% is the estimated average percentage of population decline of creatures from a study of 3700 vertebrate species on which sufficient data has so far been collected with clear points of comparison between 1970 and 2012, and so is not entirely representative, but the scientists have made allowances for this in their calculations.  Wildopeneye therefore respects their figures as informed estimates and a reasonable framework upon which we can join a discussion.

After all, as Ecologist E.O. Wilson reminded us in his book The Diversity of Life, we still don’t know the number of species on Earth to an order of magnitude, tens of millions or 100’s of millions. Many things are being killed off before they can be studied, but this particular report is focusing on the wildlife that we do know about.

Perhaps that makes the quantitative basis of the report scarier. We don’t know the whole picture.


Many scientists now believe that we have transitioned from the Holocene to a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene. Ours is an age where human influence can be said to be truly global in extent. While this is good news in terms of facility and speed of communications, the improvement of amenites and services, international cooperation, the development of science and technology, respect for human rights and availability of exotic consumerables, it has been punishing for many of the other organisms with which we share planet Earth because of:

  • Habitat destruction and fragmentation
  • Pollution
  • Climate Change
  • Over-exploitation from hunting, trapping and fishing

This history is nicely encapsulated on p.91.

“The global economic growth generated through our current economic system has reduced poverty and given rise to significant improvements in standards of living (World Bank, 2013). However, this GDP-growth-focused economic model has led to severe wealth inequality as well as culturally entrenched aspirations for material consumption. It has encouraged growth well beyond our basic needs and beyond what can be supported by the carrying capacity of a single Earth (Hoekstra and Wiedmann, 2014).”

Creatures in freshwater habitats such as wetlands, rivers and lakes are thought to have been worst impacted with an appalling average 81% population decline since 1970 according to the report. Russia’s Lake Baikhal is an infamous example of over-exploitation.

The report states on p.34 that “almost half (48 per cent) of global river volume is already altered by flow regulation, fragmentation, or both. Completion of all dams planned or under construction would mean that natural hydrologic flows would be lost for 93 per cent of all river volume (Grill et al., 2015).”

Ninety-three per cent of all river volume? Thank God for waterways like Bayou Bartholomew which still enjoys natural course, banks, and a super biodiversity- over 40 types of clam alone.

The report details major non-human population losses across the board, in the arctic, in grasslands, forests, freshwater and in the world’s oceans.

On page 36 the report states that “we are on the edge of a sixth mass extinction.” Saying “Recent studies suggest probable extinction rates at present are up to 100-1,000 extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years, which is much higher than the long-term rate of extinction (excluding the episodes of crisis in Earth’s history) – the background extinction rate (Ceballos et al., 2015; Steffen et al., 2015a). ”

I’d say that here the report is pulling its punches, as Louis Leakey noted in his book of the same name, we are in the midst of the Sixth great extinction period- he noted the precipitous loss of first  Northern and then South American megafauna. I don’t mourn the loss of the axe-beaked flightless predatory birds completely, as they terrify me, but giant sloths must have been very impressive!

Unless you really think that “less is more”, in terms of ecological quality I think we are looking at three major indicators:

  • the overall number of species
  • the population figures for the species
  • the distribution patterns in terms of: a) natural age demographics for species* and b) the geographical location (range) of species

All three are looking hammered, and this increases the importance of the efforts being made for protection of habitat, eradication of wildlife and forest crime and toward sustainable development as a preferred path. This is the ongoing fight for greater resilience.

It is feared that the loss of  this wildlife from our environment carries negative consequences. It was  in Charles Darwin’s study of soil fauna that the relationship between numbers of creatures and productivity was first scientifically voiced in the UK. It is likely that this correlation is well known to indigenous peoples as it is to E.O. Wilson because he is now thinking in terms of 50% set aside of habitat for human activity systems so that our non-human life support system can survive to support us. For more on this please see his web page about Half Earth.

If you think that set-aside isn’t necessary, please note that there have been long periods of Earth’s pre-history where the then impoverished ecology wouldn’t have sustained humans at all, also there are some deep forest species that have zero tolerance for any modern human intrusion.

In the Report’s introduction Johan Rockström, Executive Director Stockholm Resilience Centre writes:

“… the Anthropocene shifts our world on its axis. This single word encapsulates the fact that human activity now affects Earth’s life support system. It conveys the notions of deep time – the past and future – and the uniqueness of today. Beyond geology and Earth system science, it captures the profound responsibility we now must shoulder. It provides a new lens to see our human footprint and it communicates the urgency with which we must now act. The dominant worldview of infinite natural resources, of externalities and exponential growth, is at an end. We are no longer a small world on a big planet. We are now a big world on a small planet, where we have reached a saturation point. Unsustainability at all scales, from localized deforestation to air pollution from cars, hits the planetary ceiling, putting our future at risk. Fifty years of exponential growth has accumulated to such an extent that we have reached Planetary Boundaries – and crashed through them.”

Johan goes on to write (my emphasis in bold):

“The conclusion is stark: the planetary stability our species has enjoyed for 11,700 years, that has allowed civilization to flourish, can no longer be relied upon. Yet, I am optimistic for our future. In the 20th century we solved some of the biggest challenges in our history. Many diseases have been eradicated. Child and maternal health is improving. Poverty is decreasing. And the ozone hole is beginning to stabilize. However, to make greater progress will necessitate brave new innovations and shifts in thinking to enable collective action across the world. In short, we need an urgent transition to a world that works within Earth’s safe operating space. What the Anthropocene teaches us, and which is articulated in detail in the following pages, is the need for a grand transformation. The Living Planet Report provides the necessary thought leadership and vision to put the world on a sustainable trajectory based on systems thinking – and starting with the food and energy systems. I am confident this will contribute to the momentum to move from talk to action to ensure a resilient Earth for future generations.”

That’s good. We need to focus on our species’ key strength – adaptability to change. There’s some good news in the report about Europe’s large carnivores (excluding Russia and Ukaraine),

” The comeback of large carnivores shows that with political will supported by a forward-looking legal framework and a wide range of committed stakeholders, nature can recover.”

Also it is very encouraging what the Koreans have acheived in Seoul Climate Leadership on page 72. Well done, indeed! They reduced oil imports by $1.5 Billion and created 34,000 new jobs. See how it was done.

Systemic “four level” thinking with regard to planning is likely to prove very valuable. On p.92 the report talks about how traditionally planners have reacted primarily to events and sometimes to patterns, but thinking things through at two other deeper levels, Systemic structures and Mental models enables systemic planning that can be far more effective in the long term, the report argues.

An interesting example of recovered land that had been badly degraded is documented on p.94 with regard to the Loess Plateau, a cradle of Chinese civilization.

“The crucial step toward restoration was the understanding that, in the long run, safeguarding ecosystem functions is vastly more valuable than the production and consumption of goods and services. It therefore made sense to designate as much of the land as possible as ecological land. This also led to a counter-intuitive outcome: concentrating investment and production in smaller areas was found to increase productivity. It’s a clear illustration of how functional ecosystems are more productive than dysfunctional ones. The work on China Loess Plateau shows that it is possible to restore large-scale degraded ecosystems. This helps us adapt to climate impacts, makes the land more resilient and increases productivity. The Loess Plateau also shows that valuing ecosystem function higher than production and consumption provides humanity with the logical framework to choose to make long-term investments and see the positive results of trans-generational thinking. (Source: Liu, 2012; Liu & Bradley, 2016)”

That is very encouraging news. So, from Loess we have learned that in terms of land given over to production, when backed up with more land set aside, less can yield more!

Section 4 of the report A Resilient Planet For Nature And People (apart from perpetuating the eroneous mindset that we are somehow separate from nature in its title) details how pursuing Sustainable Development Goals is the key to facing the dual challenges of our time despite the fact that we have exceeded some boundaries already, it’s not too late, much can be saved.

“The 21st century presents humanity with a dual challenge: to maintain nature in all of its many forms and functions and to create an equitable home for people on a finite planet.”

All in all, I am grateful for this information, even the bad news, I think this is a fascinating and very well presented report, giving clear guidance to our future path and much cause for hope!

See Andy Luck’s short films page for his movie Life – Changing World which treats the topic of adaptation for survival in this changing world.


*Juvenalization of species comes from selective hunting for “the big ones”. This weakens the population by removing the fittest individuals from the breeding pool and in many cases reduces overall fertility by removing the more productive females, i.e. larger fish lay many, many more eggs than smaller ones.




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