2018: A Year in Stunning Conservation Photography

2018: A Year in Stunning Conservation Photography

Photography can provide a fascinating glimpse into parts of the world that we may never have the chance to visit ourselves. It's a powerful tool for showing the beauty and value of wildlife and wild places—and challenges us to protect them.

Take a look at just a few of WWF's favorite photographs from 2018, then join us in our mission to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

SAVING CATS | A 30-day-old Iberian lynx cub during its first health check at the Breeding Center of Zarza de Granadilla.

The Iberian lynx is considered the most endangered cat in the world. Found in some of the wildest and most remote parts of Spain, this animal is particularly elusive—even when taking its low population numbers into consideration.

Fewer than 100 individuals lived in the wild back in 2002. But now, thanks to the Iberian Lynx Ex situ conservation program, nearly 500 cubs have been more since 2005. The program is one of the pillars of the recovery of this species. It breeds and raises lynx that are fit to be released into the wild.

WWF works to reintroduce lynx into the wild, though we’re not involved in the breeding program. The Spanish Ministry of the Environment manages the Zarza de Granadilla breeding center. 

Read more about WWF’s work on lynx.

GOING SOLAR | Dzame Shehi completes her homework under a solar-powered light.

Dzame Shehi is a student at Mwanguda primary school who enjoys math and hopes to teach the subject in the future.   

At home—where she lives with her grandparents and six brothers and sisters—she’s responsible for fetching water every day, collecting firewood twice a week, and cooking meals for her extended family. She likes to study in the evenings, an activity she previously had to do under the light of a kerosene lamp that cost her family money and irritated her eyes as it released noxious fumes. Luckily, with help from WWF, Dzame recently received mobile solar lighting for her house. This alternative source of light is both less expensive and better for her health. Plus, she feels safer now as she carries out other household duties after dark.

Dzame and her family also received a fuel-efficient stove that uses 50% less firewood than the previous one. Now Dzame does not need to go to the forest to collect firewood as often, meaning she has more time to study and relax. And local forests benefit, too, because less wood is being removed.

Read more about how WWF is helping communities embrace solar energy.

BISON HOMECOMING | In the vast expanse of Montana’s Great Plains, WWF is working with tribal leaders to restore bison populations to the landscape.

Nearly two decades ago, Fort Peck Indian Reservation brought 100 bison from another reservation to its own lands, ending a 130-year absence of the massive mammals. Since then, the reservation has become one of the biggest proponents of a new vision for restoring large herds of buffalo to tribal lands across the Northern Great Plains.

It’s a vision that seeks to benefit not just the buffalo, but also the people who historically relied on them for everything from food and shelter to spiritual guidance—people such as the Assiniboine and Sioux. If managed well, the species that used to sustain them could answer various economic, social, and even health needs these tribes are facing today.

WWF is working with tribal partners to restore bison to their rightful place at the heart of tribal culture, economy, and ecology. With support from tribal leaders, we’re working in the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana to renew a sense of connection to bison and increase community support for bison programs and restoration.

Read more about WWF’s work to restore bison populations.

WHALE VISION | An Antarctic minke whale wears a non-invasive camera that glows yellow and red in the icy waters.

For the first time ever, scientists in Antarctica attached a camera to a minke whale and captured incredible evidence of how it feeds. The camera—one of three “whale cams” funded by WWF-Australia—is part of efforts by scientists to better protect whale feeding areas in Antarctica.

The camera was secured to the whale’s body using non-invasive suction cups that are designed to fall off after 24-48 hours. In an incredible stroke of luck, the camera slid down the side of the whale but stayed attached. The resulting footage—which would not have been possible with the original camera placement—shows how the whale’s throat expands as it moves through the water and feeds.

Minke whales and 14 other species filter primarily krill or small fish out of the water using specialized feeding plates, known as baleen, in a method called ‘lunge feeding.’

WWF is working with international whale researchers to better understand how and where baleen whales feed, and what we can do to protect them.

Read more about how WWF captured footage of a minke whale feeding on krill.

SHARING A HOME | Farmer Tumisi ‘Shorty’ Tlale demonstrates banging his drum to scare off elephants that often raid his crops at night.

During harvest season, farmers in the eastern panhandle of Botswana’s Okavango Delta like Tumisi ‘Shorty’ Tlale move from their homes to temporary field camps where they can protect their crops from elephants. Old soda cans and rags soaked in chili and oil hang from the single strand of wire that surrounds Tlale’s two-and-a-half-acre plot of land near Gunotsoga, the village where he lives. He also uses a shallow aluminum basin as a drum to scare off these large animals.

Even though elephants are naturally fearful of humans, ripening crops that fringe the road between these two worlds are hard to resist. Some fields are even in the corridors most frequently traveled by elephants. Others, like Tlale’s field, are adjacent to them.

WWF helps train wildlife managers and local communities to use modern methods and tools to reduce human-elephant conflict. We help communities protect their crops by monitoring elephants to provide early warning systems, erecting fences where required, and educating communities to reduce conflict through behavior change. Our long-term goal is to put in place proper land use planning that gives elephants space for seasonal movements, combined with fences to protect crops and infrastructure.

Read more of Tlale’s story and human-wildlife conflict in the Okavango Delta. 

PLASTIC PROBLEM | Blue-footed boobies like the one above and a vast array of other species are threatened by plastic pollution in our oceans.

Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador lie the volcanic islands of the Galápagos, famous for a wealth of unique plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The Galápagos Islands were the source of Darwin’s theory of evolution and remain a priceless living laboratory for scientists today.

Unfortunately, plastic pollution in our oceans threatens this unique part of the world. 

Humans produce an estimated 1.3 billion tons of plastic waste per year, a number is set to increase to 2.2 billion by 2025. In countries such as Ecuador that have limited garbage collection services, some of this plastic waste inevitably ends up back in the oceans or on beaches, where it has the potential to harm wildlife and human health. It’s an issue that WWF, local community and other partners are confronting head-on in the Galápagos.

Today, more than 50% of the overall waste, including recycle and organic materials, generated in Santa Cruz island are being recycled.

The next step is to prevent plastic products from getting to the Galápagos Islands in the first place. A recent law bans the distribution or commercialization of plastic drinking straws, disposable plastic shopping bags, styrofoam food containers and dinnerware, and non-returnable bottles of sodas and beers on the islands, though those products are unevenly used. WWF helped the Galápagos Governing Council develop the provincial ordinance regulating some of these products and continues to serve as a member of the Plastics Management Committee of the archipelago.

Read more about how WWF is tackling plastic pollution in the Galápagos.



Published January 15, 2019 at 06:00AM

WWF and partners share a new tool for studying—and saving—coral reefs

WWF and partners share a new tool for studying—and saving—coral reefs

Coral reefs are as vulnerable as they are beautiful; climate change is warming ocean waters and devastating reefs globally. A majority of the world’s coral reefs could experience severe bleaching and death by the end of this century, according to a report on the impacts of climate change. Bleaching occurs when above-average sea temperatures or other stressors disrupt coral’s healthy relationship with the algae that lives within its tissue. When stressed, the corals push out their algae, causing them to turn white and leaving it much more vulnerable to disease and death.

Monitoring the health and resilience of coral reefs is a lengthy and slow process—an unfortunate reality given how quickly our planet is warming. It can take years to organize, analyze, and share the data gathered underwater. That’s why WWF is turning to an innovative tool that speeds up the collection of valuable coral reef data and allows scientists to share new information sooner.

The Marine Ecological Research and Monitoring Aid—known as MERMAID—is a web-based tool that scientists everywhere can use, free of charge, to record valuable coral reef data both online in the office and offline on the boat. Observations are entered directly into the application rather than traditional software like Excel. MERMAID is uniquely able to “proof-read” this data, resolving mistakes and generating clean, ready-to-use datasets. This saves researchers months of painstakingly reviewing their data for errors and inconsistencies, and helps them make decisions to protect coral reefs more quickly.

Developed by WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and SparkGeo, MERMAID organizes users into projects where data can be organized and accessed across partner institutions. Users can share summaries of data from their MERMAID projects around the world to inform others and inspire collaboration.

MERMAID must be easy to use in order to succeed. In December 2018, more than a dozen marine scientists from non-profits and governments participated in a user summit in Fiji to learn how to use the tool and improve their underwater monitoring skills. Participants also provided feedback on what they like about the tool, what needs improvement, and what new features could be added to make the MERMAID even better.  The event also sparked exciting conversation about coastal conservation in Fiji and helped conservationists make new connections with others in their line of work.

With the fate of coral reefs on the line, WWF and its partners have exciting plans for putting MERMAID to use in making faster and better conservation decisions in 2019. The application will soon be able to conduct basic analyses on datasets and produce graphs, reports, and maps. These tools will be pivotal to the speed at which researchers communicate with conservation managers, policy makers, and local communities. There is still hope for the future of coral reefs, and technologies like MERMAID can help us keep pace with a changing world.



Published January 08, 2019 at 06:00AM

Imperiled polar bears face new threat in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Imperiled polar bears face new threat in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

In the Arctic, wildlife is being forced to adapt to an environment warming twice as fast as any other region on the planet. That constantly changing climate impacts the way sea ice grows and melts, which is bad news for the wildlife dependent on sea ice and people whose survival is inextricably linked to the ice.

In some areas of the Arctic, female polar bears are more frequently choosing to build their maternity dens on land rather than sea ice. The land provides the stability and security that sea ice no longer can—at least until human activity comes into the picture.

Threatened species
In the US, polar bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear subpopulation is one of the most imperiled in the world. Its size is almost half of what the subpopulation was in the mid-1980s with only around 900 bears estimated to be remaining today.

The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has become a nursery ground for these polar bears, with one of the highest densities of suitable denning habitat in northern Alaska. About one-third of all breeding females in the Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation give birth and raise newborn cubs under the protection provided by the coastal plain.

But much like the sea ice that’s disappearing from our warming planet, the protection provided by Arctic refuge could vanish, too.

Seismic impact
The US government has approved opening parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to allow for oil and gas drilling. The first step of that process includes seismic testing along the coastal plain to help determine the location of deposits of oil and gas.  

Seismic testing is a very disruptive activity. In the coastal plain, it will require big heavy trucks that drive across the snow-covered tundra, laying lines in a grid pattern. The equipment vibrates and produces noisy blasts. The private company proposing to conduct the seismic studies says it will detect any of the bear dens before beginning the work. However, the technology to detect polar bear dens is not perfect and experts believe that some bears will definitely be impacted, or even killed.

If denning polar bears are disturbed, mother bears may exit the den prematurely with their cubs, exposing them to the extreme elements and risking their survival. Cubs could also be abandoned. According to an analysis by Polar Bears International, there’s at least a one-in-four chance that the seismic equipment will run over and crush at least one den. That’s based on the equipment that would be needed and the known concentration of polar bear dens in the area.

It's time to act
WWF is calling for the permanent protection of the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain, and we need your help. Protect polar bears from seismic testing.



Published December 10, 2018 at 06:00AM

Dishing the dirt on the secret life of soil

Dishing the dirt on the secret life of soil

Soil is a lot more than just dirt.

It’s a living, breathing ecosystem that’s home to a quarter of all species on Earth. That richness of life is what supports forests and prairies; biodiversity in the soil also enhances agriculture. Many underground organisms process the nutrients that allow plants to flourish above ground. They also protect plants from disease, help soil store more water, make nitrogen and other key elements more readily accessible, and enable plants to communicate with each other. They even help fight climate change by pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and turning them into food and oxygen.

Yet agriculture, which needs soil, is the leading cause of its erosion. Indeed, healthy soil is disappearing from the surface of the earth at a rate of about 24 billion tons a year.

That’s why WWF is working with food and forestry companies, farmers, scientists, banks, policymakers, and others to foster practices that enrich soil and the diversity of life within and above it.

Here are some examples of the types of living creatures in soil that make it such a vibrant, vital habitat.

Millipedes

Visible to the naked eye, millipedes are practically giants at ground level. They sit atop the soil food chain, where they start turning dead plants and other organisms into food for living plants. Their waste feeds bacteria and fungi, which process it further into molecules that plants absorb. Insects like the turtle-mite feed directly on fungi. While others, like some beetles, protect plants by eating crop pests.

Nematodes

Resembling tiny worms, nematodes wriggle around in the soil turning things that plants can’t eat into things they can. Some eat bacteria and fungi and excrete ammonia, which gardeners and farmers alike know is an effective fertilizer. But, it’s a jungle down there in the soil and helpful nematodes eat disease-causing bacteria, fungi, and even other harmful nematodes.

Tardigrades

Also known as water bears, tardigrades may be our planet’s most resilient animal. They can be found in scorching deserts and frozen tundra and can survive even in the vacuum of space! Underground, where conditions are far more pleasant, these barrel-chested, eight-legged eating machines digest food, making the nutrients available for plants, and sometimes fend off microbes known to do plants harm, including nematodes.

Bacteria

There are several times the number of bacteria in our bodies than the number of our own cells. Mostly, these microbes keep us healthy and nourished by breaking down the food we eat into nutrients our cells can absorb. They serve a similar purpose in the soil, which contains up to 1 billion bacteria per teaspoon. There, they digest food for plants, yielding nutrients critical for plants and people alike.

Fungi

Mushrooms aren’t the only kinds of fungus underground. Many forms of microscopic fungi live on and around plants’ roots. They bind soil, holding it more firmly in place, similar to the way roots do at a visible scale. Fungi also form vast underground networks that plants tap into via their roots and use like a living Internet to communicate with each other. Scientists have observed plants sending signals through fungal networks to warn neighboring plants of insect infestation, drought, and other threats.

 



Published December 05, 2018 at 06:00AM

Why global leaders must address climate change now

Why global leaders must address climate change now

Global leaders are now gathered in Poland for the United Nations-sponsored climate talks (COP24). The summit marks the most significant meeting on climate change since leaders signed the Paris Agreement in 2015. On the heels of the recent report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the US government National Climate Report, WWF’s Lou Leonard explains why these climate talks are more critical now than ever

Just how significant is COP24 going to be when it comes to tackling issues related to climate change?

These climate talks are the most important round of negotiations since the Paris Agreement was reached three years ago. Recent reports from the world’s scientists have sounded the alarm on climate change. Fires in California and Australia and floods in Japan show that climate impacts are already a reality for millions. People from around the globe will be watching to see what world leaders accomplish at this round of negotiations. It’s the biggest test we’ve seen of countries’ commitment to the Paris Agreement.

What are your hopes for the summit – do you think anything of real significance can be achieved?

In Poland, countries need to accomplish two things. Countries need to finalize the rules that govern how the Paris Agreement will work going forward. Countries will be agreeing on things like how to report their progress on national climate targets, how carbon market systems will connect across countries and how wealthier nations will support others who need it. It is essential we leave this round of talks with a clear signal that countries will increase their national climate targets before 2020 in order to address the looming gap between current commitments and what’s needed to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

How important is it for world leaders to step up to the plate during COP24? 

There is still time for us to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and create a safer future, but that window is closing fast. If countries do not submit stronger national goals before 2020, it will be very hard to deliver on the Paris Agreement’s goals to limit planetary warming to safer levels. As recent reports make very clear, if we don’t tackle climate change, it will cost our economy billions and endanger our national security and our health. Stepping up now to move toward renewable energy, more sustainable agriculture and electric cars can yield economic benefits. The longer we wait, the more our communities will suffer under bigger wildfires, longer heatwaves, more severe droughts and shrinking crop yields. We can’t afford that future.

How much progress has been made in the fight against climate change since COP21?

The Paris Agreement was a sea change among countries, companies and other leaders. Now, every nation in the world has a goal to reduce carbon pollution, and most are making progress to meet their targets. The private sector and leaders from regional government have woken up to their own power by setting climate goals consistent with science and helping drive the transition to renewable energy, sustainable food systems and clean transport. In key countries, companies and local governments have begun to work hand in hand with national governments to reduce emissions and make climate action a win for political leaders. This kind of cooperation between governments and the private sector should make it easier to ramp up country targets under the Paris Agreement by 2020 on the scale the science says we need to.



Published December 04, 2018 at 06:00AM

Critically endangered Sumatran Rhino moved to new home

Critically endangered Sumatran Rhino moved to new home

Pahu the Sumatran Rhino is settling into a new home. Just like with humans, a move can be stressful for an animal. But veterinarians and scientists are monitorning Pahu closely and are optimistic she will adjust well.

The rhino’s relocation is part of a larger strategy to save the critically endangered Sumatran Rhino. The species is facing a very real and imminent threat of extinction. Decades of poaching and habitat loss have left fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos in the wild.

The last remaining Sumatran rhinos live on two Indonesian Islands--Sumatra and Kalimantan. They are so widely dispersed that they struggle to find compatible mates and successfully breed to produce their next generation. The biggest threat they now face is isolation, and the odds of adult rhinos finding suitable mates in the wild are dwindling.

Facing this dire situation, the Indonesian Government, WWF and and rhino experts from around the world together concluded that saving the Sumatran rhino requires the capture of most of the remaining isolated animals in order to consolidate their populations in managed sanctuaries and facilitate their breeding. 

The ultimate goal is to increase Sumatran rhino numbers so that they can eventually be returned to the wild in secure habitat areas. Recently, and in support of the Indonesian Government’s efforts, a coalition of international conservation organizations, including WWF, National Geographic, IUCN, International Rhino Foundation, and Global Wildlife Conservation, launched a new program to reach this ambitious and urgent target.

The Sumatran Rhino Rescue, as this joint effort is called, has started to bear fruit. Last month, the Indonesian Government announced that a first Sumatran rhino, a female named Pahu, was successfully rescued from a small isolated forest patch in Kalimantan, with the support of WWF, local partners and Sumatran Rhino Rescue.

Veterinarians on site indicated that Pahu was in good health and was fit for transport to a designated sanctuary in less than 100 miles from the capture site. Pahu arrived safely at the sanctuary and appears to have handled the move well.  

“Rescuing Pahu was time sensitive and critical to her survival,” said Ginette Hemley, Senior Vice President for Wildlife Conservation at WWF. “Pahu’s habitat was located in a mining concession and was literally being chopped away. We are cautiously hopeful that Pahu’s rescue is a first successful step in the survival of this amazing creature.”

Over the next several weeks and months, husbandry experts and veterinarians will monitor Pahu’s health and assess her breeding viability.

The rescue of Pahu is the first of a series of captures and translocations that are expected to take place as the new expanded captive breeding program gets underway. Although not without its risks, this may well be the last chance to secure the survival of the Sumatran rhino.



Published December 04, 2018 at 06:00AM

Handcrafted beauty from around the globe

Handcrafted beauty from around the globe

Local communities and indigenous people are crucial stewards of the natural places WWF works to conserve. They depend on forests, fisheries and wildlife for their traditional way of life. Over generations, many have acquired knowledge and learned practices to sustainably use and protect natural resources. By working together, we can help strengthen their role in safeguarding the environment while also improving their livelihoods and health. The handicrafts are a small thank you for your support of WWF and all its programs.


 

Felt Ornaments from Nepal

Crafted by Nepali artisans in Kathmandu, these vibrantly colored ornaments are fashioned using the ancient technique of felting to create festive animal shapes. This set includes an elephant, a tiger, and a narwhal, ranging from 3" to 3 ½" tall.


 

Wild Jewelry Necklace

Jewelry that is fashionable… and sustainable! This stylish necklace is crafted from wild rubber tapped in the Amazonian rain forest. Promoting positive social and environmental impact through jewelry design, projects support small producers and artisans, empower local communities and help to preserve the forest. Through the Amazon Region Protected Areas, an initiative of the government of Brazil and supported by WWF since the beginning, nearly150 million acres of rain forest are now protected—the largest tropical rain forest conservation project in history.


 

Thirty Hills Bracelets

These bracelets are hand woven from natural materials collected in the Thirty Hills forest of Sumatra, Indonesia, by indigenous Talang Mamak craftspeople. They are crafted from sustainably harvested rattan and bamboo.Through a conservation concession —a lease of the land—covering 100,000 acres of rain forest, WWF and its partners are joining forces with local communities in an innovative initiative to actively manage Thirty Hills.


 

Basket from Uganda

This handcrafted basket from Uganda is rooted in tradition. It is made using natural dyes, woven into modern-day designs. It is an ethically sourced Authentic Fair Trade product. Basket measures 12” deep and 3” high. No two designs are alike.

This holiday season, make a gift in support of our global conservation efforts and choose from these items—and over 200 more—to share with your loved ones.



Published December 03, 2018 at 06:00AM

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