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What is killing our wildlife?
Text & photos by Reinier Munguia

Over the years, I have witnessed the effects that National Geographic, PBS, and the Discovery Channel  have on people. Ordinary people confined to a 9 to 5 job behind a computer on the 10th floor of a corporate building are outraged by the slaughter of whales in the Pacific, the killing of elephants for the ivory trade in Africa or the poaching of lemurs for bush meat in Madagascar. We are all concerned about this global human malady, that seems to spread quicker than it can be controlled. Unfortunately in our amazement we neglect to realize that right here on our own soil, things like this are happening.

Ever wondered where are all the turtles we used to see around our lakes? For years, the Florida softshell turtles were over-harvested  to supply the Asian market.   In 2008, the Florida Fish & Wildlife estimated that more than 3,000 pounds of softshell meat were being flown out of the Tampa International Airport with thousands more from other major airports. Finally, in 2009, alarmed by the abrupt decline, the FWC approved a new rule for commercial harvesting of turtles as well as individual species protection.  But this is just an example of  the consumerism effects on local wildlife. Then there's the nuisance issue and the wildlife-human conflict.  As human population increases in the United States, we are inhabiting areas previously roamed by wildlife; this, of course brings some issues. The displaced animals move to other human settlements and the animal encounters are not always well taken by the residents. The US Department of Agriculture has its own department to deal with this kind of situations, the Wildlife Services. This department has green light to control any species that causes problems to a farmer, business or even home owners.  You will think they only deal with feral hogs and Muscovy ducks, well not really. If you read their 2009 report  on species killed or dispersed, you'll find interesting numbers on birds such as Eastern Meadowlarks,  Brown-headed cowbirds and even Cattle Egrets.
In reality,  there are many other threats to wildlife, many of which can be reduced or avoided. Unconventional treatment of run-offs from the cattle industry, mining  and even the "water" industries are causing major damage to our ecosystems in ways that affect animal life at all levels, from the minute microorganisms to the larger apex predators.  Hundreds of animals die daily in the state of Florida to car collisions; from birds to turtles, they all seem to succumb to the impact from a fast moving vehicle. Wildlife corridors and under- highway passages are limited thus increasing the number of fatalities.
 
While wind turbines do not pose a threat in Florida at this time, high power lines are the cause of many bird injuries and fatalities.  Many birds die after impacting towers and power lines on windy days or at night. Ospreys and Bald eagles are often electrocuted when trying to nest on this man-made structures. Many power companies are taking steps to reduce these fatal injuries by supplying nesting alternatives to these birds.

Some of the threats affecting our local wildlife are not as obvious as we may think. Sometimes it takes careful observation to understand how our actions affects our fauna.  A common practice in Florida is the use of sod near easements and ponds. This sod is grown over rich soil  that is laid over a mono-filament netting (sometimes biodegradable, but it takes years to decompose) so that when ready to harvest, the grass can be rolled into large rolls. When this sod is used near ponds, the fluctuating water levels can exposed this netting which tends to be fatal for birds, reptiles and mammals that frequent the pond.  These are similar to the effects that discarded fishing lines have on water birds, which are a common occurrence in Florida.

Light pollution is another  threat that many species face. Sea turtles are well known for walking away from the ocean after hatching following strong light sources.  Millions of birds die every year after colliding with lighted buildings at night during migration. Glass windows are known to kill more birds than any other manmade object.  Birds that strike windows  have a slim chance to survive the impact and those that make it, usually fall prey to predators.  This brings us to another hot topic on the list of threats, invasive  and domestic species.  Studies show the impact that invasive species have on local wildlife.  People living in islands are well aware of these dangers, as in the case of Guam ,where the Brown snake took over and reduced their bird population in a relatively short time.  Feral cats in the Caribbean are known to raid sea turtles and iguana nests, sending some of the affected species in a spiraling decline. It's estimated that more than a 100 million birds are killed in the United States by outdoor cats, numbers that are easy to explain when the country holds a population of more than 80 million cats. 

When all things are considered, we are left with only one to blame... nobody, but ourselves. Humans have provided the means for massive extinctions at a rate never seen before, from the introduction of invasive species to the high levels of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, all of these are and will continue to affect our wildlife. Drastic measures are being taken globally to help alleviate some of the destructive effects that we have imposed in our natural world. 


 


A frequent image in Florida: a bobcat struck by a car lies on the side of US 27 south of Lake Wales.
This White Ibis died on impact after colliding with powerlines.
A Green Water Snake entangled on the nylon mesh used on sod. I found this snake at Circle B Bar Reserve and was able to release her 30 minutes later.
A common sight along roads in Polk County. A Red-Shouldered Hawk collided with a passing vehicle on SR 540.
 

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