How honey is helping to save the spectacled bear?

A bear cub with distinctive yellow circling about the eyes is caught on camera, deep in the dry forests of the Andes mountain range in Bolivia. Beside it, a glimpse of the shaggy black fur of its mother, CNN reports.

For six months, researchers had laid camera traps across a 600-square-kilometer area, trying to catch sight of the rare spectacled bear. But besides the occasional photo of an indistinguishable hairy figure with its head out of shot, the elusive species had avoided the lens. 

The photo was a breakthrough for Bolivian conservationist Ximena Velez-Liendo and her team. “We were over the moon, because it wasn’t just a bear, it was a breeding population,” she says. “That was one of the happiest moments in my life.”

This candid photo of a bear cub, taken by camera trap on 9 February 2017, marked significant progress for Velez-Liendo and her team.

Five years later, Velez-Liendo has gathered essential details on the enigmatic creatures and devised a strategy for protecting them. 

As South America’s only bear species, the spectacled or Andean bear is renowned worldwide thanks largely to Paddington Bear, the fictional character who hails from “deepest, darkest Peru.” But in reality, populations across the continent are dwindling. 

Fewer than 10,000 spectacled bears remain, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which lists the species as vulnerable. In Bolivia, the southernmost country in the world where spectacled bears are found and where Velez-Liendo’s work is focused, there are believed to be around 3,000 individuals.

Severe drought, as a result of climate change, has led local farmers to replace agricultural production with cattle ranches, says Velez-Liendo. The bears, struggling to find food in their own shrinking habitat, encroach on this land and sometimes kill livestock, which leads to farmers killing the bears in retaliation. Deforestation and exploiting the land for oil and mining contributes to habitat loss, while drought unbalances the ecosystem, pushing the species closer to extinction. 

Velez-Liendo wants to conserve the “majestic” and “charismatic” creatures to which she has devoted the last 20 years of her life. But her recipe for conservation involves an unusual ingredient: honey.

A spectacled bear is caught on camera bathing in a watering hole in northern Peru.

Bears and beekeepers

Based in the inter-Andean dry forest of southern Bolivia and funded by Chester Zoo and Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), the project not only monitors the region’s bear population, but trains local people as beekeepers. The idea is that by generating a healthy income from honey, it offers an economic alternative to cattle ranching.

“The main threat (to bears) is definitely people,” says Velez-Liendo, and “cattle are the main reason for people killing bears.” But cattle ranching is not well suited to high elevations and produces small returns at a significant environmental cost, requiring 20 times more land, water and resources than it does in the lowlands, she adds.

So the team set up community apiaries, where local people could learn and practice beekeeping. After the first honey harvest, people started building their own private hives. The honey – branded “Valle de Osos,” meaning “Valley of the Bears” – went on sale, and money started to trickle in.

The honey’s label references the bears, as they are at the root of the project, says Velez-Liendo.

There have been three harvests since the beekeeping project began in 2018, producing 2,750 kilograms of honey and almost $20,000 in revenue, says Velez-Liendo – more than double that generated by cattle. 

Circle of life

At the same time, the process is teaching locals about the ecosystem and the bear’s crucial role in maintaining it: by spreading seeds, the bears help to restore forests, which in turn helps to secure water supplies. “People need to see the benefit of protecting the bears,” says Velez-Liendo, and through beekeeping, “we show them that by protecting the bear, they are protecting the forest, and by protecting the forest, they are protecting the bees.”

Velez-Liendo (left) works closely with local communities on the project.

The project has been widely recognized as crucial in preserving the species, winning the 2017 Whitley Award for grassroots wildlife conservationists. Last month, the Whitley Fund for Nature announced it would fund Velez-Liendo for the next two years, as she works to create a “productive protected landscape” – a management framework that respects traditional land-use while combining restoration and nature-positive economic activity.

She hopes that by presenting a viable framework, other countries with spectacled bear populations will follow suit. Conservation efforts are already underway across South America, including in Ecuador, where a bear corridor has been created north of the capital, Quito, and in Peru, where the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society (SBC) works with indigenous communities to create private protected areas, as well as offering alternative livelihood programs.

Community engagement is essential in long-lasting population change, agrees Canadian biologist Robyn Appleton, who founded the SBC in 2009. “If you don’t have communities onside, you will not be doing any conservation,” she says. “You could have the last bear in Peru, and it wouldn’t matter.”

By building relationships with local communities, Appleton says they have successfully reduced the use of slash and burn – the clearance of land by burning all the trees and plants on it.

The important message to get across is that protecting the bear protects people, too. “We love the bears and we care about wildlife, but we also care about humans,” says Appleton. “For us, it’s about protecting a place – protecting the humans, protecting the wildlife, protecting the ecosystem. They all work together.”

A group of spectacled bears are spotted clambering through the forest in search of food.

Gardeners of the Andes 

Spectacled bears play a vital role in the survival of the whole ecosystem, of which there is not much left. The dry forests of Bolivia, which flank the eastern Andes with shrubs and dense thicket, are critically endangered. According to research from the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation, only 6% remains intact.

Primarily vegetarian, spectacled bears feed on fruit, berries and cacti, and move up to five miles a day, dispersing seeds within the area as they defecate and generating new growth and biodiversity. 

“Bears are the gardeners of the Andes,” says Velez-Liendo. “In areas where bears have been exterminated, the quality of the forest is extremely poor.”

Thanks to Velez-Liendo’s bear program, scientists are now more aware than ever of what other life exists within the ecosystem. Eight species of wild cats have been spotted on the site, including jaguars and pumas, and there have also been sightings of the critically endangered chinchilla rat. 

“Because of all our efforts to protect just one species, we’re protecting 31 species of mammals, about 50 species of birds, and 20 species of other amphibians,” says Velez-Liendo. “By protecting bears we’re protecting an entire ecosystem.”

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Snow covers Saudi Arabian desert

For most people, thinking about the Saudi Arabian desert probably conjures up images of sand dunes backed by relentless sunshine. More recently, however, those sands have been covered in snow, CNN reports.

Several recent snow and hailstorms in the region have transformed landscapes in and around Saudi Arabia, stirring excitement among locals and causing a sensation on social media. 

Earlier this month, Saudi photographer Osama Al-Habri captured aerial images of Badr Governorate, southwest of the Islamic pilgrimage city of Medina, dressed in white as locals gathered to enjoy the unusual sight. 

Al-Harbi told CNN that winter weather of such intensity in the Badr desert area was a rare phenomenon that had not occurred for years. He described it as a “historic hailstorm.”

The Saudi photographer, who documented the scenes on January 11, said the site was teeming with visitors, many of who had traveled miles for a glimpse of the frozen landscape.

At the time of Al-Harbi’s visit, Saudi Arabia’s National Center of Meteorology had forecast moderate to heavy rain in the Medina region, along with winds, low visibility and hail, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Wintry conditions were experienced again this week, when snow fell in northwestern Saudi Arabia, covering the city of Tabuk, near the border with Jordan, and nearby mountains on February 16, according to Reuters.

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The world should reduce its appetite for electricity to stop a climate disaster

The world needs more electricity. That will mean severe climate damage unless something changes soon, CNN reports.

A report published Friday by the International Energy Agency found that global demand for electricity surged 6% in 2021, fueled by a colder winter and the dramatic economic rebound from the pandemic. That drove both prices and carbon emissions to new records.

The growth in demand was particularly intense in China, where it jumped by about 10%.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said the report contained a stark warning for the future. 

Electricity has a crucial role to play in the fight against climate change as countries ditch fossil fuels and more battery-powered cars hit the road. But so far, renewable sources of electricity — as opposed to power stations that burn coal or natural gas — haven’t kept up.

Electricity generated by renewables grew by 6% globally last year, while coal-fired generation leaped 9% due to high demand and skyrocketing natural gas prices, which made it look like a more attractive option.

Carbon dioxide emissions from power generation rose 7% as a result, reaching an all-time high after declining the previous two years.

“Not only does this highlight how far off track we currently are from a pathway to net zero emissions by 2050, but it also underscores the massive changes needed for the electricity sector to fulfill its critical role in decarbonizing the broader energy system,” Birol said in a statement.

In the United States, coal-fired electricity generation spiked by 19% in 2021. The increase is likely to be temporary, though, with output from coal expected to decline by about 6% a year between 2022 and 2024, according to the IEA.

There’s some good news: Rapid expansion of renewable energy capacity should be enough to cover the vast majority of the growth in global electricity demand through 2024. 

Still, emissions will remain high. The IEA found that emissions from the power sector will “remain around the same level from 2021 to 2024,” even though they need to decline “sharply” for the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst effects of climate change.

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What role climate change has played in the weekend tornadoes in US

The series of weekend tornadoes that ripped through the parts of the US this weekend adds to another stretch of deadly and potentially unprecedented weather disasters that plagued the planet this year. Meteorologists and climate scientists say the latest outbreak is historic, CNN reports.

And as these extreme weather events intensify, occur more often and exacerbate the country’s growing economic toll, science is running to keep up to answer emerging questions of whether climate change is intensifying every single disaster. With this weekend’s tornadoes, climate researchers say it’s too early to determine the link, but the uncertainty doesn’t mean it is unlikely. 

In Kentucky, the series of tornadoes uprooted trees, tore down homes and infrastructure, and killed at least 74 people. Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news conference that the tornado event reached a “level of devastation unlike anything I have ever seen,” he said. 

Global scientists made clear that weather events, no matter how severe, are occurring against the backdrop of human-caused climate change; nevertheless, it all comes down to discerning how a warming planet is altering weather patterns, including geographical location and frequency, as well as severity.

Scientists say the short-lived scale of tornadoes, coupled with an extremely inconsistent and unreliable historical record, makes connecting outbreaks to long-term, human-caused climate change extremely challenging. 

Unlike large-scale and slow-trending weather events such as droughts, floods and hurricanes, scientific research about the link between climate change and tornadoes has not been as robust. 

Victor Gensini, a professor at Northern Illinois University and one of the top tornado experts, said the weekend’s outbreak is one of the most remarkable tornado events in US history — and while climate change may have played a part in its violent behavior, it’s not yet clear what that role was.

Think of a pair of dice, he said. On one of the die, you altered the value of five to six, which means it now has two sixes — raising the chances of you rolling the pair of dice and getting the value 12. Although you can’t immediately attribute that value of 12 to the change you made, you just altered the probability of that event occurring.

Gensini said that’s similar to how the climate system now works — the more humans pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and change the system, the chances of extreme weather events occurring will amplify. 

He points to different ingredients that primed the landscape for the outbreak to happen, such as late spring, early summer air mass and strong wind shear.

“When you start putting a lot of these events together, and you start looking at them in the aggregate sense, the statistics are pretty clear that not only has there sort of been a change — a shift, if you will — of where the greatest tornado frequency is happening,” Gensini told CNN. “But these events are becoming perhaps stronger, more frequent and also more variable.”

Research by Gensini found that over the past four decades, tornado frequency has increased in vast swaths of the Midwest and Southeast while decreasing in parts of the central and southern Great Plains, a region traditionally known as Tornado Alley.

Some studies also indicate climate change could be contributing to an eastward shift in tornado alley, for instance, resulting in more tornadoes occurring in the more heavily populated states east of the Mississippi River, such as this tornado outbreak.

“It’s also very common when you have La Niña in place to see this eastward shift in highest tornado frequency,” Gensini said. “But if you look at the past 40 years, the research I’ve done … has shown that places like Nashville, Tennessee, for example — or Mayfield, Kentucky, that we saw got hit — their frequency of tornadoes, their risk of having a tornado has increased over the last 40 years.”

Tornadoes take shape under particularly specific atmospheric conditions but are primarily fueled by warm, moist air from strong winds that shift direction with altitude.

Scientists have warned that the rise in greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is drastically changing the climate system, even causing the jet stream — fast-flowing air currents in the upper atmosphere that influence day-to-day weather that could trigger a tornado event — to behave oddly. 

Jennifer Marlon, a climate scientist at the Yale School of Environment, told CNN it’s too early to say what caused the outbreak — whether natural variability or climate change — but there are “some really important signatures that suggest that this very well may be linked to climate change,” and that scientists are “observing changes in the outbreaks, not just the severity of individual outbreaks and tornadoes, but also quiet periods.”

For example, if any of the tornadoes are rated EF-5 (estimated winds of 260 mph or greater), it would end a streak of 3,126 days since the last EF-5, which is the longest stretch without since records began in 1950. The last EF-5 tornado was the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado on May 20, 2013.

It’s likely that it was simply natural forces at play, against the background of climate change. 

The World Weather Attribution, a group of the world’s leading scientists that establishes the link between climate and weather, for instance, has recently unveiled findings that the warming climate neither intensified the flooding in Vietnam that killed 138 people this summer nor the Madagascar drought that led to the country’s food scarcity. 

Still, a recent report by the World Meteorological Organization found that an extreme weather event or climate disaster has occurred every day, on average, somewhere in the world over the last 50 years, marking a five-fold increase over that period and exacting an economic toll that has climbed seven-fold since the 1970s.

As such climate disasters worsen and expand in scope, Marlon points to significant factors that increase disaster risks across society during these times including worsening weather disasters, increasing exposure due to growing populations, and more vulnerable infrastructure assets. 

That’s already taking shape in Mayfield, Kentucky, where officials say the city’s main fire station and some of its police assets have become inoperable as a result of the devastating tornado system. Now, authorities are looking for alternative ways to address emergency calls. 

“All these things are feeding into increase disaster risk, with many more consequences, including the fatalities, of course, but also enormous economic damages,” she said. 

As the climate crisis accelerates, more people will be vulnerable to the most severe consequences of extreme weather events. Experts say cities shouldn’t put off adaptation plans any longer, and instead treat them as a larger emergency response system.

But Gensini said one thing is certain: regardless of climate change, these types of tornado disasters will continue to worsen as humans alter the landscape and build larger, more sprawling cities.

“We have more assets and more targets for the severe storms to hit,” he said. “So even if you take climate change out of the equation, which is very likely to make the problem worse, we still have this issue of human and societal vulnerability.”

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Photographers are protecting environment with their wors

The final moments before the death of the last male northern white rhino, a 66-year-old elephant swimming in the ocean, and renowned primatologist Jane Goodall searching for chimpanzees in Tanzania in the early 1960s; these are all moments captured in a collection of powerful photographs that have been donated to raise funds for conservation projects, CNN reports.

Works by 100 photographers from around the world will be sold until the end of the year by Vital Impacts, a non-profit that provides financial support to community-orientated conservation organizations and amplifies the work of photographers who are raising awareness of their efforts. Contributing is a who’s who of nature photography, including Paul Nicklen, Ami Vitale, Jimmy Chin, Chris Burkard, Nick Brandt, Beth Moon, Stephen Wilkes and Goodall herself. 

“Each image has a really profound story behind it,” said Vitale, an award-winning photographer and co-founder of Vital Impacts. “I worked really hard when I was curating this to make sure that these photographers are diverse, but the one thing they all share is this commitment to the planet. They’re using their art to help conservation.”

An inspiration to the world’

Goodall’s photograph of herself, sitting with a telescope on a high peak in Gombe, Tanzania, was taken around 1962 using a camera that she fastened to a tree branch. “I was pretty proud of myself. I love that picture,” said Goodall in a video message for Vital Impacts. All the proceeds from her self-portrait will go to supporting her Roots & Shoots program, which educates young people and empowers them to care for the world.

Jane Goodall's "Self Portrait," from the early 1960s, in Tanzania.
Jane Goodall`s “Self Portrait”, from the early 1960s, in Tanzania.

“It’s breathtaking work,” said Vitale, who only found out that Goodall was a photographer after reaching out to her about supporting the program. “She’s been such an inspiration to the world. This one woman has had such an impact for the betterment of the planet.”

Vital Impacts has tried to make the print sale carbon neutral by planting trees for every print that is made. Sixty percent of profits from the sale will be divided between four groups involved in wildlife or habitat protection: Big Life Foundation, Great Plains Foundation’s Project Ranger, Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots program, and SeaLegacy. The remaining 40% will go to the photographers to help them continue their work.

‘Our shared life raft’

Vitale was a conflict photographer for a decade before becoming a wildlife photographer. She hopes that people will be “inspired by all of this work” and that the photographs make people “fall in love” with our “magnificent planet.”

“The planet is our shared life raft and we’ve poked some holes in it, but it’s not too late,” added Vitale. “We can all do little acts that can have profound impacts. That’s kind of why I named it ‘Vital Impacts,’ because I think very often we are all so disconnected and don’t realize how we are interconnected. Everything we do impact one another and shapes this world.”

One of her photographs in the print sale, “Goodbye Sudan,” shows Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, being comforted by one of his keepers, Joseph Wachira, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in northern Kenya moments before the rhino’s death in March 2018. Now, two females are all that remains of this species.

"Goodbye Sudan" by Ami Vitale shows the moments before the death of the last male northern white rhino in 2018.
“Goodbye Sudan” by Ami Vitale shows the moments before the death of the last male northern white rhino in 2018.

“It’s such an important story to me because it made me realize that watching these animals go extinct is actually like watching our own demise in slow motion, knowing that it’s going to impact humanity,” said Vitale.

“It’s so deeply interwoven. That’s what led me down this path and now I really try to find these stories which show us a way forward, where people are learning how to coexist and protect wildlife and the habitats that we all share.”

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Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has erupted again

Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano began erupting Wednesday afternoon for the first time since May, spewing lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, CNN reports.

Officials note that while there is no present danger to nearby residents on Hawaii’s Big Island, the situation will be monitored for further escalation.

The US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory had raised its watch alert level earlier in the day after it recorded an increase in seismic readings.

“Increased earthquake activity and changes in the patterns of ground deformation at Kilauea’s summit began occurring as of approximately noon on September 29, 2021, indicating movement of magma in the subsurface,” USGS said.

The agency said it detected with observatory webcams a glow within Kilauea’s summit crater at around 3:20 p.m. local time, indicating that an eruption had commenced.

David Phillips, the observatory’s deputy scientist-in-charge, told CNN that evidence of change at the site had been noticed the night before.

“Just after midnight, we started to get some increase in earthquake activity and seismic swarms,” he said.

The eruption is entirely within the boundaries of the park. There is no current threat to life or infrastructure, Phillips said, but the eruption could potentially last for months.

Last month, a recorded increase in earthquake activity led the observatory to increase its volcano alert from “advisory” to “watch,” USGS said.

Kilauea’s most recent eruption began last December, and locals were asked by authorities to stay indoors to avoid exposure to ash clouds. The volcano continued to discharge lava for five months.

In 2018, an eruption destroyed more than 700 homes and forced residents to evacuate.

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