is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His “Extinction Countdown” column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.
The cruel practice of tapping and mutilating caged bears for the bile from their gall bladders will soon come to an end in Vietnam. Trade in bear bile, a component of traditional medicine, is illegal in the country but a legal loophole allowed for its continued production. An agreement signed this week between Animals Asia and the Vietnam Administration of Forestry will close that loophole and ensure that the approximately 1,000 bears currently in private hands will move to sanctuaries. This doesn’t completely end the practice; a 2011 report from TRAFFIC found bear bile production and sales in 12 Asian countries.
The exploitation of threatened slow lorises has spread to Turkey. New research shows that the country is the latest to use the tiny primates as tourist props, where people can pose with the animals for a nominal fee. Researchers found dozens of examples of tourists posing with two vulnerable South Asian loris species, despite the fact that no primate has ever been legally imported into Turkey. Lorises, perhaps best known from seemingly adorable YouTube videos, have become increasingly illegally trafficked in recent years. The fragile, nocturnal animals suffer greatly from the practice and rarely survive long in captivity.
A record number of environmental activists and defenders were killed in 2016 — at least 200 people in 24 countries, according to records compiled by the organization Global Witness. The list includes activists who were protesting dams, mines, logging or agriculture, as well as wildlife rangers, forest guards and indigenous peoples. Global Witness says the actual number of slain activists may be much higher, as many deaths go unreported. Will this number continue to rise? Global Witness has tracked at least 98 more murders in the first five months of 2017.
Extinction starts to have an effect on ecosystems long before a species fully disappears. A new paper calls this “biological annihilation” — the effect that localized extinction has on a region when certain species, such as lions, become extirpated from their former habitats. The paper argues we should pay more attention to species even if they are considered “of low concern,” because many of them are actually in decline. Although these species are not currently considered threatened with extinction, their “population decay” causes cascading effects on the abundance of other local species — which, the paper warns, will eventually result in yet more extinctions.
In a move to help the country meet its Paris Accord climate goals, France announced this week that it will ban the sale of gas- and diesel-powered automobiles by 2040. That will be a big shift, as only 1.1 percent of new cars sold in France are currently pure electric vehicles. Even with the pending ban it will still take a long time to get older cars off the road: French consumers currently keep their gas-powered cars running for an average of 8.5 years, well below the 11.6 years in the United States.
Criminal syndicates from a small town in southern China are responsible for trafficking as much as 80 percent of all illegal ivory into the country, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency. Undercover operatives tracked a two-ton shipment of tusks from Mozambique to the town of Shuidong, thereby revealing trade routes, rampant bribery, and the ability to smuggle other wildlife products, including pangolin scales and rhino horns. China has announced the closure of its legal ivory market, but EIA found the syndicates remained active as late as last month.