Category: Mammals

Saved by Chance: The Incredibly Strange Story of the Pere David’s Deer

The Pere David’s deer may be the only species saved because someone broke a wildlife law. It now is a creature of British deer parks and Texas wildlife ranches, facing a secure future far from its native habitat. What lessons can we learn from this near-collision with extinction?

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The World Famous Shrew-Eating Trout: An Update

We’ve been inundated with questions about the shrew-eating trout featured in a blog published earlier this month. Get your questions answered, and more. (Including a fish that ate something even more disturbing).

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Weird Nature: Shrew-Eating Trout!

The story of rodent-eating trout at The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve has been one of our blog’s biggest hits. But those Silver Creek trout look like dainty eaters compared to this one. Meet the shrew-eating trout documented by researchers at Alaska’s Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. And how did this many small mammals end up in a trout’s stomach?

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Traveling Naturalist: Elephants, Kudus and More in Tarangire National Park

The Traveling Naturalist visits Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania, home to one of the largest herds of elephants in Africa, unusual antelope, migrating zebras, lions and warthogs and much, much more. Can it stay that way? Does tourism help?

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Too Many Deer: A Bigger Threat to Eastern Forests than Climate Change?

Yes, white-tailed deer are beautiful, charismatic creatures. But there can be too much of a good thing. Three Nature Conservancy authors argue that deer are now the greatest threat to Eastern forest. To address the problem means not only managing deer, but managing people. What do you think?

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Poorly Known Species at Most Risk from Extinction

Our incomplete knowledge of the biological world can have profound implications for the natural world. The less we know about a species, the higher the risk for extinction. Researcher Lucie Bland presents her findings in this essay, the first in a series of three blogs written by winners of the University of Queensland’s Student Conference on Conservation Science.

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Weird Nature: A Bat that Eats Scorpions

Many bat species are well known for eating flying insects. This one eats scorpions. How can it detect prey on the ground at night? How does it avoid being stung? Our blogger takes an in-depth look at the pallid bat, and finds that the answers are even weirder than you think.

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Traveling Naturalist: 5 Top Spots to See Yellowstone’s Wildlife

Heading to America’s first national park? Our blogger points you to the best spots to see Yellowstone’s diverse wildlife, including creatures very, very large and those very, very small.

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The Cooler: Can Hillary Clinton Help Stop Elephant Poaching?

Hillary Rodham Clinton has made stopping elephant poaching her new cause. Can she really make a difference? Perhaps conservation history holds a hopeful answer.

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Climate Change and the Future of Bison

When the world gets warmer, what happens to bison and other grassland grazers such as cattle? A new paper, based on research conducted at Nature Conservancy preserves, is helping answer that question.

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Traveling Naturalist: 5 Marvelous Marsupials to Spot in Queensland

Northern Tropical Queensland offers some of the best wildlife viewing anywhere, if you know where to look. Our blog gives you what you need to spot bizarre marsupials, including bandicoots, sugar gliders and kangaroos that live in trees.

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Bison Bellows and Bones: Student-Scientists on the Prairie

Editor’s Note: At the Samuel H. Ordway Prairie Preserve, students from Gustavus Adolphus College will soon be arriving to follow bison herds for the summer. This research program is not only taking an in-depth look at animal behavior, it’s also providing information on how to best manage bison on fenced reserves. Today, we’re running a previously published blog on last year’s student researchers at Ordway Prairie.

I’m in the back seat of the vehicle as two female college students drive around, listen to music and—in their words—“look for guys.”

Just another evening for students on break, right?

Well, not quite.

These students aren’t driving to a party, nor are they cruising around downtown. There is no town. For that matter, there’s no road.

We’re bouncing around mixed grass prairie in South Dakota, the four-wheel-drive pick-up thumping over ruts and rocks. The vehicle’s loaded with notebooks, GPS units and animal bones.

And the”guys”?

They’re large, shaggy and prone to bellowing, wallowing and urinating on themselves.

They’re bison bulls, the subject of these students’ summer research project.

Michelle Hulke and Mary Joy Sun, entering their sophomore years at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, have spent day after day recording the bison bulls’ fights, vocalizations and even tongue positions.

It’s a research effort aimed at determining if bison bull behavior can be managed to produce more genetically diverse herds in fenced preserves and ranches, the type of environments where most bison herds now roam.

Hulke and Sun are the sixth set of Gustavus Adolphus students to research herd behavior at The Nature Conservancy’s Samuel H. Ordway Prairie Preserve, a 7,800-acre grassland property near Leola. Each year, students at Gustavus Adolphus have the opportunity to participate in research projects following their freshmen year. The bison project has become one of the most popular.

Conservancy preserves and projects offer the perfect outdoor laboratories for undergraduate field research. The Conservancy employs mentors in the form of 550 scientists, and many projects already have a “science infrastructure”—the tools, established research protocols and housing and logistics that support fieldwork. Students learn not only science but also community relations, marketing and land management.

Preserves are places where budding scientists can develop their skills and contribute to meaningful conservation. It’s a place where tomorrow’s conservation leaders can gain field experience in spectacular settings.

In this case, that means living amongst bison herds.

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The Traveling Naturalist: To the Bat Cave!

The Traveling Naturalist, our series featuring natural wonders and biological curiosities for the science-inclined wanderer.

What’s the world’s largest concentration of mammals? Many people guess that it’s one of the great herds—the wildebeest in the Serengeti, or caribou in the Arctic.

But no: To see even more mammals, you have to look to the sky. More specifically, head to a bat cave in the Texas Hill Country, between now and the end of summer.

At caves around Texas, Mexican free-tailed bats emerge nightly by the millions. Yes, millions. The biggest? Bracken Cave, owned by the excellent conservation organization Bat Conservation International, with an estimated 15 million bats. That’s a lot of critters.

These are maternal roosts: females come here to have young. Come fall, they migrate south to Mexico.

Bats emerge en masse from caves, and within minutes they stretch out to the horizon. At a glance it resembles nothing so much as a thick cloud of smoke, swaying in the breeze.

Where there are large congregations of animals, of course, there’s also congregations of predators to take advantage of the bounty. Hovering outside the caves are often a variety of raptors, ready to snatch a wayward bat.

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Fish and Chimps

Chimpanzees don’t eat fish. They don’t even swim. But at Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania, scientists have found that to save chimps, they must look underwater.

That’s because here, everything—people, fish, water, forest, and chimps—is interconnected. Attempting to conserve the apes without accounting for the health of the fishery that provides food and income for local people would doom these efforts.

Today, fish supplies are dwindling, villages are growing fast and chimps are getting squeezed into smaller and smaller forests.

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Expedition to Northern Tibet, Part 2: Where the Wild Yak Roams

Kiang live up here.

We’re in the highest, most desolate section of Tibetan Plateau; a place no one lives and very few visit. And yet even here we’re accompanied by oddly domestic shapes. Kiang, or Tibetan wild ass (Equus kiang), are a strikingly coloured relative of the donkey; their red-brown backs contrasting sharply with white flanks, belly, legs, neck and muzzle.

They can survive more arid conditions than any other large mammal on the plateau, and like their less-wild cousins, are masters at finding food where there appears to be none. Their equine shape and canter are familiar even to someone who has spent very little time with horses.

As we struggle with our bike and trailers, slouching exhausted every couple of hundred meters, the domestication of equines seems like one of our species smartest achievements.

A big part of the Chinese government’s motivation for creating these nature preserves (Kekexili and Aerjinshan) was protection for the endangered Tibetan antelope or chiru (Pantholops hodgsoni). With slender arched horns the colour of ebony, chiru are an attractive antelope. But it is their pelts that are the cause of their decline. To deal with extreme cold, chiru have an extraordinarily fine and soft undercoat, known as Shahtoosh. Considered among the most luxurious and prized of all animal fibres, a shawl made of Shahtoosh can supposedly be passed through a wedding ring.

Poaching of these antelope – dramatized in the haunting film Kekexili Mountain Patrol – has pushed the small remaining population to the highest and most remote parts of the Tibetan Plateau.

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