In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world

Young mountain gorilla

A young mountain gorilla rides on its mother’s back in Rwanda. (© Rod Mast)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. Rare conservation win: Mountain gorilla population ticks up

Mountain gorillas were just updated from “critically endangered” to “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The story: Sustained conservation efforts, tourism initiatives and health care have helped this species to slowly recover, Christina Larson reported in Associated Press last week. The population of wild mountain gorillas, found only in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is now a little over 1,000.

The big picture: “This is a beacon of hope — and it’s happened in recently war-torn and still very poor countries,” said Tara Stoinski, president and chief scientist of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. This success is evidence that conservation efforts combined with tourism can be an effective strategy to restore wildlife populations.

Read the story here.

  1. How artificial intelligence is changing wildlife research

New technology enables conservationists to gather and analyze data about endangered and vulnerable species much faster and cheaper than before.

The story: New software such as Wildbook identifies animals in pictures based on their unique traits such as coat patterns and tail outlines, Anne Casselman reported in National Geographic last week. This artificial intelligence (AI) software can use images to identify whether the same animal is in each photo, or if they are different, which enables conservationists to quickly determine how many animals are in each population area.

The big picture: AI can not only look at images that scientists upload, but it is also being used to comb through public databases such as YouTube to identify animals and even track their movements — which helps conservationists study migratory animals such as whale sharks. This technology could save time and money — two things that conservationists perennially lack.

Read the story here.

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  1. Why does California have so many wildfires?

At least 77 people were killed by the Camp Fire in California last week, and there’s a reason why there are so many wildfires in California.

The story: Actually, there are four main reasons, Kendra Pierre-Louis reported in The New York Times last week: climate change, large human population, fire suppression and the Santa Ana winds. Climate change contributes to wildfires because higher temperatures dry out vegetation, allowing it to ignite faster.

The big picture: Of the 10 largest fires in California’s history, nine have happened in the past two decades and two in 2018 alone, not surprisingly due in part to the increasing effects of climate change. “Nature creates the perfect conditions for fire, as long as people are there to start the fires,” Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said. “But then climate change, in a few different ways, seems to also load the dice toward more fire in the future.”

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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