Rebounding elephants, heavy rainfall, sticky mussels: 3 big stories you may have missed

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, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Tanzania says elephant, rhino populations rebounding after anti-poaching crackdown

Elephant and rhino populations are on the rise after government efforts to curb poaching activities in the East African nation.

The Story: By targeting key organized criminal networks involved in massive poaching schemes, the Tanzanian government helped create a habitat where elephant and rhino populations could thrive, reported Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala for Reuters. Poaching across Africa is largely driven by the demand for ivory in Asian countries. In February, Tanzanian authorities arrested one of the most lucrative ivory traders in the world, known as the “Ivory Queen,” for smuggling more than 350 elephants tusks to Asia.

The Big Picture: “As a result of the work of a special task force launched in 2016 to fight wildlife poaching, elephant populations have increased from 43,330 in 2014 to more than 60,000 presently,” Tanzanian President John Magufuli said in a government statement. Rhino populations remain small, at 167, but continue to increase as poachers are detained. The Tanzanian government dedicated 32 percent of its total land area for conservation activities, which could be critical in continuing to increase rhino and elephant populations.

Read the full story here.

2. Climate change fills storms with more rain, analysis shows

Climate change is driving the higher levels of rainfall now associated with tropical storms and hurricanes, according to a recent study.

The Story: Oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat produced by human greenhouse gas emissions and are increasing in temperature over time. Warm water can drive the formation of tropical storms and hurricanes, which is why the levels of rainfall during these fierce weather events are steadily growing over time, reported Kendra Pierre-Louis for the New York Times. Tropical Storm Barry and Hurricane Harvey have both shown firsthand how detrimental this intensifying rainfall can be, with streets in Arkansas currently being submerged in more than 15 inches of water.

The Big Picture: “What’s really interesting is that, regardless of the methodology that you use, we’re starting to see more … evidence that climate change … has been enhancing rainfall on some of these recent hurricane events,” said Christina Patricola, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Other scientists agree, concluding that approximately 19 inches of the more than 50 inches of rain during Hurricane Harvey were largely due to climate change.

Read the full story here.

3. Could mussels teach us how to clean up oil spills?

Scientists are using mussels as inspiration for a new technology that could help clean up oil spills.

The Story: Mussels may be the key to cleaning up oil spills and purifying water, according to a story reported by Susie Neilson for NPR’s “The Salt.” Mussels have the unique ability to stick to a surface even when they are underwater — a trait at the center of a new field of study known as “mussel-inspired chemistry.” Scientists discovered that small hairs, known as byssus threads, coming from a mussel’s shell have a special binding property that excels as an underwater adhesive. Seth Darling, direct of the Center for Molecular Engineering at Argonne National Laboratory, was able to mimic this property in a technology that may help purify polluted wastewater.

The Big Picture: “Oftentimes, Mother Nature is smarter than us [because] she’s had billions of years to come up with solutions,” said Darling in an Interview with NPR. “We’re still learning from the mussels.” These sticky sea creatures have already inspired medical adhesive innovations that thrive in wet conditions and could have a much broader environmental impact in the future.

Read the full story here.

Kiley Price is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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Cover image: Elephants under a tree, Tanzania. (© Rod Mast)

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