Richard Conniff

Raid Frees Whale Sharks Illegally Bound for Aquatic Parks

In the latest episode in a remarkable crackdown on illegal wildlife trafficking in Indonesia, law enforcement officers there have staged a nighttime raid on a major supplier of large ocean species to the international wildlife trade. The raid revealed a scheme to illegally catch whale sharks—the largest fish species in the world, with the potential to grow to 41 feet in length and weigh 47,000 pounds—and export them to Chinese aquatic amusement parks.

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Growing Insects: Farmers Can Help to Bring Back Pollinators

For the last few years, Richard Rant has agreed to let researchers introduce strips of wildflowers among the blueberry plants on his family’s farm in West Olive, Michigan. It’s part of an experiment to see if the wildflowers can encourage pollinating insects and, in a small way, begin to reverse the worldwide decline in beneficial insects. It’s also a pioneering effort in the nascent movement to persuade farmers to grow insects almost as if they were a crop.

That movement is being driven by news that is disturbingly bad even by gloomy environmental standards. Insects pollinate 75 percent of the crops used directly for human food worldwide. They contribute $210 billion in agricultural earnings. But honeybees are now so scarce, according to a new study from the University of Reading, that Europe is 13.6 million colonies short of the number needed to pollinate crops there. Nor can farmers count on natural pollinators as a backup system. A 2011 study sampled four North American bumblebee species and found that they have declined by as much 96 percent over the past century. In China, the loss of wild bees has forced farmers to hand-pollinate apple blossoms using paint brushes.

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