National Geographic : 1990 Aug
Osprey Populations Soar to Old Heights hen Roger Tory Peterson wrote about ospreys in the July 1969 GEOGRAPHIC, many populations in the United States were on the brink of disaster. Now ospreys have become, in the words of one scientist, "good news birds." They are back and thriv ing, even trendy. What first alarmed Peterson was that osprey reproduction rates were dropping very rapidly in New England. He suspected that the birds were con suming DDT and similar chemicals, resulting in eggshells too thin to pro tect unborn chicks. At the time, the role of pesticides in causing environ mental woes was largely unknown. DDT with other chemicals is now banned in the U.S., and ospreys have bounced back. Alan Poole, author of a book about the birds, says that northeast ern populations are growing at an annual rate of 10 to 15 percent; west ern populations are growing too, though more slowly. Other osprey watchers agree, including Michael L. Smith, who has photographed the bird in Maryland for 17 years (above and right). The U. S . now contains between 6,000 and 8,000 active osprey nests, Poole says. Many nests are on platforms built by people who have discovered that ospreys adapt to suburban backyards. "Are the birds trendy?" asks Poole. "Absolutely. And these platforms are the ultimate birdhouse, increasing the chances of osprey survival." Wildlife Reserve on the Tibetan Plateau he isolated, unpopulated north west corner of the Tibetan Plateau is a high and dry world that is virtu ally the same today as it was a hundred years ago. If the Chinese government and George Schaller are successful, it will stay that way. Schaller, the prominent wildlife biologist who has written NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC articles on snow leopards, lions, and giant pandas, has been GEORGE B. SCHALLER MICHAELL. SMITH studying the Tibetan Plateau with Chi nese scientists for several years to dis cover which areas are most in need of preservation (bottom left). They have found that the crucial part of the Tibet Autonomous Region is a Colorado size chunk of land, at an average alti tude of 15,000 feet, whose 100,000 square miles are home to the wild yak, a big-horned sheep called the argali, and the Tibetan antelope, gazelle, wild ass, and brown bear. "There are many populations of ele phants here and there in Africa and Asia. They're all threatened, but if you lose one, you have others," Schaller says. "This is the last stronghold on earth for these Tibetan animals." Schaller and the Chinese govern ment have signed a letter of intent to turn the area into a reserve. Only herdsmen who traditionally graze live stock on the edge of the area would be allowed to hunt there. And develop ment would be minimal. "It's like the U. S. when the railroad went across; buffalo were wiped out in 15 years," Schaller says. "A few dirt roads, and the animals here would be wiped out as they were elsewhere on the plateau." Suggestions for GEOGRAPHICA may be submitted to Boris Weintraub, National Geographic Magazine, Box 37357, Washington, D. C. 20036, and should include the sender's address and tele phone number.