Archive for Endangered Species
A magical tale of adventure and discovery showcasing some of the extraordinary species recently found around the world. ‘Astonish Me’ has been created by acclaimed writer Stephen Poliakoff and director Charles Sturridge to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is best known for its work protecting whales from Japanese whaling fleets but it is now in the Mediterranean helping raise awareness for unsustainable tuna fishing. But when one of their vessels approached a group of Tunisian fishing vessels some 70 miles off the Libyan coast in order to inspect their floating tuna cages, the environmentalists soon found themselves under attack by defensive fisherman throwing metal debris at their boat. Nobody was hurt in the encounter but the Sea Shepherd dinghy was forced to return to its mothership ‘The Steve Irwin’. The attacks continued as one purse-seine fishing vessel pulled up along the mother ship and continued to hurl metal pieces at the crew on board. The Sea Shepherd retaliated by throwing back bottles of rancid butter forcing the fishing vessel to retreat. The Tunisian vessels then radioed the French Navy and claimed that Sea Shepherd divers were attempting to cut their nets, a claim denied by the conservationists although they admit they have divers on standby as two of the of the Tunisian vessels are not allowed to be fishing according to a list complied by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Nevertheless, a French jet flew low over the scene several times to document the situation. Bluefin Tuna are fetching increasingly extravagant prices, particularly in Japan, as numbers decline. They are usually ‘flash-frozen’ and sold in Japanese fish markets where a large specimen can fetch up to £250,000. Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson has promised to stay with the Tunisian vessels until an ICCAT inspector can be found.
www.guardian.co.uk 12th December 2010
A united effort by police forces in Cameroon, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic (CAR) has broken up a highly organised smuggling ring that transported endangered species abroad. Key dealers were arrested and hundreds of kilos of ivory, turtle shells, and animal skins seized. The effort was orchestrated by the Last Great Ape Organisation, a wild-life enforcement NGO, and signals a new step in cross-border cooperation on the subject of endangered species protection. In Cameroon, three dealers were arrested with 17 turtle shells and a 1,000 African grey parrots destined for Nigeria. A policeman was also arrested in suspicion of receiving bribes of £2,000. In Gabon, 16 dealers were arrested with 150 kg of ivory, worth about £90,000. It is thought to have been headed for China, the largest market for such products. It is the first time ivory dealers have been locked away in the country. In the CAR, 7 leopard skins, 2 lion skins, and over 30 kg of ivory were discovered and one dealer taken into custody. Wildlife preservation in central Africa has been difficult in the past due to poor legislation and weak enforcement. Corruption has also been a big problem with all four of the countries fairing poorly in Transparency International’s monitoring of corruption issues.
www.guardian.co.uk 8th December 2010
The fight to save the endangered mountain gorillas of central Africa seems to have paid off according to the latest consensus on the rare species compiled in March and April this year. The gorillas, which are spread across three national parks in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have surged in numbers rising from 380 in 2003 to 480 today (a rise of 26.3%). In total, the gorilla population of the 450-square-kilometre Virunga Massif within the three parks has risen at a rate of 3.7% annually. The recovery has been credited to the enormous effort to preserve the species. One key factor is the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) that has engaged local communities in more economically sustainable projects than poaching. These include bee-keeping for honey and hand-crafts for tourists. Another factor is the on-site presence of veterinarians who monitor gorilla groups for many hours a day thereby reducing the death by disease and infection from snares, which locals leave out for antelope. The vets also deter poachers. The director of the IGCP, Eugène Rutagarama, has claimed that the rise has mostly taken place in Rwanda where anti-poaching patrols have improved significantly since a restructuring of the country’s national parks. Thereafter, park rangers were better equipped and earned more money which increased productivity. Rangers in Rwanda currently remove about 1,500 traps a year.
www.independent.co.uk 7th December 2010
Quoted from source:
‘Scientists have perfected the art of animal deception by donning panda costumes when they take panda cubs born in captivity for medical examination, so that they do not get used to the human form before they are released into the wild. The first captive-bred pandas could be reintroduced within the next three years as part of a 15-year programme. This four-month-old cub was taken to be examined at the Wolong panda reserve in Sichuan province, south-west China, by a researcher in costume. The cub is among the first captive-bred pandas to be prepared for an independent life in the bamboo forests of Sichuan’s mountains – frequent contact with people could make it too tame. The authorities say that they have passed the threshold of 300 captive pandas thought to be necessary for an effective reintroduction programme. Many have been bred at the Chengdu research base of giant panda breeding, four hours’ drive from Wolong, where techniques such as artificial insemination, sperm freezing and twin swapping have increased the captive-breeding success rate. Critics have argued that captive breeding will be meaningless if the panda’s habitat is not better protected against human encroachment. Henry Nicholls, author of a new book on pandas, said yesterday in The Independent that reintroduction is an expensive “distraction” with marginal benefit. “Pandas’ success in captivity creates the illusion that everything could be all right: you could come away from seeing them there thinking ‘super, it will be OK’, whereas they struggle terribly in the wild because of habitat destruction,” he said.
www.independent.co.uk 6th December 2010
Numbers of captive pandas in China have risen above the critical 300 mark, allowing conservationists to begin releasing the bears into the wild. The success is due, in part, to an innovative breeding technique developed by Chinese scientists at the panda-breeding centre in Chengdu, Sichuan. Around 50% of panda births are twins but the mother invariably abandons one of the cubs. Experts at the centre have overcome this problem by incubating the abandoned cubs and swapping them with their sibling up to ten times a day. Apparently the mother panda cannot distinguish between the two and happily continues rearing the twins as if they were one. The centre, which is funded mostly by loaning pandas out to foreign zoos for a cost of $1 million a year, has been so successful in ensuring the survival of panda twins that almost all make it to adulthood. Other innovative action such as artificial insemination and careful study of the female panda’s ovulation cycle means that the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding alone will produce 140 cubs in 2010. Reintroduction of captive pandas is a contentious issue. The only previous attempt ended in disaster four years ago when a lone male was found dead, probably mauled by a rival. Panda habitats are also in peril due to ongoing human development. Much development goes ahead despite the designating of areas as conservation zones. Just 2,000 pandas survive in the wild due to poaching and habitat destruction.
The twin swapping technique has been captured on film by BBC2 in a documentary narrated by David Attenborough to be aired next week.
www.independent.co.uk 25th November 2010
Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio has travelled to Russia to attend the international tiger summit in St Petersburg. In the summit, he has joined up with the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to spearhead a last ditched effort to save the tiger. The summit is the first time world leaders have met purely to discuss the issue and talks will focus on a World Bank proposal to rescue the species. There are currently thought to be around 3,200 tigers left in the wild, down from 100,000 at the beginning of the last century. Mr DiCaprio pledged $1 million of his own money for tiger-saving initiatives and has recently finished a tour of Bhutan and Nepal’s tiger habitats. He is also a board member of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The summit has attracted most of the leaders of countries where tigers can be found, including Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. So far, $350 million has been promised for efforts to save tigers. However, conservationists fear that without any agreements over poaching and smuggling prevention the money would be pointless. The decline of tigers has been cause in a large part by the demand for tiger parts in traditional medicines in countries such as China.
www.latimes.com 24th November 2010
The important Russian Tiger Summit, described by many as the last chance to save tigers from extinction, has ended in apparent success. 13 nations, including Russia and China, have agreed to double tiger populations by 2022, the next Chinese year of the Tiger. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who played an instrumental part in attracting so much support for the summit, said, “everybody understands full well that we are talking not just about a concrete representative of the live nature, a tiger, but we are talking about the state-level understanding with which we begin to address the environmental issues.” Although all the countries that still host tiger populations are in Asia, several others have pledged financial support. Germany will donate $30 million and the US Agency for International Development $350,000 (or just over 1% of the total German donation). There just over 3,000 tigers left in the wild due to poaching and habitat loss. It is believed that 20 to 30 are killed for furs and body parts (which invariably end up on the Chinese traditional medicine market) in Russia alone. Fines are minimal though (around $33), a problem that Mr Putin promises to tackle. However, Russian environmentalist Alexei Yablokov, an advisor to the Academy of Sciences, has warned that only a small amount of the money raised will go towards tiger conservation, such is the problem of corruption in the country.
www.guardian.co.uk 12th November 2010
A new study by the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter has revealed the extraordinary extent to which turtles are being harvested in just one small part of Africa’s largest island state: Madagascar. Figures on the hunting have been scarce until now due to the poor accessibility of many local towns in the country. The study, led by Annette Broderick and published in the journal Animal Conservation, got around the problem of access by training villages to monitor turtle catches in the remote region of Toliara in southwest Madagascar. From the data collected from 12 of the major villages on a 60km stretch of coastline, it was estimated that the total yearly catch was between 10,000 and 16,000 turtles. However Ms. Broderick warned that this estimate is likely to be too low. “In reality it’s likely to be much larger than that. We don’t have a good handle on how the in-water populations have changed over the years,” she said. The average catch mostly consisted of the commonest turtle (the Green Turtle) but also contained endangered species such as the Hawksbill Turtle. Turtle hunting is banned in Madagascar by presidential decree but enforcing the law is difficult due to the vast extent of coastline and the traditional role such hunting has.
www.independent.co.uk 30th October 2010
Quoted from source:
‘A historic deal to halt the mass extinction of species was finally agreed last night in what conservationists see as the most important international treaty aimed at preventing the collapse of the world’s wildlife. Delegates from more than 190 countries meeting in Nagoya, Japan, agreed at the 11th hour on an ambitious conservation programme to protect global biodiversity and the natural habitats that support the most threatened animals and plants. After 18 years of debate, two weeks of talks, and tense, last-minute bargaining, the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity agreed on 20 key “strategic goals” to be implemented by 2020 that should help to end the current mass extinction of species.’
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http://www.nytimes.com 16th September 2010
A research team has set out to discover whether Grizzly bears still inhabit the North Cascades in Washington State, USA. The bear has not been seen in the area since 1996 and biologists are facing the distinct possibility that the species has died out. For 30 years now the federal government has been doing its best to reintroduce Grizzly bear populations to the states of Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Washington but success has been limited to Yellowstone National Park and the Continental Divide area of Montana. The effort in the North Cascades of Washington has reached a stale-mate due to mixed public opinion on the matter. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, the body charged with overseeing the Grizzlies repopulation in the area, is perpetually strapped for cash hampering efforts. Furthermore, local farming communities worry that an increase in bear populations will result in increased confrontation between people and the bears.
Grizzly bears were put on the endangered species list in 1975 but were removed from the list in 2007 due to a trebling in numbers throughout the Rocky mountains. However, a federal judge in Montana recently ordered them back on citing factors including changes to their habitat due to climate change.
www.telegraph.co.uk 16th September 2010
The Saola, or ‘Asian Unicorn’, has been spotted for the first time in a decade in a remote region of Laos. It was only discovered in 1992 and has been seen a handful of times since. Unfortunately, this specimen died after several days in captivity by local villagers. By the time word reached the authorities, and a team advised by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was dispatched, the Saola was so weak that the experts only managed to take a picture or two before it died (see above). Due to the little amount known about the species, which is despite appearances closer related to cattle than antelopes, biologists have had to hazard a guess on population numbers. The hypothesised figure is a couple of hundred and with none in zoos, the conservation of the species is essential. Two good points have arisen due to the male Saola’s appearance. Firstly, the Laos government now know an area where the species still lives making it easier to establish a conservation zone (Bolikhamxay province). Secondly, an autopsy should reveal more about the ‘Asian Unicorn’ (dubbed such due to its elusive nature) particularly in relation to diet.
Sources: www.independent.co.uk 11th September 2010
In the past century tiger populations have fallen by 95% with only around 3000 thought to exist in the wild today (between 800 and 1400 in India). Three sub-species of the tiger are already extinct: the Caspian, the Javanese, and the Balinese. Next week, the leaders of the the 13 ‘tiger-range’ countries meet to discuss the survival of the species in the future. There task is a difficult one. The trade in tiger parts for medicinal purposes, particularly in China, is rife and tiger habitats are at risk from continued human expansion. Corruption, poor education, and a sheer refusal to accept the reality of the situation all add to tiger’s bleak future prospects. The story of the Bengal Tiger in the Panna Tiger Reserve of Central India serves as a lesson in these matters. In 2002 there were 35 known tigers in the park. By 2005 park officials assured that the tiger population had ‘never been healthier’ but by 2007, a shocking consensus discovered that not a single Bengal Tiger existed in the park due to rampant poaching. However, in the next three years a new management team has been able to turn around the fortunes of the national park. The land covers 542 km squared and 11 out of the 15 settlements within this area have been relocated. Tigers have been flown in to repopulate the area and at least one female has given birth so far.
Poaching is carried out by professionals from nomadic tribes with a tradition of hunting. Tigers are usually trapped then beaten to death rather than shot so that the pelt is kept intact. Soil is pushed into the tiger’s mouths or the mouth is stabbed with bamboo spears so that the tiger cannot cry out and alert park rangers. A tiger pelt and body parts fetch around £3,440. Gathering evidence to charge these poachers is very difficult but there have been some successes (read full article here).
Sources: new.nationalgeographic.com 2nd September 2010
Encroaching farmland is threatening several delicate ecosystems found in South Africa’s wetlands. Species such as the Cadiscus aquaticus daisy are at such risk that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has placed them on the Red List of Threatened Species. South Africa is not the only country with threatened flora though as the IUCN’s Red List has grown from 5186 in 1998 to 8084 this year. The IUCN has also stated that more than 20% of Africa’s freshwater species are on the brink of extinction following a five year study of 5167 species.
With the world’s population growing at a relentless rate and changing climate conditions causing shortages in the world’s food supply, the expansion of farmland and the intensifying of fishing practices is not likely to end any time soon. Will such mechanisms as the Red List really prevent the expansion of agricultural lands? How else can delicate ecosystems be protected from human needs?