AboutZoos, Since 2008

Over 15 years, almost 13,000 sci­en­tific papers have been pub­lished in lead­ing con­ser­va­tion sci­ence jour­nals. Nonethe­less bio­di­ver­sity remains threat­ened at a global scale. Two researchers of the Cen­tre National de la Recher­ché Sci­en­tifique (CNRS) in France have focused on this wor­ri­some para­dox by tak­ing a deeper look at this large vol­ume of lit­er­a­ture. They found that one of the major prob­lems is that deci­sions are usu­ally more favourable to human activ­i­ties than to nature pro­tec­tion. Their study is pub­lished online on 9 Sep­tem­ber in the jour­nal Trends in Ecol­ogy and Evo­lu­tion.

What are researchers doing? The sixth mass extinc­tion con­tin­ues and is even accel­er­at­ing, but con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tists, it is claimed, have no solu­tions to offer. Even more wor­ry­ing, the researchers would be so pes­simistic that the warn­ings they give could be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. But is this really the case?

Lau­rent Godet and Vin­cent Devic­tor, two CNRS researchers, have addressed this ques­tion. They exam­ined the 12,971 research arti­cles pub­lished dur­ing the last 15 years in the main sci­en­tific jour­nals ded­i­cated to con­ser­va­tion. Exclud­ing arti­cles deal­ing with dis­cus­sions in the dis­ci­pline, they pro­posed the first exten­sive empir­i­cal assess­ment of the sci­en­tific back­ground and out­put of con­ser­va­tion sci­ence in describ­ing the cur­rent sta­tus of bio­di­ver­sity, the threats, and the solu­tions accu­mu­lated by scientists.

Their ini­tial con­clu­sion is indis­putable: the remain­ing threats to bio­di­ver­sity today were already iden­ti­fied nearly 40 years ago, when they were quoted the “evil quar­tet.” They are (i) habi­tat destruc­tion (ii) over­ex­ploita­tion of resources, i.e., over­hunt­ing or over­fish­ing for exam­ple; (iii) intro­duc­tion of inva­sive species; and (iv) co-​extinctions that may be trig­gered by these fac­tors. To these four well estab­lished threats we may add the con­cern of cli­mate change, which fur­ther desta­bi­lizes nat­ural envi­ron­ments. And it is not “exotic” bio­di­ver­sity alone that is endan­gered: most research has focused on Euro­pean ecosys­tems, show­ing that pop­u­la­tions of com­mon species and habi­tats are also suf­fer­ing. This is, for exam­ple, the case for birds in the French coun­try­side.

Green sea turtleThe pop­u­la­tion of green sea tur­tles (Che­lo­nia mydas) — clas­si­fied as Endan­gered accord­ing the IUCN Red List — illus­trates an impres­sive suc­cess­ful con­ser­va­tion mea­sure. After con­crete pro­tec­tion and ban­ning their trade that had dec­i­mated their pop­u­la­tion, the aver­age num­ber of green sea tur­tle clutches deposited annu­ally at Ascen­sion Island has increased six­fold between 1977 and 2013. (Pho­to­graph taken on Mooréa).
Image credit: © Thomas Vignaud/​Te Mana O Te Moana/​Centre for Island Research and Envi­ron­men­tal Obser­va­tory (Perpignan)/CNRS Photo Library.

But for­tu­nately, con­ser­va­tion research also reports good news: like the come­back of the wolf in Europe and clear improve­ments result­ing from the appli­ca­tion of con­ser­va­tion mea­sures. Hence they con­clude that con­ser­va­tion sci­ence is nei­ther pes­simistic nor opti­mistic — just real­is­tic. Accord­ing to the researchers, a lot of sus­tain­able and human-​friendly solu­tions are already avail­able. The major obsta­cle is the demand for con­ces­sions even more favourable to resource exploita­tion rather than to nature pro­tec­tion, despite cau­tious sci­en­tific recommendations.

(Source: CNRS press release, 07.09.2018)

Humans have been cap­tur­ing wild Asian ele­phants for more than 3,000 years for dif­fer­ent pur­poses, and this still con­tin­ues today despite the fact that the pop­u­la­tions are declin­ing. An inter­na­tional team of researchers has now analysed records of tim­ber ele­phants in Myan­mar to under­stand the effects of cap­ture on the ani­mals and their sur­vival. The study shows that even years after their cap­ture, wild-​caught ele­phants’ mor­tal­ity rate remains increased, and their aver­age life expectancy is sev­eral years shorter com­pared to captive-​born ani­mals. Cap­tur­ing wild-​elephants to replen­ish cap­tive pop­u­la­tions could thus be unsus­tain­able in the long run. More­over, the dis­cov­ered dif­fer­ences between captive-​born and wild-​captured ele­phants are rarely con­sid­ered in research and con­ser­va­tion programmes.

working elephant in MyanmarMyan­mar tim­ber ele­phant at work.
Image credit: Virpi Lummaa.

Mil­lions of wild ani­mals are cap­tured alive each year for a diverse range of pur­poses. While mem­bers of some species can thrive in cap­tiv­ity and are health­ier, live longer, and pro­duce more off­spring than their free-​living coun­ter­parts, many oth­ers per­form far worse. Ele­phants, for exam­ple, are known to be at a much higher risk of dying when cap­tive in zoos com­pared to liv­ing in the wild. Com­par­isons like these, how­ever, mainly illus­trate the dif­fer­ences in the diet, social envi­ron­ment, exer­cise pos­si­bil­i­ties, and dis­ease pat­terns between zoos and wild envi­ron­ments. They pro­vide lit­tle insight to how the cap­ture of wild ele­phants might affect their long-​term well-​being in captivity.

Ele­phants have been employed in log­ging camps in Myan­mar for cen­turies. Wild-​caught and captive-​born ani­mals there work and live side by side in forests and are, gen­er­ally, tamed with the same meth­ods, live in the same envi­ron­ments, and are treated sim­i­larly. The detailed records kept by local gov­ern­ments on ele­phant hus­bandry pro­vided a rich data set for researchers from the Uni­ver­sity of Turku, Fin­land, and the Leib­niz Insti­tute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Ger­many. Based on data stretch­ing back nearly a cen­tury and includ­ing over 5,000 tim­ber ele­phants, the researchers could estab­lish a robust pre­dic­tive model on ele­phant sur­vival after cap­ture. The results of the study are pub­lished on 7 August in the jour­nal Nature Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

We ought to find alter­na­tive and bet­ter meth­ods to boost cap­tive pop­u­la­tions of ele­phants. Even today, over 60 per­cent of ele­phants in zoos are cap­tured from the wild and about a third of all remain­ing Asian ele­phants now live in captivity.

Dr Mirkka Lah­den­perä, lead author, Depart­ment of Biol­ogy, Uni­ver­sity of Turku, Turku, Finland.

Our analy­sis reveals that wild-​captured ele­phants had lower sur­vival chances than captive-​born ele­phants regard­less of how they’d been cap­tured, whether by stock­ade of whole groups, las­so­ing sin­gle ele­phants, or immo­bil­i­sa­tion by seda­tion. This means that all these meth­ods had an equally neg­a­tive effect on the elephant’s sub­se­quent life. We also found that older ele­phants suf­fered the most from cap­ture; they had increased mor­tal­ity com­pared to ele­phants caught at younger ages,” says Dr Lahdenperä.

All ele­phants face the high­est risk of death in the year imme­di­ately fol­low­ing cap­ture. Although the risk decreases in sub­se­quent years, these neg­a­tive effects still last — alarm­ingly — for around a decade, a sur­pris­ingly long time.

We chose to rely on data from tim­ber camps as — their cap­ture aside — both wild-​caught and captive-​born ele­phants have very sim­i­lar life styles. This unique sit­u­a­tion allows a com­par­i­son between these two groups unbi­ased by other fac­tors such as diet or exer­cise,” explains Dr Alexan­dre Cour­tiol, the data sci­en­tist of the study.

Cap­ture and tam­ing shorten ele­phants’ life expectancy con­sid­er­ably
Both captive-​born and wild-​captured tim­ber ele­phants in Myan­mar live together in semi-​captive pop­u­la­tions. They work dur­ing the day and are released to forests dur­ing the night to find food on their own, and can then inter­act with other cap­tive tim­ber ele­phants as well as wild ele­phants. The cap­tive ani­mals are also sub­jected to the same gov­ern­men­tal reg­u­la­tions con­cern­ing data record­ing, work­load, and rest peri­ods (work­ing ele­phants have hol­i­days, mater­nity leave, and a manda­tory retire­ment age). Both captive-​born and wild-​caught ele­phants are tamed and trained before enter­ing the work­force. Wild-​captured ele­phants may, how­ever, be exposed to harsher treat­ment depend­ing on their age, sex and, per­son­al­ity com­pared to captive-​born calves.

The long-​term over­all cost of cap­ture and tam­ing resulted in a median lifes­pan that is 37 years shorter than that of captive-​born ele­phants. Cap­tur­ing ele­phants to sus­tain cap­tive pop­u­la­tions is, con­se­quently, detri­men­tal, because it not just reduces wild pop­u­la­tions of this endan­gered species, but it also can­not pro­vide a viable solu­tion to sus­tain cap­tive pop­u­la­tions. These wild-​caught ani­mals live shorter lives and repro­duce poorly in cap­tiv­ity,” says Acad­emy Pro­fes­sor Virpi Lum­maa, the senior inves­ti­ga­tor of the study.

Com­par­isons between wild cap­tured ele­phants, semi-​captive Myan­mar ele­phant pop­u­la­tion and captive(zoo)-born Asian ele­phants in Euro­pean zoos
Com­pared to wild or semi-​captive pop­u­la­tions, both African (Lox­odonta africana) and Asian ele­phants (Ele­phas max­imus) suf­fer con­sid­er­ably higher mor­tal­ity rates in zoos. How­ever, such com­par­isons do not reveal the effects of ori­gin per se, but instead illus­trate man­age­ment dif­fer­ences because the diet, social envi­ron­ment, exer­cise pos­si­bil­i­ties and dis­ease pat­terns in zoo pop­u­la­tions are vastly dif­fer­ent to the wild. For exam­ple, although not stud­ied in detail, stress lev­els of cap­tive ele­phants are reported to increase when inter­act­ing with humans. More­over, a lack of multi­gen­er­a­tional fam­ily groups in most zoos means that the early mater­nal envi­ron­ment of those born in cap­tiv­ity is typ­i­cally dif­fer­ent from wild-​captured ani­mals. This pre­vents the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of early parental effects from cap­ture effects among wild-​born and captive-​born zoo res­i­dents. Dif­fer­ent zoos also present het­ero­ge­neous liv­ing con­di­tions, breed­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties and cli­mate, and even small vari­a­tion in fac­tors such as within-​year fluc­tu­a­tions in tem­per­a­ture can dou­ble the mor­tal­ity risk of Asian ele­phants in range coun­tries.
Our results offer inter­est­ing com­par­isons to wel­fare in zoo col­lec­tions. In con­trast to the sit­u­a­tion in our semi-​captive Myan­mar pop­u­la­tion, captive(zoo)-born Asian ele­phants in Euro­pean zoos have poorer sur­vivor­ship than wild-​captured ani­mals. Although wild-​captured female Asian ele­phants entered zoos at a median esti­mated age of just 3.4 years, they show bet­ter sur­vivor­ship as adults than zoo-​born coun­ter­parts. Why do wild-​captured indi­vid­u­als fare bet­ter than captive-​born in zoos, but not in the semi-​captive keep­ing sys­tem in Myan­mar? Over­all, ele­phants suf­fer con­sid­er­ably higher mor­tal­ity rates in zoos when com­pared to wild or semi-​captive pop­u­la­tions, such as the tim­ber ele­phant pop­u­la­tion stud­ied here. Indeed, captive-​born ele­phants in the Myan­mar pop­u­la­tion show com­pa­ra­ble mor­tal­ity to wild ele­phant pop­u­la­tions, and the con­trast­ing per­for­mance of wild-​captured ani­mals against the captive-​born in zoos and tim­ber camps high­lights the prob­lems that zoo ele­phants face. The rea­sons for the lower per­for­mance in zoos should be stud­ied in detail, for instance, the effects of early-​life stress and higher nutri­tional plane of ani­mals, which have been sug­gested to cause this con­tro­ver­sial pat­tern. Thus, taken together, rich datasets avail­able for diverse ele­phants together show that early expe­ri­ence can have pro­found and some­times unpre­dictable effects of wild ani­mals kept in cap­tiv­ity.
Finally, ~1000 Asian ele­phants cur­rently live in cap­tiv­ity in zoos, safari parks, and cir­cuses world-​wide, but these pop­u­la­tions are not self-​sustaining due to high mor­tal­ity and low fer­til­ity rates. Con­se­quently, 81% of the cur­rent Euro­pean zoo pop­u­la­tions were imported from range coun­tries in Asia (75% in North Amer­ica), 60% being wild-​caught and 21% trans­ported from tim­ber camps. Although cap­tur­ing ele­phants from the wild may be some­times nec­es­sary e.g., for con­ser­va­tion, vet­eri­nary and anti-​poaching activ­i­ties, sim­i­lar large-​scale wild-​capture as in our study pop­u­la­tion to sup­ple­ment cap­tive pop­u­la­tion has occurred also else­where in Asia, because these cap­tive pop­u­la­tions have insuf­fi­cient repro­duc­tive rates to main­tain pop­u­la­tion sizes. Captive-​born ele­phants are regarded by keep­ers as more intel­li­gent, less aggres­sive, eas­ier to train, tractable and more reli­able in tem­pera­ment than those cap­tured from the wild. Our study implies that cap­tur­ing wild indi­vid­u­als in ele­phants (and poten­tially among other species with slow life-​histories) is costly for indi­vid­ual longevity and alter­na­tive meth­ods should be sought to boost cap­tive pop­u­la­tions in order to avoid fur­ther cap­ture from endan­gered wild pop­u­la­tions.

Above texts are derived from Dif­fer­ences in age-​specific mor­tal­ity between wild-​caught and captive-​born Asian ele­phants by Mirkka Lah­den­perä, Khyne U. Mar, Alexan­dre Cour­tiol & Virpi Lum­maa — licensed under a Cre­ative Com­mons Attri­bu­tion 4.0 Inter­na­tional License

Long-​term stress due to cap­ture and tam­ing as well as changes in the social envi­ron­ment are poten­tial rea­sons for the shorter life of wild-​captured elephants.

The results of the study strongly sug­gest that more stud­ies are nec­es­sary to under­stand and assess how wide­spread these neg­a­tive effects of cap­ture are in other species. When­ever cap­ture is unavoid­able, ani­mal wel­fare spe­cial­ists, vet­eri­nar­i­ans, and ecol­o­gists must work together to improve con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment prac­tices. Sup­port and care for the ani­mals is espe­cially crit­i­cal dur­ing the period imme­di­ately after capture.

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Turku news release, 08.08.2018; license CC BY 1.0 FI)

silent forest logoThe Euro­pean Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), together with TRAF­FIC, BirdLife Inter­na­tional and the IUCN Asian Song­bird Trade Spe­cial­ist Group, today launched a joint cam­paign in a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort to save iconic Asian song­bird species from extinction.

The Silent For­est cam­paign will raise aware­ness of the dev­as­tat­ing effects of the trade in song­birds across South­east Asia, and will also raise funds for field con­ser­va­tion projects that are work­ing to reverse the decline in num­bers of some of the world’s most beau­ti­ful birds. Tee­ter­ing on the brink of extinc­tion, birds such as the Bali Myna and Javan Green Mag­pie are highly sought after in mar­kets across the region. Own­ing a song­bird has long been an inte­gral part of South­east Asian cul­ture, but as the region devel­ops, song­birds are fetch­ing increas­ingly high prices in the mar­kets, encour­ag­ing trap­pers to clear birds from huge areas of forest.

The Asian song­bird cri­sis has reached a tip­ping point: with­out imme­di­ate action, it is almost cer­tain their voices will be silenced for­ever in the forest.

Kanitha Krish­nasamy, Act­ing South­east Asia Regional Direc­tor of TRAF­FIC, the world’s lead­ing NGO on wildlife trafficking.

We aim to raise the pro­file of this cri­sis both in Europe and in the range States and have a plan in place, in the form of a Con­ser­va­tion Strat­egy for these birds which this cam­paign feeds directly into, ” Krish­nasamy adds.

We need to estab­lish a sus­tain­able model that respects both local cul­ture and laws with­out destroy­ing the incred­i­ble rich­ness of South­east Asia’s bio­di­ver­sity; that’s a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge, but this is a very strong coali­tion of part­ners, and there are some amaz­ing projects that the cam­paign will support.”

Indone­sian birds on the brink as forests plun­dered
Indone­sian bird breed­ing pro­gramme tries to turn the tide in a coun­try where once-​common species are being dri­ven to the brink of extinc­tion, as an obses­sion for bird-​keeping and even avian singing con­tests fuels unprece­dented demand.

(Source: AFP news agency YouTube channel)

Thomas Ouhel of Liberec Zoo, and Chair of the Cam­paign, pointed to the dif­fer­ence that funds raised by Euro­pean zoos could make: “If we can per­suade traders to work with con­ser­va­tion­ists and breed­ers rather than pil­lag­ing the forests, there’s a real chance to save these birds by chang­ing atti­tudes towards the own­er­ship of song­birds. Fund­ing for the breed­ing and con­ser­va­tion projects, linked to edu­ca­tional work in the local com­mu­ni­ties can halt and even­tu­ally reverse the decline in song­birds species, bring­ing back the music of the for­est for the ben­e­fit of future generations.”

Silent For­est will run for two years, and is aimed at rais­ing €400,000 from Euro­pean zoos and their vis­i­tors to help save flag­ship species of which most are Crit­i­cally Endan­gered as iden­ti­fied by the coali­tion and the Inter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN). Lead­ing biol­o­gists from the EAZA and beyond will also work on sci­en­tific mea­sures to increase pro­tec­tion for these species.

Lis­ten to The Silent For­est: Song­birds at RNABC Radio with Kirsti Melville about the song­bird cri­sis and more in South­east Asia:

(Source: EAZA news release, 23.09.2017)

Northern Leopard FrogNorth­ern leop­ard frog (Litho­bates pip­i­ens) near Welland Canal in Ontario, Canada.
Image credit: Bal­cer, at Wikipedia. Image in the pub­lic domain.

In the marshy waters of inte­rior British Colum­bia (B.C.) in the US, 400 North­ern leop­ard frog tad­poles were released on 17 August as part of ongo­ing con­ser­va­tion efforts to boost the endan­gered species’ wild pop­u­la­tion. North­ern leop­ard frogs (Litho­bates pip­i­ens) are among the most at-​risk amphib­ian species in the world. For the past five years, Van­cou­ver Aquar­ium, an Ocean Wise ini­tia­tive, has suc­cess­fully bred and released thou­sands of healthy tad­poles. The Aquar­ium is part of the North­ern Leop­ard Frog Recov­ery Team that imple­ments con­ser­va­tion actions as out­lined in the North­ern Leop­ard Frog recov­ery strat­egy.

We’re begin­ning to see the impact of our efforts to repop­u­late B.C.‘s most at-​risk amphib­ian, and have found ani­mals that have sur­vived the win­ter and are being located again year after release. There has also been evi­dence of breed­ing activ­ity with adult males call­ing, all of which are indi­ca­tions of the programme’s suc­cess to date.

Kris Ross­ing, senior biol­o­gist at Van­cou­ver Aquarium.

This long win­ter, how­ever, did have an impact on some of the wild pop­u­la­tions as well as the frogs at the Aquar­ium. Some were slower to breed or didn’t at all. Cli­mate change affects the food chain from the bot­tom to the top, and frogs are an impor­tant indi­ca­tor species of envi­ron­men­tal health. Over­all, we’ve seen our con­ser­va­tion efforts make a dif­fer­ence, as we col­lec­tively move the nee­dle a lit­tle bit every year through this vital programme.”

On 17 August, a small team trav­elled by air to the release site near Brisco, B.C., and intro­duced 390 tad­poles and 10 froglets to help repop­u­late the vul­ner­a­ble Rocky Moun­tain pop­u­la­tion. The day began at 6 a.m., with the tad­poles and froglets care­fully trans­ported to Van­cou­ver air­port, where they were loaded on to a plane, fol­lowed by two hours by car, and a trek into the marshy wet­lands of Brisco, which lies along the Colum­bia River near the Alberta border.

(Source: ZooBorns YouTube channel)

Van­cou­ver Aquar­ium was the first aquar­ium to breed these amphib­ians as part of an assur­ance pop­u­la­tion and is part of a world­wide effort, along with other zoos and aquar­i­ums, to con­serve this and other amphib­ian species under the Amphib­ian Ark (AArk) project. In total, the Aquar­ium has reared and released more than 5,500 tad­poles since 2013.

A key com­po­nent of the process involves a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Dr. Vance Trudeau at the Uni­ver­sity of Ottawa and the use of a hor­mone treat­ment he cre­ated called Amphiplex. The treat­ment, which for the frogs is a pain­less injec­tion, has been used to help induce spawn­ing and spur the ani­mals into amplexus — when the male mounts and holds the female frog to induce ovu­la­tion and then fer­til­izes the egg masses as they are laid.

Begin­ning in the 1970s, pop­u­la­tions of North­ern leop­ard frogs across west­ern Canada declined by the mil­lions, mak­ing them one of the most at-​risk amphib­ian species, espe­cially in B.C. Research con­tin­ues into the cause of these sharp declines in the Rocky Moun­tain pop­u­la­tion of the North­ern leop­ard frogs. The Rocky Moun­tain pop­u­la­tion that occurs in B.C. is listed as Endan­gered by the Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of Endan­gered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and is on the provin­cial Red List.

Once found at many sites in the Koote­nay and Okana­gan regions, the Rocky Moun­tain pop­u­la­tion began to decrease to a point where only one wild pop­u­la­tion, in Cre­ston Val­ley, existed. In 2004, a sec­ond pop­u­la­tion was rein­tro­duced in the Upper Koote­nay Flood­plain, near Bum­mers Flats, as part of the recov­ery effort for this species. A third pop­u­la­tion was rein­tro­duced in 2013 at a site in the Colum­bia Marshes.

There are two other pop­u­la­tions of North­ern leop­ard frogs in Canada; the Prairie North­ern leop­ard frogs have reoc­cu­pied some of their for­mer range on the Prairies, and as a result have been down-​listed to be of spe­cial con­cern by COSEWIC. North­ern leop­ard frogs in east­ern Canada are clas­si­fied as not being at risk.

(Source: Van­cou­ver Aquar­ium media release, 18 August 2017)

The mys­te­ri­ous snow leop­ard has been deliv­ered a piece of good news. The Red List clas­si­fi­ca­tion from the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature — IUCN — improves the con­ser­va­tion sta­tus of the big cat from “Endan­gered” to “Vul­ner­a­ble.” As these iconic sym­bols of Asia’s great moun­tain wilder­ness still face numer­ous threats, many rapidly grow­ing, in their high moun­tain home, this down-​listing raised a con­tro­versy among snow leop­ard con­ser­va­tion­ists. In a state­ment the Snow Leop­ard Trust (SLT), a lead­ing con­ser­va­tion organ­i­sa­tion work­ing to pro­tect this cat, opposes the IUCN’s deci­sion to change the snow leopard’s Red List sta­tus from ‘Endan­gered’ to ‘Vulnerable’.

Snow leopard in mongoliaSnow leop­ard in Mon­go­lia.
Image credit SLCF Mon­go­lia /​Snow Leop­ard Trust

IUCN RedList categoriesThe snow leop­ard (Pan­thera uncia) was listed as Endan­gered by the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species — the glob­ally accepted, inter­na­tional stan­dard for assess­ing extinc­tion risk — for each 510 year assess­ment since its ini­tial list­ing in 1972. The change in sta­tus came after a three-​year assess­ment process by five inter­na­tional experts includ­ing sci­en­tists from acad­e­mia and from Pan­thera, Snow Leop­ard Con­ser­vancy, and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS), organ­i­sa­tions active in snow leop­ard con­ser­va­tion. The assess­ment was then reviewed and approved by eight inter­na­tional felid and Red List assess­ments experts, the IUCN Global Mam­mal Assess­ment team, and the cen­tral Red List Unit.

Dr. Tom McCarthy, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Panthera’s Snow Leop­ard Pro­gram and a mem­ber of the assess­ment team, said, “To be con­sid­ered ‘Endan­gered,’ there must be less than 2,500 mature snow leop­ards and they must be expe­ri­enc­ing a high rate of decline. Both are now con­sid­ered extremely unlikely, which is the good news, but it does not mean that snow leop­ards are ‘safe’ or that now is a time to celebrate.”

The species still faces ‘a high risk of extinc­tion in the wild’ and is likely still declin­ing — just not at the rate pre­vi­ously thought.

Dr. Tom McCarthy, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Panthera’s Snow Leop­ard Program

The assess­ment cites a num­ber of recent stud­ies that used more sci­en­tif­i­cally robust meth­ods than in the past and which sug­gest snow leop­ard num­bers are likely higher than pre­vi­ously thought. Dr. Rod­ney Jack­son, Founder and Direc­tor of the Snow Leop­ard Con­ser­vancy (SLC) and another mem­ber of the assess­ment team, said, “Even with such pos­i­tive sup­port­ive infor­ma­tion, the assess­ment team took a con­ser­v­a­tive approach, includ­ing using the low­est esti­mated global pop­u­la­tion size of 4,000 when deter­min­ing if the Endan­gered thresh­old could be met.”

One of the rea­sons that snow leop­ard sta­tus has improved is greatly increased con­ser­va­tion efforts. Dr. David Mal­lon, snow leop­ard expert and mem­ber of the assess­ment team, points out that in the last few decades there has been a sig­nif­i­cant increase in the num­ber of pro­tected areas within the snow leop­ard range. The species range is exten­sive, and cov­ers more than 1.8 mil­lion km2 of moun­tain habi­tat in 12 range coun­tries across Asia. Dr. Jack­son stressed that local ini­tia­tives such as com­mu­nity ranger mon­i­tor­ing efforts and the build­ing of predator-​proof cor­rals to con­trol con­flict over live­stock losses are help­ing to pro­tect the cats from retal­ia­tory killing in many locations.

The snow leop­ard is the top preda­tor of the world’s great­est moun­tain chains — the Himalayas, Karako­ram, Hindu Kush, Tien Shan, Altai, and other moun­tain regions of Asia. Unfor­tu­nately, even in these near-​inaccessible moun­tains, the snow leop­ard faces numer­ous threats.

Con­tin­u­ing threats include poach­ing for its thick fur and over­hunt­ing of its wild prey,” said Peter Zahler, Coor­di­na­tor of the WCS Snow Leop­ard Pro­gram and also on the assess­ment team. “There is also an increas­ing num­ber of domes­tic live­stock raised by local peo­ple in these high moun­tains that degrades the del­i­cate grass­lands, dis­turbs wild sheep and goats and dri­ves them into less pro­duc­tive habi­tats.” Zahler pointed out that this can also lead to dis­ease out­breaks in wild sheep and goats due to trans­mis­sion of novel pathogens from their domes­tic coun­ter­parts. “The loss of wild prey can lead to attacks on domes­tic stock, which itself can lead to retal­ia­tory killing of snow leop­ards by local shep­herds,” Zahler said.

Rare footage of wild snow leop­ards in Tost, Mon­go­lia.
This footage, taken by remote-​sensor research cam­eras, reveals a vibrant pop­u­la­tion of these endan­gered cats in the remote Tost moun­tain range in Mongolia’s South Gobi province — includ­ing a mother with two cubs.

(Source: Snow Leop­ard Trust YouTube channel)

Zahler added, “It is impor­tant that a change in sta­tus is not mis­in­ter­preted — this change does not mean that the snow leop­ard has been ‘saved’ and efforts on its behalf can stop. The IUCN’s Vul­ner­a­ble sta­tus means a species is still vul­ner­a­ble to extinc­tion, and the snow leop­ard pop­u­la­tion is still believed to be in decline and fac­ing a high risk of extinc­tion. Threats — poach­ing, habi­tat destruc­tion, loss of prey species — still exist and new threats such as roads, bor­der fences, and cli­mate change, are increas­ing. So con­ser­va­tion actions must con­tinue and be increased to con­serve the species.”

The Snow Leop­ard Trust agrees with the assess­ment that major threats still exist, and adds one that, strangely enough, has been omit­ted by the assess­ment team — cli­mate change. SLT states that the threats to snow leop­ard sur­vival are increas­ing still, includ­ing cli­mate change that threat­ens two-​thirds of snow leop­ard habi­tat. Fur­ther to this con­ser­va­tion­ists at SLT believe the best avail­able sci­ence does not jus­tify the down-​listing, and that it could have seri­ous con­se­quences for the species.

The IUCNs guide­lines make it clear that any sta­tus assess­ment should fol­low a pre­cau­tion­ary approach. If the best avail­able data aren’t con­clu­sive, no down-​listing should be done. In the case of the snow leop­ard, less than 2% of the species’ range has ever been sam­pled for abun­dance using reli­able tech­niques, and those data are biased toward high-​density areas. The new assess­ment behind the sta­tus change of the snow leop­ard does not improve on this data and appears to use method­olo­gies — such as ask­ing peo­ple how many snow leop­ards they think exist in any area — that are not rec­og­nized as sci­en­tif­i­cally valid for esti­mat­ing pop­u­la­tions. In addi­tion, demo­graphic mod­el­ling based on the lim­ited solid data that is avail­able actu­ally showed results in favour of an Endan­gered listing.

There­fore SLT thinks the sta­tus change is unjus­ti­fied and detri­men­tal to the con­ser­va­tion of the snow leopard.

(Source: WCS press release, 14.09.2017; SLT news release, 14.09.2017)

The Repub­lic of Kaza­khstan on 8 Sep­tem­ber announced plans to bring wild tigers back to their his­tor­i­cal range in the Ili-​Balkhash region, and signed a mem­o­ran­dum with WWF to jointly imple­ment a tiger rein­tro­duc­tion programme.

Caspian tigerCaspian tiger (Pan­thera tigris vir­gata), declared extinct in the 1970s.
© WWF России, © WWF Russia

Kaza­khstan is mov­ing along the path of green devel­op­ment. We are hon­oured to be the first coun­try in Cen­tral Asia to imple­ment such an impor­tant and large-​scale project, that not only will bring wild tigers back to their ances­tral home, but also pro­tect the unique ecosys­tem of the Ili-​Balkhash region,” said Askar Myrza­khme­tov, the Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture of the Repub­lic of Kazakhstan.

The sign­ing cer­e­mony took place in the pavil­ion of the King­dom of the Nether­lands Embassy in Kaza­khstan within the frame­work of EXPO-​2017, with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture of the Repub­lic of Kaza­khstan Askar Myrza­khme­tov, WWF Inter­na­tional Direc­tor Gen­eral Marco Lam­ber­tini and WWF-​Russia Direc­tor Igor Chestin.

I am proud to wit­ness the sign­ing of the mem­o­ran­dum between the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture of the Repub­lic of Kaza­khstan and WWF here in the Pavil­ion of the Nether­lands at EXPO 2017. The Nether­lands was one of the first sup­port­ers and spon­sors of this bold and inno­v­a­tive project, and we are excited to be part of this key mile­stone today,” said Dirk Jan Kop, Ambas­sador of the King­dom of the Nether­lands in the Repub­lic of Kaza­khstan, in open­ing the sign­ing ceremony.

Kazakhstan’s tiger pro­gramme will con­tribute to Tx2the global goal to dou­ble the num­ber of wild tigers by 2022, a com­mit­ment made by tiger-​range gov­ern­ments at the St Peters­burg Tiger Sum­mit in 2010.

It was first in 2011 that WWF together with Kazakhstan’s gov­ern­ment and spe­cial­ists began to develop a pro­gramme for Caspian tiger (Pan­thera tigris vir­gata) rein­tro­duc­tion to the region of Cen­tral Asia. The results of the fea­si­bil­ity study on the pos­si­bil­ity of tiger’s pop­u­la­tion restora­tion in that area were first pub­lished by WWF Rus­sia in the spring of 2011. The study showed that there is a ter­ri­tory of about 500,000 hectares in the flood­plain of the Ili river, south of the Balkhash lake, that is well suited for tigers. Amur tiger 0riginal WWFMore­over, the study of British sci­en­tists showed that the extinct Caspian tiger was genet­i­cally almost iden­ti­cal to the Amur tiger from the Russ­ian Far East. This allows the rein­tro­duc­tion pro­gramme to use these Russ­ian Far East sub­species for restora­tion of a tiger pop­u­la­tion. A recent study, pub­lished in Jan­u­ary 2017 in the jour­nal Bio­log­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion, by WWF and the Uni­ver­sity of New York showed how long it will take to restore the num­ber of prey species as well as the pos­si­ble term for the release of the first tigers, based on a math­e­mat­i­cal model that has been developed.

If suc­cess­ful, Kaza­khstan will be the first coun­try in the world to bring wild tigers back to an entire region where they have gone extinct for nearly half a cen­tury. Tiger relo­ca­tion projects have only been achieved within national bor­ders and in areas that are con­sid­ered cur­rent tiger habi­tats. Kazakhstan’s tiger rein­tro­duc­tion pro­gramme is unique and unprece­dented and it requires the restora­tion of a vast ripar­ian for­est that is part of the wild tiger’s his­tor­i­cal range.

We applaud the Repub­lic of Kaza­khstan for the vision and lead­er­ship shown in embark­ing on a most ambi­tious and excit­ing con­ser­va­tion chal­lenge to bring back this majes­tic preda­tor to the coun­try. This is a major con­tri­bu­tion to secur­ing a future for tigers in the wild and also a crit­i­cal step toward pro­tect­ing the Ili-​Balkhash region for its unique bio­di­ver­sity and impor­tant nat­ural sys­tems that peo­ple rely on,” said Marco Lam­ber­tini, Direc­tor Gen­eral of WWF International.

To pre­pare for the return of wild tigers, on 1st Jan­u­ary 2018 the Gov­ern­ment of Kaza­khstan will estab­lish a new nature reserve in the south-​western Ili-​Balkhash, in order to restore the unique ripar­ian for­est habi­tat that is adja­cent to Lake Balkhash. This will include the pro­tec­tion of exist­ing wildlife, and rein­tro­duc­ing impor­tant prey species, such as the endan­gered kulan (wild don­key) and Bac­trian deer that are native to Cen­tral Asia, but now extinct in Kaza­khstan due to poach­ing and habi­tat loss.

Caspian tiger map reintro programMap of Caspian tiger rein­tro­duc­tion pro­gramme.
© WWF России, © WWF Russia

Restor­ing tigers will also help pro­tect Lake Balkhash — one of Asia’s largest lakes and an impor­tant source of water in the Ili River basin — and pre­vent it from repeat­ing the fate of the Aral Sea, for­merly the world’s fourth largest lake and now 10 per cent of its orig­i­nal size.

Thanks to years of close col­lab­o­ra­tion between Kaza­khstan and Russ­ian con­ser­va­tion experts, we have now iden­ti­fied the best pos­si­ble ter­ri­tory in Ili-​Balkhash for the restora­tion of a thriv­ing wild tiger pop­u­la­tion. Our con­tin­ued coop­er­a­tion will be key in the suc­cess­ful cre­ation of a new reserve, the restora­tion of rare native species and, in a few years’ time, achiev­ing an unprece­dented trans­bound­ary relo­ca­tion of wild tigers to Cen­tral Asia.

Igor Chestin, Direc­tor of WWF-​Russia.

Since the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, wild tigers have lost over 90 per cent of their his­tor­i­cal range, which included Cen­tral Asia (mod­ern Turkey and Iran to north-​western China). Wild tigers have com­pletely dis­ap­peared from the region since the late 1940s, due to poach­ing, and the loss of key flood­plain and coastal habitats.

The hard work remains ahead of us. We have to up our efforts to make this region ready for tigers and involve all stake­hold­ers to make this hap­pen. That means tack­ling poach­ing and ille­gal activ­i­ties, hav­ing well-​trained and equipped rangers, thriv­ing prey pop­u­la­tions and engaged local com­mu­ni­ties,” said Eka­te­rina Vorobyeva, Direc­tor of WWF-​Russia Cen­tral Asia programme.

Caspian tiger con­ser­va­tion
Caspian (Turan­ian) tiger (Pan­thera tigris vir­gata) is an extinct sub­species of tiger that inhab­ited a huge ter­ri­tory from Turkey to West­ern China, includ­ing the Cau­ca­sus, Iran and Cen­tral Asia. Gen­eral size of its habi­tat was more than 2 mil­lion km2. Caspian tigers lived in the flood­plains of the tugai forests and reeds thick­ets along nat­ural water basins like creeks or rivers. As judged by the indi­rect data, their den­sity reached about 23 ani­mals on 100 km2, which is com­pa­ra­ble with India and a lot higher than in the Russ­ian Far East.
Prime rea­sons for Caspian tiger’s extinc­tion were degra­da­tion of the flood­plain and coastal ecosys­tems due to agri­cul­ture devel­op­ment, as well as a direct exter­mi­na­tion of the tigers being regarded a harm­ful preda­tor. The Caspian tigers went extinct in the 1950s in Kaza­khstan and in the 1970s in the rest of the world.

(Source: WWF global press release, 08.09.2017)

Scat-​sniffing research dogs are help­ing sci­en­tists map out a plan to save reclu­sive jaguars, pumas, bush dogs and other endan­gered car­ni­vores in the increas­ingly frag­mented forests of north-​eastern Argentina, accord­ing to a new study from Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in St. Louis.

Train the dog on theTrailTrain, the scat-​sniffing dog, scouts for drop­pings along a rural road in Misiones, Argentina.
Photo: Cour­tesy of Karen DeMatteo

Pub­lished on 25 August in the online jour­nal PLoS ONE, the study explores options for mit­i­gat­ing the impact of human encroach­ment on five preda­tors who cling to sur­vival in iso­lated pock­ets of pro­tected for­est sur­rounded by a mosaic of road­ways, unpro­tected for­est, plan­ta­tions and pastures.

The find­ings illus­trate the ben­e­fit of using mul­ti­ple species ver­sus a sin­gle species to develop cor­ri­dors, because using only the highly restricted jaguar to develop the cor­ri­dor would mean that the poten­tial dis­tri­b­u­tions of the other four car­ni­vores would be restricted and decreased by as much as 30 percent.

Karen DeMat­teo, lead author, Depart­ment of Biol­ogy & Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies, Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity, and Wild­Care Insti­tute, St. Louis, USA

The study details a least-​cost plan for the devel­op­ment of a multi-​species bio­log­i­cal cor­ri­dor that con­nects pro­tected areas in the Upper Parana Atlantic For­est Region of Misiones, Argentina,” said DeMat­teo, a biol­ogy research sci­en­tist and lec­turer in envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies in Arts & Sciences.

DeMat­teo, who has spent 10 years work­ing on the project, said com­ple­tion of the cor­ri­dor model will allow researchers and com­mu­nity lead­ers to begin work­ing with prop­erty own­ers to estab­lish the habi­tat corridors.

This plan is excit­ing not only for the future of the local bio­di­ver­sity, but also because it involved a lot of col­lab­o­ra­tion from the local gov­ern­ment and uni­ver­si­ties to make it hap­pen,” she said.

Recent stud­ies have argued that estab­lish­ing small, pro­tected reserves for endan­gered species, even in the best of habi­tats, is not enough to ensure long-​term sur­vival because species must move across their range to breed with other scat­tered pop­u­la­tions and main­tain genetic diversity.

Using dogs trained to detect the scat of spe­cific species, DeMatteo’s team searched for evi­dence of the car­ni­vores’ pres­ence across a broad swath of north-​eastern Argentina, includ­ing pub­lic and pri­vate wildlife reserves, pri­vately owned plan­ta­tions, farms and pas­tures, and along roads and path­ways lead­ing to scat­tered communities.

DNA analy­sis of more than 900 scat sam­ples col­lected over sev­eral sum­mers allowed researchers to develop detailed maps of the species fre­quent­ing these habi­tats, includ­ing a sense of how their move­ments were influ­enced by habi­tat qual­ity, topog­ra­phy, road­ways and other human disturbances.

For species such as the jaguar, which rarely crosses into ter­ri­tory dis­turbed by humans, sur­vival may hinge on the cre­ation of habi­tat cor­ri­dors link­ing iso­lated pop­u­la­tion pock­ets. Because the jaguar is so averse to human inter­ac­tion, some stud­ies have sug­gested that habi­tat cor­ri­dors designed for it also would cover the needs of other predators.

DeMatteo’s study, which exam­ined the habi­tat needs of jaguars, pumas, ocelots, oncil­las and bush dogs, offers a more nuanced approach, sug­gest­ing that the opti­mal foot­print for habi­tat cor­ri­dors should be drawn with the over­lap­ping needs of many species in mind.

While some species were less intim­i­dated by the pres­ence of humans, each had its own unique require­ments in terms of what con­sti­tutes a suit­able habi­tat and the length and width of pos­si­ble cor­ri­dor connections.

Despite vari­a­tion in body size, the jaguar, puma, ocelot, oncilla and bush dog over­lap in their eco­log­i­cal require­ments,” the study said. “How­ever, this is not with­out vari­a­tion in the degree of habi­tat flex­i­bil­ity. Puma, oncilla, and bush dog have com­par­a­tively higher lev­els of mod­i­fied habi­tats in their poten­tial dis­tri­b­u­tions com­pared to the jaguar and ocelot.”

By com­bin­ing data on all five of these species, researchers devel­oped a model that pro­vides max­i­mum habi­tat con­nec­tiv­ity for all species while min­i­miz­ing the cost of estab­lish­ing these cor­ri­dors through pri­vately owned lands and communities.

The find­ings illus­trate the ben­e­fit of using mul­ti­ple species ver­sus a sin­gle species to develop cor­ri­dors, because using only the highly restricted jaguar to develop the cor­ri­dor would mean that the poten­tial dis­tri­b­u­tions of the other four car­ni­vores would be restricted and decreased by as much as 30 per­cent,” DeMat­teo said. “So, it appears that, at least in the Misiones province, the jaguar should not be mod­elled as an umbrella species because the results fail to cap­ture the var­ied require­ments of coex­ist­ing species across the breadth of poten­tial habitats.”

north-eastern argentina PLOS2017north eastern argentina corridors PLOS2017

Map of the study area in north-​eastern Argentina shows sur­vey routes (yel­low) rel­a­tive to pro­tected areas, roads, and the land-​use pat­tern exist­ing in Misiones in 2009. Exist­ing pro­tected areas (shown in dark green with idi­ag­o­nal cross lines) in the north­ern and south­ern regions of the area are sep­a­rated by three roads of con­cern (pur­ple) and privately-​held land areas (labeled RP17, RP20, and RN14 ) where habi­tat con­ver­sion is ongo­ing, rural pop­u­la­tions are expand­ing, and the roads them­selves are being widen and con­verted from dirt to paved asphalt.

The habi­tat study’s pro­posed multi-​species habi­tat cor­ri­dors would link pro­tected areas in the northern-​central zones of Misiones, Argentina. The cor­ri­dor was nar­rowed and divided into two lev­els that could be used to set con­ser­va­tion pri­or­i­ties: a 1° (7 km width) and a 2° (14 km width) corridor.

DeMat­teo and col­leagues hope the study pro­vides a method­ol­ogy for iden­ti­fy­ing the opti­mal foot­print for pro­posed habi­tat con­nec­tion cor­ri­dors, while incor­po­rat­ing enough flex­i­bil­ity to ensure that the needs and desires of pri­vate land­hold­ers can be incor­po­rated into the process.

The approach in mak­ing a cor­ri­dor a real­ity is multi-​pronged and involves a strong invest­ment from the local com­mu­nity, espe­cially when devel­op­ing cor­ri­dors that use exist­ing pro­tected areas as ‘step­ping stones,’ as pri­vate land will inevitably be involved to vary­ing degrees in and around the cor­ri­dor,” the study concludes.

(Source: Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in St. Louis — the Source news release, 05.09.2017)

Traffic tiger report reduced to skin and bones re-examinedA new report from TRAF­FIC and WWF finds no evi­dence of a decline in tiger traf­fick­ing across Asia, with parts equat­ing to a min­i­mum of 1755 tigers seized between 2000 and 2015 — an aver­age of more than two ani­mals per week.

Pub­lished ahead of a crit­i­cal debate on the ille­gal tiger trade at the world’s largest wildlife trade meet­ing under­way in South Africa, Reduced to Skin and Bones Re-​examined found there had been 801 recorded seizures of tigers and tiger prod­ucts across Asia since 2000.

Con­fes­sions of a tiger poacher | pub­lished 06.08.2012
With about 3,200 tigers left in the wild (2012) this iconic species teeters at the edge of extinc­tion. Poach­ing and the ille­gal wildlife trade are among the gravest threats to the tiger’s sur­vival. Con­ser­va­tion organ­i­sa­tions such as WWF are work­ing with for­mer poach­ers and local gov­ern­ments to stop the poach­ing and save the species.

(Source: WWF Inter­na­tional YouTube channel)

With only an esti­mated 3,900 tigers left in the wild, evi­dence indi­cates that an increas­ing num­ber of seized ani­mals undoubt­edly orig­i­nate from cap­tive breed­ing oper­a­tions: at least 30% of the tigers seized in 20122015 were known to be of captive-​sourced tigers.

While the largest num­ber of over­all seizures was reported by India, there is evi­dence that traf­fick­ers are still exploit­ing a pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied trade route stretch­ing from Thai­land to Viet­nam through Laos — three coun­tries where the num­ber of tiger farms has risen.

This analy­sis pro­vides clear evi­dence that ille­gal trade in tigers, their parts and prod­ucts, per­sists as an impor­tant con­ser­va­tion concern.
Steven Broad, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of TRAFFIC »

Despite repeated gov­ern­ment com­mit­ments to close down tiger farms in Asia, such facil­i­ties are flour­ish­ing and play­ing an increas­ing role in fuelling ille­gal trade,” Broad added.

This week rep­re­sen­ta­tives from more than 180 coun­tries meet at the 17th Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties (CoP17) to the Con­ven­tion on Inter­na­tional Trade in Endan­gered Species of Wild fauna and flora (CITES) and con­ser­va­tion­ists will be urg­ing those coun­tries with tiger farms — includ­ing China, Viet­nam, Thai­land and Laos — to com­mit to pro­vid­ing a clear time­frame for the phas­ing out and final clo­sure of these facil­i­ties.

Last week, Laos announced it would dis­cuss ways to phase out its tiger farms after the coun­try was high­lighted at CITES for its lack of reg­u­la­tion and con­trol over wildlife trade. Thai­land has also cracked down on the infa­mous Tiger Tem­ple and pledged to inves­ti­gate all tiger breed­ing facil­i­ties.

“Crim­i­nal net­works are increas­ingly traf­fick­ing cap­tive bred tigers around Asia, under­min­ing law enforce­ment efforts and help­ing to fuel demand. Tiger range coun­tries must rapidly close their farms or wild tigers will face a future only as skin and bones,” said Ginette Hem­ley, WWF Head of CITES Del­e­ga­tion. “Laos and Thai­land have announced steps in the right direc­tion but they need to act now and other coun­tries should swiftly fol­low the same path marked ‘close all tiger farms’.”

The report also high­lighted an appar­ent rise in the seizures of live tigers, par­tic­u­larly in Thai­land and Viet­nam, with 17 ani­mals seized from 20002004 and 186 ani­mals in the last four years. It is widely believed the increase in live seizures is directly related to the rise in tiger farms.

Recent seizures have high­lighted hotspots for traf­fick­ing in Viet­nam, which has come under scrutiny at the CITES con­fer­ence for its lack of progress in tack­ling the ille­gal trade in rhino horn, ivory and tigers.

In a move to com­bat the poach­ing of tigers col­lab­o­ra­tively, India is ask­ing other gov­ern­ments at CoP17 to share pho­to­graphic evi­dence of seized tiger skins for com­par­i­son with cam­era trap images of wild tigers held in a data­base. Each tiger’s stripe pat­tern is unique, much like a person’s fin­ger­prints, so this would help enforce­ment agen­cies and tiger biol­o­gists to iden­tify poached tigers and trace their ori­gins.

There has been an inter­na­tional ban on the trade in tigers and their prod­ucts for decades yet poach­ing for the ille­gal trade remains the great­est direct threat to their sur­vival.

“Crit­i­cal deci­sions can­not be put off until the next CITES meet­ing in three years’ time or we risk under­min­ing recent impor­tant gains in tiger con­ser­va­tion,” said Hemley.

(Source: WWF news release, 28.09.2016)

Lioness in NamibiaNew research has found that con­trolled tro­phy hunt­ing of lions can actu­ally help con­serve the species, but only in areas where hunt­ing com­pa­nies are given long-​term land man­age­ment rights.

One year after the world­wide con­tro­versy when an Amer­i­can den­tist and recre­ational hunter killed Cecil the Lion out­side Hwange National Park in Zim­babwe, the researchers say hunt­ing can work as a con­ser­va­tion tool, but that an over­haul of the sys­tem is required in order to encour­age hunt­ing com­pa­nies to pri­ori­tise sus­tain­abil­ity over prof­its. Their find­ings are pub­lished in the jour­nal PLOS ONE.

Com­pa­nies who have secured long-​term use rights to nat­ural resources are more likely to man­age them sustainably
Dr Henry Brink, lead author, Uni­ver­sity of Kent »

Although it may seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive, most lion con­ser­va­tion­ists agree that tro­phy hunt­ing can play a key role in con­serv­ing the species. Lions need large pro­tected areas to thrive, but man­ag­ing this land is expen­sive: in devel­op­ing coun­tries, the oper­at­ing bud­gets for pro­tected areas only cover an aver­age of 30% of costs, and the fees raised from tro­phy hunt­ing can cover some of this short­fall, mak­ing it finan­cially fea­si­ble to pro­tect lion habi­tat instead of devel­op­ing it for other pur­poses. How­ever, the researchers say the sys­tem is in need of reform if the species is to be pro­tected in the long term.

The researchers, from the Uni­ver­si­ties of Kent, Cam­bridge and Queens­land, stud­ied lion pop­u­la­tion trends between 1996 and 2008 in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve. Tan­za­nia is home to up to half of the world’s free-​ranging lions and is also the main loca­tion for lion tro­phy hunt­ing in Africa.

The game reserve, which is a strong­hold for the species, is divided into blocks in which hunt­ing rights are allo­cated to dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies. The gov­ern­ment leases the land to the hunt­ing com­pa­nies, enforces hunt­ing reg­u­la­tion and allo­cates the com­pa­nies a species-​specific annual quota per block.

The researchers found that in areas where com­pa­nies were allo­cated a par­tic­u­lar block of land over a short time period (less than ten years), the num­bers of lions killed, and the num­bers of tro­phy species killed over­all, were higher than the rec­om­mended num­bers. In addi­tion, annual finan­cial returns were higher for these lands under short-​term management.

In con­trast, in blocks that were allo­cated to the same com­pany for ten years or more, the num­ber of off­takes, or licensed lion kills, were at level that were sus­tain­able for the species, while also main­tain­ing their habitat.

Com­pa­nies who have secured long-​term use rights to nat­ural resources are more likely to man­age them sus­tain­ably,” said Dr Henry Brink from the Uni­ver­sity of Kent. “This is an impor­tant les­son for lion con­ser­va­tion, as loss of habi­tat means this species is increas­ingly restricted to pro­tected areas.”

This research also sup­ports calls to change the hunt­ing fee sys­tem in Tan­za­nia. “At present, the gov­ern­ment sells hunt­ing block fees cheaply, and raises more by set­ting high quo­tas and high fees for each tro­phy ani­mal shot, which encour­ages those who are only allo­cated blocks over the short-​term to shoot more lions, at the expense of long-​term sus­tain­abil­ity and prof­its,” said Pro­fes­sor Nigel Leader-​Williams from Cambridge’s Depart­ment of Geog­ra­phy, the study’s senior author. “Increas­ing block fees, reduc­ing tro­phy fees and reduc­ing the hunt­ing quota could bring in the same tax rev­enue, while reduc­ing the temp­ta­tion of hunters to kill more lions.”

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge news release, 23.09.2016)

A new sci­en­tific report has con­firmed that nearly 40% of all pro­tected areas across the snow leop­ard’s range are too small to sup­port even one breed­ing pair of these endan­gered cats.

» Snow leop­ards had sub­stan­tially larger home ranges than pre­vi­ously reported;
» Snow leop­ard home ranges were exclu­sive with lit­tle over­lap;
» Only a few pro­tected areas across Asia are large enough to sus­tain 15 females;
» Snow leop­ard con­ser­va­tion requires a land shar­ing approach.

Pub­lished online on 8 Sep­tem­ber by sci­en­tists from Swedish Uni­ver­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences, Snow Leop­ard Trust, Pan­thera and Snow Leop­ard Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion in Bio­log­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion, the study has shown that less than 15%, and likely as few as 34%, of all pro­tected areas in snow leop­ard habi­tat are large enough to host a small pop­u­la­tion of 15 breed­ing females. Per­haps even more telling, across 170 pro­tected areas in Asia, only eight are esti­mated to main­tain the space required to sup­port 50 or more breed­ing females.

The find­ings under­score the impor­tance of community-​based, con­flict mitigation-​focused con­ser­va­tion approaches extend­ing beyond pro­tected areas.

Snow leopard laysaLaysa, a female snow leop­ard that was tracked with a GPS col­lar in the long-​term study in Tost.
Image credit: SLT /​SLCF /​Pan­thera

Analysing satel­lite based GPS-​tracking data from an unprece­dented six­teen snow leop­ards col­lared in the first ever, long-​term com­pre­hen­sive study of the species in Mongolia’s South Gobi, researchers deter­mined that the aver­age home range from the study area is 220 km2 for males and 130 km2 for females. Putting these num­bers in per­spec­tive, a male snow leopard’s home range is com­pa­ra­ble to 3.5 times the size of Manhattan.

To frame these find­ings in the con­text of con­ser­va­tion actions, the research team com­pared aver­age snow leop­ard home ranges to all 170 offi­cial state-​sanctioned Pro­tected Areas within the cat’s habitat.

Our results show that snow leop­ards have a sub­stan­tially larger spa­tial need than pre­vi­ously thought
Örjan Johans­son, lead author, Grimsö Wildlife Research Sta­tion, Depart­ment of Ecol­ogy, Swedish Uni­ver­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences; Snow Leop­ard Trust; and Panthera »

These home ranges are between 6 and 44 times larger than what ear­lier stud­ies had reported. The largest home range we’ve seen was more than 1,000 km2,” added Johansson.

The study also found very lit­tle over­lap in home ranges of adult cats of the same sex, sug­gest­ing that snow leop­ards are largely territorial.

These find­ings are in con­trast to pre­vi­ous stud­ies indi­cat­ing vastly smaller home ranges and greater over­lap between indi­vid­u­als. Prior stud­ies were con­ducted using older, less accu­rate sci­en­tific research meth­ods, includ­ing ground-​based, hand held VHF tracking.

Rare footage of a snow leop­ard fam­ily, cap­tured by a remote-​sensor research cam­era in Kyrgyzstan’s Sarychat Ertash Nature Reserve. Cour­tesy of Snow Leop­ard Foun­da­tion Kyr­gyzs­tan and Snow Leop­ard Trust:

(Source: Snow Leop­ard Trust YouTube channel)

Forty per­cent of these Pro­tected Areas are smaller than an aver­age male home range — so they’re too small to host even one breed­ing pair of snow leop­ards,” Örjan Johans­son stated. “This means that any cats liv­ing in these areas will also reg­u­larly use sur­round­ing areas that are unpro­tected. We can’t sim­ply assume they’re safe and sound just because their habi­tat falls within a Pro­tected Area.”

One breed­ing pair alone doesn’t help much, and even a pop­u­la­tion with 15 breed­ing females might still be too small for long-​term sur­vival. We really need large, secure pop­u­la­tions of 50 or more breed­ing females for this cat to sur­vive. The Pro­tected Area sys­tem, while impor­tant, can­not pro­vide enough con­nected habi­tats to allow for this. Even under the most gen­er­ous model of how many cats can fit into an area, there are only eight exist­ing Pro­tected Areas that could fit 50 or more breed­ing females right now,” Johans­son added.

Pro­tected Areas serve an impor­tant role as core habi­tats for snow leop­ards and their prey, but this study shows that we need to focus our atten­tion on pro­tect­ing larger land­scapes — and that means work­ing with the local com­mu­ni­ties who live along­side these cats
(Charu Mishra, the Snow Leop­ard Trust’s Sci­ence & Con­ser­va­tion Director)

Community-​based con­ser­va­tion over large land­scapes has been a cor­ner­stone of the efforts by the Snow Leop­ard Trust, Pan­thera and the Snow Leop­ard Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion to pro­tect this cat. This involves part­ner­ing with local com­mu­ni­ties to mit­i­gate con­flict over live­stock and fos­ter coex­is­tence, and work­ing with gov­ern­ments to limit the neg­a­tive impacts of devel­op­ment projects such as min­ing, and other human influ­ences on wild habitats.

(Source: Snow Leop­ard Trust press release, 21.09.2016)

by Tim Doherty, Chris Dick­man, Dale Nimmo and Euan Ritchie

Inva­sive species are a threat to wildlife across the globe — and inva­sive, preda­tory mam­mals are par­tic­u­larly damaging.

Our research, recently pub­lished in Pro­ceed­ings of the National Acad­emy of Sci­ences, shows that these preda­tors — cats, rats and foxes, but also house mice, pos­sums and many oth­ers — have con­tributed to around 60% of bird, mam­mal and rep­tile extinc­tions. The worst offend­ers are feral cats, con­tribut­ing to over 60 extinctions.

So how can we stop these mam­mals eat­ing away at our threat­ened wildlife?

Count­ing the cost
Our study revealed that inva­sive preda­tors are impli­cated in 87 bird, 45 mam­mal and 10 rep­tile extinc­tions — 58% of these groups’ con­tem­po­rary extinc­tions worldwide.

Inva­sive preda­tors also threaten 596 species classed as vul­ner­a­ble, endan­gered or crit­i­cally endan­gered on the Inter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Nature Red List. Com­bined, the affected species include 400 birds, 189 mam­mals and 149 reptiles.

Twenty-​three of the crit­i­cally endan­gered species are classed as “pos­si­bly extinct”, so the num­ber of extinc­tions above is likely to be an underestimate.

Until now, these shock­ing sta­tis­tics have been unknown, and the heavy toll of inva­sive preda­tors on native bio­di­ver­sity grossly under­ap­pre­ci­ated. Species extinc­tions attrib­uted to inva­sive preda­tors include the Hawai­ian rail (Zapor­nia sand­wichen­sis) and Australia’s lesser bilby (Macro­tis leu­cura).

Australia's lesser bilby (Macrotis leucura)Australia’s lesser bilby (Macro­tis leu­cura), now extinct.

Who are the worst offend­ers?
We found that three canids (includ­ing the red fox and feral dogs), seven mem­bers of the weasel fam­ily or mustelids (such as stoats), five rodents, two pri­mates, two mon­gooses, two mar­su­pi­als and nine species from other fam­i­lies neg­a­tively impact threat­ened species. Some of these species, such as hedge­hogs and brush­tail pos­sums, don’t imme­di­ately spring to mind as preda­tors, yet they are known to prey on many threat­ened species.

Feral cats threaten the most species over­all (430), includ­ing 63 that have become extinct. This equates to one-​quarter of all bird, mam­mal and rep­tile extinc­tions — mak­ing the feral cat arguably the most dam­ag­ing inva­sive species for ani­mal bio­di­ver­sity worldwide.

Five species of intro­duced rodent col­lec­tively threaten 420 species, includ­ing 75 extinc­tions. While we didn’t sep­a­rate out the impacts of indi­vid­ual rodent species, pre­vi­ous work shows that black rats (Rat­tus rat­tus) threaten the great­est num­ber of species, fol­lowed by brown rats (R. norvegi­cus) and Pacific rats (R. exu­lans).

The hum­ble house mouse (Mus mus­cu­lus) is another inter­est­ing case. Despite their small size, house mice have been recorded eat­ing live chicks of alba­trosses, petrels and shearwaters.

Other preda­tors that threaten large num­bers of species are the domes­tic dog (Canis famil­iaris), pig (Sus scrofa), small Indian mon­goose (Her­pestes aurop­unc­ta­tus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and stoat (Mustela erminea).

Invasive mammalian predatorsInva­sive mam­malian preda­tors (clock­wise from top left): feral dog, house mouse, stoat, feral pig, feral cat, brush­tail pos­sum, black rat, small Indian mon­goose and red fox (cen­tre).
Clock­wise from top-​left: Andrey flickr CC BY 2.0 https://​flic​.kr/​p​/​4​M​2​E​7​y; Richard Adams flickr CC BY 2.0 https://​flic​.kr/​p​/​7​U​19​v​9; Mark Kil­ner flickr CC BY-​NC-​SA 2.0 https://​flic​.kr/​p​/​4​D​6​L​P​e; CSIRO CC BY 3.0 http://​www​.sci​en​ceim​age​.csiro​.au/​i​m​a​g​e​/​1515; T. Doherty; Toby Hud­son CC BY-​SA 3.0 https://​com​mons​.wiki​me​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​F​i​l​e​:​B​r​u​s​h​t​a​i​l​P​o​s​s​u​m​.​j​p​g; CSIRO CC BY 3.0 http://​www​.sci​en​ceim​age​.csiro​.au/​i​m​a​g​e​/​10564; J.M.Garg CC BY-​SA 3.0 https://​com​mons​.wiki​me​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​F​i​l​e​:​H​e​r​p​e​s​t​e​s​_​e​d​w​a​r​d​s​i​i​_​a​t​_​H​y​d​e​r​a​b​a​.​j​p​g; Harley Kingston CC BY 2.0 https://​flic​.kr/​p​/​c​e​W​F​r​7 (centre)

Island species most at risk
Species found only on islands (insu­lar endemics) account for 81% of the threat­ened species at risk from predators.

The iso­la­tion of many islands and a lack of nat­ural preda­tors mean that insu­lar species are often naïve about new preda­tors and lack appro­pri­ate defen­sive responses. This makes them highly vul­ner­a­ble to being eaten and in turn suf­fer­ing rapid pop­u­la­tion decline or, worse, extinc­tion. The high extinc­tion rates of ground-​dwelling birds in Hawaii and New Zealand — both of which lack native mam­malian preda­tors — are well-​known examples.

Accord­ingly, the regions where the preda­tors threat­ened the great­est num­ber of species were all dom­i­nated by islands — Cen­tral Amer­ica and the Caribbean, islands of the Pacific, the Mada­gas­car region, New Zealand and Hawaii.

Con­versely, the con­ti­nen­tal regions of North and South Amer­ica, Europe, Africa and Asia con­tain com­par­a­tively few species threat­ened by inva­sive preda­tors. While Aus­tralia is a con­ti­nent, it is also an island, where large num­bers of native birds and mam­mals are threat­ened by cats and foxes.

Red foxAlong with feral cats, red foxes have dev­as­tated native mam­mals in Aus­tralia.
Image credit: Tom Rayner

Man­ag­ing men­ac­ing mam­mals
Under­stand­ing and mit­i­gat­ing the impact of inva­sive mam­mal preda­tors is essen­tial for reduc­ing the rate of global bio­di­ver­sity loss.

Because most of the threat­ened species stud­ied here live on islands, man­ag­ing inva­sive preda­tors on islands should be a global con­ser­va­tion pri­or­ity. Inva­sive preda­tors occur on hun­dreds of islands and preda­tor con­trol and erad­i­ca­tion are costly exer­cises. Thus, it is impor­tant to pri­ori­tise island erad­i­ca­tions based on fea­si­bil­ity, cost, like­li­hood of suc­cess and poten­tial benefits.

On con­ti­nents or large islands where erad­i­ca­tions are dif­fi­cult, other approaches are needed. This includes predator-​proof fenc­ing, top-​predator restora­tion and con­ser­va­tion, lethal con­trol, and main­te­nance of habi­tat structure.

Despite the shock­ing sta­tis­tics we have revealed, there remain many unknowns. For exam­ple, only around 40% of rep­tile species have been assessed for the Red List, com­pared to 99% for birds and mam­mals. Very lit­tle is known about the impact of inva­sive preda­tors on inver­te­brate species.

We expect that the num­ber of species affected by inva­sive preda­tors will climb as more knowl­edge becomes available.

(Source: The Con­ver­sa­tion, 19.09.2016)

wilderness pictureResearchers report­ing in the jour­nal Cur­rent Biol­ogy show cat­a­strophic declines in wilder­ness areas around the world over the last 20 years. They demon­strate alarm­ing losses com­pris­ing a tenth of global wilder­ness since the 1990s — an area twice the size of Alaska and half the size of the Ama­zon. The Ama­zon and Cen­tral Africa have been hard­est hit.

The find­ings under­score an imme­di­ate need for inter­na­tional poli­cies to recog­nise the value of wilder­ness areas and to address the unprece­dented threats they face, the researchers say. The find­ings have been pub­lished on 8 September.

Glob­ally impor­tant wilder­ness areas — despite being strong­holds for endan­gered bio­di­ver­sity, for buffer­ing and reg­u­lat­ing local cli­mates, and for sup­port­ing many of the world’s most polit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally mar­gin­alised com­mu­ni­ties — are com­pletely ignored in envi­ron­men­tal pol­icy,” says James Wat­son of the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS) in New York. “With­out any poli­cies to pro­tect these areas, they are falling vic­tim to wide­spread devel­op­ment. Inter­na­tional pol­icy mech­a­nisms must recog­nise the actions needed to main­tain wilder­ness areas before it is too late. We prob­a­bly have one to two decades to turn this around.”

If we don’t act soon, there will only be tiny rem­nants of wilder­ness around the planet, and this is a dis­as­ter for con­ser­va­tion, for cli­mate change, and for some of the most vul­ner­a­ble human com­mu­ni­ties on the planet. We have a duty to act for our chil­dren and their children.
Dr James Wat­son, lead author, Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land in Aus­tralia, and the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety in New York »

Wat­son says much pol­icy atten­tion has been paid to the loss of species, but com­par­a­tively lit­tle was known about larger-​scale losses of entire ecosys­tems, espe­cially wilder­ness areas which tend to be rel­a­tively under­stud­ied. To fill that gap, the researchers mapped wilder­ness areas around the globe, with ‘wilder­ness’ being defined as bio­log­i­cally and eco­log­i­cally intact land­scapes free of any sig­nif­i­cant human dis­tur­bance. The researchers then com­pared their cur­rent map of wilder­ness to one pro­duced by the same meth­ods in the early 1990s.

Infographic world wilderness lostThis info­graphic shows cat­a­strophic wilder­ness loss since the 1990s.
Credit: Kendall Jones and James Allan.

This com­par­i­son showed that a total of 30.1 mil­lion km2 (around 20 per­cent of the world’s land area) now remains as wilder­ness, with the major­ity being located in North Amer­ica, North Asia, North Africa, and the Aus­tralian con­ti­nent. How­ever, com­par­isons between the two maps show that an esti­mated 3.3 mil­lion km2 (almost 10 per­cent) of wilder­ness area has been lost in the inter­ven­ing years. Those losses have occurred pri­mar­ily in South Amer­ica, which has expe­ri­enced a 30 per­cent decline in wilder­ness, and Africa, which has expe­ri­enced a 14 per­cent loss.

The amount of wilder­ness loss in just two decades is stag­ger­ing” Dr Oscar Ven­ter of the Uni­ver­sity of North­ern British Colom­bia. “We need to recog­nise that wilder­ness areas, which we’ve fool­ishly con­sid­ered to be de-​facto pro­tected due to their remote­ness, is actu­ally being dra­mat­i­cally lost around the world. With­out proac­tive global inter­ven­tions we could lose the last jew­els in nature’s crown. You can­not restore wilder­ness, once it is gone, and the eco­log­i­cal process that under­pin these ecosys­tems are gone, and it never comes back to the state it was. The only option is to proac­tively pro­tect what is left”.

Wat­son says that the United Nations and oth­ers have ignored glob­ally sig­nif­i­cant wilder­ness areas in key mul­ti­lat­eral envi­ron­men­tal agree­ments and this must change.

If we don’t act soon, there will only be tiny rem­nants of wilder­ness around the planet, and this is a dis­as­ter for con­ser­va­tion, for cli­mate change, and for some of the most vul­ner­a­ble human com­mu­ni­ties on the planet,” Wat­son says. “We have a duty to act for our chil­dren and their children.”

(Source: WCS press release, 08.09.2016)

Up until now, sci­en­tists had only rec­og­nized a sin­gle species of giraffe made up of sev­eral sub­species. How­ever, Sci­en­tists from the Senck­en­berg (World of Bio­di­ver­sity — Insti­tute) in Ger­many and the Giraffe Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion recently have analysed the genetic rela­tion­ships of all major pop­u­la­tions of giraffe in the wild. This large study on the genetic make-​up of giraffe, pub­lished on 8 Sep­tem­ber in the jour­nal Cur­rent Biol­ogy, shows that there are four dis­tinct giraffe species. The unex­pected results are based on analy­ses using sev­eral nuclear marker genes of more than 100 ani­mals. The new insights are set to improve pro­tec­tion efforts of these endan­gered ani­mals in Africa.

Nubian giraffeDespite their large size and iconic pres­ence, giraffe have been incom­pletely explored until now, with many aspects of their biol­ogy poorly under­stood. Lat­est esti­mates have revealed that over the past 30 years giraffe num­bers have plum­meted from over 150,000 to less than 100,000 indi­vid­u­als across their range in Africa. Tra­di­tion­ally giraffe are clas­si­fied as one species with nine sub­species based on coat pat­terns, ossi­cone (horn) struc­ture and geo­graph­i­cal dis­tri­b­u­tion — now, this view has to be thor­oughly revised.

We have stud­ied the genetic rela­tion­ships of all giraffe sub­species from across the con­ti­nent. We found, that there are not only one, but at least four genet­i­cally highly dis­tinct groups of giraffe, which appar­ently do not mate with each other in the wild. This we found look­ing at mul­ti­ple nuclear genes con­sid­ered to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the entire genome
Pro­fes­sor Axel Janke, co-​author, Senck­en­berg Bio­di­ver­sity and Cli­mate Research, and Goethe Uni­ver­sity in Frank­furt, Germany »

Con­se­quently, giraffe should be rec­og­nized as four dis­tinct species despite their sim­i­lar appear­ance,” added Janke.

About five years ago, Julian Fen­nessy of Giraffe Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion (GCF) in Namibia approached Janke to ask for help with genetic test­ing of the giraffe. Fen­nessy wanted to know how sim­i­lar (or not) giraffes liv­ing in dif­fer­ent parts of Africa were to each other, whether past translo­ca­tions of giraffe indi­vid­u­als had inad­ver­tently “mixed” dif­fer­ent species or sub­species, and, if so, what should be done in future translo­ca­tions of giraffes into parks or other pro­tected areas.

The study
The study that leads to a new clas­si­fi­ca­tion is based on 190 skin biopsy sam­ples from all pre­vi­ously rec­og­nized giraffe sub­species, which were col­lected by the GCF and part­ners over the past decade includ­ing in remote areas and civil war zones. These giraffe DNA sam­ples were then analysed by Janke’s research group at the Senck­en­berg Bio­di­ver­sity and Cli­mate Research Cen­tre in coop­er­a­tion with col­leagues from the Senck­en­berg Nat­ural His­tory Col­lec­tions of Dres­den, Ger­many. The sam­ple set included for the first time the elu­sive Nubian giraffe, the nom­i­nate sub­species (G. c. camelopardalis) — the “camel-​leopard” - described by Lin­naeus in 1758 on the basis of a 200-​year-​old record.


The four dis­tinct giraffe species are
(1) south­ern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa), com­pris­ing two dis­tinct sub­species, Angolan (G. g. angolen­sis) and South African giraffe (G. g. giraffa);
(2) Masai giraffe (G. tip­pel­skirchi);
(3) retic­u­lated giraffe (G. retic­u­lata); and
(4) north­ern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), which includes Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis), West African giraffe (G. c. per­alta) and Kord­o­fan giraffe (G. c. antiquo­rum) as dis­tinct subspecies.

The large-​scale analy­sis of giraffe DNA also yielded fur­ther sur­pris­ing insights. The for­merly rec­og­nized sub­species of Rothschild’s giraffe (G. c. roth­schildi) turned out to be genet­i­cally iden­ti­cal with Nubian giraffe, and thus should be con­sid­ered sim­i­lar to this sub­species. Sim­i­larly, the genetic stud­ies sup­ported pre­vi­ous find­ings by the team that could not dif­fer­en­ti­ate the for­merly rec­og­nized sub­species Thornicroft’s giraffe (G. c. thor­ni­crofti) with Masai giraffe (G. c. tip­pel­skirchi). Addi­tion­ally, research into the his­tory of the dis­tinct species showed that their last com­mon ances­tor lived about 0.42.0 mil­lion years ago, which yields a rate of spe­ci­a­tion that is typ­i­cal for mammals.

The dis­cov­ery has sig­nif­i­cant con­ser­va­tion impli­ca­tions, the researchers say, not­ing that the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature and Nat­ural Resources (IUCN) Species Sur­vival Com­mis­sion Giraffe and Okapi Spe­cial­ist Group recently sub­mit­ted an updated pro­posed assess­ment of the giraffe on the IUCN Red List tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion their rapid decline over the last 30 years.

Species con­ser­va­tion is based on under­stand­ing the num­bers, range and threats to the species. To date, the esti­mated total num­ber of all giraffe has until now not been con­sid­ered a par­tic­u­lar threat for the species’ sur­vival. How­ever, as we now rec­og­nize four dis­tinct species as well as some genet­i­cally unique sub­species, some of their bio­di­ver­sity is very much under threat,” explains Janke. “In par­tic­u­lar, GCF esti­mates that there are maybe as few as 400 West African giraffe remain­ing in the wild and restricted to a small com­mu­nal area in Niger. Although it is not a dis­tinct species, this sub­species is genet­i­cally unique and requires increased spe­cial pro­tec­tion along with the other dis­tinct species.”

With now four dis­tinct species, the con­ser­va­tion sta­tus of each of these can be bet­ter defined and in turn added to the IUCN Red List,” Fen­nessy says.

Now that we know that there are four giraffe species, it is even more impor­tant and urgent to sup­port gov­ern­ments and other part­ners across Africa to pro­tect giraffe. We rightly worry about the fate of the African ele­phant, with an esti­mated 450,000 in the wild. By con­trast, the num­bers of three of the four giraffe species are rapidly declin­ing, and two num­ber­ing lees than 10,000 indi­vid­u­als in total. I think we should start work­ing together to secure the future of giraffe in Africa and take action before it is too late.
(Dr. Julian Fen­nessy, lead author, Co-​Director of GCF)

This study was sup­ported by the State of Hesse’s fund­ing pro­gram LOEWE, the Leib­niz Asso­ci­a­tion, the Giraffe Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion, the Lei­den Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion, the Auck­land Zoo, and var­i­ous African gov­ern­ment part­ners and inter­na­tional supporters.

(Source: Senck­en­berg press release, 09.09.2016; Cell Press news release via EurekAlert!, 08.09.2016)

On 31 August a male Indian rhi­noc­eros calf was born at Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich, Ger­many. Up to now it is the first Indian rhino birth in cap­tiv­ity world­wide in 2015.

Indian rhino mum and calf at HellabrunnThe rhino calf’s first pub­lic appear­ance in the Rhino House and the out­door enclo­sure was on 9 Sep­tem­ber. He is an enter­tain­ing lit­tle ras­cal. He runs and romps in his enclo­sure full of energy, enjoy­ing the sun and from time to time giv­ing his mum sev­eral nudges and prods as a way of pes­ter­ing her to come and play. As with most baby rhi­noc­eros, this storm and stress phase is usu­ally fol­lowed by moments of calm, when the lit­tle rhino lies down for a rest.

Although healthy and ener­getic things were dif­fer­ent three days after his birth. The calf sud­denly appeared to be in a weak­ened state due to an infec­tion. As a result, a deci­sion was taken at short notice by the zoo’s vet­eri­nar­i­ans, cura­tors and man­age­ment to keep the mother and child behind the scenes for a lit­tle longer and ini­ti­ate inten­sive treat­ment. He was mon­i­tored around the clock by the keep­ers and exam­ined and treated sev­eral times daily by the vets. The new­born calf was quickly back on its feet and was even­tu­ally given the all-​clear on 9 Sep­tem­ber. The infec­tion dis­cov­ered was prob­a­bly caused by the calf’s resid­ual of the umbil­i­cal cord acci­den­tally torn by his mum.

Indian rhino mum and calf in their indoor enclo­sure:

(Source: Hellabrunn — Der Münch­ner Tier­park YouTube channel)

The rhino bull [calf] is of great impor­tance for the global con­ser­va­tion breed­ing pro­gramme. Hope­fully he will bear many offspring.
Rasem Baban, Hellabrunn zoo director »

In the wild
There are cur­rently approx­i­mately 2,750 Indian rhi­noc­er­oses left in the wild, of which just over 200 live in zoos. Today the nat­ural habi­tat of the Indian Rhi­noc­eros is con­fined to a few areas in Bhutan, south­ern Nepal, the Terai Arc Land­scape and seven refuges in the two Indian states of West Ben­gal and Assam. The Indian rhi­noc­eros is listed as Vul­ner­a­ble in the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species.

In addi­tion to habi­tat loss, the rhino pop­u­la­tion has been brought to close extinc­tion by hunt­ing, pri­mar­ily for their horn. The rhino horn — in the pow­dered form — is highly val­ued in tra­di­tional Asian med­i­cine, even though it has no proven med­ical ben­e­fit, since the horn mostly con­sists of ker­atin, which is also found in human fin­ger­nails and hair.

Cap­tive breed­ing in (Ger­man) zoos
The small pop­u­la­tion in the wild under­pins the neces­sity of con­ser­va­tion and cap­tive breed­ing pro­grammes to save this species from going extinct. In Ger­many Indian rhi­nos are kept in only five zoos. Both the par­ents of the recently born calf resides at Hellabrunn Zoo since 1990. While the bull came from Wil­helma Zoo in Stuttgart the female was born in Nepal. There­fore, mum is par­tic­u­larly impor­tant for the gene pool of Indian rhi­noc­er­oses liv­ing in zoos. And for­tu­nately her genes have now been suc­cess­fully passed on to the new­born bull.

Indian Rhi­noc­eros facts
With a shoul­der height of up to 185 cm and weigh­ing more than 2,000 kg, the Indian rhi­noc­eros (Rhi­noc­eros uni­cor­nis) is the largest of the three species of Asian rhi­noc­er­oses. Unlike its two African rel­a­tives and the Suma­tran rhi­noc­eros, it has only one nasal horn (sim­i­lar to the Javan rhi­noc­eros), which can grow up to 20 cm. Indian rhi­noc­er­oses tend to rub their horn on the ground or on rocks, often result­ing in the horn being worn down to a thick knob.

(Source: Hellabrunn Zoo news, 09.09.2015)

Sea otter found dead at Piedras BlancasThe recovery of southern sea otters appears to have taken an upturn, according to results from the annual California sea otter survey released by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on 17 September. Yet despite an overall increase in sea otter abundance, sharks have been “taking a bite” out of the portion of the population that could fuel expansion into new areas.

“There's much more to the story here than the main finding would suggest,” said Dr. Tim Tinker, a research ecologist who leads the USGS sea otter research program, “We are looking into various factors that may be affecting the survey results, including a boom in urchin abundance from Big Sur to Monterey that may explain the uptick in numbers in the range centre, and high levels of shark bite mortality that are likely responsible for continued declines at the north and south ends of the range.”

This year’s sur­vey results sug­gest an increas­ing trend over the last five years of almost 2 per­cent per year and the pop­u­la­tion index, a sta­tis­ti­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the entire pop­u­la­tion cal­cu­lated as the three-​year run­ning aver­age of cen­sus counts, has climbed to 3,054 from 2,711 in 2010. The growth is accounted for by an unex­pected jump in num­bers in the cen­ter of the sea otter’s range, an area that spans from Mon­terey south to Cambria.

It appears that the high pup counts from the last few years might be trans­lat­ing into higher num­bers of juve­niles and adults in the cen­tre of the range,” said Brian Hat­field, the USGS biol­o­gist who coor­di­nates the annual cen­sus. “This makes sense if there are sig­nif­i­cantly more sea urchin prey avail­able to them in those areas. How­ever, our long-​term cen­sus data sug­gests the ele­vated num­bers of otters seen dur­ing this sur­vey along the Monterey-​Big Sur coast may not persist.”

While the pop­u­la­tion index con­tin­ues to trend upward, the north­ern and south­ern sub­sets of the pop­u­la­tion con­tinue a neg­a­tive five-​year decline, drop­ping 2 per­cent and 3.4 per­cent per year, respec­tively, num­bers con­sis­tent with increased shark bite induced mor­tal­ity in these same areas. The increase in white shark bites became evi­dent after 2005 and now appears to be impact­ing the growth and expan­sion of the pop­u­la­tion at the periph­eries of the range, as described in a recent pub­li­ca­tion.

Since the 1980s, USGS sci­en­tists have com­puted the annual pop­u­la­tion index and eval­u­ated trends in the south­ern sea otter (Enhy­dra lutris nereis), a fed­er­ally listed threat­ened species found in Cal­i­for­nia. For south­ern sea otters to be con­sid­ered for removal from threat­ened species list­ing under the Endan­gered Species Act, the pop­u­la­tion index would have to exceed 3,090 for three con­sec­u­tive years, accord­ing to the thresh­old estab­lished under the South­ern Sea Otter Recov­ery Plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice. To reach its opti­mum sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion level under the Marine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act, the num­ber of ani­mals that will result in the max­i­mum pro­duc­tiv­ity of the pop­u­la­tion, keep­ing in mind the car­ry­ing capac­ity of the habi­tat and the health of the ecosys­tem, the south­ern sea otter pop­u­la­tion would have to reach a much higher bar, prob­a­bly at least 8,400 ani­mals in Cal­i­for­nia accord­ing to the Recov­ery Plan.

On the sur­face it appears that the pop­u­la­tion is climb­ing towards recov­ery, but it’s clear the under­ly­ing trends in dif­fer­ent regions must be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. Full recov­ery of the pop­u­la­tion will ulti­mately require range expan­sion to the north and south.
Lil­ian Car­swell, South­ern Sea Otter Recov­ery Coor­di­na­tor for USFWS »

Trends in sea otter deaths and shark bites
In addi­tion to con­duct­ing the annual sur­vey, USGS sci­en­tists also annu­ally update a data­base of sea otter strand­ings which tal­lies the num­ber of dead, sick or injured sea otters recov­ered along California’s coast each year. In 2014, sci­en­tists from Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), USGS, Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium and other insti­tu­tions recov­ered or doc­u­mented a total of 386 stranded sea otters.

This strand­ing num­ber only accounts for sea otters that peo­ple find, and past research indi­cates that pos­si­bly less than 50 per­cent of sea otters that die in the wild end up on the beach. But efforts are made to exam­ine each reported sea otter car­cass, and a sub­set of fresh car­casses are sent to the CDFW Marine Wildlife Vet­eri­nary Care and Research Cen­ter, where sci­en­tists con­duct necrop­sies to deter­mine the pri­mary causes of death and iden­tify fac­tors that may have con­tributed to the death of each animal.

Data from both liv­ing and deceased sea otters con­tin­ues to shed light on sea otter pop­u­la­tion ecol­ogy in dif­fer­ent parts of the Cal­i­for­nia coast. For exam­ple, a high pro­por­tion of sea otter car­casses recov­ered between Cayu­cos and Pismo Beach in recent years have white shark– bite wounds, a poten­tial expla­na­tion for the down­ward trend in sea otter num­bers in that area.

Before the early 2000s we did not see very many shark bit­ten otters south of Mon­terey,” says Mike Har­ris, a biol­o­gist with CDFW, “but in the last few years, shark bite cases have become very com­mon and now explain about 70 per­cent of the total strand­ings in this area.”

The sea otter sur­vey and strand­ing pro­grams are just one part of a larger research pro­gram inves­ti­gat­ing sea otters and their role as preda­tors in coastal ecosys­tems. In Elkhorn Slough, a recent study sug­gests that sea otters’ appetite for crabs can improve the health of sea­grass beds, and USGS sci­en­tists are col­lab­o­rat­ing with biol­o­gists from the Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium, the Elkhorn Slough National Estu­ar­ine Research Reserve, Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Santa Cruz (UCSC) and CDFW to study the pop­u­la­tion in this unique habi­tat. And a new study near Mon­terey by UCSC and USGS, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium, will inves­ti­gate how sea otters are respond­ing to a glut of sea urchins that may be in part a result of the loss of sea star preda­tors from wast­ing disease.

Sur­vey Method­ol­ogy
- The annual pop­u­la­tion index is cal­cu­lated from visual sur­veys con­ducted via tele­scope obser­va­tions from shore and via low-​flying air­craft along the Cal­i­for­nia coast­line by researchers, stu­dents and vol­un­teers from USGS, CDFW’s Office of Spill Pre­ven­tion and Response, Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium, UC Santa Cruz, USFWS, and U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Man­age­ment.
- This year, the sur­veyed coast­line spanned from Pil­lar Point in San Mateo County, south to Rin­con Point near the Santa Barbara/​Ventura County line, and also included San Nico­las Island.

Mini doc­u­men­tary: Every­thing a sea otter enthu­si­ast needs to know! Katie joins a sea­soned nat­u­ral­ist out on the water to get the facts

{Source: Otter501 YouTube channel)

Sea Otter Facts
- Sea otters were pre­sumed extinct in Cal­i­for­nia after the fur trade years, but were redis­cov­ered in the 1930s by the pub­lic, when as few as 50 ani­mals were doc­u­mented per­sist­ing in nearshore areas off the coast of Big Sur.
- Sea otters are con­sid­ered a key­stone species of rocky sub-​tidal ecosys­tems because they prey on her­biv­o­rous inver­te­brates that, if left unchecked, can dec­i­mate kelp beds and the fish habi­tat they pro­vide.
- Sci­en­tists also study sea otters as an indi­ca­tor of nearshore ecosys­tem health, since sea otters feed and live near the coast and often are the first preda­tors exposed to pol­lu­tants and pathogens washed down from coast­lands, such as the micro­bial toxin micro­cystin.

More infor­ma­tion on sea otters includ­ing a web cam can be found at the web­site of the Elkhorn Slough Foun­da­tion and Elkhorn Slough National Estu­ar­ine Research Reserve.

Elkhorn Slough otter cam high­lights:

(Source: USGS news release, 17.09.2015)

The Suma­tran rhino — one of the most crit­i­cally endan­gered mam­mals on the planet — may have just received a lifeline.

Sumatran rhino Leuser cameratrapA new sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tion from Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS) and the Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts — Amherst (UMass) applies an enhanced pop­u­la­tion sur­vey tech­nique to iden­tify, for the first time, pri­or­ity for­est patches for inten­sive rhino pro­tec­tion of the remain­ing pop­u­la­tions of Suma­tran Rhino — one of the most endan­gered large mam­mals on the planet. Assess­ing pop­u­la­tion and spa­tial dis­tri­b­u­tion of this very rare species is chal­leng­ing because of their elu­sive­ness and very low pop­u­la­tion num­ber. The results of the rhino pop­u­la­tion sur­vey will appear in the cur­rent issue of the open-​access jour­nal PLOS ONE and pro­vides vital data to sup­port a final attempt to pre­vent the extinc­tion of the Suma­tran rhino.

The Suma­tran rhino once ranged from north-​east India to Indone­sian Bor­neo and may have num­bered in the tens of thou­sands only 200 years ago. How­ever, the unyield­ing demand for rhino horn in tra­di­tional Chi­nese med­i­cine has reduced this species to per­haps less than 100 wild indi­vid­u­als, with no viable pop­u­la­tions occur­ring out­side of the Indone­sian island of Suma­tra. The Suma­tran rhino (Dicerorhi­nus suma­tren­sis) is Crit­i­cally Endan­gered accord­ing the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species.

The study pro­vides urgently needed infor­ma­tion on where the remain­ing rhi­nos are dis­trib­uted. Using rhino sign data col­lected in 3 pre­sumed strong­holds cov­er­ing more than 3 mil­lion ha, a spatially-​explicit habi­tat model was devel­oped. The model pre­dicted that rhi­nos now only occupy 237,100 ha in the Leuser land­scape, 63,400 ha in Way Kam­bas National Park and 82,000 ha in Bukit Barisan Sela­tan National Park.

With so many unknowns on how to man­age Suma­tran rhi­nos in the wild or in cap­tiv­ity, our study def­i­nitely shows where we must pro­tect them at the source.
Wulan Pus­parini, lead author, WCS and Eco-​Umass »

In total, they occupy only 13 per­cent of the sur­veyed area. How­ever, the study iden­ti­fied five “Inten­sive Pro­tec­tion Zones” that are of unri­valled impor­tance in sav­ing Suma­tran rhinos.

The paper’s authors rec­om­mend four vital actions achiev­able with strong polit­i­cal will:
1. For­mally estab­lish­ing the five Inten­sive Pro­tec­tion Zones iden­ti­fied in this study, and ensur­ing zero poach­ing is achieved by sig­nif­i­cantly scaling-​up law enforce­ment efforts
2. Ensur­ing the via­bil­ity of the Inten­sive Pro­tec­tion Zones by pre­vent­ing sev­eral planned new roads from bisect­ing them in the Bukit Barisan Sela­tan and Leuser land­scapes
3. Con­sol­i­dat­ing the small and scat­tered rhino pop­u­la­tion in Bukit Barisan Sela­tan National Park and the out­side core pop­u­la­tion of Leuser land­scape iden­ti­fied by this study. Rec­og­niz­ing that this will require strong polit­i­cal will and major finan­cial sup­port
4. Rec­og­niz­ing that Suma­tran Rhino is likely to go extinct if no actions are taken, as hap­pened with the last Javan Rhino in Viet­nam in 2010

The Direc­tor of Bio­di­ver­sity Con­ser­va­tion of the Indone­sian Min­istry of Envi­ron­men­tal and Forestry and chair­man of Joint Rhino Con­ser­va­tion Sec­re­tariat of Indone­sia, Bam­bang Dahono Adji, com­mented, “We wel­come these impor­tant new results in sup­port­ing Indonesia’s ongo­ing endeav­ours to fully imple­ment its Suma­tran Rhi­noc­eros Action Plan.”

Suma­tran rhino calf born at Way Kam­bas National Park rhino sanc­tu­ary
In 2012 a healthy male Suma­tran rhino calf was born in the rhino sanc­tu­ary Way Kam­bas National Park in Suma­tra. The new­born was the off­spring of a wild female Suma­tran rhino and a male that was born at the Cincin­nati Zoo in the U.S in 2001. The male was flown to his ances­tral home, Suma­tra, in 2007 in hopes that he would breed with one of the rhino sanctuary’s three females. The new baby was only the fourth Suma­tran rhino born in cap­tiv­ity in the past cen­tury, and the first one to be born in Indonesia.

(Source: Inter­na­tional Rhino Foun­da­tion and Mongabay)

Joe Wal­ston, WCS’s Vice Pres­i­dent for Global Pro­grams urged, “For the first time we have a clear idea of where the pri­or­ity rhino’s sites are, we have the tools and tech­niques to pro­tect them, and now must ensure a con­certed effort by all agen­cies to bring the Suma­tran rhino back from the brink of extinction.”

(Source: WCS news release, 16.09.2015; Umass Amherst news release, 16.09.2015)

A first draft of the “tree of life” for the roughly 2.3 mil­lion named species of ani­mals, plants, fungi and microbes — from platy­puses to puff­balls — has been released. This large, open-​access resource aims to be “Wikipedia” for evo­lu­tion­ary history.

A col­lab­o­ra­tive effort among eleven insti­tu­tions, the tree depicts the rela­tion­ships among liv­ing things as they diverged from one another over time, trac­ing back to the begin­ning of life on Earth more than 3.5 bil­lion years ago. Tens of thou­sands of smaller trees have been pub­lished over the years for select branches of the tree of life — some con­tain­ing upwards of 100,000 species — but this is the first time those results have been com­bined into a sin­gle tree that encom­passes all of life. The end result is a dig­i­tal resource that avail­able free online for any­one to use or edit, much like a “Wikipedia” for evo­lu­tion­ary trees.

Tree of life 1.0This cir­cu­lar fam­ily tree of Earth’s life­forms is con­sid­ered a first draft of the 3.5-billion-year his­tory of how life evolved and diverged. Image credit: Stephen Smith.

As impor­tant as show­ing what we do know about rela­tion­ships, this first tree of life is also impor­tant in reveal­ing what we don’t know
Dou­glas Soltis, co-​author, Uni­ver­sity of Florida »

This is the first real attempt to con­nect the dots and put it all together,” said prin­ci­pal inves­ti­ga­tor Karen Cranston of Duke Uni­ver­sity. “Think of it as Ver­sion 1.0.”

The cur­rent ver­sion of the tree, along with the under­ly­ing data and source code, is avail­able to browse and down­load. It is also described in an arti­cle pub­lished 18 Sep­tem­ber in the Pro­ceed­ings of the National Acad­emy of Sciences.

Evo­lu­tion­ary trees, branch­ing dia­grams that often look like a cross between a can­de­labra and a sub­way map, aren’t just for fig­ur­ing out whether aard­varks are more closely related to moles or man­a­tees, or pin­point­ing a slime mold’s clos­est cousins. Under­stand­ing how the mil­lions of species on Earth are related to one another helps sci­en­tists dis­cover new drugs, increase crop and live­stock yields, and trace the ori­gins and spread of infec­tious dis­eases such as HIV, Ebola and influenza.

Rather than build the tree of life from scratch, the researchers pieced it together by com­pil­ing thou­sands of smaller chunks that had already been pub­lished online and merg­ing them together into a gigan­tic “supertree” that encom­passes all named species. The ini­tial draft is based on nearly 500 smaller trees from pre­vi­ously pub­lished stud­ies. To map trees from dif­fer­ent sources to the branches and twigs of a sin­gle supertree, one of the biggest chal­lenges was sim­ply account­ing for the name changes, alter­nate names, com­mon mis­spellings and abbre­vi­a­tions for each species. The east­ern red bat, for exam­ple, is often listed under two sci­en­tific names, Lasi­u­rus bore­alis and Nyc­teris bore­alis. Spiny anteaters once shared their sci­en­tific name with a group of moray eels.

Although a mas­sive under­tak­ing in its own right, this draft tree of life rep­re­sents only a first step,” the researchers wrote. For one, only a tiny frac­tion of pub­lished trees are dig­i­tally avail­able. A sur­vey of more than 7,500 phy­lo­ge­netic stud­ies pub­lished between 2000 and 2012 in more than 100 jour­nals found that only one out of six stud­ies had deposited their data in a dig­i­tal, down­load­able for­mat that the researchers could use. The vast major­ity of evo­lu­tion­ary trees are pub­lished as PDFs and other image files that are impos­si­ble to enter into a data­base or merge with other trees. “There’s a pretty big gap between the sum of what sci­en­tists know about how liv­ing things are related, and what’s actu­ally avail­able dig­i­tally,” Cranston said.

As a result, the rela­tion­ships depicted in some parts of the tree, such as the branches rep­re­sent­ing the pea and sun­flower fam­i­lies, don’t always agree with expert opin­ion. Other parts of the tree, par­tic­u­larly insects and microbes, remain elu­sive. That’s because even the most pop­u­lar online archive of raw genetic sequences — from which many evo­lu­tion­ary trees are built — con­tains DNA data for less than five per­cent of the tens of mil­lions species esti­mated to exist on Earth.

As impor­tant as show­ing what we do know about rela­tion­ships, this first tree of life is also impor­tant in reveal­ing what we don’t know,” said co-​author Dou­glas Soltis of the Uni­ver­sity of Florida.

To help fill in the gaps, the team is also devel­op­ing soft­ware that will enable researchers to log on and update and revise the tree as new data come in for the mil­lions of species still being named or dis­cov­ered. “It’s by no means fin­ished,” Cranston said. “It’s crit­i­cally impor­tant to share data for already-​published and newly-​published work if we want to improve the tree.”
“Twenty five years ago peo­ple said this goal of huge trees was impos­si­ble,” Soltis said. “The Open Tree of Life is an impor­tant start­ing point that other inves­ti­ga­tors can now refine and improve for decades to come.”

(Source: Duke Uni­ver­sity news release, 18.09.2015)

As cli­mate change accel­er­ates ice melt in the Arc­tic, polar bears may find cari­bou and snow geese replac­ing seals as an impor­tant food source, shows a recent study pub­lished on 10 June in the jour­nal PLOS ONE. The research, by Linda Gormezano and Robert Rock­well at the Amer­i­can Museum of Nat­ural His­tory, is based on new com­pu­ta­tions incor­po­rat­ing caloric energy from ter­res­trial food sources and indi­cates that the bears’ extended stays on land may not be as grim as pre­vi­ously sug­gested.Polar bears feeding on caribouFig 4. Three adult male polar bears feed on the remains of a bull cari­bou on Keyask Island (58.1695°N 92.8519°W) on the Cape Churchill Penin­sula on 8 August, 2012. This type of com­mu­nal for­ag­ing illus­trates the impor­tance of how con­sump­tion of incom­plete car­casses (as car­rion or from pre­da­tion) can con­tribute to daily energy require­ments. Here, the bear in the poor­est phys­i­cal con­di­tion (top) is most likely in need of the addi­tional calo­ries, how­ever, those in bet­ter con­di­tion still par­take in the meal. Pho­to­graph by R.F. Rock­well. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128520.g004

Polar bears are oppor­tunists and have been doc­u­mented con­sum­ing var­i­ous types and com­bi­na­tions of land-​based food since the ear­li­est nat­ural his­tory records
Robert Rock­well, research asso­ciate Depart­ment of Ornithol­ogy, Amer­i­can Museum of Nat­ural His­tory »

Analy­sis of polar bear scats and first-​hand obser­va­tions have shown us that subadult polar bears, fam­ily groups, and even some adult males are already eat­ing plants and ani­mals dur­ing the ice-​free period,” said Rock­well, who has been study­ing the Arc­tic ecol­ogy of the West­ern Hud­son Bay for nearly 50 years.

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies have pre­dicted mass polar bear star­va­tion by 2068, when annual ice breakup is expected to sep­a­rate the bears from their sea-​ice hunt­ing grounds for a con­sec­u­tive 180 days each year — cre­at­ing ice-​free sea­sons that will last two months longer than those in the 1980s. But those esti­mates assumed no ener­getic input from land food sources.

Gormezano and Rock­well com­puted the energy required to off­set any increased star­va­tion and then deter­mined the caloric value of snow geese, their eggs, and cari­bou that live near the coast of the West­ern Hud­son Bay. They found that there likely are more than enough calo­ries avail­able on land to feed hun­gry polar bears dur­ing the length­en­ing ice-​free seasons.

Although the exact ener­getic cost for a bear to hunt geese and cari­bou is uncer­tain, polar bears in Man­i­toba have been reported ambush­ing cari­bou with the same ener­get­i­cally low-​cost tech­niques they typ­i­cally use to hunt seals. The sim­i­lar size of these two prey species means that bears would need to hunt for cari­bou only as often as they would usu­ally hunt for seals, the researchers say.

If cari­bou herds con­tinue to for­age near the coast of West­ern Hud­son Bay when bears come to shore ear­lier each year, they are likely to become a cru­cial com­po­nent of the bears’ sum­mer­time diet,” Rock­well said.

The eggs of snow geese are another food source for bears, and the ener­getic cost of obtain­ing eggs in ground nests is exceed­ingly low, the researchers say. With ade­quate food sources avail­able, snow geese are known to endure polar bear egg pre­da­tion with­out detri­men­tal effects to the population.

Sci­en­tific con­sen­sus holds that the rapidly melt­ing cir­cum­po­lar ice reserves will increas­ingly pre­vent polar bears from hunt­ing the seals on which they cur­rently depend. Nev­er­the­less, these obser­va­tions of one pop­u­la­tion along the West­ern Hud­son Bay show that bears marooned on land might, where the con­di­tions are right, stave off star­va­tion by turn­ing to alter­nate food sources.

No walk­ing hiber­na­tion
It has been sug­gested that another way of sur­viv­ing the pro­longed period of depri­va­tion of seals for polar bears was by going into a state of ‘walk­ing hiber­na­tion’. This way the bears are less active and reduce their meta­bolic rate dur­ing the sum­mer food depri­va­tion period. But the results of a research project pub­lished more or less simul­ta­ne­ously as the arti­cle of Gormezano and Rock­well, on 17 July, shows that the sum­mer activ­ity and body tem­per­a­ture of bears on shore and on ice were typ­i­cal of fast­ing, non-​hibernating mam­mals, with lit­tle indi­ca­tion of the exis­tence of ‘walk­ing hibernation’.

There­fore, the mes­sage that alter­nate food sources can be a viable option to alle­vi­ate hunger and pre­vent star­va­tion of polar bears, a key­stone species in the Arc­tic region, is good news.

(Source: Amer­i­can Museum of Nat­ural His­tory press release, 04.09.2015; Uni­ver­sity of Wyoming news release, 16.07.2015)

Dis­cov­ery of what appears to be a new law of nature: more crowd­ing leads to fewer offspring

Why aren’t there more lions? That was what puz­zled McGill PhD stu­dent Ian Hat­ton, when he started look­ing at the pro­por­tion of preda­tors to prey across dozens of parks in East and South­ern Africa.

In this case, the answer had noth­ing to do with iso­lated human hunters. The parks were teem­ing with poten­tially tasty treats for the lions. So one might imag­ine that the pop­u­la­tion of lions in each park would increase to match the avail­able prey. Instead, what Hat­ton and the McGill-​led team dis­cov­ered was that, in a very sys­tem­atic way, in crowded set­tings, prey repro­duced less than they did in set­tings where their num­bers were smaller. More­over, they found this same pat­tern in a whole range of dif­fer­ent ecosys­tems. Their find­ings are pub­lished on 4 Sep­tem­ber in the jour­nal Science.

Lion buffalo huntLions hunt­ing a buf­falo, one of their prey species; Photo credit: McGill University/​Amaury Laporte

.… with greater crowd­ing, prey species have fewer off­spring for every indi­vid­ual. In effect, the prey’s rates of repro­duc­tion are lim­ited, which lim­its the abun­dance of predators.
Ian Hat­ton, lead author, McGill University »

It’s a sur­pris­ing find­ing that sug­gests a level of orga­ni­za­tional struc­ture and func­tion in ecosys­tems that had not pre­vi­ously been rec­og­nized. Although biol­o­gists have long known of very reg­u­lar math­e­mat­i­cal laws gov­ern­ing func­tions in the body like metab­o­lism and growth, no study has ever shown that sim­i­lar kinds of laws may exist at a whole other level: that of ecosys­tems glob­ally. Some sci­en­tists are already sug­gest­ing that it may well be the dis­cov­ery of a new law of nature.

It came about by chance.

High school hol­i­days
“I went to high school in Zim­babwe and spent vaca­tions in the National parks there,” says Hat­ton, the lead author of the study that was just pub­lished in Sci­ence. “When I began my PhD in biol­ogy at McGill, I wanted to go back and com­pare whole com­mu­ni­ties of African ani­mals across pro­tected ecosys­tems to see how the num­bers of car­ni­vores are related to their her­bi­vore prey at the scale of whole land­scapes. So I gath­ered all the ani­mal cen­sus data I could for parks in east and south­ern Africa.”

When Hat­ton and his col­leagues then started putting it all together and crunch­ing the num­bers, sum­ming up all the car­ni­vores (lion, hyena, leop­ard, etc.) and her­bi­vores (buf­falo, zebra, impala, etc.) in these parks, they found a very unex­pected and reg­u­lar pat­tern. In every park they looked at, there seemed to be a very con­sis­tent rela­tion­ship of preda­tor to prey. But not in the sim­ple pat­tern they might have expected to find.

Some sur­pris­ing cal­cu­la­tions
“Until now, the assump­tion has been that when there is a lot more prey, you’d expect cor­re­spond­ingly more preda­tors,” says Hat­ton. “But as we looked at the num­bers, we dis­cov­ered instead, that in the lush­est ecosys­tems, no mat­ter where they are in the world, the ratio of preda­tors to their prey is greatly reduced. This is because with greater crowd­ing, prey species have fewer off­spring for every indi­vid­ual. In effect, the prey’s rates of repro­duc­tion are lim­ited, which lim­its the abun­dance of predators.”

Once they observed this pat­tern in one set­ting, the researchers then began ana­lyz­ing data about food pyra­mids, and the rela­tion­ship between preda­tors and prey in ecosys­tems as var­ied as the Indian Ocean, the Cana­dian Arc­tic and the trop­i­cal rain­forests. Over the course of the next few years they ana­lyzed data gath­ered about both plants and ani­mals from more than 1000 stud­ies done over the past 50 years cov­er­ing a range of grass­land, lake, for­est and ocean ecosys­tems around the world.

In all these dif­fer­ent set­tings, they found a sur­pris­ing con­sis­tency in the rela­tion of preda­tors to prey, and con­fir­ma­tion that rather than the num­bers of preda­tors increas­ing to match the avail­able prey, preda­tor pop­u­la­tions are lim­ited by the rate at which prey repro­duce. “We kept being aston­ished,” said Kevin McCann, of Guelph University’s Depart­ment of Inte­grated Biol­ogy, one of the study’s co-​authors. “This is just an amaz­ing pattern.”

A new law of nature?
What the researchers also found intrigu­ing was that the growth pat­terns they saw across whole ecosys­tems, where large num­bers of prey seemed nat­u­rally to repro­duce less, were very sim­i­lar to the pat­terns of growth in indi­vid­u­als. “Phys­i­ol­o­gists have long known that the speed of growth declines with size,” said co-​author Jonathan Davies from McGill’s Dept. of Biol­ogy. “The cells in an ele­phant grow more than 100 times more slowly than those of a mouse.”

The dis­cov­ery of ecosystem-​level scal­ing laws is par­tic­u­larly excit­ing,” adds co-​author Michel Loreau, adjunct pro­fes­sor in McGill’s Biol­ogy Dept. and cur­rently at the Cen­tre national de recher­ché sci­en­tifique (CNRS) in France. “Their most intrigu­ing aspect is that they recur across lev­els of orga­ni­za­tion, from indi­vid­u­als to ecosys­tems, and yet ecosystem-​level scal­ing laws can­not be explained by their individual-​level coun­ter­parts. It seems that some basic processes re-​emerge across lev­els of orga­ni­za­tion, but we do not yet fully under­stand which ones and why.”

(Source: McGill Uni­ver­sity news release, 03.09.2015)

Black footed ferret kits at SmithsonianThe Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) has been a leader in black-footed ferret conservation since a small population of this solitary, nocturnal carnivore was discovered in 1981. SCBI received offspring from the species' surviving 18 individuals and was the first institution to breed black-footed ferrets outside of Wyoming. Faced with a genetic bottleneck, SCBI scientists mitigated threats to the survival of the species by using semen that had been cryopreserved for 10 to 20 years to artificially inseminate live female ferrets.

The SCBI team, including David Wildt, Paul Marinari and JoGayle Howard, as well as partners from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Lincoln Park Zoo, Louisville Zoological Garden, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Phoenix Zoo and Toronto Zoo, found they could meet the need to increase the number of black-footed ferrets born in human care while enhancing genetic diversity within the species. The results of their work was published on 13 August in the journal Animal Conservation.

What we've done here with the black-footed ferret is an excellent example of how sperm preservation can benefit species recovery programs.
David Wildt, senior scientist, head of the Center for Species Survival at SCBI >>

“Our study is the first to provide empirical evidence that artificial insemination with long-stored spermatozoa is not only possible but also beneficial to the genetic diversity of an endangered species,” added Wildt.

The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is listed as Endangered according the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. USFWS developed and oversees the Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan manages the black-footed ferret breeding program at ex situ facilities, such as zoos and breeding centres, with a breeding population composed of about 300 animals. For this study, all the males were managed either at SCBI or at the USFWS National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center. Scientists collected semen samples from adult black-footed ferrets that ranged in age from 1 to 6 years old. All females were solely managed at SCBI.

Initially, scientists used fresh semen to artificially inseminate females who failed to naturally mate with males, resulting in 135 kits. With just a few founders to rebuild an entire species, early managers of the black-footed ferret recovery program knew that genetic diversity would be lost. Loss of genetic variation can lead to increased sperm malformation and lower success of pregnancy over time. Researchers, led by black-footed ferret Reproduction Advisor Rachel Santymire of the Lincoln Park Zoo, routinely collected and preserved black-footed ferret semen for later use as part of standard operating procedures.

SCBI maintains the only genome resource bank for black-footed ferrets that preserves frozen semen from genetically valuable males, thereby extending their reproductive life. Zoo scientists use this semen for artificial insemination (AI) to maintain and enhance genetic diversity by infusing under-represented genes into the population at strategic times.

SCBI was the first institution to develop a successful laparoscopic AI technique for black-footed ferrets. Female ferrets are induced ovulators, which means that mating causes the ovary to release its eggs. SCBI researchers developed a hormone treatment that artificially causes ovulation to occur. Scientists then deposited the male's fresh or frozen-thawed sperm directly into the female's uterus. Animal care staff closely monitored potentially pregnant females by taking weight measurements and remotely monitoring the nest boxes via closed-circuit cameras.

During the 2008 breeding season, SCBI scientists used semen samples from four male black-footed ferret donors that had been frozen for 10 years. Black-footed ferret Population Advisor Colleen Lynch of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden conducted population genetic analysis to select pairings of deceased sperm donors with living females based on several genetic metrics, including mean kinship of the parents and inbreeding coefficients of potential offspring to maximize the genetic benefit of successful pairings. Two became pregnant and gave birth to two kits. In the years that followed, subsequent AIs incorporated semen that had been cryopreserved up to 20 years, also resulting in successful pregnancies. Six of the eight kits produced 32 offspring and grand offspring by natural mating. More significantly, researchers found that incorporating these individuals into the population enhanced overall genetic diversity and lowered measures of inbreeding over time.

Black footed ferret kits summer 2015:

“Our findings show how important it is to bank sperm and other biomaterials from rare and endangered animal species over time,” said Paul Marinari, senior curator at SCBI. “These 'snapshots' of biodiversity could be invaluable to future animal conservation efforts, which is why we must make every effort to collect, store and study these materials now.”


(Source: Smithsonian National Zoological Park press release, 13.08.2015)

Amur tiger cameratrap in Ussuriisky nature reserveNew scientific research could help to protect tigers (Panthera tigris) from extinction. The findings indicate that tigers should be classified as only two subspecies, while up to now nine subspecies are recognized. This will have a significant impact on species conservation since management efforts and breeding programmes can now be organised in a simpler, more flexible and effective way. The results have been published on in the scientific open access journal “Science Advances”.

The compilation and detailed analysis of the most comprehensive dataset for tigers ever assembled allowed scientists from the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), National Museums Scotland, the Selandia College in Denmark and the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen to carry out a critical evaluation of the nine putative tiger subspecies. They found that most of these subspecies were much more similar to each other than previously known. Only two tiger subspecies could be clearly distinguished: The “Sunda tiger“ (Panthera tigris sondaica), formerly from Sumatra, Java and Bali and the “Continental tiger” (Panthera tigris tigris) from mainland Asia. From the perspective of conservation, the northern population of the “Continental tiger” (the Amur or Siberian tiger) should be treated as a distinct conservation management unit from the southern populations, since it is adapted to different environmental conditions.

Tiger skullsFor the first time multiple trait datasets of the six living and three extinct tiger subspecies described so far were compared. The morphology of more than 200 tiger skulls as well as the coloration and stripe patterns of more than 100 tiger skins were compared with molecular genetic data and ecological and life history traits. The results did not support the distinction of nine subspecies previously described for tigers. Only the Sunda tiger from the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali could be clearly and unambiguously distinguished from populations of the Continental tiger. These detailed analyses also lend further support to the idea that there was a massive population decline of tigers after the super-eruption of the Toba volcano on Sumatra about 73,000 years ago. Tigers may have only survived in a single refugium in South China, from where all modern tigers then originated.

Worldwide there is significantly more concern about and money spent on the conservation of tigers than on any other individual wildlife species. However, fewer than 4,000 tigers roam around the forests of Asia - a historically low number. For the tiger to survive at all, these small and shrinking populations require active conservation management. The discovery that only two tiger subspecies exist paves the way for new conservation management options in that global protection efforts can now be implemented more flexibly and effectively.

A classification into too many subspecies - with weak or even no scientific support - reduces the scope of action for breeding or rehabilitation programmes.
Dr Andreas Wilting, lead author, German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research >>

“For example, tiger populations in South China and Indochina have been reduced to such low numbers that - if each continue to be classified as separate subspecies - they would likely face extinction”, explained Dr Andreas Wilting. The new tiger classification allows for the combined conservation management of these populations and the Malaysian and Indian tiger, as all four populations from the southern part of continental Asia can now be managed as a single conservation unit. "The results of our collaborative research offer an exciting, pragmatic and more flexible approach to tiger conservation. Now we can plan the restoration of wild tiger populations with confidence, knowing that there is a sound scientific underpinning to tiger taxonomy", says Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland. Kitchener suggested this new classification already in his chapter on 'tiger distribution, phenotypic variation and conservation issues' in the book Riding the Tiger (edited by Seidensticker, Christie and Jackson - 1999).

The main goal of worldwide conservation efforts is to double the tiger populations by 2022. For this purpose, all remaining individuals are essential for the long-term survival of the tiger. The resulting high genetic diversity will ensure that tigers have sufficient adaptability to cope with future environmental changes and the challenges of new pathogens. The new study provides the scientific basis for a practical and effective tiger recovery.


(Source: Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. press release, 26.06.2015)

Illegal rhino horn trade has reached the highest levels since the early 1990s, and illegal trade in ivory increased by nearly 300 percent from 1998 to 2011, according to a new report by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partner TRAFFIC. “This report provides critical insights into often violent and complex trade networks that will help countries target their law enforcement efforts. Wildlife trafficking not only endangers rhinos, elephants, and many other wildlife species, but also threatens national and international security as well as local livelihoods,” said Eric Postel, Assistant Administrator at USAID.

W-TRAPS-Elephant-Rhino-reportThe report, Illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn: an assessment to improve law enforcement, is a key step to achieving USAID's vision to adapt and deploy a range of development tools and interventions to significantly reduce illegal wildlife trafficking. The report was prepared by the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC in partnership with USAID. The assessment uses robust analysis to identify capacity gaps and key intervention points in countries combating wildlife trafficking.

[wildlife law] enforce­ment agen­cies, […] need to improve col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts in order to dis­rupt the crim­i­nal syn­di­cates involved in this illicit trade
« Nick Ahlers, leader of USAID Wildlife TRAPS Project

Seizure data indi­cate that “the fun­da­men­tal trade dynamic now lies between Africa and Asia,” accord­ing to the report. In China and Thai­land, ele­phant ivory is fash­ioned into jew­elry and carved into other dec­o­ra­tive items, while wealthy con­sumers in Viet­nam use rhino horn as a drug which they mis­tak­enly believe cure hang­overs and detox­ify the body.

Rhi­nos and ele­phants are under seri­ous poach­ing pres­sure through­out Africa, with even pre­vi­ously safe pop­u­la­tions col­laps­ing: Cen­tral Africa’s for­est ele­phants have been reduced by an esti­mated 76 per­cent over the past 12 years while in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, ele­phant num­bers have fallen from 70,000 in 2007 to only 13,000 by late 2013. A record 1004 rhi­nos were poached in 2013 in South Africa alone — a stark con­trast to the 13 ani­mals poached there in 2007 before the lat­est cri­sis began. Record quan­ti­ties of ivory were seized world­wide between 2011 and 2013, with an alarm­ing increase in the fre­quency of large-​scale ivory seizures (500 kg or more) since 2000. Pre­lim­i­nary data already show more large-​scale ivory seizures in 2013 than in the pre­vi­ous 25 years. Although incom­plete, 2013 raw data already rep­re­sent the great­est quan­tity of ivory in these seizures in more than 25 years.

Both rhino horn and ivory traf­fick­ing are believed to func­tion as Asian-​run, African-​based oper­a­tions, with the syn­di­cates increas­ingly rely­ing on sophis­ti­cated tech­nol­ogy to run their oper­a­tions. In order to dis­rupt and appre­hend the indi­vid­u­als behind them, the global response needs to be equally sophisticated.

There’s no sin­gle solu­tion to address­ing the poach­ing cri­sis in Africa, and while the crim­i­nals master-​minding and prof­it­ing from the traf­fick­ing have got­ten smarter, so too must enforce­ment agen­cies, who need to improve col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts in order to dis­rupt the crim­i­nal syn­di­cates involved in this illicit trade,” says Nick Ahlers, the leader of the Wildlife TRAPS Project.

Rhino horn is often smug­gled by air, using inter­na­tional air­ports as tran­sit points between source coun­tries in Africa and demand coun­tries in Asia. Since 2009, the major­ity of ivory ship­ments have involved African sea­ports, increas­ingly com­ing out of East Africa. As fewer than 5 per­cent of export con­tain­ers are exam­ined in sea­ports, wildlife law enforce­ment relies greatly on gath­er­ing and act­ing on intel­li­gence to detect ille­gal ivory shipments.

The report rec­om­mends fur­ther devel­op­ing coor­di­nated, spe­cial­ized intel­li­gence units to dis­rupt orga­nized crim­i­nal net­works by iden­ti­fy­ing key indi­vid­u­als and finan­cial flows and mak­ing more high level arrests. Also crit­i­cally impor­tant are improved train­ing, law enforce­ment tech­nol­ogy, and mon­i­tor­ing judi­ciary processes at key loca­tions in Africa and Asia.

(Source: USAID press release, 22.09.2014)

A new study led by the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS) reveals that in India’s human dom­i­nated agri­cul­tural land­scapes, where leop­ards prowl at night, it’s not live­stock that’s pri­mar­ily on the menu — it is man’s best friend.

Leopard and dog preyThe study — led by Vidya Athreya of WCS and the Nor­we­gian Insti­tute for Nature Research — is pub­lished in the Sep­tem­ber 11th issue of the jour­nal Oryx. A sum­mary of the paper writ­ten by the lead author can be found here. The researchers looked at scat sam­ples for leop­ards in India’s Ahmednagar’s dis­trict in Maha­rash­tra, found that 87 per­cent of their diet was made up of domes­tic ani­mals. Domes­tic dog dom­i­nated as the most com­mon prey item at 39 per­cent and domes­tic cats were sec­ond at 15 percent.

Sev­en­teen per­cent of the leopard’s diet con­sisted of assorted wild ani­mals includ­ing rodents, mon­keys, and mon­goose, and birds.

Live­stock, despite being more abun­dant, made up a rel­a­tively small por­tion of the leopard’s diet. Domes­tic goats, for exam­ple, are seven times more com­mon than dogs in this land­scape, yet only make up 11 per­cent of leopard’s prey. The author’s say this is because goats are less acces­si­ble and often brought into pens at night, while dogs are largely allowed to wan­der freely. Cows, sheep, and pigs were also eaten, but col­lec­tively made up less than 20 per­cent of leopard’s food. Most domes­tic cat­tle in this region are too large to be preyed on by leopards.

The author’s of the study say that the selec­tion of domes­tic dogs as prey means that the eco­nomic impact of pre­da­tion by leop­ards on valu­able live­stock is lower than expected. Thus, human-​leopard “con­flict” is more likely to be related to people’s fears of leop­ards for­ag­ing in the prox­im­ity of their houses and the sen­ti­men­tal value of dogs as pets.

Study co-​author Ullas Karanth, WCS Direc­tor for Science-​Asia, said: “Dur­ing the past two-​to-​three decades, legal reg­u­la­tion of leop­ard hunt­ing, increased con­ser­va­tion aware­ness, and the ris­ing num­bers of feral dogs as prey have all led to an increase in leop­ard num­bers out­side of nature reserves in agri­cul­tural land­scapes. While this is good news for con­ser­va­tion and a trib­ute to the social tol­er­ance of Indian peo­ple, it also poses major chal­lenges of man­ag­ing con­flict that occa­sion­ally breaks out. Only sound sci­ence can help us face this challenge.”

(Source: WCS press release, 11.09.2014)

Embracing 'novel' ecosystems is dangerous, according to a new study by an international team of scientists, including a University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville, professor.

Novel-ecosystemNovel ecosystems arise when human activities transform biological communities through species invasions and environmental change. They are seemingly ubiquitous, and thus many policymakers and ecologists argue for them to be accepted as the 'new normal' - an idea the researchers say is a bad one.

In the study, published in the September edition of the academic journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, the international team, lead by Caroline Murcia of the University of Florida, argues that adopting novel ecosystems is based on faulty, data-deficient assumptions and a catchy schematic figure, not on robust, empirically tested science.

"Novel ecosystems yield unintended and perverse outcomes, and the concept provides 'license to trash' or 'get-out-of-jail card' for companies seeking to fast-track environmental licenses or to avoid front-end investment in research and restoration," said Dan Simberloff, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor at UT Knoxville. "The concept may even provide incentives to governments to continue to ignore the long-term environmental and ecological negative impacts of business as usual with respect to sustainable development and natural resources management."

Murcia and her colleagues have written a damning indictment of those who think anything will do when it comes to healing the damage we have done to our natural world.
Stuart Pimm, Duke University, a conservation expert who was not involved in the study >>

The authors warn that the 'novel ecosystems' concept is not only an empty shell, it is also a real threat in terms of policy direction. It is tantamount to opening the floodgates to invasive species and abandoning ecosystems that have evolved historically over many millennia and the biodiverse communities they have created.

Instead, they call for applying the precautionary principles of conservation and restoration to re-establish or try to emulate the historical trajectories of our ecosystems, to allow restored systems to adapt to environmental changes while providing essential services to human populations.

The authors acknowledge barriers to restoration and conservation but note that they are sociological, political and economic, not ecological. Projects like the restoration of the jarrah forest near Perth and the sand dune plant communities of northern California demonstrate that with real determination and appropriate investment, restoration can work very effectively - even on utterly devastated landscapes.

Ecological restoration is making its way to the top of the agenda worldwide at the United Nations, the European Commission, development banks, the world's largest conservation organizations, and boardrooms of multinational resource corporations. Thirty years of research and development in the science of ecological restoration show it is possible to rehabilitate and restore degraded landscapes. Importantly, restoration makes scientific and political good sense as an investment whose benefits far outweigh its costs, write the authors.

(Source: UT Knoxville press release, 18.08.2014)

The Nat­ural His­tory Museum of Den­mark recently dis­cov­ered a unique gift from one of the greatest-​ever sci­en­tists. In 1854, Charles Dar­win — father of the the­ory of evo­lu­tion — sent a gift to his Dan­ish col­league Jape­tus Steen­strup, direc­tor of the Royal Museum of Nat­ural His­tory. Until very recently, no one at the museum knew that it pos­sessed a piece of sci­en­tific his­tory of this cal­i­bre. Just a few weeks ago, the head of exhi­bi­tions was study­ing the cor­re­spon­dence between Steen­strup and Dar­win as part of her search for objects to include in an upcom­ing exhi­bi­tion. She started to sus­pect a trea­sure lay hid­den some­where, and soon a hunt was launched among the museum’s 14 mil­lion objects.

At 1 Octo­ber the museum will open its biggest-​ever exhi­bi­tion, Pre­cious Things. Denmark’s new giant dinosaur “Misty” is the star of the show, but the exhi­bi­tion will also present a range of the very best objects from the museum’s vast col­lec­tion. Head of Exhi­bi­tions Hanne Strager has long been on the hunt for some­thing par­tic­u­larly spe­cial among the museum’s mil­lions of items.

We knew about the rela­tion­ship between Steen­strup and Darwin.
Hanne Strager, Head of Exhi­bi­tions at the Nat­ural His­tory Museum, Denmark »

They cor­re­sponded with each other, and we know that Steen­strup lent Dar­win cir­ri­pedes — a fam­ily of small crus­taceans. We dreamed that one day we would find an object that Dar­win had bor­rowed from Steen­strup, which had then been returned to Copen­hagen — some­thing that we could say Dar­win had stud­ied per­son­ally. But we found some­thing much bet­ter,” Strager explains.

77 species in a box

Darwins gift steenstrupDar­win not only returned the bar­na­cles, he also sent a box of 77 other care­fully selected species of cir­ri­pedes to Steen­strup by way of thanks. Hanne Strager found this out by chance while study­ing their cor­re­spon­dence. In his let­ter, Dar­win described a list of the 77 species, but accord­ing to the Dar­win Cor­re­spon­dence Project the list of the 77 species has not been located.

We thought that there was a pos­si­bil­ity that the list was among Steenstrup’s papers in our archives — and there it was! It was just a plain hand writ­ten list with num­bers and sci­en­tific names, and had we not read the let­ter, we would never had known what it was. The text was very dif­fi­cult to deci­pher, and it took a while to tran­scribe the list, but then things really took off. Very soon, we had found most of the spec­i­mens,” Strager says.

Some­thing quite unique

The chance to exhibit a per­sonal gift from one of the world’s great­est sci­en­tists is some­thing quite unique. This is an exhibit with a per­sonal link to the man behind what is per­haps biology’s great­est break­through: the the­ory of evo­lu­tion. Not that it was per­ceived that way in the days when Steen­strup received his gift.

Dar­win sent it before On the Ori­gin of Species was pub­lished, so before the the­ory of evo­lu­tion was on everyone’s lips. Instead of keep­ing the 77 spec­i­mens in one place, they were divided into sci­en­tific cat­e­gories and spread around the museum’s col­lec­tions. It made per­fect sense at the time, although in ret­ro­spect we might see it dif­fer­ently,” Strager continues.

She promises that Darwin’s gift will be promi­nently dis­played when the new exhi­bi­tion opens on 1 October.

Not all there

Not all of the 77 species were found. Some of the spec­i­mens from a par­tic­u­lar genus are miss­ing. We can only guess that they were bor­rowed at some point in the last 160 years, but no one knows why or when.

Maybe researchers work­ing on the spec­i­mens just didn’t return them. And there is a very good chance that they were com­pletely unaware that what they were work­ing on was a gift from Dar­win,” Strager says.

(Source: Nat­ural His­tory Museum of Den­mark news, 29.08.2014)

A recently released report revealed the remark­able come­back of 37 species of widlife in Europe over the past 50 years. Among oth­ers the Eurasian Beaver, Euro­pean Bison and White-​tailed Eagle are high­lighted as ‘come­back’ species.

European bisonSci­en­tists from the Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don (ZSL), BirdLife Inter­na­tional and the Euro­pean Bird Cen­sus Coun­cil (EBCC) worked with species experts from across Europe in this first ever in-​depth study, and gath­ered rel­e­vant data about the dis­tri­b­u­tion and abun­dance of selected species. The result­ing report, Wildlife Come­back in Europe, describes not only the increase of the pop­u­la­tion size of 37 mam­mal and bird species but even shows that some species have reclaimed their for­mer Euro­pean territory.

An Eurasian beaver in nature:

(Credit: Rewil­d­ing Europe)

I firmly believe that smart invest­ments in nature cre­ate huge eco­nomic oppor­tu­ni­ties and I will con­tinue to work vig­or­ously in Brus­sels to turn the rewil­d­ing of Europe into reality.
Mr Gerben-​Jan Ger­brandy, Mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and Rap­por­teur for Biodiversity »

Ger­brandy offi­cially received a copy of the report dur­ing an event at the Lon­don Zoo on 26 Sep­tem­ber. He referred to the amaz­ing resilience of nature and the impor­tance of EU pol­icy. The Birds and Habi­tats Direc­tives, the Natura 2000 net­work of pro­tected areas and the Water Frame­work Direc­tive are cred­ited for sup­port­ing this come­back of wildlife in Europe.

Nev­er­the­less, despite the return of an impres­sive num­ber of Euro­pean mam­mals and birds, the Euro­pean bio­log­i­cal diver­sity is still los­ing grounds. The large his­tor­i­cal species’ num­bers decline should be taken into account when con­sid­er­ing the rel­e­vance of the report out­come. Many species that suf­fered a decline in dis­tri­b­u­tion and abun­dance since the mid-​20th cen­tury, such as Eurasian lynx, grey wolf and red kite, have not yet reached the level nec­es­sary to secure sus­tain­able populations.

But this report shows that there is still this glim­mer of hope for nature. When suf­fi­cient resources and appro­pri­ate efforts are effec­tively orches­trated with con­certed con­ser­va­tion actions, it can lead to a wildlife come­back in Europe, even from the brink of extinc­tion. An excel­lent exam­ple is the Euro­pean bison, the largest her­bi­vore in Europe. It went extinct in the wild in the early 20th cen­tury due to severe hunt­ing pres­sure and habi­tat loss. After a large-​scale breed­ing and rein­tro­duc­tion pro­gramme sup­ported by zoo­log­i­cal gar­dens, and based on the 13 breed­ing indi­vid­u­als remain­ing in cap­tiv­ity, wild pop­u­la­tions have been re-​established in areas of cen­tral and east­ern Europe, with a strong­hold in Poland and Belarus.

Short inter­view with Frans Schep­ers, Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Rewil­d­ing Europe:

(Credit: Rewil­d­ing Europe)

The ‘Wildlife Come­back in Europe’ report was com­mis­sioned by Rewil­d­ing Europe, an organ­i­sa­tion founded in 2011 and work­ing to “Make Europe a Wilder place”, with wildlife, wild nature, nat­ural processes and the “Busi­ness case for the Wild” as some of its key ele­ments. The work was funded by valu­able grants from the Swedish Post­code Lot­ter­ies, the Lib­erty Wildlife Fund and ARK Nature. The work was exe­cuted by researchers from the Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don, BirdLife Inter­na­tional, the Euro­pean Bird Cen­sus Coun­cil and many more.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Rewil­d­ing Europe and BirdLife Inter­na­tional. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.
(Source: Rewil­d­ing Europe news, 26.09.2013; BirdLife Inter­na­tional news, 27.09.2013)

Species liv­ing in rain­for­est frag­ments could be far more likely to dis­ap­pear than was pre­vi­ously assumed, says an inter­na­tional team of scientists.

Island in Khlong Saeng Valley, Chiew Larn ReservoirIn a study span­ning two decades and pub­lished on 27 Sep­tem­ber in the jour­nal Sci­ence, the researchers wit­nessed the near-​complete extinc­tion of native small mam­mals on for­est islands cre­ated by a large hydro­elec­tric reser­voir in Thailand.

It was like eco­log­i­cal Armaged­don. Nobody imag­ined we’d see such cat­a­strophic local extinctions.
Luke Gib­son, lead author, National Uni­ver­sity of Singapore »

The study is con­sid­ered impor­tant because forests around the world are being rapidly felled and chopped up into small island-​like frag­ments. “It’s vital that we under­stand what hap­pens to species in for­est frag­ments,” said Antony Lynam of the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS). “The fate of much of the world’s bio­di­ver­sity is going to depend on it.”

The study was moti­vated by a desire to under­stand how long species can live in for­est frag­ments. If they per­sist for many decades, then this gives con­ser­va­tion­ists a win­dow of time to cre­ate wildlife cor­ri­dors or restore sur­round­ing forests to reduce the harm­ful effects of for­est iso­la­tion. How­ever, the researchers saw native small mam­mals van­ish with alarm­ing speed, with just a hand­ful remain­ing — on aver­age, less than one indi­vid­ual per island — after 25 years.

“There seemed to be two cul­prits,” said William Lau­rance of James Cook Uni­ver­sity in Aus­tralia. “Native mam­mals suf­fered the harm­ful effects of pop­u­la­tion iso­la­tion, and they also had to deal with a dev­as­tat­ing invader — the Malayan field rat.” In just a few years, the invad­ing rat grew so abun­dant on the islands that it vir­tu­ally dis­placed all native small mam­mals. The field rat nor­mally favours vil­lages and agri­cul­tural lands, but will also invade dis­turbed forests.

“This tells us that the dou­ble whammy of habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion and invad­ing species can be fatal for native wildlife,” said Lynam. “And that’s fright­en­ing because invaders are increas­ing in dis­turbed and frag­mented habi­tats around the world.”

“The bot­tom line is that we must con­serve large, intact habi­tats for nature,” said Gib­son. “That’s the only way we can ensure bio­di­ver­sity will survive.”

Read also The New York Times’ arti­cle by Carl Zim­mer, here.

(Source: WCS press release, 26.09.2013)

Hab­it­able con­di­tions on Earth will be pos­si­ble for at least another 1.75 bil­lion years — accord­ing to astro­bi­ol­o­gists at the Uni­ver­sity of East Anglia (UEA).

Find­ings pub­lished on 19 Sep­tem­ber in the jour­nal Astro­bi­ol­ogyreveal the hab­it­able life­time of planet Earth — based on our dis­tance from the sun and tem­per­a­tures at which it is pos­si­ble for the planet to have liq­uid water.

Planet earth NASAThe research team, led by Andrew Rushby from UEA’s school of Envi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences, looked to the stars for inspi­ra­tion. Using recently dis­cov­ered plan­ets out­side our solar sys­tem (exo­plan­ets) as exam­ples, they inves­ti­gated the poten­tial for these plan­ets to host life. Rushby said: “We used the ‘hab­it­able zone’ con­cept to make these esti­mates — this is the dis­tance from a planet’s star at which tem­per­a­tures are con­ducive to hav­ing liq­uid water on the surface.”

“We used stel­lar evo­lu­tion mod­els to esti­mate the end of a planet’s hab­it­able life­time by deter­min­ing when it will no longer be in the hab­it­able zone. We esti­mate that Earth will cease to be hab­it­able some­where between 1.75 and 3.25 bil­lion years from now. After this point, Earth will be in the ‘hot zone’ of the sun, with tem­per­a­tures so high that the seas would evap­o­rate. We would see a cat­a­strophic and ter­mi­nal extinc­tion event for all life.”

Of course con­di­tions for humans and other com­plex life will become impos­si­ble much sooner — and this is being accel­er­ated by anthro­pogenic cli­mate change. Humans would be in trou­ble with even a small increase in tem­per­a­ture, and near the end only microbes in niche envi­ron­ments would be able to endure the heat.

“Look­ing back a sim­i­lar amount of time, we know that there was cel­lu­lar life on earth. We had insects 400 mil­lion years ago, dinosaurs 300 mil­lion years ago and flow­er­ing plants 130 mil­lion years ago. Anatom­i­cally mod­ern humans have only been around for the last 200,000 years — so you can see it takes a really long time for intel­li­gent life to develop.”

“The amount of hab­it­able time on a planet is very impor­tant because it tells us about the poten­tial for the evo­lu­tion of com­plex life — which is likely to require a longer period of hab­it­able conditions.”

“Look­ing at hab­it­abil­ity met­rics is use­ful because it allows us to inves­ti­gate the poten­tial for other plan­ets to host life, and under­stand the stage that life may be at else­where in the galaxy.”

“Of course, much of evo­lu­tion is down to luck, so this isn’t con­crete, but we know that com­plex, intel­li­gent species like humans could not emerge after only a few mil­lion years because it took us 75 per cent of the entire hab­it­able life­time of this planet to evolve. We think it will prob­a­bly be a sim­i­lar story elsewhere.”

Almost 1,000 plan­ets out­side our solar sys­tem have been iden­ti­fied by astronomers. The research team looked at some of these as exam­ples, and stud­ied the evolv­ing nature of plan­e­tary hab­it­abil­ity over astro­nom­i­cal and geo­log­i­cal time.

“Inter­est­ingly, not many other pre­dic­tions based on the hab­it­able zone alone were avail­able, which is why we decided to work on a method for this. Other sci­en­tists have used com­plex mod­els to make esti­mates for the Earth alone, but these are not suit­able for apply­ing to other plan­ets. We com­pared Earth to eight plan­ets which are cur­rently in their hab­it­able phase, includ­ing Mars. We found that plan­ets orbit­ing smaller mass stars tend to have longer hab­it­able zone lifetimes.”

“One of the plan­ets that we applied our model to is Kepler 22b, which has a hab­it­able life­time of 4.3 to 6.1 bil­lion years. Even more sur­pris­ing is Gliese 581d which has a mas­sive hab­it­able life­time of between 42.4 to 54.7 bil­lion years. This planet may be warm and pleas­ant for 10 times the entire time that our solar sys­tem has existed!”

“To date, no true Earth ana­logue planet has been detected. But it is pos­si­ble that there will be a hab­it­able, Earth-​like planet within 10 light-​years, which is very close in astro­nom­i­cal terms. How­ever reach­ing it would take hun­dreds of thou­sands of years with our cur­rent technology.”

“If we ever needed to move to another planet, Mars is prob­a­bly our best bet. It’s very close and will remain in the hab­it­able zone until the end of the Sun’s life­time — six bil­lion years from now.”

(Source: UEA press release, 19.09.2013)

Using data from the world’s ecosys­tems and pre­dic­tions of how cli­mate change will impact them, sci­en­tists from the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS), the Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land, and Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity have pro­duced a roadmap that iden­ti­fies the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble and least vul­ner­a­ble areas in the Age of Cli­mate Change.

climate worldmap newThe authors say the vul­ner­a­bil­ity map will help gov­ern­ments, envi­ron­men­tal agen­cies, and donors iden­tify areas where to best invest in pro­tected area estab­lish­ment, restora­tion efforts, and other con­ser­va­tion activ­i­ties so as to have the biggest return on invest­ment in sav­ing ecosys­tems and the ser­vices they pro­vide to wildlife and peo­ple alike.

The study appeared online on 15 Sep­tem­ber in the jour­nal Nature Cli­mate Change. The authors include: Dr James Wat­son of the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety and the Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land; Dr Takuya Iwa­mura of Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity; and Nathalie Butt of the Uni­ver­sity of Queensland.

The analy­sis and map in this study is a means of bring­ing clar­ity to com­pli­cated deci­sions on where lim­ited resources will do the most good
Dr. James Wat­son, lead author, Direc­tor of WCS’s Cli­mate Change Program »

“We need to realise that cli­mate change is going to impact ecosys­tems both directly and indi­rectly in a vari­ety of ways and we can’t keep on assum­ing that all adap­ta­tion actions are suit­able every­where. The fact is there is only lim­ited funds out there and we need to start to be clever in our invest­ments in adap­ta­tion strate­gies around the world,” Wat­son said.

The researchers argue that almost all cli­mate change assess­ments to date are incom­plete in that they assess how future cli­mate change is going to impact land­scapes and seascapes, with­out con­sid­er­ing the fact that most of these land­scapes are mod­i­fied by human activ­i­ties in dif­fer­ent ways, mak­ing them more or less sus­cep­ti­ble to cli­mate change.

A vul­ner­a­bil­ity map pro­duced in the study exam­ines the rela­tion­ship of two met­rics: how intact an ecosys­tem is, and how sta­ble the ecosys­tem is going to be under pre­dic­tions of future cli­mate change. The analy­sis cre­ates a rat­ing sys­tem with four gen­eral cat­e­gories for the world’s ter­res­trial regions,with man­age­ment rec­om­men­da­tions deter­mined by the com­bi­na­tion of factors.

Ecosys­tems with highly intact veg­e­ta­tion and high rel­a­tive cli­mate stability,for instance, are the best loca­tions for future pro­tected areas, as these have the best chance of retain­ing species. In con­trast, ecosys­tems with low lev­els of veg­e­ta­tion and high rel­a­tive cli­mate sta­bil­ity could merit efforts at habi­tat restora­tion. Ecosys­tems with low lev­els of veg­e­ta­tion intact­ness and low cli­mate sta­bil­ity would be most at risk and would require sig­nif­i­cant lev­els of invest­ment to achieve con­ser­va­tion outcomes.

The new map, the authors say, iden­ti­fies south­ern and south­east­ern Asia,western and cen­tral Europe, east­ern South Amer­ica, and south­ern Aus­tralia as some of the most vul­ner­a­ble regions. The analy­sis dif­fers from pre­vi­ous cli­mate change expo­sure assess­ments based on only cli­mate change expo­sure which shows the most vul­ner­a­ble regions as cen­tral Africa, north­ern South Amer­ica, and north­ern Australia.

“Effec­tive con­ser­va­tion strate­gies must antic­i­pate not only how species and habi­tats will cope with future cli­mate change, but how humans will respond to these chal­lenges,” added Dr. John Robin­son, Exec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent for Con­ser­va­tion and Sci­ence. “To that end, main­tain­ing the integrity of the world’s ecosys­tems will be the most impor­tant means of safe­guard­ing the nat­ural world and our own future.”

(Source: WCS press release, 16.09.2013)

The Detroit Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety (DZS) today announced the inten­tion of the Polk Fam­ily Fund to grant 10 mil­lion US dol­lars towards the devel­op­ment of The Polk Fam­ily Pen­guin Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter. The grant will be the largest dona­tion in the his­tory of the Detroit Zoo. The Pen­guin Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter has been in the plan­ning and design phase for two years and rep­re­sents the largest project the Detroit Zoo has ever undertaken.

Detroit Zoo - Polk Family Penguin Conservation CenterOne of the most dra­matic fea­tures of the 21 mil­lion US dol­lars, 24,000-square-foot facil­ity will be a pen­guin “deep dive” with views above and below water as the birds dive and soar through a chilled 310,000-gallon, 25-​foot-​deep aquatic area. That fea­ture, deeper and larger than the pool at the Zoo’s Arc­tic Ring of Life, will allow vis­i­tors to see pen­guins deep-​water dive — some­thing that can­not be seen any­where else, even in nature.

This project [The Polk Fam­ily Pen­guin Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter] and the Polk’s gen­er­ous sup­port will be truly trans­for­ma­tional for the Zoo and for our community
Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety exec­u­tive direc­tor and CEO »

“We are thrilled to be able to move for­ward with our plans for an amaz­ing place for pen­guins that is cen­tered on con­ser­va­tion and will be an extra­or­di­nary and unique expe­ri­ence for our guests,” Kagan said. Con­struc­tion of the facil­ity — on a 0.8-hectare site near the Zoo’s entrance — will com­mence in March next year and it is expected to open in late 2015, but Kagan said the zoo still needs to raise 8 mil­lion US dol­lars to reach the 21 mil­lion total.

The Pen­guin Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter will be home to 80 pen­guins of four species: rock­hop­per, mac­a­roni and king — which cur­rently reside in the Detroit Zoo’s orig­i­nal Pen­guinar­ium (the first facil­ity in North Amer­ica designed specif­i­cally for pen­guins [1968]) — as well as gen­too, a species which will be new to the Zoo. The habi­tat will ensure an opti­mal envi­ron­ment for the pen­guins’ wel­fare and encour­age wild behav­iour, from div­ing and por­pois­ing to nest­ing and rear­ing young.

“The Detroit Zoo has a rep­u­ta­tion for cre­at­ing world-​class facil­i­ties that pro­vide the best envi­ron­ment for ani­mal con­ser­va­tion and wel­fare and an edu­ca­tional and excit­ing expe­ri­ence for vis­i­tors. Our fam­ily is hon­oured to sup­port this excit­ing and impor­tant con­ser­va­tion cen­tre,” said Stephen R. Polk, for­mer chair­man, pres­i­dent and CEO of the R. L. Polk Com­pany and vice chair of the DZS board, who trav­elled with Kagan to Antarc­tica in early 2013.

Inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s leg­endary Antarc­tic expe­di­tions as well as the epic cross­ings of Drake’s Pas­sage, the facil­ity will fea­ture 4-​D effects such as arc­tic blasts, rough waves and snow, and include other phys­i­cal ele­ments such as ice crevasses. The building’s exte­rior is a dra­matic design evok­ing a tab­u­lar iceberg.

“The design of this unique facil­ity has been informed and inspired by the harsh and vis­ceral ice world of Antarc­tica. The end result will be an extra­or­di­nary and authen­tic polar expe­ri­ence,” said world-​renowned polar ecol­o­gist and pen­guin expert Dr. Bill Fraser, who served as a design con­sul­tant on the project.

The entry plaza will include a water fea­ture that will be a splash area in the sum­mer and a skat­ing rink in winter.

The Pen­guin Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter was designed by Jones & Jones, archi­tects of Disney’s Ani­mal King­dom as well as the Detroit Zoo’s Arc­tic Ring of Life and National Amphib­ian Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter, and by Albert Kahn Asso­ciates, archi­tects of the Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Ani­mal Health Complex.

More than 100 design, engi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion jobs will be cre­ated and sus­tained for the esti­mated two-​year con­struc­tion period, and the facil­ity will add sev­eral full-​time employ­ees to the DZS staff. With an asso­ci­ated annual increase of 100,000 vis­i­tors, the new attrac­tion is expected to have an eco­nomic impact of more than 3 mil­lion US dol­lars per year.

Unfor­tu­nately, besides the good news there’s still the Detroit City bank­ruptcy that Zoo’s man­age­ment has to worry about:

With the City of Detroit in Chap­ter 9 bank­ruptcy, many are won­der­ing what affect it might have on the Detroit Zoo. We don’t know and are reluc­tant to spec­u­late, but DZS lead­er­ship has been actively engaged in dis­cus­sions regard­ing the poten­tial impact of the City bank­ruptcy on the Zoo for sev­eral months.
While the City owns the land and assets, our ani­mals fun­da­men­tally have no com­mer­cial value in the mod­ern era of zoos. So, the pri­mary asset is really the land. The facil­ity has obvi­ously been devel­oped as a zoo and would require major expense for other use. In a sense, the Zoo is price­less to the ani­mals that live here and the com­mu­nity that comes here. As any­thing else, the cost of clos­ing, clear­ing and build­ing some­thing else would not likely be finan­cially fea­si­ble.
You’ll recall we went through great uncer­tainty seven years ago when we tran­si­tioned gov­er­nance and man­age­ment from the City to the DZS. It ulti­mately resulted in strong regional coop­er­a­tion and com­mu­nity invest­ment.
While the City con­tin­ues on this chal­leng­ing jour­ney, we will con­tinue to do what we do best — Cel­e­brat­ing and Sav­ing Wildlife while pro­vid­ing the com­mu­nity with great expe­ri­ences and new mem­o­ries. We have oblig­a­tions to all we serve and we intend to con­tinue to meet those obligations.(Detroit Zoo web­site notice)

(Source: Detroit Zoo press release, 18.09.2013; Huff Post Green, 19.09.2013)

Pre­vi­ously believed to be only man-​made, a nat­ural exam­ple of a func­tion­ing gear mech­a­nism has been dis­cov­ered in a com­mon insect — show­ing that evo­lu­tion devel­oped inter­lock­ing cogs long before we did.

Issus coleoptratus nymphThe juve­nile Issus (coleop­tra­tus) - a plant-​hopping insect found in gar­dens across Europe — has hind-​leg joints with curved cog-​like strips of oppos­ing ‘teeth’ that inter­mesh, rotat­ing like mechan­i­cal gears to syn­chro­nise the animal’s legs when it launches into a jump.

The find­ing demon­strates that gear mech­a­nisms pre­vi­ously thought to be solely man-​made have an evo­lu­tion­ary prece­dent. Sci­en­tists say this is the “first obser­va­tion of mechan­i­cal gear­ing in a bio­log­i­cal structure”.

Through a com­bi­na­tion of anatom­i­cal analy­sis and high-​speed video cap­ture of nor­mal Issus move­ments, sci­en­tists from the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge have been able to reveal these func­tion­ing nat­ural gears for the first time. The find­ings are reported in the Sep­tem­ber 13 issue of the jour­nal Sci­ence.

Issus GearsThe gears in the Issus hind-​leg bear remark­able engi­neer­ing resem­blance to those found on every bicy­cle and inside every car gear-​box. Each gear tooth has a rounded cor­ner at the point it con­nects to the gear strip; a fea­ture iden­ti­cal to man-​made gears such as bike gears — essen­tially a shock-​absorbing mech­a­nism to stop teeth from shear­ing off.

The gear teeth on the oppos­ing hind-​legs lock together like those in a car gear-​box, ensur­ing almost com­plete syn­chronic­ity in leg move­ment — the legs always move within 30 ‘microsec­onds’ of each other, with one microsec­ond equal to a mil­lionth of a sec­ond. This is crit­i­cal for the pow­er­ful jumps that are this insect’s pri­mary mode of trans­port, as even minis­cule dis­crep­an­cies in syn­chro­ni­sa­tion between the veloc­i­ties of its legs at the point of propul­sion would result in “yaw rota­tion” — caus­ing the Issus to spin hope­lessly out of control.

In Issus, the skele­ton is used to solve a com­plex prob­lem that the brain and ner­vous sys­tem can’t
Mal­colm Bur­rows, Depart­ment of Zool­ogy, Cam­bridge University »

“This pre­cise syn­chro­ni­sa­tion would be impos­si­ble to achieve through a ner­vous sys­tem, as neural impulses would take far too long for the extra­or­di­nar­ily tight coor­di­na­tion required,” said lead author Pro­fes­sor Mal­colm Bur­rows. By devel­op­ing mechan­i­cal gears, the Issus can just send nerve sig­nals to its mus­cles to pro­duce roughly the same amount of force — then if one leg starts to pro­pel the jump the gears will inter­lock, cre­at­ing absolute synchronicity.”

“In Issus, the skele­ton is used to solve a com­plex prob­lem that the brain and ner­vous sys­tem can’t,” said Bur­rows. “This empha­sises the impor­tance of con­sid­er­ing the prop­er­ties of the skele­ton in how move­ment is produced.”

“We usu­ally think of gears as some­thing that we see in human designed machin­ery, but we’ve found that that is only because we didn’t look hard enough,” added co-​author Gre­gory Sut­ton, now at the Uni­ver­sity of Bris­tol. “These gears are not designed; they are evolved — rep­re­sent­ing high speed and pre­ci­sion machin­ery evolved for syn­chro­ni­sa­tion in the ani­mal world.”

Issus gear-jumping

Inter­est­ingly, the mech­a­nis­tic gears are only found in the insect’s juve­nile — or ‘nymph’ — stages, and are lost in the final tran­si­tion to adult­hood. These tran­si­tions, called ‘molts’, are when ani­mals cast off rigid skin at key points in their devel­op­ment in order to grow.

It’s not yet known why the Issus loses its hind-​leg gears on reach­ing adult­hood. The sci­en­tists point out that a prob­lem with any gear sys­tem is that if one tooth on the gear breaks, the effec­tive­ness of the whole mech­a­nism is dam­aged. While gear-​teeth break­age in nymphs could be repaired in the next molt, any dam­age in adult­hood remains per­ma­nent. It may also be down to the larger size of adults and con­se­quently their ‘trochantera’ — the insect equiv­a­lent of the femur or thigh bones. The big­ger adult trochantera might allow them to cre­ate enough fric­tion to power the enor­mous leaps from leaf to leaf with­out the need for inter­mesh­ing gear teeth to drive it, say the scientists.

Each gear strip in the juve­nile Issus was around 400 microme­tres long and had between 10 to 12 teeth, with both sides of the gear in each leg con­tain­ing the same num­ber — giv­ing a gear­ing ratio of 1:1. Unlike man-​made gears, each gear tooth is asym­met­ri­cal and curved towards the point where the cogs inter­lock — as man-​made gears need a sym­met­ric shape to work in both rota­tional direc­tions, whereas the Issus gears are only pow­er­ing one way to launch the ani­mal forward.

While there are exam­ples of appar­ently orna­men­tal cogs in the ani­mal king­dom — such as on the shell of the cog wheel tur­tle or the back of the wheel bug — gears with a func­tional role either remain elu­sive or have been ren­dered defunct by evolution.

The Issus is the first exam­ple of a nat­ural cog mech­a­nism with an observ­able func­tion, say the scientists.

Lis­ten to Pro­fes­sor Mal­colm Bur­rows when he talks about find­ing the bugs that led to the sci­ence, and work­ing with artists Eliz­a­beth Hobbs and Emily Tracy and mem­bers of the com­mu­nity in the Lon­don bor­ough of Hack­ney to pro­duce the film ‘Water­folk’. Be sure to watch the video until the end where some footage is pre­sented of ‘Waterfolk’:

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.
(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge research news, 12.09.2013)

Cal­i­for­nia sea otter num­bers are up, accord­ing to the lat­est pop­u­la­tion sur­vey led by fed­eral, state and uni­ver­sity sci­en­tists. The rea­sons: more pups — and the addi­tion of San Nico­las Island sea otters to the pop­u­la­tion count.

montereybayaquarium8Since the 1980s, U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey (USGS) sci­en­tists have cal­cu­lated an aver­aged pop­u­la­tion index each year for the South­ern sea otter — Enhy­dra lutris nereis — a fed­er­ally listed threat­ened species found in Cal­i­for­nia. For the 2013 report, USGS lists the pop­u­la­tion index as 2,941 (data online). For south­ern sea otters to be con­sid­ered for removal from threat­ened species list­ing, the pop­u­la­tion index would have to exceed 3,090 for three con­sec­u­tive years, accord­ing to the thresh­old estab­lished under the South­ern Sea Otter Recov­ery Plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

opu­la­tion growth in cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia has fal­tered recently, so the fact that we’re see­ing a slightly pos­i­tive trend is a basis for cau­tious optimism
Tim Tin­ker, biol­o­gist, USGS West­ern Eco­log­i­cal Research Center »

Tin­ker, who super­vises the annual sur­vey, added, “Cer­tainly, sea otters have made an impres­sive recov­ery in Cal­i­for­nia since their redis­cov­ery here in the 1930s. But as their num­bers expand along California’s coast, they are fac­ing dif­fer­ent ‘grow­ing pains’ in dif­fer­ent locales. Our research part­ner­ship is inves­ti­gat­ing the fac­tors respon­si­ble for these local trends.”

Researchers from the USGS, Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Pre­ven­tion and Response, Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium, Uni­ver­sity of California-​Santa Cruz and other insti­tu­tions col­lab­o­rate annu­ally to con­duct the sea otter sur­vey. The pop­u­la­tion index reported to USFWS is cal­cu­lated as mul­ti­ple year aver­ages of raw data from annual sur­veys, to com­pen­sate for year-​to-​year vari­abil­ity in obser­va­tion con­di­tions, and to give sci­en­tists a more reli­able pic­ture of sea otter abun­dance trends.

“We counted a record num­ber of pups this year, which led to the uptick in the 3-​year aver­age,” says USGS biol­o­gist Brian Hat­field, coor­di­na­tor of the annual sur­vey, “A high pup count is always encour­ag­ing, although the num­ber of adult otters counted along the main­land was almost iden­ti­cal to last year’s count, so we’ll have to wait and see if the pos­i­tive trend continues.”

There is a sec­ond rea­son for the higher pop­u­la­tion index reported this year. In 2013, the equa­tion for this pop­u­la­tion index was amended to add sea otters liv­ing at San Nico­las Island. One-​hundred-​and-​forty sea otters were intro­duced to the island in the 1980s as part of a USFWS recov­ery exper­i­ment, but most of them returned to the main­land, died, or sim­ply dis­ap­peared. USFWS com­pleted an exten­sive review of the translo­ca­tion pro­gram in Decem­ber 2012, result­ing in ter­mi­na­tion of the pro­gram. As a con­se­quence, sea otters at San Nico­las Island are no longer con­sid­ered to be an “exper­i­men­tal” pop­u­la­tion and will now be included as part of the California-​wide pop­u­la­tion index for south­ern sea otter recov­ery. The pop­u­la­tion at the island is now at 59 individuals.

Statewide Trends and Local Questions

USGS sci­en­tists also annu­ally update a data­base of sea otter strand­ings — the num­ber of dead, sick or injured sea otters recov­ered along California’s coast each year. In 2012, sci­en­tists from CDFW, USGS, Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium and other insti­tu­tions came across a total of 368 stranded sea otters.

This strand­ing num­ber only accounts for sea otters that peo­ple find, and past research indi­cates that pos­si­bly less than 50% of sea otters that die in the wild end up on the beach. But efforts are made to exam­ine each reported sea otter car­cass, and a sub­set of fresh car­casses are sent to the CDFW Marine Wildlife Vet­eri­nary Care and Research Cen­ter, where sci­en­tists con­duct necrop­sies to deter­mine the pri­mary causes of death and iden­tify fac­tors that may have con­tributed to the death of each animal.

Data from both liv­ing and deceased sea otters con­tin­ues to shed light on sea otter pop­u­la­tion ecol­ogy in dif­fer­ent parts of the Cal­i­for­nia coast. For exam­ple, a high pro­por­tion of sea otter car­casses recov­ered between Cayu­cos and Pismo Beach in recent years have white shark bite wounds, a poten­tial expla­na­tion for the down­ward trend in sea otter num­bers in that area. In Elkhorn Slough, a new study sug­gests that sea otter appetites for crabs can improve the health of sea­grass beds. And at the south­ern end of their main­land range, researchers are observ­ing sea otter feed­ing and move­ment behav­iour to under­stand their slow south­ward expansion.

“Over­all trends are impor­tant, but they can mask prob­lems that may be affect­ing only a por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion,” says Lil­ian Car­swell, South­ern Sea Otter Recov­ery Coor­di­na­tor for USFWS. “These regional research projects help us under­stand the effects of local influ­ences, whether human-​caused or nat­ural, and inform the over­all south­ern sea otter recov­ery strategy.”

Sea Otter B-​roll, var­i­ous video footage (date: 30.06.2008) of sea otter researchers, sea otters in their habi­tat, and scenery in Cal­li­for­nia — USA:

Credit: U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey; video pub­lished in the pub­lic domain.

Sur­vey Methodology

  • The annual pop­u­la­tion index is cal­cu­lated from visual sur­veys con­ducted along the Cal­i­for­nia coast­line by researchers, stu­dents and vol­un­teers from USGS, CDFW’s Office of Spill Pre­ven­tion and Response, Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium, UC Santa Cruz, USFWS, U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Man­age­ment, and Santa Bar­bara Zoo.

  • Sur­veys are con­ducted via tele­scope obser­va­tions from shore and via low-​flying air­craft, typ­i­cally from April through June. This year, the sur­veyed coast­line spanned Point San Pedro in San Mateo County, south to Rin­con Point near the Santa Barbara/​Ventura County line, and also included San Nico­las Island.

  • The annual sur­vey was inter­rupted in 2011, when weather con­di­tions pre­vented the main­land survey’s completion.

Sea Otter Facts
Sea otters were pre­sumed extinct in Cal­i­for­nia after the fur trade years, but were redis­cov­ered in the 1930’s by the pub­lic, when as few as 50 ani­mals were doc­u­mented per­sist­ing in nearshore areas off the coast of Big Sur.

- Sea otters are con­sid­ered a key­stone species of the kelp ecosys­tem because they prey on her­biv­o­rous inver­te­brates that, if left unchecked, can dec­i­mate kelp beds and the fish habi­tat they pro­vide.
- Sci­en­tists also study sea otters as an indi­ca­tor of nearshore ecosys­tem health, since sea otters feed and live near the coast and often are the first preda­tors exposed to pol­lu­tants and pathogens washed down from coast­lands, such as the micro­bial toxin microcystin.

(Source: USGS news release, 12.09.2013)

A ground-​breaking study announced 10 Sep­tem­ber revealed that analysing the daily lives of zoo ele­phants — rang­ing from when and how they are fed to how they spend their time both at night and dur­ing the day — pro­vides new, sci­en­tif­i­cally based infor­ma­tion that zoos can use to improve the wel­fare of their ele­phants. “Using Sci­ence to Under­stand­ing Zoo Ele­phant Wel­fare” is the largest and most com­pre­hen­sive, multi-​institution study ever con­ducted to col­lect and assess data on the wel­fare of any species in North Amer­i­can zoos.

African elephant atlantaRep­re­sen­ta­tives of the 27-​member study team, which includes inde­pen­dent con­sul­tants, zoo pro­fes­sion­als and fac­ulty from three uni­ver­si­ties, pre­sented results from the three-​year, inde­pen­dent study on 10 Sep­tem­ber at the national Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquar­i­ums (AZA) annual meet­ing attended by zoo pro­fes­sion­als from through­out North Amer­ica. The study team mem­bers and dozens of research assis­tants from widely var­ied dis­ci­plines devel­oped quan­ti­ta­tive mea­sures to assess ele­phant wel­fare indi­ca­tors. A sam­ple of the vol­umes of data col­lected included: 110,000 pages of med­ical records, 2,700 hours of video, 6,135 serum sam­ples, 7.8 mil­lion GPS data points and 6,571 fecal sam­ples col­lected from 40,000 pounds of ele­phant dung.

We are proud to have devel­oped a suc­cess­ful research model that can poten­tially be applied glob­ally to the assess­ment of zoo ani­mal wel­fare across species
Cheryl Mee­han, Ph.D., the study’s con­sult­ing project manager »

“Pre­vi­ous to this study, there had not been a large-​scale, sci­en­tific assess­ment of zoo ele­phant wel­fare in the North Amer­ica. Although ele­phant wel­fare has been a topic of pub­lic inter­est, the lack of avail­able data on this spe­cific pop­u­la­tion made it dif­fi­cult to dif­fer­en­ti­ate fact from opin­ion,” said Mee­han. “This study gives a broad look at the lives of zoo ele­phants, and the out­comes pro­vide both the science-​based infor­ma­tion nec­es­sary to inform con­ver­sa­tion as well as action­able items that zoos can use to con­tinue to enhance man­age­ment of elephants.”

The study team iden­ti­fied six wel­fare indi­ca­tors, includ­ing some per­ceived issues for zoo ele­phants such as body mass, behav­iour, and repro­duc­tion. It then con­sid­ered a wide range of man­age­ment fac­tors that can influ­ence an elephant’s wel­fare, such as hous­ing, exer­cise and social group­ings. The study took a novel approach in quan­ti­fy­ing these fac­tors from the per­spec­tive of each indi­vid­ual ele­phant, which allowed researchers to cap­ture the com­plex­ity and vari­abil­ity within the zoo pop­u­la­tion. Analysing data and iden­ti­fy­ing cor­re­la­tions allowed the team to deter­mine which fac­tors are most strongly asso­ci­ated with each wel­fare indicator.

At the meet­ing the researchers pre­sented the most sig­nif­i­cant study find­ings on wel­fare indi­ca­tors, including:

Foot and joint health:
A minority of zoo ele­phants (39%) reviewed in 2011 had reported foot prob­lems. The study found that the con­tin­u­a­tion of foot prob­lems from 2011 to 2012 as well as over­all joint health was asso­ci­ated with the amount of time spent on hard sur­faces (con­crete or stone). It was iden­ti­fied that incre­men­tal changes in time spent on hard sur­faces can have mea­sur­able impacts on joint health, such that 10% (2.4 hours) reduc­tion in time spent on con­crete or stone is cor­re­lated with a 63% reduc­tion in the like­li­hood of joint abnor­mal­i­ties.
Another cor­re­la­tion showed that as ele­phants advance in age, they are more prone to expe­ri­ence foot and joint prob­lems.

Body con­di­tion scores:
Researchers eval­u­ated 240 ele­phants for body con­di­tion using a phys­i­o­log­i­cally val­i­dated 15 scor­ing scale — with “3” being ideal, 4 and 5 indi­cat­ing over­weight, but 1 and 2 indi­cat­ing under­weight. “In the com­ing months, zoos will be pro­vided with posters of the body con­di­tion scor­ing sys­tem. This tool will help increase aware­ness of how ele­phants in ideal body con­di­tion should appear, and will allow ele­phant care staff to mea­sure progress toward improv­ing body con­di­tion when needed.” said Dr. Mee­han.
The study found a cor­re­la­tion between improved body con­di­tion and increas­ing an elephant’s time being exer­cised; and pro­vid­ing more fre­quent meals through­out the day; and hav­ing unpre­dictable tim­ing of the num­ber of feed­ings dur­ing the day.

By track­ing ele­phants wear­ing elephant-​size GPS anklets, the study found that ele­phants with higher walk­ing rates were also likely to have:
- softer sub­strates (grass, sand or rub­ber) to walk on dur­ing the night;
- an increased num­ber of social part­ners;
- enrich­ment pro­grams that are more struc­tured and mon­i­tored; and
- an oppor­tu­nity to expe­ri­ence more avail­able space at night.

(when ele­phants lie down):
Asian ele­phants had higher rates of recum­bence than Africans. In both species, ele­phants that spent more time on softer sub­strates dur­ing the day and with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent social group­ings, and out­doors were likely to spend more time lying down.

The study found that ele­phants spent the largest part of their days and their nights eat­ing fol­lowed by rest­ing or stand­ing. It also found that a major­ity (approx­i­mately 23 of the pop­u­la­tion) exhib­ited some stereo­typic behav­iour, which is defined as unvary­ing and repet­i­tive behav­iours such as sway­ing or pac­ing. How­ever„ the team iden­ti­fied sev­eral fac­tors that are cor­re­lated with a decrease in the like­li­hood of stereo­typy. The find­ings pro­vide direc­tion for zoos that are actively try­ing to reduce the per­for­mance of these behav­iours by their ele­phants. For exam­ple lower rates of stereo­typy per­for­mance were more likely when ele­phants:
- expe­ri­enced more avail­able space for greater amounts of time;
- inter­acted more with ani­mal care staff;
- had choices between indoor and out­door areas over night;
- had strong pos­i­tive social bonds with other ele­phants, and
- spent more time with young ele­phants.

Ovar­ian cyclic­ity
(the reg­u­lar­ity of female repro­duc­tive cycles):
Zoo pro­fes­sion­als have long known that some female ele­phants of repro­duc­tive age in the zoo pop­u­la­tion do not cycle reg­u­larly. This study pro­vided new insights into this issue by iden­ti­fy­ing fac­tors that cor­re­late with cyclic­ity sta­tus and which can be addressed through changes in man­age­ment prac­tices. For Asian females, an increased like­li­hood of reg­u­lar cycling is asso­ci­ated with spend­ing more time with male ele­phants. African females are more likely to cycle reg­u­larly when they have more social expe­ri­ence, par­tic­i­pate in 14-​hours per week of staff-​led exer­cise, and when there are more fre­quent and diverse enrich­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. Those with higher than ideal body con­di­tion were less likely to have reg­u­lar cycles.

“The study pro­duced incred­i­ble data that, for the first time, pro­vides zoos with sci­en­tif­i­cally based assess­ments that iden­tify which aspects of ele­phant man­age­ment cor­re­late strongly with wel­fare indi­ca­tors,” said project team mem­ber Mike Keele, for­mer chair of the ele­phant TAG/​SSP and for­mer direc­tor of ele­phant habi­tats at Ore­gon Zoo. “There’s great value in link­ing sci­ence to zoos’ ele­phant man­age­ment prac­tices because it can be used daily to enhance the wel­fare of ele­phants in the care of zoo professionals.”

The study team praised the 70 AZA-​accredited zoos, zoo direc­tors, and zoo ele­phant care staff and vet­eri­nar­i­ans, who par­tic­i­pated in the research by pro­vid­ing videos, serum sam­ples, health exam­i­na­tion infor­ma­tion and other details about their ele­phants. Dr. Mee­han said that a zoo’s involve­ment in the vol­un­tary study demon­strates a com­mit­ment to improved under­stand­ing of ele­phant wel­fare and its rela­tion to man­age­ment and care.

“This study rep­re­sents a snap­shot in time of this pop­u­la­tion of ele­phants. It increases our under­stand­ing of zoo ele­phant wel­fare and pro­vides infor­ma­tion that will sup­port ele­phant pro­grams as they fur­ther develop their prac­tices. We see this project as a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment in fos­ter­ing part­ner­ships between sci­en­tists and zoo pro­fes­sion­als that share the com­mon goal of enhanc­ing the wel­fare of zoo ani­mals,” said Dr. Mee­han. “While we haven’t answered all of the ques­tions about ele­phant wel­fare, we are excited that the study can ben­e­fit zoos and their elephants.

Fol­low­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion, the study team plans to do addi­tional data analy­sis and expects to pub­lish the out­comes in peer-​reviewed, sci­en­tific jour­nals in the months ahead.

(Source: ele​phantwel​farestudy​.com news release via Sci­enceDaily, 10.09.2013)

On 4 Sep­tem­ber, after a lengthy ges­ta­tion period of 645 days, a calf was born to Vienna Zoo’s female African ele­phant, Tonga. It is the fourth birth of an African ele­phant (Lox­odonta africana) in Vienna Zoo, the coor­di­na­tor of the Euro­pean stud­book for African ele­phants. The new­born, a female calf, is Tonga’s sec­ond off­spring, but a very spe­cial one this time.

Elephant calf Viennazoo20130905World­wide, this lat­est birth is a sen­sa­tion. It is the first African ele­phant calf con­ceived through arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion using frozen semen. The father is a wild bull from the Phinda Gamer Reserve in Africa, who was placed under gen­eral anaes­the­sia for the collection.

Nowa­days, arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion as such is rou­tine in African ele­phant breed­ing — but only with fresh or chilled semen. But this time the cir­cum­stances required an advanced tech­nique, as the father is a wild bull from the Phinda Gamer Reserve in Africa. To trans­port the sperm of a wild bull from Africa to a Euro­pean zoo, it had to be frozen.

Unfor­tu­nately, ele­phant sperm is extremely sen­si­tive. Only two cases of arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion using frozen and thawed sperm had resulted in a fer­til­i­sa­tion so far, and both ges­ta­tions ended pre­ma­turely. The suc­cess­ful new tech­nique, which started with semen col­lec­tion of the wild bull under gen­eral anaes­the­sia, was devel­oped by a team from the Berlin Leib­niz Insti­tute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. And this new tech­nique allowed for suc­cess­ful freez­ing in Africa, trans­port and thaw­ing of the bull’s sperm at Vienna Zoo premises.

So, this new method is a great oppor­tu­nity regard­ing con­ser­va­tion efforts in cap­tiv­ity (ex-​situ). It can help strenghten genetic diver­sity of exist­ing lin­eages of cap­tive bred ele­phants. And hope­fully not only ele­phants but of other endan­gered species in cap­tiv­ity as well.

In the mean­time in Vienna Zoo mother and calf are doing very well. Tonga, the matri­arch of the Zoo’s herd is a devoted and car­ing mother, and also her first­born Mongu is very car­ing regard­ing her lit­tle step­sis­ter. Tonga and both her daugh­ters stay sep­a­rate from the rest of the herd the first few days to ensure some peace and quiet.

This new­born ele­phant is a pos­i­tive result of a suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Vienna Zoo and Berlin Leib­niz Insti­tute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Zooparc de Beau­val and Pitts­burgh Zoo.

(Source: Vienna Zoo — Tier­garten Schön­brunn press release, 05.09.2013)

A new research study has revealed that the chee­tah, the world’s fastest land ani­mal, matches and may even antic­i­pate the escape tac­tics of dif­fer­ent prey when hunt­ing, rather than just rely­ing on its speed and agility, as pre­vi­ously thought.

Cheetahs runningThe study, which has been pub­lished on 4 Sep­tem­ber in the Royal Soci­ety Jour­nal Biol­ogy Let­ters was car­ried out by a research team led by Dr Michael Scant­le­bury from the School of Bio­log­i­cal Sci­ences at Queen’s Uni­ver­sity Belfast. The research team used GPS and accelerom­e­ter data log­gers deployed on chee­tahs, along with tra­di­tional obser­va­tion methods.

Basi­cally, chee­tahs have clear dif­fer­ent chase strate­gies depend­ing on prey species
Dr Michael Scant­le­bury, School of Bio­log­i­cal Sci­ences, Queen’s Uni­ver­sity Belfast »

Explain­ing the team’s find­ings, he said: “The more we under­stand, about the phys­i­ol­ogy and the hunt­ing tac­tics of this charis­matic ani­mal, the more we are able to ensure its con­tin­u­ing existence”.

“Our study found that whilst chee­tahs are capa­ble of run­ning at excep­tion­ally high speeds, the com­mon adage that they sim­ply ‘out­run’ their prey does not explain how they are able to cap­ture more agile ani­mals. Pre­vi­ous research has high­lighted their incred­i­ble speed and accel­er­a­tion and their abil­ity to turn after escap­ing prey. We have now shown that hunt tac­tics are prey-​specific.”

“In other words, we now know that rather than a sim­ple max­i­mum speed chase, chee­tahs first accel­er­ate towards their quarry before slow­ing down to mir­ror prey-​specific escap­ing tac­tics. We sug­gest that chee­tahs mod­u­late their hunt­ing speed to enable rapid turns, in a predator-​prey arms race, where pace is pit­ted against agility. Basi­cally, chee­tahs have clear dif­fer­ent chase strate­gies depend­ing on prey species.”

The research sug­gests that chee­tah chases com­prise two pri­mary phases, the first an ini­tial rapid accel­er­a­tion result­ing in high speed to quickly catch up with prey, fol­lowed by a sec­ond, which is a prey-​specific slow­ing period, five to eight sec­onds before the end of the chase, that enables the chee­tah to match turns insti­gated by prey as the dis­tance between them closes.

Dr Scant­le­bury added: “We have dis­cov­ered that chee­tahs first accel­er­ate rapidly to get them close to the prey but then have to actively slow down to be able to match prey escape manoeu­vres. It is like a deadly tango between the hunter and the hunted, with one mir­ror­ing the escape tac­tics of the other.”

“The time spent in the ini­tial and sec­ond phase dif­fers accord­ing to prey species, with some species such as ostriches, hares and steen­bok attempt­ing to escape by exe­cut­ing sud­den changes in direc­tion, whilst other species such as wilde­beest, gems­bok and spring­bok attempt to run fast in a more or less straight line. It almost seems as if the amount of power or effort put into a chase is decided at the begin­ning of the chase depend­ing on the prey species.”

Dr Gus Mills, from the Lewis Foun­da­tion, South Africa and Oxford University’s Wild­CRU said: “Mod­ern tech­nol­ogy has given us the oppor­tu­nity to record and mea­sure facets of ani­mal behav­iour we have never been able to do. How­ever, too often this is used with­out the essen­tial backup of simul­ta­ne­ously observ­ing the ani­mals in the wild to val­i­date what is being mea­sured. We have been for­tu­nate to be able to do both.”

Prof Rory Wil­son from Swansea Uni­ver­sity added: “One crit­i­cal fea­ture about the sports machine that is the chee­tah is that we are not just talk­ing about a drag­ster that achieves incred­i­ble speeds in a straight line. This beast has to cor­ner mag­nif­i­cently as well. It’s a For­mula One car, but with a small tank.”

The researchers also found that that there are clear dif­fer­ences between suc­cess­ful and non-​successful hunts. Non-​successful hunts involve less turn­ing at the end of the chase, prob­a­bly as the chee­tah realised it was not going to catch up with the prey, and seemed to involve less energy than suc­cess­ful hunts of the same species.

Dr Scant­le­bury con­cluded: “One thing is cer­tain, and that is that our pre­vi­ous con­cept of chee­tah hunts being sim­ple high speed, straight line dashes to catch prey is clearly wrong. They engage in a com­plex duel of speed, accel­er­a­tion, brak­ing and rapid turns with ground rules that vary from prey to prey. These excit­ing find­ings are an impor­tant foun­da­tion for ensur­ing the preser­va­tion of these mag­nif­i­cent ani­mals and for future stud­ies in this area.”

(Source: Queen’s Uni­ver­sity Belfast press release, 05.09.2013)

Con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tists at the Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don (ZSL) have devised a novel method to iden­tify suit­able new homes for ani­mals under threat from cli­mate change.

Hihi male matt gribbleThe sci­en­tists used their knowl­edge on species ecol­ogy to cre­ate habi­tat suit­abil­ity maps and cor­rectly iden­tify sites that will remain viable in the future regard­less of chang­ing cli­mate. How­ever, the key for suc­cess is to under­stand, and account for, the link between vari­a­tion in species pop­u­la­tion size, cli­mate and how the cli­mate may change. Their research is pub­lished on 6 Sep­tem­ber in the Jour­nal of Applied Ecology.

Almost half of all bird and amphib­ian species are believed to be highly vul­ner­a­ble to extinc­tion from cli­mate change. Species in extreme or rare habi­tats such as the emperor pen­guin in the Antarc­tic and Amer­i­can pika in the USA have already expe­ri­enced dras­tic declines in pop­u­la­tions due to the impact of cli­mate change on their home.

Our work shows that assisted coloni­sa­tion may be the only way to guar­an­tee the sur­vival of this unique species under cli­mate change
Dr Alienor Chau­venet, lead author »

As cli­mate changes, many species will need to move to a dif­fer­ent loca­tion in order to sur­vive. For species that aren’t able to do this nat­u­rally, the only chance of sur­vival is a help­ing hand through the use of translocations.

Dr Nathalie Pet­torelli, ZSL’s cli­mate change coor­di­na­tor and senior author on the paper, says: “Cli­mate change poses a wor­ry­ing threat to many ani­mals, and relo­cat­ing vul­ner­a­ble species to new and more suit­able habi­tats may be the only way to pro­tect them. How­ever, this is an extreme con­ser­va­tion action, which needs to be thor­oughly jus­ti­fied, and requires clear guid­ance on where threat­ened pop­u­la­tions should be moved. Our research shows how these key require­ments can be met.”

The team used the hihi bird as an exam­ple because of the con­ser­va­tion suc­cess which came after efforts put into its relo­ca­tion since the 1980s. Yet, despite large invest­ments into its pro­tec­tion, cli­mate change is now pos­ing a sig­nif­i­cant threat to its future survival.

ZSL’s hihi work

Hihi are sex­u­ally dimor­phic medium sized for­est dwelling passer­ines endemic to the North Island of New Zealand. They are the sole rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the New Zealand bird fam­ily Notiomys­ti­dae. Hihi rely on native veg­e­ta­tion for nec­tar and fruit but also feed on inver­te­brates. They are sup­ple­men­tal fed sugar water year-​round and ad libi­tum. Hihi nest in cav­i­ties usu­ally located high up live mature trees of a vari­ety of native species but also read­ily use arti­fi­cial nest boxes when mature trees with cav­i­ties are lim­ited. Fur­ther infor­ma­tion here.

Dr Alienor Chau­venet, lead author of the study, says: “All cur­rent hihi pop­u­la­tions are sur­rounded by either a large stretch of water or unsuit­able habi­tat such as farm­land or cities with plenty of non-​native preda­tors. This iso­la­tion makes it very per­ilous for them to move and indi­vid­u­als attempt­ing to relo­cate nat­u­rally are unlikely to survive.

Translo­ca­tions will con­tinue to be an impor­tant part of con­ser­va­tion as cli­mate changes. ZSL’s novel method shows how these inter­ven­tions can be planned to be suc­cess­ful even under the influ­ence of a chang­ing envi­ron­ment. The method can be applied to any species threat­ened by cli­mate change, and is likely to con­tribute to the suc­cess of future translocations.


Con­ser­va­tion translo­ca­tions are defined as “the delib­er­ate move­ment of organ­isms from one site for release in another” by the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature Species Sur­vival Com­mis­sion (IUCN SSC). Two broad types exist: rein­tro­duc­tion within a species’ his­tor­i­cal range, intro­duc­tion or assisted coloni­sa­tion out­side a species’ indige­nous range. In guide­lines for rein­tro­duc­tion and other con­ser­va­tion translo­ca­tions recently pub­lished by the IUCN SSC (2012), one explicit require­ment for any translo­ca­tion is that the cli­mate at the release site remains suit­able in the near future and that the new habi­tat meets the abi­otic needs of the species.

(Source: ZSL press release, 06.09.2013)

A study pub­lished last week in Con­ser­va­tion Biol­ogy con­firms the crit­i­cal role of Tibetan Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies in the fight to con­serve the endan­gered snow leopard.

snow leopardLed by Dr. Li Juan, Snow Leop­ard Trust staff mem­ber doing post­doc­toral research at Peking Uni­ver­sity, the study con­firms that over 300 monas­ter­ies inhabit the same sky-​high region as the snow leop­ards of the Tibetan Plateau, and pro­tect more snow leop­ard habi­tat than local nature reserves. The study, Role of Tibetan Bud­dhist Monas­ter­ies in Snow Leop­ard Con­ser­va­tion, was coau­thored by Panthera’s Dr. George Schaller and Dr. Tom McCarthy, the lead­ing Chi­nese Shan Shui Con­ser­va­tion Cen­tre and the Snow Leop­ard Trust. It showed that nearly half of the monas­ter­ies are found in snow leop­ard habi­tat, while 90% exist within 5 km of snow leop­ard range in the Plateau’s San­jiangyuan region.

Monks on the Tibetan Plateau serve as de facto wildlife guardians. Tibetan Bud­dhism con­sid­ers the snow leop­ard and its habi­tats strictly sacred, and the monks patrol wild land­scapes sur­round­ing monas­ter­ies to enforce strict edicts against killing wildlife. Senior monks, includ­ing the Rin­poche and Khen­pos, are impor­tant influ­encers in their com­mu­ni­ties, pos­i­tively impact­ing fol­low­ers’ atti­tudes and behav­iour towards wildlife. The study shows that Tibetan Bud­dhism is prac­ticed across an extra­or­di­nary 80% of snow leop­ard range, and so monastery-​based snow leop­ard con­ser­va­tion could apply over a much broader area than the Tibetan Plateau.

Panthera’s Vice Pres­i­dent, Dr. George Schaller, explained, “Bud­dhism has as a basic tenet the love, respect, and com­pas­sion for all liv­ing beings. This report illu­mi­nates how sci­ence and the spir­i­tual val­ues of Tibetan Bud­dhism can com­bine their visions and wis­dom to help pro­tect China’s nat­ural her­itage. Such an approach to envi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion needs to be emu­lated by all the world’s faiths.”

We con­ducted 144 house­hold inter­views to iden­tify local herders’ atti­tudes and behav­iour toward snow leop­ards and other wildlife. Most local herders claimed that they did not kill wildlife, and 42% said they did not kill wildlife because it was a sin in Buddhism.
Dr. Zhi Lu, co-​author, Direc­tor of Shan Sui, Peking Uni­ver­sity in Beijing »

He shared, “There is evi­dence that tra­di­tional cul­ture and social insti­tu­tions may play a crit­i­cal role in chang­ing people’s mind and behav­iour. With Bud­dhist edu­ca­tion, Tibetan peo­ple have lived in har­mony with nature for thou­sands of years. Now like every­where else, the tra­di­tional cul­ture on the Plateau is fac­ing the chal­lenge of mod­erni­sa­tion. Con­ser­va­tion­ists should work closer with social insti­tu­tions, inte­grat­ing sci­en­tific method­olo­gies with cul­tural approaches for bet­ter solutions.”

Between 3,5007,000 snow leop­ards cur­rently remain in 12 Asian coun­tries, with an esti­mated 60% of their pop­u­la­tion and habi­tat occur­ring in China. Pan­thera, Shan Shui and the Snow Leop­ard Trust have been part­ner­ing with four Tibetan Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies in the Yushu Pre­fec­ture of Qing­hai Province since 2009. The pro­gram focuses on mit­i­gat­ing human-​snow leop­ard con­flict and train­ing monks to mon­i­tor and pro­tect wildlife. It also sup­ports monas­ter­ies in teach­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple about the con­ser­va­tion value of snow leop­ards through fes­ti­vals and edu­ca­tional pro­grams. In three years there have been no reports of snow leop­ards being killed in the study area.

Watch the stun­ning footage of snow leop­ards play­ing in the snow while Snow Leop­ard trust Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Brad Ruther­ford nar­rates how they work with the peo­ple shar­ing snow leop­ard habi­tat to pro­tect this endan­gered species:

Panthera’s Snow Leop­ard Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Dr. Tom McCarthy, explained, “Snow leop­ards share their moun­tain habi­tat with poor herd­ing fam­i­lies whose lives are depen­dent on live­stock. When a snow leop­ard kills a sheep, goat, yak or even a young camel, it is a huge eco­nomic loss to the herder. Thanks to this unique pro­gram, we now have highly-​respected com­mu­nity lead­ers mit­i­gat­ing con­flict and act­ing as spokes­peo­ple for snow leop­ards by weav­ing the mes­sage of con­ser­va­tion with their reli­gious con­vic­tions, and paving the road for the snow leopard’s future on the Tibetan Plateau and beyond.”

The research team believes that this model — col­lab­o­ra­tion of con­ser­va­tion­ists with bud­dhist monas­ter­ies — could also con­tribute to snow leop­ard con­ser­va­tion in other areas where there is a strong influ­ence of Tibetan Bud­dhism, such as North­ern India, Nepal, Bhutan and parts of Mongolia.

The research is sup­ported by Snow Leop­ard Trust, Shan Shui Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter, Peking Uni­ver­sity and Panthera.

(Source: Pan­thera press release, 05.09.2013; Wiley press release, 02.09.2013; Snow Leop­ard Tracks — the newslet­ter of Snow Leop­ard Trust, Fall 2013)

The Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN) World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress has adopted a motion spon­sored by the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety and part­ners to cre­ate a Green List to assess con­ser­va­tion suc­cess. The Green List for Species would include species iden­ti­fied as ‘fully con­served’, which are those that exist in eco­log­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant num­bers, inter­act­ing fully with other species in their ecosystems.

Canada Geese pondThe motion to develop objec­tive cri­te­ria for a green list of species, ecosys­tems and pro­tected areas was adopted at the World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress, which was held this month in Jeju, Repub­lic of Korea.

The aim of the Green List is to high­light species that are thriv­ing parts of a healthy ecosys­tem and will empha­sise that con­ser­va­tion is about more than just pre­vent­ing extinction.

The Green List rep­re­sents a pos­i­tive vision for con­ser­va­tion in the future. It is a roadmap for species to fol­low on the way to full con­ser­va­tion recovery
Dr. Eliz­a­beth Ben­nett, WCS Vice Pres­i­dent of Species Conservation »

“Suc­cess­ful species con­ser­va­tion involves the con­ser­va­tion of a species with sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tions, inter­act­ing fully with a com­plete suite of other native species and processes,” said WCS Pres­i­dent and CEO Dr. Cristián Sam­per. “The con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity should be giv­ing to the world a pos­i­tive and proac­tive vision of suc­cess: species at or near their nat­ural car­ry­ing capac­ity, as inte­gral parts of fully func­tional ecosys­tems. The Green List will be a step in that direction.”

The Green List will com­ple­ment the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species, which focuses on avoid­ance of extinc­tion and the novel Red List of Ecosys­tems of which the motion for devel­op­ment also was adopted in Jeju. The species’ Red List has been crit­i­cal in assess­ing con­ser­va­tion pri­ori­ti­sa­tion and has been a scientifically-​rigorous tool highly regarded by gov­ern­ments and other con­ser­va­tion actors. To cre­ate the Green List to reach the same level of effec­tive­ness, the motion rec­om­mends that IUCN con­ducts an inter­na­tional sci­en­tific con­sul­ta­tion process to develop con­sen­sus and rig­or­ous criteria.

Dr. Simon Stu­art, Chair of IUCN’s Species Sur­vival Com­mis­sion, said: “The Green List process is about opti­mism and suc­cess. It will incen­tivise con­ser­va­tion action and encour­age invest­ment in pro­grams and poli­cies that enhance and mea­sure con­ser­va­tion suc­cess and man­age­ment effectiveness.”

The Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety saves wildlife and wild places world­wide. They do so through sci­ence, global con­ser­va­tion, edu­ca­tion and the man­age­ment of the world’s largest sys­tem of urban wildlife parks, led by the flag­ship Bronx Zoo. Together these activ­i­ties change atti­tudes towards nature and help peo­ple imag­ine wildlife and humans liv­ing in har­mony. WCS is com­mit­ted to this mis­sion because it is essen­tial to the integrity of life on Earth.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at WCS. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: WCS press release, 27.09.2012)

State of the TigerThe strate­gic for­ma­tion of Panthera’s new Tigers For­ever ‘Task Force’ com­posed of some of the world’s most pre­em­i­nent, inter­na­tional tiger sci­en­tists, has instilled new hope for this endan­gered big cat. Cou­pled with the Pan­thera–Save the Tiger Fund (STF) strat­egy for sav­ing tigers (Tigers For­ever), this grow­ing team of spe­cial­ists com­prises lead­ing experts in tech­nol­ogy, law enforce­ment, human-​tiger con­flict mit­i­ga­tion, bio­log­i­cal mon­i­tor­ing, envi­ron­men­tal pol­icy, and tiger ecol­ogy, who have been assem­bled to aim a blow torch on the tigers great­est threats.

Tiger sharpening clawsNever has this team been needed more so than now. Num­ber­ing in the tens of thou­sands at the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, cur­rent esti­mates place the world’s wild tiger pop­u­la­tion as hov­er­ing below 3,200 indi­vid­u­als. Inhab­it­ing less than 7% of its his­toric range, the tiger has expe­ri­enced the great­est range col­lapse of any large cat and is now one of the most endan­gered large mam­mals on the planet.

The great­est threats to tigers are habi­tat loss, over­hunt­ing of tiger prey by humans, and direct poach­ing of tigers for their skins and body parts that are sold on ille­gal wildlife mar­kets through­out south­east Asia.

We know how to save tigers; we know that poach­ing must be stopped, core pop­u­la­tions have to be pro­tected, pop­u­la­tions must be mon­i­tored and the human effort to save them needs to be eval­u­ated con­stantly. Our Tiger Task Force has been put in place to help con­ser­va­tion efforts and pro­tect the last remain­ing wild tigers
Dr. Alan Rabi­nowitz, CEO of Panthera »

Despite their pre­car­i­ous future tigers can still be saved. Pan­thera has recently hired renowned tiger sci­en­tist and con­ser­va­tion­ist, Dr. John Goodrich as the Senior Tiger Pro­gram Direc­tor to help steer the Task Force, who will pro­vide tech­ni­cal exper­tise to field sites across Asia. Goodrich joins Panthera’s ranks with 25 years of expe­ri­ence on applied research on car­ni­vore biol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion specif­i­cally on the Amur, or Siber­ian, tiger (Pan­thera tigris altaica), mon­i­tor­ing pop­u­la­tions and threats, man­ag­ing human-​carnivore con­flict and car­ni­vore capture/​anesthesia. He has spent sig­nif­i­cant time train­ing young con­ser­va­tion­ists, and has authored/​co-​authored over 80 sci­en­tific and 40 pop­u­lar arti­cles on tigers, Amur leop­ards, Asian black bears, brown bears, and Eurasian lynx. “He is one of the world’s lead­ing and most accom­plished tiger biol­o­gists and a ter­rific asset to our team,” Rabi­nowitz says.

In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal exper­tise in pro­tect­ing and mon­i­tor­ing tiger pop­u­la­tions, Pan­thera will pro­vide grants, through the STF-​Panthera col­lab­o­ra­tion, to sup­port con­ser­va­tion efforts by local and inter­na­tional part­ners to carry out the Tigers For­ever strat­egy. Panthera’s Tiger Task Force will be vis­it­ing exist­ing and future Tigers For­ever sites, pro­vid­ing assis­tance, and ensur­ing that part­ners are car­ry­ing out the needed activ­i­ties to achieve their shared and larger goal of secur­ing a future for tigers.

In 2006, Dr. Rabi­nowitz, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Panthera’s Board mem­ber, J. Michael Cline, and a group of the world’s fore­most experts on tigers from the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety, includ­ing Goodrich, launched the Tigers For­ever pro­gram to increase tiger num­bers at key sites by 50% over ten years.

This announce­ment of Panthera’s Tiger Task Force comes at the heels of the 6th annual Tigers For­ever meet­ing held in Bangkok and attended by a suite of part­ners from the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety, Fauna & Flora Inter­na­tional, Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don, Aaranyak, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, the Amer­i­can Museum of Nat­ural His­tory and other organ­i­sa­tions. This annual con­fer­ence con­venes groups who are util­is­ing the Tigers For­ever strat­egy, or who wish to do so, to analyse the most recent find­ings on tiger pop­u­la­tions, share con­ser­va­tion strate­gies, mile­stones and chal­lenges and strate­gi­cally pri­ori­tise what is needed on the ground, now, to save tigers.

View Panthera’s Tiger Info­graphic.

About Pan­thera

Pan­thera, founded in 2006, is the world’s lead­ing organ­i­sa­tion devoted exclu­sively to the con­ser­va­tion of wild cats and their ecosys­tems. Util­is­ing the exper­tise of the world’s pre­mier cat biol­o­gists, Pan­thera devel­ops and imple­ments global con­ser­va­tion strate­gies for the largest, most imper­iled cats — tigers, lions, jaguars, and snow leop­ards. Rep­re­sent­ing the most com­pre­hen­sive effort of its kind, Pan­thera works in part­ner­ship with local and inter­na­tional NGOs, sci­en­tific insti­tu­tions, local com­mu­ni­ties and gov­ern­ments around the globe.

About Tigers For­ever

Launched in 2006 after decades of con­tin­u­ing tiger declines, Tigers For­ever is chang­ing the face of tiger con­ser­va­tion. Tigers For­ever makes a unique com­mit­ment to increase tiger num­bers at key sites by at least 50% over a 10-​year period by relent­lessly attack­ing the most crit­i­cal threats to tigers — poach­ing of tigers and their prey. Util­is­ing rig­or­ous sci­ence to main­tain con­stant vig­i­lance on con­ser­va­tion efforts and on the tiger itself, this trans­for­ma­tive pro­gram is the only one of its kind to guar­an­tee suc­cess — the recov­ery of the wild tiger.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Pan­thera. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: Pan­thera press release, 12.09.2012)

At least four leop­ards have been poached and their body parts entered into ille­gal wildlife trade every week for at least 10 years in India, accord­ing to TRAFFIC’s lat­est study Illu­mi­nat­ing the Blind Spot: A study on ille­gal trade in leop­ard parts in India launched today by Dr Divyab­hanus­inh Chavda, Pres­i­dent, WWF-​India.

Leopard fur-skinsThe study doc­u­ments a total of 420 seizures of leop­ard skins, bones and other body parts reported from 209 local­i­ties in 21 out of 35 ter­ri­to­ries in India dur­ing 20012010. Sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis is used to esti­mate the addi­tional lev­els of “unde­tected trade” and con­cludes that around 2,294 leop­ards were traf­ficked in India dur­ing the period — an aver­age of four ani­mals per week over the 10 year period.

Leop­ards (Pan­thera par­dus) are fully pro­tected under India’s domes­tic leg­is­la­tion, and com­mer­cial inter­na­tional trade is banned under CITES (the Con­ven­tion on Inter­na­tional Trade in Endan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

TRAFFIC’s objec­tive analy­sis has cast new light onto the sheer scale of the illicit trade in Leop­ard parts in India, which has hith­erto been over­shad­owed by the trade in another of the country’s national icons, the tiger. With­out an effec­tive strat­egy to assess and tackle the threats posed by ille­gal trade, the dan­ger is that leop­ard num­bers may decline rapidly as hap­pened pre­vi­ously to the tiger
Dr Divyab­hanus­inh Chavda, Pres­i­dent, WWF-​India »

Uttarak­hand emerged as a major source of leop­ard parts in trade, while Delhi was found to be a major epi­cen­tre of the ille­gal trade, along with adja­cent areas of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. Dr Rashid Raza, Coor­di­na­tor with TRAF­FIC in India and the lead author of the study said: “Even though reports of ille­gal trade in leop­ard body parts are dis­turbingly fre­quent, the level of threat to leop­ards in the coun­try has pre­vi­ously been unrec­og­nized, and has fallen into our col­lec­tive ‘blind spot’.”

Close to 90% of reported leop­ard part seizures in India com­prised solely of skins, mak­ing them the dom­i­nant body part found in ille­gal trade dur­ing the 10 year period. Other body parts, par­tic­u­larly bones, are known to be pre­scribed as sub­sti­tutes for tiger parts in tra­di­tional Asian med­i­cine. It is believed most leop­ard parts are smug­gled out of India to other coun­tries in Asia, often via the porous bor­der with neigh­bour­ing Nepal. Ear­lier inves­ti­ga­tions indi­cated many of the leop­ard parts found for sale in north­ern Myan­mar, north­ern Laos and the eth­nic Tibetan regions of China orig­i­nated from India.

The report rec­om­mends the estab­lish­ment of a Task Force to tackle ille­gal trade in the areas iden­ti­fied as hav­ing the high­est lev­els of leopard-​related crime, as well as bet­ter regional co-​operation between source, tran­sit and mar­ket coun­tries through ini­tia­tives such as the South Asia Wildlife Enforce­ment Net­work (SAWEN). An offi­cial data­base along the lines of Tiger­net, used for tiger con­ser­va­tion in India, would also help mon­i­tor the ille­gal leop­ard part trade. Stud­ies are also needed to assess the lev­els of threat from human-​Leopard con­flict in the coun­try, accord­ing to the report.

The leop­ard is among the most charis­matic large ani­mals in the world, and plays an impor­tant eco­log­i­cal role in the forests it inhab­its. Any increase in exter­nal mar­ket demand could eas­ily lead to a dec­i­ma­tion of leop­ard num­bers in India, but I am hope­ful this lat­est analy­sis will pro­vide the impe­tus to catal­yse effec­tive con­ser­va­tion action; par­tic­u­larly increased effec­tive­ness of law enforce­ment ini­tia­tives to cur­tail the ille­gal trade in leop­ard body parts.
(Ravi Singh, Sec­re­tary Gen­eral & CEO, WWF-​India)

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at WWF. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: WWF News, 28.09.2012)

Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia (UC) River­side geo­sci­en­tists help tie spike in ancient oceanic oxy­gen lev­els to ‘Snow­ball Earth’ event

Doushantuo FormationAn inter­na­tional team of sci­en­tists, includ­ing geo­chemists from the UC River­side, has uncov­ered new evi­dence link­ing extreme cli­mate change, oxy­gen rise, and early ani­mal evo­lu­tion. A dra­matic rise in atmos­pheric oxy­gen lev­els has long been spec­u­lated as the trig­ger for early ani­mal evo­lu­tion. While the direct cause-​and-​effect rela­tion­ships between ani­mal and envi­ron­men­tal evo­lu­tion remain top­ics of intense debate, all this research has been ham­pered by the lack of direct evi­dence for an oxy­gen increase coin­ci­dent with the appear­ance of the ear­li­est ani­mals — until now.

In the Sep­tem­ber 27 issue of the jour­nal Nature, the research team, led by sci­en­tists at the Uni­ver­sity of Nevada, Las Vegas, offers the first evi­dence of a direct link between trends in early ani­mal diver­sity and shifts in Earth sys­tem processes. The fos­sil record shows a marked increase in ani­mal and algae fos­sils roughly 635 mil­lion years ago. An analy­sis of organic-​rich rocks from South China points to a sud­den spike in oceanic oxy­gen lev­els at this time — in the wake of severe glacia­tion. The new evi­dence pre-​dates pre­vi­ous esti­mates of a life-​sustaining oxy­gena­tion event by more than 50 mil­lion years.

This work pro­vides the first real evi­dence for a long spec­u­lated change in oxy­gen lev­els in the after­math of the most severe cli­matic event in Earth’s his­tory — one of the so-​called ‘Snow­ball Earth’ glaciations
Tim­o­thy Lyons, a pro­fes­sor of bio­geo­chem­istry at UC Riverside »

The research team analysed con­cen­tra­tions of trace met­als and sul­fur iso­topes, which are trac­ers of early oxy­gen lev­els, in mud­stone col­lected from the Doushan­tuo For­ma­tion in South China. The team found spikes in con­cen­tra­tions of the trace met­als, denot­ing higher oxy­gen lev­els in sea­wa­ter on a global scale. “We found lev­els of molyb­de­num and vana­dium in the Doushan­tuo For­ma­tion mud­stones that neces­si­tate that the global ocean was well ven­ti­lated. This well-​oxygenated ocean was the envi­ron­men­tal back­drop for early ani­mal diver­si­fi­ca­tion,” said Noah Planavsky, a for­mer UC River­side grad­u­ate stu­dent in Lyons’s lab now at CalTech.

The high ele­ment con­cen­tra­tions found in the South China rocks are com­pa­ra­ble to mod­ern ocean sed­i­ments and point to a sub­stan­tial oxy­gen increase in the ocean-​atmosphere sys­tem around 635 mil­lion years ago. Accord­ing to the researchers, the oxy­gen rise is likely due to increased organic car­bon bur­ial, a result of more nutri­ent avail­abil­ity fol­low­ing the extreme cold cli­mate of the ‘Snow­ball Earth’ glacia­tion when ice shrouded much of Earth’s surface.

Lyons and Planavsky argued in research pub­lished ear­lier in the jour­nal Nature that a nutri­ent sur­plus asso­ci­ated with the exten­sive glacia­tions may have ini­ti­ated intense car­bon bur­ial and oxy­gena­tion. Bur­ial of organic car­bon — from pho­to­syn­thetic organ­isms — in ocean sed­i­ments would result in the release of vast amounts of oxy­gen into the ocean-​atmosphere system.

We are delighted that the new metal data from the South China shale seem to be con­firm­ing these hypoth­e­sized events
(Tim­o­thy Lyons)

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: UC River­side Today, 26.09.2012)

Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia (UC) River­side geo­sci­en­tists help tie spike in ancient oceanic oxy­gen lev­els to ‘Snow­ball Earth’ event

Doushantuo FormationAn inter­na­tional team of sci­en­tists, includ­ing geo­chemists from the UC River­side, has uncov­ered new evi­dence link­ing extreme cli­mate change, oxy­gen rise, and early ani­mal evo­lu­tion. A dra­matic rise in atmos­pheric oxy­gen lev­els has long been spec­u­lated as the trig­ger for early ani­mal evo­lu­tion. While the direct cause-​and-​effect rela­tion­ships between ani­mal and envi­ron­men­tal evo­lu­tion remain top­ics of intense debate, all this research has been ham­pered by the lack of direct evi­dence for an oxy­gen increase coin­ci­dent with the appear­ance of the ear­li­est ani­mals — until now.

In the Sep­tem­ber 27 issue of the jour­nal Nature, the research team, led by sci­en­tists at the Uni­ver­sity of Nevada, Las Vegas, offers the first evi­dence of a direct link between trends in early ani­mal diver­sity and shifts in Earth sys­tem processes. The fos­sil record shows a marked increase in ani­mal and algae fos­sils roughly 635 mil­lion years ago. An analy­sis of organic-​rich rocks from South China points to a sud­den spike in oceanic oxy­gen lev­els at this time — in the wake of severe glacia­tion. The new evi­dence pre-​dates pre­vi­ous esti­mates of a life-​sustaining oxy­gena­tion event by more than 50 mil­lion years.

This work pro­vides the first real evi­dence for a long spec­u­lated change in oxy­gen lev­els in the after­math of the most severe cli­matic event in Earth’s his­tory — one of the so-​called ‘Snow­ball Earth’ glaciations
Tim­o­thy Lyons, a pro­fes­sor of bio­geo­chem­istry at UC River­side »

The research team analysed con­cen­tra­tions of trace met­als and sul­fur iso­topes, which are trac­ers of early oxy­gen lev­els, in mud­stone col­lected from the Doushan­tuo For­ma­tion in South China. The team found spikes in con­cen­tra­tions of the trace met­als, denot­ing higher oxy­gen lev­els in sea­wa­ter on a global scale. “We found lev­els of molyb­de­num and vana­dium in the Doushan­tuo For­ma­tion mud­stones that neces­si­tate that the global ocean was well ven­ti­lated. This well-​oxygenated ocean was the envi­ron­men­tal back­drop for early ani­mal diver­si­fi­ca­tion,” said Noah Planavsky, a for­mer UC River­side grad­u­ate stu­dent in Lyons’s lab now at Cal­Tech.

The high ele­ment con­cen­tra­tions found in the South China rocks are com­pa­ra­ble to mod­ern ocean sed­i­ments and point to a sub­stan­tial oxy­gen increase in the ocean-​atmosphere sys­tem around 635 mil­lion years ago. Accord­ing to the researchers, the oxy­gen rise is likely due to increased organic car­bon bur­ial, a result of more nutri­ent avail­abil­ity fol­low­ing the extreme cold cli­mate of the ‘Snow­ball Earth’ glacia­tion when ice shrouded much of Earth’s sur­face.

Lyons and Planavsky argued in research pub­lished ear­lier in the jour­nal Nature that a nutri­ent sur­plus asso­ci­ated with the exten­sive glacia­tions may have ini­ti­ated intense car­bon bur­ial and oxy­gena­tion. Bur­ial of organic car­bon — from pho­to­syn­thetic organ­isms — in ocean sed­i­ments would result in the release of vast amounts of oxy­gen into the ocean-​atmosphere sys­tem.

We are delighted that the new metal data from the South China shale seem to be con­firm­ing these hypoth­e­sized events
(Tim­o­thy Lyons)

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: UC River­side Today, 26.09.2012)

amur tigerRussia’s small pop­u­la­tion of highly-​endangered Amur tigers has almost halved in the last seven years despite attempts to pro­tect them, the Inter­na­tional Fund for Ani­mal Wel­fare (IFAW) said on Thurs­day, ahead of Sunday’s Tiger Day.

Just 80 of the big cats remain in the wild in the Amur Region in Russia’s Far East, accord­ing to mon­i­tor­ing in 16 zones there, down from 120 in the period 20045. Habi­tat shrink­age and a declin­ing food base con­tinue, despite mea­sures to pro­tect the ani­mals put in place after the 2010 Tiger Sum­mit in St. Peters­burg, IFAW says. “Every year there are more orphan tigers, which is a sign of a falling pop­u­la­tion and the rate of fall in the pop­u­la­tion today rep­re­sents a threat to their existence.”

The sys­tem of pro­tec­tion for them is com­plex and inco­her­ent, with dif­fer­ent agen­cies hav­ing over­lap­ping respon­si­bil­i­ties, all on insuf­fi­cient money, and the result of all this is that there is almost no-​one out work­ing in the taiga. There is an anti-​poaching pro­gram and also a return to the wild scheme for young tigers found there — pro­grams funded by IFAW for many years — but the pop­u­la­tion is still falling
Maria Vorontsova, direc­tor IFAW Russia »

Rus­sia must strictly pro­tect the tiger’s habi­tat, stop the bar­baric and ille­gal destruc­tion of the for­est and imple­ment a rig­or­ous anti-​poaching cam­paign, both against tiger-​hunters and those hunt­ing their prey,” Vorontsova said. Russ­ian law does not pun­ish poach­ers caught in pos­ses­sion of tiger pelts, or other ani­mal parts, she added.

In August 2012, Pri­morye police con­fis­cated eight tiger skins from the head of a band of poach­ers but could only pros­e­cute him for arms pos­ses­sion offences, she explained. “The effort and means is there, but we need to add the state’s will and respon­si­bil­ity. Or Tiger Day risks becom­ing a day when we will have tears in our eyes,” she said.

Since 2000, Tiger Day has been marked annu­ally on the last Sun­day of Sep­tem­ber in the Far East city of Vladi­vos­tok, and is sup­ported by the city and regional author­i­ties and IFAW.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at ALTA, Amur Leop­ard and Tiger Alliance. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: ALTA, 27.09.2012)

Bengal tiger cubsPolice in India’s north-​eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh are look­ing for a gang of poach­ers who entered a high-​security zoo in the cap­i­tal, Itana­gar, and hacked a Ben­gal tigress to death. Offi­cials have ordered an inves­ti­ga­tion into the inci­dent, which hap­pened on Mon­day night, Sep­tem­ber 24. The arrival of secu­rity guards pre­vented the poach­ers from car­ry­ing away the muti­lated animal.

The poach­ing and smug­gling of tiger body parts is com­mon across India. The ani­mals are prized through­out East Asia in gen­eral and China in par­tic­u­lar for the sup­posed med­i­c­i­nal value of their body parts.

Tiger num­bers have shrunk alarm­ingly in India in recent decades. A 2011 cen­sus counted about 1,700 tigers in the wild. A cen­tury ago there were esti­mated to be 100,000 tigers in India.

The tigress had bul­let injuries and most of its body parts were intact. But we are tak­ing action against those who should have been around to pre­vent the incident
BS Sajwan, the state’s chief con­ser­va­tor of forest »

The poach­ers tran­quilised the six-​year-​old tigress before enter­ing its enclo­sure and cut­ting it into six pieces, offi­cials at the zoo say. A post-​mortem of the ani­mal has now been car­ried out. Zoo chief Zoram Dopum said that the poach­ers fled when three secu­rity guards who had gone for din­ner returned to the area.

There have been attempts at poach­ing ani­mals in the zoo before, offi­cials say. In Feb­ru­ary 2006, three tigers and a leop­ard were poi­soned by unknown peo­ple. One tiger died, while the other two other ani­mals survived.

The tragedy of last Mon­day night had severe con­se­quences for the secu­rity guards, as they were fired. Fur­ther­more, the Arunachal Pradesh gov­ern­ment intro­duced a Bill (‘The Arunachal Pradesh For­est and Spe­cial Tiger Pro­tec­tion Forces Bill 2012) in the state assem­bly for pro­tec­tion of the big cats accord­ing The Eco­nomic Times on Thurs­day, Sep­tem­ber 27.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at BBC News and Glob­al­Post. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: BBC News India, 26.09.2012; Glob­al­Post, 26.09.2012)

Poach­ing and the illicit traf­fick­ing of wildlife prod­ucts were raised on the floor of the United Nations Gen­eral Assem­bly for the first time Mon­day dur­ing dis­cus­sions on strength­en­ing national and inter­na­tional gov­er­nance. World lead­ers gath­er­ing in New York for the global body’s 67th annual meet­ing high­lighted wildlife traf­fick­ing along with other severe threats to the rule of law such as cor­rup­tion and drug running.

United Nations General Assembly Hall In a writ­ten state­ment, per­ma­nent Secu­rity Coun­cil mem­ber United States high­lighted “the harm caused by wildlife poach­ing and traf­fick­ing to con­ser­va­tion efforts, rule of law, gov­er­nance and eco­nomic devel­op­ment.” The rapidly-​growing illicit inter­na­tional trade in endan­gered species prod­ucts, such as rhino horn, ele­phant ivory and tiger parts, is now esti­mated to be worth $810 bil­lion per year globally.

“Such organ­ised crime is increas­ingly affect­ing the envi­ron­ment and bio­di­ver­sity through poach­ing and ille­gal fish­ing,” Gabon’s Pres­i­dent Ali Bongo said dur­ing the High-​level Meet­ing on the Rule of Law. “Gabon intends to strengthen its crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem to com­bat this phe­nom­e­non. But such efforts will require a greater inter­na­tional legal cooperation.”

Per­ma­nent mem­ber France also empha­sised the sever­ity and neg­a­tive impacts of wildlife crime. “There are still entire sec­tors of activ­ity with­out any legal safety,” French Min­is­ter Del­e­gate for Devel­op­ment Pas­cal Can­fin said. “Inter­na­tional law is lack­ing when it comes to the plun­der­ing of nat­ural resources, for exam­ple, or the traf­fick­ing of fauna.”

Pres­i­dent Bongo took the occa­sion to reaf­firm his country’s com­mit­ment to “com­bat­ing vio­la­tions of the Con­ven­tion on Inter­na­tional Trade [in] Endan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora as well as other con­ven­tions to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment and biodiversity.”

In response to record lev­els of ele­phant poach­ing in Africa, Pres­i­dent Bongo over­saw the burn­ing of Gabon’s seized ivory stock­pile ear­lier this year after a full audit sup­ported by WWF and TRAF­FIC. Organ­ised crim­i­nal syn­di­cates, some­times linked to armed insur­gent groups, are believed to be behind many of the tens of thou­sands of ele­phant poach­ing deaths occur­ring in Africa each year. Ivory tusks are highly valu­able on Asian black markets.

Illicit wildlife traf­fick­ing can have severe con­se­quences for peo­ple as well as the envi­ron­ment, yet it is not con­sid­ered a seri­ous crime by many gov­ern­ments. It is often a low risk and high profit crim­i­nal activ­ity, which is a dan­ger­ous com­bi­na­tion. Gov­ern­ments have made a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward by intro­duc­ing the issue into this impor­tant forum on the rule of law. We now call on all them to increase their law enforce­ment responses to wildlife crime on a com­men­su­rate basis
(Wendy Elliott, WWF Global Species Pro­gramme Manager)

Roland Melisch, Direc­tor of TRAFFIC’s Africa & Europe pro­grammes said: “Good gov­er­nance is essen­tial to pre­vent crimes such as illicit wildlife traf­fick­ing. Coun­tries need to be held account­able to their com­mit­ments under rel­e­vant United Nations treaties.”

WWF and its part­ner TRAF­FIC, the wildlife mon­i­tor­ing net­work, are cam­paign­ing for greater pro­tec­tion of threat­ened species such as rhi­nos, tigers and ele­phants. In order to save endan­gered ani­mals, source, tran­sit and demand coun­tries must all improve law enforce­ment, cus­toms con­trols and judi­cial sys­tems. WWF and TRAF­FIC are also urg­ing gov­ern­ments in con­sumer coun­tries to under­take demand reduc­tion efforts to curb the use of endan­gered species products.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at WWF. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Souce: WWF News, 25.09.2012)

The New Zealand gov­ern­ment has come under fire for oppos­ing action to save the crit­i­cally endan­gered Maui’s dol­phin at the world’s largest con­ser­va­tion sum­mit — with lead­ing con­ser­va­tion groups call­ing New Zealand’s actions on the inter­na­tional stage ‘shameful’.

A motion to stop the extinc­tion of the world’s rarest dol­phins and por­poises, includ­ing New Zealand’s Hector’s and Maui’s dol­phins and Mexico’s vaquitas, was adopted with an over­whelm­ing major­ity at the IUCN’s World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress in Jeju, Korea last week.

576 IUCN mem­bers, includ­ing gov­ern­ments and NGOs, voted for the motion, and only two opposed*. The New Zealand gov­ern­ment was one of them.

Maui dolphinMaui’s dol­phin or popoto (Cephalorhynchus hec­tori maui) is the world’s rarest and small­est known sub­species of dol­phin. They are a sub-​species of the Hector’s dol­phin. Maui’s dol­phin are only found off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and are the country’s only endemic sub­species of cetacean. As of 2012, it is esti­mated that 55 Maui’s dol­phins exist in the world.

There is over­whelm­ing global sup­port for the New Zealand gov­ern­ment to take action to stop gill­net and trawl fish­ing threat­en­ing the sur­vival of our endan­gered dol­phins. By vot­ing against essen­tial pro­tec­tion for the world’s most endan­gered marine dol­phin, the New Zealand gov­ern­ment has acted shame­fully and can no longer claim to be lead­ers in con­ser­va­tion. If we fail to act now, it will not be long before Maui’s dis­ap­pear from our waters forever.
Rebecca Bird, WWF’s Marine Pro­gramme Manager »

Barry Wee­ber, co-​chair of the Envi­ron­ment and Con­ser­va­tion Organ­i­sa­tions of New Zealand (ECO), which spon­sored the motion, received input on the pro­posal from mem­bers of the IUCN’s Species Sur­vival Com­mis­sion Cetaceans Spe­cial­ist Group. “Almost every­one apart from the New Zealand gov­ern­ment wanted to see a strong res­o­lu­tion that recog­nised the threat­ened sta­tus of these spe­cial dol­phins and porpoises.”

Karli Thomas, Green­peace Oceans Cam­paigner, said: “Our gov­ern­ment is let­ting minor­ity busi­ness inter­ests ride rough shod over the val­ues of ordi­nary New Zealan­ders. By vot­ing against this call to pro­tect our most endan­gered dol­phin, New Zealand has arro­gantly dis­missed inter­na­tional con­cern and has severely tar­nished our global reputation.”

WWF-​New Zealand, Green­peace, ECO and For­est & Bird are cam­paign­ing to pro­tect the crit­i­cally endan­gered Maui’s and endan­gered Hector’s dol­phins from extinc­tion, and sup­port the IUCN res­o­lu­tion that was over­whelm­ingly endorsed by mem­bers at the Jeju meeting.

A short video with Maui’s dolphins:

The motion adopted was: M035 — Actions to avert the extinc­tions of rare dol­phins: Maui’s dol­phins, Hector’s dol­phins, Vaquita por­poises and South Asian river and fresh­wa­ter depen­dent dol­phins and por­poises (*Gov­ern­ment votes: 117 yes, 2 no, 18 absten­tions. NGO votes: 459 yes, 0 no, 8 absten­tions).

The M035 motion text urged the New Zealand Gov­ern­ment to:

a. Urgently extend dol­phin pro­tec­tion mea­sures, with an empha­sis on ban­ning gill net and trawl net use from the shore­line to the 100 meter depth con­tour in all areas where Hector’s and Maui’s dol­phins are found, includ­ing har­bours;

b. To increase imme­di­ately the level of mon­i­tor­ing and enforce­ment with an empha­sis on requir­ing 100 per­cent observer cov­er­age on any gill net or trawl­ing ves­sels allowed to oper­ate in any part of the range of Hector’s and Maui’s dol­phins until such bans can be imple­mented; and

c. To report such action and mon­i­tor­ing and enforce­ment results

Motions at the World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress are impor­tant for set­ting pol­icy for the IUCN, pro­vid­ing bench­marks con­ser­va­tion bench­marks for mem­ber nations.

WWF is call­ing on New Zealan­ders and peo­ple around the world to send an email to NZ PM John Key call­ing on him to pro­tect Maui’s dolpins, at Save the World’s Small­est Marine Dol­phin or at face​book​.com/​W​W​F​N​e​w​Z​e​a​l​a​n​d. More infor­ma­tion about the harm­ful fish­ing meth­ods that are being used can be found here.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at WWF-​NZ. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: WWF New Zealand News, 21.09.2012; Wikipedia)

On 15 Sep­tem­ber a healthy male Okapi calf was born at Antwerp Zoo. World­wide only 48 Okapi have been born in cap­tiv­ity, seven of them at Antwerp Zoo. This calf is named Nkosi, which means God in the Xhosa lan­guage, one of the offi­cial lan­guages of South Africa.

Footage of the new­born Okapi calf:

This new­born Okapi deliv­ered some good news, finally, about Okapi con­ser­va­tion after the bru­tal attack on the Okapi Wildlife Reserve head­quar­ters — the Epulu Breed­ing and Research Sta­tion — in the Congo Basin in June this year. A group of armed ban­dits or poach­ers attacked and killed the entire breed­ing herd of 15 Okapi and at least seven staff mem­bers. Epulu plays a piv­otal role in the future sur­vival of the Okapi and is cen­tral in man­ag­ing stock for global con­ser­va­tion breed­ing pro­grammes of the species.

The Antwerp Zoo over­sees the Inter­na­tional Stud­book for Okapi and coor­di­nates the breed­ing pro­gramme for Okapi in Euro­pean zoos — the Euro­pean Endan­gered Species Pro­gramme — in an effort to main­tain genetic diver­sity in the cap­tive pop­u­la­tion. Zoo breed­ing pro­grammes are more impor­tant than ever since only around 35,000 Okapi can be found in the wild still. Okapi are found only in the Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of Congo, where the afore­men­tioned raid on the Okapi Wildlife Reserve by poach­ers took place.

Other threats to the Okapi’s uncer­tain future are habi­tat destruc­tion and frag­men­ta­tion by clear­ing of rain for­est for agri­cul­ture and trop­i­cal hard­woods, min­ing, and the polit­i­cal and socio-​economic unrest in the region.

OkapiOkapi are related to giraffes, with their long tongues and long necks to prove it. The bold stripes are unique to each Okapi, much like a person’s fin­ger­prints. These stripes pro­vide ideal cam­ou­flage in their native jun­gle habitat.

(Source: Antwerp Zoo News, 20.09.2012; ZooBorns, 22.09.2012)

One of the rarest birds in the world has been bred by keep­ers at Bris­tol Zoo Gardens.

Socorro doveA Socorro dove (Zenaida graysoni) chick has hatched and is thriv­ing in Bris­tol zoo, mark­ing a major suc­cess for the species which is extinct in the wild. It is the first time Socorro doves have suc­cess­fully bred at the Zoo in five years. The chick was one of two that hatched, but sadly one of them died at a young age.

The last recorded sight­ing of a Socorro dove in the wild was in 1972. Now there are around just 100 held in cap­tiv­ity in zoos around the world — includ­ing 25 birds in six UK zoos. Coor­di­nated con­ser­va­tion breed­ing of the birds by organ­i­sa­tions such as Bris­tol Zoo, which is involved with more than 100 coor­di­nated breed­ing pro­grammes for threat­ened wildlife species, has pre­vented the total extinc­tion of the species.

Sadly these birds now only exist in cap­tiv­ity, so to have this chick hatch and sur­vive 40 years after they were last seen in the wild is a great achievement
Nigel Simp­son, Bris­tol Zoo’s Cura­tor of birds »

The chick at Bris­tol Zoo has been raised by fos­ter birds — a pair of Euro­pean tur­tle doves — which have a strong track record of rais­ing healthy chicks. The pre­cious Socorro dove egg was placed in the tur­tle doves’ nest as the adult Socorro doves have a poor his­tory of incu­bat­ing eggs. Keep­ers mon­i­tored the chick via a hid­den cam­era to fol­low its progress, cap­tur­ing rare footage of these extremely endan­gered birds.

A short clip of the two chicks (one of which unfor­tu­nately later died):

Nigel Simp­son: “The fos­ter birds have done a fan­tas­tic job of rais­ing this very impor­tant chick and we are thrilled to say that another pair of fos­ter birds is now incu­bat­ing another Socorro dove egg which we hope will hatch soon.”

The chick is now fully fledged and can be seen in one of the aviaries near the zoo’s edu­ca­tion cen­tre. Bris­tol Zoo hopes the young bird, and any future chicks, will even­tu­ally be paired with Socorro doves from other UK zoos to con­tinue the vital cap­tive breed­ing pro­gramme for the species.

Socorro doves were native to the island of Socorro, 600 miles off the west­ern coast of Mex­ico. They died out after falling prey to a ris­ing num­ber of feral cats in the area. Over­graz­ing sheep also destroyed much of their for­est floor habi­tat and the birds were also hunted by humans for food.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Bris­tol Zoo Gar­dens. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: Bris­tol Zoo Gar­dens — News, 20.09.2012)

One of the rarest birds in the world has been bred by keep­ers at Bris­tol Zoo Gardens.

Socorro doveA Socorro dove (Zenaida graysoni) chick has hatched and is thriv­ing in Bris­tol zoo, mark­ing a major suc­cess for the species which is extinct in the wild. It is the first time Socorro doves have suc­cess­fully bred at the Zoo in five years. The chick was one of two that hatched, but sadly one of them died at a young age.

The last recorded sight­ing of a Socorro dove in the wild was in 1972. Now there are around just 100 held in cap­tiv­ity in zoos around the world — includ­ing 25 birds in six UK zoos. Coor­di­nated con­ser­va­tion breed­ing of the birds by organ­i­sa­tions such as Bris­tol Zoo, which is involved with more than 100 coor­di­nated breed­ing pro­grammes for threat­ened wildlife species, has pre­vented the total extinc­tion of the species.

Sadly these birds now only exist in cap­tiv­ity, so to have this chick hatch and sur­vive 40 years after they were last seen in the wild is a great achievement
Nigel Simp­son, Bris­tol Zoo’s Cura­tor of birds »

The chick at Bris­tol Zoo has been raised by fos­ter birds — a pair of Euro­pean tur­tle doves — which have a strong track record of rais­ing healthy chicks. The pre­cious Socorro dove egg was placed in the tur­tle doves’ nest as the adult Socorro doves have a poor his­tory of incu­bat­ing eggs. Keep­ers mon­i­tored the chick via a hid­den cam­era to fol­low its progress, cap­tur­ing rare footage of these extremely endan­gered birds.

A short clip of the two chicks (one of which unfor­tu­nately later died):

Nigel Simp­son: “The fos­ter birds have done a fan­tas­tic job of rais­ing this very impor­tant chick and we are thrilled to say that another pair of fos­ter birds is now incu­bat­ing another Socorro dove egg which we hope will hatch soon.”

The chick is now fully fledged and can be seen in one of the aviaries near the zoo’s edu­ca­tion cen­tre. Bris­tol Zoo hopes the young bird, and any future chicks, will even­tu­ally be paired with Socorro doves from other UK zoos to con­tinue the vital cap­tive breed­ing pro­gramme for the species.

Socorro doves were native to the island of Socorro, 600 miles off the west­ern coast of Mex­ico. They died out after falling prey to a ris­ing num­ber of feral cats in the area. Over­graz­ing sheep also destroyed much of their for­est floor habi­tat and the birds were also hunted by humans for food.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Bris­tol Zoo Gar­dens. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: Bris­tol Zoo Gar­dens — News, 20.09.2012)

E coliA team of researchers at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity has doc­u­mented the step-​by-​step process in which organ­isms evolve new func­tions. The results, pub­lished in the cur­rent issue of Nature, are revealed through an in-​depth, genomics-​based analy­sis that decodes how E. coli bac­te­ria fig­ured out how to sup­ple­ment a tra­di­tional diet of glu­cose with an extra course of citrate.

It’s pretty nifty to see a new bio­log­i­cal func­tion evolve. The first citrate-​eaters were just barely able to grow on the cit­rate, but they got much bet­ter over time. We wanted to under­stand the changes that allowed the bac­te­ria to evolve this new abil­ity. We were lucky to have a sys­tem that allowed us to do so
Zachary Blount, lead-​author, MSU’s BEA­CON Cen­ter for the Study of Evo­lu­tion in Action »

Nor­mal E. coli can’t digest cit­rate when oxy­gen is present. In fact, it’s a dis­tinct hall­mark of E. coli. They can’t eat cit­rate because E. coli don’t express the right pro­tein to absorb cit­rate molecules.

To deci­pher the respon­si­ble muta­tions, Blount worked with Richard Lenski, MSU Pro­fes­sor of Micro­bi­ol­ogy and Mol­e­c­u­lar Genet­ics. Lenski’s long-​term exper­i­ment, cul­ti­vat­ing cul­tures of fast-​growing E. coli, was launched in 1988 and has allowed him and his team­mates to study more than 56,000 gen­er­a­tions of bac­te­r­ial evolution.

The exper­i­ment demon­strates nat­ural selec­tion at work. And because sam­ples are frozen and avail­able for later study, when some­thing new emerges sci­en­tists can go back to ear­lier gen­er­a­tions to look for the steps that hap­pened along the way. “We first saw the citrate-​using bac­te­ria around 33,000 gen­er­a­tions,” Lenski explained. “But Zack was able to show that some of the impor­tant muta­tions had already occurred before then by replay­ing evo­lu­tion from dif­fer­ent inter­me­di­ate stages. He showed you could re-​evolve the citrate-​eaters, but only after some of the other pieces of the puz­zle were in place.”

In the Nature paper, Blount and his team­mates ana­lyzed 29 genomes from dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions to find the muta­tional pieces of the puz­zle. They uncov­ered a three-​step process in which the bac­te­ria devel­oped this new ability.

The first stage was poten­ti­a­tion, when the E. coli accu­mu­lated at least two muta­tions that set the stage for later events. The sec­ond step, actu­al­iza­tion, is when the bac­te­ria first began eat­ing cit­rate, but only just barely nib­bling at it. The final stage, refine­ment, involved muta­tions that greatly improved the ini­tially weak func­tion. This allowed the cit­rate eaters to wolf down their new food source and to become dom­i­nant in the population.

We were par­tic­u­larly excited about the actu­al­iza­tion stage,” Blount said. “The actual muta­tion involved is quite com­plex. It re-​arranged part of the bacteria’s DNA, mak­ing a new reg­u­la­tory mod­ule that had not existed before. This new mod­ule causes the pro­duc­tion of a pro­tein that allows the bac­te­ria to bring cit­rate into the cell when oxy­gen is present. That is a new trick for E. coli.”

The change was far from normal:

It wasn’t a typ­i­cal muta­tion at all, where just one base-​pair, one let­ter, in the genome is changed. Instead, part of the genome was copied so that two chunks of DNA were stitched together in a new way. One chunk encoded a pro­tein to get cit­rate into the cell, and the other chunk caused that pro­tein to be expressed
( Richard Lenski)

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity News, 19.09.2012)

Bear bile farm
Accord­ing to experts, the exis­tence of bear bile farms has not reduced the pres­sure on wild bear pop­u­la­tions. Instead, con­fis­ca­tion records indi­cate that cubs are rou­tinely taken from the wild, espe­cially from South­east Asia, to stock bear farms, which sup­ply much of the med­i­cines and prod­ucts in demand through­out Asia.

The issue of bear farms was on the agenda at the recent Inter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN) World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress in Jeju, Korea after a motion to phase out com­mer­cial bear bile farm­ing was tabled for debate at the meeting.

The term ‘farm’ is a mis­lead­ing one, as it implies the bears are being bred and that the trade may be sus­tain­able. This is absolutely not the case and wild bears con­tinue to be sourced for the extrac­tion of bile
Chris R. Shep­herd, deputy direc­tor of TRAF­FIC South­east Asia and co-​chair of the trade expert team of the IUCN SSC Bear Spe­cial­ist Group »

Ris­ing prices of wild cubs on the black mar­ket indi­cate a high demand. At the same time, sur­veys have found that that farms in Lao PDR, Myan­mar and Viet Nam show low suc­cess in breed­ing bears. Breed­ing records on Chi­nese farms are not avail­able to cor­rob­o­rate the claim that they are self-​sustaining. There is lit­tle evi­dence to sup­port claims that farms relieve pres­sure on wild bear pop­u­la­tions, given bear pop­u­la­tions are in decline in the bear-​farming coun­tries in South­east Asia and China.

Bile is used as a med­i­cine for spe­cific ill­nesses, and has a long his­tory in Chi­nese cul­ture. Con­sumer demand for wild-​sourced bear bile con­tin­ues to drive poach­ing with many con­sumers believ­ing wild bile is more potent and pure.

Within a decade of farms open­ing in Lao PDR, demand for wild bear bile sky­rock­eted, and poach­ers have taken bears to sup­ply not only this lucra­tive mar­ket, but also to sup­ply farms.

“These facil­i­ties are a source of prod­ucts enter­ing the global black mar­ket and are a major dri­ver behind the poach­ing of wild bears.” says Shep­herd. “Such facil­i­ties have no demon­stra­ble pos­i­tive impact on bear conservation.”

The motion before IUCN high­lights how bile farm­ing has cre­ated a much wider mar­ket of con­sumers who con­sider this prod­uct an essen­tial “tonic” to pro­mote and main­tain good health, rather than a med­i­cine to fight illness.

A 2011 report by TRAF­FIC in South­east Asia, Pills, Pow­ders, Vials and Flakes: the bear bile trade in Asia, found bear bile extrac­tion facil­i­ties to be a major source of ille­gal prod­ucts enter­ing the inter­na­tional mar­ket, in vio­la­tion of national laws, and the Con­ven­tion on Inter­na­tional trade in Endan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The motion to phase out farm­ing of bears for their bile has been sub­mit­ted for con­sid­er­a­tion and debate at the com­ing IUCN World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress. Motions are cen­tral to IUCN’s gov­er­nance sys­tem and an impor­tant means by which Mem­bers can influ­ence future direc­tions in the con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity and seek inter­na­tional sup­port for con­ser­va­tion issues. If adopted by a major­ity of vot­ing Mem­bers, they may take the form of res­o­lu­tions or rec­om­men­da­tions that guide con­ser­va­tion pol­icy and action.

Good News: motion is adopted! [although the orig­i­nal text of the motion has been mod­i­fied — some valu­able remarks being removed, Moos]

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at TRAF­FIC. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: TRAF­FIC, 24.08.2012; IUCN, 14.09.2012)

tigerZSL Lon­don Zoo is just six months away from “bring­ing down the bars” once again, as a project for a brand-​new £3.6m enclo­sure for one of the world’s most endan­gered ani­mals gets under­way. Tiger Ter­ri­tory, which will be home to critically-​endangered Suma­tran tigers, is begin­ning to take shape at ZSL Lon­don Zoo, where the 186-​year-​old site is under­go­ing a mas­sive rede­vel­op­ment to make way for the 2,500sqm enclosure.

The result of a large pub­lic fundrais­ing cam­paign by ZSL Lon­don Zoo, Tiger Ter­ri­tory will give mil­lions of zoo vis­i­tors the chance to get close to these incred­i­ble ani­mals and pro­vide a cen­tral hub for ZSL’s tiger con­ser­va­tion work when it opens in spring 2013. Vis­i­tors to Tiger Ter­ri­tory will embark on a jour­ney through an Indone­sian habi­tat, com­ing face-​to-​face with beau­ti­ful tigers through the floor-​to-​ceiling glass windows.

Five times the size of the cur­rent tiger enclo­sure, the new exhibit has been designed with ZSL’s team of tiger keep­ers, con­ser­va­tion­ists and experts to ensure that it per­fectly suits the big cats’ needs. Tigers are excel­lent climbers and like to observe their ter­rain from a tow­er­ing van­tage point and Tiger Ter­ri­tory will allow them to do just that. The exhibit will fea­ture tall trees for the cats to scale and high feed­ing poles to encour­age their nat­ural preda­tory behav­iours. Unusu­ally for cats, tigers love water, and vis­i­tors will be able to see them hang­ing out in their custom-​built pool. When they’re not play­ing in the water, the tigers will have all-​day access to indoor dens where vis­i­tors will be able to see the big cats relaxing.

Care­fully planted to mimic the trop­i­cal foliage of the island of Suma­tra, the Zoo’s team of expert hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ists stud­ied images of native Indone­sian flora, taken by zookeeper Teague Stub­bing­ton on a recent visit to ZSL’s tiger con­ser­va­tion project.

Work­ing around the world to try to reverse the fate of the Suma­tran tiger, Tiger Ter­ri­tory will enable ZSL to breed tigers at ZSL Lon­don Zoo and learn more about these elu­sive ani­mals to apply to its field con­ser­va­tion projects.

The Euro­pean breed­ing pro­gramme and the Global Man­age­ment Species Pro­gramme for Suma­tran tigers are both coor­di­nated by ZSL Lon­don Zoo — where ZSL’s spe­cial­ists are respon­si­ble for ensur­ing a healthy and diverse pop­u­la­tion of tigers in zoos around the world.

With Tiger Ter­ri­tory, 2013 is set to be the year of the tiger at ZSL Lon­don Zoo.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at ZSL’s web­site. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: ZSL news, 10.09.2012)

From Aus­tralia to Patag­o­nia, from coral reefs to rain­forests and deserts, the IUCN Red List of Ecosys­tems will assess the sta­tus of ecosys­tems world­wide, to iden­tify their risks and the poten­tial impact on both ecosys­tems and human well­be­ing. The motion to con­sol­i­date this new IUCN ini­tia­tive has been adopted dur­ing the recent IUCN World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress, 615 September.

The press release on the brand new IUCN Red List of Ecosys­tems web­site reads: With a total of 661 votes in favor, 8 against and 26 abstained, the V World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress, dur­ing ses­sions on Sep­tem­ber 12th 2012 in Jeju, Repub­lic of Korea, adopted motion 72 on the con­sol­i­da­tion of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems.

Marine ecosystemMod­elled on the influ­en­tial IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species™, the Red List of Ecosys­tems will iden­tify if an ecosys­tem is vul­ner­a­ble, endan­gered, or crit­i­cally endan­gered, based on an agreed and inter­na­tion­ally accepted set of cri­te­ria for risk assess­ment. In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing a global stan­dard for assess­ing the sta­tus of ecosys­tems, the out­puts of the Ecosys­tem Red List could also be used to inform on the cur­rent and future threats to the ser­vices that such ecosys­tems pro­vide, such as clean water, cli­mate reg­u­la­tion and nat­ural products.

“Nat­ural envi­ron­ments are under increas­ing pres­sure from unsus­tain­able use and other threats,” says Jon Paul Rodriguez, Leader of the IUCN Com­mis­sion on Ecosys­tem Management’s Ecosys­tems Red List The­matic Group. “Func­tional ecosys­tems are essen­tial to our liveli­hoods and well­be­ing. We will assess the sta­tus of marine, ter­res­trial, fresh­wa­ter and sub­ter­ranean ecosys­tems at local, regional and global lev­els. This, in turn, will help inform on the link between such sys­tems and the liveli­hoods of those who depend on them. The assess­ment can then form the basis for con­certed imple­men­ta­tion action, so that we can man­age them sus­tain­ably if their risk of col­lapse is low, or restore them if they are threat­ened and then mon­i­tor their recovery.”

We envi­sion that it could become a one-​stop shop for econ­o­mists, rural com­mu­ni­ties, local and national author­i­ties, who can use the assess­ments of the Red List of Ecosys­tems to bet­ter man­age the finite resources of our planet
Edmund Bar­row, Head of the IUCN Ecosys­tem Man­age­ment Programme »

The Red List of Ecosys­tems can help guide con­ser­va­tion action on the ground, includ­ing land use plan­ning and invest­ment pri­or­i­ties, by eval­u­at­ing the risks of ecosys­tem col­lapse and the sub­se­quent lost of ecosys­tem ser­vices. This can be a basis for land­scape and eco­nomic analy­sis, which then forms the basis for action, lead­ing, for exam­ple, to ecosys­tem restora­tion and improved governance.

Accord­ing to IUCN, the Red List of Ecosys­tems will also influ­ence the pol­icy process of inter­na­tional con­ven­tions, such as the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity and guide invest­ments for sev­eral Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals, such as poverty reduc­tion and improve­ments in health — both depen­dent on healthy nat­ural envi­ron­ments that pro­vide impor­tant goods and ser­vices for human wellbeing.

The process for estab­lish­ing an IUCN Red List of Ecosys­tems was launched at IUCN’s World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress in 2008 and since then the IUCN Com­mis­sion on Ecosys­tem Man­age­ment has focused on con­sol­i­dat­ing assess­ment cri­te­ria for cat­e­goris­ing ecosys­tems accord­ing to their risk of col­lapse and pilot­ing this in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, such as Venezuela and Sene­gal. Though the process for assess­ing the world’s ecosys­tems is ongo­ing, and regional assess­ments will be pub­lished as they become avail­able, com­plete global cov­er­age of all of Earth’s marine, ter­res­trial, fresh­wa­ter and sub­ter­ranean ecosys­tems is planned for 2025.

(Source: IUCN World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress press release, 09.09.2012; IUCN Red List of Ecosys­tems press release, 12.09.2012)

Livestockpopulationsize trend TableThe global population of cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep increased 23 percent between 1980 and 2010, from 3.5 billion to 4.3 billion, according to research by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online publication. These figures continue a trend of rising farm animal populations, with harmful effects on the environment, public health, and global development.

Both production and consumption of animal products are increasingly concentrated in developing countries. In contrast, due in part to a growing awareness of the health consequences of high meat consumption, the appetite for animal products is stagnating or declining in many industrial countries.

The demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products in developing countries has increased at a staggering rate in recent decades,” says report co-author Danielle Nierenberg, director of Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet project. “While indus­tri­alised coun­tries still con­sume the most ani­mal prod­ucts, urban­i­sa­tion and ris­ing incomes in devel­op­ing coun­tries are spurring shifts to more meat-​heavy diets.”

Farm-​animal pro­duc­tion pro­vides a safety net for mil­lions of the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. But given the industry’s rapid and often poorly reg­u­lated growth, the biggest chal­lenge in the com­ing decades will be to pro­duce meat and other ani­mal prod­ucts in envi­ron­men­tally and socially sus­tain­able ways
Danielle Nieren­berg »

Con­cen­trated ani­mal feed­ing oper­a­tions (CAFOs), or fac­tory farms, are the most rapidly grow­ing sys­tem of farm ani­mal pro­duc­tion. The United Nations Food and Agri­cul­ture Orga­ni­za­tion (FAO) esti­mates that 80 per­cent of growth in the live­stock sec­tor now comes from these indus­trial pro­duc­tion sys­tems. CAFOs now account for 72 per­cent of poul­try pro­duc­tion, 43 per­cent of egg pro­duc­tion, and 55 per­cent of pork pro­duc­tion world­wide. But CAFOs pro­duce high lev­els of waste, use huge amounts of water and land for feed pro­duc­tion, con­tribute to the spread of human and ani­mal dis­eases, and play a role in bio­di­ver­sity loss. Farm ani­mal pro­duc­tion also con­tributes to cli­mate change: the indus­try accounts for an esti­mated 18 per­cent of the world’s green­house gas emis­sions, includ­ing 9 per­cent of the car­bon diox­ide, nearly 40 per­cent of the methane (a green­house gas 25 times more potent than car­bon diox­ide), and 65 per­cent of the nitrous oxide (300 times more potent as car­bon dioxide).

The envi­ron­ment is not all that is at stake with this rapidly shift­ing means of food pro­duc­tion; fac­tory farms pose a seri­ous threat to pub­lic health as well. Diets high in ani­mal fat and meat — par­tic­u­larly red meat and processed meats, such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage — have been linked to obe­sity, dia­betes, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, and cer­tain types of cancer.

Although CAFOs orig­i­nated in Europe and North Amer­ica, they are becom­ing increas­ingly preva­lent in devel­op­ing regions like East and South­east Asia, where envi­ron­men­tal, animal-​welfare, pub­lic health, and labour stan­dards are often not as well-​established as in indus­tri­alised regions. The report stresses that to pre­vent seri­ous human and envi­ron­men­tal costs, pol­i­cy­mak­ers will need to strengthen pro­duc­tion reg­u­la­tions around the world.

Fur­ther high­lights from the report:

  • Between 1980 and 2005, per capita milk con­sump­tion in devel­op­ing coun­tries almost dou­bled, meat con­sump­tion more than tripled, and egg con­sump­tion increased fivefold.

  • Approximately75 per­cent of the new dis­eases that affected humans from 1999 to 2009 orig­i­nated in ani­mals or ani­mal products.

  • Because CAFOs rely on a nar­row range of com­mer­cial breeds selected for their high pro­duc­tiv­ity and low input needs, less-​popular indige­nous live­stock breeds are rapidly falling out of use: in 2010, the FAO reported that at least 21 per­cent of the world’s live­stock breeds are at risk of extinction.

  • Live­stock pro­duc­tion is a major dri­ver of defor­esta­tion: cat­tle enter­prises have been respon­si­ble for 6580 per­cent of the defor­esta­tion of the Ama­zon, and coun­tries in South Amer­ica are clear­ing large swaths of for­est and other land to grow ani­mal feed crops like maize and soybean.

(Source: World­watch Insti­tute press release, 23.03.2012)

Tigers aren’t known for being accom­mo­dat­ing, but a new study in the Pro­ceed­ings of the National Acad­emy of Sci­ences indi­cates that the car­ni­vores in Nepal are tak­ing the night shift to bet­ter coex­ist with humans.

It’s a very fun­da­men­tal con­flict over resources. Tigers need resources, peo­ple need the same resources. If we oper­ate under the tra­di­tional wis­dom that tigers only can sur­vive with space ded­i­cated solely for them, there would always be con­flict. If your pri­or­ity is peo­ple, tigers lose out. If your pri­or­ity is tigers, peo­ple lose out
Neil Carter, co-​author of the study »

The rev­e­la­tion that tigers and peo­ple are shar­ing exactly the same space — the same roads and trails — of Chit­wan National Park flies in the face of long-​held con­vic­tions in con­ser­va­tion cir­cles. It also under­scores how suc­cess­ful con­ser­va­tion efforts need sci­ences that takes into account both nature and humans.

As our planet becomes more crowded, we need to find cre­ative solu­tions that con­sider both human and nat­ural sys­tems,” said Jian­guo “Jack” Liu, the direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Sys­tems Inte­gra­tion and Sus­tain­abil­ity at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity. “Sus­tain­abil­ity can be achieved if we have a good under­stand­ing of the com­pli­cated con­nec­tions between both worlds. We’ve found some­thing very inter­est­ing is hap­pen­ing in Nepal that holds promise for both humans and nature to thrive.”

Con­ven­tional con­ser­va­tion wis­dom is that tigers need plenty of people-​free space, which often leads to peo­ple being relo­cated or their access to resources com­pro­mised to make way for tigers.

Neil Carter, MSU doc­toral stu­dent and one of the paper’s co-​authors, spent two sea­sons set­ting motion-​detecting cam­era traps. His analy­sis of the images shows that peo­ple and tigers are walk­ing the same paths, albeit at dif­fer­ent times.

TigerbyNightTigers typ­i­cally move around at all times of the day and night, mon­i­tor­ing their ter­ri­tory, mat­ing and hunt­ing. But in the study area, the tigers had become crea­tures of the night. Peo­ple in Nepal gen­er­ally avoid the forests at night. Essen­tially, quit­ting time for peo­ple sig­nals start­ing time for Chitwan’s tigers, who seem to be adapt­ing to make coex­is­tence work.

There appears to be a mid­dle ground where you might actu­ally be able to pro­tect the species at high den­si­ties and give peo­ple access to for­est goods they need to live. If that’s the case, then this can hap­pen in other places, and the future of tigers is much brighter than it would be otherwise
(Neil Carter)

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: MSU News, 03.09.2012)

Baboons choose which tree to find food in and who to take for­ag­ing, just like humans decide where to shop and who to go shop­ping with.

These find­ings show how ani­mals’ decision-​making can be depen­dent on where they are and who they are. This sug­gests that some ani­mals can change their behav­iour to adjust to a chang­ing environment
Dr Guy Cowlishaw, ZSL, co-​author »

In a study recently pub­lished in The Amer­i­can Nat­u­ral­ist, a group of sci­en­tists led by the Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don (ZSL) have used a tech­nique devel­oped to study human con­sumer choices to inves­ti­gate what influ­ences a baboon’s for­ag­ing deci­sions. The tech­nique, known as dis­crete choice mod­el­ling, has rarely been used before in ani­mal behav­iour research. It showed how baboons not only con­sider many social and non-​social fac­tors when mak­ing for­ag­ing deci­sions, but also how they change these fac­tors depend­ing on their habi­tat and their own social traits.

Chacma baboonOver a six month period in Tsao­bis Leop­ard Park in Namibia, ZSL sci­en­tists fol­lowed troops of chacma baboons (Papio ursi­nus) on foot from dawn to dusk. They recog­nised indi­vid­ual baboons by dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures, and closely observed both the aggres­sive and friendly social rela­tion­ships between baboons, not­ing which food patch they for­aged in and who they for­aged with. As expected, baboons were more likely to use patches con­tain­ing more food. More inter­est­ingly, they also paid atten­tion to their social rela­tion­ships with other baboons in the patches.

Harry Mar­shall, from ZSL and Impe­r­ial Col­lege Lon­don con­ducted the research. He says: “More dom­i­nant baboons pre­ferred using patches con­tain­ing ani­mals who they were dom­i­nant to, and so more likely to be able to steal food from. How­ever, these less dom­i­nant baboons seemed to com­pen­sate for this by pre­fer­ring patches con­tain­ing ani­mals with whom they had good social bonds and so were more likely to tol­er­ate them.”

Sci­en­tists at ZSL will con­tinue work­ing with col­lab­o­ra­tors and use the find­ings from this study to help them inves­ti­gate how baboons’ for­ag­ing behav­iour is affected by changes in the envi­ron­ment, and the impact this will have on socially for­ag­ing species in the future. [Per­haps these results could affect the way baboons are kept in cap­tiv­ity in the future, Moos]

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety Lon­don (ZSL). Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: ZSL news, 14.09.2012)

lesula monkeyResearchers have iden­ti­fied a new species of African mon­key, locally known as the Lesula, described in the Sep­tem­ber 12 issue of the open access jour­nal PLOS ONE. This is only the sec­ond new species of African mon­key dis­cov­ered in the last 28 years. The other was the Kipunji (Rung­we­ce­bus kipunji) in Tan­za­nia, in 2005, and cur­rently listed as Crit­i­cally Endangered

The first Lesula mon­key (Cer­co­p­ithe­cus lomamien­sis sp) found was a young cap­tive ani­mal seen in 2007 in a school director’s com­pound in the town of Opala in the Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC). The young mon­key bore a resem­blance to the owl-​faced mon­key (Cer­co­p­ithe­cus ham­lyni), but its coloura­tion was unlike that of any other known species.

The chal­lenge for con­ser­va­tion now in Congo is to inter­vene before losses become defin­i­tive. Species with small ranges like the Lesula can move from vul­ner­a­ble to seri­ously endan­gered over the course of just a few years
John and Terese Hart, TL2 project leaders »

Over the fol­low­ing three years, the study authors located addi­tional Lesula in the wild, deter­mined its genetic and anatom­i­cal dis­tinc­tive­ness, and made ini­tial obser­va­tions of its behav­iour and ecol­ogy, as reported in the PLOS ONE paper. The study was per­formed as part of a con­ser­va­tion project, called TL2, in DRC.

The new species’ range cov­ers about 6,500 square miles in cen­tral DRC, in what was one of Congo’s last bio­log­i­cally unex­plored for­est blocks. Although its range is remote and only lightly set­tled at present, the Lesula is threat­ened by local bush meat hunting.

lesula vs owlfaced juvenile

lesula vs owlfaced adult

Please read the arti­cle of Jeremy Hance at Mongabay​.com for more detailed infor­ma­tion about these new findings.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at PLOS ONE via EurekAlert. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: EurekAlert, 12.09.2012; PLOS ONE, 13.09.2012; Mongabay, 12.09.2012)

Dead forestOver the past two decades, exten­sive for­est death trig­gered by hot and dry cli­matic con­di­tions has been doc­u­mented on every con­ti­nent except Antarc­tica. For­est mor­tal­ity due to drought and heat stress is expected to increase due to cli­mate change. Although research has focused on iso­lated inci­dents of for­est mor­tal­ity, lit­tle is known about the poten­tial effects of wide­spread for­est die-​offs. A new analy­sis of the cur­rent lit­er­a­ture on this topic by Carnegie’s William and Lean­der Anderegg is pub­lished Sep­tem­ber 9 in Nature Cli­mate Change.

Along with co-​author Jef­frey Kane of North­ern Ari­zona Uni­ver­sity, the Andereggs exam­ined papers deal­ing with dif­fer­ent aspects of for­est die-​off events from stud­ies all over the world. They divided their find­ings into the effects on a for­est com­mu­nity of trees and other species; on ecosys­tem processes as a whole; on ser­vices forests pro­vide to humans; and on the climate.

This study pro­vides a state-​of-​the-​art overview of the many ben­e­fits forests pro­vide to humans, from water purifi­ca­tion to cli­mate reg­u­la­tion. Many of these roles can be dis­rupted by the wide­spread tree mor­tal­ity expected with cli­mate change
William Anderegg »

They found that heat and drought, includ­ing drought-​related insect infes­ta­tion, can dis­pro­por­tion­ately affect some species of trees, or can hit cer­tain ages or sizes of trees par­tic­u­larly hard. This can result in long-​term shifts in an area’s dom­i­nant species, with the poten­tial to trig­ger a tran­si­tion into a dif­fer­ent ecosys­tem, such as grass­land. It can also impact the under­story — the layer of veg­e­ta­tion under the tree­tops — as well as organ­isms liv­ing in the soil. More research on for­est com­mu­nity impacts is needed, par­tic­u­larly on the tra­jec­to­ries of regrowth after for­est die-​off.

From an ecosys­tem per­spec­tive, for­est die-​off will also likely affect hydro­log­i­cal processes and nutri­ent cycles. Depend­ing on the type of for­est, soil mois­ture could be increased by the lack of tree-​top inter­cep­tion of rain­fall or decreased by evap­o­ra­tion due to more sun and wind expo­sure. Debris from fallen trees could also increase a forest’s fire risk.

Forests also have an effect on the cli­mate as a whole. Forests play an impor­tant role in deter­min­ing the amount of heat and light that is reflected from the Earth and into space and in tak­ing up car­bon diox­ide from the atmos­phere. On one hand, for­est mor­tal­ity increases the reflec­tion of the sun’s energy back into space, thus pro­vid­ing a cool­ing effect. But on the other hand, the decom­po­si­tion of fallen trees releases car­bon into the atmos­phere, thus pro­duc­ing a warm­ing effect. Over­all, whether for­est die-​offs result in local cool­ing or warm­ing is expected to depend on the type of for­est, the lat­i­tude, the amount of snow cover, and other com­plex ecosys­tem factors.

Mass tree mor­tal­ity would likely cause sub­stan­tial losses to the tim­ber indus­try, even if saplings and seedlings were unaf­fected. Lit­tle research has been con­ducted on other types of for­est prod­ucts that humans use, such as fruit or nuts, but there would pre­sum­ably be changes in those sec­tors as well. Recent research has exam­ined other ser­vices pro­vided by forests which would likely be affected by die-​off, such as declines in real-​estate prop­erty val­ues fol­low­ing wide­spread tree mortality.

Over­all, the analy­sis found that although there are many recent advances in under­stand­ing the effects of severe for­est die-​off, many crit­i­cal research gaps remain. These gaps are espe­cially crit­i­cal in light of increas­ing for­est die-​off with cli­mate change. One urgent gap is how this summer’s US-​wide severe drought might affect forests. William Anderegg is help­ing to tackle this ques­tion by spear­head­ing a project involv­ing dozens of research groups from around the coun­try (see the Drought Open-​Source Ecol­ogy project for details).

The var­ied nature of the con­se­quences of for­est mor­tal­ity means that we need a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary approach going for­ward, includ­ing ecol­o­gists, bio­geo­chemists, hydrol­o­gists, econ­o­mists, social sci­en­tists, and cli­mate sci­en­tists. A bet­ter under­stand­ing of for­est die-​off in response to cli­mate change can inform for­est man­age­ment, busi­ness deci­sions, and policy
(William Anderegg)

(Source: Carnegie Insti­tu­tion for Sci­ence, 10.09.2012)

Lat­est dev­ils research yields sur­pris­ing results

TasdevilEvolv­ing to become less aggres­sive could be the key to sav­ing the Tas­man­ian devil (Sar­cophilus har­risii) from extinc­tion, new research sug­gests. The new study, pub­lished online on 3 Sep­tem­ber in the British Eco­log­i­cal Society’s Jour­nal of Ani­mal Ecol­ogy, found that the less often a devil gets bit­ten, the more likely it is to become infected with the Devil Facial Tumour Dis­ease (DFTD) cancer.

Our results — that dev­ils with fewer bites are more likely to develop DFTD — were very sur­pris­ing and counter-​intuitive. In most infec­tious dis­eases there are so-​called ‘super-​spreaders’, a few indi­vid­u­als respon­si­ble for most of the trans­mis­sion. But we found the more aggres­sive dev­ils, rather than being super-​spreaders, are super-​receivers. This means that more aggres­sive dev­ils do not get bit­ten as often, but they bite the tumours of the less aggres­sive dev­ils and become infected

Dr Rodrigo Hamede, lead author, UTAS School of Zoology

To find out whether bit­ing fre­quency pre­dicted acquir­ing DFTD, Dr Hamede and his col­leagues set up dozens of devil traps at two sites for 10-​day peri­ods every three months between 2006 and 2010. They then recorded the pat­tern of injuries in the dev­ils and iden­ti­fied any tumours. One of the sites — West Pen­cil Pine — was selected because dev­ils there seem to be less badly hit by the disease.

They made three dis­cov­er­ies: the level of bites was sim­i­lar at both sites; dev­ils with fewer bites were sig­nif­i­cantly more likely to develop DFTD; and most tumours occurred in dev­ils’ mouths.

Because there is no treat­ment for, or vac­cine against, DFTD, the find­ings and the next stage of the research have impor­tant impli­ca­tions for sav­ing the species from extinc­tion. “Our next step is fas­ci­nat­ing. First we need to explore the genetic dif­fer­ences that might be less­en­ing the impact of DFTD in the West Pen­cil Pine devil pop­u­la­tion. Sec­ond, we need more detailed data on devil behav­iour to define ‘shy’ or ‘bold’ types.

We could then use this infor­ma­tion to develop a man­age­ment strat­egy to reduce the spread of the dis­ease by boost­ing nat­ural selec­tion of less aggres­sive, and there­fore more resilient, devils.”

Under­stand­ing how infec­tious dis­eases spread is key to con­trol­ling them, but study­ing dis­ease trans­mis­sion in wild ani­mals is often very dif­fi­cult. And in DFTD, which is spread by bit­ing, ecol­o­gists also need a bet­ter under­stand­ing of devil behav­iour. Dev­ils are soli­tary yet social ani­mals. They do not live in groups but meet each other often, either dur­ing mat­ing, estab­lish­ing social hier­ar­chies or when feed­ing around car­casses — all occa­sions when they bite each other.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Uni­ver­sity of Tas­ma­nia web­site. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: UTAS News, 04.09.2012)

Korea DMZ sentryThe Korean peninsula’s nature and bio­di­ver­sity has suf­fered immensely since the 1940s due to severe defor­esta­tion, wars and pol­lu­tion by unman­aged wide-​scale indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion in the post-​war years. The eco­log­i­cal sta­tus of the Korean Demil­i­tarised Zone (DMZ), though, is an excep­tion to the dete­ri­o­rated ecosys­tems of the penin­sula, but unfor­tu­nately under threat.

The DMZ, the no man’s land between North and South Korea, delib­er­ately depop­u­lated and sur­rounded by heav­ily armed watch­tow­ers, has been in place since the Korean war ended in 1953. It is a buffer zone between the two states where the nat­ural envi­ron­ment of a pre­vi­ously war-​torn area has self-​recovered to trans­form itself into a well-​preserved ecosys­tem that har­bours diverse nat­ural habi­tats. It is now a par­adise for wildlife, pro­vid­ing refuge for at least 67 of the world’s most endan­gered species such as the white-​naped crane, amur leopard zooAmur leop­ard and Asian black bear, and the orig­i­nal bio­di­ver­sity of the peninsula.

But this grad­ual return to nature is under threat, as agri­cul­ture is encroach­ing on the DMZ. The land bor­der­ing the DMZ is already being reclaimed for intense pro­duc­tion with rice fields and plan­ta­tions of gin­seng. And with food secu­rity as a dri­ving fac­tor fur­ther agri­cul­tural devel­op­ment is expected, destroy­ing (large) parts of the restored habi­tat and clear­ing away regrown plant life. There­fore, at the IUCN World Con­ser­va­tion con­gress, Sep­tem­ber this year on the South Korean Island of Jeju, sci­en­tists and experts on the area are plead­ing with the south­ern gov­ern­ment to offer the region inter­na­tion­ally pro­tected status.

It is the dream of Kwi-​Gon Kim, Chair­man of the Korea Demil­i­tarised Zone (DMZ) Coun­cil, that an Amur tiger will be spot­ted at the foot of Jiri Moun­tain on the south­ern half of the Korean Penin­sula. For that to hap­pen, Kim, who is also Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus at Seoul National Uni­ver­sity, and the Korea DMZ Coun­cil, believe they need to acti­vate the North­east Asia Eco­log­i­cal Net­work (NEAE­coNET). NEAE­coNET is an ini­tia­tive designed to pro­mote a sin­gle, con­tin­u­ous ecosys­tem through­out North­east Asia, includ­ing Mon­go­lia, Rus­sia, China, North and South Korea.

Accord­ing to Kim, for the NEAE­coNET to be suc­cess­ful, the Korean Penin­sula would need bet­ter coop­er­a­tion on envi­ron­men­tal issues. This would allow for the con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion of species and their habi­tats in both North and South Korea. A crit­i­cal ele­ment of that coop­er­a­tion will be the DMZ.

A res­o­lu­tion on the pro­tected sta­tus will not pass dur­ing this week’s con­gress, as there will not be a North Korean del­e­ga­tion attend­ing the con­gress, much to the regret of Hong Koo Lee, for­mer prime min­is­ter of South Korea and chair­man of the organ­is­ing committee:

We asked for dis­cus­sions on this mat­ter at Con­gress, but we are very care­ful because this is a ques­tion between North and South Korea [which are jointly respon­si­ble for the DMZ]. We hoped the North Korean del­e­ga­tion would attend but for what­ever rea­son, they could not

The above news item is partly reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at IUCN. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: IUCN, 08.09.2012; Asian Cor­re­spon­dent, 07.09.2012; the Guardian, 06.09.2012)

At the IUCN World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress in Jeju, Korea, a new bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion pro­gramme was announced. Threat­ened nat­ural areas in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific are set to ben­e­fit from this Bio­di­ver­sity and Pro­tected Areas Man­age­ment Pro­gramme (BIOPAMA).

This is an ini­tia­tive of the Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific Group of States funded by the Euro­pean Union through its Euro­pean Devel­op­ment Fund, rep­re­sent­ing a unique part­ner­ship between the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN), the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and Ger­man Devel­op­ment Coop­er­a­tion (GIZ). It is a 20 mil­lion Euro (25 mil­lion US dol­lar) effort to develop capac­ity in the three regions for bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion. BIOPAMA will also be sup­ported by the UNEP World Con­ser­va­tion Mon­i­tor­ing Centre.

vanuatu ecosystemAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific coun­tries are home to extremely rich nat­ural and human diver­sity, includ­ing nearly 2.2 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres of state, com­mu­nity man­aged and other pro­tected areas. These coun­tries are also host to 11 of 25 of the world’s bio­di­ver­sity hotspots and at least 220 dif­fer­ent indige­nous groups. The pro­tec­tion and sus­tain­able use of these diverse regions’ nat­ural resources, how­ever, is under threat due to lack of infor­ma­tion and capac­ity to plan and effec­tively man­age them.

BIOPAMA will address this chal­lenge by pro­vid­ing skills, tools, train­ing and infor­ma­tion to con­ser­va­tion man­agers, pol­icy mak­ers, indige­nous and local com­mu­ni­ties, train­ing insti­tu­tions, uni­ver­si­ties and the pri­vate sec­tor. This will enable pro­tected areas in these coun­tries to be more effec­tively man­aged, while gar­ner­ing the ben­e­fits from their use. BIOPAMA will con­tribute to improv­ing imple­men­ta­tion of global and national nature con­ser­va­tion poli­cies in the frame­work of the three objec­tives (con­ser­va­tion, sus­tain­able use and shar­ing of ben­e­fits aris­ing from the util­i­sa­tion of genetic resources) of the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diversity.

Bet­ter con­serv­ing and valu­ing our bio­di­ver­sity can help reduce poverty and pro­vide ben­e­fits for local and national devel­op­ment. BIOPAMA will, for exam­ple, help pro­vide pro­tected area man­agers and con­ser­va­tion staff in the Caribbean with the skills, knowl­edge and net­works they need to con­serve bio­di­ver­sity, in turn ben­e­fit­ing the region’s diverse communities
Grethel Aguilar, Direc­tor of the IUCN Regional Office in Mesoamerica »

BIOPAMA will pro­vide tech­ni­cal sup­port and advice to pol­icy mak­ers and pro­tected area agen­cies as well as to all rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers. Fur­ther­more, con­ser­va­tion obser­va­to­ries will be estab­lished in the regions to facil­i­tate net­work­ing, serve as train­ing cen­tres, coor­di­nate pol­icy and develop and imple­ment region­ally tai­lored pro­tected areas aware­ness pro­grammes. Exist­ing train­ing cen­tres will also ben­e­fit from sup­port for improv­ing their cur­ric­ula and capacities.

BIOPAMA runs ini­tially for four years start­ing in 2012. BIOPAMA has two main com­po­nents — one on pro­tected areas imple­mented by IUCN and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and another on access to and shar­ing of ben­e­fits aris­ing from the util­i­sa­tion of genetic resources imple­mented by the multi-​donor Access and Ben­e­fit Shar­ing (ABS) Capac­ity Devel­op­ment Ini­tia­tive man­aged by GIZ.

(Source: IUCN, 10.09.2012)

The for­ag­ing per­for­mance of acoustic preda­tors like bats is impaired by the noise which humans pro­duce. This anthro­pogenic noise pol­lu­tion should be included in envi­ron­men­tal impact assess­ments of human activ­i­ties, accord­ing to Ger­man researchers Siemers and Schaub. They con­ducted research on the for­ag­ing suc­c­cess of mouse-​eared bats under dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, sim­u­lat­ing the noisy envi­ron­ment of a highway.

One of the envis­aged ben­e­fi­cial effects of the multi-​purpose Cork Ini­tia­tive is the estab­lish­ment of a viable breed­ing pop­u­la­tion of Iber­ian lynx (Lynx par­di­nus) in Por­tu­gal. Although large parts of Por­tu­gal orig­i­nally were Iber­ian lynx habi­tat, the lynx is now thought to be extinct in this part of the Iber­ian penin­sula. This crit­i­cally endan­gered wild felid is only to be found in the wild in a few patches of land in south­west Andalu­sia, with a total pop­u­la­tion of 84143 adults (IUCN Red List, 2008).

is not always the dri­ving force behind extinc­tions. In a 2006 study trop­i­cal warm­ing of the last decade was linked to the dis­ap­pear­ance of 64 amphib­ian species. The cli­mate change cre­ated con­di­tions that allowed the cychrid fun­gus to grow and spread, which led to the lethal dis­ease of frogs and toads, the researchers said. A recent study argues that it was the peri­odic and nat­ural warm­ing of waters off South Amer­ica, El Niño, in com­bi­na­tion with the recently intro­duced cychrid fun­gus that led to the extinc­tion of the Mon­teverde golden toad in 198687.

Con­ser­va­tion­ist groups are report­ing that the Iber­ian Lynx, world’s top endan­gered feline species, is fac­ing a new chal­lenge, Chronic Kid­ney Dis­ease (CDK).

A new 2010 BIP paper pub­lished in lead­ing jour­nal Sci­ence pro­vides proof that world lead­ers have failed to deliver com­mit­ments made in 2002 to reduce the rate of bio­di­ver­sity loss. Instead they have over­seen alarm­ing bio­di­ver­sity declines.

Since 27 Novem­ber thedraft syn­the­sis of Global Bio­di­ver­sity Out­look 3 is avail­able for peer review. When finalised this doc­u­ment will pro­vide us essen­tial infor­ma­tion about the impor­tance of bio­di­ver­sity and the progress made in meet­ing the 2010 Bio­di­ver­sity Tar­get. It will also show us the sta­tus and trends of bio­di­ver­sity, both at global and regional lev­els. Fur­ther­more infor­ma­tion will be pre­sented regard­ing the progress made in main­stream­ing bio­di­ver­sity issues into the devel­op­ment agenda. There will be an empha­sis on case stud­ies that illus­trate the pos­i­tive actions taken to effec­tively con­serve and sus­tain­ably use bio­di­ver­sity. (Souce: www​.cbd​.int/​g​b​o​3)

UN Biodiversity decade
WWF Stop Wildlife Crime
Fight for Flight campaign
End Ivory-funded Terrorism
Support Rewilding Europe
NASA State of Flux

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
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