Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Trinity, Jersey

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Trinity, Jersey
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News Article | April 8, 2017
Site: www.theguardian.com

The saiga antelope makes a strange pin-up for the conservation world. With its odd bulbous nose and spindly legs, it is an unlovely looking creature – particularly when compared with wildlife favourites such as the polar bear or panda. But the survival of Saiga tatarica tatarica is important, for it gives hope to biologists and activists who are trying to protect Earth’s other endangered species from the impact of rising populations, climate change and increasing pollution. Once widespread on the steppe lands of the former Soviet Union, the saiga has suffered two major population crashes in recent years and survived both – thanks to the endeavours of conservationists. It is a story that will be highlighted at a specially arranged wildlife meeting, the Conservation Optimism Summit, to be held at Dulwich College, London, this month and at sister events in cities around the world, including Cambridge, Washington and Hong Kong. The meetings have been organised to highlight recent successes in saving threatened creatures and to use these examples to encourage future efforts to halt extinctions of other species. According to the summit’s organisers, there still are reasons to be cheerful when it comes to conservation, although they also acknowledge that the world’s wildlife remains in a desperate state thanks to swelling numbers of humans, climate change and spreading agriculture, which is destroying natural habitats. A recent report by WWF and the Zoological Society of London indicated that these factors have caused global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles to decline by 58% since 1970, and that average annual decreases have now reached 2%, with no sign yet that this rate will slow down. “It is certainly true that biodiversity across the planet is plummeting but we have to ask what the situation would look like if there were no protected areas, if there was no Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and no anti-poaching patrols in Africa,” said Mike Hoffman, of Zoological Society of LondonZSL, one of the summit’s organisers. “The answer is straightforward: it would be a lot worse. The trouble is that the public usually only hears the bad news. Successes get forgotten. As a result, people think there is nothing they can do about wildlife extinctions and that is not true. If it was not for conservation the world would be in a much worse state than it is at present.” This point is backed by EJ Milner-Gulland, professor of biodiversity at Oxford University, who first developed the idea of the Conservation Optimism Summit. “We have got to change our ways and celebrate our successes if we are going to protect endangered creatures. If we are too gloomy about saving wildlife, young people will think there is nothing they can do and that would be tragic – and wrong.” The troubled tale of the saiga antelope provided a crucial example of the successes that could be achieved, she said. Twenty-five years ago there were more than a million saiga – which grow to about 4ft in length –grazing over vast areas of steppe lands. However, after the Soviet Union’s breakup, authority and policing collapsed in many of its former states, and local economies disintegrated, while saiga horn became increasingly popular as a traditional medicine in nearby China. The result was a wave of uncontrolled hunting and poaching that caused the saiga’s population to crash. By 2000, there were fewer than 50,000. A creature that was once ecologically stable was suddenly hurtling towards extinction. “I saw it happen in front of my eyes,” said Milner-Gulland, a world expert on the species. “It was a complete disaster. This was a species that no one knew about or cared about and it was heading for extinction. It could have made us utterly despaired. But it didn’t. My colleagues and I decided something should be done.” Conservationists lobbied to have the species labelled as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and major NGOs started to pour money into projects to save the saiga. UN conservation rules were enacted and the governments of former Soviet states began to take protective measures. Large areas of Kazakhstan were marked as conservation zones. Slowly saiga numbers recovered until there were around 300,000 by 2014 – when the next disaster struck. A mysterious bacterium swept through herds that year and in a few weeks more than 200,000 saiga had died. “It could have been the final blow. However, this time we had a network of people who cared about the saiga,” said Milner-Gulland. “We had sources of funding. We had governments who were committed to saving the saiga. As a result, we have already halted that recent drop in saiga numbers and expect we will soon be able to bring them back up again.” The saga of the saiga’s survival is important, for it shows that although the saving of species is hard, relentless work, it can nevertheless be effective. “The crucial point about any conservation project is that you never stop. You never give up,” said Richard Young, head of Conservation Science at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. “It can take 30 years of sustained effort before you turn things round but it can be done.” Young pointed to the success of the Durrell trust and other conservation groups in saving the echo parakeet. By the 1980s, only a dozen of these vividly plumed birds – which are unique to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean – were left in the wild. Once widespread across the island, Mauritius’s echo parakeet population had been devastated by the destruction of the dense forests in which it lived and the introduction of feral predators that included the mongoose. The echo was heading for extinction until an urgent rescue programme was launched. “Conservationists dealt with the invasive predators, they erected carefully designed nest boxes to protect the echo, launched captive breeding and release programmes, and provided food when the birds faced starvation,” Young told the Observer. “They kept that up for decades. It was an incredible effort but it was worth it. There are now hundreds of echo parakeets in Mauritius. When you go for a walk in a forest there you can see these stunning, vocal birds everywhere you go. They are a fantastic symbol of what is possible in conservation.” The echo parakeet’s story is not widely known outside conservation circles. By contrast, the giant panda remains one of the best known of all the planet’s threatened species and has been adopted as the official symbol of WWF. It is also a conservation success story as was demonstrated last September when it was officially moved off the red list of “endangered species” and put on the “vulnerable species” list after it had been brought back from near extinction by determined conservation work by the Chinese government. Spreading agriculture had seriously depleted the panda’s bamboo food source and so protected reserves were established. As a result, by 2014 the giant panda’s population had risen by 17% in a decade to reach 1,864 animals in the wild. Last week, the Chinese authorities announced they now planned to go even further and would combine existing reserves into a single giant panda preserve that would be three times the size of America’s Yellowstone national park. “It will be a haven for biodiversity and provide protection for the whole ecological system,” said Hou Rong, director of the Chengdu research base for giant panda breeding. Other successes have been achieved with simpler approaches. Consider the issue of ghost fishing, which occurs when fishing nets are lost or dumped at sea. The old net gets snagged on a reef or a wreck and traps fish that die and in turn attract scavengers which get caught in the same net. Tens of thousands of turtles, seals and other marine creatures are believed to perish this way every year. Worse, a ghost net can continue to wreak destruction for decades and they are now considered to be among the greatest killers in our oceans. One of the worst areas for ghost fishing is the Philippines where, in 2012, Interface, a manufacturer of commercial carpet tiles, set up a remarkable project in collaboration with the ZSL called Net-Works. Local people are encouraged to gather their old nets before they are discarded and to sell them, through Net-Works, so that they can be recycled into yarn to make carpet tiles. In several areas, the scheme has brought about significant reductions in the number of ghost nets and made money for local people. “We’ve cleaned up a major source of pollution and helped local communities make a modest income from conservation activities,” said Nicholas Hill, one of the founders of Net-Works. Now the project has expanded to the shores of Lake Ossa, in Cameroon. Nets dumped there have trapped and killed the lake’s young manatees. Their removal, and subsequent sale as a source of carpet tiles, has again boosted local conservation activities and helped protect the manatee. A similar tale is provided by Kirsten Forsberg, whose Planeta Océano organisation began work in 2012 to try to save the giant manta ray, which was being dangerously overfished in the Pacific Ocean off South America. Although mantas can measure more than three metres in length, they mainly eat microscopic organisms. “Ecuador had legal protection but there was none for Peruvian waters and the mantas were migrating into these, where they were being caught and consumed locally,” Forsberg told the Observer last week. For a creature that typically produces a single pup every five years or so, this depletion was serious and was causing numbers to plummet. Forsberg and colleagues began collaborating with fishermen, schools and communities and began pressing the government to ban all manta fishing. At the end of 2015 they succeeded and a ban was imposed for Peruvian waters. Last year, Forsberg was made a Rolex laureate for this work and plans to use her prize money to help local fishermen diversify into tourist trips for divers wanting to see manta rays. “Manta ray watching is a tourist industry that is now worth millions of dollars a year,” she said. “It’s a perfect substitution.” Closer to home, conservationists point to their success in saving the large blue butterfly in Britain, where it became extinct in 1979 but which has been reintroduced from reserves in the rest of Europe and is now established in parts of south-west England. Similarly, in several Middle Eastern nations the Arabian oryx, which was wiped out in the wild in the 1970s, has been successfully reintroduced using animals bred in zoos and private preserves. Conservationists are planning to follow up this success with a programme aimed at establishing a population in Chad of a sister species, the scimitar horned oryx, which is extinct in the wild. Such success stories and ambitious plans are worth keeping in mind for the planet still faces an avalanche of threatened extinctions over the coming decades. Indeed, humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that scientists last year recommended that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared. We are dumping plastics in the oceans, draining wetlands, melting ice caps and destroying forests. Everywhere you turn, the world is being changed by humans and the consequences for wildlife are grim. Fish, mammals and reptiles are being pushed towards extinction. And while conservationists can claim successes, there is still a vast amount that needs to be done. “The real question is: if conservation works, why are things continuing to get worse?” asked Hoffman. “There are two alternative explanations. One is that we are doing the wrong thing. The second is that we are doing the right thing, but we are not doing enough of it. All the evidence suggests that the latter is the right one. When we tackle a conservation problem we tend to get it right. Our approaches may not always be perfect and may need improvement in efficiencies, but the real point is that we are simply not doing enough. We know what to do but we are under-resourced and understaffed.” One recent paper suggested that it would cost around $80bn to achieve a significant improvement in the state of the world’s wildlife. “That sounds a lot but it is only 20% of what the world spends on soft drinks,” said Hoffman. It remains to be seen how long the world will wait before it realises what it is losing and begins to stump up funding on that level. It may never do so, of course. In the meantime, calls for conservation action mount. One particularly exciting prospect is offered by the Tasmanian devil, a carnivorous marsupial only found in the wild on the Australian island. “Since the 1990s, its population has been devastated by a facial tumour that has spread through the species and threatened its viability in the wild,” said Hoffman. “However, about a month ago there was a breakthrough where scientists demonstrated Tasmanian devils could be treated so that their immune systems could start to fight the cancer. It would require major interventions – capturing and treating animals – to do the trick but it is a very hopeful development.” Conservationists’ success in saving the saiga is a reminder of what can be achieved, though there also is a final twist. The antelope has a Mongolian subspecies that until recently had a population of around 12,000. However, scientists discovered a few months ago that thousands of Saiga tatarica mongolica have recently been killed by a viral infection known as goat plague, which has spread to the Mongolian saiga from domestic goats and sheep. “We are expecting the mortality rate to be up to 80% of the whole population,” said Milner-Gulland. “In fact, all of Mongolia’s unique fauna is at risk, including the Mongolian gazelle and goitred gazelle and also carnivores that hunt them, like snow leopards. The disease is also likely to spread through Kazakhstan and neighbouring countries over the next few years, putting other saiga populations at risk.” A straightforward but expensive solution is available, however. “There is an effective vaccine that could halt the disease in livestock but it would be an expensive and logistically difficult operation,” said Milner-Gulland. “The Mongolian government is now considering how best to control the outbreak and conservation organisations like WWF and the Saiga Conservation Alliance are mounting a response. And of course, we have had success in the past. So there is hope.”


News Article | May 5, 2017
Site: www.theguardian.com

Gerry invited me to Jersey: he said he wanted to set up a sound-recording laboratory … but of course he had other things in mind, as we now know. I’d read his books, he was my great hero, and I knew he had this fantastic zoo, dedicated to conservation. But for some reason I thought the whole of Jersey was Gerry’s zoo, so I was rather surprised when I discovered it was a normal place, with villages and a town, and people who live here. My arrival at the zoo was pretty impressive: I came through the iron gates that have a dodo symbol on them, and swept down this beautiful avenue of lime trees to the gravel forecourt of the 18th-century granite manor house. I only discovered afterwards that those gates are only opened for Princess Anne. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, which is very green, but that’s where the resemblance ends. I loved Jersey from the beginning: out here in Trinity, in the north-east of the island, it is pastoral and idyllic … just what I like. To live right in the middle of the zoo is an extraordinary privilege. I have a living room with windows that look out on this lush green valley with bright pink flamingos wandering around. What can be better than that? So many of our animals are either free-ranging or as close to it as possible, and they all look so contented. Gorey is a beautiful little fishing village with a pier, on the south-east coast of the island, with the fabulous Mont Orgueil castle at the top. Gerry loved it: we liked going down there to eat at a restaurant called The Moorings. We didn’t go out that much: Gerry was often recognised, and was quite shy, and didn’t relish all the adoration. Even in the confines of the zoo, he didn’t go out unless he had to. Instead, he hosted parties at home. He was a great cook. We get fabulous fresh produce … I buy my fish from the Fresh Fish Company by the harbour. I love going out west, it is so different from Trinity. You’ve got the long beach at St Ouen, and there is Big Vern’s at the end, which is a great place to eat. And there is now a Wetlands Centre, an important place for migrant stopovers. I always recommend visitors go to the war tunnels, because that really gives you an idea of what it was like in Jersey during the Nazi occupation. The decline in tourism in the 1990s and the 2000s was disastrous for us, because we were reliant on gate money to run our overseas conservation programme and our training academy. So we built a luxury camp, and it’s been tremendous. You’re right next to the park, so you wake up to animal sounds. We also run the wildlife hostel, a basic and affordable alternative; and a cafe called Firefly – the go-to place on this side of Jersey. I love the boutique hotel Château La Chaire, in the Rozel valley: it has this fantastic wooded garden that not many people know about; it has a little microclimate and botanic plants. People think of Jersey as full of rich people, but it’s not – it’s got a few of them, but it’s also quite normal. Gerry loved going to the old Victorian market. He knew all the greengrocers by name because they’d give him all their discarded fruit and vegetables for the animals. There are some lovely characters on the island, like the artist Ian Rolls, who painted Les Augrès Manor for us, and Mike Stentiford, Jersey’s local naturalist. Mike did some talks for Gerald Durrell Week in Jersey last year – modelled on the one we do in Corfu, where we visit places the Durrell family lived and visited. In Jersey, we had a lepidopterist and went bat watching. There’s a really good natural history scene here. • Gerald Durrell Week Jersey runs at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust from 15-21 July (durrell.org)


Fa J.E.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust | Fa J.E.,Imperial College London | Stewart J.R.,Bournemouth University | Lloveras L.,University of Barcelona | And 2 more authors.
Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2013

High dependence on the hunting and consumption of large mammals by some hominins may have limited their survival once their preferred quarry became scarce or disappeared. Adaptation to smaller residual prey would have been essential after the many large-bodied species decreased in numbers. We focus on the use of a superabundant species, the rabbit, to demonstrate the importance of this taxon in Iberia as fundamental to predators. We show that the use of the rabbit over time has increased, and that there could have been differential consumption by Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH). Analysis of bone remains from excavations throughout Iberia show that this lagomorph was a crucial part of the diet of AMH but was relatively unutilised during the Mousterian, when Neanderthals were present. We first present changes in mammalian biomass and mean body mass of mammals over 50,000 years, to illustrate the dramatic loss of large mammalian fauna and to show how the rabbit may have contributed a consistently high proportion of the available game biomass throughout that period. Unlike the Italian Peninsula and other parts of Europe, in Iberia the rabbit has provided a food resource of great importance for predators including hominins. We suggest that hunters that could shift focus to rabbits and other smaller residual fauna, once larger-bodied species decreased in numbers, would have been able to persist. From the evidence presented here, we postulate that Neanderthals may have been less capable of prey-shifting and hence use the high-biomass prey resource provided by the rabbit, to the extent AMH did. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Funk S.M.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust | Fa J.E.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
PLoS ONE | Year: 2010

In the face of accelerating species extinctions, map-based prioritization systems are increasingly useful to decide where to pursue conservation action most effectively. However, a number of seemingly inconsistent schemes have emerged, mostly focussing on endemism. Here we use global vertebrate distributions in terrestrial ecoregions to evaluate how continuous and categorical ranking schemes target and accumulate endangered taxa within the IUCN Red List, Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE), and EDGE of Existence programme. We employed total, endemic and threatened species richness and an estimator for richness-adjusted endemism as metrics in continuous prioritization, and WWF's Global200 and Conservation International's (CI) Hotspots in categorical prioritization. Our results demonstrate that all metrics target endangerment more efficiently than by chance, but each selects unique sets of top-ranking ecoregions, which overlap only partially, and include different sets of threatened species. Using the top 100 ecoregions as defined by continuous prioritization metrics, we develop an inclusive map for global vertebrate conservation that incorporates important areas for endemism, richness, and threat. Finally, we assess human footprint and protection levels within these areas to reveal that endemism sites are more impacted but have more protection, in contrast to high richness and threat ones. Given such contrasts, major efforts to protect global biodiversity must involve complementary conservation approaches in areas of unique species as well as those with highest diversity and threat. © 2010 Funk, Fa.


Burgess M.D.,University of Reading | Nicoll M.A.C.,University of Reading | Jones C.G.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust | Norris K.,University of Reading
Journal of Animal Ecology | Year: 2011

1.Spatial variation in habitat quality and its demographic consequences have important implications for the regulation of animal populations. Theoretically, habitat quality is typically viewed as a single gradient from 'poor' to 'good', but in wild populations it is possible that there are multiple environmental gradients that determine spatial variation in demography. 2.Understanding environmental gradients is important to gain mechanistic insights into important population processes, but also to understand how populations might respond to environmental change. Here, we explore habitat and elevation gradients and their implications for population persistence using detailed long-term data on 600 individuals of the Mauritius kestrel. These data allow us to statistically separate spatial variation in demography from variation arising out of individual or environmental quality and explore its relationships with habitat and topography. 3.Birds that breed earlier in the season have higher reproductive success, and we found that the timing of breeding varies significantly between territories. This variation is primarily driven by elevation, with birds breeding progressively later as elevation increases. 4.Pre-fledging survival from the egg to fledgling stage (independently of timing), and recruitment, also varied significantly between territories. This variation is driven by the habitat surrounding breeding sites with increasing agricultural encroachment causing survival and recruitment to decline. 5.Taken together, our results suggest that there are likely to be multiple environmental gradients affecting spatial variation in productivity in wild populations, and hence multiple and different routes through which environmental change might have consequences for population dynamics by modifying spatial processes. © 2011 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2011 British Ecological Society.


Brown D.S.,University of Cardiff | Burger R.,University of Cardiff | Cole N.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust | Cole N.,Mauritian Wildlife Foundation | And 4 more authors.
Molecular Ecology | Year: 2014

Re-introduction of rare species to parts of their historical range is becoming increasingly important as a conservation strategy. Telfair's Skinks (Leiolopisma telfairii), once widespread on Mauritius, were until recently found only on Round Island. There it is vulnerable to stochastic events, including the introduction of alien predators that may either prey upon it or compete for food resources. Consequently, skinks have been introduced to Ile aux Aigrettes, another small Mauritian island that has been cleared of rats. However, the island has been invaded by Asian Musk Shrews (Suncus murinus), a commensal species spread by man well beyond its natural Asian range. Our aim was to use next-generation sequencing to analyse the diets of the shrews and skinks to look for niche competition. DNA was extracted from skink faeces and from the stomach contents of shrews. Application of shrew- and skink-specific primers revealed no mutual predation. The DNA was then amplified using general invertebrate primers with tags to identify individual predators, and then sequenced by 454 pyrosequencing. 119 prey MOTUs (molecular taxonomic units) were isolated, although none could be identified to species. Seeding of cladograms with known sequences allowed higher taxonomic assignments in some cases. Although most MOTUs were not shared by shrews and skinks, Pianka's niche overlap test showed significant prey overlap, suggesting potentially strong competition where food resources are limited. These results suggest that removal of the shrews from the island should remain a priority. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Nevoux M.,University of Reading | Nevoux M.,University of Pretoria | Arlt D.,University of Reading | Arlt D.,Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences | And 4 more authors.
Ecology Letters | Year: 2013

Dispersal is a key process in population and evolutionary ecology. Individual decisions are affected by fitness consequences of dispersal, but these are difficult to measure in wild populations. A long-term dataset on a geographically closed bird population, the Mauritius kestrel, offers a rare opportunity to explore fitness consequences. Females dispersed further when the availability of local breeding sites was limited, whereas male dispersal correlated with phenotypic traits. Female but not male fitness was lower when they dispersed longer distances compared to settling close to home. These results suggest a cost of dispersal in females. We found evidence of both short- and long-term fitness consequences of natal dispersal in females, including reduced fecundity in early life and more rapid aging in later life. Taken together, our results indicate that dispersal in early life might shape life history strategies in wild populations. © 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS.


Kundu S.,University of Kent | Jones C.G.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust | Jones C.G.,Mauritian Wildlife Foundation | Prys-Jones R.P.,Bird Group | Groombridge J.J.,University of Kent
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution | Year: 2012

Parrots are among the most recognisable and widely distributed of all bird groups occupying major parts of the tropics. The evolution of the genera that are found in and around the Indian Ocean region is particularly interesting as they show a high degree of heterogeneity in distribution and levels of speciation. Here we present a molecular phylogenetic analysis of Indian Ocean parrots, identifying the possible geological and geographical factors that influenced their evolution. We hypothesise that the Indian Ocean islands acted as stepping stones in the radiation of the Old-World parrots, and that sea-level changes may have been an important determinant of current distributions and differences in speciation. A multi-locus phylogeny showing the evolutionary relationships among genera highlights the interesting position of the monotypic Psittrichas, which shares a common ancestor with the geographically distant Coracopsis. An extensive species-level molecular phylogeny indicates a complex pattern of radiation including evidence for colonisation of Africa, Asia and the Indian Ocean islands from Australasia via multiple routes, and of island populations 'seeding' continents. Moreover, comparison of estimated divergence dates and sea-level changes points to the latter as a factor in parrot speciation. This is the first study to include the extinct parrot taxa, Mascarinus mascarinus and Psittacula wardi which, respectively, appear closely related to Coracopsis nigra and Psittacula eupatria. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.


Cartwright S.J.,University of Reading | Nicoll M.A.C.,University of Reading | Jones C.G.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust | Jones C.G.,Mauritian Wildlife Foundation | And 2 more authors.
Current Biology | Year: 2014

Summary Recent work suggests that the environment experienced in early life can alter life histories in wild populations [1-5], but our understanding of the processes involved remains limited [6, 7]. Since anthropogenic environmental change is currently having a major impact on wild populations [8], this raises the possibility that life histories may be influenced by human activities that alter environmental conditions in early life. Whether this is the case and the processes involved remain unexplored in wild populations. Using 23 years of longitudinal data on the Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus), a tropical forest specialist, we found that females born in territories affected by anthropogenic habitat change shifted investment in reproduction to earlier in life at the expense of late life performance. They also had lower survival rates as young adults. This shift in life history strategy appears to be adaptive, because fitness was comparable to that of other females experiencing less anthropogenic modification in their natal environment. Our results suggest that human activities can leave a legacy on wild birds through natal environmental effects. Whether these legacies have a detrimental effect on populations will depend on life history responses and the extent to which these reduce individual fitness. © 2014 The Authors.


News Article | September 27, 2016
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

The ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora) could be extinct in the wild in as little as two years if the government of Madagascar does not immediately step up and take action to protect them. That stark warning, from a quintet of conservation organizations, came this week as government representatives gathered in Johannesburg for the triennial meeting of the parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Protecting the ploughshare tortoise is just one of many items on the agenda for the 12-day event. Also known as the Angonoka tortoise, the ploughshare is one of the rarest turtle species on the planet, which makes it even more valuable to collectors, who keep the animals as luxury “pets.” As a result, poaching of these turtles has come close to wiping the species out at its only wild habitat, Madagascar’s Baly Bay National Park. Back in 2013, the wild population was estimated at 400 to 600 tortoises. Now the conservation organizations warn that the population has fallen to fewer than 100 mature animals and that poaching levels have reached their highest levels to date. All of this has gone on right under the noses of the Malagasy authorities. As a result, the five conservation groups—the Wildlife Conservation Society, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy and Global Wildlife Conservation—are calling on the government of Madagascar to finally start enforcing its existing anti-poaching and anti-trafficking laws. “At this point the fate of the tortoise is up to the government of Madagascar,” Peter Paul van Dijk, the Turtle Conservancy’s field conservation programs director, said in a prepared statement. “Conservationists can’t go in and be the police force or the customs official or the border inspections officer at the airport.” Why is this international meeting the opportunity to bring this up? The species is already listed on CITES Appendix 1, which means that all international trade in the tortoises is currently banned among the treaty’s signatories. Still, the groups say this is an opportunity to draw attention to the crisis, get the world’s attention, and hopefully inspire collaboration between Madagascar and the countries to which the tortoises are being smuggled. Most importantly, however, they want to get Madagascar’s attention. “At the end of the day, it is up to Madagascar to seize these opportunities and take control of this trade,” said Richard Lewis, director of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Madagascar program. It’s no surprise that Madagascar hasn’t had much luck protecting these tortoises. Madagascar one of the ten poorest countries in the world and the site of tumultuous political upheaval over the past few years, none of which ever seems to get much notice by the international community. Will this international attention be enough to help turn the tide, if not for the whole country but for at least one of its rarest endemic species? I guess we’ll know the answer to that in about two years.

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