International Union for the Conservation of Nature
International Union for the Conservation of Nature
News Article | April 19, 2017
"Conservationists have lodged a formal request for the US government to list giraffes as endangered in a bid to prevent what they call the “silent extinction” of the world’s tallest land animal. A legal petition filed by five environmental groups has demanded that the US Fish and Wildlife Service provide endangered species protections to the giraffe, which has suffered a precipitous decline in numbers in recent years. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which listed giraffes as a threatened species in December, just 97,500 of the animals exist in sub-Saharan Africa today, a drop of almost 40% since 1985. There are now fewer giraffes than elephants in Africa. "
News Article | March 27, 2017
The recent report on Arctic sea ice levels underlines the grave impact of global warming on marine creatures that depend on the polar ice cap for survival. Rising temperatures in the far north give way to a rapidly reducing ice cover, and when the sea ice is threatened, so is the phytoplankton it sustains. Shrinking sea ice means the microscopic algae have less and less room to grow, and the inevitable plankton shortage takes its toll on the rest of the ecosystem, affecting animal species that thrive on sea ice algae. The dramatic loss of arctic ice floes, which are no longer forming as abundantly over the winter, limits the surface on which algae can grow and, without sea ice or phytoplankton, marine wildlife faces a food deficit and the restriction of both hunting and birthing grounds. Studies show sea ice algae sustain the entire arctic ecosystem. When the base of a food chain is affected, all the other species that depend on it (and on each other) soon follow. Normally, this time of the year marks the beginning of arctic spring, which typically sets the conditions for algae to bloom. Phytoplankton feeds zooplankton, microscopic animals that make up the primary food source for fish, which in turn are a common prey for seals. Months later, when temperatures get warmer and sea ice starts to melt, phytoplankton subsides to the sea floor, where it is consumed by worms and other small creatures. These are then eaten by benthic fish - species living on the bottom of the sea - that support the beluga whale population. Researchers have already noticed the dwindling phytoplankton is causing a decline in zooplankton species, with dire consequences on surface fish that usually hunt them. The Greenland halibut, one of the benthic fish species whales feed on, is also receding, probably because of lack of food. This fragile ecosystem depends entirely on phytoplankton, which owes its existence to the arctic sea ice. Found at a new record low by this year's measurements, the ice coverage could potentially disappear during summer, seeing its last bastions in Greenland fjords or the Svalbard archipelago. The snowball effect on arctic wildlife is conceivably catastrophic. Beluga whales are already under monitoring by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, giving the species' high risk of endangerment. Apart from whaling and contaminated water, climate change adds to the list of threatening factors, altering the whale's hunting patterns and lifestyle. "These creatures are in the frontline of change in the Arctic and it is clear they are having to make considerable changes in behavior to survive," says Thomas Brown of the Scottish Association for Marine Science. After studying beluga whales for a number a years, Brown discovered belugas have been forced into new hunting territories, venturing farther into the open to catch prey. Since the whales normally rely on Greenland halibut populations, the decreasing number of fish - which no longer find the same amounts of zooplankton and phytoplankton at their disposal - has pushed belugas into open waters, signaling "a clear shift in the food web and ecosystem in this part of the Arctic Ocean." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | May 1, 2017
A trio of adorable snow leopards was recently caught on camera snuggling and relaxing beneath a shady tree near a monastery. The rare and elusive creatures were photographed in Qinghai province, in central China, using camera traps placed by Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, the Snow Leopard Trust and Shan Shui Conservation Center. China contains about 65 percent of the snow leopard habitat, according to Panthera. The footage was captured outside Zhaxilawu monastery; the camera trap was placed there because the area had been a hotspot for wildlife, with a wild bear and another snow leopard spotted in the previous weeks. Tibetan monks have also been recruited as snow leopard allies, with monks patrolling the areas where the snow leopards prowl to prevent poaching, according to a 2013 study. Though it's hard to tell from the video alone, the trio may be siblings, or possibly a mother and her two cubs, scientists from Panthera said. In the video, they roll around, yawn, stretch their feline limbs and nuzzle each other, before pausing to investigate the camera trap. Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are elusive cats that live in the forbidding, mountainous terrain of Asia, from Russia in the west to China in the east. Their white-speckled fur allows them to blend in with their craggy mountainous habitat, while their thick padded feet allow them to tromp silently but sure-footedly in the snow, hunting for prey. About 4,000 to 7,000 snow leopards remain in the wild, according to Defenders of Wildlife, and the regal felines are listed as a threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
News Article | April 19, 2017
Conservationists have lodged a formal request for the US government to list giraffes as endangered in a bid to prevent what they call the “silent extinction” of the world’s tallest land animal. A legal petition filed by five environmental groups has demanded that the US Fish and Wildlife Service provide endangered species protections to the giraffe, which has suffered a precipitous decline in numbers in recent years. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which listed giraffes as a threatened species in December, just 97,500 of the animals exist in sub-Saharan Africa today, a drop of almost 40% since 1985. There are now fewer giraffes than elephants in Africa. Giraffes have suffered from loss of habitat, disease and illegal hunting for bushmeat. They also face the risk of collisions with vehicles and power lines. But the petitioners argue that the species is facing added pressure from “trophy” hunters who travel to Africa to shoot their big-game quarry. These hunters overwhelmingly come from the US. According to the groups’ analysis of import data, Americans imported 21,402 bone carvings, 3,008 skin pieces and 3,744 miscellaneous hunting trophies from giraffes over the past decade. At least 3,700 individual giraffes are thought to have been killed for such items. An endangered species listing would place heavy restrictions on any American hunter wishing to travel to Africa and bring back a slaughtered giraffe. A hunter would have to somehow demonstrate the taking of the giraffe trophy was helping sustain the species. The petition states that the US is “uniquely positioned to help conserve these tall, graceful and iconic animals”. It adds: “Considering the ongoing threats to giraffes and their small remaining populations, now is the time for Endangered Species Act protections for this seriously and increasingly imperiled species.” The plight of giraffes, which have necks as long as six feet and tongues that reach 20in, has caught some conservationists by surprise. The peril faced by the animals has somewhat been overshadowed by the poaching crisis engulfing elephants and rhinos as well as high profile controversies such as the slaughter of Cecil the lion by a Minnesota dentist in Zimbabwe in 2015. But recent surveys have painted a stark picture of decline for giraffes, which now live in increasingly fragmented habitats. The role played by trophy hunters was highlighted in August when pictures emerged of a 12-year-old girl from Utah posing beside the slumped body of a dead giraffe. “When I was doing research on giraffes in Kenya a few years ago, they were quite abundant and no one questioned that they were doing well,” said Jeff Flocken, North America regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw). “Only recently have we looked at them critically and seen this huge drop, which has been a shock to the conservation community. This is an iconic animal and it’s in deep trouble.” Flocken said while the US could not do much to prevent the killing of giraffes in Africa, the regulation of trophy imports would be a “significant” step in stemming the decline of the species. “In the past few years, several gruesome images of trophy hunters next to slain giraffe bodies have caused outrage, bringing this senseless killing to light,” said Masha Kalinina, international trade policy specialist with Humane Society International. “Currently, no US or international law protects giraffes against overexploitation for trade. It is clearly time to change this. As the largest importer of trophies in the world, the role of the United States in the decline of this species is undeniable, and we must do our part to protect these animals.” In September, genetic research revealed that there are four distinct species of giraffe, not just one as long believed. However, the endangered species petition requests protection for all giraffes regardless of sub-species. The Fish and Wildlife Service deemed the African lion to be endangered in 2015 in an attempt to conserve the species. Donald Trump’s sons, who are avid hunters, have been pictured holding parts of an elephant and a leopard. However, the process of listing endangered species has not been altered under the new administration. Under federal rules, the Fish & Wildlife Service has 90 days to respond to the petition and determine whether a listing may be warranted. It can then take more than a year to assess and decide upon the request.
News Article | May 6, 2017
The Paris climate-rescue deal reached to combat global warming, rapidly melting Antarctic ice, is under threat with the new US administration (AFP Photo/MARK RALSTON) Paris (AFP) - As UN negotiators meet in Bonn to thrash out rules for implementing the climate-rescue Paris Agreement, the stakes have never been higher. Following are some key climate measures that illustrate the risks of global warming. In 2016, Earth's average surface temperature hit a record level for the third consecutive year since records began in 1880. The global average temperature was about 1.1 degree Celsius (1.98 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, and about 0.06 C above the previous record set in 2015, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The 21st century has already seen 16 of the 17 hottest years on record. Arctic summer sea ice shrank to 4.14 million square kilometres (1.6 million square miles) in 2016 -- the second-lowest after 2012 when it reached 3.39 million km2. The Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer as early as 2030. In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6 C to 7 C higher than the long-term average. On the other extreme of the world, Antarctica, sea ice hit its lowest extent ever recorded by satellites at the end of summer. High-altitude glaciers, meanwhile, declined in surface area in 2015 for the 36th year in a row. The atmospheric concentrations of the three most potent greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) -- all hit new highs in 2016. For the first time on record, in 2015, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere averaged 400 parts per million (ppm). Most climate scientists agree that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere must be capped at 450 ppm of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) for a fighting chance at limiting average global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels. This is the limit enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Fossil fuel-generated greenhouse gas emissions are expected to have remained stable in 2016 for the third consecutive year, even as the global economy grew. But to stay on target for 2 C, they need to decline. Meanwhile, scientists are warning of an unexplained rise of methane, which has a far more potent warming effect than CO2, in the atmosphere. Sea level rise, caused when ice melts and warmer water expands, continued and appeared to be accelerating, according to a recent report. The average ocean level was 70 millimetres (2.75 inches) higher in 2015 than the 1993 water mark, having risen as much as 30 percent faster in the ten years to 2015 than in the previous decade. The pace is likely to pick up further as ice sheets and glaciers shed mass, threatening the homes and livelihoods of tens of millions of people in low-lying areas around the world. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in January the global average sea level could be between 0.3 and 2.5 metres higher by 2100. On current trends, the melting Antarctic ice sheet on its own could contribute to a metre of lift, according to one study. According to the WMO, it is possible to "demonstrate clearly the existence of links between man-made climate change and many cases of high-impact extreme events, in particular heatwaves." The number of climate-related extreme events -- droughts, forest fires, floods, major storm surges -- have doubled since 1990, some researchers say. The intensity of typhoons battering China, Taiwan, Japan and the Korean Peninsula since 1980, for example, has increased by 12 to 15 percent. Natural disasters drive about 26 million people into poverty every year, says the World Bank, and cause annual losses of about $520 million (473 million euros). Of the 8,688 species of animals and plants listed as "threatened" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List, 19 percent -- 1,688 species -- have been negatively affected by climate change. Australia's Great Barrier Reef was undergoing an unprecedented second straight year of bleaching due to warming seas, and scientists have warned parts of it may never recover.
News Article | April 8, 2017
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
A rainbow-coloured pigeon native to islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans has been found on the Australian mainland for the first time, by Indigenous rangers working near Broome. The Nicobar pigeon, Caloenas nicobarica, the closest living relative to the dodo, is named for India’s Nicobar Islands, more than 4,000km north of Broome. Its range extends east from those islands across Malaysia and Thailand to the Solomon Islands. Until it was spotted by a team of Bardi Jawa rangers on the Dampier Peninsula near One Arm Point, an Indigenous community 215km north of Broome, the closest it had been found to the Australian mainland was a lone bird sighted on an oil rig in the Timor Sea in 1989. “They saw it walking across the road about 1,600m away from the Chile Creek community,” Bardi Jawa men’s rangers coordinator Phillip “Bibido” McCarthy said, naming a small seasonal community about 10km from both One Arm Point and Lombadina. “Having grown up around here, and knowing all the birds that are around here, they could tell that this was not an Australian animal.” The rangers took a quick photo of the animal on their phone and sent it to McCarthy, who sent it on to the Western Australian authorities. That was several weeks ago. Since then, there have been a number of other sightings, McCarthy said, with enough differences in the shading of its grey feathers and iridescent rainbow wings to suggest that at least two individuals had taken a sojourn on the Kimberley coastline. Some have been spotted pecking at native fruit, plentiful after the wet season, while others appear to be foraging on seeds. On Monday, a Nicobar pigeon was captured in the front yard of a house in One Arm point and taken to the rangers’ offices, where it escaped its carry basket and flew around the office before being picked up by the WA department of agriculture. It will be placed in quarantine in Perth while authorities decide what to do with it. McCarthy got a good look at the bird as it flapped over the cubicles and said it looked to be the same size as a homing pigeon, only prettier. “This is the first sighting of it on mainland Australia,” he told Guardian Australia. “We know it has come a long way so it’s quite unique to find it here. We have absolutely no idea how it got here.” He said the discovery highlighted the importance of Indigenous rangers, who had the local knowledge and training to recognise and record the interloper. The Nicobar pigeon is classified as near threatened on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature red list. Rainforest clearing in its native islands have prompted population decline but its range is so vast that there is no accurate estimate of the wild population.
News Article | April 19, 2017
Illegal killing of leopards in the Soutpansberg Mountains has reduced their numbers by two-thirds in the last decade, the researchers reported in the Royal Society Open Science journal. "If things don't change, we predict leopards will essentially disappear from the area by about 2020," lead author Samual Williams, a conservation biologist at Durham University in England, told AFP. "This is especially alarming given that, in 2008, this area had one of the highest leopard densities in Africa." The number of leopards in the wild worldwide is not known, but is diminishing elsewhere as well. The "best estimate" for all of South Africa, said Williams, is about 4,500. What is certain, however, is that the regions these predators roam has shrunk drastically over the last two centuries. The historic range of Panthera pardus, which includes more than half-a-dozen sub-species, covered large swathes of Africa and Asia, and extended well into the Arabian Peninsula. Leopards once roamed the forests of Sri Lanka and Java unchallenged. Today, they occupy barely a quarter of this territory, with some sub-species teetering on the brink of extinction, trapped in one or two percent of their original habitat. Leopards were classified last year as "vulnerable" to extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of endangered species, which tracks the survival status of animals and plants. South Africa recently suspended trophy hunting of leopards, though experts agree this is not a major cause of the population decline. A 2008 census of leopards in the 6,800-square kilometre (2,600-square mile) Soutpansberg Mountains found a robust population of nearly 11 adult cats for each hundred square kilometres (39 square miles). To find out how the carnivores had fared since then, Williams and his team set up four dozen motion-triggered camera traps across the area, and left them in place from 2012 to 2016. The cameras captured a total of 65 individual leopards during the four-year period: 16 adult males, 28 adult females and 21 younger cats. They also fitted eight adults with GPS collars to track their movements—or lack thereof. Only two of the GPS-tagged leopards survived the monitoring period. Three were done in by snares, one was shot by a local resident whose cattle had been attacked, and two went missing, probably killed since they also disappeared from camera surveillance. A statistical analysis of the results showed "a 66 percent decline over a period just over 7.5 years," the study concluded. Ironically, the bleak findings helped conservationists and local officials raise money to hire a "community engagement officer." "One of the things he does is help local people adopt non-lethal techniques" to prevent leopards from attacking cattle and other livestock, including the use of guard dogs, Williams added. But the clash between humans and big carnivores, experts agree, is mostly due to humanity's expanding footprint, especially in Africa, whose population is set to expand by more than a billion before mid-century. As a result, the habitats of most wild megafauna are diminishing, and getting chopped up into smaller and smaller parcels. "It is extremely alarming that the trends that we are reporting exemplify trends in large carnivores globally," Williams said. Studies in Africa of lions, black-backed jackals and bat-eared foxes have showed similar rates of decline. More information: Population dynamics and threats to an apex predator outside protected areas: Implications for carnivore management, Royal Society Open Science, rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/lookup/doi/10.1098/rsos.161090
News Article | May 20, 2017
On April 19 of this year, five major wildlife protection groups petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to list the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) as an endangered species. As the petition asserted, “the giraffe has suffered a major reduction in population size across its range primarily due to habitat loss, commercial overutilization, and severe poaching, and such decline continues unabated.” If the Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to list the giraffe, a set of legal tools will become available to protect this iconic species. But how would listing in the U.S. help this African mammal, whose population numbers in the wild have dipped below 100,000? While extinction can be a natural process, the current rate of extinction is anything but. Scientists estimate that at least 99 out of 100 species extinctions in the world today are the result of human action. Although people rarely intend to drive species into oblivion, as with the giraffe, they do so through the destruction of habitat, poaching and legal hunting. As the petition notes, “[g]iraffes once occupied much of the savanna and savanna woodlands of Africa…. [It] has undergone a 36 to 40 percent population decline over the past 30 years.” More than a century ago, scientists began to notice the disappearance of once prominent species around the world. The American passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet and the Great Auk – once well-established in North America – disappeared. Other species like the American bison and many kinds of whales had once played central roles in important ecosystems but had been reduced to small remnant populations. The existence of species is important to people for many reasons. Sometimes species provide clues for the development of medicines. Often they play a fundamental role in maintaining the functioning of ecosystems on which people depend. As Aldo Leopold – perhaps America’s most famous naturalist – noted, What would you say to a child who saw a giraffe in a book and asked where giraffes lived? Would you be comfortable saying they’re all gone? In 1964, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) began tracking the conservation status of species on its “Red List.” Although the IUCN provides information only about the status of species, this is the first step in helping to limit extinction because it allows conservation efforts to be directed where they’re most needed. A few years later in the United States, the federal government began keeping an official list of species in danger of extinction – what we call endangered species – and species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future – threatened species. The Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, goes further than just identifying imperiled species. Under its terms, listed species are protected from actions “authorized, funded or carried out” by the federal government that may jeopardize their continued existence or adversely affect their essential habitat. Species members are also protected from direct harm by any person. Commerce in species protected by the ESA is generally a crime. The purpose of the ESA is the “conservation” of protected species. In practice, that means bringing the species back to the point where it no longer requires the protection of the ESA. The law’s goal is not to preserve tiny populations on the brink of extinction but to recover species populations that are resilient enough to survive the bad luck which is so often part of living on the planet. Listing is the public, administrative process whereby a species can become entitled to protection under the Endangered Species Act. It centers around one question: Is this creature or plant in danger of extinction? At the listing stage, the federal government can consider only scientific evidence in making its decision. Anyone can initiate the listing process via petition. Evidence suggests the ESA works. A recent report in the Endangered Species Bulletin noted that of the 78 species first listed under the federal precursor to the Endangered Species Act in 1967, only four have been officially declared extinct after half a century. Many others, such as the California condor, the grizzly bear and the whooping crane, have seen remarkable recovery progress. Some, including the bald eagle, have even been removed from the list.
News Article | May 17, 2017
The country is one of the most forested in Southeast Asia, providing habitat for endangered species The loss of intact forest cover in Myanmar has accelerated over the last decade, according to a study published May 17, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Peter Leimgruber from Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, United States of America; Ned Horning from American Museum of Natural History, United States of America; and colleagues. Due to its long political and economic isolation, Myanmar has retained much of its original forest cover but much of the intact forest is unprotected and is increasingly subject to pressures from rapid political and economic changes in the country. Areas that were inaccessible due to armed conflicts between the government and ethnic groups, for example, are starting to open up for timber production and commercial plantations. To investigate changes to forest cover, Leimgruber, Horning and colleagues used Landsat satellite images to map forest cover in Myanmar between 2002 and 2014. The researchers found that in 2014 63% of Myanmar was covered by forest (more than 42 million hectares), making it one of the region's most forested countries. However, in terms of conservation efforts and protection of endangered species, intact (un-fragmented) forests are the most valuable. In Myanmar, 38% of forest cover is intact forest and during the study period the authors found that this intact forest declined by 11% (more than 2 million hectares) with an annual loss of 0.94%. Through their analyses the authors also identified 9 township hotspots of deforestation of intact forests and a large area 6.1 million hectares of intact forest in Northern Myanmar. The authors suggest that protection of intact forests should take priority but other ways of improving forest management could include encouraging forest restoration, and reclaiming degraded forestlands for plantations and sustainable agriculture. Co-author Dr. Qiongyu Huang states: "We found that forests cover 42,365,729 ha or 63% of Myanmar, making it one of the most forested countries in the region. However, severe logging, expanding plantations, and degradation pose increasing threats. Only 38% of the country's forests can be considered intact with canopy cover >80%. Between 2002 and 2014, intact forests declined at a rate of 0.94% annually, totaling more than 2 million ha forest loss." In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: http://journals. Citation: Bhagwat T, Hess A, Horning N, Khaing T, Thein ZM, Aung KM, et al. (2017) Losing a jewel--Rapid declines in Myanmar's intact forests from 2002-2014. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0176364. https:/ Funding: EU FLEGT--Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Provided funding for mapping forest condition and change from Landsat satellite imagery. Website: http://www. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust Website: http://helmsleytrust. Supporting Integrated Protected Area Land and Seascape Management in Tanintharyi. The funder supported salaries for trainers and senior remote sensing analysts based in Myanmar. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. USAID Burma Program Website: https:/ Provided funding to support local GIS/remote sensing analyst as well as capacity building. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) website: https:/ Provided funding to support Myanmar GIS/RS analysts to help with mapping. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.