"HONOLULU – The world’s largest living primate has been listed as critically endangered, making 4 of the 6 great ape species only one step away from extinction, according to a report released Sunday at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, cited illegal hunting in downgrading the status of the eastern gorilla on its Red List of Endangered Species. The list contains more than 80,000 species, and almost 24,000 of those are threatened with extinction. “To see the eastern gorilla — one of our closest cousins — slide toward extinction is truly distressing,” Inger Andersen, IUCN director general, said in a statement. “Conservation action does work and we have increasing evidence of it. It is our responsibility to enhance our efforts to turn the tide and protect the future of our planet.”" The Associated Press had the story September 5, 2016.
The fate of Africa’s elephants may be decided before the weekend is out. Members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, happening this week in Honolulu, will decide on Motion 7, whichwould call on the IUCN to encourage governments to shut down the ivory trade — and provide help in doing so. The hope is that ending the demand for ivory — and with it, hopefully, the large-scale elephant poaching that has been going on for more than a decade — would allow both savannah and forest elephants to recover. But two new studies show that the species have declined so much that, even after poaching ends, their populations will take decades to recover. The first study presents results from the Great Elephant Census, the first-ever continent-wide effort to survey savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana), the more common of the two species of elephant in Africa. Wildlife researchers, conservation organizations and government agencies worked together to conduct aerial surveys of elephant herds in 18 African nations. They cataloged more than 350,000 elephants (not including the 22,700 counted in Namibia in 2015, or elephants in South Sudan and Central African Republic, which have yet to be counted). An estimated 84 percent of the animals were living in protected areas, the team reports August 31 in PeerJ. While that may sound like a lot of elephants, the raw numbers are a bit misleading. That’s because not long ago there were so many more. The researchers estimate that 144,000 savannah elephants were lost between 2007 and 2014, with elephant numbers in the surveyed populations falling by about 8 percent per year largely due to poaching. If these populations continue to decline at that rate, their numbers would be halved every nine years, and smaller populations could be wiped out completely, the researchers warn. And living in a protected area, like a park or nature reserve, doesn’t mean that the elephants are necessarily protected from poaching or conflict with humans. The Great Elephant Census team found high levels of elephant deaths, which could indicate poaching, in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya, Mozambique’s Niassa National Reserve and Rungwa Game Reserve in Tanzania. “Heightened antipoaching measures are needed in these and other protected areas to ensure that they do not become mere ‘paper parks’ for elephants,” the researchers write. The situation may be worse for forest elephants (L. cyclotis), which scientists discovered only five years ago are a genetically distinct species. No one is quite sure how many forest elephants there are (the Great Elephant Census didn’t count them), but there are far fewer of these elephants than their savannah cousins. Like savannah elephants, forest elephants are dealing with losses from poaching, habitat loss and human conflict. A 2013 study estimated that they lost 62 percent of their numbers between 2002 and 2011, and a 2014 study estimated that as much as 10 to 18 percent of the forest elephant population disappears every year. And a new study finds that these elephants may be even less equipped than the savannah elephants to bounce back once poaching stops. Because it has taken a long time to recognize that forest elephants are their own species, there isn’t a lot of basic biology known about them. But researchers collected data on more than 1,200 elephants that visited a forest clearing in the southwestern Central African Republic between 1990 and 2013, and have now used that data to make some startling observations about how forest elephants differ from savannah elephants. Their results appear August 31 in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Biologically the two species of African elephants are fairly similar, but forest elephants have slowed down their reproduction. Female forest elephants can conceive when they are as young as 10 years — but most don’t. The elephants in the study reached sexual maturity as young as 13 and as old as 28 (the median was 23 years, compared with 12 for savannah elephants). And forest elephants breed only once every five to six years, compared with every three or four in savannah elephants. This means that a population of forest elephants would double in size at less than half the rate as savannah elephants. The researchers suspect that this slow population growth is an outcome of living in the forest environment. Forest elephants rely on a diet of fruit, leaf matter and bark, but most forest growth happens at the treetops. So elephants are going to be limited in what and how much food they can find. “Low reproductive rates may in fact be the norm for large-bodied mammals in these rain forests,” the researchers write. That wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that their numbers are being driven lower and lower by poaching. The research team estimates that it could take 80 to 90 years for forest elephants to recover to their pre-poaching numbers — and that’s only if poaching stops. Savannah elephants would recover more quickly, but it would still take decades. And that’s why the IUCN vote to potentially end the ivory trade is so important — because if we want to see elephants continue to roam Africa’s savannahs and forests, we need to stop the trade that is incentivizing people to kill them.
News Article | March 25, 2016
A rare Sumatran rhino was sighted by wildlife researchers in Kalimantan, Borneo. The sighting and first physical contact in more than 40 years paves the way for the rhino conservation efforts in Indonesia. In August 2015, the International Rhino Foundation officially declared Sumatran rhinos, once endemic in the region, to be extinct. In an effort to save the species, the United States planned to send its last Sumatran rhino to Indonesia to breed. The captured Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, a female, is estimated to be 4 to 5 years old and was caught safely in a pit trap set in Kutai Barat, east of Kalimantan. A survey team of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) initially found evidence of the Sumatran rhino's existence in 2013 as they identified footprints and captured images via camera trap in the Kutai Barat forest. The team's effort was able to identify about 15 Sumatran rhinos in three areas of the forest. "This is an exciting discovery and a major conservation success," said Dr. Efransjah, CEO of WWF-Indonesia. "We now have proof that a species once thought extinct in Kalimantan still roams the forests, and we will now strengthen our efforts to protect this extraordinary species." The captured rhino is now safely held in an enclosure before transferring her to a new home, the second Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia, about 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) from her capture site. The experts believe that providing a sanctuary for the rare rhinos is the last card in conserving them. Efransjah vowed that WWF will closely work with the Sumatran team in protecting the population of the rhinos in Indonesia. Marco Lambertini, WWF International Director General, shared that the discovery will boost the organization's hope of saving the iconic symbol of the Asian rainforest. In the island of Sumatra, less than 100 Sumatran rhinos are estimated to remain in the wild. Their existence is greatly affected by the threats of habitat loss due to plantations, mining, logging and increased incidence of poaching. Sumatran rhinos are the smallest of the rhino species, only growing up to 950 kilograms (2,000 pounds). They are also known as hairy rhinos due to their noticeable reddish hair covering. They are often found as solitary grazers in dense forests. Southeast Asia and Africa have five species of rhinoceros, of which the Javan rhino has the smallest population of only 63 left in the wild. Due to the dwindling number of rhinos in these areas the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warns that these rhinos are at risk of being extinct.
News Article | April 20, 2016
Japanese fishermen were in it for the surprise of their lives when they captured an extremely rare creature, a megamouth shark. The fishermen found the rare creature caught in their fishing net around 3 miles from Owase Port in Mie Prefecture. Measuring more than 15 feet long and weighing about a ton, this elusive creature is rarely seen even by fishermen. Megamouth sharks have only been spotted about 60 times since it was first discovered and most of them were seen in Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. The first known close encounter with a megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) was in 1976, when a United States Navy crew caught the creature off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. During that time, the crew was unable to identify the unusual and odd-looking creature, so they preserved the carcass and brought it to the Waikiki Aquarium for analysis. It was later on identified as an undocumented species of planktivorous shark, which uses its massive mouth to catch jellyfish, plankton and other food particles. A report said that the megamouth shark recently caught in Japan was purchased by a fishmonger and transported outside the prefecture. The shark is reportedly being processed for human consumption. Scientists usually request to have rare creatures examined but fishermen are reluctant to surrender their catch without due profit. Though the megamouth shark has been seen a few times since it was first discovered, it has been listed under Least Concern in the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. This means that a taxon has been evaluated against the criteria and does not qualify for other categories. The real status of the megamouth shark's real population trend has not been established since it has been spotted only a few times since the '70s. Since the shark has been rarely encountered throughout its range, further research on its ecology and habitat are required to better understand the possible impacts of fishing to the creature's population. Fishermen in Asia, particularly in Taiwan, encounter an increasing number of catches involving megamouth sharks. Captures made by fisheries should be tracked and studied cautiously to make sure the species does not become threatened in the future. "The increasing reports of captures from Southeast Asia suggest some potential effects of fisheries. However, the lack of catch data and life history information makes it difficult to understand the effects of these catches," the IUCN wrote in its report. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
In a study led by Duke University, researchers used a technique called whole-transcriptome sequencing to screen for blood-borne diseases in wild lemurs, distant primate cousins to humans. The animals were found to carry several strains or species of parasites similar to those that cause Lyme disease and other infections in humans. This is the first time these parasites have been reported in lemurs or in Madagascar, the only place on Earth where lemurs live in the wild outside of zoos and sanctuaries, the researchers report in the Jan. 27, 2016 issue of Biology Letters. The approach could pave the way for earlier, more accurate detection of future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases that move between animals and people. "We can detect pathogens we might not expect and be better prepared to deal with them," said co-author Anne Yoder, director of the Duke Lemur Center. In 2012, Duke Lemur Center veterinarian Cathy Williams and colleagues started performing physical exams on lemurs in the rainforests surrounding a mine site in eastern Madagascar to help monitor the impacts of such activities on lemur health. "Lemur populations are becoming increasingly small and fragmented because of human activities like mining, logging and clearing forests to make way for cattle grazing and rice paddies," Williams said. "If an infectious disease wipes out a lemur population it could be a huge blow to the species." Researchers took small amounts of blood and tested them for evidence of exposure to known viruses and pathogens, but nothing turned up. The problem is that standard diagnostic tests tend to target known pathogens, Williams said. You can check for antibodies to certain viruses, or look for specific snippets of genetic material in an animal's blood, "but you have to know what you're looking for." The end result is that new or exotic diseases often go undetected. And with hundreds of thousands of viral and bacterial species that lemurs and other mammals harbor still awaiting discovery, "we could be looking for anything," Williams said. To cast a wider net they tried a new approach. Lead author Peter Larsen, senior research scientist at Duke, analyzed blood samples from six lemurs in two species, the indri and the diademed sifaka, both of which are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With advances in high-throughput sequencing, the ability to read genetic code rapidly, Larsen was able to look at all the gene readouts, or RNA transcripts, that were present in each animal—an alphabet soup containing billions of nucleotide bases. The team found more than just lemur RNA in the animals' blood. Using computer algorithms that compared the genetic material to sequences already catalogued in existing databases, they discovered several new types of parasites that had never been reported in lemurs. These included a new form of the protozoa responsible for babesiosis, a disease spread by bites from infected ticks, and a new kind of Borrelia closely related to the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. They also found the first known case in Madagascar of a bacterium called Candidatus Neoehrlichia, which can be deadly in humans. Further analyses revealed that the new types of Babesia and Borrelia they found didn't begin in lemurs, but were likely introduced to Madagascar in infected pets and livestock such as cattle and then spilled over to lemurs. The researchers don't yet know if the new parasites are actually dangerous to lemurs. But they caution that what is infecting lemurs could potentially infect people, too. Human health officials and veterinarians in Madagascar may want to consider screening their patients to see if any test positive for the same parasites, the researchers say. The majority of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans, including recent outbreaks of SARS, Ebola and bird flu, are zoonotic—they can spread among wildlife, domestic animals and humans. "Next-generation sequencing will be an important tool to identify emerging pathogens, particularly vector-borne diseases," said Barbara Qurollo, a research assistant professor at the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine who was not affiliated with the study. "A clinician cannot treat an infection that he or she does not know exists," said veterinarian and infectious diseases researcher Edward Breitschwerdt, also of the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine. "The kindest form of therapy is an accurate diagnosis." More information: Blood transcriptomes reveal novel parasitic zoonoses circulating in Madagascar's lemurs, Biology Letters, rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/lookup/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2015.0829