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News Article | December 14, 2016
Site: news.europawire.eu

OXFORD, 14-Dec-2016 — /EuropaWire/ — Two new studies led by scientists at Oxford University have highlighted the threat posed to lions by human activity – including trophy hunting. The first paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, analysed the deaths of 206 lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe – home of Cecil the lion – between 1999 and 2012. Researchers found that human activities caused 88% of male and 67% of female mortalities. Male deaths were dominated by trophy hunting, while the human sources of female mortality were more varied and included causes such as unintentional snaring by bushmeat hunters and retaliatory killing by herders for livestock loss. Analysis showed that lions tended to avoid risky areas – such as farmland with high incidence of retaliatory killings – suggesting they may make behavioural decisions based on perceptions of risk. However, experienced adults visited risky areas less often than young individuals, suggesting that the latter may either be naive or forced into peripheral habitats by older lions. The research highlights the risks that lions face – not only when they leave the protection of national parks and enter farmland or hunting areas, but also from poachers within protected areas themselves. The second paper, published in the journal Biological Conservation, also used data from Hwange to show that intensive trophy hunting of male lions in the early 2000s had profoundly negative effects on the lion population. When trophy hunting management was improved, as a result of work by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), by vastly reducing hunting quotas in the mid-2000s, the lion population increased by 62% and the number of adult males in the population by 200%. The study concludes that trophy hunting of territorial male lions causes a cascade of negative effects – including infanticide of cubs by new males – that greatly reduce survivorship across all demographic groups, potentially leading to population declines if hunting is not well managed. Professor David Macdonald, a co-author of both papers and the founding Director of Oxford’s WildCRU, said: ‘Among the threats facing conservation is the global decline of many large apex predators. Public concern about the fate of many of these iconic species was strikingly emphasised by the outcry over the killing, by an American trophy hunter, of Cecil the lion – an animal studied closely by WildCRU. ‘These two important new pieces of research, based on long-term understanding of population dynamics, add very significantly to our understanding of the threats faced by lions and other large predators in a world that is increasingly dominated by the human enterprise.’ Dr Andrew Loveridge, also a member of WildCRU, and lead author on both papers, added: ‘Conservationists face real and increasingly costly challenges in protecting these important predator species. Solutions have to include increasing scrutiny of and improvement to the management of trophy hunting, working with farmers to limit loss of livestock to predators, and improving the security of protected areas against poaching and land conversion.’ For further information, please contact Stuart Gillespie in the University of Oxford press office at stuart.gillespie@admin.ox.ac.uk or on +44 (0)1865 283877. Professor David Macdonald: david.macdonald@zoo.ox.ac.uk Dr Andrew Loveridge: andrew.loveridge@zoo.ox.ac.uk


News Article | December 12, 2016
Site: phys.org

The first paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, analysed the deaths of 206 lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe – home of Cecil the lion – between 1999 and 2012. Researchers found that human activities caused 88% of male and 67% of female mortalities. Male deaths were dominated by trophy hunting, while the human sources of female mortality were more varied and included causes such as unintentional snaring by bushmeat hunters and retaliatory killing by herders for livestock loss. Analysis showed that lions tended to avoid risky areas – such as farmland with high incidence of retaliatory killings – suggesting they may make behavioural decisions based on perceptions of risk. However, experienced adults visited risky areas less often than young individuals, suggesting that the latter may either be naive or forced into peripheral habitats by older lions. The research highlights the risks that lions face – not only when they leave the protection of national parks and enter farmland or hunting areas, but also from poachers within protected areas themselves. The second paper, published in the journal Biological Conservation, also used data from Hwange to show that intensive trophy hunting of male lions in the early 2000s had profoundly negative effects on the lion population. When trophy hunting management was improved, as a result of work by Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), by vastly reducing hunting quotas in the mid-2000s, the lion population increased by 62% and the number of adult males in the population by 200%. The study concludes that trophy hunting of territorial male lions causes a cascade of negative effects – including infanticide of cubs by new males – that greatly reduce survivorship across all demographic groups, potentially leading to population declines if hunting is not well managed. Professor David Macdonald, a co-author of both papers and the founding Director of Oxford's WildCRU, said: 'Among the threats facing conservation is the global decline of many large apex predators. Public concern about the fate of many of these iconic species was strikingly emphasised by the outcry over the killing, by an American trophy hunter, of Cecil the lion – an animal studied closely by WildCRU. 'These two important new pieces of research, based on long-term understanding of population dynamics, add very significantly to our understanding of the threats faced by lions and other large predators in a world that is increasingly dominated by the human enterprise.' Dr Andrew Loveridge, also a member of WildCRU, and lead author on both papers, added: 'Conservationists face real and increasingly costly challenges in protecting these important predator species. Solutions have to include increasing scrutiny of and improvement to the management of trophy hunting, working with farmers to limit loss of livestock to predators, and improving the security of protected areas against poaching and land conversion.' Explore further: Trophy hunting of lions can conserve the species


News Article | December 12, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Two new studies led by scientists at Oxford University have highlighted the threat posed to lions by human activity - including trophy hunting. The first paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, analysed the deaths of 206 lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe - home of Cecil the lion - between 1999 and 2012. Researchers found that human activities caused 88% of male and 67% of female mortalities. Male deaths were dominated by trophy hunting, while the human sources of female mortality were more varied and included causes such as unintentional snaring by bushmeat hunters and retaliatory killing by herders for livestock loss. Analysis showed that lions tended to avoid risky areas - such as farmland with high incidence of retaliatory killings - suggesting they may make behavioural decisions based on perceptions of risk. However, experienced adults visited risky areas less often than young individuals, suggesting that the latter may either be naive or forced into peripheral habitats by older lions. The research highlights the risks that lions face - not only when they leave the protection of national parks and enter farmland or hunting areas, but also from poachers within protected areas themselves. The second paper, published in the journal Biological Conservation, also used data from Hwange to show that intensive trophy hunting of male lions in the early 2000s had profoundly negative effects on the lion population. When trophy hunting management was improved, as a result of work by Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), by vastly reducing hunting quotas in the mid-2000s, the lion population increased by 62% and the number of adult males in the population by 200%. The study concludes that trophy hunting of territorial male lions causes a cascade of negative effects - including infanticide of cubs by new males - that greatly reduce survivorship across all demographic groups, potentially leading to population declines if hunting is not well managed. Professor David Macdonald, a co-author of both papers and the founding Director of Oxford's WildCRU, said: 'Among the threats facing conservation is the global decline of many large apex predators. Public concern about the fate of many of these iconic species was strikingly emphasised by the outcry over the killing, by an American trophy hunter, of Cecil the lion - an animal studied closely by WildCRU. 'These two important new pieces of research, based on long-term understanding of population dynamics, add very significantly to our understanding of the threats faced by lions and other large predators in a world that is increasingly dominated by the human enterprise.' Dr Andrew Loveridge, also a member of WildCRU, and lead author on both papers, added: 'Conservationists face real and increasingly costly challenges in protecting these important predator species. Solutions have to include increasing scrutiny of and improvement to the management of trophy hunting, working with farmers to limit loss of livestock to predators, and improving the security of protected areas against poaching and land conversion.'


News Article | August 31, 2016
Site: phys.org

The trials, undertaken by the University of Oxford, the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and the UK Animal and Plant Health Agency in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia, are the first ever conducted in wild populations of an endangered carnivore. Researchers from Ethiopia and the UK tested various types of baits and ways to deliver the vaccine, trialling SAG2 in three wolf packs. Of 21 wolves trapped after vaccinations, 14 were positive for a biomarker indicating that the animal had ingested the bait; of these, half showed antibody titres in blood above the universally recognised threshold, and 86% had levels considered sufficient to provide protective immunity to wildlife. Wolves were closely monitored after the vaccination, and all but one of the wolves vaccinated were alive 14 months later (higher than average survival). Oral vaccination proved to be the answer to controlling rabies in wild populations of red foxes and northern raccoons in Europe and North America, but the approach has never been tested in wild populations of endangered carnivores such as Ethiopian wolves and African wild dogs, which are at risk of extinction because of outbreaks of infectious diseases. Rabies is a virus that kills people, domestic livestock and wild animals worldwide, and is particularly prevalent in the highlands of Ethiopia, where rabies recurrently jumps from domestic dogs into their wild relatives, the charismatic Ethiopian wolves. With fewer than 500 adult wolves left in half a dozen mountain ranges, and no captive populations, Ethiopian wolves are much rarer than giant pandas and unlikely to sustain the immediate and present threats rising from growing numbers of dogs and people living in and around their mountain enclaves. But with wolves living in a sea of domestic dogs, in shrinking habitat islands, there is no time left to waste. Oral vaccination offers a more cost-efficient, safe and proactive approach to protect Ethiopian wolves and other threatened canids from rabies. Lead author Professor Claudio Sillero-Zubiri, of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, said: 'We now have a safe vaccine, a suitable bait, an efficient delivery method, and trained monitoring teams in place - all crucial steps which open up the possibility for scaling up the oral vaccination and protecting the wolf populations at risk, before disease strikes again.' Head wolf monitor Alo Hussein, of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP), said: 'In spite of investing in excess of US$30,000 a year vaccinating thousands of domestic dogs, it has been impossible to attain a level of dog vaccinations that would remove the risk of wolves getting infected, due to the large and dynamic dog population in the Bale Mountains.' Professor Tony Fooks, of the Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool, and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, said: 'These preliminary results using an oral vaccination strategy to protect Ethiopian wolves against rabies are encouraging and provide proof-of-principle for the use of this approach in wild canids.' Dr Fekede Regassa, of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, said: 'Since 1990, four major rabies outbreaks led each time to the crash of the Bale Mountains wolf population, the world's largest, typically killing 50-75% of the subpopulation affected. EWCP vaccinates wolves reactively whenever a rabies outbreak is confirmed, contributing to contain the disease, but only after many wolves die - by the time rabies is detected, the virus is well established, and as wolves are highly social, it spreads fast.' More information: Claudio Sillero-Zubiri et al, Feasibility and efficacy of oral rabies vaccine SAG2 in endangered Ethiopian wolves, Vaccine (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.08.021


News Article | December 13, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Scientists based at Oxford University have created a new method for counting lions that they say is the most robust yet devised. Using the Maasai Mara National Reserve and surrounding conservancies in Kenya as a case study, they estimate there to be 420 lions over the age of one in this key territory. At almost 17 lions per 100 square kilometres, that represents one of the highest densities anywhere in Africa. Lion numbers are notoriously difficult to estimate, which is why there is heated debate over their true status throughout Africa, with some experts arguing that there are 20,000 lions left on the continent and others claiming the figure is more likely to be 30,000. Lead author Dr Nic Elliot, Project Director of the Kenya Wildlife Trust's Mara Lion Project and a postdoctoral researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) in Oxford University's Department of Zoology, said: 'Reliable estimates of lion density are critical to conservation: at a policy level, they inform regional strategies and are used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Endangered Species Act and CITES to classify lions; at a local level, they are used to advocate for management practices and to highlight conservation needs and successes. Yet our current methods of counting lions are too inaccurate and too imprecise.' Population numbers are a critical measure of conservation success or failure. To count lions, conservation biologists have traditionally used track surveys, which record lions' footprints, and/or call-up surveys, which broadcast sounds to attract lions for counting. This new study highlights how both methods can lead to inaccuracy and imprecision, thus providing misleading estimates of population trends. Despite such concerns, these two methods are currently the most commonly used to count lions. Additionally, other approaches tend to estimate lion numbers from observations of individual lions without including the amount of effort - such as distance covered in different areas - in the analysis. The new survey, which circumvents these problems by using a 'spatially explicit' approach, involved five field teams systematically searching the Maasai Mara National Reserve and surrounding conservancies for lions. They carefully logged their search effort during the 90-day survey and drove just under 8,400 kilometres while searching for lions. By taking close-up, high-resolution photographs of individual lions, researchers were able to log their unique whisker spots. A total of 203 lions were identified within the 2,400-square-kilometre survey area. The data was then analysed with powerful computers, using a tailor-made 'Bayesian spatially explicit capture-recapture' model that corrects for the bias that some lions may not have been identified during the survey. The study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, adapts methodologies that have successfully been used by scientists to count other big cats, such as tigers and cheetahs. Dr Elliot said: 'A survey typically produces an estimate of density and an interval which gives the lower and upper possible true number. Say, for example, a survey estimates 300 lions but gives a lower bound of 100 lions and an upper bound of 500 lions. If the survey is repeated and an estimate of 200 lions is produced, is that telling us that the population has declined by 100 or increased by 100? A good survey, then, will produce an accurate estimate with narrow intervals.' He added: 'We estimate there to be 16.85 lions over the age of one year per 100 square kilometres in the Maasai Mara. This is extremely high compared with most places in Africa and reflects the incredibly productive ecosystem that the Maasai Mara is. We estimated the posterior standard deviation to be just 1.3, reflecting the excellent precision of our overall estimate. This survey will lay the foundation for accurate monitoring of the population over time.' Co-author Dr Arjun Gopalaswamy, from the Indian Statistical Institute and the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, said: 'Good estimates of big cat abundance can only be obtained when a rigorous field method is combined with a tailor-made statistical method. This study demonstrates the power of such a combined approach. 'We should not underestimate the vital importance of obtaining accurate and precise estimates of wildlife numbers. When estimates are vague and non-transparent, we may fail to detect the direction of changes. As a result, we may end up supporting the most advertised rather than the most effective conservation strategy.' He added: 'Think of it this way: a survey might reveal there are 200 identified lions, but it will tell you nothing about how many were missed and where. Our method crucially corrects for this problem that existed in previous methods by estimating density at a very fine scale so that we can produce a map to show which areas have high or low density. What's more, because we identify individuals, in time we will be able to estimate vital rates such as survival, additions to the population, and mortality for different demographics. As such, I can see this methodology being immediately applicable to count Asiatic lions in India. 'In addition to big cat densities, our approach simultaneously estimates allied parameters such as sex ratios and sex-specific home range sizes, which provide important clues about the health of these populations. For example, you could have good densities, but if the population is composed only of males, and/or the home range sizes are very large, it could still be a sign of worry.' The authors make the case for a unified framework to assess lion numbers across the animals' range. Dr Elliot said: 'Conservation decisions have to be supported by robust science. Our method shows enormous promise in that it is more accurate and precise than traditional methods and provides valuable information on space use. Going forward, it will provide an accurate assessment of population trends. 'Lions are too important for us to be vague about their numbers. Our methodology can accommodate sightings data, telemetry data and genetics data and is flexible enough to be used anywhere. As such, we recommend that spatially explicit capture-recapture methods are widely adopted to census African carnivores.'


Patterned with star-like figures on their shells, Indian star tortoises can be found in private homes across Asia, where they are commonly kept as pets. One can also see them in religious temples, praised as the living incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. How did they get there? Suspicious of a large-scale illegal international trade of these tortoises that could in fact pose a grave threat to the survival of the Indian Star tortoise, a team of researchers, led by Dr. Neil D'Cruze from Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford, and World Animal Protection, London, spent 17 months investigating the case focusing on India and Thailand. They have their study published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation. The present study established that at least 55,000 Indian star tortoise individuals are being poached over the span of a year from a single trade hub in India. Helped by a number of herpetologists and wildlife enforcement officials, the researchers have tracked signals about how sophisticated criminal gangs are exploiting "legal loopholes" and people alike, taking advantage of rural communities and urban consumers in India and other Asian countries. "We were shocked at the sheer scale of the illegal trade in tortoises and the cruelty inflicted upon them," comments Dr. Neil D'Cruze. "Over 15 years ago wildlife experts warned that the domestic trade in Indian star tortoises needed to be contained before it could become established as an organised international criminal operation." "Unfortunately, it seems that our worst nightmare has come true - sophisticated criminal gangs are exploiting both impoverished rural communities and urban consumers alike," he also added. "Neither group is fully aware how their actions are threatening the welfare and conservation of these tortoises." Although deemed of "Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List when last formally assessed back in 2000, the Indian star tortoise and its increasing illegal poaching and trading can easily lead to a serious risk of the species' extinction. Other dangers of such unregulated activities include the introduction of invasive species and diseases. Having spent a year among a rural hunter-gatherer community, researchers established the collection of at least 55,000 juvenile wild Indian star tortoises between January and December 2014. This is already between three and six times more than the last such record dating from about ten years ago. Collectors tend to poach juvenile tortoises, but it is not rare for them to also catch adults. Based on the individual's age and health, the tortoises are later sold to vendors at a price of between 50 and 300 Indian Rupees (INR), or between 1 and 5 USD, per animal. "Therefore, we conservatively estimate (assuming no mortalities) that the collector engagement in this illegal operation has a collective annual value of up to 16,500,000 INR (263,000 USD) for their impoverished communities," comment the researchers. Consumers seek the Indian star tortoise for either exotic pets or spiritual purposes. With their star-like radiating yellow patterns splashed with black on their shells, not only is this tortoise species an attractive animal, but it was also found to be considered as a good omen among the locals in the Indian state of Gujarat. During their survey, the researchers found over a hundred hatchlings in a single urban household. However, their owner claimed that none of them was kept with commercial intent, although some of the tortoises were meant for close friends and relatives. On the other hand, there was a case where the researchers came across a Shiva temple hosting a total of eleven Indian star tortoises. Temple representatives there confirmed that the tortoise is believed to represent an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, one of the three central gods in the religion, recognised as the preserver and protector of the universe. In India vendors do not show the reptiles in public, but they are made available upon a special request. If paid for in advance, a vendor can also supply a larger quantity of the animals at a price ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 INR (15 to 50 USD) per animal. The researchers managed to see seven captive tortoises in private, including six juveniles and one adult, all in visibly poor health. Disturbingly, in order to reach these vendors, the collected tortoise are usually wrapped in cloths and packed into suitcases. Covered by a 'mask' of legal produce such as fruit and vegetables, they are transported to the 'trade hubs'. They are also smuggled abroad to satisfy consumer demand among the growing middle classes in countries such as Thailand and China. "Despite being protected in India since the 1970's, legal 'loopholes' in other Asian countries such as Thailand and China appear to undermine India's enforcement efforts," explains Mr. Gajender Sharma, India's Director at World Animal Protection, "They are smuggled out of the country in confined spaces, it's clear there is little or no concern about the welfare of these reptiles." "World Animal Protection is concerned about the suffering that these tortoises endure," he further notes. "We are dealing with an organised international criminal operation which requires an equally organised international approach to combat it." As a result of their study, the authors conclude that more research into both the illegal trafficking of Indian star tortoise and its effects as well as the consumer demand is urgently needed in order to assess, address and subsequently tackle the issue. More information: Neil D'Cruze et al. A star attraction: The illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises, Nature Conservation (2015). DOI: 10.3897/natureconservation.13.5625


Lion numbers are notoriously difficult to estimate, which is why there is heated debate over their true status throughout Africa, with some experts arguing that there are 20,000 lions left on the continent and others claiming the figure is more likely to be 30,000. Lead author Dr Nic Elliot, Project Director of the Kenya Wildlife Trust's Mara Lion Project and a postdoctoral researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) in Oxford University's Department of Zoology, said: 'Reliable estimates of lion density are critical to conservation: at a policy level, they inform regional strategies and are used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Endangered Species Act and CITES to classify lions; at a local level, they are used to advocate for management practices and to highlight conservation needs and successes. Yet our current methods of counting lions are too inaccurate and too imprecise.' Population numbers are a critical measure of conservation success or failure. To count lions, conservation biologists have traditionally used track surveys, which record lions' footprints, and/or call-up surveys, which broadcast sounds to attract lions for counting. This new study highlights how both methods can lead to inaccuracy and imprecision, thus providing misleading estimates of population trends. Despite such concerns, these two methods are currently the most commonly used to count lions. Additionally, other approaches tend to estimate lion numbers from observations of individual lions without including the amount of effort - such as distance covered in different areas - in the analysis. The new survey, which circumvents these problems by using a 'spatially explicit' approach, involved five field teams systematically searching the Maasai Mara National Reserve and surrounding conservancies for lions. They carefully logged their search effort during the 90-day survey and drove just under 8,400 kilometres while searching for lions. By taking close-up, high-resolution photographs of individual lions, researchers were able to log their unique whisker spots. A total of 203 lions were identified within the 2,400-square-kilometre survey area. The data was then analysed with powerful computers, using a tailor-made 'Bayesian spatially explicit capture-recapture' model that corrects for the bias that some lions may not have been identified during the survey. The study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, adapts methodologies that have successfully been used by scientists to count other big cats, such as tigers and cheetahs. Dr Elliot said: 'A survey typically produces an estimate of density and an interval which gives the lower and upper possible true number. Say, for example, a survey estimates 300 lions but gives a lower bound of 100 lions and an upper bound of 500 lions. If the survey is repeated and an estimate of 200 lions is produced, is that telling us that the population has declined by 100 or increased by 100? A good survey, then, will produce an accurate estimate with narrow intervals.' He added: 'We estimate there to be 16.85 lions over the age of one year per 100 square kilometres in the Maasai Mara. This is extremely high compared with most places in Africa and reflects the incredibly productive ecosystem that the Maasai Mara is. We estimated the posterior standard deviation to be just 1.3, reflecting the excellent precision of our overall estimate. This survey will lay the foundation for accurate monitoring of the population over time.' Co-author Dr Arjun Gopalaswamy, from the Indian Statistical Institute and the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, said: 'Good estimates of big cat abundance can only be obtained when a rigorous field method is combined with a tailor-made statistical method. This study demonstrates the power of such a combined approach. 'We should not underestimate the vital importance of obtaining accurate and precise estimates of wildlife numbers. When estimates are vague and non-transparent, we may fail to detect the direction of changes. As a result, we may end up supporting the most advertised rather than the most effective conservation strategy.' He added: 'Think of it this way: a survey might reveal there are 200 identified lions, but it will tell you nothing about how many were missed and where. Our method crucially corrects for this problem that existed in previous methods by estimating density at a very fine scale so that we can produce a map to show which areas have high or low density. What's more, because we identify individuals, in time we will be able to estimate vital rates such as survival, additions to the population, and mortality for different demographics. As such, I can see this methodology being immediately applicable to count Asiatic lions in India. 'In addition to big cat densities, our approach simultaneously estimates allied parameters such as sex ratios and sex-specific home range sizes, which provide important clues about the health of these populations. For example, you could have good densities, but if the population is composed only of males, and/or the home range sizes are very large, it could still be a sign of worry.' The authors make the case for a unified framework to assess lion numbers across the animals' range. Dr Elliot said: 'Conservation decisions have to be supported by robust science. Our method shows enormous promise in that it is more accurate and precise than traditional methods and provides valuable information on space use. Going forward, it will provide an accurate assessment of population trends. 'Lions are too important for us to be vague about their numbers. Our methodology can accommodate sightings data, telemetry data and genetics data and is flexible enough to be used anywhere. As such, we recommend that spatially explicit capture-recapture methods are widely adopted to census African carnivores.' Explore further: Estimates of cheetah numbers are 'guesswork', say researchers More information: 'Towards Accurate and Precise Estimates of Lion Density' Conservation Biology 13 December 2016.


News Article | March 24, 2016
Site: news.yahoo.com

The marbled cat, an arboreal specialist, is often found in trees. It gets its name from its unique marbled-patterned coat. More A secret photo shoot deep in the forests of Malaysian Borneo is helping researchers determine just how many marbled cats — rare, tree-climbing felines — live in the region, according to a new study. Marbled cats (Pardofelis marmorata) are extremely elusive creatures. To get a better idea of the cats' stomping grounds, the researchers placed camera traps in eight forests and two palm oil plantations in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, they said. After four months of secret, motion-triggered infrared photography, the researchers found that marbled cats are most numerous in the lowlands where the forest is undisturbed. However, they did find a few cats in selectively logged areas. [See Camera Trap Photos of the Elusive Marbled Cat] "We show that marbled cats can still survive in logged forests," said study lead researcher Andrew Hearn, a doctoral candidate at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. "This lends further weight to the argument that such disturbed forests are important to the conservation of biodiversity and should be preserved wherever possible." Little is known about the cats, which are named for their marble-patterned fur. They live in dense tropical forests, and are rarely seen, except for the odd camera-trap sighting. Perhaps that's because the species is listed as "near threatened," according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list, largely due to habitat loss and poaching. In the new study, the researchers used the surreptitiously taken photos to identify individual cats and estimate the species' population density and distribution. They found that the lowland Danum Valley Conservation Area had about 19.5 cats per 39 square miles (100 square kilometers). Tawau Hills Park had fewer — about seven cats per 39 square miles. The Tabin Wildlife Reserve, which was selectively logged from 1969 to 1989, had an estimated density of about 10 cats per 39 square miles. These estimates provide "tentative evidence" that undisturbed, lowland hill forests have the highest densities of marbled cats, Hearn said. Other areas, including disturbed lowlands and undisturbed highlands, had lower densities of the cats, he said. The camera traps didn't record any marbled-cat sightings within the plantations, although one cat was spotted walking along the forest-plantation boundary, the researchers added. They also photographed cubs in the Tabin North, Tawau and Ulu Segama forests. The results of this exhaustive study suggest that the marbled-cat population may be somewhat higher in northern Borneo than it is elsewhere, but more studies are needed to verify this, Hearn said. For instance, researchers could use camera traps in other places in which the cats are found in the Indomalayan ecorealm, a region extending from eastern India and Nepal to Yunnan province, China; and throughout mainland Southeast Asia to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. [Photos: In Images: The Rare Bay Cat of Borneo] But enforced regulations could increase the number of Borneo's marbled cats even more. Although poaching is illegal, the researchers found used shotgun cartridges in seven of the eight forests. However, they didn't come across any evidence that poachers are shooting marbled cats, the scientists wrote in the study. Laws governing logging and forest conservation may also help preserve the population of marbled cats, Hearn said. "We provide further evidence that logged forest may still be used by these cats, and should be preserved," he said. The study was published online today (March 23) in the journal PLOS ONE. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


The fate of over 64,000 live wild animals officially reported to have been confiscated by enforcement agencies remains untraceable, according to a new report released by the University of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and World Animal Protection.


News Article | February 2, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

In a remote part of Northwest Ethiopia, a large group of endangered lions sleep, survive and stay hidden. The discovery of these lost lions is indeed a rare piece of good news. Conservationists say this extends the knowledge of the endangered species' current population distribution. The presence of lions in Northwest Ethiopia also raises hopes that endangered big cats can survive in certain parts of Africa, particularly in Sudan. Born Free Foundation, an organization based in Britain, said the group of lions was discovered in the Alatash National Park by Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. Prior to the discovery, the Alatash National Park was considered as a possible habitat for lions. The park was rarely visited by people. Hans Bauer, leader of the Oxford expedition, said he has had many chances to revise the lion distribution map during his career. "I have deleted one population after the other," said Bauer. "This is the first and probably the last time that I'm putting a new one up there." The Oxford team obtained images of the lost lions by setting up camera traps on a dry river bed. The images also distinguished lion tracks, confirming reports from residents that lions are indeed living in the area. Bauer said he already noticed some lion footprints while he was walking to find some trees to place the camera traps. "That was the eureka moment when I was sure that there really are lions," he said. On the second night of their expedition, they caught the lions on camera. The Oxford researchers said they also found lions in the adjacent Dinder National Park in Sudan. About 27 to 54 lions were found in the Atalash park. With that, Bauer estimated a combined population of 100 to 200 lions are living in the Alatash park and the Dinder park. The Alatash park has seldom been visited by people mainly because of its climate, remoteness, low probablity of observing flagship species of wildlife, and occasional insecurity, the Oxford researchers said. The lion population in Africa has plummeted from 500,000 in the early 20th century, down to less than 200,000 by the 1950s. Now, estimates suggest that as few as 20,000 individuals remain in the wild. The dwindling population is due to the loss of prey and loss of habitat, experts said, as well as growing conflicts with people trying to protect their livestock. When news broke that an American dentist killed a well-known lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe last year, the welfare of lions has since then been under scrutiny. Authorities had confirmed that the killing of the lion was part of an illegal hunt. The case stirred an international outcry and sparked a renewed debate about the ethics of hunting endangered species. Claudio Sillero, the Oxford research group's deputy director, said it was rewarding to confirm the presence of lions in Atalash because they originally thought there weren't any. Meanwhile, Bauer said the lions in the Atalash park face fewer threats. "The situation is fairly positive. I think the fact that the Ethiopian government recently made it a national park is a giant leap forward," said Bauer. "Now we have to support them in improving park management, but I think they're taking it very seriously," he added.

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