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Abingdon, United Kingdom

Crees J.J.,UK Institute of Zoology | Collins A.C.,UK Institute of Zoology | Stephenson P.J.,Conservation Strategy and Performance Unit | Meredith H.M.R.,UK Institute of Zoology | And 6 more authors.
Conservation Biology | Year: 2016

The outcomes of species recovery programs have been mixed; high-profile population recoveries contrast with species-level extinctions. Each conservation intervention has its own challenges, but to inform more effective management it is imperative to assess whether correlates of wider recovery program success or failure can be identified. To contribute to evidence-based improvement of future conservation strategies, we conducted a global quantitative analysis of 48 mammalian recovery programs. We reviewed available scientific literature and conducted semistructured interviews with conservation professionals involved in different recovery programs to investigate ecological, management, and political factors associated with population recoveries or declines. Identifying and removing threats was significantly associated with increasing population trend and decreasing conservation dependence, emphasizing that populations are likely to continue to be compromised in the absence of effective threat mitigation and supporting the need for threat monitoring and adaptive management in response to new and potential threats. Lack of habitat and small population size were cited as limiting factors in 56% and 42% of recovery programs, respectively, and both were statistically associated with increased longer term dependence on conservation intervention, demonstrating the importance of increasing population numbers quickly and restoring and protecting habitat. Poor stakeholder coordination and management were also regularly cited by respondents as key weaknesses in recovery programs, indicating the importance of effective leadership and shared goals and management plans. Project outcomes were not influenced by biological or ecological variables such as body mass or habitat, which suggests that these insights into correlates of conservation success and failure are likely to be generalizable across mammals. © 2016 Society for Conservation Biology

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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.

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

The lion is among Africa’s most iconic wildlife — right up there with elephants, rhinos and giraffes — and also one of the continent’s top predators. But despite its status as one of the world’s most recognizable animals, the lion has lately been losing its grip on its historic domain. Habitat destruction, decreasing prey availability, bushmeat hunting and poaching have all taken their toll on lion populations, and new research suggests that their condition may be even worse than expected. A study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that lion populations are declining everywhere on the continent except in intensively managed areas in mostly Southern Africa. And unless governments step up their conservation efforts in other places, it’s only going to get worse from here, the researchers say. The study compiled survey data from 47 of the 67 areas across the continent where lions are still known to occur (the remaining 20 areas did not include enough survey data to be useful). Recent estimates suggest that, in total, there are a little more than 8,000 lions left in the sampled areas. After analyzing the survey data, the researchers found that populations in West, Central and East Africa are all declining, with West and Central Africa being of particular concern. Now, according to the new study, population models suggest that there’s a 67 percent chance lion populations in West Central Africa will be cut in half over the next two decades. And the models suggest that there’s a 37 percent chance that lion populations in East Africa will meet the same fate. In contrast, the researchers found that lions in Southern Africa were increasing in most places, almost certainly thanks to intensive management of their populations, including fenced wildlife reserves designed to keep out poachers and prevent conflict with humans. There are also other notable differences between Southern Africa and the rest of the continent — for instance, there tend to be fewer humans and more prey available in Southern Africa as well. “The big surprise was the dichotomy between East and Southern Africa,” said Hans Bauer, the study’s lead author and a lion conservationist with the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. He said while conservationists were aware that the species was declining in East Africa and relatively stable in Southern Africa, they did not expect such a marked difference between the two regions. However, Laurence Frank, a lion conservation expert and associate research zoologist at the University of California – Berkeley who was not involved with the study, said the news is not that surprising to him. “The paper is yet more confirmation of what we’ve known for a long time,” said Frank, who has worked in wildlife conservation in East Africa, mostly Kenya, for decades. “There are very good aerial count data for Kenyan wildlife starting in 1977, and as of 10 years ago, those wildlife counts indicated a 70 percent decline between 1977 and, say, 2007.” Frank also noted that even in protected areas in the region, which tend to be rather small to begin with, lion populations have experienced declines, suggesting that better management techniques are needed. One starting place, the authors note, could be stricter classifications from conservation organizations like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which maintains a list of the world’s wildlife and classifies them on a scale according to how vulnerable they are to extinction — for example, “critically endangered” is the most serious classification, while “least concern” means the population is doing well. The IUCN already considers lions in West Africa to be their own subpopulation and lists them as critically endangered, while the rest of the African lions are merely listed as “vulnerable.” But according to IUCN classification criteria, if the lions were likely to decrease by 50 percent over the course of three lion generations, they would be uplisted to “endangered” status. Since this study predicts that lions across the continent (except in most areas of Southern Africa) are likely to decline by one-half over the next 20 years, the researchers recommend dividing the lions up into further subpopulations and reclassifying the declining populations as “endangered.” “This paper is going to shake things up a bit,” Bauer predicted. “For the next year or two, I’m sure people will be looking at this paper and it may lead to some changes.” But Frank cautioned that a mere reclassification will not be enough to help the lions. “These categories are created by the conservation organizations, they’re very important for academics and the interested public to have an idea of what’s going on,” he said. “But I really question their impact on the ground unless they somehow motivate the governments in charge to pay more attention to what’s happening.” According to Frank, the failure of governments to prioritize wildlife is one of the biggest challenges facing the conservation sphere today — and it isn’t just true of African governments, either. “The problem is that so few people, even in the West, really care about wildlife,” he said. This problem translates into a severe lack of funding for conservation efforts, Bauer said. “We have written hundreds of papers on how to conserve lions,” he said. “We know how to do it, it’s just not a priority for governments and donors.” But he’s optimistic, citing last summer’s frenzy of outrage over the high-profile death of Cecil the lion, who was killed during a trophy hunt, as reason to believe that people do care. “[There was] so much public mobilization around that case,” Bauer said. “It shows that if we send out the right message, I think people will start acting.” The case has since sparked heated discussions on the ethics of big-game trophy hunting, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently engaged in final considerations over a set of regulations that would not only list the lion as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, but also require special permits for hunters to import lion trophies. Still, many conservationists have been critical of the outpouring of support for Cecil when big game hunting accounts for a relatively small proportion of the threats currently facing lions in Africa. Frank wrote a letter to the editor for The New York Times pointing out a “lost opportunity to address the real reason lions are disappearing.”  As Bauer pointed out, the top three threats to lions today are habitat destruction, prey depletion and conflict with humans, which more often manifests itself in the form of bushmeat trading or retaliation killing aimed at stopping lions from preying on livestock. “I think the take-home of this paper is that it’s going to cost a great deal more money, and that money has to come from the West, if we’re going to see anything like real ecosystems full of wildlife [survive] in Africa,” Frank said. “Otherwise, there will be a few little Disneylands of African wildlife left in 100 years, but nothing like what we have seen and what people still imagine.” Such a loss would be devastating in more ways than one, Bauer said. Being top predators on the African landscape, the natural ecosystem would be “incomplete” if they were to disappear. But on a more emotional level, he said, “What is Africa without a lion?” Furthermore, the continued loss of lions and other large predators on the planet would make for an “extremely boring world,” Frank concluded, pointing to Europe and North America as places where human influence has nearly wiped out all the large carnivores that used to roam the continents. “Africa is the last continent which, until recently, still had an intact functioning mammalian megafauna,” he said. “And now that’s nearly gone.”

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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