Tag Archives: endangered

Great Blue Hole.

UNESCO takes the Belize Barrier Reef off the endangered sites list thanks to conservation efforts

The Belize Barrier Reef has been removed from the endangered World Heritage Sites after nine years, thanks to the country’s “visionary” steps to preserve it.

Great Blue Hole.

The reef’s Great Blue Hole.
Image credits U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The 190-mile-long Belize Barrier Reef System has been removed from UNESCO’s lists of endangered sites following a widespread campaign to protect it, the United Nations (UN) reported on Tuesday.

The reef was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1996 and harbors almost 1,400 different species — held to be one of the most biodiverse marine sites on the planet. Charles Darwin himself described it as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”. However, the Belize Reef System was listed as “in danger” in 1996 by UNESCO as oil exploration, mangrove deforestation, and illegal land sales and subsequent land use infringed upon the reef’s stability.

Over half of Belize’s population, some 200,000 people, are estimated to depend on the reef directly for their livelihood. Furthermore, tourism is a key industry for Belize, bringing in millions of dollars each year — so these threats to the reef represented a huge concern for the country’s government.

Last December, officials issued an indefinite moratorium on all oil exploration and drilling in the country’s waters — UNESCO says that this decision warranted removing the reef from the list of endangered sites.

“The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System […] is an outstanding natural system consisting of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries,” the agency said in its description of the region.

“The system’s seven sites illustrate the evolutionary history of reef development and are a significant habitat for threatened species, including the marine turtle, the manatee and the American marine crocodile.”

The UN writes that the “Belizean government deserves tremendous credit” for taking concrete steps towards protecting this unique ecosystem. Marco Lambertini, head of the World Wildlife Fund, also pointed to a public activism campaign that Belizeans undertook to help secure the reef’s future.

“We have seen an incredible turnaround from when the reef was being threatened by seismic testing for oil just 18 months ago,” Lambertini told AFP. “Belizeans stood up to protect their reef, with hundreds of thousands more globally joining the campaign to save our shared heritage.”

The world’s coral reefs are struggling under the effects of climate change. Mass coral bleaching events have become so frequent during the last few years that reefs can’t recover between episodes. Against this backdrop, Belize’s effort — and success — shows that there is still hope for corals everywhere; we just have to work on it.

Scientists say cheetahs should be on the endangered list

It’s bad news for one of the most iconic creatures on Earth: a comprehensive assessment of cheetah populations reveals that the big cats’ numbers have decreased dramatically. Researchers now want to list the fastest land animal as “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Cheetahs grooming each other. Image credits: Stolz, Gary M., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

An international team led by Florian Weise of the Claws Conservancy and Varsha Vijay of Duke University, working with National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative, analyzed more than two million collared cheetah observations as well as 20,000 observations from both the research community and the general public. They concluded that across 789,700 square kilometers in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, a prime area for cheetahs, only 3,577 adults remain. They believe this justifies changing the classification of the animals from Vulnerable to Endangered.

“This collaborative, multiyear effort sounds the alarm about the state of cheetah populations in southern Africa, shining a light on the imperative need to protect these majestic predators,” said Gary E. Knell, President and CEO, National Geographic Society.

“The National Geographic Society is proud to support such a comprehensive assessment and similar efforts aimed at safeguarding our most precious species, their habitats and the planet we call home.”

The area they studied isn’t the only one to host cheetahs, but it does host the largest free-roaming population on Earth. In other, more remote areas, the paper believes 3,250 cheetahs still roam. Together, that’s less than 8,000 individuals, which is disturbing and not nearly enough for a healthy population.

“Around the world, big cats are suffering big losses and having big trouble in more and more human-dominated landscapes,” says study co-lead author Florian Weise of the Massachusetts-based conservation group Claws Conservancy.

The only encouraging news from this study comes from the methodology. The fact that researchers were able to incorporate so many observations, both from a professional setting and from the general public, could enable us to better understand big cat populations, which are struggling in most parts of the world.

“We have a larger degree of certainty in the lower estimate because it is based on those areas where we have recorded estimates of cheetahs,” says study co-lead author Varsha Vijay, who specialises in geospatial analysis for The Pimm Group at Duke University.

“There is greater uncertainty in the higher estimate because it assumes the very optimistic scenario that all the areas we identified as potential cheetah habitat are occupied by cheetahs at similar densities to the areas with confirmed cheetah presence,” Vijay says.

The cheetah’s complete home range. Image credits: Al Pereira / Wikipedia.

But for the cheetahs, things don’t really look so good. Humans have altered around 90% of their historic habitat, and with cheetahs having ranges of tens to hundreds of square kilometers, cornering them in can have devastating consequences. In prehistoric times, the cheetah was distributed throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. Gradually, they vanished from Europe and started to retreat more and more in the face of an expanding humankind. Nearly 500 years ago, the cheetah was still common throughout Africa, with an estimated range of 25,344,648 km2 (9,785,623 sq mi). As of 2015, their range has decreased by 89%. Nowadays, cheetahs exist mostly in eastern and southern Africa, with only fragmented, isolated populations in Iran, Afghanistan, and India. People are repurposing the land cheetahs used to prowl for agriculture. Farmers won’t hesitate to kill cheetahs, which they see as a threat to livestock. Cheetahs are also sometimes hit by cars and poached. This sum of threats might just be too much for the cheetahs to handle.

The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. IUCN is the main authority on animal conservation, with both animals and plants potentially included on the list as Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered. An endangered species is a species which has been categorized as very likely to become extinct. Generally speaking, the IUCN will move a species from Vulnerable to Endangered if there’s a decline in 50 to 70 percent of the population over 10 years or three generations (whichever is longer). But even if they are reclassified, this might not improve things significantly. Just 18.4 percent of the southern African cheetah range lies within protected lands. Farmers will still continue to change the land according to their needs, they will continue to shoot cheetahs on site, and poachers will continue to poach. That’s where action needs to be taken if we want future generations to grow up in a world with emblematic big cats.

“The future of the cheetah relies heavily on working with farmers who host these big cats on their lands, bearing the heaviest cost of coexistence,” concludes Weise.

The study was published in the journal PeerJ.

giant panda

Giant Panda no longer ‘endangered’ thanks to conservation efforts in China

giant panda

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Humans have pushed countless species to the brink of extinction and beyond, but we’re also capable of nurturing wildlife. Case in point, the Giant Panda — China’s national animal — has been delisted as ‘endangered’ from the  International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List thanks to conservation efforts.

Giant Pandas rebound

Being so adorable, the Giant Panda has a superstar status in the animal kingdom. Yet, like lions or elephants, being a popular wildlife species doesn’t necessarily come with perks. Human expansion through deforestation, farming, and urbanization has made the forests pandas in China call home smaller and smaller, making food and mates harder to find.

Bamboo is a panda’s favorite treat, and when they’re awake they basically eat it all day. But even when a bamboo forest is spared, pandas still run into trouble if their habitat is encircled by farmland and settlements. Bamboo naturally dies off periodically, so pandas have to migrate to a nearby bamboo forest. This isn’t possible if the habitat is fragmented and many pandas die with the bamboo.

Besides habitat destruction, historically speaking, pandas have also been the target of poaching. Coupled with the fact that pandas are notoriously hard to breed in captivity (a female is only fertile 24 to 36 hours in a whole year), it’s not surprising to hear that pandas eventually became seriously endangered.

[ALSO SEE] Endangered species need to wait 12 years on average for federal protection, six times more than mandated

The Chinese government has learned, however, from its passed mistake and has taken its role as a steward of the Giant Pandas very seriously. There are special protected panda reserves, poachers face severe penalties and conservationists work around the clock during the brief mating season to breed captive pandas.

Now, the number of giant pandas is around 2,060, according to the most recent surveys, prompting the IUCN to re-schedule the giant panda as ‘vulnerable’.

“When push comes to shove, the Chinese have done a really good job with pandas,” John Robinson, a primatologist and chief conservation officer at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told the AFP.

“So few species are actually downlisted, it really is a reflection of the success of conservation,” he added.

Critics argue that we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. Studies suggest climate change threatens to wipe out a third of the pandas’ bamboo habitat over the next 80 years. Moreover, today’s good news is offset by a parallel announcement from the IUCN which listed another iconic animal and the world’s largest primate, the eastern gorilla, as endangered. A mere 5,000 eastern gorillas are alive today following a surge in poaching, or 70 percent fewer than two decades ago. Today four out of the six great apes are now endangered:  the eastern gorilla, western gorilla, Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan.

 

 

The American pika is being killed off by climate change

The American pika, “one of the cutest animals” in the country, is feeling the heat as a hotter, drier summers threaten its habitat.

I brought you a gift! Don’t kill us please.
Image credits NPS Climate Change / Flickr.

Whole populations of the tiny rabbit-like mammal known as the American pika are vanishing from the animal’s historic range in the mountainous areas of the western USA. The main culprit seems to be loss of habitat powered by climate change, according to findings by the US Geological Survey. After observing the animal from 2012 to 2025, the Survey found that the pika’s range is shrinking in southern Utah, north-east California, and in most of Nevada, parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho and California — almost the entire Great Basin.

The study provides more conclusive evidence to the effect of global warming on the tiny mammal, building on earlier research which found that climate change was at least partly contributing to the animal’s decline. It did not measure how many total American pika still exist, but studied several areas where it has historically roamed eating grass, weeds and wildflowers. While the pika overall seems to be struggling, the study found that it’s thriving in a few places — most notably the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

But don’t rest easy just yet. The American pika (all species of pika are extremely cute) has completely disappeared from the Zion National Park in Utah, despite sightings as recently as 2011. In the nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument, the animal was nowhere to be seen on three-quarters of their historical range according to Erik Beever, a research ecologist with the USGS and lead author of the study. In north-eastern California, the pika was only found in 11 of the 29 sites of confirmed habitat. In the Great Basin, which stretches from Utah’s Wasatch mountains in the east to the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains in the west, the population is down about 44% compared to historical records.

“The longer we go along, the evidence continues to suggest that climate is the single strongest factor,” said Beever.

Essentially, the pika are dying of exposure in their own burrows, and it’s all because of us.

The pika are tailored to live in a very specific conditions, and are very sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. The animals make their home on mountain slopes, known as talus, where they search for open spaces in the ground to burrow. But the talus fields are becoming a much hotter, drier place in summer and a very harsh place in winter, with less snowfall to insulate the critter from cold.

The historical range of the American Pika. The animal resides in cool, moist microhabitats on high peaks or watercourses. Distribution data from IUCN Red List.
Image credits Wikimedia user Chermundy.

The study is the latest argument in the long-running efforts of wildlife advocacy groups, which have been trying to get the pika on the endangered species list for a few years now. In 2010, the US Fish and Wildlife Service rejected one such request, citing that not all populations are declining. The latest petition was made this April by a high school student in New York state. This situation isn’t singular — ZME Science reported the other day that the average waiting time for a species to make the Endangered Species list is 12 years, or six times more than the designated timeline. 

A preliminary ruling is due this September, but the new study won’t be taken into account because the agency’s staff only takes into consideration information submitted with the petition, said Serena Baker, a USFWS spokeswoman. Hopefully, the ruling will be in favor of the pika. But, should the USFWS turn it down, the study should help future petitions to have the animal declared endangered, as the study confirms that climate change is putting the animal at real risk, says endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity in Arizona Noah Greenwald. Without such a ruling, future generations of mountain enthusiasts may not have the chance to see these lovable critters on their hikes, he adds.

“It’s gotta be one of the cutest animals in North America. It’s like a cross between a bunny rabbit and prairie dog,” Greenwald said. “Part of what makes our world interesting is the diversity of animals and plants that you can see when you go to different species.”

President Barack Obama is a big supporter of the issue. During his Yosemite National Park speech in June this year, he talked about the damage climate change is inflicting on the country’s national parks. He said the pika was being forced further up-slope at Yosemite to escape the heat.

“It’s not that they’ve just moved, they are gone all together,” Beever said.

 

Scientists discover first pulsing white dwarf binary star

Scientists from the University of Warwick have discovered a new type of binary star – a pulsing white dwarf. This rapidly-spinning, burnt-out star sweeps beams of particles and radiation over its companion red dwarf, a behavior that has never been observed in this type of star.

Illustration of the pulsing white dwarf lashing particles and radiation onto its companion red dwarf. Credit: University of Warwick

Illustration of the pulsing white dwarf lashing particles and radiation onto its companion red dwarf. Credit: University of Warwick

The unique star was initially discovered by a group of amateur astronomers back in May of 2015. After the initial discovery, the University of Warwick spearheaded a combined effort between amateur and professional astronomers to get a better look at the star system, which is named AR Scorpii or AR Sco for short.

“AR Sco was discovered over 40 years ago, but its true nature was unsuspected until we observed it last May with a high-speed astronomical camera called ULTRACAM on the William Herschel Telescope,” said Tom Marsh of the University of Warwick and lead author of the study. “We realized we were seeing something extraordinary within minutes of starting to observe it.”

The pulsing white dwarf is found in the constellation Scorpius approximately 380 light-years from Earth. It is 200,000 times more massive than the Earth and is in a 3.6-hour orbit with its cool red dwarf star companion, which is around one-third the mass of the Sun.

AR Sco creates beams of radiation and particles that lash its red dwarf star, causing the entire system to light up and fade away twice every two minutes. This unique process accelerates electrons in the red dwarf’s atmosphere to close to the speed of light, which has never been observed in similar types of stars. The rapidly-spinning magnetic field of the white dwarf accelerates these electrons, although their exact location in the red dwarf’s atmosphere is still not known.

“We’ve known pulsing neutron stars for nearly fifty years, and some theories predicted white dwarfs could show similar behavior,” said Boris Gänsicke of the University of Warwick and co-author of the study. “It’s very exciting that we have discovered such a system, and it has been a fantastic example of amateur astronomers and academics working together.”

Journal Reference: A radio-pulsing white dwarf binary star. 27 July 2016. 10.1038/nature18620

A rare success story: squirrel moves off the endangered list

Unfortunately, stories of animals becoming endangered are way more common than the reverse, but perhaps this makes it even more important to celebrate the success we do have. The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, one of the “veterans” on the endangered list can finally say goodbye to the list.

Image via Wikipedia.

Image via Wikipedia.

“The natural world is amazingly resilient, especially when a broad collection of partners works together to help it,” Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is a major victory for the Endangered Species Act and the Delmarva fox squirrel itself, and much credit is due to the federal biologists who have worked for decades to rebuild the squirrel’s populations. But we could not have reached this point without the many citizen-conservationists who changed the way they managed their forest lands to make this victory possible, and I am deeply appreciative of their efforts.”

The Delmarva fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus) is a subspecies of the squirrel native to the United States, listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1967; at the time, almost 90% of its habitat was destroyed through deforestation and urban development. A recovery plan was developed in 1979 and revised in 1983 and 1993, and step by step, habitat protection and conservation measures have ensured that the species was able to make a recovery. Most notably, private and publicly owned lands were used to serve as habitat restoration areas, as private lands within the Delmarva fox squirrel range constitute for ~87% of the entire historical range. Private cooperation was key in the redevelopment of the habitat.

The entire project has been listed as a success story, with the species now boasting over 20,000 individuals. The work is still not over, but the progress is definitely there.

“The Act provides flexibility and incentives to build partnerships with states and private landowners to help recover species while supporting local economic activity,” said the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Michael Bean. “I applaud the states of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, and the many partners who came together over the years to make this day possible.”

It’s a small battle that we’ve won here, and many more others still await, as many other animals are still on the endangered list.

Echinopsis_pampana_mistiensis

Third of all cactus species are endangered, mostly because of illegal trade

The  International Union for Conservation of Nature assessed the state of cactus populations around the world and found almost a third of all species are endangered. The report summarizes that human activity is threatening hundreds of species with extinction. This includes  illegal trading, agriculture and aquaculture, but also land-use change.

Echinopsis_pampana_mistiensis

“The results of this assessment come as a shock to us,” said lead author Barbara Goettsch, co-chairwoman of the IUCN’s Cactus and Succulent Plant Specialist Group.

“We did not expect cacti to be so highly threatened and for illegal trade to be such an important driver of their decline.”

It’s one thing for a species to be threatened by extinction, but a whole group is a different matter entirely. Officially, cacti represent the most vulnerable group on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, more so than mammals, birds or insects.

Cacti are native to the Americas, ranging from Patagonia in South America through to areas of western Canada. One species, Rhipsalis baccifera, is the exception, it is also found in tropical Africa, Madagascar and Sri Lanka. While you can find a lot of cacti in Europe, Asia and Australia these don’t naturally grow there. These were either intentionally brought there or planted by accident.

There are 1,500 to 1,800 species of cacti. Each species for the most part fall into one of two core cacti categories, these being opuntias or cactoids. Humans generally use cacti for decorative purposes, and ever since the first cactus was brought to Europe in the 1800s trade has flourished. Unfortunately, cactus trade is what’s driving species extinct. According to the report illegal trade of live plants and seeds is responsible for threatening 47% of the affected species. Only a few suppliers grow their own cacti, and more than 87% of the plants destined for horticulture are sourced from the wild. One prime example is Echinopsis pampana, which grows beautiful flowers of mixed coloring including magenta, orange, fuchsia, pale yellow & purple. Once abundant, the Echinopsis population has been more than halved in past 15 years.

Cacti aren’t only pretty – they’re essential to their local ecosystems. These live in harsh, arid and generally inhospitable conditions. But at the same time, these extreme survivors hold vasts amount of water which many animals depend on, while also doubling as food. Coyotes, deer, lizards or tortoises all depend on cacti to survive.

“The startling results reflect the vital importance of funding and conducting assessments of the threatened status of all of the species in major groups of plants, such as the cacti,” says Kevin Gaston, from the University of Exeter, who co-led the Global Cactus Assessment. “Only by so doing will we gain the overall picture of what is happening to them, at a time when, as evidenced by the cacti, they may be under immense human pressures.”

“These findings are disturbing,” said Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “They confirm that the scale of the illegal wildlife trade — including trade in plants — is much greater than we had previously thought, and that wildlife trafficking concerns many more species than the charismatic rhinos and elephants which tend to receive global attention. We must urgently step up international efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and strengthen the implementation of the CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, if we want to prevent the further decline of these species.”

The report’s authors argue that more enforcement of international agreement meant to protect the cacti is required. In many countries, however, these matters aren’t taken very seriously and collectors can easily buy the plants.

“The whole family of cacti is included in Cites, which means that you can trade the species but you need to have permits. This is what needs to be enforced in some of the countries where the species occur,” said Goettsch said.

“The other thing that would really help these plants would be to raise awareness of the importance of harvesting sustainably, because in many cases the plants are not destined for international markets. They are just traded in local markets so many local communities need to be aware of how they should harvest them or if they should harvest them at all.”

App that could help endangered species is backed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

If you want to help protect endangered species, there’s a new app that might facilitate that. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said Monday it’s teaming up with Sweden-based FishBrain to develop a social, free-to-use app that might make a difference for local wildlife.

The app can be downloaded for Apple and Android devices.

Anglers are among the most likely people to encounter endangered species, and this app is aimed at them and people who spend a lot of time outdoors. The app already tracks weather, wind direction, water quality and other data points of interest and will now include a feature to identify endangered species.

Users can log up to 50 “at-risk species” and help conservationists and researchers figure out exactly where these creatures live, as well as what sort of habitat they need and perhaps the reasons for their decline. It’s basically a crowdsourcing effort that could take advantage of people’s outdoor time and their interest in helping protect endangered species.

“The first step towards conservation is always education and engagement, and we are excited to work with FishBrain to help us reach a new audience. Anglers are extremely important to protecting and maintaining healthy aquatic habitats. This is a unique opportunity to synthesize recreational anglers’ information and knowledge in local waterways and expand our understanding of various species.” said Gary Frazer, Assistant Director of the Service’s Ecological Services Program.

The FWS provided a list of threatened or endangered species as well as possible candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act. It might seem odd to target anglers as conservationists – but that’s actually normal. Most fishermen today catch and release, and the last thing they want is a shortage of fish. Also, spending so much time in nature, you almost can’t help but developing a sense of admiration and respect for it.

As Gary Frazer added in a statement:

“Anglers are extremely important to protecting and maintaining healthy aquatic habitats. This is a unique opportunity to synthesize recreational anglers’ information and knowledge in local waterways and expand our understanding of various species.”

 

Europe has 421 million fewer birds than 30 years ago

Europe has an estimated 421 million fewer birds than it did 30 years ago, a startling study has found. The current trends show an unsustainable development, and if things continue with ‘business as usual’, we can expect even more decrease and even extinctions.

Some of the birds that have suffered the most alarming declines are some of the most well known species on the continent: right now, we have 147 million less sparrows (a decline by 62%). Populations of starling also dropped by 53%, and skylark numbers went down by 46%.

A skylark, one of the 144 species looked at in the study. The skylark population has fallen by 46% since 1980. Photograph: Michael Finn/PA

“This is a warning from birds throughout Europe. It is clear that the way we are managing the environment is unsustainable for many of our most familiar species,” said Richard Gregory of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which co-led the study. “The conservation and legal protection of all birds and their habitats in tandem are essential to reverse declines.”

The study analyzed bird numbers from 1980 to 2009; they split the birds up into four groups based on rarity. They found that while rare birds have increased slightly by 21,000, the most common birds have suffered a decline of 350 million. This shows that while conservation efforts have been moderately successful, we are taking an approach that is too narrow and highly detrimental to common birds.

[ALSO READ] One in eight birds threatened by biochemicals and climate change

Today, we have 147 million less sparrows than we did just 30 years ago. Image via Wiki Commons.

“The focus up to this point has very much been on conserving rare species,” says the lead author, Richard Inger, from the University of Exeter. “That’s what it should be, in many ways, but the issue there is that if you’re not careful, you can spend all of your conservation dollars on just protecting the rare things. You can take your eye off the ball, if you will.”

Most notably, the blackcap, a rare bird, has made a resurgence, more than doubling its population. Other notable growths are the common chiffchaff (up 76%) and wren (56%). But if you look at it in raw numbers, this doesn’t mean that much. Also, protecting small populations of rare birds is much easier than adopting general conservation measures to protect larger populations.

[INTERESTING] Why birds survived the dinosaur apocalypse

“If the species is very localised, there may be very strong conservation measures,” says Graham Madge, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds, which collaborated on the study. “Whereas for a species like the skylark, which will occur in most countries across Europe, it’s much harder to bring in a rescue measure because it requires the rollout of broad, landscape-scale conservation measures.”

The blackcap is among the few species making a resurgence in recent years, likely due to conservation efforts. Photograph: Andrew Darrington/Alamy

The most common cause of decline in numbers was agricultural intensification; this process has destroyed much of the birds’ habitat, as well as the areas where they eat and breed. But it’s not just agriculture which is causing the problems – there seems to be a generalized issue with growing cities.

“People have tended to concentrate on farmland, but some of these species that don’t use farmland habitats at all are also declining. It’s a sign of wider scale environmental issues, such as increases in urbanisation, and the only way we’re going to protect these widespread species is a more holistic approach to how we manage the environment in general.”

So, what can be done? The first step would be to understand just how big the problem is, and this is what this study has done. Then, not scientists, but policy makers need to acknowledge the situation and start acting on it. A good place to start would be encouraging wildlife-friendly farming. The thing is, we have to understand that this is not solely about protecting birds – bird species provide a huge number of ecosystem services, such as decomposition, pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal. Since common species exist in higher numbers, they play a bigger role in maintaining the ecosystem as well. The decline in their numbers equals not only environmental, but also economical disaster.

“This was a bit of a wake-up call really,” says Inger. “We knew we were going to see a big decline in bird populations, but to see how big that number really was and how focused the declines were on this small number of common species was really very surprising.”

The emperor: major penguin colony disappears

It’s another bad omen for life on Earth, as a colony of imperial penguins from the Antarctica peninsula has disappeared, probably due to the warming of ice caused by global warming. It was expected that penguins would greatly suffer from the warming, but this is the first documented case ever of the disappearance of a colony.

First of all, let me just say that penguins are absolutely amazing creatures. I don’t know if you had the chance to see “The March of the Penguins“, but it is hands down one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, and it’s not only very informative, but extremely entertaining too. If you haven’t seen it, let me tell you a bit about their habits.

Ice is crucial to these penguins; most of them breed on sea ice (also called fast ice) that does not move with the wind or currents. When autumn comes, they go to their colony, where they mate, lay eggs and raise their chicks, but every single year, they return to the place where they were born.

“The one site in Antarctica where we have seen really big changes is the West Antarctic Peninsula,” Trathan said. For much of the 20th century, this region has warmed at an unprecedented rate, particularly in recent decades, the researchers write in a study published Feb. 28 in the journal PLoS ONE.

This in itself isn’t a worldwide catastrophe, but it is probably just the tip of the iceberg, and penguins all over the world have a pretty dire future ahead of them; time will tell.

Picture source

Reclusive primate (loris) caught on tape for the first time

t1largloriszsl

The first picture EVER taken of the Horton Plains slender loris

Wildlife researchers from Sri Lanka have reported photographing one of the world’s most reclusive animals, the Horton Plains slender loris, an animal thought to be extinct for more than 60 years (1939 to 2002). Slender loris populations are native to the rainforests of Sri Lanka and southern India have been in decline for decades, but unfortunately, this process sped up in the last years, mostly due to destruction of habitat for agriculture and logging.

This crowned a year and a half study conducted by researchers from the Zoological Society of London’s Edge project – a laudable initiative with the goal of raising awareness about the animals on the brink of extinction. They were helped by scientists from the University of Colombo and the Open University of Sri Lanka.

“This discovery is a great reward for the ongoing field research we undertake across much of south-western Sri Lanka,” said Research leader Saman Gamage

The pictures taken show a 20-centimeter long male adult sitting on a branch, and it also showed some physiological differences that somehwat surprised researchers. For example, he has shorter and sturdier limbs, possibly as an adaptation to the cooler climate or different type of forest it lives in.

“We are thrilled to have captured the first ever photographs and prove its continued existence — especially after its 65 year disappearing act,” said ZSL Conservation biologist Dr. Craig Turner. The discovery improves our knowledge of this species, but we need to focus our efforts on the conservation and restoration of the remaining montane forest where this species still exists. Currently this accounts for less than one percent of the land area of Sri Lanka.”

Update: At the end of 2012, a new slow loris species was discovered remarkably by biologists in Borneo and the Philippines. The new species of slow loris, named Nycticebus kayan, like most elusive nocturnal critters, has gone unnoticed because of its lifestyle. Unfortunately, it too is considered endangered, despite being barely discovered.

Siberian tigers face dramatic decline, drawing near extinction

The Siberian tiger is the biggest feline to walk the face of the Earth at the time, but if today’s trends continue, that will change in the not so distant future; and not because other species will grow bigger, but because the Siberian tiger can become extinct.

siberian-tiger

Hey guys. I don’t wanna be extinct :(

There were around 300 tigers living in Eastern Russia just 4 years ago (which is a dramatically small number), but the WCS (World Wildlife Conservation Society) estimates that the population has decreased significantly due to habitat loss (logging) and poaching. WCS say they have done this estimate in order to warn Russian authorities about what has to be done in order to protect this majestic creature.

siberian-tiger2

Really, I don’t. But there’s nothing I can do.

“The sobering results are a wake-up call that current conservation efforts are not going far enough to protect Siberian tigers,” said Dr. Dale Miquelle, of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russian Far East Program. “The good news is that we believe this trend can be reversed if immediate action is taken.”

“Working with our Russian partners we are hopeful and confident that we can save the Siberian tiger,” Dr. John G. Robinson, WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science added. “The Siberian tiger is a living symbol for the people of Russia.”

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The remaining habitat of the siberian tiger half a decade ago

Siberian tigers are powerful predators that hunt alone, sometimes searching for prey for many miles. However, despite their reputation and killer traits, they avoid humans as much as they can. In the extremely rare cases when they do attack, it’s because they have nothing to eat.

siberian-tiger-grooming

The main problem is deforestation. The Siberian tigers requires vast territories to survive, and so does it’s prey and other numerous animals from the ecosystem. However, due to (legal and illegal) logging, its habitat decreased greatly, leaving it without food and hope. However, this is not the only hurdle they face.

Poaching is another major threat. Whether it’s for the fur, for medicinal purposes (tiger organs are very valuable in Chinese “traditional” medicine), or just for a big trophy, tigers are threatened from all directions – and this just has to be controlled more strictly. Hopefully, the Russian authorities will be able (and willing) to understand what they have to do and will take the necessary measures so we won’t have to explain to our grandchildren why there are no more Siberian tigers.

A new species of chameleon discovered

Dr Andrew Marshall, from the Environment Department at the University of York is the first who spotted a member of the species (and reported it) while surveying monkeys. The meeting however was extremely unfortunate for the chameleon, which was shortly after eaten by a snake.

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A random chameleon, not from the recently discovered species

The specimen was collected (I really have no idea how), and compared to two other specimens found in the same area. After it was concluded that it was in fact a new species, it was named Kinyongia magomberae (the Magombera chameleon).

Dr. Marshall:

“Discovering a new species is a rare event so to be involved in the identification and naming of this animal is very exciting. Chameleon species tend to be focused in small areas and, unfortunately, the habitat this one depends on, the Magombera Forest, is under threat. Hopefully this discovery will support efforts to provide this area and others like it with greater protection.”

The project in which the doctor is involved is extremely interesting and important, because aside from studying the wildlife, he also teaches the local population how to manage and protect the forest, which is a valuable resource for them, but also the only thing that keeps numerous species alive.

Saving a plant that could save your life

endangered plant
There is (or at least there should be) a lot of attention focused around endangered wildlife and protecting a number of species from the damage which we as humans bring to them more or less directly. The animals most definetly deserve it. But most people don’t think of plants as being endangered, but the thing is that they are.

This has happened mostly because of three major reasons:

  • The first and probably the worst is that man is cutting down and destroying rain forests and other habitats. This has been talked about for ages so we are not going to cover that here.
  • Another is that human activities and the expanding of the cities off road traffic and pesticide use reduce habitat.
  • The center of our focus is the fact that we need some herbs to make medicine. Some estimates indicate that 15,000 of the 50,000 – 70,000 plant species used for medicinal purposes and mostly collected from the wild may be threatened, many as a direct result of an unsustainable collection.
  • It should also be noted that numerous underwater species are already extinct due to the destruction of the coral reef and they probably could have helped medicine a lot. But we should not moan about the past but rather learn from it and then think what we could do at the present moment.

    Three years of collaboration in which World Wide Fund for Nature played a very important role have led to the first set of principles and criteria for the sustainable wild collection of plants.

    “This important effort will benefit the health and well-being of both the ecosystems they are part of, and the local people who depend on them for their livelihoods,” stresses Dr. Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF’s Species Programme.

    The concern over the issue has grown significantly in the past years and new standard addresses requests from industry, governments, organic certifiers, resource managers and collectors for a means of assessing the sustainability of wild collection.

    This thing is huge as beside giving much needed help to the the people involved in the harvest, management, trade, manufacture and sale of wild-collected medicinal and aromatic plant resources it also provides potential frameworks for addressing a rising consumer concern and the drug market needed this a lot. This of course involves an international, multi-stakeholder advisory group representing industry, independent certifiers, organizations working on fair trade, sustainable livelihoods and sustainable agriculture and forestry which hopefully are going to find the right way to develop this so that it would be to the benefit of the plant and the human species as well.