Monthly Archives: January 2008

Common human viruses threaten endangered great apes

Press Release..

Contact: Cathleen Genova
Cell Press

Common human viruses are responsible for outbreaks of respiratory disease that have led to the decline of endangered chimpanzees in the wild, according to a study reported online on January 24th in Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press. The findings—which are the first to provide direct evidence of virus transmission from humans to wild great apes—illustrate the challenge of maximizing the benefit of research and tourism to great apes while minimizing the negative side effects that come with human contact, the researchers say.

“Research and tourism has a strong positive effect on great apes’ survival since it reduces poaching activities in these areas and gives more ‘political weight’ to the apes and protected areas,” said Fabian Leendertz of Robert Koch-Institut and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. “[The spread of viruses] has been a concern, but people had never proven it. Our demographic analyses of chimpanzees suggest that this started as soon as people got close enough to chimps to transmit diseases. There is a correlation between habituation—the proximity between humans and chimps—and disease outbreaks.”

Commercial hunting and habitat loss are major drivers of the rapid decline of great apes, the researchers said. Ecotourism and research have been widely promoted as a means of providing alternative value for apes and their habitats. While close contact between humans and habituated apes has raised concerns about disease transmission, previous studies had only demonstrated the spread of relatively mild bacterial and parasitic infections from humans to wild apes.

In the new study, the researchers gathered evidence from chimpanzees hit by five distinct respiratory outbreaks between 1999 and 2006 in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. The outbreaks sickened almost all of the chimps and led to a significant number of deaths.

All available tissue samples taken from chimps who had died tested positive for one of two paramyxoviruses: human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) or human metapneumovirus (HMPV), the researchers report. HRSV and HMPV are common causes of respiratory disease in humans and are the leading causes of lower respiratory disease in children and, in developing countries, a major source of infant mortality, the researchers said. In adults, HRSV and HMPV usually cause mild upper-respiratory-tract infection but can lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

“The viruses we found are very common,” Leendertz said. “Antibody prevalence in humans is almost up to 100 percent, meaning almost everybody has had contact with these viruses.”

Twenty-four years of mortality data from observed chimpanzees revealed that such respiratory outbreaks could have a long history, Leendertz’s team reported. But, they added, there was some good news: “Survey data show that research presence has had a strong positive effect in suppressing poaching around the research site.”

The researchers have already stepped up guidelines to help minimize the disease risk to chimpanzees, and they urge others to do the same. For example, Leendertz said, they now maintain a distance of at least seven meters, wear masks, and disinfect their boots regularly.


The researchers include Sophie Kondgen, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; Hjalmar Kuhl, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; Paul K. N’Goran, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Centre Suisse des Recherches Scientifiques en Cote d’Ivoire, Cote d’Ivoire; Peter D. Walsh, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; Svenja Schenk, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Berlin Veterinary Faculty, Institute of Immunology and Molecular Biology, Berlin, Germany; Nancy Ernst, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Roman Biek, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK; Pierre Formenty, Ebola Tai¨ Forest Project, World Health Organization (WHO)WHO Office in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire; Kerstin Matz-Rensing, German Primate Center, Gottingen, Germany; Brunhilde Schweiger, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Sandra Junglen, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Heinz Ellerbrok, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Andreas Nitsche, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Thomas Briese, Centre for Infection and Immunity, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY; W. Ian Lipkin, Centre for Infection and Immunity, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY; Georg Pauli, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Christophe Boesch, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; and Fabian H. Leendertz, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.

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Sask. river sturgeon headed for extinction

Hanneke Brooymans – The Star Phoenix

EDMONTON — Canada’s largest freshwater fish could soon find itself on the endangered species list.

And in the North and South Saskatchewan River systems, which span the three Prairie provinces and part of Montana, the population of lake sturgeon — which once shared the planet with dinosaurs — has declined as much as 80 per cent, according to the federal government.

Ottawa is therefore considering using legislation to protect the large, bottom-feeding fish. To that end, it recently ran advertisements, soliciting public reaction to the idea.

But getting the sturgeon on the endangered list could be “very challenging,” said Fred Hnytka, a species-at-risk biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

For instance, it could be difficult to restrict how many are caught along some northern rivers, where First Nations people have a cultural attachment to the fish, Hnytka said.

Lake sturgeon are found in waterways from Alberta to Quebec. They can live for decades — some up to 100 years.

In Alberta alone, they once swam at 48 sites in the North Saskatchewan River and 30 in the South Saskatchewan River. They are now found at 16 and 12 sites, respectively.

In August, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recommended listing the sturgeon as endangered, blaming over-fishing and habitat loss from dam construction. Adding to the species’ problems is the late and infrequent spawning of its females.

“The species is just so vulnerable, you need to be extra cautious,” said Joe Nelson, a University of Alberta professor emeritus who wrote Fishes of Alberta. “That’s why I would come down in favour of it being listed.”

Terry Dick, a University of Manitoba zoology professor, said it’s a disgrace the species hasn’t been listed yet.

“It was wiped out in so many areas nearly 100 years ago, and we’re still debating it,” said Dick, who wrote the original proposal to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Dick said the government shouldn’t be worried about the challenges of dealing with First Nations, and should seek to involve them directly in the recovery plans.

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Extinction threat to Scots bird

BBC News

The Scottish crossbill, the UK’s only endemic bird which is native to the Highlands of Scotland, faces extinction, according to a new report.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warns that unless action is taken to halt a rise in global temperatures, the species is under severe threat.

The bird, which lives only in Scots pine forests, is already on the conservation body’s endangered list.

Other Scottish species, such as the capercaillie, could also suffer.

The Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds – published by the RSBP – shows that three quarters of all of Europe’s nesting bird species are likely to suffer declines in range.

The results of the study have hastened calls by the RSPB for urgent action to cut greenhouse gases.

Professor Rhys Green, an RSPB scientist and one of the authors, said: “Climatic change and wildlife’s responses to it are difficult to forecast with any precision, but this study helps us to appreciate the magnitude and scope of possible impacts and to identify species at most risk and those in need of urgent help and protection.”

Red and black grouse, ptarmigan and snow bunting are other birds likely to be affected in Scotland. The birds could be left with few areas of suitable climate and populations could drop.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “We must heed the wake-up call provided by this atlas and act immediately to curb climate change.”

He claimed that some investment should also be made to help wildlife adapt to an “inevitable” level of climate change.

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‘Vulture population declining alarmingly’

Nepal News

Four out of eight species of vulture found in Nepal are included in endangered list of the IUCN- the world conservation union. They are White Rumped (Gyps beldgalensis), Slender Billed (Gyps tenuirostris), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopteros) and Red headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus). Additionally, the first two are termed ‘critically endangered’.

White rumped Vulture (Photo Courtesy: BCN)

Following the warning from the IUCN over the possible extinction of vultures from Nepal, Birds Conservation Nepal (BCN) took several initiatives to increase the population of the birds here. Latest estimation show the number of nests found in west of Narayani River Chitwan National Park Buffer Zone Area and east Nawalparasi District  has doubled. President of BCN Shree Ram Subedi talked to Indra Adhikari of Nepalnews on the ongoing conservation efforts, causes of extinction and initiatives taken to increase their population. Excerpts:

What evidences show vultures are the endangered species of birds in Nepal?

We don’t have exact data to show how many vultures are found in Nepal. Practically it is impossible to maintain a reliable record. Yet there are few instances that show the number is declining at an alarming rate. In 2001 we counted 50 nests in Koshi Tappu. Next year it dropped to three and one in the following year. Since 2003, we have not found any nest in that wetland. Likewise, we had found 24 nests in Pokhara in 2004. This number dropped to 17 till 2006. Similarly, in the middle of the 1990s, these carnivorous birds could be seen in big flocks. This hasn’t been witnessed in recent years. IUCN conservationists have warned that population has decreased by 90 percent since 1990.

What are the causes of declining population of vultures?

Only in 1999, scientists came know that vultures are decreasing in this sub-continent. Since then, they explored to various studies and concluded in 2003 that diclofenic – a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) – caused the death of these birds. Carcasses of the NSAID-fed animals were the major cause of death. When its complement – Maloxicam — was discovered, we lobbied for government ban on the use of diclofenic in 2006.

(Photo Courtesy: BCN)

Besides, use of pesticides by farmers, confinements of the nest colonies, lack of adequate food because people started burying dead animals and cutting down of the trees led to extinction of these birds. The practice of cattle rearing has decreased, causing scarcity of food, specifically safe food. The government lacks initiative to stop destroying forests where vultures live. All these are the major factors for decreasing population.

What is BCN doing for saving these birds from extinction?

We started ‘vulture restaurants’ in some nesting areas. This was meant to feed the vultures with safe food since this has become scarcer in recent years. We asked the villagers to provide us with old cattle. We rear the cattle and on their death keep in open places where the vultures can feed on. Similarly, we have improved coordination with the community forest user groups to protect the forests where the vultures nest. We successfully campaigned for ban in use of the diclofenic. Within a year, the use has dropped to 10 percent. Now, we have begun a new project to increase the vulture population – a breeding centre. To be located at an isolated place inside Chitwan National Park, a natural cage will be prepared where we project to keep 10 pairs each of the two critically endangered species.

Are the local communities cooperative to conservation?

(Photo Courtesy: BCN)
Slender billed Vulture (Photo Courtesy: BCN)

With efforts of BCN, WWF, IUCN and many forest user groups, awareness on importance of vulture among the villagers is increasing. In Nawalparasi where we have vulture restaurants, villagers supply us with old livestock. In few instances, we also bought animals. Many farmers have reported us about the chopping of big trees where vultures have nested. As we communicated the issue with ministry of forest, many vulture colonies have been saved from being destroyed.

Are conservation efforts for this endangered bird satisfactory?

Not much. Though the responses to our approach were positive, the government has not shown seriousness at par with the graveness of the situation. The government must be proactive. Since most forests have been handed over to the communities, the local communities have to be made proactive towards protection issue and increase their involvement. Derisory resources available with us also hindered conservation efforts. Jan 17 08

(Editor’s Note: Nepalnews will continue this column by talking to officials, professionals, politicians, businessmen, diplomats, those who make outstanding achievements in their chosen field and newsmakers. Please post your suggestions/comments to


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Critically Endangered Porpoise May Be Doomed To Extinction

 Science Daily – Press Release

ScienceDaily (Jan. 16, 2008) — An international research team, including biologists from NOAA’s Fisheries Service, reported in the scientific journal Conservation Biology, that the estimated population of vaquita, a porpoise found in the Gulf of California, is likely two years away from reaching such low levels that their rate to extinction will increase and possibly be irreversible. Scientists believe only about 150 vaquita remain.

The research team, led by Armando Jaramillo, Instituto Nacional de Ecología, Mexico, included researchers Barbara Taylor, NOAA’s Fisheries Service, and Randy Reeves Reeves, Chair of the Cestacean Specialist Group, IUCN — the World Conservation Union.

The group assessed the number of vaquita based on past estimates of abundance and deaths in fishing nets together with current fishing effort. Approximately 30 vaquita drown each year in the Gulf of California when they become entangled in nets set for fish and shrimp.

Vaquita are found only in a small area of productive, shallow water in the northernmost Gulf of California. They are listed as endangered species by the United States and Mexico and critically endangered by the World Conservation Union.

Researchers cite worrisome parallels between vaquita and the baiji, a freshwater dolphin in the Yangtze River, which was recently declared likely to be extinct; primarily from entanglement in fishing gear.

Adapted from materials provided by NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

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Mass Extinctions Not So Easy to Come Back From

Canada Free Press – Joshua Hill 

A recent report from the University of Bristol, and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B this week, focuses on just what it takes for real recovery to take place after a mass extinction. The study, conducted by Sarda Sahney and Professor Michael Benton focused upon the mass extinction at the end of the Permian era, known as the end-Permian mass extinction.

Taking place some 251 million years ago, the end-Permian was the most devastating ecological event of all time, and the only event that comes close to completely wiping life off the face of this planet. Furthermore, it came after two previous extinction events, lesser in severity, but overall unfortunate.

The previous extinction took place at the beginning and end of the Guadalupian, a period middling the Permian, 270 and 260 million years ago.

The study, entitled “Recovery from the most profound mass extinction of all time,” is a new view of an era of time that has been long short on evidence. Most studies of the time have focused on the marine impact, with very little evidence to be found, apart from two sedimentary basins; the Karoo Basin of South Africa and the South Urals Basin of Russia.

Previous work on the subject had theorized that life bounced back quickly after these extinction events. But the latest study shows that the life that bounced back was disaster taxa; organisms that insinuate themselves in to gaps in the ecological landscape. One leading example of this was Lystrosaurus, which accounted for approximately 90% of terrestrial vertebrates.

Sahney and Benton’s study presents the theory that while life did in fact bounce back, the communities and ecosystems that had flourished prior to the extinction events had not. Complexity is the key here, with the Lystrosaurus proving their point.

Sahney said: “Our research shows that after a major ecological crisis, recovery takes a very long time. So although we have not yet witnessed anything like the level of the extinction that occurred at the end of the Permian, we should nevertheless bear in mind that ecosystems take a very long time to fully recover.”

In fact, according to their study, while tetrapods – four limbed vertebrates – did bounce back, the communal structuring of the species did not recover ecologically or numerically, until some 30 million years later, well into the Triassic era (the late Triassic). This included species such as dinosaurs, pterosaurs, crocodilians, amphibians and mammals.

Professor Benton explained: “Diversity is most commonly assessed by tallying the number of taxa on a global scale, but these studies are subject to the vagaries of sampling. By examining well-preserved and well-studied faunas, the taxonomic and ecological recovery of communities after the Permian extinction event can be examined more accurately, and the problems of geological bias are largely avoided.”

The end-Permian mass extinction, also known as the Permian–Triassic (P–Tr) extinction event and informally as the Great Dying, occurred 251.4 million years ago. Subsequently it became the boundary between the Permian and Triassic geological periods. What caused the event is – as with many geological incidents – uncertain, though several theories present themselves.

One primary theory is often seen as, if not solely responsible, coincidentally responsible, for the Permian-Triassic extinction event. The large-scale volcanism in Russia that eventually formed the Siberian Traps is described as one of the largest volcanic events of the last 500 million years of Earth’s geological history.

The massive eruption occurred about 251 to 250 million years ago, and formed a large igneous province in Siberia. ‘Traps’ refers to the step-like hills that were formed, derived from the Swedish word for stairs, trappa, or sometimes trapp.

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Chinese police seize endangered pangolins from home


BEIJING, Jan 19 (Reuters) – A foul stench led Chinese police to a home where they found 16 protected pangolins in cages and plastic bags, and another 37 dead ones in the refrigerator, the Xinhua news agency said on Saturday.

The rescued pangolins, an endangered scaly ant eater sought for their skin and for use in Chinese medicine, ranged in size from the palm of a human hand to four kilograms, Xinhua said, citing the local Forest Police Station.

One bear paw was also found in the fridge in the house in southern China’s Guangdong Province.

Four suspects were arrested, Xinhua said.

The solitary and nocturnal pangolin is found only in Asia and Africa. Its meat is considered a delicacy for some, its scaly skin can be made into handbags and shoes, and its scales and blood are used in Chinese medicine to treat allergies and sexually transmitted disease.

All international trade in the animals was banned in 2000.

Earlier this month, two men in the southern city of Xiamen received suspended death sentances for smugging 17 containers of pangolin meat and scales worth 23 million yuan ($3.2 million) into China. ($1 = 7.242 Yuan) (Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by David Fogarty)

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