Monthly Archives: January 2008

Snake-eat-snake: endangered pythons wipeout

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Endangered snakes reintroduced to a conservation zone near Roxby Downs in outback South Australia have been virtually wiped out in a short time.

Adelaide Zoo and the Arid Recovery Group introduced nine woma pythons into the area late last year.

John Read from Arid Recovery says only one of the womas is still alive – the others have been hunted and eaten by king brown snakes.

He says it was wrongly thought the woma pythons would prey on other snakes.

“So I guess in hindsight given that the king browns we get here are 1.5 getting on towards 2.5 metres in length, I guess it’s not surprising that they would take the occasional woma that is smaller than them,” he said.

Mr Read says the outcome is disappointing but not a total loss.

“This is one of the first times ever that captive bred snakes have been released in the wild and we weren’t sure whether snakes that had spent five years feeding on frozen white mice would know how to recognise how to hunt and eat wild food,” he said.

“Well at least four of our pythons definitely have done that.”

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Ribbon Seals Endangered by loss of Arctic Sea Ice

Wildlife Extra

December 2007. The rare ribbon seal may be one of the first species to lose its habitat to global warming, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The ribbon seal is dependent on Arctic sea ice for survival – but that sea ice is shrinking fast.

Ribbon seal in the northern Bering Sea. © USFWS

The group has filed a scientific petition with the US National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the ribbon seal under the federal Endangered Species Act due to decline of its habitat in a warming climate.

Artic Crisis
‘The Arctic is in crisis state from global warming,’ said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the petition. ‘An entire ecosystem is rapidly melting away and the ribbon seal is poised to become the first victim of our failure to address global warming,’ he said.

Ribbon Seals
The ribbon seal is the most decoratively patterned of all seals. While the pups are pure white, the adults have black fur wrapped in white circles.

‘Why does the ribbon seal have its stripes? Probably to make it less visible to underwater predators,’ explains ribbon seal biologist Carleton Ray from the University of Virginia. ‘But this beautiful, charismatic species may soon become totally invisible should its spring reproductive habitat of sea ice continue to diminish, as climate models predict,’ he said.

During the late winter through early summer, ribbon seals rely on the edge of the sea ice in the Bering and Okhotsk Seas off Alaska and Russia as safe habitat for giving birth and as a nursery for their pups.

But Wolf says that this winter the sea-ice habitat is rapidly disappearing. ‘If current ice-loss trends due to global warming continue, the ribbon seal faces likely extinction by the end of the century,’ he says.

A ribbon seal in the Alaskan Arctic (Photo courtesy NOAA) The ribbon seal’s winter sea ice habitat is projected to decline by 40 percent in the next 40 years, Wolf says. He believes that any remaining sea ice will be much thinner and unlikely to last long enough for the ribbon seals to finish rearing their pups, leading to widespread pup mortality.

In addition to loss of its sea-ice habitat from global warming, the ribbon seal faces threats from increased oil and gas development in its habitat and the proliferation of shipping routes in the increasingly ice-free Arctic.

Arctic Warming
He points out that warming in the Arctic now is occurring at a pace so rapid that is exceeding the predictions of the most advanced climate models.

‘Summer sea-ice extent in 2007 plummeted to a record minimum which most climate models forecast would not be reached until 2050,’ Wolf observed. ‘Winter sea ice declined to a minimum in 2007 that most climate models forecast would not be reached until 2070.’

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NEARLY 50 ENDANGERED CROCODILES DEAD

Associated Press – (via The Peninsula)

BHOPAL • At least 49 endangered Indian crocodiles have washed up dead on river shores, sparking concerns about an unknown illness, officials said yesterday.

The crocodiles, called gharials, have been found dead in the Chambal river sanctuary in central India over the past month.

Gharials have a long, narrow snout and are native to the Indian subcontinent. Only about 2,000 of the critically endangered reptiles are believed to exist in the wild.

Forest officials have ruled out poaching, but are yet to find out the cause of death.

“It seems they were suffering from some unknown disease,” said G Sudhakhar, district forest officer at the Chambal Sanctuary.

The fish-eating reptiles could also have died of food contamination, senior forest official S P Sharma said in Bhopal, capital of central Madhya Pradesh state, where some of the crocodiles were found.

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Kenyan wildlife extinction fears

INTERNATIONAL ANIMAL RESCUE

Mon 15 December 2008 15:18 UK — Africa,Equines

Picture for article The antelope and the grevy’s zebra have been named on Kenya Wildlife Service’s endangered species list, according to the Daily Nation.

The African country’s wildlife conservation authority renewed its fears over the threat of extinction to its animals, with the announcement that numbers of both species are declining.

The grevy’s, which is the largest species of zebra, is considered endangered as a result of habitat destruction and increased hunting, which has left its estimated population numbers at just 1,500 to 2,000 surviving in the wild.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has already listed the zebra as “endangered”; however, its views differ with KWS’ regarding antelope species, which it suggests are “of least concern”.

Dr Charles Musyoki, senior scientist at KWS, suggested that the IUCN list in “in conflict” with what is actually occurring in Kenya.

He told the Daily Nation: “Some of the animals that are quickly dying off within our borders are of least concern according to IUCN. This locks us out of funding from conservation agencies and starves us of the attention needed to be created about these dying species.”

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ASIA’S BIO-FRONTIER AT RISK

COSMICLOG

A new report crowns Southeast Asia’s Greater Mekong region as one of the world’s hottest spots for biodiversity, with more than 1,000 previously undocumented species discovered over the past decade. But it’s also a hot spot for economic development, which sets up a race to protect what is clearly a biological bonanza.

In all, roughly 25,000 species call the Mekong River basin home. On a species-per-mile basis, the region’s waterways are richer in biodiversity than the Amazon, according to “First Contact in the Greater Mekong,” a report released today by WWF International.

“This region is like what I read about as a child in the stories of Charles Darwin,” Thomas Ziegler, curator at the Cologne Zoo in Germany, said in a news release. “It is a great feeling being in an unexplored area and to document its biodiversity for the first time … both enigmatic and beautiful.”

Nicole Frisina, communications officer for WWF’s Greater Mekong Program, told me that “the rate of species discovery is quite prolific as you compare it with other areas of the world.” The average works out to two new species every week – and if anything, the pace is accelerating.

From war to wonder
The Greater Mekong Program’s director, Stuart Chapman, told me there are a couple of reasons for that quickening pace.

WWF
The colored areas represent
different parts of Southeast
Asia’s Greater Mekong region,
draining into Vietnam’s Mekong
Delta. Click on the map for a
larger version.


First, the Greater Mekong region – which takes in areas of China’s Yunnan Province as well as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – includes some incredibly remote areas, such as the Annamite Mountains on the Lao-Vietnamese border.

Under the best of circumstances, traveling to these frontiers is difficult and expensive. And during the region’s decades of conflict (including, of course, the Vietnam War and Cambodia’s wars), scientific exploration was nearly unthinkable.

“In some regions, there haven’t been a lot of scientific expeditions purely because there’s been a lot of [unexploded] ordnance around,” Chapman said.

That’s all changing now: Many parts of Southeast Asia are undergoing intense economic development. Just to cite one example, more than 150 large hydroelectric dams are being planned in the region. And that raises a huge challenge for scientists scrambling to explore the Mekong’s lost world.

The ‘race against time’
“This poorly understood biodiversity is facing unprecedented pressure … for scientists, this means that almost every field survey yields new diversity, but documenting it is a race against time,” Raoul Bain, a biodiversity specialist from New York’s American Museum of Natural History, said in today’s news release.

Rising populations and greater economic development are putting wildlife habitat in danger. The World Conservation Union has already added 10 species from Vietnam to its extinction list, and another 900 species are considered threatened.

The WWF (fomerly known as the World Wildlife Fund) issued today’s report as part of its effort to preserve the region’s biological riches even as the 320 million people living there reach for new economic riches. “You don’t have to have people choose between the two,” Chapman said. “You can have both, with careful planning.”

The organization called on the region’s six governments to work together on a conservation and management plan for 230,000 square miles (600,000 square kilometers) of transboundary and freshwater habitats. Chapman said the governments already have identified corridors of land in need of cross-border conservation.

However, he said, “having them identified on the map hasn’t resulted in transboundary planning. … That kind of thinking hasn’t really taken hold yet.”

Coming attractions
The biological riches could eventually yield new medicines and sustainable food sources for the region’s needy populations – or perhaps new attractions for the world’s eco-tourists. And for scientists at least, there are plenty of attractions out there, hiding in plain sight.

ITN / NBC Newschannel
Click for video: ITN’s
Chris Rogers reports on
the Greater Mekong’s
biological riches.


For example, a new rat species was discovered as a delicacy in a Laotian food market – and scientists traced its evolutionary lineage back to a group of rodents that were thought to have gone totally extinct 11 million years ago. It turned out that the Laotian rock rat (listed as Kha-nyou on the menu) was the sole survivor of that ancient group.

Another previously unknown species of pit viper was first seen by scientists as it slithered through the rafters of a restaurant in Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park.

“These are the kinds of surprises that illustrate the diversity of this region,” Chapman said.

To get a look at these critters and some of the other oddities from the WWF’s list of 1,068 species discovered between 1997 and 2007, check out our slideshow featuring the Mekong’s hidden treasures.

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Basking shark on edge of extinction

By David Suzuki and Faisal Moola at www.straight.com

The basking shark is huge—often bigger than a bus. As fish go, it’s second in size only to the whale shark. It has been roaming the world’s oceans for at least 30 million years. Mariners throughout history have mistaken it for a mythical sea serpent or the legendary cadborosaurus. Despite its massive size, it feeds mostly on tiny zooplankton.

These are some of the things we know about this gentle giant. But our understanding is limited; we don’t really know much more about them than we did in the early 1800s. One thing we do know is that they used to be plentiful in the waters off the coast of B.C., in Queen Charlotte Sound, Clayoquot Sound, Barkley Sound, and even the Strait of Georgia. Only half a century ago, people taking a ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island may have spotted half a dozen lazily swimming by. But now, reported sightings are down to less than one a year off the B.C. coast. All indications are that this magnificent animal is on the edge of extinction. It makes my blood boil!

Over the past two centuries, people have been killing them for sport, for food, for the oil from their half-tonne livers, and to get them out of the way of commercial fishing operations. Many were also killed accidentally by fishing gear.

In their 2006 book Basking Sharks: The Slaughter of B.C.’s Gentle Giants, marine biologist (and David Suzuki Foundation sustainable fisheries analyst) Scott Wallace and maritime historian Brian Gisborne note that the “pest control” methods used in the 1950s and ’60s were particularly gruesome. Basking sharks are so named because they appear to bask as they feed on plankton on the water’s surface. And even though they don’t eat salmon and other fish, they sometimes get tangled in gillnets, hindering commercial fishing operations. So fisheries patrol boats with large knives attached to their bows would slice the animals in half as they “basked” on the surface.

Basking sharks were not the only victims of fisheries-management practices during that time. Thousands of seals, sea lions, black bears, mergansers, and kingfishers were also killed in the name of keeping the salmon stocks for people.

The basking shark is now recognized as an endangered species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, but it is not legally listed or protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). The government is consulting with Canadians until December 30 on whether or not to list and protect them. It goes without saying that they should be protected, but our country’s record on endangered marine species doesn’t leave a lot of room for optimism.

Although public consultation is good, listing of the basking shark—and any other species at risk—should be based on science. And the science is clear: The basking shark is Canada’s most endangered marine fish. The Pacific population is almost extinct. We don’t need a public consultation process to tell us that.

Listing the basking shark would have little or no economic impact, as there are so few sharks left. And because the federal government is largely responsible for the basking shark’s demise, it has an even greater responsibility for its recovery.

If the basking shark does not get listed under the Species at Risk Act, other endangered marine species have little hope for protection. And it will be an indication that when it comes to these vulnerable animals, science does not matter. Already, we have another species recognized as endangered by COSEWIC—the porbeagle shark—but not only has Canada failed to offer it legal protection under the SARA, our country still has a directed fishery for it.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada justifies this lack of protection for the porbeagle shark by claiming that the socioeconomic impacts of listing it would be too great and that recovery and protection is or can be achieved used other means, such as the Fisheries Act.

But as we can see from the example of the basking shark, those other means are not enough. These animals need to be protected under strong species at risk legislation. When one species goes extinct, the repercussions cascade throughout the environment. We can’t afford any more losses.

For more information on how you can help save the basking shark, please visit David Suzuki’s Web site.

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