Monthly Archives: February 2008

Scottish walkers asked to report wildcat sightings as numbers fall

 Mark Hughes – Independent

They were once widespread throughout the forests of the United Kingdom, fierce, feline creatures rumoured by some to be man-eating predators and revered by others as quasi-mythical beings harbouring the malevolent spirits of witches. But decades of relentless hunting took their toll on the population of the wildcat, so that by the mid-19th century they were declared extinct in England and Wales.

Now, conservationists are launching the first population survey in more than 20 years to discover whether the dwindling numbers of Scottish wildcats are suffering a similar fate.

Walkers will be asked to keep an eye out for the beasts after scientists said they feared they were nearing extinction in the one part of the UK where gamekeepers had originally failed to eradicate them.

Calling for members of the public to report sightings of wildcats in forests and other remote areas, Scottish National Heritage hopes the population survey will help to fix the numbers. It estimates that fewer than 400 of the animals exist in the country.

The survey will aim to establish the size and distribution of Felis silvestris grampia, the Scottish wildcat, and to draw conclusions about the plight of Britain’s last large mammal predator.

And it could lead to measures including voluntary neutering of domestic cats to prevent them from interbreeding with wildcats in areas where the species is most at risk.

Ro Scott, policy and advisory officer at Scottish National Heritage, said the public would be asked to pay attention to markings on cats seen in the wild and to report these to its officers, along with the location of sightings and video footage or photographs.

She said: “We want to involve as many members of the public as possible who are out and about in areas where they might come across wildcats. We will be asking them to fill in a short questionnaire asking what they have seen.”

The typical British wildcat is similar in appearance to a domestic cat. However, wildcats are larger with a wider face and jaw and have well-defined brown and black stripes and a bushy tail.

The twin perils of persecution and disease led to a dramatic reduction in the numbers of wildcats and, by the 1860s, the species was declared extinct in England and Wales.

Numbers also fell in Scotland but sightings in the north of the country, particularly in the Highlands, ensured that they were never said to be extinct. The species is listed as vulnerable.

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Yellowstone Rabbits Hop into Extinction

LIVESCIENCE.COM

A new study found that white-tailed jack rabbits have vanished from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where the bunnies were once abundant.

No one knows what caused the rabbits to disappear, according to the study conducted by the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society. It could be disease, extreme weather, predation or other factors, said Wildlife Conservation Society conservationist Joel Berger, a professor at the University of Montana.

Historical records from more than 130 years ago indicate that white-tailed jack rabbits were once common in Greater Yellowstone, a 60,000 square kilometer (23,166 square mile) ecosystem that contains both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The study found no jack rabbit sightings could be confirmed in Yellowstone since 1991 and only three in Grand Teton since 1978.

The jack rabbits’ departure may be having significant impacts on the whole region, including both predators of the rabbits and other prey species, Berger said.

The absence of jack rabbits may be causing elevated predation by coyotes on juvenile elk, pronghorn and other ungulates, according to the study. Elsewhere, when rabbit densities drop predators often turn to preying more on livestock. But without baseline data on rabbit numbers in Greater Yellowstone, assessing the impacts on predators such as grey wolves, which were reintroduced to the parks in 1995, becomes more difficult.

Berger said wildlife managers should consider reintroducing white-tailed jack rabbits into Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Reintroduction may restore the dynamic ecological processes that were intact before the rabbits vanished from the ecosystem, he said.

The study will appear in latest issue of the journal Oryx.

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Primates disappearing from tropical forests

Mohammad Shahidul Islam – The NEW NATION (Bangladesh)

Primates are considered closest living relatives of mankind. These living relatives-apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates-are becoming rarer from the tropical forest. “Reasons for the decline are no mystery: they all relate directly or indirectly to human actions” says a Worldwatch Institute report. A survey, worked out by 60 experts from 21 countries, cautions that failure to respond to the mounting threats has now been worsened by climate change. On the whole, 114 of the world’s 394 primate species are categorised as threatened with disappearance on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. Illegal wildlife trade and commercial plant-meat poaching have been largely blamed for their disappearance.

The primate-mongers brutally kill primates for food and to vend the meat. They encage them for live business; and farmers, loggers and land promoters destroy their habitat. One species, Miss Waldron’s red colobus of Ivory Coast and Ghana, already is feared extinct, while the golden-headed langur of Vietnam and China’s Hainan gibbon number only in the dozens.

The Horton Plains slender loris of Sri Lanka has been sighted just four times since 1937.

“You could fit all the surviving members of these 25 species in a single football stadium; that’s how few of them remain on Earth today,” said Conservation International President Russell A. Mittermeier, who also chairs the IUCN/Species Survival Commission (SSC) Primate Specialist Group.

“The situation is worst in Asia, where tropical forest destruction and the hunting and trading of monkeys put many species at terrible risk. Even newly discovered species are severely threatened from loss of habitat and could soon disappear.”

“By protecting the world’s remaining tropical forests,” Mittermeier says, “we can save primates and other endangered species while helping prevent climate change.”

The 21st Congress of the International Primatological Society in Entebbe, Uganda has published an alarming report that enlists the world’s 25 most endangered primates.

Eight of the primates on the latest list, including the Sumatran orangutan of Indonesia and the Cross River gorilla of Cameroon and Nigeria, are “four-time losers” that also appeared on the previous three lists. Six other species are on the list for the first time, including a recently discovered Indonesian tarsier that has yet to be formally named.

Madagascar and Vietnam each have four primates on the new list, while Indonesia has three, followed by Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Colombia with two each, and one each from China, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador. Some primates on the list are found in more than one country.

By region, the list includes 11 species from Asia, seven from Africa, four from Madagascar, and three from South America, showing that non-human primates are threatened wherever they live.

All 25 primates on the 2006-2008 list are found in the world’s biodiversity hotspots–34 high priority regions identified by Conservation International that cover just 2.3 percent of the Earth’s land surface but harbour well over 50 percent of all terrestrial plant and animal diversity.

Eight of the hotspots are considered the highest priorities for the survival of the most endangered primates: Indo-Burma, Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands, Sundaland, Eastern Afromontane, Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa, Guinean Forests of West Africa, the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, and Western Ghats-Sri Lanka.

A journal states, the clearing of tropical forests for agriculture, logging, and the collection of fuel wood continue to be key factors in marauding the primates.

Tropical deforestation also emits 20 percent of total greenhouse gases that cause climate change, which is more than the carbon discharge of all the world’s cars, trucks, trains and airplanes combined.

In addition, climate change is altering the habitats of many species, leaving those with small ranges even more vulnerable to extinction. Hunting for subsistence and commercial purposes is another major threat to primates, especially in Africa and Asia. Live capture for the pet trade also poses a serious threat, particularly to Asian species.

The list focuses on the severity of the overall threat rather than mere numbers. Some on the list, such as the Sumatran orangutan, still number in the low thousands but are disappearing at a faster rate than other primates. Others were discovered only in recent years, and their low numbers and limited range make them particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction and other threats.

These genuses are our closest living family members. Non-human primates are indispensable to keep up our eco-system’s energy. Through scattering seeds and other interactions with their environments, primates facilitate to sustain a wide range of plant and animal life that rebuild the Earth’s forests.

Conservation of non-human primates is a critical issue facing primatologists today. By protecting the world’s remaining tropical forests, we should save primates and other endangered species for our easy breathe. We have to check strictly the factors that lead to primate related business or its annihilation.

(Mohammad Shahidul Islam is a faculty member of National Hotel and Tourism Training Institute. Email: mohd-s-islam@myway.com )

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Shark species face extinction amid overfishing and appetite for fins

ALOK JHA – THE GUARDIAN

Nine more species of shark are to be added to the endangered list as scientists warn that oceans are being emptied of the fish by overfishing and finning.

The scalloped hammerhead shark, which has declined by 99% over the past 30 years in some parts of the world, is particularly vulnerable and will be declared globally endangered on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) list.

“Sharks are definitely at the top of the list for marine fishes that could go extinct in our lifetimes,” said Julia Baum of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California and a member of IUCN shark specialist group. “If we carry on the way that we are, we’re looking at a really high risk of extinction for some of these shark species within the next few decades.”

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston yesterday, Baum said that in addition to the scalloped hammerhead, other shark species that will be added to the revised IUCN endangered list later this year are the smooth hammerhead, shortfin mako, common thresher, big-eye thresher, silky, tiger, bull and dusky. There are already 126 species of shark on the IUCN’s list.

“The perception has been that really wide-ranging species can’t become endangered because if they are threatened in one area, surely they’ll be fine in another area,” said Baum. “But fisheries now cover all corners of the earth and they’re intense enough that these species are being threatened everywhere.”

Recent studies have shown that all shark populations in the north-west Atlantic Ocean have declined by an average of 50% since the early 1970s.

Shark numbers can become depleted very quickly because they take a long time to mature – 16 years in the case of a scalloped hammerhead. Their fins are highly prized in China and can fetch up to £140 a kilogram. Until recently the eating of shark fin was a delicacy restricted to the rich in China, said Baum, but as the country’s middle class has grown in the past 25 years, so has the market for shark fins.

Excessive fishing has caused a 90% decline in shark populations across the world’s oceans and up to 99% along the US east coast, which are some of the best-managed waters in the world, according to Baum.

The decline in predators such as sharks can have devastating consequences for the local marine ecology.

In a case study published last year, Baum found that a major decline in the numbers of predatory sharks in the north Atlantic after 2000 had allowed populations of the sharks’ prey, cownose rays, to explode. The rays in turn decimated the bay scallop populations around North Carolina. “There was a fishery for bay scallops in North Carolina that lasted over a century uninterrupted and it was closed down in 2004 because of cownose rays.”

Fishing for sharks in international waters is unrestricted, but Baum supports a recent UN resolution calling for immediate limits on catching sharks and a ban on shark finning.

Sonja Fordham, of the Shark Alliance, a coalition of 50 scientific and conservation groups, said: “People think these wide-ranging, fast sharks are resilient to fishing; however, this shows this is not the case. Concerned citizens can really help by making their fisheries ministers aware that they support conservation measures such as catch limits.”

Some conservation efforts for sharks will focus on newly identified hotspots where sharks congregate during migrations. Peter Klimley of the University of California, Davis, found that scalloped hammerhead sharks migrate along fixed “superhighways” in the oceans, speeding between a series of “stepping stone” sites near coastal islands ranging from Mexico to Ecuador.

“Hammerhead sharks are not evenly dispersed throughout the seas, but concentrated at seamounts and offshore islands,” he said. “Hence, enforcing reserves around these areas will go far in protecting these species and will provide the public with places for viewing sharks in their habitat.”

One site between Hawaii and Mexico attracts so many sharks it has become known among scientists as “the white shark cafe”, Klimley says.

“We started calling it the cafe because that is where you might go to have a snack or maybe just to ‘see and be seen’. We are not sure which,” said Salvador Jorgensen, a researcher at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station.

“Once they leave the cafe they return year after year to the same exact spot along the coast, just as you might return to a favourite fishing hole.”

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Hanguls run from Kashmir’s cold

Fayaz Bukhari – NDTV.com

The endangered Hangul deer found only in Kashmir have come downhill to the Dachigam National Park in search of food as their fodder in the upper reaches are under snow.

The wildlife department says it’s ready to welcome the new guests.

”We are providing them vegetable and dry willow branches. We are ready for this since September,” said Tayyib Shah Qadri, Range Officer, Dachigam.

The population of this species of deer is on the decline. In 1940 the region had 3,000 Hangul deer, now the number is down to about 200.

The heavy snowfall has also exposed them to the increasing leopard population, so it is a big challenge for the endangered deer species.

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Why You Should Care About the Horseshoe Crab

Dan Shapley – the daily green

The horseshoe crab is an ancient, ugly and misnamed creature, and it is surprisingly important to the survival of migrating shorebirds and, well, us.

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer just lifted a moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay, where the world’s largest population of horseshoe crab lives. That means fishermen could begin grabbing horseshoe crabs by the tens of thousands so they can bait hooks and catch fish for Asian markets.

The issue at hand, that brought on the moratorium, is environmentalists’ concern about the red knot, a migratory bird that relies on a feast of horseshoe crab eggs each May to make its long-distance flight from South America to the Arctic. As horseshoe crabs have declined, they’ve produced fewer eggs, which has left the birds too thin and weak to make the flight. Red knots could go extinct in just two years without help, according to the most dire estimate.

Having evolved 500 million years ago (give or take a few million years), the horseshoe crab is more closely related to spiders than to crabs. It is a highly successful creature, when measured against most living beings today, having survived every mass extinction to rock the planet’s wildlife. (Today, being Darwin Day, is a good day to consider the process that gave us the horseshoe crab.)

During its long history, other creatures have evolved in concert. The red knot is the most notable example. But evolution also plays a role in the horseshoe crab’s relationship to humans. The unique way its immune system works has allowed humans to exploit compounds in horseshoe crab blood in order to prevent the contamination of pharmaceutical products. The horseshoe crab’s “primitive” eye has also yielded important scientific understanding of the way the human eye works.

Incidentally, the usefulness of the horseshoe crab amounts to one of the most pragmatic arguments for the preservation of biodiversity, and the importance of preventing extinctions. What useful compounds might be derived from the red knot, for instance? We won’t know if the demise of the horseshoe crab rushes the species to extinction.

The Inquirer quoted one Virginia seafood processor saying that a moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting “remarkably unimaginative.” Given the long history, ecological uniqueness and surprising usefulness of the horseshoe crab, one could argue that slaughtering them for bait is the unimaginative idea.

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KING PENGUIN FACES EXTINCTION

TELEGRAPH – Roger Highfield

The prospect that the King penguin will go extinct as a result of climate warming is rising inexorably, scientists say today.

Second only to Emperor penguins in size, King Penguins – distinguished by their ear patches of bright golden-orange feathers – thrive on the islands at the northern reaches of Antarctica, with a total population of over two million breeding pairs.

Because King penguins sit on the food chain in their region, they are sensitive indicators of alterations to the marine ecosystem and feel the effects of climate change more keenly as a result – in this case, the warming is reducing their food supply.

Global warming is happening much more quickly in some parts of the frozen continent, particularly the north-west area known as the Antarctic Peninsula, where in the last 50 years temperatures have risen by about 2.5ºC – as much as five times the world average
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But for these penguins, which do not live near the peninsula, the effects are caused by a warming of sub polar sea surface temperatures.

A decade ago, Yvon Le Maho of the CNRS Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien, Strasbourg, and an engineer began a study of the breeding and survival of penguins on Possession Island in the Crozet Archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean that continued over the course of nine years, marking the birds with electronic tags under the skin as the penguins migrated.

With Céline Le Bohec and colleagues, Dr Le Maho shows today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that high sea surface temperatures in the penguins wintering range, where two thirds of the world’s population of this species reside, diminished the amount of available marine prey, which decreased the survival of adult King penguins since they had to travel greater distances to find food.

The birds feed on small fish and squid, relying less on krill and other small crustaceans than many other sea mammals, and the find suggests that these species are suffering as a result of warming of the Southern Ocean.

Using a mathematical model, the scientists calculate that there will be a nine per cent decline in the adult penguin population for every 0.26ºC of sea surface warming, suggesting that this population is at high risk under current global warming conditions, which predict an average increase of 0.2ºC per decade for the next two decades.

They conclude that there is a “heavy extinction risk” given current global warming predictions of a 0.4ºC rise over two decades, which cuts the chance of survival from 95 per cent to 80 per cent.

King penguins breed on seven sub-Antarctic island groups with large populations on the Falkland Islands, Macquarie Islands, Heard Island, Iles Crozet and Marion island and other sea birds will face similar problems.

A recent report by the environmental conservation group WWF is warning that rising temperatures and the resulting loss of sea ice is robbing other species of the emblematic birds of the nesting grounds they need to breed successfully while lading a reduction in the availability of krill which they rely on for food.

The most vulnerable is the biggest, the Emperor, but the Gentoo, Chinstrap, and Adélie have also suffered dramatic drops in population, according to the Antarctic Penguins and Climate Change report.

 

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