Monthly Archives: March 2008

Poachers kill Kenya’s most rare antelope

 Nationmedia.com – Issa Hussein

Four poachers have been arrested for trapping and killing Kenya’s most endangered antelope, the Hirola, which is threatened with extinction.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) wardens on patrol in Kilindini area along the River Tana arrested the poachers who had trapped the antelope using snares. 

Officers led by Cpl Ibrahim Haro saw suspicious footprints in the grazing field frequented by the Hirola antelope and after tracking them found four poachers skinning the antelope in a thicket. 

The poachers were forced to surrender at gunpoint and were arrested.

Cpl Haro said the poachers, who are being held at Masalani police station awaiting referral to a Hola magistrates court, had also killed a buffalo a week earlier and were on KWS officers’ wanted list. 

He appealed to communities living along the Tana River not to hunt the Hirola antelope as the species, which is only found in Kenya, was in danger of extinction. 

He said the Kenya Wildlife Society officers will continue to mount patrols to ensure the endangered species was safe from poachers. 

The Hirola weighs between 75 and 160 kilogrammes and, according to KWS officials, is threatened with extinction from poachers and competition from domestic livestock.

The antelope is one of the world’s rarest animals.

The KWS and donors translocated 29 of the animals to Tsavo East National Park in 1995 and 1996 to try and protect it from decimation by poachers.

Armed with bow

In Tana River District, the district warden, Ibrahim Osman warned residents against hunting dikdiks which he said were also facing extinction.

He said Kenya Wildlife Society wardens recently arrested eight poachers with 187 dikdik carcasses.

He said the game that used to be common near Hola town had now fled to other areas.

He warned that anyone found with game meat will face heavy penalties.

Meanwhile, a suspected poacher was arrested yesterday morning after he was caught in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia East District armed with a bow and poisoned arrows.

Yesterday’s incident comes a month after suspected poachers killed a black rhino at the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa.

No one has been arrested in connection with the incident.

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Australian animals threatened by climate change: report

AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) — Native Australian animals are at increased risk of extinction due to climate change, according to a report released Tuesday which found invasive species could benefit from rising temperatures.

Species at risk from higher temperatures and lower rainfall include the kangaroo-like rock wallaby, the rabbit-eared bilby and the quoll, a native cat, the report by environmental group WWF Australia said.

These animals are already battling bushfires, loss of habitat and introduced predators such as the cane toad and the European fox — threats which are likely to be exacerbated by climate change, it said.

“The early signs are that climate change is likely to make all of the existing threats to species worse,” it said.

“As humans respond to changes in climate, agricultural expansion into parts of Australia, such as the northern savannahs, that are predicted to have more rainfall, will mean old threats to species in new places.”

The report said weeds and pests were able to colonise new habitats quickly and even favoured changing conditions.

“The threat posed by invasive species could increase with climate change,” it said. “Pests such as the cane toad will thrive in warmer conditions and move into new areas.”

WWF spokeswoman Tammie Matson said the country already has the worst rate of mammal extinction in the world, with close to 40 percent of global mammal extinctions in the last 200 years.

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Ice Seals Candidates for Endangered List

 Associated Press – Dan Joling

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A federal agency said Wednesday it will consider listing four species of ice seals as endangered, a move hailed by the environmental group that pushed for it as government recognition that Arctic marine life is threatened by global warming.

The National Marine Fisheries Service accepted a petition seeking threatened or endangered status for ribbon seals, which have been losing habitat as sea ice recedes. The agency also expanded the status review to include ringed, spotted and bearded seals.

“While the four species of ice seals in Alaska all utilize various types of sea ice habitats, they use the ice in different ways,” said Doug Mecum, acting administrator for the Alaska Region, in the announcement. “Therefore, careful status reviews of each species is warranted.”

Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and the lead author of the listing petition, said the agency’s action came as a surprise, given that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is two and a half months overdue on a final decision to list polar bears.

Last summer, Arctic ice shrank to an area that was 27 percent smaller than the previous record. In September, a series of reports from the U.S. Geological Survey predicted that as much as two-thirds of the polar bear population could disappear by mid-century because of the loss of summer sea ice attributed to climate change.

“The science is really clear that all of the seals are threatened by global warming by the loss of sea ice, and they all need protection,” Wolf said.

Wolf’s California-based group contends that in a warming Arctic, remaining winter sea ice will be thinner and unlikely to last long enough for ribbon seals to finish rearing their pups.

Federal officials have nine months to complete a full status review of ribbon seals. If agency officials propose listing ribbon seals as threatened or endangered, they would have a year to collect additional data and public testimony before the deadline for a final decision.

Listing a species would trigger a recovery plan that could address U.S. causes of global warming or other activity that could hurt the seals, such as offshore oil and gas development.

Ribbon seals during summer and fall live in water and feed on fish, squid and crustaceans in the Bering and Chukchi seas. From March through June, ribbon seals rely on loose pack ice in the Bering and Okhotsk seas for reproduction and molting.

Ribbon seals birth and nurse pups exclusively on sea ice. Newborn ribbon seals have a coat of soft, white hair that provides insulation until they grow a thick layer of blubber. Pups can survive submersion in icy water only after they’ve formed the blubber layer.

Ringed seals are the smallest and most numerous of the seals that thrive off Alaska’s coasts and are the primary prey of polar bears. Ringed seals can survive in completely ice-covered waters by digging out breathing holes.

Those breathing holes eventually get covered by drifting snow and female ringed seals dig out lairs within drifts to give birth and nurse pups on sea ice. Like ribbon seals, ringed seal pups cannot survive in cold water until they’ve grown a layer of blubber.

Bearded seals are the largest of Alaska’s seals, weighing up to 750 pounds. Another prey of polar bears, they also are hunted by residents of western Alaska coastal villages for food and hides.

Spotted seals can reach weights of 270 pounds and bear young on drifting pack ice.

Groups including the Center for Biological Diversity sued Fish and Wildlife this month for missing its January deadline for a final decision on polar bears.

The conservation groups claim the Bush administration has purposely delayed a decision because a polar bear listing would focus scrutiny on outer continental shelf oil and natural gas leases in polar bear habitat off Alaska’s coast.

They also say a polar bear recovery plan required under the law would trigger agency review of new sources of greenhouse gases that contribute to warming.

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Thai pair caught selling endangered animals

ABC Australia

Thai wildlife police have arrested two vendors and seized more than 200 rare animals including endangered tortoises during a raid at Bangkok’s popular weekend market.

Police say the sting operation turned up more than $70,000 worth of rare birds and animals.

One woman and one man have been arrested and charged with smuggling endangered species.

The World Conservation Union says illegal trade at the market is just one part of a larger international operation.

It says Thailand has become a transportation centre for the illicit animal trade in south-east Asia.

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Toads ‘could wipe out’ endangered marsupial

 ABC (Australia) News

Wildlife conservationists are warning the endangered quoll population in New South Wales could be wiped out because of cane toads migrating from Queensland.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says warmer temperatures due to climate change are causing the toads to move south.

They say predators of the toad can die from eating the poisonous species and could be made extinct.

The fund’s threatened species coordinator, Dr Mina Bassarova, says the spotted-tail quoll is particularly at risk because populations of the marsupial are so small.

“We know that the western quoll and the northern quoll are both killed from poisoning when they eat the cane toads, so it’s considered likely that the spotted-tail quoll, which is found in NSW, would also be susceptible to the poison of the cane toads.”

Dr Mina Bassarova says it is hard to predict how far toads could spread into NSW,\ but an increase in nature reserve systems could protect the quoll and other endangered animals.

Dr Tammie Matson, also from the WWF, says other species are also at risk.

“Australia already has the worst rate of mammal extinction in the world. A lot of our kangaroo and wallaby species are already facing extinction,” she said.

“We’ve lost several species already, they’re already extinct. What climate change will mean for these species is that their core climatic range may disappear entirely.”

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Tiny Mexican porpoise near extinct from fish nets

Reuters – By Tomas Sarmiento

SAN FELIPE, Mexico (Reuters) – The vaquita, a tiny stubby-nosed porpoise found only in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, is on the brink of extinction as more die each year in fishing nets than are being born, biologists say.

A drop in vaquita numbers to as few as 150 from around 600 at the start of the decade could see the famously shy animal go the same way as the Chinese river dolphin, which was declared all but extinct in 2006.

“The urgency now is to prevent the vaquita becoming extinct,” Omar Vidal, the WWF conservation group’s director in Mexico, told Reuters in San Felipe, a fishing town in the upper Gulf of California, or Sea of Cortez, where the vaquitas live.

“The latest studies suggest that we have perhaps one or two years for that,” said Vidal, one of a team that has been battling to preserve the species for over 10 years.

The world’s smallest porpoise, growing to a maximum of 5 feet long and gray in color, vaquitas are so timid that they are hardly ever sighted.

They shun the showy acrobatics of other porpoises, and when they come up for air they poke their odd-looking faces, with their black-circled eyes and beak, above the surface for just a second or two before diving quietly back below.

Identified only 50 years ago when some skulls were found, vaquitas are tracked using underwater microphones to pick up the high frequency clicks they use to communicate.

The drop in numbers suggests they are getting tangled in fishing nets at a faster rate than they can reproduce.

Female vaquitas only produce young once every two years and the genetic pool is now too small for effective breeding.

Meanwhile mesh gillnets used to catch sea bass, mackerel, shrimp and sharks also trap and drown air-breathing vaquitas, whose name is Spanish for “little cow”.

The government is trying to persuade some fishermen to ditch their nets and start conservation-based tourism businesses, like boat trips to see marine life.

But one person in four in the area lives off fishing and few want to give up a trade where a small fishing boat can haul in 441 pounds (200 kg) of blue shrimp, worth thousands of dollars to the export market, in a single day.

“We’ve been fishermen all our lives. It’s what we do,” said Tomas Ceballos, 51, talking over the top of a government official trying to promote a scheme of financial incentives to start tourism projects.

Conservationists are also trying to get fishermen to switch to new nets that are less likely to trap vaquita.

Jose Campoy, head of a marine reserve set up in 1993 to protect endangered species in the area, said one vaquita death a year in nets was too many for the struggling species.

Environment Minister Juan Elvira Quesada said the government would spend $10 million this year on protecting the vaquita. “Every day that goes by is a lost day,” he said.

(Writing by Catherine Bremer, editing by Sandra Maler)

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Crab measure may aid endangered birds

 SANDY BAUERS – PHILLY.COM

After vetoing an open-ended moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs last month, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council yesterday unanimously endorsed a one-year moratorium.

Whether it actually will take effect is unclear.

Environmentalists and bird biologists had sought the limit to help the red knot, a small shorebird that feeds on the crab eggs.

The bird, which migrates from the tip of South America to the Arctic, stops on Delaware Bay to refuel just as the crabs are coming ashore to spawn.

Heavy crab harvests in the 1990s led to a reduction in the number of crabs, and the birds have declined as well. Biologists say they could go extinct in a matter of years.

But yesterday’s action still left the question of the harvest in limbo, returning the issue to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The council only has the authority to approve or veto proposals by the DEP. It cannot initiate measures itself.

“Basically, what we did is reverse the process,” said council member Edward Goldman. “We’re saying to the commissioner, ‘This is what we like.’ ”

It’s now up to commissioner Lisa P. Jackson “to say whether she’s on board,” Goldman said.

The DEP did not immediately comment on the action.

The moratorium would last for one year, and then allow a males-only harvest of 100,000 crabs, which conforms to limits set by a multistate fisheries agency, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The crabs are used as bait for conch and eel, which are exported to the Asian food market.

Environmentalists who had pushed for the moratorium criticized the action as too little, too late.

Since last month’s veto, the groups initiated bills in both houses of the state legislature and have been pushing for their passage before a six-week recess later this month.

They vowed to continue.

“The legislature is poised to intervene to protect the public’s interests in conservation of the state’s irreplaceable natural resources. This half-hearted measure won’t change that,” Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum said in a statement today.

The pending legislation would continue the moratorium until the red knot population has recovered or until the adoption of a fisheries management plan that guarantees a more-than-adequate number of eggs for the birds.

“Anything short of that is inadequate and unacceptable,” said Eric Stiles, New Jersey Audubon’s vice president for conservation, in a statement.

But Erling Berg, a member of the council, said the issue did not belong in the legislature. “This is a more proper process,” he said. He said the council felt yesterday’s vote would return control of the resource to them, “which is where it belongs.”

Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147 or sbauers@phillynews.com.

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