Monthly Archives: September 2008

Over half of Europe’s amphibians face extinction by 2009


The majority of the most threatened species live in Mediterranean regions, which are expected to become warmer and drier. Island species, such as the Mallorcan midwife toad and Sardinian brook newt, are especially at risk because they are unable to move to cooler climates.

In Britain, where viruses are already wiping out many hundreds of amphibians a year, conservationists fear for the future of the common toad, natterjack toad and crested newt.

Researchers described the bleak outlook for Europe’s amphibians at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London last night. Sir David Attenborough, who was due to attend the symposium, said: “”Amphibians are the lifeblood of many environments, playing key roles in the function of ecosystems, and it is both extraordinary and terrifying that in just a few decades the world could lose half of all these species.””

One in three of the world’s amphibians are already on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list of endangered species, with some estimates suggesting 150 species have already become extinct since the 1980s.

The expansion of towns and cities into natural habitats is chiefly to blame for the amphibians’ precarious future, but many scientists believe climate change and diseases are acting together as a double whammy.

“”A lot of European amphibians, especially those found in the Mediterranean, cannot move to find more suitable habitats, because they are surrounded by sea water, which they can’t tolerate, or they are blocked off by mountain ranges,”” said Trent Garner, research scientist at the Zoological Society of London.

Snakes, fish and birds that prey on the amphibians are already showing some signs of decline as the staple of their diet dies out. The disappearance of some amphibians is also expected to lead to a rise in insects and other creatures that amphibians feed on.

“”Given that many of the things that amphibians eat are the things that destroy our crops or bite us and suck our blood, we might be feeling some of the effects a bit more directly than we’ve expected,”” said Garner.

Ten years ago, scientists raised the alarm after finding vast numbers of amphibians were being wiped out by chytrid fungus, which infects the skin through which many of the animals drink and breathe. Scientists in Australia now suspect they have lost nine species to the infection.

In recent decades chytrid fungus has spread rapidly, appearing almost everywhere there are amphibians. Some scientists believe the fungus has become more deadly as a result of climate change.

One alarming case has been seen in the Peñalara national park near Madrid, where the climate has become more humid and the fungus has caused mass mortality among amphibians.

In Britain, infections caused by a family of pathogens called ranaviruses, which emerged in the 1980s, are causing widespread deaths among some of the most common amphibians.

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Koala headed for extinction – zoologist


SYDNEY – Australia’s iconic koala is headed for extinction unless there are changes in how populations are managed, a leading academic says.

Zoologist and author Stephen Jackson will detail the threats to the marsupial at a seminar tomorrow at the University of Newcastle, north of Sydney.

“Previously hunted to near extinction in the 1920s, the species continues to face ongoing threats to its survival today,” Dr Jackson said in a statement.

“The loss of habitat and urban development, the increase of disease, the potential harm of climate change and attacks from other animals all impact the survival of the koala.”

Dr Jackson has spent the past two decades working in the wildlife industry and wrote the book, The Koala: Origin of an Icon.

He said Port Stephens, north of Newcastle, was home to one of NSW’s most important koala populations.

But debate raged over how to manage the animals, he said.

“There is differing opinion on the actual population numbers and whether the species should be considered vulnerable, (and whether they face) extinction at the national level,” Dr Jackson said.

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800 endangered storks perish


Mon 22 September 2008 14:03 UK — Asia,Birds

Hundreds of Buddhist Indian villagers performed a unique funeral ritual for more than 800 endangered storks, after the 200-year-old tree in which the birds were nesting collapsed.

The Asian open bill storks died after the banyan tree that served as their colony crashed into an adjacent pond inside a Buddhist monastery in a Banglung village, which is around 300km east of Assam’s main city of Guwahati.

The stork is a resident breeder in tropical southern Asia from India and Sri Lanka to south-east Asia, and Banglung village had one of the largest colonies in Assam.

It is a broad-winged soaring bird and breeds near inland wetlands and builds stick nests in trees, while its diet consists of frogs and large insects.

Mr Goswami, a wildlife warden in the area, told “The way the villagers responded to the deaths of the storks by informing the wildlife authorities is a heartening thing at a time when people are less worried about protecting endangered species.”

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Volunteers work to protect endangered blue duck


COMMITTED volunteers have been carrying out predator control on Lochaber Station to protect the highly threatened blue ducks/whio.

Over the past weekend, coinciding with the end of Conservation Week, Orari River Protection Group laid more predator traps to conserve this native species.

A small number of these birds live in the Orari catchment. Volunteer co-ordinator Bruce Allan is clear on the need to protect them.

“Blue ducks are very special as they are more endangered than kiwi.”

Originally 55 predator traps were loaned by Environment Canterbury (ECan) and the Department of Conservation (DOC). These are now being replaced using a grant from the Lotteries Board. The group has bought 160 predator traps, which have enabled them to increase the area of blue duck protection. Traplines are checked, baited and reset as necessary on a monthly basis.

Volunteers spent two days at Lochaber placing and setting traps.

Mr Allan said the Harrisons of Lochaber Station had been very supportive of the project.

Blue ducks face a high risk of extinction in the wild and are a nationally endangered species. Factors such as the modification of waterways, loss of waterside vegetation and the introduction of mammalian predators have led to a dramatic decline in their numbers and distribution. The species is now largely restricted to forested catchments in the north and west of the South Island and central parts of the North Island.

In the last six months the group have caught six cats, six stoats, 10 rats, three possums, two hedgehogs and a weasel.

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Namibia: Wild Dogs in Serious Trouble


Absalom Shigwedha

URGENT and concerted action is needed to save Namibia’s African wild dog population from extinction.

This was spelled out by Robin Lines of the Wild Dog Project after the release of the project’s 2008 report.

Lines said the report shows that Namibia has only about 300 wild dogs left and the population is declining at a rate of 10 per cent a year.

The report recommends that wild dogs should be re-introduced in protected areas such as Etosha National Park.

“Important management decisions are urgently needed at Government level to ensure a viable population under protected area coverage, while improving the conservation status of current free-ranging population,” the report says.

It says Namibia has an important, yet declining population of African wild dogs, representing between four and nine per cent of the total free-ranging population of 3 000 to 5 000 dogs on the continent.

According to the latest estimates, there are fewer than 32 breeding packs in Namibia, most of them outside protected areas.

This means that the majority of the packs are threatened by human activities.

THREATS In the past 100 years, the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) population has declined by 98 per cent and its range reduced by 95 per cent.

The African wild dog has become extinct in nearly every isolated protected area, and even where well managed, because of persecution on park boundaries.

African wild dogs are extinct in 24 of the 39 countries in their former range, with only nine countries having populations of more than 100 individuals.

The dog’s preferred habitat is savannah, grassland and woodland.

Threats to the population include habitat loss, hunting and poisoning by humans, disease spread from domestic animals and isolated populations.

The African wild dog is listed on Appendix I of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), a list of highly endangered animal and plant species.

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Rare rhinos endangered by loss of habitat


By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) – South Asia’s endangered Great One-horned Rhinoceros is being driven out of its natural habitat in search of food into the hands of illegal poachers, experts said on Thursday.

A meeting of the Asian Rhino Specialist Group in Nepal said that the massive animal’s feeding grounds were being invaded by “exotic species” of weeds and wild plants and the rhino could soon run out of natural fodder.

“Grassland is being invaded by weeds and other unwanted plants that are not suitable for rhinos,” Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, co-chairman of the group said from the Chitwan National Park, home to 408 rhinos.

“We have to concentrate on how best to control the weeds and for this we have to intensify research.”

The endangered animal, whose numbers have been rising in Nepal and India, is found mostly in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, and in southwestern Nepal.

“The weeds and wild plants are an exotic species and how it came we don’t know. It is spreading fast in the habitat and we are looking into the reasons now,” Shyam Bajimaya, an expert with Nepal’s national parks said.

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, located 81 km (51 miles) southwest of Kathmandu, is the second-biggest home for the rhinos after the Kaziranga National Park in the Indian state of Assam, which has 1,855 animals.

The number of rhinos in the Indian park has risen from about 1,200 in 1999, helped by a reduction in poaching, Talukdar said. The rhino population in Chitwan was also on the rise, he added.

Poaching is the main threat to the survival of rhino which is illegally killed for its horn and other body parts. Rhino horns are believed to have aphrodisiac qualities and are sold for a high price in China and other Southeast Asian countries.

(Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Valerie Lee)

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Study: Freshwater fish species in peril


About four out of 10 freshwater fish species in North America are in peril, according to a major study by U.S., Canadian and Mexican scientists.

And the number of subspecies of fish populations in trouble has nearly doubled since 1989, the new report says.

One biologist called it “silent extinctions” because few people notice the dramatic dwindling of certain populations deep in American lakes, rivers and streams. And while they are unaware, people are the chief cause of the problem by polluting and damming freshwater habitats, experts said.

In the Great Lakes, four native species are extinct, three are possibly extinct, two species are threatened and eight are vulnerable, according to the study. The extinct species include the Arctic grayling, blue pike, harelip sucker and deepwater cisco.

All of the Great Lakes species listed as extinct or vulnerable were harmed long ago by excessive fishing, logging practices and dam construction.

The grayling was driven from Great Lakes tributaries in the late 1800s by logging and excessive fishing; deepwater cisco were eliminated by high numbers of smelt and alewives in the mid-1900s; and lake sturgeon, a species listed as vulnerable, were driven to the brink of extinction in the lakes in the 1800s and early 1990s by excessive fishing, logging and dams that eliminated much of their spawning habitat.

Sturgeon are recovering in some parts of the Great Lakes; there is a resident population in the Muskegon River that dates back to the presettlement era. Repeated efforts to reestablish Arctic grayling in Michigan rivers have failed.

The study, led by U.S. Geological Survey researchers, was the first massive study of freshwater fish on the continent in 19 years. An international team of dozens of scientists looked not just at species, but at subspecies — physically distinct populations restricted to certain geographic areas. The decline is even more notable among these smaller groups.

The scientists found that 700 smaller but individual fish populations are vulnerable, threatened, or endangered. That’s up from 364 subspecies nearly two decades ago.

And 457 entire species are in trouble or already extinct, the study found. Another 86 species are OK as a whole, but have subspecies in trouble.

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Fisheries. Researchers looked at thousands of distinct populations of fish that either live in lakes, streams and rivers or those that live in saltwater but migrate to freshwater at times, such as salmon that return to spawn.

Some vulnerable fish are staples of recreational fishing and the dinner plate. Striped bass that live in the Gulf of Mexico, Bay of Fundy and southern Gulf of St. Lawrence are new to the imperiled list. So are snail bullhead, flat bullhead and spotted bullhead catfish. Sockeye, Chinook, coho, chum and Atlantic salmon populations are also called threatened or endangered in the study. More than two dozen trout populations are considered in trouble.

About 6 percent of fish populations that were in peril in 1989, including the Bonneville cutthroat trout, have made a comeback, said lead author Howard Jelks of the U.S. Geological Survey. But one-third of the fish that were in trouble in 1989 are worse off now, said the Gainesville, Fla., biologist.

The study includes far more species and populations than those that are on the official U.S. government endangered species list.

Jelks said the number of species in trouble was close to double what he expected and that means people should be “considerably worried.”

The biggest cause, Jelks said, is degraded freshwater habitat, both in quality and quantity of water for fish to live in. Invasive species crowding out native fish is also to blame, he said.

Fish “live in a freshwater habitat that’s pretty much under assault by people,” said Duke University marine biologist Larry Crowder, who wasn’t part of the study. “Things are tanking all around us. When does it have to be bad enough to get people’s attention?”

Many of the species in trouble or already extinct are small minnows and darters whose absence is little noticed, but they play a vital role in the food chain.

Hardest hit is Mexico where nearly half the fish species are in trouble. One in three species in the United States are in peril — up from about one in five in 1989. About 10 percent of Canadian species dwindled. In the United States, the most vulnerable populations are in the Southeast, not counting Florida.

In the U.S., 263 fish species are in trouble or are already extinct, and nearly 500 have no problems.

The number of fish species and subspecies in North America that went extinct rose from 40 to 61 since 1989.

Anthony Ricciardi, a McGill University biologist who was not part of the research, found that about 10 years ago freshwater extinctions were happening at a faster pace than on land or in the sea. And yet few people notice, he said.

“A lot of silent extinctions are happening,” Ricciardi said. “What we’re doing is widespread, it’s pervasive and it’s rapid.”

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