Monthly Archives: September 2008

Endangered species may not survive low flows


Two rare native fish facing extinction may not survive in the lower Waitaki and Hakataramea catchments with low river flows, the Department of Conservation warned yesterday.

The lowland longjaw galaxias is New Zealand’s most threatened fish, ranked as “nationally critical”.

It and the “nationally endangered” Canterbury mudfish have populations in both catchments.

But the department is worried by applicants wanting to take water within the two catchments and have a minimum flow of 100 cumecs in the lower Waitaki River, instead of the 150 cumecs environmental minimum low set in the Waitaki catchment water allocation regional plan.

It is also concerned about minimum flows suggested for the Hakataramea catchment and tributaries of the lower Waitaki River.

Yesterday, it made those concerns known, not just for fish but also for birds, to an Environment Canterbury hearings panel.

Freshwater ranger Peter Ravenscroft said dropping the minimum flow would affect shallow areas, groundwater and wetlands, upon which the lowland longjaw and mudfish depended for survival.

“Given their high risk of extinction, any loss in their respective habitats will be significant and pose a serious risk to the ongoing survival of these species,” he said.

The mudfish were on the south bank of the Waitaki River at four distinct locations, occupying wetlands and springs linked to the Waitaki River.

Reducing the river’s minimum flow would shrink or remove wetlands, threatening their long-term survival.

Other indigenous fish, including longfin eel, lamprey and torrentfish, were migratory and were at risk from reduced flows in the lower Waitaki, Hakataramea and Maerewhenua Rivers.

There were seven known populations of the lowland longjaw in the Waitaki catchment and two in the Hakataramea catchment.

The Hakataramea population made up half of the known numbers.

Water takes in the Hakataramea had the potential to have an adverse effect on their survival, he said.

Legal counsel Philippa Rutledge said the department wanted to ensure Waitaki and Hakataramea catchment flows and levels continued to support the habitats of braided river birds and indigenous fish, particularly threatened species.

It was also concerned about the implications for the integrity of the water allocation regional plan and its environmental minimum flow of 150 cumecs, which the department supported.

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Another creature edging towards extinction!


OUT OF the nine species of storks found throughout North-east Asia, the adjutant stork is the largest. The population of this species is dwindling fast. At the beginning of the 19th century, Assam was the habitat for lakhs of greater adjutant storks. After India’s Uttaranchal, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, the Brahmaputra valley has been the main habitat for this fast-dwindling species of stork. But now, ironically, they can be easily counted in this once highly-populated habitat.

Deepor Beel and Silsaku Beel were some of the famous wetlands of Guwahati known as the resting grounds of these species of storks.

Apart from these, a flock of greater adjutant storks was also sighted near Guwahati Commerce College, Hajimusaphirkhana and Maligaon’s Aruna Cinema Hall. But now only a few of them can be seen in parts of Deepor Beel, Charusala Beel and Hajimusaphirkhana. But quite noticeably, a few years back, a number of birds belonging to this species died because of some unknown reason in Deepor Beel.

It is to be noted here that this particular species of stork plays an important role in maintaining the ecological balance. Lack of proper habitat and food are the major causes behind the declining number of this species. And since food is a major requirement for reproduction, a planned conservation measure is the only means to ensure their continuation.

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Development threatening endangered cockatoo


The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says better town planning is needed to maintain the habitat of the carnaby’s black cockatoo so that it does not become extinct.

The birds are found in the south-west of Western Australia, and the fund says numbers have fallen by more than 50 per cent in the past 45 years.

It blames the rising development in the area which is destroying the birds’ habitat.

The carnaby’s black cockatoo is listed as endangered by the Federal Government

Michael Roache from WWF says plants in the birds’ habitat need to be replanted.

“We don’t necessarily place the true value on environmental services or indeed habitat for biodiversity. In south-west WA we have so many threatened species because of those threats of development,” he said.

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Endangered vulture closer to extinction


ANN ARBOR, Mich., Sept. 9 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say captive breeding colonies of a critically endangered vulture are too small to protect the bird species from extinction.With a seven-foot wingspan, the oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) was an awesome presence in south Asia until the mid-1990s, when populations in the tens of millions began to collapse. A University of Michigan study led by Jeff Johnson determined the decline was caused by an anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac, used to alleviate arthritis-like symptoms in livestock. The drug is fatally toxic to vultures.

Although India, Nepal and Pakistan outlawed its manufacture in 2006, diclofenac is still available and birds are still dying.

The scientists said the absence of vultures poses a threat to public health, since uneaten livestock carcasses provide breeding grounds for bacteria.

“We know the problem, and we know the solution,” said Johnson, now an assistant professor at the University of North Texas-Denton. “We just need to get diclofenac out of the environment and more birds into protection before it is too late.”

The research that included Martin Gilbert, Munir Virani, Muhammad Asim and former University of Michigan professor David Mindell appeared in the Aug. 15 online edition of the journal Biological Conservation.

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Cameroon: Mangrove under extinction threat


Local authorities in Cameroon’s Littoral Province are calling the population to stop cutting the mangrove tree as it lays a crucial role in the conservation of the marine biodiversity and the maintenance of coastal ecological balances.

The officer in charge of environment Hermine Tchouamou says that the tree is disappearing despite the special protection it enjoys since 1996. The extinction is largely blamed on illegal lumbering that in which some traders engage in.

In the Wouri River mouth zone, especially on the Cape Cameroun and Na-Massadi islands, two areas exposed to regular floods, people are completely cutting down the remaining trees to settle and engage in the fishing trade. The Cape Cameroon harbours a population of 3,000 people, including only 300 Cameroonians, 50 Ghanaians, the rest being Nigerians.

Environmental activist Prince Nasser Kemajou says that this situation is very alarming when, especially because the destruction is done with the blessing of the agents of National Forestry Commission and even those in the forestry ministry. The most immediate consequence of the mangrove distinction is the progressive retreat of the banks

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Last-minute drug ban could save India’s almost-extinct vultures


99.9% of India’s vultures have died out over the last 20 years, the victims of unintentional poisoning.

It took years to find out why India’s three vulture species — the long-billed, slender-billed and oriental white-backed vulture — were dying off. It turned out were feeding on dead cattle and other livestock that had been treated with an anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac. It was discovered in 2004 that diclofenac sends vultures into renal failure.

India banned the veterinary form of diclofenac in 2006, but vets and farmers just switched to using the version of the drug intended for humans. Now, India has warned 70 pharmaceutical companies to clearly mark diclofenac as “not for veterinary use” in a last-ditch effort to save the three vulture species from extinction.

The mass vulture die-offs have had terrible consequences throughout India. With no vultures to eat cattle carcasses (which are just dumped when the cows die), other predators have filled the gap. Populations of feral dogs have exploded in recent years, adding 5.5 million more canines to the streets. A report published last month in the journal Ecological Economics suggests this massive increase in feral dogs has led to tens of millions of attacks on humans and as many as 47,300 human deaths from rabies.

Rat populations have also increased, and that’s always a harbinger of diseases to come.

Meanwhile, the Parsis sect has lost the vultures which once transformed their dead back into nature. The Parsees believe that the human body is sacred, and laid out their corpses for vultures to eat rather than burn or bury them. With no vultures, the Parsees have resorted to using solar reflectors to mummify their dead rather than let them rot in the hot Indian sun.

Will the diclofenac ban be enough to save these vultures from extinction? It will take years — maybe decades — for populations to recover, if that’s even possible. Some conservation programs are doing well, but others aren’t: one small population of white-backed vultures recently disappeared. Chances are, it won’t be the last.

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Kangaroo species face extinction

Daryl Passmore

August 31, 2008 12:00am

THEY are among Australia’s most distinctive animals, but wildlife experts warn that many of the smaller members of the kangaroo and wallaby family are in danger of extinction.

Six of the macropod species that existed before human settlement are already extinct and another 23 – nearly one-third of the total – are at risk, according to research conducted for World Wildlife Fund Australia to mark National Threatened Species Day next Sunday.

“Australia has the worst record of mammal extinction in the world,” said Kat Miller, WWF’s threatened species national manager.

“Incredibly, half the mammals that have become extinct globally in the last 200 years have been Australian species.

“We cannot afford to let more of our unique Australian animals disappear forever.”

Two of the top five most-threatened macropods are in Queensland.

Leading the list is the bridled nail-tailed wallaby. Believed extinct until they were rediscovered near Dingo, 160km west of Rockhampton, the only known population is in the Taunton National Park. And at No.3 is the northern bettong. Once spread from Rockhampton to Cairns, it is now only known to be in three isolated locations: the Lamb Range in the Atherton Tableland, Paluma near Townsville and Mt Zero, northwest of Townsville.

“These beautiful creatures are now threatened with extinction, facing dangers such as habitat loss, introduced cat and fox predators, altered fire regimes and now climate change,” Ms Miller said.

Overall, 20 per cent of Australia’s animal and plant species are threatened.

“Without urgent action, we risk losing more of the 346 animal and 1249 plant species that are listed as threatened under federal legislation,” Ms Miller said.

WWF is urging people to get involved in nature conservation efforts by joining groups or assisting with activities such as tree-planting and revegetation schemes – as well as ensuring domestic animals do not escape and become feral.

Threatened Species Day is held on September 7 each year to mark the day in 1936 when the last Tasmanian tiger died in Hobart Zoo.


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World’s oldest species resurfaces in Scotland


August 2008. Not everyone is unhappy about the dire August weather in the UK; it seems the recent downpours have provided ideal conditions for the re-emergence of near-extinct Tadpole Shrimps on the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s Caerlaverock reserve in Scotland.

The Tadpole Shrimp (Triops cancriformis) is a living fossil, thought to be the oldest living creature on the planet. Resembling a small Horsehoe Crab, it has been recorded from at least 220 million years ago in the Triassic period, even before dinosaurs roamed the earth, and may be as much as 300 million years old. The species was first discovered in Britain in the south west Scotland in 1907 just west of Caerlaverock on Preston Merse in Kirkcudbrightshire. However, it was thought to have become extinct in Scotland when the ponds were lost to the sea in 1948.

In Britain, it is currently only known in a single pool in the New Forest. However Tadpole Shrimps were first discovered at WWT Caerlaverock four years ago, again, after a particularly wet August. Back then, in late summer 2004, WWT researcher Dr Larry Griffin found a colony in a small pool on the saltmarsh of the reserve while carrying out a late survey for Natterjack Toads.

Similar weather patterns
So after enduring the relentless downpours of the past few weeks, Dr Griffin set out on a hunch that, with 2008′s late summer weather mirroring that of 2004, he might have another exciting find. Dr Griffin said: “We have had up to three times the average rainfall this month, so the ponds that dried out in early summer killing the fish and other invertebrates will have been drenched in August, flushing away the salt water to make the ponds much fresher.”

“This will have created ideal conditions for the re-emergence of species such as the Tadpole Shrimp, like it did in 2004, so when I went down to the same pool here at Caerlaverock as I found them four years ago, I was very excited to see them there again.

Dr Griffin continued: “This latest find shows that there’s one good thing to come out of a dire August. Just as the Swallow heralds the start of spring, this creature from the past shows us we’ve come to the end of a wet and miserable summer!”

More about the WWT

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Canadian researchers get rare pink dolphins added to endangered list


Canadian DNA researchers have convinced the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to declare Taiwan’s pink dolphins a critically endangered population and add it to the 2008 Red List.

Using samples from dead animals, the DNA profiling and forensic centre at Ontario’s Trent University was able to prove that the tiny population of distinctly coloured Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins that live on the west coast of Taiwan are genetically unique.

The Red List designation will force Taiwan to consider the impacts of industrial expansion on the dolphins, also known as Matsu’s Fish or Chinese white dolphins.

IUCN, the world’s largest environmental network with more than 1,000 government and member organizations, in August petitioned Taiwan’s council of agriculture to take action to prevent the extinction of the local population.

Biologist Bradley White hopes the move will vault the pink dolphin into the international theatre of opinion as a symbol for Taiwan’s fledgling environmental movement, as China’s panda has been for the World Wildlife Fund.

“Because they are a charismatic animal and very cute, they are becoming the focus of an environmental movement,” White said.

The message the dolphins deliver is clear.

“If this animal is dying out on the coast, it indicates a low-quality environment with pollution,” he said. “They are the canary in the coal mine of Taiwan.”

Fewer than 100 of the animals are still alive off the heavily industrialized west coast of Taiwan, where shoreline land reclamation for petrochemical and manufacturing expansion has badly damaged the estuarine habitat of the dolphins, White said.

Only quick action will prevent these dolphins from going the way of the Yangtze River dolphin, which was declared effectively extinct after a six-week search late in 2006 failed to turn up a single specimen, he said.

Taiwan’s pink dolphins are related to about 1,000 Pearl River dolphins that inhabit Hong Kong harbour, but they have not interbred for hundreds of years.

“This isolated group of 60 to 100 animals are living in an area of heavy industrial growth,” White said. “But now the Taiwanese government has to take the dolphins into account in the approval of new industrial developments.”

Taiwan’s tenuous nationhood and dependence on international trade makes the government sensitive to international opinion and White hopes the IUCN designation will improve the pink dolphins’ prospects for survival.

Expanding commercial aquaculture in Taiwan has already diverted water from the estuaries where the dolphins live and the small fish that support the dolphins are being heavily fished to manufacture feed pellets for farmed fish, White explained.

With files from Reuters

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