Monthly Archives: November 2008

Endangered species at greater risk


ACCORDING to a recent study as reported by AFP, some endangered species may face extinction risk that is upto a hundred times greater than previously thought. By overlooking random differences between individuals in a given population, researchers may have badly underestimated the perils confronting threatened wildlife, the study says. Many larger populations previously considered relatively safe would actually be at risk, says the lead author of the study, Brett Melbourne, a professor at the University of Colorado. There are more than 16,000 species worldwide threatened with extinction, according to the International Conservation Union (IUCN). One in four mammals, one in eight birds and one in three amphibians are on the IUCN’s endangered species ‘Red List’.

The models used draw up such lists typically look only at two risk factors. First, individual death within a small population, such as Indian tigers or rare whales. When a species dwindles beyond a certain point, even the loss of a handful of individuals can have devastating long-term consequences. There are less than 400 specimens of several species of whale, for example, and probably no more than 4,000 tigers roaming in the wild. The second factor is environmental conditions that can influence birth and death rates, such as habitat destruction, or fluctuations in temperature or rainfall, both of which can be linked to climate change. Two other determinants, according to the study, must be taken into account – male-to-female ratios in a species, and a wider definition of randomness in individual births and deaths. These complex variables can determine whether a fragile population can overcome a sudden decline in numbers for habitat loss, or will be wiped out. The new mathematical tool will be most useful to assess the survival prospects of species whose numbers can suddenly fluctuate and for which data is limited.

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Ulaanbaatar, /MONTSAME/

In a fight to save endangered species, a Canadian woman travelled half way around the world and hopes that her experience will help other animals on the verge of extinct.
This past summer, Brandi Petrukovich, an animal sciences student at the University of Saskatchewan, travelled to Mongolia to begin work on her thesis with the focus on sustainable grazing and nutrition of the Przewalski horses. Petrukovich hopes her research will help identify any nutritional deficiencies of the horses and help other animals.
“Out in the national park at Hustai�my research was taken from a few of the home ranges collecting vegetation in representative samples from the entire area,” said Petrukovich. “We also did feces collection and our analysis in the lab and are looking at digestibility.”

According to the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse, the Przewalski horse is the sole surviving genuine wild horse in the world, with the entire world population of 1,435 animals.

Thirty years ago, the species was almost extinct and in captive existence. Since that time, a breeding program was started to help build a new population, and two generations were placed in a semi-reserve in The Netherlands to relearn their social behaviours. In 1992, the groups of horses were taken from the semi-reserves and placed in adaptation enclosures in Mongolia and finally released into the Hustai National Park in 1992.
But Petrukovich says that much of the land in Mongolia is highly overgrazed, very much degraded and has a number of invasive plant species from years of overgrazing. The country receives little precipitation with a few centimetres of snow each year and most of the rain in July and August.
“That is all they have to eat out there,” she said. “They are not supplemented. Are they meeting the nutrient requirements with the horses? Nutrient deficiencies can lead to any number of problems.”
Back in Canada, Petrukovich is compiling her data but has not made any conclusions. “We did 12 different analysis, plus 25 different mineral analysis and then we look at digestibility and energy,” she said. “It should give us a very broad idea of what is going on there.”
The population of the Przewalkski horse has been slowly increasing over the last few years, but Petrukovich says the reintroduction of a large herbivores species is a difficult task.
“Pretty much the whole world is watching to see success or failure and are going to use this as a model for reintroducing other species that have gone extinct in the wild that are kept in zoos or semi reserves,” she said. “I hope this research is really going to help them over there.”

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Poachers Decimate Endangered Bat Population


Poaching this year has decimated the endangered fruit bat population on Rota Island, the Saipan Tribune reports.

It has been illegal to hunt the endangered Mariana fruit bat since the 1990s. But commonwealth Division of Fish and Wildlife agents believe poachers, in three hunting incidents over the past six months, have killed between 10 to 14 percent of Rota’s fruit bat population.

The division estimates that there are about 1,000 remaining fruit bats on Rota. That compares with the estimated 2,500 that were alive in 2000.

Based on evidence found near one former bat colony, it is believed the poachers use shotguns to kill the fruit bats. Fish and Wildlife agents found shell cases, garbage and the remains of dead bats at one site, including a baby bat still clinging to the body of its dead mother.

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Sharks and rays threatened with extinction


Over a quarter of sharks and rays located in the north-east Atlantic are threatened with extinction, according to a new report.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Spark Specialist Group (SSG) conducted the report and revealed that sharks, rays and chimaera species are more threatened in this area then they are globally.

Specifically, the study disclosed that seven per cent of species in the north-east Atlantic are classified as critically endangered; seven per cent as endangered; and 12 per cent as vulnerable.

Claudine Gibson, author of the report, explained that this is mostly as a result of overfishing.

She said: “From angel sharks to devil rays, north-east Atlantic populations of these vulnerable species are in serious trouble, more so than in many other parts of the world.”

Ms Gibson highlighted heavily fished, large sharks and rays, like “porbeagle and common skate” as at the greatest risk of extinction.

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Atlantic sharks facing extinction


SOME of the region’s most well-known visitors are facing extinction because of the effects of over-fishing, conservationists have warned.

Porbeagle sharks, angel sharks and basking sharks are regular visitors to Westcountry waters, but research carried out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reveals they are at serious risk.

An assessment of sharks, rays and chimaeras in the north east Atlantic found 7 per cent of species were critically endangered, while another 7 per cent were endangered.

Most at risk include the porbeagle shark, the common skate, deepwater sharks and spiny dogfish. The IUCN research also found that species are far more at risk in Atlantic’s European waters than they are globally, with 26 per cent at risk of extinction, compared with 18 per cent world-wide.

And the figure could be even higher, as there was insufficient data to assess more than a quarter of the species.

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The IUCN, along with wildlife organisation Shark Alliance, yesterday welcomed proposals by the European Commission to stop fishing for six threatened shark and ray species in 2009.

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Alabama sturgeon on the brink of extinction


TUSCALOOSA | More than 675 fish species are found in the Southeastern U.S., but a quarter of the area’s species are considered imperiled.

To try to prevent some fish from becoming extinct, scientists from the Southeastern Fishes Council have identified twelve fish in the region that are most at risk for extinction.

One of them, the Alabama sturgeon, used to swim freely along the southern parts of the Black Warrior River and the Tombigbee. The fish once swam more than 1,000 river miles of the Mobile Basin in Alabama and Mississippi. In 1898 records estimated that 19,000 Alabama sturgeon were commercially harvested.

But now it could disappear completely within a few years.

The last Alabama sturgeon was found in the wild in April 2007. It was one of only two specimens of the species found in the last nine years, both in the Alabama River.

The one found last year was tagged with a sonic tracker.

“Alabama Conservation Resources is still following it around, so we know it’s still alive,” said Bernie Kuhajda, a fish biologist with the University of Alabama’s Biological Sciences Division who has been studying the Alabama sturgeon for the last 15 years.

The Alabama sturgeon is one of the rarest invertebrates in North America, Kuhajda added. The fish has existed for around 75 million years.

But the species was hurt by construction of dams on Alabama Rivers.

“It’s so rare because of the dams,” Kuhajda said. “They stopped the migration of the sturgeon upstream and impaired the development of the larval sturgeons.”

Kuhajda hopes that by being listed as one of the “desperate dozen,” it might spur efforts to save the fish.

For the full story, read Thursday’s Tuscaloosa News.

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Greenpeace showcases the solution to Indonesia´s rapid forest destruction and rising carbon emission


Jakarta, Indonesia – Greenpeace this morning launched its Forests for Climate initiative, the pioneering solution to reduce deforestation, tackle climate change, preserve global biodiversity and protect the livelihoods of millions of forest people. Forests for Climate (FFC) is Greenpeace´s landmark proposal for an international mechanism to fund sustainable and lasting reductions of emissions from tropical deforestation in participating countries in order to meet commitments for the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol (post 2012).

Taking the first step to match donor countries to real projects in developing forested countries, Greenpeace invited embassies of key donor countries, donor agencies, government officials and governors of several Indonesian provinces, to talk about the FFC initiative and to support a moratorium on any new forest conversion in Indonesia prior to any carbon money flowing. The well-attended launch took place at Tanjung Priok, Jakarta´s port area, at an event jointly hosted by Rachmat Witoelar, State Minister of Environment of the Republic of Indonesia.

“Indonesia´s rampant deforestation and fast rising greenhouse gas emissions have been driven by the lure of short term profit. Greenpeace´s Forests for Climate mechanism is the solution as it places a value on keeping the forests alive”, said Arief Wicaksono, Political Advisor, Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

“Indonesia´s Government and society have a responsibility to protect its tropical forests, for the sake of the environment, the country´s development and to prevent the worsening impacts of climate change. It is time for Indonesia to gain the right to funding from industrialised countries to protect one of the world´s lungs,” said Rachmat Witoelar.

Under the FFC mechanism, industrialised countries that committed to reduce their emissions would fund protection of the world´s last remaining tropical forests. Developing countries with tropical forests, like Indonesia, which chose to participate and who committed to protect their forests, would have the opportunity to receive funding for capacity-building efforts and for national level reductions in deforestation emissions. FFC prevents deforestation from shifting from one country to the next and is the only mechanism that involves local and indigenous forest peoples´ representatives to ensure their rights and livelihoods are respected.

Greenpeace is pushing for the FFC mechanism to become part of the second phase of the Kyoto (post-2012) agreement on climate change. If countries commit to FFC, funding from industrialised countries for the protection of tropical forests could become available as soon as 2009.

“Indonesia´s remaining forests must be protected to combat climate change, stop biodiversity loss and protect the livelihoods of forest-dependent peoples. First, we need an immediate moratorium on deforestation, followed by international funding through the United Nations to protect forests for their carbon value”, concluded Wicaksono.

Greenpeace embarked on the Indonesian leg of its “Forests for Climate” ship tour in Jayapura on 6 October, to shine the spotlight on the rampant destruction of the Paradise Forests – the last remaining ancient forests of Southeast Asia. The Esperanza will leave Jakarta on Saturday, 1 November, en-route to Riau.

Greenpeace is calling on the Indonesian government to implement an immediate moratorium on all forest conversion, including expansion of oil palm plantations, industrial logging, and other drivers of deforestation

Greenpeace is an independent, global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.

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Ban shark fishing to save species: WWF


Conservation group WWF says the Queensland Government must phase out targeted shark fishing on the Great Barrier Reef in a bid to preserve the species.

A report by the Environment Department has raised concerns over the practice in Australia’s northern waters.

WWF spokeswoman Gilly Llewellyn says species like the hammerhead thresher sharks and bull sharks are at risk of becoming extinct within 30 years.

“Our message is how vulnerable shark species are and how little effective management there is out there and whether it’s controlling the illegal fishing or even managing existing shark fisheries in a way that will ensure a future for sharks,” he said.

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Mexico City’s ‘water monster’ nears extinction


MEXICO CITY: Beneath the tourist gondolas in the remains of a great Aztec lake lives a creature that resembles a monster — and a Muppet — with its slimy tail, plumage-like gills and mouth that curls into an odd smile.

The axolotl, also known as the “water monster” and the “Mexican walking fish,” was a key part of Aztec legend and diet. Against all odds, it survived until now amid Mexico City’s urban sprawl in the polluted canals of Lake Xochimilco, now a Venice-style destination for revelers poled along by Mexican gondoliers, or trajineros, in brightly painted party boats.

But scientists are racing to save the foot-long (30-centimeter-long) salamander from extinction, a victim of the draining of its lake habitat and deteriorating water quality. In what may be the final blow, nonnative fish introduced into the canals are eating its lunch — and its babies.

The long-standing International Union for Conservation of Nature includes the axolotl on its annual Red List of threatened species, while researchers say it could disappear in just five years. Some are pushing for a series of axolotl sanctuaries in canals cleared of invasive species, while others are considering repopulating Xochimilco with axolotls bred in captivity.

“If the axolotl disappears, it would not only be a great loss to biodiversity but to Mexican culture, and would reflect the degeneration of a once-great lake system,” says Luis Zambrano, a biologist at the Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM.

The number of axolotls (pronounced ACK-suh-LAH-tuhl) in the wild is not known. But the population has dropped from roughly 1,500 per square mile (2.6 square kilometer) in 1998 to a mere 25 per square mile (2.6 square kilometer) this year, according to a survey by Zambrano’s scientists using casting nets.

It has been a steep fall from grace for the salamander with a feathery mane of gills and a visage reminiscent of a 1970s Smiley Face that inspired American poet Ogden Nash to pen the witticism: “I’ve never met an axolotl, But Harvard has one in a bottle.”

Millions once lived in the giant lakes of Xochimilco and Chalco on which Mexico City was built. Using four stubby legs to drag themselves along lake bottoms or their thick tails to swim like mini-alligators, they hunted plentiful aquatic insects, small fish and crustaceans.

Legend has it that Xolotl — the dog-headed Aztec god of death, lightning and monstrosities — feared he was about to be banished or killed by other gods and changed into an axolotl to flee into Lake Xochimilco.

The axolotl’s decline began when Spanish conquerors started draining the lakes, which were further emptied over time to slake the thirst of one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing cities. In the 1970s, Lake Chalco was completely drained to prevent flooding. In the 1980s, Mexico City began pumping its wastewater into the few canals and lagoons that remained of Xochimilco.

About 20 years ago, African tilapia were introduced into Xochimilco in a misguided effort to create fisheries. They joined with Asian carp to dominate the ecosystem and eat the axolotl’s eggs and compete with it for food. The axolotl is also threatened by agrochemical runoff from nearby farms and treated wastewater from a Mexico City sewage plant, researchers say.

Local fisherman Roberto Altamira, 32, recalls when he was a boy, and the axolotl was still part of the local diet.

“I used to love axolotl tamales,” he says, rubbing his stomach and laughing.

But he says people no longer eat axolotls, mainly because fishermen almost never find them.

“The last one I caught was about six months ago,” says Altamira, a wiry gondolier with rope-like muscles from years of poling through Xochimilco’s narrow waterways.

Meanwhile, the axolotl population is burgeoning in laboratories, where scientists study its amazing traits, including the ability to completely re-grow lost limbs. Axolotls have played key roles in research on regeneration, embryology, fertilization and evolution.

The salamander has the rare trait of retaining its larval features throughout its adult life, a phenomenon called neoteny. It lives all its life in the water but can breathe both under water with gills or by taking gulps of air from the surface.

On a 9-foot-wide (2.7-meter-wide) canal covered by a green carpet of “lentejilla” — an aquatic plant that resembles green lentils — Zambrano’s researchers test water quality and search for axolotls. The air smells of sulfur and sewage.

A team member suddenly points to the trademark water ripple of an axolotl, and the crew hurls its net. But they only come up with two tilapia in a sopping-wet mass of lentejilla.

So far, scientists disagree on how to save the creature. But a pilot sanctuary is expected to open in the next three to six months in the waters around Island of the Dolls, so-called because the owner hangs dolls he finds in the canals to ward off evil spirits.

Zambrano proposes up to 15 axolotl sanctuaries in Xochimilco’s canals, where scientists would insert some kind of barrier and clear the area of nonnative species.

Without carp, the water would clear, and plants the axolotl needs to breed could flourish again, said Bob Johnson, the curator of amphibians and reptiles at the Toronto Zoo.

“If you take the insults away, the lake has an amazing latent potential to heal itself,” he said.

Veterinarian Erika Servin, who runs the Mexico City government’s axolotl program at Chapultepec Zoo, is studying the possibility of introducing axolotls from the lab into the canals. But more study is needed to make sure the process doesn’t lead to diseases and genetic problems from inbreeding.

Xochimilco residents could be another source of resistance.

Hundreds of people make a living pulling tilapia from canals or growing flowers, lettuce and vegetables on nearby land. Efforts to remove the fish or shut down polluting farms could face stiff opposition.

But while the debate goes on, time is running out.

Given its role in research alone, Johnson says, “We owe it to the axolotl to help it survive.”

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Brazil charges 81 with illegal Amazon deforestation


Brazil will file charges against 81 people accused of being the biggest destroyers of the Amazon rainforest, reports the Associated Press.

Environment Minister Carlos Minc said those convicted of crimes — including land-clearing inside reserves and other protected areas — will be fined and required to replant deforested areas. Overall the accused face $99 million in fines.

Minc said the majority of those charged are large-scale soy farmers and cattle ranchers. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is increasingly driven by corporate interests and large landowners, rather than poor subsistence farmers.

Deforestation for the 2007-2008 year increased for the first time since 2004. Analysts have blamed record high commodity prices for the increase.

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