Daily Archives: December 21, 2008

Otter may gain protection


Wed 17 December 2008 15:20 UK — North America,Marine Wildlife

Picture for article A US federal body has proposed to protect 6,000 miles of habitat belonging to an endangered population of northern sea otters.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has suggested that the area located around Alaska’s south-west coast, which is currently home to around 90 per cent of the state’s otters, should be regarded as a “critical habitat”.

By designating this area as “critical” for the development of an endangered species, federal agencies will be required to ensure that any activities in the area do not harm the sea otters.

Brendan Cummings, oceans programme director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “While today’s proposal is an important step in preventing the extinction of sea otters in southwest Alaska, it does not go far enough to ensure their eventual recovery.”

Northern sea otter populations are less than half 1970 estimates, with around 40,000 surviving in the wild today.

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Push to declare koalas endangered


Conservationists will pressure the federal environment minister to urgently declare south-east Queensland’s koala population critically endangered.

Australia’s top koala experts will meet representatives from Mr Garrett’s department in Canberra on Friday, to discuss a new national koala conservation strategy.

The Australian Koala Foundation’s Deborah Tabart said the scientists would appeal for Mr Garrett to act quickly, as the population was in rapid decline due to habitat loss.

“The science shows that in the last decade, over 25,000 koalas have died in south-east Queensland alone,” Ms Tabart said.

“There are less than 4,000 left, so these declines just cannot continue if we still want to see our beautiful icon here.”

Mr Garrett says assessing the koala’s status is a high priority, but a rigorous process must be done to ensure the decision is “scientifically robust and legally defensible”.

Ms Tabart said the meeting would reveal whether the federal government was sincere about wanting to protect the koala.

“This will show their true intentions – the science is indisputable, half the people who wrote it will be in the room and the minister has the power to act,” she told AAP.

“No developer could dispute this science … but I’m embarrassed to say that I think Mr Garrett is under too much pressure from developers and, even more so, the premier of Queensland.”

Post-mortem examinations of around 700 koalas in the region found most were “wasted” – or starving – when they died, proving habitat loss, not disease or dog attack, was the cause of their decline, Ms Tabart says.

Koalas also suffer from the reduced nutritional value of eucalyptus leaves attributed to climate change.

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Killer Mice on UK Island Eating Birds to Extinction


CAMBRIDGE, UK, December 12, 2008 (ENS) – The Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross has suffered its worst breeding season ever, according to research by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The number of fledgling chicks has decreased rapidly and it is now five times lower than it should be because introduced predatory mice are eating the chicks alive on Gough Island. The South Atlantic territory of the United Kingdom is the species’ only habitat.

A complete survey of the Tristan Albatross on Gough Island in January showed there were 1,764 adult albatrosses incubating eggs. A later survey revealed that only 246 chicks had survived to fledging.

“Tristan Albatross is being hit by a double whammy. The chicks are predated by mice and the adults and juveniles are being killed by longline fishing vessels,” said John Croxall, chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme. “Unsustainable numbers are being killed on land and at sea. Without major conservation efforts, the Tristan Albatross will become extinct.”

“We’ve known for a long time that the mice were killing albatross chicks in huge numbers. However, we now know that the albatrosses have suffered their worst year on record,” said Richard Cuthbert, an RSPB scientist who has been researching the mice problem on Gough Island since 2000.

The mice are also wiping out another Gough Island bird species, says Cuthbert. “We also know that the mice are predators on the eggs and chicks of the Gough bunting and mice predation is the main factor behind their recent decline.”

Eradicating mice is the single action that would solve the primary conservation threat facing both species, say the bird experts.

Still, UK government funding to eradicate the mice is lacking. This is despite recognition from two prominent UK House of Common’s Committees that the “biodiversity found in the UK Overseas Territories is equally valuable and at a greater risk of loss” than that in the UK and that “current levels of funding are “grossly inadequate.”

The RSPB has been involved in a feasibility study to test whether it is possible to remove the mice. So far, the trials look promising, giving both species a more optimistic future. Funding of this year’s work on Gough has come from the Overseas Territory Environment Programme.

“Tackling alien invasives species in UK Overseas Territories is one of 10 Key Actions to prevent extinctions that BirdLife has highlighted in a new publication, “Critically Endangered Birds: a global audit,” said Richard Grimmett, BirdLife’s head of conservation.

“It is also attainable, the removal of rats from seabird islands has been conducted at many other sites across the world with great success,” he said.

Alistair Gammell, the RSPB’s International Director said, “It is essential that the UK Government commits adequate funding for the protection of the many threatened species found on the UK’s Overseas Territories. We are challenging the Government to prove its commitment to conservation by properly funding conservation initiatives in these territories, and most urgently to commit to funding the removal of mice from Gough.”

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Imported Beetle Threatens Endangered Songbird’s Survival


FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, released an imported beetle from the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan to help control invasive streamside tamarisk trees in the western United States. The tamarisk-defoliating leaf beetle has now unexpectedly invaded nesting areas of the southwestern willow flycatcher in southern Utah and in northwestern Arizona. If the beetle spreads further, it could seriously threaten the endangered songbird’s survival.

The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a notice of intent to sue the US Department of Agriculture and APHIS for failing to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as required by the Endangered Species Act, to produce a plan to safeguard the flycatcher. Filing of today’s notice clears the way for litigation against Agriculture Department and APHIS if both agencies fail to consult within 60 days.

The flycatcher frequently nests where tamarisk has displaced native cottonwood and willow trees. A quarter of the flycatcher’s territories are found in areas dominated by tamarisk, and about half are found in areas of mixed tamarisk and native trees.

“We strongly support tamarisk eradication, but in this case safeguards designed to protect the flycatcher have failed,” said Dr. Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity. “APHIS needs to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a plan to ensure that native species provide alternative habitat for the highly endangered flycatcher.”

APHIS released the tamarisk-defoliating leaf beetle with promises that no beetles would be released within 200 miles of flycatcher habitat or within 300 miles of documented flycatcher breeding areas, and that the beetles could not become established within the range of the flycatcher. Both of these promises have proven false.

In July 2006, the beetles were introduced into flycatcher-nesting areas along the Virgin River in southern Utah. By July 2008, they had spread into nesting areas in northwestern Arizona. No organized monitoring program exists to track the beetles, and no mitigation has been provided by APHIS to ensure that native cottonwood and willow trees replace defoliated tamarisk trees in flycatcher habitat.

Attorney Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center represents the Center in this matter.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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Saga of fake tiger photos rears head again in China


BEIJING, Dec 21 (Reuters) – A saga in China about a farmer nearly jailed over photos he took of a critically endangered tiger that were later judged to be fake has taken a new twist — the photographer now claims the pictures were real.

Zhou Zhenglong, a 54-year-old farmer from a mountainous county in northern Shaanxi province, was awarded a 20,000 yuan ($2,922) bonus last year, after he produced pictures which authorities said were evidence of a South China tiger.

The pictures, which showed a tiger crouching in a forest setting, sparked an Internet furore led by experts who identified the photos as faked. Local media accused officials of endorsing them as a means of promoting tourism in a poor region.

But Zhou, who was given a suspended jail sentence this year for the fraud, has returned to his original claim that he really did photograph a tiger, the official Xinhua news agency said in a report on its website (www.xinhuanet.com).

It published a brief handwritten letter by Zhou describing his first encounter with a tiger in the summer of 2007, which he said he was unable to photograph due to a problem with his camera. He said was only able to take pictures in October of that year.

“I solemnly declare that the tiger picture was real, and was not faked,” Zhou wrote.

Zhou had admitted his guilt during the fraud hearing, state media had previously said.

China has been rocked by a number of scandals involving official endorsement of faked photos.

In February, the chief editor of a Chinese newspaper quit after one of its photographers faked a prize-winning photo of endangered Tibetan antelopes appearing unfazed by a passing train on the Qinghai-Tibet railway. ($1=6.844 Yuan) (Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Editing by Dean Yates)

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