Monthly Archives: January 2011

King cobra under pressure from habitat loss in Kerala


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Large-scale deforestation and the disturbances caused by poachers and illicit liquor-brewers could be forcing king cobras to migrate from their natural habitat in bamboo-rich dense evergreen forests to villages nearby.

A study conducted by the researchers of the Department of Zoology, University of Kerala, and the Reptile Study Group, Thiruvananthapuram, has revealed that the king cobra, the world’s longest venomous snake, is under increasing pressure from habitat loss.

The study, presented at the first Indian biodiversity congress held here last month, was aimed at documenting the migration pattern of the dreaded snake in human habitats, recording the seasonal day-night data and establishing a baseline dataset for future comparison. It was based on a preliminary survey of the sightings of king cobras in human habitats during the period October 2008 to November 2010. Almost all the snakes were caught by local snake-catchers from bathrooms and courtyards of houses and public roads.

A total of 26 sightings were recorded across Kerala, most of which during the rainy season.

According to the paper, the occurrences were strange as king cobras were never known to trespass into human territory.

They also highlighted the danger to humans from the snake that was known to be fierce, agile and capable of delivering up to 600 mg of highly potent neurotoxic venom in a single bite.

The report, prepared by R. Dileep Kumar, S. Baiju, K. Anaswara, L. Divya and O.V. Oommen from the Department of Zoology, and B. Suresh of the Reptile Study Group, observed that much of the king cobra’s rainforest-habitat had been lost as a result of deforestation due to an increasing demand for timber and farm land, fuelled by the spiralling human population.

Pointing out that the remaining rainforests of the Western Ghats were heavily fragmented, the study stressed the need for research, education and conservation, both for the survival of the king cobra’s habitat and the welfare of the millions of people dependent on forest for resources and water.

Butterflies threatened

Another paper, presented by Brilliant Rajan and others from the School of Environmental Studies under the MG University, Kottayam, observed that the grasslands of the Western Ghats in Kerala, home to a rich collection of butterflies, including endemic species, were under increasing threat from tourism, reclamation of wetlands, clearing of shola forests, and construction of roads and other such activities. The study, which sought to document the butterfly diversity in Vagamon, a hill station bordering Idukki and Kottayam, recorded 112 species of butterflies belonging to five families, including the Southern Birdwing, Malabar Rose, Nilgiri Tiger and Pygmy Grass Hopper, four species endemic to the Western Ghats. The Common Emigrant, Common Four Ring and Blue Tiger were the common species recorded by the researchers in the study area. Butterflies were considered ‘flagship taxa’ in biodiversity inventories because they were good ecological indicators of human disturbance and habitat quality.

According to a study by the Department of Zoology and the Centre for Geo Information Science and Technology under the University of Kerala, crop raiding constituted the primary cause of conflict between humans and elephants in Kerala.

The survey recorded 222 cases of conflict in 15 settlement areas in the Munnar region from April 2008 to March 2010.

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World-renowned Chefs Join Call to Boycott Bluefin Tuna

For Immediate Release, January 18, 2011

Contact: Catherine Kilduff, (415) 644-8580

World-renowned Chefs Join Call to Boycott Bluefin Tuna

Chefs Alice Waters, Dan Barber Among More Than 25,000 People in 99 Countries Backing Boycott to Save Imperiled Tuna From Overfishing

SAN FRANCISCO— Two of the United States’ leading chefs have joined the Center for Biological Diversity’s campaign to save bluefin tuna, one of the world’s most imperiled fish. Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif., and Dan Barber, owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan, have signed a pledge not to serve bluefin in their restaurants. They join more than 25,000 people in 99 countries who have pledged not to buy or eat bluefin or frequent restaurants that serve it.
Bluefin boycott

“In the sustainable food movement, the chefs at Chez Panisse and Blue Hill are important leaders with long track records of combining exquisite food and environmental ethics. We’re happy they’re lending their voice to this urgent campaign to save bluefin tuna,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center staff attorney. “Chefs and restaurant owners make vital decisions every day about what foods they buy and serve. By choosing not to serve bluefin, these chefs are helping to keep this remarkable fish from slipping closer to extinction.”

The Center launched the bluefin boycott Nov. 30 after the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas refused to act to protect the species. The western Atlantic tuna stock has dropped by more than 80 percent since 1970; the eastern Atlantic stock dropped by 74 percent between 1957 and 2007.

“Chez Panisse connects with our local purveyors on a daily basis to purchase for and plan our menus and, most importantly, to keep informed of the current conditions, shortages and crisis in our waters and on our farms and ranches. Thirteen years ago when our Bay Area fish purveyor, Monterey Fish Market, notified us about the overfishing of bluefin tuna we immediately stopped serving it,” said Chef Jean-Pierre Moullé of Chez Panisse. “To this day we are in support of rebuilding the bluefin tuna population and the restoration of our beautiful oceans.”

“Last week I saw a picture of a record-breaking, $396,000 bluefin tuna just off the auction block. As chefs and people who love to eat are shaping food fashions like never before, we ought to be getting it right. And a picture like this says we are most definitely not getting it right. If we have the power to popularize tuna to the point of extinction — which we’ve done, with dizzying speed and effect — we also have the power to get people to rethink what they eat, and that should include bluefin tuna,” said Barber.

Bluefin, which remain a staple in some sushi restaurants, have been declining for decades due to overfishing. High prices spur rampant illegal and unreported fishing.

Aside from launching the boycott, the Center has also petitioned the federal government to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act. The government must make a decision by May 24, 2011, whether or not to list Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Bluefin tuna are oceangoing fish that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh 1,200 pounds. Unlike almost all other fish, they are warm-blooded and able to regulate their body temperature, which helps during their epic transatlantic journeys. Top ocean predators, they sometimes hunt cooperatively, much like wolves. With streamlined bodies and retractable fins, they can bolt at speeds of 50 mph, crossing oceans in weeks.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies the western Atlantic bluefin tuna population and the southern bluefin tuna as critically endangered with an “extremely high” risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future. IUCN classifies eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna as endangered, meaning that it faces a “very high” risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.

Please visit to sign the pledge, and share the Facebook page (

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Global warming prompts extinctions in tropics


JCU Professor William Laurance says the study suggests that some species will become extinct if temperatures increase by one to two degrees Celsius.

He says many tropical species can only survive in a very narrow range of temperatures.

“One of the things that surprises a lot of people is that it’s the tropics in fact where we think a lot of our extinguishes could potentially occur,” he said.

“Most people are used to thinking about polar bears and walruses and things that live in the cold parts of the world, in fact it’s the tropics, this is one of the places that we could potentially lose the most biodiversity.”

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Stop Killing of Elephants, Wildlife Officer Tells Locals


Mr John Mshelbwala, a Wildlife Officer with the Federal Ministry of Environment, has warned Nigerians to desist from killing elephants.Mshelbwala, who gave the warning in Abuja yesterday, said the animals play crucial role in sustaining and conserving the environment.

He said the warning was necessary due to the high rate of extinction of elephants in recent times in the country.Mshelbwala said the population of the animals had drastically reduced to 1,600 in savannah grassland and other forest reserves in the country due to the high rate of poaching activities.

The wildlife officer said the high rate of extinction of elephants was caused mainly by human activities.Mshelbwala added that preventing the untimely death of the animals would ensure equilibrium of the ecosystem.

“Plants, other species of animals, ants and bees, among others, benefit from the survival of elephants in the forest,” he said.Mshelbwala said elephants also assist in opening forest cover, saying that removing them from the ecosystem would lead to the collapse of forest cover.

Mshelbwala urged all stakeholders to ensure that the animal does not go into extinction.

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Bird species on brink of extinction


Six bird species are set to be added to the list of extinct Australian animals.

The birds were classified as “critically endangered and possibly extinct” 10 years ago but have not been spotted of late.

Birds Australia, the country’s peak bird protection group, is preparing to list them as extinct because recent surveys failed to find the birds.

Charles Darwin University Professor Stephen Garnett says researchers still hope the six species may be alive.

“We’re hoping, maybe, this press release will mean someone will say, ‘oh yes, I’ve got them in my backyard, I didn’t know they’re special,’ or something like that,” he said.

“But birdwatchers have been out looking for them and scientists have been looking for them and not found them.”

Professor Garnett says the likely extinctions are across Australia and are due to several factors.

“Changes in burning regime, over-grazing. One has gone because of introduced rats in Norfolk Island,” he said.

“One lost most of its habitat in the Mount Lofty Ranges [near Adelaide], and then the big fires of 1983 are pretty sure to have had the last population.”

The six birds, one species and five subspecies, are:

  • the white-breasted white-eye from Norfolk Island;
  • the form of pied currawong from western Victoria;
  • the thick-billed grasswren from near Alice Springs;
  • the hooded robin that once lived on the Tiwi Islands;
  • the spotted quail-thrush from the Mount Lofty Ranges near Adelaide; and
  • the southern form of star finch that once occurred between Townsville and northern NSW.

Australia already has 24 extinct bird types.

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Many of Turkey’s bird species face extinction


As much as 70 percent of birds in Turkey, including migratory species, face extinction, an academic involved with environmental education has warned.

As much as 70 percent of birds in Turkey, including migratory species, face extinction, an academic involved with environmental education has warned.

“There are a total of 435 bird species including those that reproduce in Turkey and those that visit the country during the winter. About 70 percent of these are under the threat of extinction. Ninety-five species will have significant decreases in their numbers, while 101 species face possible extinction,” İlhami Kiziroğlu, a professor in the department of biology education at Ankara’s Hacettepe University told the Anatolia news agency.

Kiziroğlu, who also heads the university’s Environmental Education and Bird Research Center, noted that ornithologists have identified 502 bird species in Turkey, of which 437 were found in abundance in the country. “The other 65 species are seen only at certain times. They do not reproduce in Turkey and they cannot be observed very often. However, of the 437 species, the Oriental Darter and Bald Ibis have already disappeared from the natural habitat in Turkey,” he said.

“Bird populations in Turkey have decreased by 50 percent in the past 20 years, while the populations of some species have dropped as much as 75 percent,” he added.

The birds that live in and reproduce in wetlands are those facing extinction, the professor said.

The Oriental Darter is a species that once nested around Lake Amik in Hatay; however, they have not been observed in the region since the lake dried up in the 1960s. “This species has now disappeared in Turkey. It was seen for the last time in 1963,” Kiziroğlu said.

He said the last time Bald Ibises were observed in Turkey was when three were found in Şanlıurfa’s Birecik district in 1988.

“They all died. Since 1988, Bald Ibises haven’t reproduced in naturally in Turkey. The Environment and Forestry Ministry has bred them in captivity at an aviary in Birecik. But they are domesticated. It would not help to release them into the wild. At this stage it would not be possible for them to reproduce naturally,” Kiziroğlu said. He said these birds were so tame that they weren’t capable of adapting to the natural environment.

Industrial waste threatens birds near Lake Burdur

The endangered White-headed Duck is another species facing extinction in Turkey.

“One-seventh of the European population of the White-headed Duck exists in Turkey, spending winters in Lake Burdur in the Mediterranean region. However, this species is threatened by the level of industrial waste and the decreasing water levels in the lake,” Kiziroğlu explained.

He added that flights from the nearby airport in Isparta also pose a threat to bird populations around the lake.

Kiziroğlu pointed out that a significant number of raptor birds are also endangered in Turkey.

“One such species is the Imperial Eagle. The symbol of the Beşiktaş club is an American Eagle, but we suggest that [Beşiktaş Chairman] Yıldırım Demirören change it to the endangered Imperial Eagle,” he said and added that the Turkish Air Forces Command has changed its symbol to the Imperial Eagle.

Kiziroğlu warns authorities of the urgency in putting an end to the drying up of important wetlands.

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Marine Ecosystems May Be Nearing Extinction


Two of the greatest mass extinctions in Earth’s history were instrumental in the collapse of marine ecosystems that then took up to 10 million years to stabilize.

While the term is not new, the research marks the first time that a loss of ecological redundancy is directly blamed for a marine ecosystem’s collapse in the fossil record.

“It’s definitely a cautionary tale because we know it’s happened at least twice before,” says Jessica Whiteside, assistant professor of geological sciences at Brown Univ. “And you have long periods of time before you have reestablishment of ecological redundancy.”

Details of the research are reported in the journal Geology.

If the theory is true, the implications could not be clearer today. According to the United Nations-sponsored report Global Biodiversity Outlook 2, the population of nearly one-third of marine species that were tracked had declined over the three decades that ended in 2000. The numbers were the same for land-based species.

“In effect, we are currently responsible for the sixth major extinction event in the history of the Earth, and the greatest since the dinosaurs disappeared, 65 million years ago,” the 2006 report states.

Whiteside and co-author Peter Ward of the Univ. of Washington studied mass extinctions that ended the Permian period 250 million years ago and another that brought the Triassic to a close roughly 200 million years ago.

Both periods are generally believed to have ended with global spasms of volcanic activity. The abrupt change in climate stemming from the volcanism, notably a spike in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, decimated species on land and in the oceans, losing approximately 90 percent of existing marine species in the Permian-Triassic and 72 percent in the Triassic-Jurassic.

The widespread loss of marine life and the abrupt change in global climate caused the carbon cycle, a broad indicator of life and death and outside influences in the oceans, to fluctuate wildly.

The authors noted these “chaotic carbon episodes” and their effects on biodiversity by studying carbon isotopes spanning these periods.

The collapse of ocean species was further documented by compiling a 50-million-year fossil record of ammonoids, predatory squidlike creatures that lived inside coiled shells, found embedded in rocks throughout western Canada.

Whiteside and Ward found two general types of ammonoids, those that could swim around and pursue prey and those that simply floated throughout the ocean, suffered major losses.

The fossil record after the end-Permian and end-Triassic mass extinctions shows a glaring absence of swimming ammonoids, which, because they compete with other active predators including fish, is interpreted as a loss of ecological redundancy.

“It means that during these low-diversity times, there are only one or two (ammonoids) taxa that are performing. It’s a much more simplified food chain,” Whiteside notes.

Only when the swimming ammonoids reappear alongside its floating brethren does the carbon isotope record stabilize and the ocean ecosystem fully recover, the authors report.

“That’s when we say ecological redundancy is reestablished,” Whiteside says. “The swimming ammonoids have fulfilled that trophic role.”

The U.S. National Science Foundation and the NASA Astrobiology Institute funded the research.

Source: Brown Univ.

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