Monthly Archives: May 2011

Saving wild asses from extinction


Modern horses and donkeys are the descendents of the wild ass, which is now in danger of extinction. Pressure to save the wild ass intensifies as human activities like habitat destruction and hunting continue. Scientists led by the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria have investigated the factors involved in the loss of the species. Presented in the journal Biological Conservation, the study tackles the question of how to protect this species’ survival.

While it populated many areas in the past, the wild ass currently makes its home in China, India, Iran, Mongolia and Turkmenistan; the Gobi Desert in Mongolia is a critical refuge area for this species. Professor Chris Walzer and colleagues at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology assessed the distribution of wild asses in the Gobi Desert and found the species in areas where the average production of biomass is below 250 grams of carbon per square metre per year.

While the species were found in more productive regions in the past, human activity has played havoc on the animals’ habitat and survival. They have either been chased away or killed by people to ensure that farmers’ livestock have access to food and water, both of which are scarce in the Gobi Desert. Despite its hardiness, the wild ass still needs water and food to survive in the tough conditions of the desert and steppe, and the species has been forced to move into areas that cannot support it.

For their study, the researchers fitted radio transmitters to almost 20 asses and monitored the animals’ movements until the transmitters fell off (it should be noted that the transmitters were designed to do so). Their results confirmed that individual animals range widely yet steer clear from mountainous or hilly regions.

They say the mountains that cut across the species’ distribution in Mongolia impede the animals’ movement. Genetic tests were used to corroborate information that the animals found on either side of the mountains are, in effect, isolated from each other.

Thanks to efforts made by conservationists, however, the team found no evidence of a recent ‘genetic bottleneck’. To sum up, the species showed a relatively high level of genetic diversity, both within and between the two subpopulations, according to the researchers.

But they point out that the data obtained by the radio transmitters revealed that the wild asses either could not or were unwilling to cross man-made barriers including the Ulaanbaatar-Beijing railway line. Consequently, some 17 000 square kilometres of suitable habitat are unreachable for these animals. Also, a near 40-year-old border fence between Mongolia and China keeps the wild asses separated.

The team says the Gobi Desert-based wild ass would benefit from a coordinated, multinational conservation plan. ‘Opening the border fence, at least in places, would not only help the Asiatic wild ass but would also be likely to benefit other rare mammals, such as Bactrian camels and re-introduced Przewalski’s horses.’

Experts from the Technical University Munich in Germany, the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography in China, and the Mammalian Ecology Laboratory of the Institute of Biology at the Mongolian Academy of Science and the WWF Mongolia contributed to this study.

For more information, please visit:

University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna:

Biological Conservation:

Category: Miscellaneous
Data Source Provider: University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
Document Reference: Kaczensky, P., et al. (2011) Connectivity of the Asiatic wild ass population in the Mongolian Gobi. Biological Conservation 144: 920-929. DOI: org/10.1016/j.biocon.2010.12.013.
Subject Index: Social Aspects; Life Sciences; Scientific Research

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Endangered parakeets rescued from bus


NEW DELHI: A joint team comprising law enforcers and animal activists rescued 52 baby Alexandrine parakeets from a Haryana Roadways bus on Saturday. The endangered birds were being brought into the city from Pathankot for sale in Delhi and Meerut.

People for Animals (PFA), which was part of the rescue team, said they received information at 3.30am about two men bringing the parrots to Delhi in a bus. “The bus was headed for Kashmere Gate ISBT, so we waited close to the Timarpur gurdwara. We spotted the bus around 6am and followed it for a few kilometres before the policemen in our team stopped it. One of the men, Shakeel, actually jumped out of the moving bus and managed to escape,” said Saurabh Gupta, a PFA member.

The rescue team found nothing inside the bus, so checked the roof. There they found two tightly packed cardboard boxes, inside which were the fledglings. “Three of the 52 birds were severely ill and most of them were dehydrated. They have been sent to the Sanjay Gandhi Hospital for treatment. The other person, Afzal, was found inside the bus and had sale deeds of the parrots with him. He was arrested. Both he and Shakeel bought the parrots at Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh for Rs 2,000 per bird and were planning to sell them at the Jama Masjid bird market and in Meerut. The average cost of each bird in the open market is about Rs 10,000,” added Gupta.

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China’s rare bird population grows but challenges remain


BEIJING, May 15 (Xinhua) — China’s efforts to save its endangered birds are paying off as the population of some rare birds living in the wild, such as the crested ibis, are increasing.

But the country’s rare birds are still at risk due to shrinking habitats and increasing human activities, according to the State Forestry Administration (SFA).

Also, poaching and illegal trafficking continue to pose a threat, said Yin Hong, deputy director of SFA, on Friday when she attended a ceremony held in Beijing marking the 30th anniversary of the launch of Bird-Loving Week in China.

According to the SFA, the population of many endangered birds has increased rapidly over the past 30 years, and the number of crested ibis has risen from merely seven to more than 1,600 over the three decades.

The wild population of 100 rare and endangered species, including cranes, pheasants and plovers, is gradually increasing, according the SFA.

The SFA has also released human-bred crested ibis, red-crowned cranes and yellow-bellied tragopans, all endangered species, into the wild.

Yin said the SFA would extend the protection network for birds and wild animals in the future by building more natural reserves and setting up more monitoring stations for animals in the wild.

China has upped its efforts to protect wildlife in recent years by dealing with poachers more severely.

Earlier this month, a man in northeast China’s Liaoning Province was sentenced to 10 years in prison for hunting protected wild birds in a nature reserve — the heaviest penalty for poaching since the reserve was established 20 years ago.

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Endangered bird shot in Malta, flown to Germany for rehab


A pallid harrier, one of Europe’s most endangered birds of prey, which was shot in Malta, was sent to Germany for rehabilitation last Wednesday by BirdLife Malta.

The bird is one of 26 shot protected birds which BirdLife Malta received during the spring hunting season which started on 13 April. On the list are birds of poor conservation status in Europe including a black kite, a lesser kestrel, the pallid harrier, and a purple heron.

The pallid harrier was recovered on 1 May after a member of the public found it in his garden in the limits of Mosta. The bird had gunshot injuries to the wing and chest that were a few days old, having been shot during the spring hunting derogation period, and was emaciated and unable to fly.

There are an estimated five to 50 breeding pairs of pallid harriers in Europe, excluding the Russian population. Due to large historic population declines pallid harriers are listed as endangered in Europe.

Over the past four years, BirdLife Malta has witnessed several incidents of pallid harriers being shot at. A shot pallid harrier was recovered from Tas-Silġ in 2007, a badly injured bird was seen over Fomm ir-Riħ in 2008, and last year another badly injured pallid harrier was filmed flying over the Foresta 2000 area on Easter Sunday.

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World’s biggest bird on verge of extinction


The Saharan race ostrich, largest representative of its species, has been extirpated across 95 per cent of its range. Within Niger, the bird is extinct in the wild.

There are still roughly 100 pure-bred Saharan race ostriches in small privately-held captive flocks scattered across the country. A land-locked country in Western Africa, the Republic of Niger is exceptionally poor, but with some modest assistance those caring for ostriches can substantially improve the chances of these birds breeding successfully and rearing young.

Given how productive ostrich can be, there is every reason to believe that with the right material and technical support, Niger can breed desert ostrich and return them to the wild in relatively short order.

Appeal for funding

The Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) is part of a public-private partnership with the Republic of Niger and a consortium of private local breeders (CERNK) that was launched in an effort to breed some of these birds with an eye towards producing chicks for eventual reintroduction. Significant improvements to the ostrich breeding pens in Kellé, Niger, were completed last year.

The SCF is now focusing on improving the diet and promoting natural incubation until such time as Niger has the capacity to manage artificial incubation and chick-rearing operations. SCF, in partnership with the AZA Ratite TAG, has developed its Adopt-an-Ostrich Programme to support the acquisition, care and feeding of pure-bred Saharan ostrich in Niger; to help maintain the ostrich facilities; and to improve capacity for ostrich management.

‘With your help, we can get Saharan ostrich back on the road to recovery in Niger,’ said an SCF spokesman. ‘This is a great opportunity for all of us to make a connection between our interest in the Sahara and the conservation of the largest bird on the planet.’


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Sumatran Tiger Population at Risk of Extinction in Bengkulu


Bengkulu. Sumatran Tigers in Bengkulu province are on the brink of extinction in yet more bad news for the future of the species.

Provincial conservation official Amon Zamora said only 50 tigers remained in six districts, where illegal logging continued on a massive scale.

A similar story is unfolding in Jambi province, which has less than 40 wild tigers surviving in the wild, and neighboring Lampung, with less than 20.

There are as few as 400 Sumatran tigers left in Indonesia, or about 12 percent of the estimated global tiger population of 3,200.

The tiger population is threatened by loss and fragmented habitat, decreasing prey populations, illegal poaching and trading of the tiger and its body parts, as well as human-tiger conflicts.

Amon said tigers often came into conflict with humans on farms bordering rainforest.

Tigers, highly prized in Chinese traditional medicine, were also hunted for their body parts, he said.

Amon said one of the main problems was the lack of forestry police to provide security.

Antara, JG

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Lawsuit Launched to Protect Alabama Shad Under Endangered Species Act

For Immediate Release, April 28, 2011

Contact: Noah Greenwald,             (503) 484-7495

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Alabama Shad Under Endangered Species Act

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service today over the agency’s denial of Endangered Species Act protection for the Alabama shad. The pending lawsuit will challenge a February decision by the agency that a Center petition to protect the shad did not present sufficient information to warrant a further review of the shad’s status.

“There’s no question that the Alabama shad has undergone dramatic declines and needs Endangered Species Act protection to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center. “The decision not to consider the shad for protection failed to follow either the law or the science.”

The Alabama shad once occurred in rivers from Florida to Oklahoma, but today only a handful of populations survive. The shad was once so abundant that it supported commercial fisheries in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana and Iowa. Dams, pollution and drought have caused widespread decline of the shad and continue to threaten its survival.

“Too many species that desperately need help are being denied protection,” said Greenwald. “We had hoped for better environmental protection from the Obama administration, but so far it has a dismal record on endangered species.”

To date the Obama government has only granted federal protection to 59 species, 48 of which occur on one Hawaiian island, for a rate of 29 species per year. In contrast, the Clinton administration protected 522 species, for a rate of 65 species per year.

Alabama shad spend most of their six-year life in the ocean, returning to freshwater rivers to breed. Juvenile shad remain in freshwater for the first six to eight months of their lives, feeding on small fishes and invertebrates. Populations of the shad are thought to remain in the Apalachicola River, Florida, the Choctawhatchee and Conecuh rivers, Alabama, the Pascagoula River, Mississippi, the Ouachita River, Arkansas, and the Missouri, Gasconade, Osage and Meramec rivers, Missouri.

Learn more about our campaigns to stop the Southeast freshwater extinction crisis and earn protection for all the candidate species.

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Capercaillie continue to struggle


The population of one of Scotland’s most iconic species, the capercaillie, remains under serious threat, according to newly released figures from RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The most recent capercaillie survey, carried out over the 2009-2010 winter, has estimated a population of 1228 individuals, three quarters of which are confined to Badenoch and Strathspey, which is the species’ stronghold.

Once extinct in the UK, capercaillie were reintroduced to Scotland beginning in Perthshire in the 1830s.

As recently as 1970, there were thought to be as many as 20,000 individual birds but by the early 1990s, when the first formal surveys were conducted, numbers had declined sharply, in particular in Deeside and Perthshire. The last census, conducted in 2004, found that there were an estimated 1,980 birds remaining in Scotland. This compared to an estimate of just 1,073 birds in 1988-1989 which triggered targeted conservation action for the species.

To save the capercaillie from a second UK extinction, conservationists and land managers have undertaken intensive work aimed at halting and reversing its declines. Efforts have focused on creating or improving the native pine forest and blaeberry habitat favoured by the species, legal predator control and minimising disturbance in sensitive areas, for example around leks, from people and dogs.

Research indicated that many capercaillie are killed flying in to forestry deer fences, and fence collisions can significantly increase adult capercaillie adult mortality. To combat this fences at key capercaillie sites have been removed or marked to make them more visible.

Capercaillie require warm and dry weather conditions during the brood period in June to breed successfully. Consecutive wet springs in 2007 and 2008, together with poor habitat quality, quantity and connectivity, and deaths from fence collisions, predation and disturbance are all playing their part in keeping the population at a low level.

However, without these continued efforts by private landowners, countryside users, and conservationists supported by the Scottish Government, it is likely that the capercaillie population would have been much lower. This positive management and action has also come as a result of the capercaillie Species Action Framework (SAF) and the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP).

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “It is disappointing that the capercaillie has experienced a drop in its numbers in some areas since the last survey was conducted. However, there can be little doubt that this decline would be a good deal worse were it not for all the huge efforts of many public and private forestry managers, gamekeepers and land managers backed by the European LIFE funding programme, to save this charismatic species.

“We particularly need to focus our efforts on further habitat creation and positive management for this species, especially in key areas like Deeside and Perthshire where the problems are most acute. This demands concerted and swift action with estate managers and conservation bodies working together to make sure the capercaillie remains part of the wonderful wildlife that makes Scotland such a special place.”

Dr Sue Haysom of SNH said: “Along with many land managers we are passionately committed to saving this species. The capercaillie SAF and SRDP both provide support for habitat creation and management, fence removal or marking predator control – all of which help capercaillie.

“Through the caper SAF along we have removed or marked 11.3km of deer fences thus far and this adds 220km dealt with through the Forestry Commission Challenge Fund and 40.6km through the EU-Life Nature Project. WE have also created new and improved existing habitat and witnessed birds making use of these areas.

“The low breeding success and wet summers of 2007 and 2008 may have counter balanced some of the benefits of this work but a few good summers like the one we saw in 2010 and continued conservation action could well turn things round for this amazing bird.”

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Four held with snakes of endangered species


Balrampur (Uttar Pradesh) : Four poachers, including three from Nepal, have been arrested in Uttar Pradesh along with Sand Boa snakes, an endangered species, an official said Wednesday.

The four men were nabbed by the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) late Tuesday after they were found moving suspiciously near Sohelwa forest range.

Two live Sand Boa snakes were recovered from their vehicle, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) V.P. Singh told reporters in Balrampur, some 300 km from Lucknow.

“The four were arrested while on their way to Nepal. They had caught the snakes from the forest in Lakhimpur Kheri district,” he added.

According to officials, Sand Boa snakes fetch very high price in international markets as they are used in preparation of some medicines.

Smuggling and trading Sand Boas is an offence under the Wild Life Preservation Act (WPA).

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Antimalarial trees in East Africa threatened with extinction


Research released in anticipation of World Malaria Day finds that plants in East Africa with promising antimalarial qualities—ones that have treated malaria symptoms in the region’s communities for hundreds of years—are at risk of extinction. Scientists fear that these natural remedial qualities, and thus their potential to become a widespread treatment for malaria, could be lost forever.

A new book by researchers at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Common Antimalarial Trees and Shrubs of East Africa, provides a detailed assessment of 22 of the region’s malaria-fighting trees and shrubs. While over a thousand plant species have been identified by traditional healers as effective in the prevention or treatment of malaria symptoms, the species in the book were assigned by both traditional medicinal practitioners and scientists as those that have potential for further study.

According to researchers, many species of trees in East Africa are at high risk of extinction due to deforestation and over-exploitation for medicinal uses. Scientists in the field have been able to identify at-risk tree species, including those that have antimalarial qualities, by monitoring deforestation in the region and by talking to herbalists and local communities. According to researchers, not all species of antimalarial trees are at risk, particularly those that grow wild in lowland and coastal areas.

ICRAF is doing its part preserving these trees and shrubs by holding samples of most of the species with antimalarial qualities in its genebank and growing these trees in plant nurseries at its headquarters in Nairobi. The ICRAF genebank holds close to 200 species, of which at least 30 are known to have antimalarial properties.

The field data was gathered by ICRAF scientists conducting research across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, where they met with approximately 180 herbalists and 100 malaria patients in 30 separate communities. KEMRI supported the process by supplying the information about each plant’s chemical compound make-up—research that is the result of a sophisticated laboratory process developed by KEMRI for testing natural products.

“We’ve only scratched the surface on the potential value of these plants. Although widely used by farmers and people in rural communities, most of this information has never been collected in a comprehensive way by researchers,” said Dr. Geoffrey Rukunga, Director of KEMRI’s Centre for Traditional Medicine and Drug Research and one of the book’s co-authors. “Going forward, I’d like to see more investment and more research on the power of these plants to fight the scourge of malaria and other diseases.”

One of the drugs most widely used historically to treat malaria, quinine, was derived from the bark of the Cinchona tree in South America. Today, the world’s newest, most-effective therapeutic treatment for malaria also comes from a plant, the Artemisia annua shrub. However, access to malaria therapies based on artemisinin compounds remains low—around 15 percent in most parts of Africa and well below the World Health Organizations’ 80 percent target.

Additionally, the malaria parasite’s ability to resist artemisinin is already beginning to emerge in Southeast Asia. This comes years after the World Health Organization labeled the spreading resistance of malaria to cheap and widely available drugs such as chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine as a major public health problem. The increasing failure of once-effective malaria drugs has added urgency to the search for promising new targets.

Malaria still kills some 800,000 people per year, the majority of whom are children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa. A lack of access to doctors and drugs leaves many communities in Africa with few alternatives other than looking for natural remedies to address symptoms of malaria, including high fever, severe headaches, bone aches, nausea and vomiting.

“We’re not saying that using these medicinal plants is a replacement for common prevention treatments like bed nets or effective medicines like ACT,” said Dr Najma Dharani, a Consultant Research Scientist at the ICRAF in Nairobi, Kenya, who led the field research portion of the study. “But we believe that it’s worth learning from communities that have been treating malaria symptoms with plants for hundreds of years. We need to do more research because one of these plants could prove to be the next Artemisia, and we need to do our best to preserve the plants that are going extinct.”

Indeed, without clear research or proper guidance for their sustainable use, many of the plants with medicinal properties are being over-exploited and are in danger of extinction. One such plant, which is critically endangered in Kenya and threatened in other regions, is Zanthoxylum chalybeum, commonly known as “Knobwood.” It grows in dry woodlands or grasslands of eastern and southern Africa and has been found to have antimalarial properties that need to be further explored. An extraction process from leaves, bark or root is used to effectively treat a malarial fever in many communities. Other uses for the plant include infusing tea with the leaves, making toothbrushes, and using the seeds as beads in traditional garments. The African wild olive (Olea europaea Africana), also threatened in East Africa due to over-exploited for timber, contains organic extracts with significant levels of antimalarial activity, and is used to treat malarial and other fevers. The plant also acts as a natural laxative to expel parasites or tapeworms.

“Throughout my eight years of research in Africa, I have seen that we have an entire pharmacy in our farms and in our forests. We have plants that should be used by scientific companies to develop more options for malaria drugs,” said Dr. Dharan. “And we cannot become complacent and rely on one herb, because we’ve learned that developing resistance is likely.”

Beyond the complicated process to extract and test antimalarial compounds from these trees, scientists have struggled to track or replicate the treatment process as it occurs in communities. Besides the plant itself, there may be other factors contributing to a malaria patient’s recovery. For example, a healer may combine one plant with another that changes its chemical compound and boosts its effectiveness. Unless more is done to understand these processes in the field, scientists in laboratories and researchers at major drug companies will lose that knowledge.

“While we’ve made scientific progress identifying these compounds over the last few years, the fact is that we may lose these important trees before we’ve had a chance to understand their ability to defend us against malaria, a disease that devastates Africa—killing hundreds of thousands of our children and costing us billions of dollars in productivity year after year,” said Dr. Rukunga. “We need to approach this as an opportunity on multiple fronts: to preserve the biodiversity that may hold the next cure, to strengthen the research done on the ground in communities, and to continue our diligent work testing our natural resources in the lab.”

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