Monthly Archives: July 2012

Smuggling of elephant ivory and rhino horn on agenda of UN-backed forum


24 July 2012 – The massive smuggling of elephant ivory and rhino horn, tiger conservation and the illegal trade in great apes are among the issues on the agenda of a United Nations-backed meetingtaking place in Geneva this week.

Some 350 participants are participating in the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which began in Geneva yesterday.

The Committee oversees the implementation of rules for the international trade in protected wildlife on behalf of the Conference of the 175 member countries of CITES.

Elephant issues, including rising levels in the illegal killing of elephants and ivory smuggling, features high on the agenda of the week-long meeting, as does the drivers behind the “exploding” demand in rhino horn, according to a news release issued by the CITES secretariat, which is administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

“With elephant and rhino poaching and smuggling levels being the worst in a decade, it is clear that strong additional measures are required,” said the Chairman of the Committee, Øysten Størkersen, adding that 2013 will be a critical year to adopt enhanced measures to protect the planet’s biodiversity and ensure effective implementation on the ground.

“The present meeting will help set the priorities and to ensure the long-term survival of key species we would like to leave to future generations,” he stated.

The meeting will also review the progress made in the implementation of measures to reduce the over-exploitation of freshwater turtles and tortoises, as well as some frogs and plants from Madagascar, in addition to discussing the sourcing of Asian snakes used in the leather industry. Also on the agenda are tiger conservation initiatives and the illegal trade in great apes.

This week’s gathering will also decide on the agenda of the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties, which will take place in Bangkok in March 2013, and will coincide with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Convention.

CITES regulates international trade in close to 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment.

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Seven nations face sanctions over endangered species


Seven nations may lose their ability to legally trade tens of thousands of wildlife species after UN conservation delegates agreed to penalise them for lacking tough regulations or failing to report on their wildlife trade.

The suspensions against the seven nations – Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Paraguay, Nepal, Rwanda, Solomon Islands and Syria – were approved by consensus among the delegates and would take effect October 1.

They would prevent the countries from legally trading in any of the 35,000 species regulated by the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, said Juan Carlos Vasquez, a spokesman for the UN office that administers the treaty.

Delegations to the weeklong meeting of CITES, a treaty overseen by the UN Environment Program in Geneva, agreed to trade suspensions against Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Paraguay and Rwanda based on their lack of national laws for regulating the lucrative wildlife trade.

The Geneva meeting’s attendees also agreed to trade suspensions against Guinea-Bissau, Nepal, Rwanda, Solomon Islands and Syria based on their failure to adequately report what they are doing to regulate wildlife trade, as they are required to do under the CITES treaty.

To avoid the sanctions, and the prospect of losing millions of dollars in commerce, the seven must now draw up the required legislation or submit their missing annual reports to CITES by October 1.

According to CITES, about 97 percent of the species it regulates are commercially traded for food, fuel, forest products, building materials, clothing, ornaments, health care, religious items, collections, trophy hunting and other sport. The other 3 percent are generally prohibited.

CITES estimates the regulated global wildlife trade is between $350 million and $530 million a year, or almost $2.2 billion over the five years from 2006 to 2010. During that time, logging of big leaf mahogany alone accounted for $168 million in trade. By volume, American black bears, South American grey foxes, Senegal parrots and Malaysian box turtles were among the most traded.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, estimates that commercial trade in wildlife has risen sharply from around $160 billion a year in the early 1990s. But the multibillion-dollar illegal trade in wildlife is a growing problem, and environmentalists say a big reason is nations’ failure to enact stiff penalties for traffickers or enforce wildlife laws already on the books.

The delegates are expected to consider a more controversial topic: a call to resume the legal ivory trade as a way to stop the recent rise in elephant poaching in Africa.

That proposal, put forward in a CITES-commissioned report, would set up a centralised system to allow for the sale of ivory from elephants that either died naturally or as a result of trophy hunting, or were considered a threat or culled for ecological reasons.

It is the first time such a proposal has been made since a global ban on ivory went into effect in 1989. That ban mostly halted widespread poaching, but in the past decade the problem has worsened owing mainly to an Asian appetite for ivory chopsticks, statues and jewellery.

The rise in rhino poaching also is on the agenda.

Experts rank wildlife smuggling among the top aims of criminal networks, along with drugs and human trafficking. CITES says wildlife crime remains poorly studied, but it says international estimates of the scale of illegal wildlife trade range from between $16 billion and $27 billion a year.

Tiger parts, elephant ivory, rhino horn and exotic birds and reptiles are among the most trafficked items. To fight it, CITES has formed a consortium with Interpol, the UN office on drugs and crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organisation.

– AP

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Risk of extinction increases for many bird species – BirdLife


The risk of extinction has increased for over 100 species of birds with Amazonian birds being on top of the list, according to the information released by BirdLife International yesterday.

The assessment was carried out for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2012 Red List update for birds.

The Yelkouan Shearwater (Garnija), a seabird that has been the focus of two EU LIFE Projects in Malta, is now classified as ‘Vulnerable’, a higher category of threat to its previous conservation status.

The Maltese archipelago is home to an estimated 10% of the world population of Yelkouan Shearwater. Until recently, the populations were in decline in Malta too but this trend was reversed thanks to the EU LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater Project that ended in 2010. However, in other parts of the Mediterranean where there are no or little conservation measures to protect them, the decline has continued making these species one step closer to extinction.

“The success story for Yelkouans in Malta is a clear indicator of the effectiveness of nature conservation on a national scale. To reverse the population decline on a regional or global level, similar efforts to that in Malta are needed,” said Laura Bambini, LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project Manager.

This year, BirdLife Malta together with the Ministry for Culture, Tourism and the Environment launched the EU LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project to identify areas out at sea that are important to Malta’s seabirds, including the Yelkouan Shearwater, to further protect these seabirds and the marine environment.

BirdLife Malta and the Environment Ministry are also continuing with the previously established conservation actions of the LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater project at the Rdum tal-Madonna Natura 2000 site which is home to the biggest colony of Yelkouan Shearwaters in the Maltese islands.

“One in eight of the world’s bird species is deemed globally threatened and the fortunes of 197 critically endangered species are now so perilous that they are at risk of imminent extinction. Since wild birds are indicators of the health of our environment, taking measures to protect them on land and at sea will not only benefit the birds but also other wildlife and communities who depend on natural resources,” Ms Bambini concluded.

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Social bats pay a price: Fungal disease, white-nose syndrome … extinction?


The effect on bat populations of a deadly fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome may depend on how gregarious the bats are during hibernation, scientists have discovered.

Species that hibernate in dense clusters even as their populations get smaller will continue to transmit the disease at a high rate, dooming them to continued decline, according to results of a new study led by biologists at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).

One gregarious species has surprised biologists, however, by changing its social behavior.

The joint National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) Program funded the study. The Directorates for Biological Sciences and Geosciences at NSF supported the EEID Program.

“Managing disease outbreaks appears to be a daunting task, given the complexity of most ecosystems,” said Sam Scheiner, EEID program director at NSF. “This study, however, shows that in fact we can identify the key factors needed for adequate management.”

White-nose syndrome has decimated bat colonies throughout the northeast since it first appeared in New York in 2006. It continues to spread in the United States and Canada.

In the study, researchers analyzed population trends in six bat species in the northeast.

They found that some bat populations are stabilizing at lower abundances, while others appear to be headed for extinction.

The results, published in the current issue of the journal Ecology Letters, centered around data from bat surveys between 1979 and 2010, covering a long period of population growth followed by dramatic declines caused by white-nose syndrome.

“All six species were affected by white-nose syndrome, but we have evidence that populations of some species are beginning to stabilize,” said Kate Langwig of UCSC, first author of the paper.

“This study gives us an indication of which species face the highest likelihood of extinction, so we can focus management efforts and resources on protecting those species.”

The bats hibernate during the winter in caves and abandoned mines; the number of bats can vary tremendously from one site to another.

The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome grows on the exposed skin of hibernating bats, disrupting their hibernation and causing unusual behavior, loss of fat reserves and death.

Langwig and co-authors looked at how steeply the bat populations at each site declined after they were hit by white-nose syndrome, and whether the severity of the decline was the same in large and small populations.

They found that for species that hibernate alone, the declines were less severe in smaller colonies. For gregarious species, however, even small colonies declined steeply.

“We found that in the highly social species that prefer to hibernate in large, tightly packed groups, the declines were equally severe in colonies that varied from 50 bats to 200,000 bats,” said co-author Marm Kilpatrick of UCSC. “That suggests that colonies of those species will continue to decline even when they reach small population sizes.”

Trends in the declines of different bat species since the emergence of white-nose syndrome support these predictions.

As populations get smaller, the declines tend to level off for species that roost singly, but not for socially gregarious species.

Surprisingly, however, one highly social species is bucking the trend.

The little brown bat, one of the most common bat species in the northeast, appears to be changing its social behavior, going from a species that preferred to roost in dense clusters to one in which most bats now roost apart from other bats.

“Our analysis suggests that the little brown bats are probably not going to go extinct because they are changing their social behavior in a way that will result in their persisting at smaller populations,” Kilpatrick said.

Another gregarious species, the Indiana bat, continues to hibernate mostly in dense clusters and will probably continue to decline toward extinction.

“Since the appearance of white-nose syndrome, both species have become more solitary, but the change is much more dramatic in the little brown bats,” Langwig said.

“We now see up to 75 percent of them roosting singly. For Indiana bats, only 8 to 9 percent are roosting alone, which does not appear to be enough to reduce transmission rates.”

Even solitary roosting habits may not be enough to save some species, such as the northern long-eared bat.

Although it declined less rapidly as its colonies got smaller, 14 populations of northern long-eared bats became locally extinct within two years after the detection of white-nose syndrome. No populations remained in the study area after five years.

In contrast, populations of tri-colored bats, another solitary species, stabilized at low levels three to four years after disease detection.

“Northern long-eared bats may be particularly susceptible to the disease, so they continue to get hit pretty hard even after transmission rates are reduced,” Langwig said.

The two species least affected by white-nose syndrome–big brown bats and eastern small-footed bats–are mostly solitary, although occasionally they roost in small clusters.

It’s not clear why they have been less affected by the disease than other species, Langwig said.

According to Kilpatrick, one possibility is that these species roost in sites where conditions are less conducive to the disease.

The study examined the influence of different microclimates within hibernation sites, and found that declines were less severe in drier and cooler sites.

“It appears that the driest and coolest caves may serve as partial refuges from the disease,” Kilpatrick said.

In addition to Langwig and Kilpatrick, co-authors of the paper include Winifred Frick of UCSC; Jason Bried of Oklahoma State University; Alan Hicks of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; and Thomas Kunz of Boston University.

Much of the bat population data used in the study was collected in surveys conducted by state agencies during the past 40 years.

Journal reference: Ecology Letters search and more info website

Provided by National Science Foundation

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Dingoes in danger of extinction – expert


Dingoes are currently listed as a threatened species but if more isn’t done they could disappear from parts of Australia, wildlife experts say.

Healesville sanctuary senior dingo keeper Sue Jaensch said Tuesday’s coronial ruling that a dingo was responsible for the death of Azaria Chamberlain in 1980 provided an opportunity to highlight the difficulties dingoes face in the wild.

‘Most of our visitors aren’t aware dingoes are classified as a threatened species here in Victoria,’ Ms Jaensch told AAP.

It was only in 2008 that the Victorian government recognised the dingo as a threatened species.

Before that they were recognised as a pest, Ms Jaensch said.

‘Historically dingoes have been managed as pests.’

Ms Jaensch’s concerns echo an article published in Australian Wildlife Secrets in May that warned if immediate action wasn’t taken to protect the dingo it may go the way of the Tasmanian Tiger and become extinct.

‘In recent times (dingo) numbers have declined over large areas of its former range,’ the report said.

When asked if the threat of extinction was real, Ms Jaensch said: ‘Definitely in parts of Australia.’

‘The biggest threat to them in the wild is the interbreeding with feral dogs,’ Ms Jaensch said.

‘Sadly we have a growing population of wild dogs in Australia.’

Dingoes are notoriously secretive and therefore difficult to study but myths surrounding the shy canid have put its future in jeopardy.

Ms Jaensch also said their reputation as an introduced species and predator contributed to their treatment in the past.

However, as a top order predator, she likened their role to that of a lion in Africa or a tiger in Asia.

‘Dingoes are a very important part to the native environment,’ Ms Jaensch said.

‘Recent studies have shown in areas where dingoes are found they help to control numbers of foxes and feral cats and rabbits which is great for famers because that means they’ve got more grass.’


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Seabird in danger of extinction


A seabird that settled in large numbers on the Maltese islands has been classified “vulnerable” by Birdlife International.

The Maltese population of the Yelkouan Shearwater – or Garnija – that has been classified in a threat category higher than its previous conservation status, stands between 1,600 and 1,900.

This is an estimated 10 per cent of the Garnija world population. According to information released by BirdLife this week, extinction risks have risen for more than 100 species.

Until recently, the Maltese Garnija population was also on the decline, but this trend was reversed following an EU Life Yelkouan Shearwater Project.

The Rdum tal-Madonna Natura2000 site is home to the biggest colony of Garnija.

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‘Unusual’ turtle to be declared endangered


The Queensland Government is set to add another species of turtle to the list of endangered wildlife.

The white-throated snapping turtle is unique to the Fitzroy, Burnett and Mary rivers along the central and southern Queensland coasts.

It was discovered six years ago.

The chief scientist with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Dr Col Limpus, says the animal’s eggs take longer to hatch compared with other turtle species.

He says the white-throated snapping turtle is particularly vulnerable.

“They’ve been recommended for consideration for listing as an endangered species,” he said.

“We’re just waiting for the new Minister to catch up with the information.

“They’re unusual in that they nest during winter and the eggs sit dormant in the nest for several months, so the eggs are spending somewhere in the vicinity of seven months in the sand instead of just a couple of months the other turtles have for incubation.

“Unless we’re out there actively protecting the eggs, you’re looking at almost 100 per cent of the eggs being destroyed by predators.”

The Government is also funding a program to encourage breeding in the wild.

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Poacher seized for killing 18 endangered monkeys


A joint patrol team including police and forest rangers arrested 48-year-old Bui Van Ngay on June 28 when they discovered a hut erected illegally in the park’s sub-zone 5.

Upon searching the hut, the team found the dried bodies of 18 black-shanked doucs (Pygathrix nigripes), weighing 50 kg in total, said Vuong Duc Hoa, deputy director of the park.

Subsequent tests from the Institute of Tropical Biology, under the Ministry of Science and Technology, confirmed the team’s identification of the animals, Hoa said.

Ngay, of the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong, has confessed to investigators that he had broken into the park along with a few other poachers and then shot the animals, senior lieutenant colonel Nguyen Khac Truong, chief police of the Bu Gia Map District, said.

The police are hunting for Ngay’s accomplices in the case.

A similar case occurred in Nui Chua National Park in central Ninh Thuan Province on July 19, 2011, when police arrested two men, Nguyen Minh Tuan, 37, and Dang Minh Khac, 20, both from Khanh Hoa province, for shooting 15 black-shanked doucs with a hunting rifle

Tuan and Khac said the endangered animals’ meat was material for preparing traditional Chinese medicine.

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Emperor Penguin on the verge of Extinction, Antarctica ice melting continues


Continuous ice melting of Antarctica is threatening extinction of many species. One such specie is of Emperor penguins who are on the verge of extinctions according to a new study carried on by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

Stephanie Jenouvrier is the lead researcher. The study has been published in journal Global Change Biology. He said, “Over the last century, we have already observed the disappearance of the Dion Islets penguin colony, close to the West Antarctic Peninsula”.

“In 1948 and the 1970s, scientists recorded more than 150 breeding pairs there. By 1999, the population was down to just 20 pairs, and in 2009, it had vanished entirely”, he added

If global temperatures continue to rise four-feet tall Emperor penguins may eventually disappear. Melting is affecting their food source and is causing imbalance. Penguins feed on fish, squid, and krill that feed on zooplankton and phytoplankton that grow on the underside of the ice.

If the melting of ice continues this food web will be broken causing various species penguins to starve to death.

Not only this, the largest sea birds breeds and raise their young solely on sea ice and massive breeding failure can happen if the ice breaks up early in the breeding season.

Jenouvrier said, “Our best projections show roughly 500 to 600 breeding pairs remaining by the year 2100. Today, the population size is around 3000 breeding pairs”.

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Dolphin debacle


WWF claims that yesterday’s measures, launched by the New Zealand government in a bid to save the remaining 55 Maui’s dolphins from extinction, are destined to fail.

“There are now fewer Maui’s dolphins than kakapo left in the world,” said Rebecca Bird, WWF-New Zealand’s Marine Programme Manager. “And yet this decision means the government is knowingly allowing a method of fishing that kills dolphins to go ahead in their habitat. Instead of seizing the opportunity to give Maui’s the best chance for survival and population recovery, these measures are simply not enough to protect the species from extinction,” she said.

The interim measures will minimally increase protection on the Taranaki coast south from Pariokariwa Point to Hawera, including extending the set net ban out to 2-nautical miles and allowing the use of commercial set nets between 2 to 7 nautical miles when an observer is on board.

However, WWF say that the measures fail to adequately protect dolphins from commercial and recreational gillnet fishing and trawling throughout their entire range. Fishing is the number one threat to their survival. The marine corridor between the South and North Islands also remains largely unprotected, despite this being important habitat for the critically endangered dolphins.

“The newly announced measures are weaker than the government’s own proposed option to best manage the risk to Maui’s dolphins. After months of delay, it is shocking that there are still critical areas of Maui’s habitat where they could drown in gillnets and trawl nets,” said Ms Bird. “The measures also fail to protect the marine corridors that connect Hector’s dolphins from the south with Maui’s, which scientists consider could hold the key to the survival of the species.”

The Minister of Primary Industries announced the measures after public consultations and a lengthy delay, pending a review of the Hectors and Maui’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan later this year.

“This area should have been fully protected back in 2008 when the government introduced new fishing restrictions. Yet it has taken more dead dolphins, an obstructive legal challenge by the fishing industry and further evidence of a serious decline in the population before the government acted. A Maui’s dolphin was reported killed by a commercial fisher off the Taranaki in January, in an area of known dolphin habitat that we have long argued should be off limits to gill nets,” says Ms Bird.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure the decline of these dolphins is reversed. Small steps will not achieve this; we need bold measures and genuine leadership that will ensure a future for these dolphins.”

The official estimate placing the population of Maui’s dolphins at just 55 individuals over the age of one was released by the Department of Conservation in March this year.  It was based on DNA sampling and profiling carried out by a team of scientists at Auckland University.

Government commissioned science indicates that we can only afford to lose one dolphin at the hands of humans every 10 to 23 years without impacting on the population’s ability to recover.

“We hope history will prove this not to be a case of too little, too late,” said Ms Bird. “WWF will continue to speak on behalf of the vast majority of New Zealanders who want strong government action to save this precious species. The global community are also watching. Maui’s are in such a precarious situation we simply cannot afford to lose a single dolphin.”

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