Monthly Archives: December 2012

‘Human pressures affecting endangered species in Sundarbans’


New Delhi: Sundarbans, one of the largest sanctuaries for the Royal Bengal tiger in the world, is undergoing changes in its ecosystem due to “human pressures” which threaten the population of endangered species including the big cat, a new study says.

The study conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also says that the Indian side of Sundarbans is being subjected to various anthropogenic and natural processes affecting the distribution, quality and diversity of its mangroves.

“Human pressures and ecosystem changes are combining to threaten the population of endangered Royal Bengal tigers, one of the iconic species of the Sundarbans,” says the report titled ‘Sharing Lessons on Mangrove Restoration’.

The Sundarbans, covering 10,000 sq kms of land and water (more than half of it in India, the rest in Bangladesh) in the Ganges delta, contains the world’s largest area of mangrove forests. A number of endangered species live in the forests, including tigers, aquatic mammals, birds and reptiles.

Currently, over 4.2 million people live on the fringes of the Indian Sundarbans, resulting in high anthropogenic pressures on the mangroves and their resources.

“In recent years, climate change, regulation of freshwater flow, illicit mangrove felling, poaching and unplanned embankments for settlements have emerged as the main threats to the ecosystem,” the report says.

It says that the central part of the Indian Sundarbans receives almost no fresh water because of heavy siltation and clogging of the Bidyadhari channel.

“Seawater intrusion has further affected the growth of dominant mangrove species such as the freshwater-loving Heritiera fomes. The influence of salinity and effects of climate change, though not well-understood, appear to be promoting the invasion of alien species in some parts of the Sundarbans,” the report adds.


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‘Polar bears could be extinct in 25 years’


Scientists feel that hunting and the trade in body parts are the most serious threat facing the polar bear

For a millennium, the majestic, lily-white polar bear has lorded over the frozen wastes of the Arctic. But if two Russian experts are to be believed, the enigmatic “monarch of the ice” could be extinct in 25 years due to global warming and human incursions into their traditional habitat.

“If current policies are not changed, we can lose polar bears, which currently number 20,000-25,000 globally, within one (human) generation,” Nikita Ovsyanikov, member of the polar bear specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said.

Ovsyanikov and his compatriot, Masha Vorontsova, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Russia, were here for the 21st International Conference on Bear Research and Management organised by the environment and forests ministry and many wildlife NGOs.

The polar bear (or Ursinus Maritimus), the largest member of the Ursidae (bear) family, is also the largest terrestrial land carnivore and is found largely within the Arctic Circle encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and land masses.

“Today, this area belongs to five nations: Denmark (which administers Greenland), Norway (which administers the Svalbard archipelago), Canada, the United States (of which Alaska is a part) and Russia,” said Ovsyanikov.

So, why is the polar bear in grave danger? “It mainly faces threats such as habitat loss due to global warming and continuing human incursions into the Arctic, pollution, hunting for sport and subsistence as well as trade in body parts,” he added.

Both scientists feel that hunting and the trade in body parts are the most serious threat facing the polar bear.

The bear has been hunted since times immemorial by indigenous Arctic people, including the Inuit and Eskimos in Alaska and Canada and Yupiks, Nenets, Chukchis and Pomors in Russia. But they never hunted the species in excess of their requirements.

Trouble started with white European expansion and colonisation of the Arctic. The Europeans brought modern hunting practices and the notion of supply and demand of bear parts dictated by market forces. Everything has gone downhill after that.

In the later part of the twentieth century, the five nations finally woke up to the threat.

“The Soviet Union banned all hunting in 1956,” Vorontsova said.

Canada began imposing hunting quotas in 1968.

“Norway passed a series of increasingly strict regulations from 1965 to 1973 and has completely banned hunting since then. They only shoot some bears in conflict situations,” said Ovsyanikov.

“The United States began regulating hunting in 1971 and adopted the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. In 1973, the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed by all five nations,” said Vorontsova.

The treaty was a landmark in polar bear conservation, but loopholes remain and have morphed into big threats.

“The treaty allows hunting by local people using traditional methods. And that is the most tricky part. Because the aboriginals, mostly in Canada and Alaska, lease out their hunting quotas to foreign hunters, who in turn indulge in overharvesting polar bears for trading their body parts in foreign markets,” said Vorontsova.

According to some estimates, each year, approximately 600 polar bears are hunted in Canada and the parts of 441 are internationally traded.

“There is a growing market for bear pelts in Russia and China. What adds to the problem is that the polar bear is listed in Appendix 2 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), rather than Appendix 1 which would have guaranteed that there was no commercial trade in its parts,” said Vorontsova.

The other threat facing polar bears is global warming.

“It is impacting populations in the Russian Arctic,” said Ovsyanikov.

“A high percentage of cubs are lost. Females can’t breed. Individuals become famished. They have to survive on land as coastal refugees, instead of pack ice lost to warming. Also, there is pollution, oil drilling and increased susceptibility to diseases.”

Still, global warming would not make the polar bear extinct.

“These bears have survived six global warmings since they first appeared on earth. They won’t disappear by global warming alone but by a combination of factors,” said Ovsyanikov.

What is needed is more lobbying for the endangered animals, said Ovsyanikov.

“We need a broad international lobbying and consensus to save the bear. If we don’t do that, we will have only ourselves to blame.

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Endangered shark fins sold in Vancouver: probe

The fins of threatened and endangered shark species are being sold in Vancouver, an exclusive CTV News investigation has revealed.

Dried fins were purchased at local shops earlier this year, some by an undercover reporter and others by the Animal Defense League, and sent to a lab at the University of Guelph for DNA testing.

Out of 59 samples tested, 76 per cent of the fins matched sharks that are threatened or endangered under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s so-called red list.


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Shipping, overfishing pushing Yangtze finless porpoise towards extinction


Wuhan, China – The number of endangered finless porpoise spotted in an ongoing research expedition along the Wuhan-Yichang section of the Yangtze River has declined drastically with growing evidence pointing to impact of shipping and overfishing pushing the rare animal towards extinction, scientists on the expedition say.

The survey team has visually identified 39 individuals of the Yangtze finless porpoise – endangered on the IUCN Red List – during the 1,252km round-trip voyage on Wuhan-Yichang-Wuhan section of the river.

“Based on visual and sonar identification, the number of the Yangtze finless porpoises we’ve spotted is about one-third of the detected in the area during a similar study six years ago,” said Wang Kexiong, deputy head of the research expedition and an associate researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Hydrobiology (IHB).

Most of the 39 finless porpoises were spotted in the waters close to the Yanshou Dam, near the city of Yichang, Gong’an county, Chenglingji and Luoshan.

The distribution became concentrated and its location moved up stream compared to results in 2006, when the majority of discoveries were made across a wider area.

“The changes could be attributed to the comparatively gentle flow and rich fishery resources in waters near Yanshou Dam and Gong’an,” said Wang.

The Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides asiaeorientalis), which numbers between 1,200 to 1,500 in the wild, lives mainly in the central and lower reaches of the 6300km Yangtze River and two large adjoining lakes, Dongting and Poyang. Recent studies say that the species could become extinct in 15 years if nothing is done to protect them.

The expedition team is due to depart Wednesday for Shanghai before heading back to Wuhan late next month when the initial results of the research are expected to be announced.

Calculation of the number of cargo and fishing ships in the Yangtze started from Yichang onward to evaluate the pressure posed by shipping and fishery activities on the endangered species.

“Shipping traffic and fishing activities can cast an influence on the survival of the Yangtze finless porpoises. The relatively concentrated distribution and fixed location could possibly result from excessively busy shipping traffic in certain sections of the river that may have severed route of communication of the porpoises,” said Zhang Xinqiao, expedition team member and WWF finless porpoise programme officer.

For instance, in the waters off Shijitou in Xianning and Hannan district of Wuhan that have the busiest traffic of fishing and cargo shipping so far, little traces of porpoises were detected, said Zhang.

A total of 80 fishery boats and 697 cargo ships were counted by the team from Yichang-Wuhan. Twenty-seven cargo ships were calculated within 30 minutes in the waters off the Hannan district of Wuhan, while the number in Shijitou stood at six.

Led by China’s Ministry of Agriculture and organized by the IHB, WWF and Wuhan Baiji Dolphin Conservation Fund, the expedition commenced on November 11 and comes only six years after the Baiji dolphin – another rare cetacean and close relative of the finless porpoise – was declared functionally extinct.

For more information please contact:

Qiu Wei, Senior Communications Officer, WWF China,, +86 10 6511 6272

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Endangered tortoises seized at port


Two endangered tortoises found in the van of a man who had travelled from Morocco have been seized at a British port, Border Force officials have said.

The juvenile Spur-Thighed tortoises survived the 2,000-mile road trip inside a cardboard box before being discovered in the back of the van at Newhaven, East Sussex.

The man, who attempted to smuggle the animals to an address in London via Dieppe, told officials he was unaware of licensing restrictions on importing such animals into the UK.

The tortoises, both around three inches long, were seized by Border Force officers on November 17 under EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, which affords them the highest level of protection for a wildlife species within the EU.

The importation of tortoises is restricted under the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and they can only be brought into the UK if the correct permits have been issued.

No proper paperwork or permits were found in this case.

Tortoise smuggling is one of the five CITES priorities for Border Force, and they are offered the same level of protection within Europe as the giant panda or Bengal tiger.

Andy Lumb, of Border Force, said: “This illicit trade is a serious contributory factor to the threat of extinction faced by many endangered species.

“There is a complete ban on bringing live animals into the UK unless you have the necessary permit.”

The tortoises are now being cared for while plans are drawn up to rehouse them.

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Violence in Mali threatening survival of endangered elephants

Public release date: 12-Dec-2012
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Contact: Basil Waugh
University of British Columbia

Violence in Mali threatening survival of endangered elephants

University of British Columbia and Oxford University researchers have revealed the secrets of survival of an endangered population of African elephant in the unforgiving Sahara desert, and suggest that recent violence in Mali may be putting the animals at risk.

A two-year study, to appear in January’s edition of Biological Conservation, tracked the elephants’ migration with Global Positioning System (GPS) collars. Its findings advance conservation efforts for the animals, which are facing increased armed conflict in Mali between government forces and Touareg rebels.

“In recent years, the Mali elephants have largely managed to maintain their numbers in extreme natural conditions of heat and drought,” says lead researcher Jake Wall, a UBC Dept. of Geography PhD candidate, whose study received support from Save The Elephants, a Kenya-based conservation group. “The uprising occurring in northern Mali puts them at greater risk, as does increasing human settlement in their traditional territory and the growing risk of ivory poaching.”

The study focused on the Gourma elephants of Mali’s northern region, which are arguably the world’s toughest elephants. The desert-adapted species frequently endure sand storms, water shortages, and temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius (122 Farenheit). Hunting, drought and climate changes have reduced their population to an estimated 350 elephants.

The study reveals the elephants travel more than 32,000 square kilometers annually in search of food and water – the largest area ever recorded for any elephant species.

The elephants spend concentrated periods in several key areas and rely on a network of pathways, including a critical sandstone passage known as “la Porte des Elephants.” The study identifies 10 “hot spots” essential for their survival that should be protected for conservation purposes.

Backgrounder: Ivory poaching

Gourma elephants have largely been spared from the ivory poaching crisis ravaging elephant populations across Africa, but at least three have been killed this year. Profits from the illegal ivory trade are believed to fuel terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab, the Janjaweed and the Lord’s Resistance Army, experts say.

An anti-poaching initiative by the International Conservation Fund of Canada and the WILD Foundation is engaging local communities and national foresters in defense of elephants, says co-author Iain Douglas-Hamilton, an Oxford University zoology researcher and founder of Save the Elephants.

Backgrounder: Gourma elephants

Gourma elephants are believed to be the northernmost population of elephants in the world. They have historically enjoyed relatively peaceful coexistence with the local Touareg, Fuhlani and Dogon peoples, but conflict between humans and elephants over space and resources are increasing as local peoples shift from pastoralism to agriculture settlements.

A surprise study finding is that male and female elephants share only a quarter of their ranges. “We think the difference is partly because of their tolerances towards people,” Wall says. “Bulls generally take more risks and occupy areas that have higher human densities. They also have varying food strategies and we think that differences in the areas they occupy might be because of different vegetation types in those areas.”

Although Gourma elephants walk similar linear distances to their East and Southern African relatives, their movements are spread out over an area 150 per cent larger than those reported in Namibia, and 29 per cent larger than elephants in Botswana. Researchers believe their epic migration is due to the scarcity of food and water in the region, and suggest it may be forced to expand further as resources become scarcer.


Research co-authors include Brian Klinkenberg and Valerie LeMay of UBC and George Wittemyer of Colorado State University.

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The Tacoma Pocket Gopher is Extinct

EXIT 133

One little-known and seldom-seen species with Tacoma in its name has gone the way of the dodo. That’s the news from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Tacoma Pocket Gopher, a subspecies of the Mazama pocket gopher, was on the list to be considered for endangered species status when it went extinct.

Four other species of Mazama pocket gopher are on the list to be considered for endangered status. If these relatives of the Tacoma pocket gopher are listed, more than 9,000 acres of prairie land in Pierce and Thurston counties and JBLM would be identified as critical habitat, limiting their use. The gophers share their habitat with two other endangered species – the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly and the streaked horned lark – as well as with some human neighbors.

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, “The last records of Tacoma pocket gophers, [T.m. tacomensis] were of individuals killed by domestic cats.”

Farewell Tacoma Pocket Gopher, we hardly knew you.

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Eastern Cougar ‘Ghost Cat’ Declared Extinct


Another one officially bites the dust: the eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar), a big cat resembling a mountain lion that lived throughout the northeast U.S. and Canada, has been declared extinct, Scientific American reports. The cat first started dwindling when white-tailed deer, its primary prey, were nearly eradicated in the late 1800s. By the time the last known eastern cougar was shot and killed in Maine in 1938, locals already thought of the species as “the ghost cat.”

To confirm the species non-existence, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently completed a thorough survey around the area. USFWS scientists looked for tracks, bodies, den sites and photographs, but ended their hunt empty handed. “We came to the conclusion that the eastern cougar is likely extinct, probably since the 1930s,” they told Scientific American. Though Northeasterners—especially people in Vermont—still report cougar sightings, the USFWS said, those typically turn out to be bobcats, lynx and even large house cats.

Cougars do occasionally turn up, but all 110 confirmed instances of cougar sightings in past years were linked to escaped animals brought to the Northeast from different parts of the country. Around 1,000 cougars are thought to be in captivity in the U.S. and Canada.

People still won’t let the eastern cougar go, however. Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources, for example, claims to have seen paw prints and feces, though the last confirmed cougar sighting in that part of Canada occurred when one was shot dead 1884.

On the other hand, some scientists say the eastern cougar never went extinct, because it never existed in the first place. The previously recognized North American cougar subspecies may have just been one species, they say. Regardless, the eastern cougar will no longer appear on the endangered species list because, whether non-existent from the beginning or now extinct, it does not exist now.

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Conservation group: Utah fish is endangered

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a petition seeking to have a small fish in the Virgin River Basin listed as an endangered species by the federal government.

The Virgin River spinedace (SPYN-days) is a silvery minnow with a brassy sheen and black, sooty speckles. The fish is endemic to the Virgin River Basin in southwestern Utah, northwestern Arizona and southeastern Nevada, but now is found almost exclusively in Utah.

The federal government, Utah and conservation groups reached agreement in 1996 to try to return the fish to at least 80 percent of its historic habitat. But the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement Tuesday that those goals have not been met and that the fish needs federal protection to have a chance at survival.

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Federal jury convicts man in illegal wolf killing

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man has been convicted of violating the Endangered Species Act and lying to a federal official in connection with the 2010 killing of two gray wolves — a threatened species at the time.

The wolf was removed from Minnesota’s endangered list earlier this year.

A federal jury convicted 55-year-old Vernon Lee Hoff of Finland on Friday. A message left with his attorney wasn’t immediately returned.

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