Category Archives: africa

Poachers kill Kenya’s most rare antelope

 Nationmedia.com – Issa Hussein

Four poachers have been arrested for trapping and killing Kenya’s most endangered antelope, the Hirola, which is threatened with extinction.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) wardens on patrol in Kilindini area along the River Tana arrested the poachers who had trapped the antelope using snares. 

Officers led by Cpl Ibrahim Haro saw suspicious footprints in the grazing field frequented by the Hirola antelope and after tracking them found four poachers skinning the antelope in a thicket. 

The poachers were forced to surrender at gunpoint and were arrested.

Cpl Haro said the poachers, who are being held at Masalani police station awaiting referral to a Hola magistrates court, had also killed a buffalo a week earlier and were on KWS officers’ wanted list. 

He appealed to communities living along the Tana River not to hunt the Hirola antelope as the species, which is only found in Kenya, was in danger of extinction. 

He said the Kenya Wildlife Society officers will continue to mount patrols to ensure the endangered species was safe from poachers. 

The Hirola weighs between 75 and 160 kilogrammes and, according to KWS officials, is threatened with extinction from poachers and competition from domestic livestock.

The antelope is one of the world’s rarest animals.

The KWS and donors translocated 29 of the animals to Tsavo East National Park in 1995 and 1996 to try and protect it from decimation by poachers.

Armed with bow

In Tana River District, the district warden, Ibrahim Osman warned residents against hunting dikdiks which he said were also facing extinction.

He said Kenya Wildlife Society wardens recently arrested eight poachers with 187 dikdik carcasses.

He said the game that used to be common near Hola town had now fled to other areas.

He warned that anyone found with game meat will face heavy penalties.

Meanwhile, a suspected poacher was arrested yesterday morning after he was caught in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia East District armed with a bow and poisoned arrows.

Yesterday’s incident comes a month after suspected poachers killed a black rhino at the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa.

No one has been arrested in connection with the incident.

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Threat to rain forests isn’t easing

CHARLES BURESS – SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The world’s rain forests hold many promises.

They help store greenhouse gases that would otherwise contribute to global warming. They provide habitat for thousands of species and homes for indigenous people.

Yet rain forests are still being destroyed despite decades of work to prevent deforestation. The economic pressures are great: a desire to expand cropland, the need for more cattle-grazing pastures and the production of timber, to name a few.

It’s unclear how much the destruction of rain forests is offset by reforestation in areas where forests were cut down and by natural expansion of forests and planting of trees on nonforest land.

Alan Grainger, a University of Leeds geographer and editor of the Journal of World Forest Resource Management, has found that estimates of rain forest destruction between 1973 and 2000 vary widely. In a report published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he concluded that existing data make it difficult to conclusively prove overall tropical forest decline.

However, the main source used by most researchers, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Forest Resources Assessments, indicates a net decline in tropical forests from 1990 to 2005. The agency’s data for the size of natural forest in 90 tropical countries showed 4.37 billion acres in 2005, down 9.3 percent from 4.81 billion acres in 1990.

“Deforestation is real,” said Lars Laestadius of the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit environmental think tank. “We can see it on the ground and in satellites.”

However, even if the loss of some rain forests is made up by regrowth, problems with deforestation remain.

Richard Houghton, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center of Falmouth, Mass., estimates that tropical deforestation releases about 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year as the trees that store the greenhouse gas are cut. The burning of fossil fuels, by comparison, produces about 7 billion tons, according to some estimates.

Data from the World Resources Institute indicate that deforestation accounts for about 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gases, compared with nearly 10 percent for road vehicles.

A recent U.N. meeting on climate change focused on deforestation. The December conference in Bali produced an international agreement that pledges a global effort to reduce tropical deforestation because of its impact on climate change. A plan to do that is expected by next year.

While some critics said the effort is not ambitious enough, it is still “great progress,” said Frank Merry, a scientist at Woods Hole. Other environmentalists have praised the attention to the issue.

Solving the problem of deforestation takes a country-by-country approach, many experts agree.

The Amazonian and other tropical forests of South America are losing about 8.6 million acres a year, from a total estimated at about 1.7 billion acres in 1999, said Rodolfo Dirzo, a Stanford biology professor who studies deforestation’s impact on biodiversity.

The primary cause, he said, is conversion of the land to agricultural uses such as cattle grazing and crops, followed by logging for timber.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 17 percent of the Brazilian Amazon has been deforested. That’s an area about the size of Texas.

The main drivers of the Brazilian deforestation, according to the group, are agricultural expansion for soybeans and other crops, cattle ranching, roads and dams for resource access and for energy exploration, illegal logging, forest fires and drought.

Meanwhile, in Paraguay, the rate of deforestation has dropped sharply, largely because most of the easily accessible forest has already been cut down, said Richard Reed, chair of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Trinity University in San Antonio. That country’s forests are now one-tenth of what they were when he first went there 25 years ago, he said.

The loss has had a “devastating effect” on the Guarani Indians, who lived in the forest and whom Reed has studied for the past quarter century.

“The Indians are forced onto little packets of land that are left over once all the land is sold off,” he said. Largely gone is their hunting, fishing and foraging life, replaced by being “forced to work for wages, and hanging out on the edges of towns and farms,” he said. They live like day laborers, while the suicide rates for teenagers are astronomical, he said.

Southeast Asia also is seeing significant deforestation, particularly to plantations for palm oil, which is used in a wide range of snacks and foods. Indonesia has seen more than 182 million acres of its forest destroyed in the past 50 years, according to Greenpeace.

And in Mexico, only about 17 percent of the original forests remain, Stanford’s Dirzo said. There, about 10 percent of species have been wiped out, meaning the potential loss of unique chemical compounds that could have life-saving value as medicines, Dirzo said.

GET INVOLVED

Those who want to help save rain forests have a wide range of options to choose from. Those who wish to learn more about the rain forest problem or about actions recommended by various organizations can contact a large number of groups.

Amazon Watch: www.amazonwatch.org

Center for International Forestry Research: www.cifor.cgiar.org

Friends of the Earth: www.foe.org

Greenpeace: www.greenpeace.org

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: www.noaa.gov

The Nature Conservancy: www.nature.org

Rainforest Action Network: www.ran.org

Union of Concerned Scientists: www.ucsusa.org

U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: www.ipcc.ch

U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change: unfccc.int

Woods Hole Research Center: www.whrc.org

World Resources Institute: www.wri.org

World Wildlife Fund: www.wwf.org

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Common human viruses threaten endangered great apes

Press Release..

Contact: Cathleen Genova
cgenova@cell.com
617-397-2802
Cell Press

Common human viruses are responsible for outbreaks of respiratory disease that have led to the decline of endangered chimpanzees in the wild, according to a study reported online on January 24th in Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press. The findings—which are the first to provide direct evidence of virus transmission from humans to wild great apes—illustrate the challenge of maximizing the benefit of research and tourism to great apes while minimizing the negative side effects that come with human contact, the researchers say.

“Research and tourism has a strong positive effect on great apes’ survival since it reduces poaching activities in these areas and gives more ‘political weight’ to the apes and protected areas,” said Fabian Leendertz of Robert Koch-Institut and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. “[The spread of viruses] has been a concern, but people had never proven it. Our demographic analyses of chimpanzees suggest that this started as soon as people got close enough to chimps to transmit diseases. There is a correlation between habituation—the proximity between humans and chimps—and disease outbreaks.”

Commercial hunting and habitat loss are major drivers of the rapid decline of great apes, the researchers said. Ecotourism and research have been widely promoted as a means of providing alternative value for apes and their habitats. While close contact between humans and habituated apes has raised concerns about disease transmission, previous studies had only demonstrated the spread of relatively mild bacterial and parasitic infections from humans to wild apes.

In the new study, the researchers gathered evidence from chimpanzees hit by five distinct respiratory outbreaks between 1999 and 2006 in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. The outbreaks sickened almost all of the chimps and led to a significant number of deaths.

All available tissue samples taken from chimps who had died tested positive for one of two paramyxoviruses: human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) or human metapneumovirus (HMPV), the researchers report. HRSV and HMPV are common causes of respiratory disease in humans and are the leading causes of lower respiratory disease in children and, in developing countries, a major source of infant mortality, the researchers said. In adults, HRSV and HMPV usually cause mild upper-respiratory-tract infection but can lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

“The viruses we found are very common,” Leendertz said. “Antibody prevalence in humans is almost up to 100 percent, meaning almost everybody has had contact with these viruses.”

Twenty-four years of mortality data from observed chimpanzees revealed that such respiratory outbreaks could have a long history, Leendertz’s team reported. But, they added, there was some good news: “Survey data show that research presence has had a strong positive effect in suppressing poaching around the research site.”

The researchers have already stepped up guidelines to help minimize the disease risk to chimpanzees, and they urge others to do the same. For example, Leendertz said, they now maintain a distance of at least seven meters, wear masks, and disinfect their boots regularly.

###

The researchers include Sophie Kondgen, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; Hjalmar Kuhl, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; Paul K. N’Goran, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Centre Suisse des Recherches Scientifiques en Cote d’Ivoire, Cote d’Ivoire; Peter D. Walsh, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; Svenja Schenk, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Berlin Veterinary Faculty, Institute of Immunology and Molecular Biology, Berlin, Germany; Nancy Ernst, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Roman Biek, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK; Pierre Formenty, Ebola Tai¨ Forest Project, World Health Organization (WHO)WHO Office in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire; Kerstin Matz-Rensing, German Primate Center, Gottingen, Germany; Brunhilde Schweiger, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Sandra Junglen, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Heinz Ellerbrok, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Andreas Nitsche, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Thomas Briese, Centre for Infection and Immunity, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY; W. Ian Lipkin, Centre for Infection and Immunity, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY; Georg Pauli, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Christophe Boesch, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; and Fabian H. Leendertz, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.

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Congo establishes nature reserve for endangered apes

International Animal Rescue

Congo is setting aside more than 11,000 square miles of rainforest to create a nature reserve designed to protect the endangered bonobo ape.

The Sankuru Reserve, established by the African country’s Ministry of the Environment in collaboration with environmental groups, will help to preserve numbers of the rare animal that is also one of the human race’s closest relatives.

Announcing the reserve, the Congolese Minister of the Environment, Didace Pembe Bokiaga, emphasised that its creation was another step towards the government’s aim of safeguarding 15 per cent if its forest as protected land.

“This increases the total area of protected land in the DRC to 10.47 per cent, bringing us closer to our goal of 15 per cent,” he explained.

“We are proud that the Sankuru Reserve is being created in the framework of community participative conservation…and will be zoned to guarantee the rights of the local population,” the Minister added.

Start-up funding of $50,000 (£25,000) for the project is being provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Associated Press reported, with an additional $100,000 (£50,000) coming from private donors.

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Half of life could go extinct by century’s end, warn eminent biologists

Africa Online

In “fireside chat” at Yale University on Wednesday, prominent naturalists Edward O. Wilson and Peter H. Raven predicted dire consequences for the planet’s biodiversity and habitability unless current trends in consumption and environmental degradation are reversed. The two scientists were awarded the Addison Emery Verrill Medal by the Peabody Museum of Natural History for their contributions to natural science before a capacity crowd at Yale’s Sprague Hall. Both are known for their environmental activism as well as extensive research and popular writing.

Wilson, known for his contributions to island biogeography as well as the controversial field of sociobiology, said that humans—like all earth species—are adapted to this world. But most people have the dangerous attitude that this world is “a waystation for a better world”, warned Wilson. Humans could cause the extinction of half of all species by the end of the next century, he stated.

The event was billed as a debate between the two scientists, but they found little to disagree about. (Raven quipped that he did not care for Wilson’s tie, the extent of their disagreement for the evening.) Raven pointed to unsustainably high levels of consumption, especially in the United States, that will lead to ecological disaster if left unchecked. Levels of consumption have to be cut drastically, he argued. But Wilson claimed that it would be possible to maintain and even improve quality of life even while significantly reducing the population’s ecological footprint. Current models, he said, predict that human population will peak at around 9 billion, and that “if we use what we have” intelligently, the world could be a sustainable paradise by the 22nd century.

Raven and Wilson both argued for the compatibility of religious and environmentalist viewpoints. According to the second chapter of Genesis, said Raven, man was put on the earth in order to preserve it. Wilson said that we need to “form an alliance” to save life on earth—an alliance including both religious and non-religious people—and that one can be a “conservative right-wing Christian” and an environmentalist. His recent work, including the Encyclopedia of Life, has focused on creating such an alliance.

The most important thing, Raven said, is to expose children to nature. Invoking the argument of Rachel Carson’s 1965 A Sense of Wonder, Raven said that children between the ages of 4 and 10 are extremely impressionable, and that teaching them to appreciate the natural world will be the most effective way to ensure environmental consciousness in the next generation. But although Raven was a naturalist from a young age, he said that he “didn’t give a thought to conservation” while in graduate school in the 1950s. Carson’s 1962 book on the dangers of pesticides, Silent Spring, was Raven’s introduction to dangers of environmental degradation. Wilson also emphasized Carson’s legacy for the environmental movement; he proudly noted that Carson biographer Linda Lear had recently called him the “only surviving person who actually helped Rachel Carson” put together Silent Spring.

Raven and Wilson were only the 16th and 17th, respectively, to receive the Verrill Medal, which is the highest honor awarded by the Peabody Museum. Before a sympathetic crowd, Wilson tactfully avoided any mention of his own institution, Yale’s rival Harvard.

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West Africa’s sharks risk extinction

Afriquenligne 

Dakar, Senegal – The uncontrolled catching of sharks in West Africa may cause the extinction of some of the species, according to Mika Diop, Fisheries Biologist and Co-ordinator of the Sharks Sub-regional Action Plan (PSRA-Sharks).

“As there has been a strong development of fisheries for these species in the last 20 years for fins exported to Asia and for the meat consumed in Ghana and Nigeria, there are significant catches threatening the stocks,” Diop said here Tuesday, at the opening of a training workshop for technicians from eight African countries in Dakar.

According to the scientist, sharks capture has dropped since 2002 due to the development of traditional fisheries but also due to “the very particular biology of these species, marked by an extraordinary longevity, a very low fecundity and a very slow growth”.

He said about 100, 000 tonnes of sharks were captured annually in the West African sub-region, noting however there had been a reduction in catches.

“Lower captures stand now at 50% in West Africa, against the 90s figures.” Diop said, explaining for instance that catches in Senegal fell from 10, 000 tonnes to 7, 400 tonnes between 2001 and 2002.

On his part, Bernard Seret, Researcher at the Institute of Research for Development (IRD), said the development of sharks fisheries in West Africa was boosted by Asia’s growing demand for fins.

Denouncing the poor management of the resource, Seret called for harmonised rules in the sub-region.

“We can no longer allow the uncontrolled use of the resources because they do not only belong to the fishermen but also to humanity,” he warned.

Sharks are described as the sea policemen as they don’t have any predators and are only threatened by fishing activities.

Even though there is a sub-regional action plan on the conservation and sustainable management of sharks species, experts said only Senegal and Guinea had so far adopted them.

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Congo rebels seize habitat for endangered gorillas

 USA Today

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Rebels have seized an area in eastern Congo that serves as a wildlife habitat for endangered mountain gorillas, threatening one of the last known populations of the animals, conservationists said Sunday.

Shelling and heavy gunfire could be heard from the headquarters of the Virunga National Park, and rangers were forced to flee over the weekend, said the international conservation group WildlifeDirect.

Only 700 mountain gorillas exist in the world, of which more than half live in the Virunga conservation area, a huge swath of territory at the intersection of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

Rebels loyal to warlord Laurent Nkunda have frequently battled over the park in their clashes with the army. Caught in the crossfire are the rare gorillas, 10 of which have been killed this year.

“This is a human conflict that is involving the mountain gorillas. They are not a target, but can so easily get caught in crossfire and shelling,” said Emmanuel de Merode, the director of the international conservation group WildlifeDirect.

“We still cannot protect our gorillas. This conflict has no place in the park, least of all in the habitat of these animals. We hope they will be unharmed,” said Norbert Mushenzi, director of the southern section of the park for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature.

The area containing the mountain gorillas was also attacked in January, when two silverbacks were killed. Four months ago, the dead body of a female gorilla was found. Conservationists say she was killed execution style.

International wildlife groups concerned about the welfare of the gorillas are funding a $100,000-crisis management program to increase the number of rangers patrolling the habitat.

“This appalling security situation is making it virtually impossible to implement the emergency program. There is a lot that we need to be doing, and we simply cant,” said Lucy Fauveau of the London Zoological Society.

Earlier this month, hundreds of people, including rangers and their families, fled the park after fighting broke out. Wildlife groups said huge swaths of the park, including several patrol posts, had been occupied by Nkunda’s insurgents and looted.

Since then, Nkunda’s forces allowed a handful of rangers back to track the gorillas and they accounted for 18 of the estimated 72 mountain gorillas on the Congo side of the park, WildlifeDirect said.

But the most recent outburst of fighting forced the rangers who had returned to flee again, leaving no one to track the rare animals.

Virunga National Park, established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park, is located in a lawless swath of eastern Congo that the country’s government has struggled to bring under control for years.

Eastern Congo has been gripped by violence involving militias and rebels for more than a decade. Government forces have failed to prevent sporadic outbreaks of violence since the end of the country’s four-year war in 2002.

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