Category Archives: forestry

With eye on economy, India may be blind to endangered tigers

Environmentalists fear that the new Act could reverse decades of progress in preserving the tigers, forests.

LiveMint.com

Kailashpuri, India: A tale about the forest dweller and the tiger sounds like some ancient Indian fable, a parable of man versus beast handed down through the ages and adapted by Rudyard Kipling for Western consumption.

But this is a real-life story unfolding today, as India’s government seeks to protect the country’s dwindling population of Bengal tigers while balancing the privileges of man. India has nearly half the world’s estimated 3,500 tigers. But in a country where the human population has ballooned to more than 1.1 billion—most of whom live on less than $2 (Rs79) a day—the government is also focused on expanding the economy and reducing poverty.

Parliament recently passed a law that enshrines the right of forest dwellers to remain in the forests and could allow the return of hundreds of thousands of people who abandoned their claim to the forest decades ago.

Environmentalists fear that the new law—known as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, and due to come into force in the coming weeks—throws open the gates of India’s national parks and reverses decades of progress in preserving the country’s shrinking forests and the tigers that live in them.

“The economy is the priority now and everything else can go to hell,” said Valmik Thapar, a conservationist and author who for more than a decade has publicized the plight of India’s critically endangered tigers.

As more and more of India’s forests are logged or turned into farms to feed its ever-expanding human population, the number of tigers has plummeted from an estimated 40,000 in 1925 to fewer than 1,500 today, a figure that some experts say is the tipping point for extinction. Protecting the animal has long been a national goal.

In Rajasthan, the Ranthambore National Park attracts tens of thousands of tourists every year eager to glimpse the elusive orange-and-black striped cats, the core of a growing tourism trade here that brings in more than $22 million a year, including at least $300,000 in park entry fees. But the potential strains created by the Forest Dwellers Act are plain to see here, too.

About 200,000 villagers live just outside the national park, many of them former forest dwellers. They were coaxed out of the forest over the past 30 years with promises of schools, health clinics and electricity—all part of a government-backed programme to protect the tiger habitat.

“By now, most of us have forgotten how to live in the forest. We are farmers now, not hunters,” said Chittat Gurjar, 67, a slim man in a white turban. Another villager, Kastoori Gurjar, 78, said she has no intention of returning to live in the forest. But she does want to visit.

“We just want to be allowed back in to worship our gods, who stayed in the forest,” she said, with tearful eyes as she recalled her childhood in the thick woods of the park.

The rights of India’s forest dwellers need to be protected, the Act’s supporters say. Media reports that thousands of forest dwellers have been evicted and many forest communities violently harassed in recent weeks, which some analysts say is an effort to limit the number of people eligible to initiate land claims underthe Act.

Environmentalists and wildlife experts are lobbying Parliament and the courts to strike down the law, widely seen as a populist vote-getter in the lead-up to next year’s general elections.

“This is legislation that no one in Parliament can say no to. It’s part of India’s romanticized notion of forest dwellers as people who live in harmony with the land,” said Goverdhan Singh Rathore, whose non-governmental organization, the Prakratik Society, provides schooling and medical care for many of the villagers who were once forest dwellers.

“That might have been true in the past, but the reality now is that if the growing numbers of forest dwellers are allowed to remain in the national parks and others with historic claims to the land are allowed back in, India’s forests will be gone very soon, and with them, the tigers,” Rathore said.

Luxury hotels and “eco-lodges” have sprouted on the edges of the Ranthambore National Park. Tourists pile into open-roofed jeeps and 20-seater buses that rumble along dirt roads through nearly 800 sq. km of forest, passing langurs, elk-sized deer called sambhars and monitor lizards that dart back into the brush as the cars pass.

But here, as throughout India, the chances of seeing a tiger are getting slimmer.

At least four of India’s 27 tiger reserves no longer have tigers. Some observers believe that at least nine other reserves in India also are in danger of losing their remaining tigers to poachers or to villagers who set out poisoned carcasses to kill animals that venture beyond the boundaries of the reserves to attack their livestock.

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Single-largest Biodiversity Survey Says Primary Rainforest Is Irreplaceable

 Sciencedaily

ScienceDaily (Nov. 14, 2007) — As world leaders prepare to discuss conservation-friendly carbon credits in Bali and a regional initiative threatens a new wave of deforestation in the South American tropics, new research from the University of East Anglia and Brazil’s Goeldi Museum highlights once again the irreplaceable importance of primary rain forest.

Working in the north-eastern Brazilian Amazon the international team of scientists undertook the single-largest assessment of the biodiversity conservation value of primary, secondary and plantation forests ever conducted in the humid tropics.

Over an area larger than Wales, the UEA and museum researchers surveyed five primary rain forest sites, five areas of natural secondary forest and five areas planted with fast-growing exotic trees (Eucalyptus), to evaluate patterns of biodiversity.

Following an intensive effort of more than 20,000 scientist hours in the field and laboratory, they collected data on the distribution of 15 different groups of animals (vertebrates and invertebrates) and woody plants, including well-studied groups such as monkeys, butterflies and amphibians and also more obscure species such as fruit flies, orchid bees and grasshoppers.

“We know that different species often exhibit different responses to deforestation and so we sought to understand the consequences of land-use change for as many species as possible,” said Dr Jos Barlow, a former post-doctoral researcher at UEA.

At least a quarter of all species were never found outside native primary forest habitat – and the team acknowledges that this is an underestimate. “Our study should be seen as a best-case scenario, as all our forests were relatively close to large areas of primary forests, providing ample sources for recolonisation,” said Dr Barlow.

“Many plantations and regenerating forests along the deforestation frontiers in South America and south-east Asia are much further from primary forests, and wildlife may be unable to recolonise in these areas.

“Furthermore, the percentage of species restricted to primary forest habitat was much higher (40-60%) for groups such as birds and trees, where we were able to sample the canopy species as well as those that live in the forest under-storey.”

These results clearly demonstrate the unique value of undisturbed tropical forests for wildlife conservation. However, they also show that secondary forests and plantations offer some wildlife benefits and can host many species that would be unable to survive in intensive agricultural landscapes such as cattle ranching or soybean plantations.

“Although the protection of large areas of primary forest is vital for native biodiversity conservation, reforestation projects can play an important supplementary role in efforts to boost population sizes of forest species and manage vast working landscapes that have already been heavily modified by human-use” explained Dr Carlos Peres, who leads the UEA team.

But, when carbon-credits from Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDDS) are tabled for the first time at the Bali meeting next month, decision makers should beware of seeing fast-growing exotics such as eucalyptus as a carbon sink solution to the world’s emissions problems. If agreed upon by world leaders REDDs offer an extraordinary opportunity to generate funds to support the long-term protection of large areas of intact forest habitat

Pristine forests are home to over half of all terrestrial species in the world and their loss would impoverish the planet. Far better to save primary forest from deforestation in the first place,” added Dr Peres. “That way we maximize both the biodiversity and carbon value of whole landscapes.”

The study was partly funded by the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative and their findings are reported in a recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Adapted from materials provided by University of East Anglia.

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Deforestation Hitting Orangutans Hard

Brunei Direct – Wani Abdul Gapar

The deforestation in East Kalimantan is gradually taking its toll on the local flora and fauna in the region.

During a trip to the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) in Samboja recently, The Brunei Times witnessed firsthand the extent of forest destruction and how it has affected the local plant and animal species.

An hour’s bus ride and 35km north from Balikpapan, the BOS centre is located in Samboja, a small district with some 10,000 residents.

The landscape has become a patchwork of regenerating secondary forests and barren fields after years of illegal logging activities. BOS bought the barren grassland in 2001 and has since been committed to bringing the forest back to the area.

While reforestation is the core project of BOS, other activities such as rehabilitation for wildlife plays an integral role in the sanctuary.

The BOS rehabilitation centre provides animals such as orangutans and sun bears a safe place with abundant natural food from rainforest trees.

Almost all the orangutans in the sanctuary have either been confiscated or handed over voluntarily to the BOS by people who kept them as pets.

The animals must undergo several procedures such as quarantine and socialisation before they can be released into their natural habitat i.e. the tropical rainforest, where there are no wild orangutans.

The vision of the foundation is “to save orangutan Borneo and their habitat together with people”, according to a BOS staff.

Mitikauji Yuniar, or Ika, said that the foundation is currently negotiating with the Heart of Borneo initiative to find a release site. “It’s our biggest homework,” said the BOS worker, adding that the foundation’s main goal is to eventually release the orangutan into the wild, not keeping them at the rehabilitation centre indefinitely.

There are presently 233 orangutans at the center. According to Ika, there is a huge underground market, both regional and international, for orangutans as pets as some people consider them as status symbols of wealth and prestige.

Moreover, the orangutans’ situation is increasingly worrying as combined with their lifespan of less than 45 years in the world; BOS also has to factor in that their natural habitat is threatened by deforestation as a result of illegal logging, forest conversion to oil palm estates and mining.

The BOS worker mentioned that more often than not, the orangutans that arrive at the centre come in orphaned and stressed from losing their mothers.

It takes $400 million rupiah a month just to fund the orangutan programme, according to Annaliza Chaniago, a communications coordinator at BOS.

She added that the amount goes to medical expenses and food for the animals.

Until 2006, the BOS has been sponsored by the Gibbon Foundation. These days, other NGOs and corporations contribute to the fund.

What most people only realise too late is that animals such as orangutans and sun bears are not meant to be kept as domestic pets, Chaniago added.

“Most of them are confiscated pets. They come in with behaviour problems,” she said. “Some people realise that sun bears get bigger and then cannot control them, so they give them away.”

The bears have a more difficult time adjusting to the wild compared to the orangutans as they do not adapt as quickly.

“They are very fat when they come in because their owners used to feed them with milk and mineral water,” she said.

Another problem is the dearth of research on sun bears. “There is still no success story of releasing sun bears into the forest,” Chaniago said.

“That’s why we prepare 58 hectares of enclosure. They are very active; they need small, medium height and tall trees. They need the forest because they’re very active, they break branches. The possibility of returning the bears to forest (here) is very slim,” Chaniago pointed out optimistically.— Courtesy of The Brunei Times

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Critically endangered species found in soon-to-be-destroyed Sumatran forests

 Wildlife Extra

Scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have discovered that some unprotected areas of Sumatran forests are safe havens for a variety of threatened species, including tigers, elephants, sun bears, tapirs, golden cats and clouded leopards. The Indonesian Government is currently allocating these areas to oil palm, timber plantations and other concessions, all of which have damaging impacts on the environment. If this strategy is not changed, it will result in loss of habitat that is vital to the future of the Sumatran tiger and many other species.

The survey focused on large mammals and revealed evidence of Sumatran tigers (critically endangered) throughout the area and groups of elephants with calves (endangered) in at least half of the forest as well as several other threatened mammals.

Adnun Salampessy, ZSL Field Researcher and coordinator of the survey, added, ‘We were astonished when we saw the images from the camera traps, which included an entire elephant family and at least five different tigers, identifiable by their stripes. Although we always believed these areas were important, it is incredibly encouraging to have actual, incontrovertible proof of the animals’ presence. We hope that this evidence will help persuade the government that such areas are highly important for conservation.’

Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park
The ZSL survey covered nearly 2000 sq. km of degraded, logged and partially settled forest adjacent to Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park in central Sumatra, which has recently been allocated to clearance for plantation forest. The surveys were led by the Zoological Society of London scientists, with survey teams including members of the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) wildlife protection teams and Indonesian forestry department (PHKA) staff from Bukit 30 National Park.

Sarah Christie, ZSL Carnivore Programme Manager, added, ‘This work shows that the criteria for developing land in Sumatra need to be urgently reassessed. Just because forests have been logged does not mean they have lost their value for biodiversity. Many of these areas are playing a vital role in supporting the last remaining Sumatran tigers. Before any land is allocated for conversion it is vital that thorough assessments are made of the remaining value to wildlife so that important areas can be avoided whilst areas that have to be developed can be done so sustainably.

The Zoological Society of London has been working in Indonesia for five years and is committed to working with the Government, industry and other NGOs on finding workable solutions to the continuing conflict between economic development and wildlife conservation.

Endangered animals under threat

  • The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is the smallest and darkest of the subspecies of tiger and is currently classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated population of 250 mature individuals. The species is only found on Sumatra, Indonesia, and is predominantly threatened by poaching and habitat loss.
  • The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is currently classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with fewer than 50,000 surviving, as a result of the effects of the timber and ivory trades, as well as human conflict.
  • The Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is currently classified as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List, as it has been little studied. It is threatened by habitat loss and hunting.
  • The Asian tapir (Tapirus indicus) is currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and lives in fragmented populations throughout Southeast Asia. It is predominantly threatened by habitat loss, but hunting also has an impact.
  • The golden cat (Catopuma temminckii) is currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated mature population of less than 10,000. The species is declining as a result of habitat and prey loss.
  • The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated mature population of less than 10,000. The species is declining as a result of habitat and prey loss and persecution.

The forests of Sumatra and Indonesia
The Zoological Society of London has been working since 2000 to establish how tigers and other large mammals use Sumatran habitat. The tropical forests of Sumatra in Indonesia are home to many of the world’s endangered species, including tigers, however these forest habitats are rapidly being cleared to make way for agribusiness operations such as logging and oil palm plantations. ZSL is actively working with oil palm and other resource extraction companies to find ways of mitigating the environmental damage caused.

Indonesia, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, lost over a third of its forest between 1985 and 1997 and was recently named as the third largest carbon-emitter in the world. Whilst the government is taking steps to prevent further loss of primary forest, development of ‘degraded’ or secondary forest by industry is being actively encouraged.

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Seven Years To Stop Amazon Deforestation

Sietchblog – The Naib

The IPCC says we have 8 years to stop global warming, and now Greenpeace and nine non-governmental organizations, say we have 7 years to stop deforestation in the Amazon. These groups have launched a proposal for a national agreement to end Amazon deforestation at an event attended by the Brazilian Minister of Environment and State Governors. The proposal aims to achieve a broad commitment from sectors of the Brazilian government and civil society for measures to ensure urgent protection for the Amazon rainforest.

“As we launch this initiative, the forests in the Amazon are being slashed and burned. This has to end. We show that it can end if political will, financing and conservation efforts work in a co-ordinated manner” said Greenpeace Amazon Campaign Co-ordinator Paulo Adario.

“Protecting the world’s remaining forests will significantly reduce climate change, maintain the livelihood of millions of people who depend on the forest and protect a huge amount of the world’s biodiversity” he said.

The proposal, entitled the ’Agreement on Acknowledging the Value of the Forest and Ending Amazon Deforestation’ shows that adopting a system of reduction targets could end deforestation in the Amazon by 2015.

Read the rest

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Vultures vanishing – even scavengers face extinction

The Globe and Mail

Global crisis growing more grim, World Conservation Union says, adding new threatened species to its death watch

Even the vultures are in trouble. They are drowning in water troughs, colliding with power lines and going hungry because there are fewer dead animals to feed on.

The World Conservation Union released its annual Red List of Threatened Species yesterday, the most authoritative catalogue of species on the brink. The 2007 report contains sobering news about the escalating global extinction crisis, and the increasingly tenuous hold of vultures, great apes and other creatures and plants.

Of the 41,415 vulnerable species on the list, 16,306 are in danger of disappearing forever, up from 16,118 last year. At least 785 plant and animals species have already been wiped out, and now the white-headed vulture, found in sub-Saharan Africa, could follow them into oblivion.

“Threats include reduction in carrion, including medium-sized mammals and wild grazing mammals,” the report says. Habitat loss is also a factor, as are encroaching humans; the birds will abandon their nests if they are disturbed by people. Vultures have also died after eating carcasses deliberately laced with insecticides, which were intended to kill hyenas, jackals and other livestock predators.

Two other African species – Ruppell’s griffon and the white-backed vulture, are also at risk, although are not considered in such imminent danger. In Asia, the red-headed vulture is now considered critically endangered, the World Conservation Union’s red alert category.

The “vulture crisis,” as it has been dubbed, is part of a grim trend.

“This year’s IUCN Red List shows that the invaluable efforts made so far to protect species are not enough. The rate of biodiversity loss is increasing and we need to act now to significantly reduce it and stave off this global extinction crisis,” says Julia Marton-Lefevre, director-general of the World Conservation Union. It used to be known as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and has kept its old acronym, IUCN.

This year, scientists reassessed the status of the great apes, which includes six species of gorillas, chimps, orangutans and bonobos, and a number of subspecies. They found our closest relatives are moving more swiftly toward extinction than previously believed.

The western lowland gorilla has lost 80 per cent of its population in three generations. The gorillas have been hit by the commercial bush meat trade and the Ebola virus. About one-third of the animals living in protected areas were killed by Ebola in the past 15 years.

A vaccine is being tested and might help, says Mike Hoffmann, a program officer with the IUCN in Washington. The gorillas are more vulnerable to Ebola than humans; 95 per cent of infected animals die, compared with the 50- to-85-per-cent mortality rate in people.

But Ebola is only part of the picture. Habitat destruction is a major factor in the decline of the gorillas and the other great apes, Dr. Hoffmann says.

Habitat protection is also key to saving many of the 50 plants and animals that live in Canada and are on the 2007 list, including the shortnose sturgeon, the whooping crane and the sea otter. But most threatened birds, mammals and amphibians live in the tropics. Australia, Brazil, China and Mexico have particularly large numbers of threatened species.

The World Conservation Union has been evaluating species on a global scale for 30 years. More than 10,000 scientists from 147 countries work on the inventory. They put plants and animals into one of nine categories: extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, least concern, data deficient and not evaluated.

They added corals to the list for the first time this year, including 10 species from the Galapagos Islands. Seventy-four species of Galapagos seaweed were also put on the list.

The only species to be declared a goner in 2007 was the woolly stalked begonia, a Malaysian herb that has not been seen for 100 years.

HUMANS THREATEN LIFE OF PLANET

Of all the species found by the World Conservation Union to be threatened, 99 per cent are at risk from human activity.

There are now 41,415 species on the IUCN Red List and 16,306 of them are threatened with extinction, up from 16,118 last year. The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or in cultivation.

Almost one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70% of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN Red List are in jeopardy.

NEAR THREATENED

The Breede River Redfin declines in Africa are the result of alien invasive species and agricultural practices.

ENDANGERED

The great hammerhead shark is found in tropical waters throughout the world and is threatened by demand for its fins and by being accidentally caught by fishermen.

CRITICALLY ENDANGERED

Floreana coral, native to the Galapagos Archipelago. Colonies disappeared from all known sites after the 1982-1983 El Nino.

Increased sea temperatures are thought to be responsible.

PLANTS

In 2007, 70 per cent of the species evaluated were considered threatened:

1996/98: 5,328

2007: 8,447

VERTEBRATES

Number threatened in 2007, as a percentage of species evaluated:

Mammals: 22%

Birds: 12%

Reptiles: 30%

Amphibians: 31%

Fish: 39%

1996/98: 3,314

2007: 5,742

INVERTEBRATES

Number threatened in 2007, as a percentage of species evaluated:

Insects: 50%

Mollusks: 44%

Crustaceans: 83%

Corals: 38%

Others: 51%

1996/98: 1,891

2007: 2,108

SOURCE: IUCN – THE WORLD CONSERVATION UNION

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More birds than ever face extinction – but success stories highlight way forward

Birdlife.org

As the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals the scale of the escalating extinction crisis occurring across the planet, an unobtrusive parakeet from Mauritius is showing that, with funding and dedicated fieldworkers, species can recover from the brink of extinction.

b_mauritius_parakeet_d_hanson_jpg.jpgReleased today, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals that unprecedented numbers of species are now threatened with extinction. For birds, the Red List is maintained by BirdLife International, who report that 1,221 species are considered threatened with extinction. The overall conservation status of the world’s birds has deteriorated steadily since 1988, when they were first comprehensively assessed.

189 birds are now listed as Critically Endangered – the highest threat category.

Yet even among these severely threatened birds is a small number whose survival odds are improving, providing case-studies to others for how species can be successfully saved. The most encouraging recovery seen in the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is Mauritius (Echo) Parakeet, once dubbed “the rarest parrot on Earth”.

Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula eques –a green parrot, males of which have a bright red bill – was once down to just 10 birds in the 1970s, but today saw the World Conservation Union (IUCN) announce its move from Critically Endangered to Endangered.

“Mauritius Parakeet is an inspiring example of how species can be helped to recover even from the brink of extinction,” comments Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Species Coordinator.

In the last century the species has suffered from a multitude of threats all of which contributed to substantial declines; yet concerted actions, involving local and international conservationists, the government and people of Mauritius  –with support from an array of international funders- has seen the species’ chances of survival improve.

“Our work in saving other Critically Endangered birds on Mauritius has taught us that you must tackle the root causes of decline and be prepared to address these issues first,” says Vikash Tatayah of the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation (MWF), the island’s sole terrestrial conservation NGO.

For Mauritius Parakeet, these threats included introduced nest predators (in particular Black Rat), decline of the native fruits on which the parakeets feed (itself outcompeted by invasive non-native plants, and eaten by feral pigs), and a loss of suitable nesting sites.

“These parrots only naturally nest in old canopy trees, which are disappearing across the island,” Vikash explains. “Many years of hard work went into tackling the shortage of nest sites and finally we’ve come up with a design acceptable to Echo Parakeets and requiring less maintenance. The parakeets now nest in artificial cavities more than the traditional nest cavities.”

“The artificial cavities also control for invasive nest predators – another long-term threat to the birds,” Vikash continues. “The boxes are rat-proofed, overhanging trees are trimmed, we poison for rats on the ground, and staple plastic sheeting around trees to reduce predation of eggs and chicks by rats. These are simple but essential measures to help get the population back on its feet.”

This is the third such downlisting to occur on Mauritius in recent years due to the efforts of MWF. In 2000, Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri, down to just nine birds a decade earlier, was downlisted to Endangered and now numbers 400 birds. Likewise, Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus, went from just four birds in 1974 and now numbers approximately 1,000 individuals.

On being asked the secret of their success Vikash answers: “It’s no use saying ‘a parrot is a parrot, a pigeon is a pigeon’; instead we must ask how we can use the lessons we have learnt on restoring populations of other threatened birds – we must pass information on, learn from our experiences and the experiences of other projects worldwide.”

“We’ve needed fantastic support and that’s what we’ve got: both technical and financial but you also need excellent and dedicated people in the field. Whilst funding is crucial, equally so is having trained people in the field – people make the difference.”

The news is of encouragement to those working in conservation within the BirdLife Partnership, once again proving that with adequate investment and trained people on the ground, threatened species do recover. [5]

Two weeks ago the first Mauritius Parakeet eggs of the season were laid and MWF is confident that, due to good native fruit season, a sufficient number of young parrots will fledge to maintain the population.

“Mauritius Parakeet is still Endangered – we still have lots of work to do,” states Vikash. MWF will continue conservation work on the species until the Mauritius Parakeet population is self-sustaining, but by working to maintain habitats, control predators and promote biodiversity they hope to improve the survival odds of other species that too depend on the island’s biodiversity, “People included,” adds Vikash.

“Like other species that have been saved from extinction, reversing the fortunes of the Mauritius Parakeet took painstaking research to identify the threats, sufficient funding and sustained efforts by dedicated fieldworkers to implement the necessary actions,” said BirdLife’s Dr Stuart Butchart.

“Across the world there are dedicated people struggling to repeat this story for other species, but they need the resources to achieve this.”

For more on today’s Red List 2007 announcements visit: www.iucn.org

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Western gorilla just one of the 16,300 species facing threat of extinction

The Scotsman

GREAT apes laugh when they are tickled and cry when they grieve; they think about their past and plan for the future. But that future seems to be a long road to extinction.

The World Conservation Union, which yesterday published this year’s Red List of Threatened Species, said the western gorilla was “critically endangered” – one step from global extinction – because of poaching and the Ebola virus.

One expert said anti-poaching measures and the use of available vaccines could halt a terminal decline and cost as little as £1 million.

The western gorilla is just one of 16,306 species at risk of extinction – 236 animals and plants were added to this year’s list – out of more than 41,400 assessed.

One in four mammals, one in eight birds, a third of all amphibians and 70 per cent of the plants out of those that have been studied are in jeopardy.

“Life on Earth is disappearing fast and will continue to do so unless urgent action is taken,” the World Conservation Union, which is known by the French acronym IUCN, warned.

But the plight of the western gorilla – the most common of the gorilla species – suggests humans will move too slowly to make a real difference.

Dr Peter Walsh, a member of IUCN’s primate specialist group, said the rate of decline in populations was “dizzying” and unless action was taken in the next ten years, numbers would fall to unsustainably low levels, with ultimate extinction.

In some areas, 90 per cent of the gorillas have been wiped out by outbreaks of Ebola. “It’s in the next ten years that the real damage is going to be done,” Dr Walsh said. “They’re being reduced to tiny populations of a few hundred animals.”

He said the situation could be reversed with just a few million pounds spent tackling poachers and vaccinating gorillas.

“In the future, people are going to remember this as a period when we knew our closest relatives were being wiped out and did nothing,” he said.

A Malaysian herb, the woolly-stalked begonia, was the only species declared extinct this year. Ten species of seaweed are listed as critically endangered, with six possibly extinct.

The Yangtze river dolphin remains critically endangered but further studies are to be carried out to establish whether it is extinct, as many experts believe.

Vultures in Africa and Asia are also believed to be in trouble, with the red-headed vulture deemed critically endangered and several others facing problems due to a lack of food, habitat loss and power lines strikes.

But what is the hope for these animals, given the lack of action to save the gorilla?

Russ Mittermeier, head of IUCN’s primate specialist group, said: “We could fit all the remaining great apes in the world into two or three large football stadiums. There aren’t many left.”

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Last refuge of the orang-utan

The Independent.

Once it was a mighty orange army, 300,000-strong. Now the tree-dwelling mammal is down to its last 25,000 as its habitat is destroyed in favour of palm oil plantations. David McNeill reports from the sanctuary in Borneo battling to keep them alive

Published: 04 September 2007

 

Homeless, semi-paralysed and blind in one eye, Montana faces an uncertain future. Even if his friends find somewhere for him to live, the 15-year-old has been seriously weakened by years in assisted care.

orangutan-traveling-forest.jpgThe lethal dangers of readjustment in his natural home include men like those who shot him out of a tree when he was just a baby and the hostile attentions of his stronger neighbours. But for the source of the greatest threat to Montana’s existence, say his supporters, look no further than your food cupboard.

The orang-utan, one of our closest animal relatives and the largest tree-living mammal on the planet, is in deep crisis. A once-mighty orange army of 300,000 that swung through the dense forests of much of south-east Asia has dwindled to fewer than 25,000 concentrated on the two Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, conservationists say. There, they cling precariously to life on government-protected nature reserves that are under siege by developers of one of the world’s most lucrative commodities: palm oil.

Illegal logging, fires and clearances have decimated the tropical rainforest that is the exclusive home of the primates, who nest high above the forest floor. The casualties join Montana at a care centre near Pangkalan Bun in central Borneo, crowded with more than 320 homeless, orphaned and sick or injured orang-utans – a number that grows by a barely manageable 20 per cent a year, say the workers there.

Montana peers unhappily from his cage. Unlike 250 of his predecessors, who have been relocated to the jungle upriver from here since this centre was set up in 1998, he is unlikely to ever leave. “We just can’t find homes for all of them,” says Birute Galdikas, the famed anthropologist who runs the care facility, after producing a long list of daily needs that includes nappies for the three dozen or so babies. “We are looking at the extinction of orang-utans in the wild.” She estimates that without action, the orang-utans – one of the four great apes along with gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, have just 10 to 15 years left in the wild.

The Borneo orang-utan is listed as “highly endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, one short step on the ladder of extinction above its Sumatran cousin, which is critically endangered. “When it goes extinct, it will be a terrible loss,” says Dr Galdikas. “I can’t tell you how urgent it is.”

To grasp just how urgent, you have to travel from Pangkalan Bun up the chocolate-coloured Sekonyer river to the heart of one of the world’s last great wildernesses, the Tanjung Putting Park, a 410,000-hectare nature reserve that is home to perhaps 6,000 orang-utans (nobody knows for sure) along with proboscis monkeys, gibbons, macaques and crocodiles.

The reserve is an oasis in a landscape pressured by human demands and the growing local population. Behind the thick canopy of mangroves and Pandanus along the Sekonyer, bald patches of cleared jungle can be seen from the boat. Guards posted along the river patrol for illegal logging and poaching.

Some orang-utans are kept as pets or smuggled out of the country and sold to perform in Thai kick-boxing matches or in circuses. But the “real issue”, say scientists, is palm oil plantations.

Julia Roberts and Joanna Lumley made this journey a few years ago, with documentary crews to film one of the only places in the world where orang-utans can still be seen in the wild. Lumley is said to have been “horrified” to discover that her handbag was stuffed with cosmetics containing palm oil.

Extracted from the fast-growing oil palm tree, it is now probably the world’s most popular vegetable oil, surpassing its soybean alternative and used in a tenth of supermarket products, including crisps, biscuits, toothpaste, margarines and make-up.

So ubiquitous is the oil that few UK supermarkets have ever seriously considered removing it from their shelves – and 85 per cent of it comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s number one and number two producers. Often it comes from giant mono-crop plantations hewn from the tropical forests and run by agri-business concerns with powerful political support.

“Greed drives the industry,” says Dr Galdikas. “The industry is tied with the political elite who are making bundles of money off this. You have to see these mansions in Jakarta to understand the money that is coming from it.” She calls the clearance of central Borneo to make way for the crops a “scorched earth” policy. “It is unbelievable,” she says.

Conservationists say many of the devastating fires in 1997-98 that robbed the orang-utans of perhaps 30 per cent of their habitat in Borneo and helped blanket much of south-east Asia in a dense smog were caused by forest-clearing for palm oil plantations. Those fires briefly drew attention to the plight of the Borneo and Sumatra orang-utan, but Indonesia is still converting land at a rate of at least 1,000 sq miles a year and has announced plans to raze an area half the size of the Netherlands to make the world’s biggest palm oil plantation, according to the UK-based Orang-utan Foundation.

A couple of years ago, say local forest guides here, 2km was shaved off the northern end of the Tanjung Putting reserve. “Nothing is safe,” says one, who explains that the valuable forest hardwood, including teak and mahogany is often sold to finance the plantations.

The reserve is dotted with elevated feeding stations, where the guides leave ripened bananas and milk to supplement the animals’ diets. As a small group of tourists wait in the sweltering tropical heat, the animals descend from the forest roof in ones and twos, first mothers hugging their children, accompanied by the sound of creaking and breaking branches.

With their bulk and powerful grip, the orang-utans do considerable damage to the trees, but they also help spread the seeds for new growth in the dung they leave across the forest, a process of regeneration that has gone on for millennia.

Then the dominant male arrives, a huge 250lb bruiser named Tom by the guides, who has earned his title by beating off all the other young pretenders.

As Tom peels and eats bananas, the guide tells us he is 24 and, like all male orang-utans, lives alone. “But we don’t know where, somewhere high in the trees,” he says. As the forest shrinks around him, so do his sources of food, but the guides say they must not destroy the orang-utans’ ability to forage, and turn them into vermin dependent on human charity. “The only way for them to survive is for us to preserve their habitat.”

The destruction of the rainforest here would also deprive many other animals of their home, including some possibly not yet discovered. One estimate is that Indonesia is home to perhaps as many as 140 species threatened with extinction in the next few decades, including the Sumatran tiger and the Asian rhinoceros. And in a bitterly ironic twist, they may go the way of the dodo to meet demand for cleaner energy sources in a world choking on fossil fuels: many countries are looking to palm oil as a source of bio-fuel.

Cheap and carbon neutral, palm-oil diesel was until recently hailed as a safe, renewable alternative to petroleum, but such claims have been undermined by a series of studies. One, by Wageningen University in Holland, published this year, found the carbon released from peat swamps in Indonesia and Malaysia – drained and burned to allow plantations of palm oil trees – released 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere, or 8 per cent of the world’s fossil fuel emissions.

“It is like kicking your head to get rid of a headache,” says Dr Galdikas. “The palm oil prices are going through the roof because of their use as bio-fuel and this, one of the poorest countries in the world, is cutting down its trees to supply the market.”

Scientists say that the global warming caused by the release of this carbon is drying the forest floor, making it easier to burn and adding to the devastation.

To that double whammy – releasing vast quantities of carbon into the air while destroying the forests that suck it up – add another: the permanent, irreversible loss of countless animals. But demand for palm oil continues to rise. A $48m (£24m) palm-oil bio-diesel plant opened in Australia’s Northern Territories last year and three 50 megawatt power stations are currently planned in Holland.

The staff at the Pangkalan Bun centre say each of those decisions brings the orang-utan one step closer to extinction. Senior administrator Mrs Waliyati fears more for her youngest charge, nine-month-old orphan Britney, than her oldest. “It might be too late for Montana, but what about the young ones?” she asks. The solution, she says, is as simple as it is enormously difficult. “Don’t use palm oil. If you do, it means you are agreeing to cutting down the rain forest. If you don’t stop, in 15 years, or sooner, there will be no place for these animals.”

One of our closest ancestors

One of our closest ancestors, with 97 per cent of its DNA the same as that of humans, the gentle orang-utan was once found across Indonesia and as far north as China, but is now on the edge of extinction. Earthwatch estimates they may have as little as 12 years left in the wild, after which our only chance to see them will be in zoos, where about 1,000 are kept in captivity around the world. Their name comes from the Borneo words orang hutan, meaning “people of the forest”.

Almost totally dependent on trees, the animals survive on a mostly fruit-based diet supplemented by bark, flowers, leaves and insects. They usually live and forage alone, except when mothers are nurturing their children and teaching them how to survive in the dense forests, a process that takes up to six years. Scientists believe the animals are equipped with large memories to help them locate the thousands of food sources on which they depend.

Extremely slow to breed, the inter-birth cycle in orang-utans takes up to eight years, limiting females to three or four offspring during their 45-year life span. Although successfully bred in captivity in Australia and other parts of the world, the long-term impact of captivity on the species is not known, but is likely to be negative. Scientists say it is better to save them now.

“Concern for orang-utans indicates concern for the planet,” says the conservationist Birute Galdikas.

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Environmentalists Challenge Political Interference

 Center for biological diversity

Environmentalists Challenge Political Interference
With 55 Endangered Species in 28 States, Seek to Restore
8.7 Million Acres of Protected Habitat Across the Country

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Department of the Interior for political interference with 55 endangered species in 28 states. The notice initiates the largest substantive legal action in the 34-year history of the Endangered Species Act.

At stake in the suit is the illegal removal of one animal from the endangered species list, the refusal to place three animals on the list, proposals to remove or downgrade protection for seven animals, and the stripping of protection from 8.7 million acres of critical habitat for a long list of species from Washington State to Minnesota and Texas (see below for species and states affected).

“This is the biggest legal challenge against political interference in the history of the Endangered Species Act,” said Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It puts the Bush administration on trial at every level for systematically squelching government scientists and installing a cadre of political hatchet men in positions of power.”

Many of the illegal decisions were engineered by former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald, who resigned in disgrace following a scathing investigation by the inspector general of misconduct at the Department of the Interior. Other decisions were ordered by her boss, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Craig Manson, his special assistant Randal Bowman, and Ruth Solomon in the White House Office of Management and Budget. Some decisions were ordered by lower-level bureaucrats.

“The Bush administration has tried to keep a lid on its growing endangered species scandal by scapegoating Julie MacDonald,” said Suckling, “but the corruption goes much deeper than one disgraced bureaucrat. It reaches into the White House itself through the Office of Management and Budget. By attacking the problem systematically through this national lawsuit, we will expose just how thoroughly the distain for science and for wildlife pervades the Bush administration’s endangered species program.”

In many of the cases, government and university scientists carefully documented the editing of scientific documents, overruling of scientific experts, and falsification of economic analyses.

Among the 55 species in the legal filing are the marbled murrelet (CA, OR, WA), Florida manatee (SC to TX), Arctic grayling (MT), West Virginia northern flying squirrel (WV), California least tern (CA), brown pelican (LA, TX, PR, VI), California red-legged frog (CA), arroyo toad (CA), Mexican garter snake (AZ), piping plover (NC to TX), snowy plover (CA, OR, WA) and Preble’s jumping meadow mouse (CO, WY).

Number of species per state: California (24), Texas (16), New Mexico (9), Arizona (5), Louisiana (3), Colorado (2), Oregon (2), Washington (2), Kansas (2), Georgia (2), Florida (2), Alabama (2), Mississippi (2), Puerto Rico (2), American Virgin Islands (2), Montana (1), Iowa (1), Minnesota (1), Nebraska (1), South Dakota (1), Missouri (1), South Carolina (1), Nevada (1), Utah (1), Wyoming (1), West Virginia (1), Guam (1), Rota (1).

Species per state and issue:

Species

Range

Issue

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