Category Archives: habitat

As a Japanese Island Grows Less Remote, a Wildcat Grows More Endangered


New York Times

IRIOMOTE ISLAND, Japan — The Iriomote wildcat is said to have roamed this small, subtropical island in the East China Sea for 200,000 years, but proved so elusive that it was not discovered until 1967. To this day, many islanders have never seen the wildcat, and some even stubbornly deny its existence.

One of the world’s rarest wildcats, it survives only here on Iriomote, one of Japan’s most far-flung islands. Almost indistinguishable from a house cat, the Iriomote wildcat is believed to be related to a leopard cat found on the Asian continent, to which this island was once linked.

In a nation where pork-barrel politics have paved over the country and dotted it with airports, Iriomote (pronounced ee-ree-o-mo-teh) can be reached only after a 35-minute ferry ride from neighboring Ishigaki Island and has a single main road hugging just half its coastline. Iriomote’s mist-shrouded, mountainous interior, blanketed by primeval forests and laced with mangrove-lined rivers, remains almost as impenetrable as ever.

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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.

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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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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USA. Scientists call for Lower Snake Dam removal to help endangered Orcas

BYM Marine Environment News

Leading Northwest scientists and orca advocates are urging NOAA Fisheries to consider removal of the four lower Snake River dams in order to protect endangered Puget Sound orca populations that need Columbia-Snake River salmon as a critical food source.

“Restoring Columbia River Chinook salmon is the single most important thing we can do to ensure the future survival of the Southern Resident Community of killer whales,” said Dr. Rich Osborne, research associate with The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA. “We cannot hope to restore the killer whale population without also restoring the salmon upon which these whales have depended for thousands of years. Their futures are intricately linked.”

The comments from the six prominent orca scientists, delivered in a letter to Northwest members of Congress and NOAA regional administrator Robert Lohn, came in response to the Oct. 31 release of a new draft Biological Opinion from NOAA Fisheries for Columbia-Snake River salmon management. Salmon advocates say the new plan, the result of a court-ordered rewrite of an earlier, illegal 2004 federal salmon plan, fails to do enough to recover imperiled salmon in the seven-state Columbia-Snake river basin, and ignores altogether the four dams on the lower Snake River that do the most harm to these fish.

“History will not be very forgiving of the resource managers who failed in their responsibilities to these icons of the Pacific Northwest, Chinook and orca,” said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research.

“The draft plan relies heavily on actions that science and time have proven will not restore these fish to the levels necessary for self-sustaining populations of salmon, or abundant enough to provide a healthy food resource for these killers whales,” said Dr. David Bain, a killer whale biologist at Friday Harbor Labs. “Not only are salmon from the Columbia River an important historic food source, recovered abundant salmon in this river are an indispensable requirement for the future recovery of Southern Residents.”

“The new Federal salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers is no better than previous plans in providing access to the basin’s best remaining salmon habitat in the upper reaches of the Snake River,” said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network. “The resulting declining salmon runs have a very real impact on the 88 endangered southern resident orcas that depend on these fish, as they have for centuries. As the salmon disappear, the orcas go hungry.”

“The best science tells us,” Garrett added, “that to revitalize Snake River salmon, we’ll need to bypass the dams that block fish passage, and that dam removal, combined with a variety of economic investments, will bring benefits to upriver communities in eastern Washington as well as to Puget Sound.”

The Columbia and Snake River Basin was once the world’s most productive salmon watershed, with tens of millions of fish returning annually. Today, returns hover near 1% of those historic levels. More than 200 large dams on the basin’s rivers are the major cause of this crisis, with 13 populations now listed under the Endangered Species Act, and four directly impacted by the lower Snake River dams. Yet, the Columbia-Snake Basin still holds more acres of pristine salmon habitat than any watershed in the lower 48 states.

It is this opportunity, notes Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound, that we must take advantage of, if we hope to protect and restore these two iconic Northwest species whose fates are inexorably intertwined.

“Our leaders must look for solutions not only in Puget Sound, but also in the rivers that bring the salmon to the sea throughout the Northwest,” Fletcher said. “The great salmon rivers like the Columbia and Snake can once again produce the healthy runs of Chinook, on which our majestic orcas feed, but only if we recover salmon habitat. We must act quickly to restore clean water, abundant, sustainable salmon populations, and a safe home for orcas. The scientists tell us there is no time to waste.”

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Single-largest Biodiversity Survey Says Primary Rainforest Is Irreplaceable


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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How we’re destroying our habitat

 The Australian

LIKE a recklessly profligate spendthrift, humanity has largely ignored ever shriller environmental warnings and continued on a destructive path that has already done extraordinary damage.

Climate change, air pollution, land degradation, overpopulation, increasing natural disasters: all these are the symptoms of a sick planet.

An extensive new audit of the Earth, written by 400 scientists and reviewed by 1000 experts under the aegis of the UN Environment Programme, contains an urgent call to action.

The fourth Global Environment Outlook report runs to more than 500 pages of detail on the world’s woes.

The audit has found that each human being now requires one-third more land to supply their needs than the planet can provide. Humanity’s footprint is 29.1ha a person, while the world’s biological capacity is on average only 15.7ha a person. The result is net environmental degradation and loss.

Failing to address persistent atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity problems, UNEP says, “may threaten humanity’s survival”. The report’s authors say there is no significant area dealt with in the report where the foreseeable trends are favourable.

More than 30 per cent of the world’s amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12per cent of birds are now threatened with extinction. More than 75 per cent of fish stocks are fully or overly exploited. Six in 10 of the world’s leading rivers have been either dammed or diverted. One in 10 of these rivers no longer reaches the sea for part of the year. More than two million people die prematurely every year from indoor and outdoor pollution. Less than 1 per cent of the world’s marine ecosystems are protected.

The report’s foreword is written by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who warns that “issues of energy and climate change can have implications for peace and security”. Competition for dwindling natural resources such as water, he notes, may become a trigger for conflict.

James Cook University’s pro vice-chancellor Chris Cocklin went to a concept meeting at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi two years ago, where he was invited to help frame the GEO-4 report.

There had been some dissatisfaction with previous GEO reports, he says, and there was concern the reports had lacked the level of peer review required by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

That shortcoming has been remedied in part and Cocklin, an environmental scientist, considers the latest report credible. “I think the UN does have a degree of distance; they are reading the evidence and presenting the report around the evidence, rather than making ambit claims.”

Cocklin, though, takes issue with the notion that humanity’s survival is at risk. “We’re a bit like cockroaches, really: we can survive quite a lot,” he says. “But the quality of life is absolutely at stake; that’s under serious threat, if you like looking at green trees and seeing animals and birds.”

He says biodiversity is at an important point where action is needed to maintain the balance, and there isn’t much room for delay.

The GEO-4 report notes that the accelerating loss of biodiversity is linked to humanity’s increasing use of energy, and warns changes in biodiversity and ecosystems can lead to changes in disease patterns and human exposure to disease outbreaks.

Maintaining present biodiversity levels, the report says, is critical. Functioning ecosystems provide buffers to extreme climate events, filters for waterborne and airborne pollutants, and carbon sinks.

Cocklin says that at the rate we’re going, the survival of certain parts of the globe will soon come into question. “Some of the world’s leading experts in biodiversity are warning of a mass extinction of plant and animal species,” he says.

The report elaborates on the theory that the available evidence points to a sixth “major extinction event” now under way. Unlike the previous five extinction events, which were the result of natural disasters and planetary change, the present loss of biodiversity can mostly be sheeted home to human activity.

The Australian Museum’s principal research scientist Daniel Faith says he reviewed part of the GEO-4 report, and although he largely agrees with its conclusions, he took exception to one measure of biodiversity – mean species abundance – which he believes can distort the real picture. For instance, mean species abundance in a specific place can be quite high, but certain species can still be depleted.

“But overall I think it’s a very good study,” says the biodiversity specialist. “It’s really difficult to work with a broad brush at a global perspective.”

As well as assessing the planet’s health, the report focuses on human wellbeing: essentially two indivisible elements making up the world picture.

Humans affect, and are affected by, the environment to an enormous degree. The GEO-4 report includes a number of disquieting statistics on humanity. The global population has grown by 1.7 billion in the 20 years since 1987, to a grand total of 6.7 billion. And these 6.7 billion humans consume like a plague of ravenous insects. One small example noted in the report: every year, 1.1million to 3.4million tonnes of undressed wild animal meat, or bushmeat, is eaten by people living in the Congo basin.

And people are flocking to the cities. By the end of this year, more people will be living in cities than in rural areas for the first time in history. Already, more than one billion people live in slums across the world. Water-related diseases, such as cholera and diarrhoeal infections, kill about three million people a year. Ten million children under five die every year – 98 per cent of them in developing countries – and three million of these deaths are the result of unhealthy environments.

The report considers seven distinct regions and Australia slots into the category of Asia and the Pacific. Home to 60 per cent of the world’s population, the region has seen some solid gains, the report says, including improvement in environment protection, energy efficiency and the provision of clean drinking water. Yet vastly increased consumption and its associated waste have accelerated existing environmental problems and contributed to some of the worst urban air quality in the world. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than one billion Asians are exposed to excessive air pollution.

The report says climate change is likely to cause more severe droughts and floods in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as soil degradation, coastal inundation and saltwater incursions caused by rising sea levels. Agricultural productivity, it warns, is likely to decline substantially because of warmer temperatures and shifting rainfall.

Murdoch University’s Frank Murray, one of the GEO-4 report’s authors, says one of the broad themes concerns the relationship between humanity’s wellbeing and economic development, and how they largely depend on the health of the environment. Murray, an environmental scientist, was on the team that wrote the chapter on atmosphere, including climate change, air pollution and ozone depletion.

Murray used the Kuznets curve – devised by the Nobel prize-winning economist Simon Kuznets – to explain how the environment degrades as development proceeds. This continues until a certain level of development is reached and the general public – now mostly richer and better educated – begins to agitate against air pollution or water pollution. Agencies are then established to control development and pollution. “Air pollution and water pollution in the US is much lower than it used to be,” he says. “China is trying to clean up Beijing, with (next year’s) Olympics in mind.”

Murray says the GEO-4 report is a flagship UNEP publication that has taken a number of years to research, write and edit. Various governments, he says, did remove certain elements they didn’t like, but that simply meant the assessment was moved to a broader regional level rather than an individual national level. “Rarely is any individual government criticised in this report,” he says. “Countries are very sensitive about being named adversely.”

One of the big issues in the report, which has been comprehensively addressed by other organisations, is climate change. “Climate change is a major global challenge,” the report says. “Impacts are already evident, and changes in water availability, food security and sea-level rises are projected to dramatically affect many millions of people. Drastic steps are necessary.”

The report ranks climate change as a global priority, yet the authors note a “remarkable lack of urgency” and a “woefully inadequate” global response.

Murray says change is on the way. Although very little happened for many years, climate change has now been recognised as a fact of life by ordinary people in developed nations, and governments are responding to community pressure. Remedies are possible, he says. Ozone depletion, for instance, has been halted by global action to ban chlorofluorocarbons.

Cocklin is less sanguine and he is doubts whether relying on governments to effect change is a good idea. “We certainly can’t look to politicians for leadership on climate change,” he says. “The leadership, if it’s anywhere, has come from the private sector.”

Ominously, UNEP warns that some of the damage resulting from the world’s most persistent problems could be irreversible. Tackling the underlying causes of environmental problems, the GEO-4 report says, often means dealing with the vested interests of powerful groups that can influence policy decisions.

“Our common future,” the report says, “depends on our actions today, not tomorrow or some time in the future.”


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Five Rare Critically Endangered Species Of Asiatic Lions Found Dead In India

 All Headline News

New Delhi, India (AHN) – Five rare Asiatic lions were found electrocuted Friday at India’s Gir National Park in western Gujarat state, the Wildlife Protection Society of India reports.

The recent death of lions was caused by an electrified fence that was put up illegally by a farmer to protect crops near the sanctuary. A total of 32 rare lions have died at a national park this year.

Belinda Wright, the society’s executive director told the AFP, “The Asiatic lion is one of the most critically endangered species on this planet and this added twist of so many lions being killed by electrocution… is a catastrophe.”

“Preliminary information suggests that the three lionesses and two cubs were electrocuted by a crop protection fence put up by a farmer near Dhari, Amreli district, in an area adjoining Gir National Park,” she said in a statement.

Eight lions killed by poaching, six electrocuted, five fallen into wells, one hit by a vehicle and 12 others found dead, the society said.

Police had arrested the farmer responsible for recent death. If convicted in building an unauthorized fence that killed animals, the farmer faces seven years in prison.

Asiatic lions were once common in many parts of Asia, but only about 350 are known to remain, all in Gujarat state of India.

Their bones and claws are highly prized in India for use in traditional Chinese medicine and amulets respectively.

The 560-square-mile sanctuary is the world’s only natural habitat for the lions. The Society is currently working closely with the enforcement authorities to curb the killing of lions by professional poachers.



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