Archive | Conservation

Rare 'Asian Unicorn' Captured

VIENTIANE, Laos, Sept. 16 (UPI) — An extremely rare animal dubbed the “unicorn of Asia” — even though it has two horns — has been caught by villagers in Laos, wildlife officials said.

The antelope-like Saola has never been encountered by biologists in the wild and there are none in captivity, the BBC reported. The animal was only discovered in the forests of Southeast Asia in 1992, and just a few photographs of it exist, taken by local villagers or automatic camera traps.

The Saola — Pseudoryx nghetinhensis — inhabits the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam, where villagers from Laos’ central province of Bolikhamxay caught an adult male in August.

The villagers took a few photos of the odd-looking creature and notified authorities.

By the time a team from the Bolikhamxay Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office reached the remote location, the Saola was dead.

“The death of this Saola is unfortunate,” a provincial conservation spokesman said. “But at least it confirms an area where it still occurs and the government will immediately move to strengthen conservation efforts there.”

The Saola resembles the antelopes of North Africa but is believed to be more closely related to wild cattle.

Some locals call the animal a unicorn, despite the two horns. Only a handful have been sighted, mainly by local villagers.

“At best a few hundred survive, but it may be only a few dozen. The situation is critical,” Pierre Comizzoli, a veterinarian with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, said.

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Study: Tigers Facing 'last Stand'

NEW YORK, Sept. 14 (UPI) — The world’s remaining tigers, hit by hunting and habitat destruction, have taken refuge in just 6 percent of available territory in Asia, a U.S. study found.

The Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups report fewer than 3,500 tigers remain in the wild, of which only about 1,000 are breeding females, a society release said Tuesday.

The study has identified 42 “source sites” scattered across Asia that are the last hope for conservation and recovery of the world’s largest cat.

These source sites are defined as locations that contain breeding populations of tigers and have the potential to seed the recovery of tigers across wider landscapes.

Conservation efforts focused on these sites, including increased monitoring and enforcement, would enable tiger numbers to double in these last strongholds, researchers said.

“In the past, overly ambitious and complicated conservation efforts have failed to do the basics: prevent the hunting of tigers and their prey,” Joe Walston, director of the WCS Asia Program, said.

“With 70 percent of the world’s wild tigers in just 6 percent of their current range, efforts need to focus on securing these sites as the No. 1 priority for the species.”

Despite efforts by conservationists, tigers continue to be threatened by over-hunting of both tigers and their prey, and by loss and fragmentation of habitat, the study says.

Much of the decline is being driven by the demand for tiger body parts used in traditional medicines, scientists say.

“The tiger is facing its last stand as a species,” John Robinson, executive vice president of conservation and science for the WCS, said.

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Central American Manatees Under Threat

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) — DNA of manatees in Belize shows they are a separate subspecies from their Florida counterparts but are threatened by low genetic diversity, researchers say.

Belize has the largest known breeding population of Antillean manatees that scientists had hoped could repopulate other parts of Central American where manatees are severely reduced or threatened, a U.S. Geological Survey release said Monday.

But the low genetic diversity worries researchers.

“It turns out that the genetic diversity of Belize’s manatees is lower than some of the classic examples of critically low diversity,” USGS conservation geneticist Margaret Hunter, who led the DNA study, said.

When a population drops to low numbers, researchers say, the diversity of its gene pool also shrinks. Even if it rebounds to greater numbers, that population decline leaves a legacy of reduced genetic diversity known as a bottleneck.

This renders the population more vulnerable to threats to their survival such as disease, hurricanes or habitat destruction, scientists say.

The low genetic diversity in Central American manatees is blamed in part on centuries of hunting that were only curtailed early in the 20th century.

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Turtle Species Facing Rapid Decline

LONDON, Sept. 10 (UPI) — World populations of freshwater turtles are in catastrophic decline with one-third of the globe’s species facing extinction, a U.S. conservation group says.

Conservation International says the unsustainable taking of turtles for food and to supply a lucrative pet trade are behind the drop in numbers of the estimated 280 world species, the BBC reported Friday.

Turtles are highly sought in Asia, particularly in China, where turtle meat is believed to have medicinal benefits.

Habitat loss caused by damming of rivers for hydro-electricity is another major problem, CI said.

The outlook is worrisome, said Peter Paul van Dijk, director of CI’s Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program.

“These are animals that take 15-20 years to reach maturity and then live for another 30-40 years, putting a clutch of eggs in the ground every year,” he said.

“They play the odds, hoping that in that 50-year lifetime, some of their hatchlings will somehow evade predators and go on to breed themselves.

“But if you take these animals out before they’ve reached 15 and can reproduce, it all ends there,” van Dijk said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Scientists: Biodiversity a World Concern

CAMBRIDGE, England, Sept. 9 (UPI) — Halting the decline of Earth’s biodiversity will require changes in behavior by human society, British researchers say.

In an article in the journal Science, conservationists and scientists argue that unless human societies recognize the link between their consumption choices and biodiversity loss, the diversity of life on Earth will continue to decline.

“If we are to make any kind of impact, it is critical that that we begin to view biodiversity as a global public good which provides such benefits as clean air and fresh water, and that this view is integrated not just into policies but also into society and individuals’ day-to-day decisions,” Mike Rands, director of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and lead author of the paper, said.

Biodiversity loss is usually the result of unintended human actions and therefore presents unique problems, researchers say.

“The impacts of a particular action are often distant in space and time. This makes effective regulation difficult, as no single body has jurisdiction over the world’s biodiversity,” the article says.

The authors urge managing biodiversity as a global public good as one part of a possible solution.

“The value of biodiversity must be made an integral element of social, economic and political decision-making, as is starting to happen with carbon and climate change. Government, businesses, and civil society all have crucial roles in this transition,” the authors say.

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Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, Consumption, Other, Policies & Solutions0 Comments

U.S. Lists 'concern' for Basking Sharks

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 (UPI) — A U.S. agency says it is designating the eastern North Pacific basking shark a “species of concern” due to a dramatic decline in its population.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service says the shark has been overfished and its population has apparently not responded to conservation measures implemented to address fishing pressure, a NOAA release said Wednesday.

Basking sharks are filter feeders most commonly found in temperate coastal waters where plankton, their main food source, is concentrated.

The eastern North Pacific population of the sharks is thought to be a single group that migrates seasonally along the West Coast from Canada to Central California, NOAA says.

Until the 1950s, commercial fishermen in California targeted the sharks for fish meal and fish oil, and Canadian fishermen targeted them until the 1970s to reduce interactions between the sharks and salmon fishing nets.

Although there has been no commercial fishing pressure for decades, scientists are worried their numbers have not rebounded.

While hundreds, and even thousands, of fish were once observed together, no group larger than three has been reported since 1993, NOAA says.

NOAA’s Fisheries Service is working with researchers along the West Coast to tag and track basking sharks, the agency says.

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Cambodian Vultures Defying Extinction

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Sept. 3 (UPI) — Vultures in Cambodia are increasing in number, making it the only country in Asia with an increasing population of the scavengers, researchers say.

A record numbers of vultures have been counted in Cambodia’s census, with 296 birds of three species found across the Northern and Eastern Plains of Cambodia by the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project, a partnership of conservationists led by the Wildlife Conservation Society of London, a society release said.

While vultures across Asia teeter on the brink of extinction in most countries, all three of Cambodia’s endangered vulture species are either stable or growing in numbers, the WCS says.

The greatest threat to Asia’s vultures is the veterinary drug diclofenac, widely used as an anti-inflammatory drug for cattle in South Asia.

The drug is toxic to vultures, causing death in birds that feed on cattle carcasses, the WCS says.

Vulture conservation efforts in Cambodia are the result of a number of activities promoted by the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project, including paying villagers a small fee for protecting vulture nests and the establishment of “vulture restaurant” feeding stations.

“By protecting nests and supplementing food supplies, we are saving some of the world’s largest and most charismatic birds,” Hugo Rainey, WCS technical adviser to the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project, said. “Nowhere else in Asia do vultures have such a promising future.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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It's 'lights Out' in N.Y. — for the Birds

NEW YORK, Sept. 2 (UPI) — An increasing number of New York skyscrapers are turning their lights off at night — not to save energy but to save birds’ lives, officials say.

The “lights out” project to help reduce the number of birds hitting the high rise building was organized by the New York City Audubon Society and will run until Nov. 1, when migratory birds are expected to have completed their autumn migrations, the BBC reported.

Organizers of the annual program, now in its fifth year, say the bright lights disorient migrating birds and override their natural navigational cues.

An estimated 90,000 birds each year are killed in the city as a result of striking glass-faced buildings.

Volunteers will patrol many of the buildings at night.

“The monitoring and research improves our understanding of the causes behind urban bird [strikes], and studies ways to prevent future [strikes] from occurring,” Susan Elbin, director of conservation for NYC Audubon, said.

Among the buildings dimming their lights are the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

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Camera 'traps' Track World Biodiversity

LONDON, Aug. 31 (UPI) — U.K. scientists have developed a method to monitor rare and endangered species over large landscapes — and it’s as easy as clicking a camera shutter, they say.

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoological Society of London collect images from remote “camera traps” that automatically photograph anything that walks, crawls or flies by for a “Wildlife Picture Index” containing thousands of images of dozens of species, a Society release said Tuesday.

These virtual photo albums are then run through a statistical analysis to produce data for diversity and distribution of a broad range of wildlife.

“The Wildlife Picture Index is an effective tool in monitoring trends in wildlife diversity that previously could only be roughly estimated,” Tim O’Brien of the WCS said. “This new methodology will help conservationists determine where to focus their efforts to help stem the tide of biodiversity loss over broad landscapes.”

WPI was used to track changes in wildlife diversity over a 10-year period in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in southwest Sumatra, Indonesia.

The 1,377-square-mile park contains the last remaining tracts of habitat for large mammals including Sumatran tigers, rhinoceroses and Asian elephants.

After running an analysis of some 5,450 images of 25 mammals and one terrestrial bird species photographed throughout the park, the Wildlife Picture Index showed a net decline of 36 percent of the park’s biodiversity.

“The Wildlife Picture Index will allow conservationists to accurately measure biodiversity in areas that previously have been either too expensive, or logistically prohibitive,” John Robinson, WCS executive vice president for conservation and science, said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, Mammals, Other0 Comments

Review: EU Falling Down on Environment

BRUSSELS, Aug. 30 (UPI) — The European Union has earned a failing grade on its environmental commitments in almost all areas, recent officials studies say.

From protecting biodiversity to improving air quality in the cities, official reviews of the EU’s performance overwhelmingly say more must be done, Inter Press Service reports.

The European Commission, the bloc’s governing body, confirms the worrisome problems in its latest Environment Policy Review released Aug. 2.

Although many official environmental protection programs have been launched and progress is evident in some areas, “further efforts are needed, in particular (to tackle) the loss of biodiversity,” the EC review said.

Only 17 percent of protected EU habitats and species have a good conservation status, the review said.

“Grasslands, wetlands and coastal habitats are the most vulnerable, mainly due to factors such as the decline in traditional patterns of agriculture, pressure by tourist development, and climate change,” it said.

The review also found the quality of air in most European cities continues to be “bad.” Exposure to particulate matter, especially ozone and other heavy polluters such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, remains high, it said.

European Commissioner for Environment Biodiversity Janez Potocnik has urged European governments to increase their environmental efforts.

“A number of data and trends (in environmental protection) remain worrying. I see a clear need … for further EU and national policy measures to make Europe more resource efficient,” Potocnik said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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