Aug 15
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In the News: Conservation efforts boost numbers of Endangered Chinese monkey

The Endangered Yunnan snub-nosed monkey has received a welcome boost in south-western China thanks to conservation efforts, showing a 50% increase in numbers since the 1990s, according to Chinese state media.

Yunnan snub-nosed monkey image

Hunting is one of the major threats faced by the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey

Primate in peril

Also known as the black snub-nosed monkey, the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey is an inhabitant of south-western China’s high-altitude evergreen forests, where harsh environmental conditions prevail. At elevations between 3,000 and 4,500 metres, these forests suffer extreme weather, with temperatures falling below freezing for several months of the year.

As a result of hunting for food and its pelt, the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey suffered massive declines, coming perilously close to extinction in the 1980s. Since then, authorities have taken action to help save this elusive primate, by enacting a hunting ban, confiscating hunting guns, establishing special protected areas and banning logging.

Yunnan snub-nosed monkey image

The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Conservation success

The concerted conservation efforts have not been in vain, with a survey launched last month discovering that there are now more than 3,000 Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys surviving in the high-elevation forests of China’s Yunnan Province and Tibet Autonomous Region. These figures are welcome news, given that there were fewer than 2,000 individuals present in the area in the 1990s. Figures from Yunnan’s Baima Snow Mountain Nature Reserve are particularly encouraging, showing a nine-fold increase compared to numbers in the protected area in 1987.

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Endangered Chinese monkey population recovering.

See more photos and videos of the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Aug 2
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In the News: Iraq creates first National Park

Iraq’s Council of Ministers has approved the designation of the country’s first national park, in the Mesopotamian Marshes of southern Iraq.

Photo of Basra reed warbler among reeds

The Basra reed warbler breeds in the Mesopotamian marshes of Iraq

Once the third largest wetland in the world, the Mesopotamian Marshes are widely thought to be the original ‘Garden of Eden’. However, they were nearly destroyed during the Gulf War in the 1990s, when Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, drained the area and reduced the marshland to less than ten percent of its original extent.

Since Saddam’s downfall in 2003, efforts have been made to re-flood and restore the marshes, with surprising success. The new designation as a national park will hopefully help to protect this vital habitat into the future.

Wildlife returns

The Mesopotamian Marshes are of great importance to Iraq’s wildlife, providing a source of fresh water and essential habitat in a region surrounded by deserts. Despite most of the marshes being destroyed, the region’s wildlife managed to survive and is now making a remarkable comeback.

Photo of marbled duck

Restoration of the marshes has allowed species such as the marbled duck to return

They had hung on in small spots. When the water spread again, so did the birds,” said Richard Porter, BirdLife International’s Middle East Advisor. “It shows how resilient nature can be, and gives hope that other lost wetlands can be restored.”

Water politics

Unfortunately, although many parts of the marshland have recovered, others have not. One of the main threats to the wetland is the region’s water politics, with countries upstream of Iraq increasingly restricting the flows of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

To counter this threat, Nature Iraq, the NGO which led the campaign for the designation of the national park, has persuaded the Iraq government to build an embankment to allow water to be diverted into the marshes in spring.

Declaring a park isn’t just a bit of paper,” said Azzam Alwash, founder of Nature Iraq. “It will mean we can reserve a percentage of the water from the rivers for the marshes.”

Photo of bladetail in habitat

Restoration of Iraq’s marshes will benefit a range of different species

Long-term protection

A further threat to the marshes comes from Iraq’s increasing urbanisation and development. The building of roads, infrastructure and water systems could all threaten the country’s natural habitats if not properly regulated.

I see areas that have been the same way for thousands of years being obstructed by roads. Development is encroaching into the wildlife’s area and taking away habitats,” said Alwash, adding that, “I want progress, but I don’t want development to overtake the Iraqi tradition of living in harmony with nature.”

Long-term protection of Iraq’s marshes will depend on international agreements on water-sharing, as well as the availability of money, which could one day come from tourism.

Photo of greater flamingos in flight

Greater flamingos also occur in the marshes of Iraq

The team who worked on establishing the new national park see it as just one step towards the protection of many of Iraq’s other natural habitats. Next year, Alwash and his colleagues hope to establish four more parks across the country.

This park is not a destination,” he explained. “It’s just a piece in the roadway to protecting Iraq’s national and natural heritage.”

 

Read more on this story at:

View more photos and videos of species from Iraq on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 24
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In the News: Snow leopard under threat from cashmere trade

A rising global demand for cashmere is putting the snow leopard and other native wildlife in Central Asia under threat, according to a new study.

Photo of wild snow leopard in stalking pose

The snow leopard is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Domestic cashmere goats are raised in many parts of Central Asia for their luxurious fur coats. Although cashmere production is not new, the global demand for this product has increased dramatically, and goat numbers have almost tripled in some areas in the last 20 years.

The new study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, reports that the increasing goat population is encroaching on the habitat of the snow leopard and its prey. Nearly all the forage across the Tibetan plateau, Mongolia and northern India is now being consumed by goats, sheep and other livestock, leaving only tiny amounts for native herbivores such as the Tibetan antelope, saiga, wild yak and Przewalski’s horse.

Photo of Przewalski's horses in habitat

Goats are also competing with native herbivores such as Przewalski’s horse

A decline in these native prey species can lead snow leopards to hunt goats, so leading to increased conflict with humans as people seek to protect their herds. Other threats to native species include disease transfer from livestock and the killing of wild animals by herders’ dogs.

Green labelling

Cashmere production is an important source of income for many local communities in Central Asia.

According to Dr Charudutt Mishra of the Snow Leopard Trust, “Cashmere production is a complicated human issue. Understandably, indigenous herders are trying to improve their livelihoods, but the short-term economic gain is harming the local ecosystem.”

Photo of snow leopard female and juvenile

Snow leopards prey mainly on wild sheep and goats, but will take livestock if wild prey has been depleted

Dr Mishra suggests that ‘green labelling’ of cashmere clothes could help increase awareness of the issue among consumers. “One of the intentions is to bring together some of the local communities who produce cashmere and the buyers from the international market. We want to address everyone’s concerns and develop a programme where we can make grazing more sustainable, and that allows for wild and domestic animals to co-exist,” he said.

According to Dr Mishra and the other authors of the study, the iconic species of the region’s mountains and steppes will become victims of fashion unless action is taken on both a global and a local scale.

 

Read more on this story at BBC News – Cashmere trade threat to snow leopards and The Guardian – Snow leopards and wild yaks becoming ‘fashion victims’.

View more images and videos of the snow leopard on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 6
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Endangered Species of the Week: Rameshwaram parachute spider

Photo of captive female Rameshwaram parachute spider, camouflaged among dead leaves

Rameshwaram parachute spider (Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica)

Species: Rameshwaram parachute spider (Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Instead of using a web to catch prey, the Rameshwaram parachute spider actively catches its victims by ambushing them and injecting paralysing venom.

The Rameshwaram parachute spider is a colourful, tree-dwelling tarantula with an attractive pattern of light and dark markings. As its name suggests, this species is found on Rameshwaram Island, off the coast of Tamil Nadu, India, although it also occurs on adjacent parts of the mainland. It can be distinguished from other spiders in its genus by the distinctive yellow colour on the underside of its front legs. Although relatively little is currently known about the Rameshwaram parachute spider, it is likely to live in dark, well-protected cavities such as tree holes or inside house walls. This species feeds mainly on insects. Females can live for several breeding seasons, and may produce up to 52 young at a time. The Rameshwaram parachute spider typically lives in tree palm, coconut or tamarind plantations, but also occurs in human habitations.

The main threat to the Rameshwaram parachute spider is habitat loss, as the plantations it inhabits are being destroyed to make way for houses and other developments, as well as rice fields. This rare spider occurs in only a few highly fragmented locations, and its remaining patches of habitat are very small. Although not common in the pet trade, this attractive tarantula has also been known to be exported. Unfortunately, the Rameshwaram parachute spider is not protected by law. Proposals to create a spider sanctuary at the Hanumavilasum temple, which is home to the largest colony of this species, were sadly never put into practice.

 

Find out more about conservation in India at Conservation India and Wildlife Conservation Society – India.

See images of the Rameshwaram parachute spider on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 1
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In the News: Sumatran tiger rarer than previously thought

The Sumatran tiger, a Critically Endangered tiger subspecies, may be even rarer than previously thought, according to a new study.

Photo of Sumatran tigress

Found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the Sumatran tiger may number fewer than 400 wild individuals and is perilously close to extinction. In a new study, published in the journal Oryx, researchers from Virginia Tech and WWF used camera traps to estimate tiger density in previously unsurveyed habitats on Sumatra.

Worryingly, they found that tiger density may only be half what has been estimated in the past, and in some areas it could be as low as one tiger per 40 square kilometres.

Tigers under threat

The main reason for the low density of tigers on Sumatra appears to be human activity, particularly large-scale conversion of forest for oil palm, pulp and paper plantations.

We believe the low detection of tigers in the study area of central Sumatra was a result of the high level of human activity – farming, hunting, trapping, and gathering of forest products,” said Sunarto, the lead author of the study. “We found a low population of tigers in these areas, even when there was an abundance of prey animals.”

Photo of a male Sumatran tiger

Sumatra lost around 36% of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010, but the results of the study show that tigers fare badly even in areas where the forest is apparently intact.

According to Sunarto, “Tigers are not only threatened by habitat loss from deforestation and poaching; they are also very sensitive to human disturbance. They cannot survive in areas without adequate understorey, but they are also threatened in seemingly suitable forests when there is too much human activity.”

Tiger conservation

The findings of the study highlight the importance of protecting large areas of remaining forest and reducing the levels of illegal human activity. Opportunities still exist to protect some of the region’s forests, but without urgent action they could soon be converted to plantations.

Photo of Sumatran tiger at river

It will also be important to find ways to improve tiger habitat while also supporting local people, for example through agroforestry activities or selective logging. As the rapid conversion of forests to oil palm plantations is driven by high global demand, the international community also needs to take responsibility for protecting Sumatra’s forests and its tigers.

Although the results of the study are worrying news for the Sumatran tiger, the team found a potentially stable tiger population in the region’s Tesso Nilo National Park, showing that legal protection can be effective in reducing human impacts and allowing the tiger population to recover.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay and Science Daily.

View more photos and videos of tigers on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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