Jul 24

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
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

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

Jun 29
Photo of Sumatran orangutan with infant

Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Species: Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The name ‘orangutan’ means ‘person of the forest’.

The Sumatran orangutan lives almost exclusively in trees, only very rarely coming down to the ground. This large Asian ape is found in lowland tropical rainforests and swamps in northern Sumatra, and feeds mainly on fruit, although it will also eat leaves, termites, and even occasionally the meat of slow lorises. The Sumatran orangutan is distinguished from the Bornean orangutan by its narrower face, longer beard and lighter fur, and the two species also behave slightly differently. Adult male orangutans are larger than females, and may have large cheek pads on either side of the face. Orangutans are long-lived and breed very slowly, with females only producing an infant around once every eight years, giving them the longest inter-birth interval of any land mammal.

The main threat to the Sumatran orangutan is the loss of vast areas of forest due to illegal logging, mining and conversion to agriculture, particularly oil palm plantations. Forests have also been fragmented by roads, and forest loss and fragmentation make orangutans more vulnerable to being captured for the illegal pet trade. This species’ slow reproductive rate makes it very difficult for its populations to recover from any losses. The Sumatran orangutan is fully protected by law and is listed on Appendix I of CITES, which bans international trade in this species. However, the key to saving this charismatic primate lies in protecting its remaining forest habitat. A major stronghold for the Sumatran orangutan lies in the Leuser Ecosystem Conservation Area, and projects are also underway to rescue and rehabilitate orangutans that have been orphaned or confiscated, and, if possible, to return them to the wild.

 

Find out more about orangutan conservation at the Orangutan Foundation and Great Apes Survival Partnership.

You can also find out more about Sumatra and its wildlife on the ARKive Indian Ocean islands page.

See images and videos of the Sumatran orangutan on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 3

The Sumatran rhino has not been seen in the state of Kalimantan, Borneo, for more than two decades, but recent evidence has been found to suggest that this threatened species still occurs in the Indonesian state.

Sumatran rhino image

The Sumatran rhino is one of the most threatened mammals in the world

Encouraging evidence

Now considered to be one of the world’s most threatened mammals with just 200 to 275 individuals remaining in the wild, the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino once roamed across the Himalayan foothills and east to southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Viet Nam and Peninsular Malaysia. However, this impressive range has since been dramatically decreased as a result of hunting and habitat destruction.

Also known as the ‘hairy rhino’ due to a covering of reddish-brown to black hair, the Sumatran rhino is known to survive in small populations on Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sabah, but this is the first time that scientists have been able to confirm the presence of this shy and elusive species in the state of Kalimantan for over 20 years.

While conservationists from WWF-Indonesia have yet to spot a rhino in Kalimantan, the discovery of footprints, mud wallows, tree markings and signs of rhino feeding all indicate that at least one Sumatran rhino persists in the area.

This is a very important finding to the world, and especially to Indonesia’s conservation work, as this serves as a new record on the presence of Sumatran rhinos in East Kalimantan and especially in West Kutai,” said Bambang Noviyanto, the director for biodiversity conservation at the Forestry Ministry.

Sumatran rhino image

The Sumatran rhino is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Numbers

In such small and fragmented populations, it has become difficult for populations of the Sumatran rhino to breed successfully, and cases have been reported in the past of single rhinos surviving alone in a small forest fragment. The rarer the species becomes, the more challenging it is for scientists to count and monitor the number of remaining individuals.

As yet, there is no information on whether the recent evidence has been left by just one rhino or a small group, but scientists believe it is unlikely that the group is large.

The Sumatran rhino is on the very brink of extinction. The fact that this discovery comes more than a decade after the last evidence of the species in Kalimantan, despite the opening up of previously remote areas during that period, suggests that this might be just one or a small number of individuals,” explained John Payne, a conservation scientist with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA). “If so, they might not have been breeding. There may be inbreeding, or a skewed sex ratio, or simply old or otherwise infertile rhinos.”

Sumatran rhino image

WWF-Indonesia is working on determining how many rhinos may be living in Kalimantan

Breeding programmes

Along with other scientists at BORA, Payne is currently working to breed two Sumatran rhinos in large, semi-wild enclosures in Sabah, Malaysia, one of which was found living alone in a fragment of forest with no hope of finding a mate to breed with.

A similar breeding programme in Sumatra led to the first successful birth of a captive Sumatran rhino since 2001. Given that it was only the fourth captive Sumatran rhino birth in the last century, this was an impressive achievement, but Payne believes that more rhinos will need to be captured to increase genetic diversity within the population and ensure that the breeding programmes are successful in the long term.

I would hope that consideration might be given to capture to add to the global captive population of 10 individuals,” said Payne. “New genes are needed. Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), although a Malaysian NGO, would be happy to collaborate with WWF-Indonesia and the Indonesian authorities. Such collaboration would help in exchanging information and ideas, and help to better secure collaboration on this species between Indonesia and Malaysia.”

At present, WWF-Indonesia is focusing its efforts on determining how many rhinos are currently living in East Kalimantan, and the organisation is working with local communities to ensure that the area is protected.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Sumatran rhino found in Kalimantan after unseen in region for 20 years.

View photos and videos of the Sumatran rhino on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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