Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: European pond turtle

Nominated by: Polish Society for Nature Conservation “Salamandra”

Why do you love it?

The European pond turtle, also known as the mud turtle, is the only natural representative of turtles in Poland. Nowadays it is one of the rarest reptile species in the country and its secretive behaviour makes it very difficult to spot in the field. Consequently, it is not well-known species to the general public. Those who have been lucky enough to observe it in natural conditions agree that it is one of the most beautiful turtles in the world.

What are the threats to the European pond turtle? 

The biggest threat to this species is degradation of its habitat due to humans (e.g. draining of the wetlands or agricultural activities on nesting sites). In the past European pond turtles were collected in a great numbers for food, especially around the Christian Lent celebrations when aquatic animals are traditionally consumed. Such an exploitation caused the local extinctions of many populations. Currently; however, one of the main drivers of this species’ decline is the illegal collection of European pond turtles to supply the pet trade. Luckily the scale of this collection is much smaller, but is still unsustainable. Other important threats include invasive turtle species (eg. red-eared sliders) which have been released to the wild by humans and compete with the European pond turtle for resources, such as food and basking sites, and are vectors of dangerous pathogens.

What are you doing to save it?

The Polish Society for Nature Conservation “Salamandra” is running a project focussed on the biggest population of European pond turtles in the Wielkopolska region in Poland. A telemetry survey was carried out to find out the nesting and hibernation areas and, on the basis of the collected data, conservation recommendations were created and are currently being implemented. The main problem in the area is the protection of nesting sites, which are based mostly on agricultural lands and therefore cooperation with local farmers plays a crucial role in this project.

VOTE NOW!

May 3

Carbonell’s wall lizard (Podarcis carbonelli)

Species: Carbonell’s wall lizard (Podarcis carbonelli)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Until 2002 it was thought that Carbonell’s wall lizard was a subspecies of Bocage’s wall lizard (Podarcis bocagei).

More information: Carbonell’s wall lizard is a small, compact lizard that is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, where it lives in forests and forest clearings in highly fragmented populations. Ordinarily this lizard is brown or black, but during the breeding season the male has bright green jagged-edged stripes on its upper side and vivid green sides. Both the male and female Carbonell’s wall lizard are usually whitish on the belly, although they may sometimes be slightly pink or red. This reptile forages on the ground for a wide variety of arthropod prey, including beetles and spiders.

Several threats to Carbonell’s wall lizard have been identified, including habitat degradation and loss which has occurred in many areas throughout its range due to forest fires, development for tourism and the establishment of pine wood plantations. The southernmost island-dwelling populations of Carbonell’s wall lizard are thought to be at risk from the negative effects of climate change, and hybridisation between this species and Bocage’s wall lizard threatens the population in the north.

Many areas of this species’ range are protected, including the Coto Doñana National Park in Spain. More research into the threats facing Carbonell’s wall lizard would facilitate the creation of appropriate conservation measures and highlight how urgently these measures are required.

Find out more about Carbonell’s wall lizard and other species found in European forests

See images of Carbonell’s wall lizard on ARKive

Find out more about other wall lizard species

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

Mar 31

The veterinary drug diclofenac, which has been held responsible for the devastating decline of Asian vulture populations, has been approved for use in the EU.

White-rumped vulture image

The white-rumped vulture suffered a population decline of 99.9 percent in just two decades

Deadly drug

Between 1991 and 2007, the population of the white-rumped vulture in India suffered an unprecedented drop of 99.9 percent, with corresponding reductions of 96.8 percent in both the Indian vulture and the slender-billed vulture. Initially, scientists were baffled as to the possible reasons behind this decline, with conflicting explanations varying from the use of pesticides, to an increasingly westernised middle-class consuming more beef and therefore removing one of the vulture’s primary food sources, to the destruction of vulture nesting sites.

Eventually, it emerged that the true cause of vulture deaths across the Indian subcontinent was diclofenac, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug regularly prescribed by veterinarians to treat cattle. The vultures were ingesting the drug as they fed on dead livestock, causing severe kidney damage in the birds which led to death within just a few days.

Indian vulture image

The Indian vulture suffered a devastating population decline between 1991 and 2007

Indian ban on diclofenac

As a result of the discovery of the cause of the decline, veterinarians were subsequently banned from prescribing diclofenac across the region. However, despite these events and the fact that safe alternative drugs are now readily available, the European Union has recently sanctioned the use of diclofenac throughout all member countries. According to conservation groups, this could place European vulture species at risk of meeting a fate similar to that of their Asian counterparts, and could also threaten other wildlife.

It is shocking that a drug that has already wiped out wildlife on a massive scale in Asia is now put on the market in crucial countries for vulture conservation such as Spain and Italy, especially as the total ban on diclofenac in India has produced the first signs of recovery in Indian vultures,” said José Tavares, the Director of the Vulture Conservation Foundation.

Cinereous vulture image

The cinereous vulture is an impressive bird with a large wingspan

Vultures in Europe

Europe is home to an incredible ten species of vulture, eight of which are found in Spain. Of these, four are considered rare and threatened, and receive a certain level of protection under European law. Two such species are the cinereous vulture, an impressive bird with a wingspan of around three metres, and the Egyptian vulture, a species classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Spain is home to 97 percent of Europe’s cinereous vulture population and 85 percent of the continent’s Egyptian vulture population, as well as high proportions of other closely related species. Conservationists fear that the new ruling to allow the powerful anti-inflammatory drug to be distributed across the EU could put decades of vulture conservation efforts in Europe in jeopardy, particularly in vulture strongholds such as Spain.

Egyptian vulture image

Spain holds 85 percent of Europe’s Egyptian vulture population

Importance of vultures

While vultures may be viewed unfavourably by some, they play an extremely important role in ensuring the health and wellbeing of ecosystems through ecological recycling. These birds survive almost exclusively on carrion, and in countries such as Spain they consume the carcasses of livestock left in special sites known as ‘muladres’. By cleaning and disposing of these dead animals, vultures make a contribution to the health of local human communities, as this helps limit the populations of stray dogs which are enticed by the carcasses, and therefore reduces the potential for the transmission of life-threatening diseases such as rabies.

Call for action

A coalition of conservation organisations, which includes the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the RSPB and BirdLife Europe, is calling for an immediate continent-wide ban on diclofenac in Europe.

In a technical document released recently on diclofenac in Europe, conservationists wrote, “The case here is clear – it is really a question of learning from what happened in India, and also upholding and being coherent with the leading role of many EU policies, notably on nature conservation.”

It is hoped that enforcing a ban on diclofenac in Europe will encourage countries in Africa to follow suit in an effort to save the continent’s dwindling vulture populations.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Europe approves vet drug that killed off almost all of Asia’s vultures and BirdLife International – Vulture killing drug now available on EU market.

View photos and videos of vultures on ARKive.

Find out more about vulture conservation at Tusk, VulPro, the Vulture Conservation Foundation and Save Our Species – Conserving South Asia’s Threatened Vultures.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Jan 25
European mink (Mustela lutreola)

European mink (Mustela lutreola)

Species: European mink (Mustela lutreola)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The European mink is one of Europe’s most endangered mammals.

More information:

Weighing up to a maximum of 1kg, the European mink is the smaller relative of the American mink (Neovison vison). A distinctive mark of white around the upper and lower lips of the European mink can help to distinguish between the two species.

This species is mainly nocturnal, hunting and feeding at night on a variety of prey including water voles, birds, frogs, molluscs, crabs, fish and insects. It is able to hunt both on land and in water across large home ranges of up to 15km of river. Partly webbed feet and a thick, water-repellent undercoat mean that the European mink is well suited to its semi-aquatic lifestyle.

A century ago the European mink could be found throughout the European continent, but its population is thought to have since declined by over 90%.  In 2011, the IUCN upgraded the status of the European mink from Endangered (EN) to Critically Endangered (CR) due to ongoing population decline.

This severe decline is a result of various threats, including habitat loss, commercial trapping for fur, competition from the introduced American mink and accidental mortality through pest control, poisoning and vehicle collisions. The European mink is also susceptible to Aleutian disease, a highly contagious virus that causes an often lethal infection.

Captive breeding programmes are underway for this species in an attempt to successfully establish new European mink populations. Further research is being undertaken to assess the viability of captive breeding as a technique for the conservation of this species. In Spain and France, the populations of European mink seem to be suffering from inbreeding, a problem which could be addressed by the introduction of new, captive-bred individuals.

The European mink is legally protected in all the countries in which it occurs.

 

Find out more about the European mink at the IUCN Red List and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

See images of the European mink on ARKive.

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

Sep 26

Populations of some of Europe’s key animals have increased over the past 50 years, according to recent research.

European bison image

The European bison is one of several species which have increased by more than 3,000% in the last 50 years

Species recovery

Through studying a total of 18 mammal and 19 bird species found across Europe, researchers found that key species, including grey wolves, brown bears and eagles, have increased in number in recent decades. This is welcome news for conservationists, as European animals have not always fared so well over the course of the last few centuries, with habitat loss, pollution and hunting all contributing to the decline of some of the continent’s most charismatic species.

The report, commissioned by conservation group Rewilding Europe, found that all species studied, with the exception of the Iberian lynx, have increased in number since the 1960s. The European bison, Eurasian beaver and white-headed duck were among some of the species whose populations had increased by more than 3,000% in the last 50 years, while several top predators such as the brown bear have doubled in number. The iconic grey wolf has seen serious losses in the past, but this latest research has shown positive progress in its conservation, with numbers climbing by a promising 30%.

Iberian lynx image

The Iberian lynx was the only animal in the study which was found not to have increased in number

Conservation works

People have this general picture of Europe that we’ve lost all our nature and our wildlife,” said Frans Schepers, Director of Rewilding Europe. “I think what the rest of the world can learn from this is that conservation actually works. If we have the resources, a proper strategy, if we use our efforts, it actually works.”

The comeback of European wildlife began in the 1950s and 1960s, and although numbers aren’t anywhere near those present in the 1600s and 1700s, conservationists are encouraged by the increasing populations. It is thought that various factors have contributed to the boost in animal numbers, including better legal protection and hunting limits. In addition, more and more people are moving away from the countryside in favour of cities, leaving more space for wildlife.

Successful areas

Analysis of the research, carried out by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), BirdLife and the European Bird Census Council, found that the south and west of Europe showed the largest comeback for mammals, with the ranges of these species increasing by an average of about 30%. For bird species, average ranges remained stable.

Grey wolf image

The grey wolf, once highly persecuted, has increased by a promising 30%

Concern among farmers

While it is great news for conservationists and for the future of European ecosystems, the recovery of some species, particularly large predators, has raised some issues. With the return of the grey wolf, many farmers, for instance, are concerned for the safety of their livestock.

The report acknowledges the challenges faced by farmers as a result of wildlife increases, and suggests that compensation schemes should be put in place by governments to offset any livestock losses. However, the report also highlights the benefits that rural communities may gain from thriving wildlife, including a boost to local economies as a result of ecotourism.

White-tailed eagle image

The white-tailed eagle was one of the 19 bird species studied

Focussed conservation

The results of this latest research are both encouraging and surprising, as biodiversity on a global scale continues to decline. However, scientists are keen to ensure that conservation efforts continue to build upon the success in Europe, by focussing on positive action and scaling up the conservation movement globally.

There are massive challenges out there globally,” said Professor Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation at the Zoological Society of London, “And we have to realise that the threats that Europe creates are not just within our borders, it’s internationally, and that we are having an impact on the 60% decline we’re seeing in low income countries around the world.”

Professor Baillie also highlighted the need to carry on moving forward with European species conservation, saying, “We just have to be aware that into the future there will be increasing pressure for food production and so on within Europe, and for a lot of these species, where we have seen the gains, we might lose them again if we are not careful. So it’s our job to keep our eye on the ball.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Europe’s key animals ‘making a comeback’.

View photos and videos of European species on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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