Mar 31
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In the News: Vulture-killing veterinary drug approved for use in EU

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
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Endangered Species of the Week: European mink

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
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In the News: Key European animals on the increase

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

Sep 5
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In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities

Europe’s towns and cities are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by invasive alien species, and experts say that action needs to be taken to control them.

Close up photo of a northern raccoon

Native to North America, the northern raccoon is an invasive species in parts of Europe

Invasive alien species are plants or animals that are not native to an area and which therefore lack natural predators, meaning they are able to spread rapidly.

Urban areas are at high risk from invasive species because of their large number of transport links, with many non-native animals and plants arriving accidentally at ports and airports. Some species also arrive through the plant and pet trades.

Threats to native wildlife

Invasive alien species can pose a significant threat to native wildlife, often through competition or predation.

Photo of red-eared slider ssp. elegans on rock

Abandoned pet turtles such as the red-eared slider can threaten native turtle species

According to Chantal van Ham, European Programme Officer for IUCN, “These non-indigenous species represent one of the main threats to the world’s biodiversity. This threat is set to increase unless meaningful action is taken to control their introduction and establishment.”

Non-native species can also cause problems for humans living in urban areas. For example, common ragweed, which is native to North America, is spreading rapidly across Europe and can cause hay fever and asthma-like symptoms. Other plants, such as Japanese knotweed, can cause structural damage to buildings.

IUCN conference

IUCN has recently released a publication entitled Invasive Alien Species: The Urban Dimension, which lists case studies from more than 15 European countries which show action being taken on invasive species in urban areas.

Photo of harlequin ladybird

The harlequin ladybird is an invasive insect that threatens native species in Europe and elsewhere

To address the issues posed by invasive alien species in Europe, IUCN is also hosting a conference today in Gland, Switzerland. The aim of the conference is to bring together local authorities, scientists, NGOs and policymakers to analyse the problem of invasive species in urban areas, and to discuss potential solutions.

Chantal van Ham said that local authorities have a key role to play in taking action to reduce the risk of invasive species becoming established. However, she added that it will be important for local authorities to have the support they need to do this.

European action

Photo of American bullfrog sitting on grass at the water's edge

The American bullfrog has been named one of the top 100 most invasive alien species in the world by IUCN

Next week, the European Commission is expected to publish its plans on tackling invasive species across Europe and to announce a legal framework which will require action to be taken on the issue in all EU member states. It will also look at the control methods which are available and the ways in which established invasive species populations can be managed.

 

Read more on this story at BBC News – Invasive alien species threaten urban environments and IUCN – Invasive alien species: the urban dimension.

You can also find out more about invasive species at the GB Non-native Species Secretariat and the IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group.

Do you teach 11-14 year olds? Take a look at the invasive species teaching resource on ARKive’s education pages!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 20
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Endangered Species of the Week: Greek goldenring

Photo of male Greek goldenring Cordulegaster helladica helladica

Greek goldenring (Cordulegaster helladica)

Species: Greek goldenring (Cordulegaster helladica)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Like other dragonflies, the Greek goldenring is a supreme aerial predator, hunting a range of other insects in flight.

The Greek goldenring is a large, beautifully patterned dragonfly with wide yellow rings encircling its otherwise black abdomen. It also has bright yellow markings on its thorax, and its eyes are large and green. Male and female Greek goldenrings are similar in appearance, but females are slightly larger, growing up to about eight centimetres in length. Like other golden-ringed dragonflies, the female Greek goldenring lays its eggs by driving them into the sandy sediments of rivers and brooks in a distinctive rhythmic, vertical flight. The eggs are likely to take a few weeks to hatch, but the larvae do not transform into adults for around two to six years, depending on the altitude. As its name suggests, the Greek goldenring is endemic to Greece, where it is found in the south of the country and on a number of islands.

Populations of the Greek goldenring are severely fragmented, and are believed to be declining due to habitat destruction and water extraction by humans. Some previously reported sites for this species have dried up in recent years, and drought and forest fires are also significant threats which could potentially increase due to climate change. Three subspecies of Greek goldenring are recognised, one of which is classified as Critically Endangered as it inhabits just a single spring at the Delphi archaeological site. No specific conservation measures are currently targeted at this threatened insect, but forest preservation and the control of water extraction have been recommended. The single site at Delphi also needs greater protection.

 

Find out more about European dragonflies and their conservation at the British Dragonfly Society and the European Red List of Dragonflies.

You can also find out more about conservation in Greece at WWF – Active conservation projects in Greece.

See images of the Greek goldenring on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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