Feb 10
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In the News: Majority of tropical forest reserves “empty” due to hunting

Unsustainable hunting and poaching are decimating wildlife in the world’s tropical forest reserves, according to scientists.

Photo of a troop of greater spot-nosed guenons killed for bushmeat

Troop of greater spot-nosed guenons killed for bushmeat

In a paper published in the journal BioScience, researchers report that unsustainable hunting is leaving behind “empty forests” that are largely devoid of larger mammals, birds and reptiles.

Such losses are likely to have significant impacts on whole ecosystems, removing vital seed dispersers and destroying food chains.

Inadequate protection

Around 18% of the world’s tropical forests currently receive some level of protection, a figure which is seen as a measure of conservation success by many. However, although this has helped to reduce habitat loss, hunting and poaching remain widespread problems across the tropical forests of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Amazon.

In many parts of the tropics, hunting is now the biggest threat to tropical biodiversity,” said the author of the paper, Rhett Harrison. “There is a need to acknowledge the unpalatable but undeniable fact that current tropical conservation efforts are failing.”

Photo of a dead male Bioko Preuss's guenon for sale at a bushmeat market

Preuss’s guenon and other species for sale at bushmeat market

Lower priorities

Smaller reserves are especially vulnerable to poaching as they are generally considered to be lower conservation priorities. This is particularly true of reserves that lack large, charismatic species such as big cats or elephants.

Although the poaching of large animals often makes news headlines, many smaller, less well-known animals play equally important roles in the ecosystem. Hunters often target animals around fruiting trees, killing many fruit-eating species that are vital seed dispersers. The loss of these species could potentially affect the entire plant community of the forest.

Photo of eastern lowland gorilla skulls, poached for bushmeat during coltan boom

Skulls of eastern lowland gorillas, poached for bushmeat by coltan miners

Complex issues

The issues behind what has become known as “empty forest syndrome” include a lack of funding for reserves, a lack of wildlife rangers, limited political support, poor infrastructure and insufficient law enforcement. New roads and development projects are also opening up previously inaccessible areas of forest to hunters.

A lack of data also hampers efforts to tackle hunting, with reserve authorities often reluctant to admit having enforcement issues. This makes it difficult to obtain accurate measures of the number of animals being killed.

Photo of a common tenrec which has been hunted for food

Common tenrec hunted for food

The social issues behind hunting are also complex, with poverty and a lack of alternative protein sources leading many local communities to rely on bushmeat for food.

Local communities often regard the forest as their birthright and hunting – even of endangered species – as an important cultural tradition,” said Harrison.

Unfortunately, commercial bushmeat is becoming a luxury item in some parts of the world, even being sold in urban areas, and hunting for the traditional Chinese medicine trade is also taking a heavy toll on many species.

Potential solutions

Harrison recommends a number of measures to protect wildlife from unsustainable hunting. These include encouraging conservationists to ‘think outside the box’ when coming up with solutions to the sale of bushmeat, as well as measuring conservation success by effective enforcement and intact wildlife communities rather than by the amount of land protected.

Conservationists should also work with logging and energy companies to improve the enforcement of hunting rules in their concessions.

Photo of a live young Nile crocodile with legs and snout bound, for sale as bushmeat

Live Nile crocodile for sale as bushmeat

For many poorer countries, efforts to combat poaching need to be seen as vital to the economy, for example through nature-based tourism.

Many tropical nations earn large sums of money from nature-based tourism, but governments often remain ignorant of the essential role that wildlife and nature reserves play in underpinning the industry,” said Harrison. “Partnerships with tour operators and government tourist agencies may therefore be an effective way of lobbying for improved wildlife management.”

Unfortunately, many protected areas are already in an impoverished condition and may need efforts to restore vanished species. Unless this is done, and species are effectively protected from unsustainable hunting, being “protected” will not ensure that tropical forests survive in anything close to their natural state.

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Majority of protected tropical forests “empty” due to hunting.

Find out more about the issues surrounding bushmeat hunting at the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force.

Find out more about threats facing Endangered Species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jun 29
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In the News: Good news for orangutans and pygmy elephants in Borneo

The survival of orangutans and pygmy elephants has received a major boost in the Heart of Borneo, an area of highland forests at the core of the island, according to WWF.

Photo of Bornean orangutan juvenile biting tree

The Bornean orangutan is under threat from hunting and habitat loss, and is considered Endangered by the IUCN.

WWF reports that nearly 300,000 hectares of important habitat has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in the forest reserves of Ulu Segama-Malua and Tangkulap-Pinangah, in the Malaysian state of Sabah, Borneo. These newly certified sites are believed to harbour the world’s highest density of north-eastern Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus morio), and Borneo pygmy elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis), a subspecies of the Asian elephant.

FSC certification is considered to be the most credible global standard for responsible and sustainable forest management.

Photo of Bornean elephant female with young

The Borneo pygmy elephant, or Bornean elephant, is genetically distinct from other Asian elephants.

The area also includes the Malua BioBank, a partnership involving the Sabah Government which seeks to preserve and restore 34,000 hectares of critical orangutan habitat by bringing business investment into conservation management.

All Sabah’s forestry concessions to be certified

Sabah’s Forestry Department (SFD) has imposed a deadline of 2014 for certification of all the forestry concessions in the state of Sabah. According to SFD’s Director, Datuk Sam Mannan, the announcement of the latest certification has quadrupled the area of land under FSC certification in the state, and he hopes it will encourage other concession holders to pursue certification before the 2014 deadline.

Photo of illegal gold mine inside Tanjung Puting National Park, Borneo

Illegal gold mine inside Tanjung Puting National Park. Borneo’s forests are also under threat from logging, fire, and conversion to agriculture and oil palm plantations.

FSC certification is a crucial part of independent third party verification of sustainable forest management and its critical role in sustaining viable populations of some of the world’s most endangered wildlife here in the Heart of Borneo, one of the most bio-diverse areas on the planet,” said CEO of WWF Malaysia, Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma.

Leap forward for Asia’s forests

Head of WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN), George White, said that to date there has been very little certification of Asia’s tropical forests. He added that, “This announcement represents a significant leap forward for sustainable management of tropical forests in Asia and evidences the long lasting relationship between SFD and WWF.”

Photo of Bornean orangutan baby and adult interacting

Bornean orangutan and infant.

The announcement is good news for Borneo’s endangered orangutans and elephants, which currently face serious threats from hunting and from the large-scale loss of their forest habitat through logging and fires.

Adam Tomasek, leader of WWF’s Heart of Borneo initiative, also stressed the global importance of the announcement, saying, “This is a living example of how government, business and WWF can work together to make forests worth more standing than cut down. It is also one of the key foundations in the development of a Green Economy for the [Heart of Borneo] – a concept which is gaining increasing relevance and support internationally.”

Read the full story: WWF – Good news for orangutan and pygmy elephants in the Heart of Borneo.

View photos and videos of Bornean orangutans on ARKive.

View photos and videos of Asian elephants on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jun 8
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In the News: Marked improvement in tropical forest management

The area of natural tropical forest under ‘sustainable management’ has increased by 47%, from 36 million hectares to 53 million hectares between 2005 and 2010, according to a new report by the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO).

Photo of Atlantic forest in Brazil

Atlantic forest in Brazil

The report, entitled Status of Tropical Forest Management 2011, analysed data from 33 important forest countries, including the world’s major tropical timber producing countries: Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia.

The most significant gains in forest protection were found in Africa, where forest areas with management plans increased 180 percent, from 10 million hectares to 28 million hectares.

90% still unprotected

Despite a substantial improvement in global forest management, there is still a long way to go before the future of our forests is secure.

Although the tropical forests of Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean are better managed today than they were five years ago, around 90% of tropical forests still lack any form of protection.

Photo of Atlantic forest bordering Sâo Paulo city

Atlantic forest bordering Sâo Paulo city

Recent satellite observations have revealed an alarming increase in deforestation in Brazil, indicating that loss of forest may continue in some areas of a country even as protection increases in other areas.

Deforestation to continue

Forest clearance continues to increase as countries struggle to cope with burgeoning populations and their demand for raw materials such as wood, as well as land on which to settle and grow food.

Photo of logged trees awaiting collection

Logged Okume trees awaiting collection in Africa

According to Dr Duncan Poore, an author of the ITTO report and a former head of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “The reality is that in most countries, deforestation is going to continue”.

Read the full ITTO report.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

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