Jul 17

Plans for a new opencast mine near South Africa’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve may increase pollution and poaching in the area, which would lead to further reductions in the size of the local southern white rhinoceros population. 

Among the most charismatic and recognisable of Africa’s mega-fauna, the white rhinoceros is the largest of the five rhinoceros species and one of the world’s biggest land animals, second only to the African and Asian elephant in size. A subspecies of white rhinoceros, the southern white rhinoceros, is currently the most numerous of all the world’s rhinos, and 93 percent of the total population is thought to occur in South Africa. This subspecies was rescued from near extinction a century ago, and represents a real conservation success story. In 1895, only around 50 individuals remained but careful conservation has increased this number to the 20,000 individuals that exist today. However, threats to the southern white rhinoceros are on the increase, and news of a proposed mining operation in close proximity to one of the most important nature reserve for this, and many other, species may spell disaster for this iconic animal.

The Near Threatened southern white rhinoceros is currently the most populous of the world’s rhinoceros species

The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa is the oldest nature reserve in Africa and was established in 1895, largely to protect the remaining population of the southern white rhinoceros. Situated at the confluence of the Black and White Umfolozi Rivers, this natural reserve is home to Africa’s ‘big five’, as well as innumerable other iconic species and over 340 bird species. There are fears that opencast coal mining in close proximity to the park may pollute the air and rivers, displace local communities, and threaten the southern white rhinoceros. Local communities’ fears are founded in experience, they say that drilling and blasting at the Somkhele coal mine, six miles away, already creates pollution and affects livestock. There are concerns that not only will the toxic dust from the new mine affect the local wildlife, but the influx of people is also likely to increase the accessibility of the park to poachers.

The African leopard is also found in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

Poaching is an increasing threat to all rhinoceros species. Just 13 rhinoceros were killed in 2007, while recent figures show that over 500 have been killed so far in 2014, indicating the highest level of poaching since records began. The growing demand for rhinoceros horn is thought to be due to economic growth and increased disposable income in Southeast Asia and China, where the horn is used for traditional medicine and as a sign of prestige among the business elite. The price of rhinoceros horn is greater than that of gold, and poachers are becoming increasingly organised, and there have been many reports of helicopters and high-tech gadgetry being used in poaching attempts. It is thought that the mine could help to facilitate poaching, and increase the difficulty of policing the park. The response to the plans from local communities and conservationists worldwide has been one of concern and consternation.

The horn of the white rhinoceros is becoming a more valuable target for poachers due to increasing demand from Asia

Find out more about the white rhinoceros on Arkive.

Discover more South African species on Arkive.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Mining poses new threat to world’s greatest rhino sanctuary.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

Jun 19

Over $1.8 billion has been pledged by various parties at the ‘Our Ocean’ 2014 summit, and proposals have been made to double the amount of protected marine habitats around the world.

‘Our Ocean’ 2014 brought together leaders from business, government and academic institutions, and NGOs from over 80 countries to discuss how economic development and ocean conservation can be reconciled. The oceans are extremely important for humans, generating more than 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe, absorbing excess carbon dioxide, and providing a source of food and income for millions of people worldwide.

Oceans provide invaluable environmental services and supports vast arrays of animal and plant life.

The summit concentrated on several key themes in ocean conservation including sustainable fishing, marine pollution, and ocean acidification. Perhaps one of the most significant announcements at Our Ocean was President Obama’s intention to expand and create new marine reserves in the Pacific Ocean, while Kiribati announced it will expand its already vast Phoenix Islands Protected Area. If implemented, these proposals will more than double the total area of legally protected oceans.

President Obama said in a video to participants at Our Ocean, “I’m going to use my authority to protect some of our nation’s most precious marine landscapes.”

The yellowfin tuna, along with other tuna species, are heavily fished for commercial and recreational purposes.

Many of the world’s fish stocks are being fished at unsustainable levels, and it is thought that around 30 percent of the world’s fisheries are overexploited. The Our Ocean summit aimed to examine the steps fishery management authorities need to take to reduce, and ultimately end, overfishing and to mitigate adverse impacts on the broader marine environment. Initiatives proposed at the summit aim to end all overfishing on marine fish stocks by 2020, through a series of measures including increased transparency in allocating fishing rights, tougher enforcement of legislation and penalties for illegal fisheries, elimination of excess capacity in fishing fleets and minimising bycatch.

To this end, President Obama has announced a comprehensive new national programme on seafood traceability and openness which will allow customers in the United States to ensure that their seafood has been harvested legally and sustainably. Additionally, the United States launched the ‘mFish’ partnership, which will provide mobile devices to small-scale fisheries in developing nations with apps designed to access market and weather information and ensure accurate and easy catch reporting. Norway also pledged more than $150 million to promote fishery management and development abroad, including a new research vessel to train fisheries experts and managers around the world.

Laysan albatross fledging with neck caught in plastic coathanger, an example of the effects of marine pollution.

Significant advances have been made in addressing marine pollution from land- and ocean-based sources, by individuals and local communities at the regional and global scale, although much more needs to be done. Our Ocean 2014 has facilitated the development of initiatives to reduce total nutrient pollution in the ocean by 20 percent and to significantly reduce the input of debris into the marine environment by 2025. To help achieve this, Norway will allocate up to $1 million for a study on measures to combat marine plastic waste and microplastics. Additionally, the United States announced the Trash Free Waters programme, which aims to stop waste and debris from entering the ocean though sustainable product design, increased material recovery and recycling, and a new nationwide waste prevention ethic.

It is thought that coral reefs could be the first victims of ocean acidification, with one reef being destroyed every other day.

Due to ocean acidification, our oceans are approximately 30 percent more acidic than before the industrial revolution, and the ocean’s chemistry is currently changing 10 times faster than at any other time in the past 50 million years. Many organisms will not be able to adapt to the changes within their habitat, which will negatively impact both biodiversity and the crucial services that the oceans provide us. Initiatives to prevent further increases in ocean acidification were developed at the Our Oceans summit, which aim to reduce carbon emissions and monitor ocean acidification on a global scale.

Norway announced that it will allocate over $1 billion to climate change mitigation and adaptation assistance in 2015. The United States presented new projects to meet the challenges of ocean acidification and marine pollution in Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean, as well as contributing $640,000 to support the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Center in Monaco.

Find out more about the Our Oceans summit.

Find out more about coral reef conservation on Arkive.

Read more about ocean acidification on Arkive.

Read our blog on protecting our oceans for the future.

Learn more about the islands of the South Pacific on Arkive.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

May 22

Today is the United Nation’s International Day of Biological Diversity, which this year has been dedicated to island biodiversity.

Islands are home to an estimated 20% of all bird, reptile and plant species despite making up less than 5% of Earth’s land area. Islands also contain 40 percent of all critically endangered species, and the extinction rates on islands are disproportionately high despite a global extinction rate that may be 1000 times the historical background rate.

Islands contain 40 percent of all critically endangered species

“Biodiversity is crucial to meet human needs. Our economies, livelihoods, health, and cultures depend on the proper management of this natural capital.  This is even more important on islands where natural ecosystems are fragile and easily disturbed.” said Olivier Langrand, Island Conservation’s Director of Global Affairs, member of the Steering Committee of Global Island Partnership (GLISPA) and co-chair of the GLISPA Working Group on Invasive Alien Species.

The necessity of urgent action in aid of island conservation, to halt and reverse the loss in biodiversity is highlighted in the new publication , “Island Bright Spots in Conservation & Sustainability” by the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA). This report showcases inspired island conservation solutions in action, “bright spots”. These “bright spots” will also be showcased during the 2014 International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to encourage investment in scaling and replicating initiatives that work. In this publication Island Conservation’s Allen Cay and Small Islands, Big Difference (SIBD) projects are highlighted as successful examples that could serve as innovative models for island restoration around the globe.

Island Conservation’s Allen Cay

Allen Cay, The Bahamas is a small island habitat but is home to important populations of Audubon’s shearwater and provides critical habitat for the endemic, endangered Allen Cay rock iguana. However, invasive house mice were indirectly threatening the native species by providing an abundant food source for barn owls, increasing the owl populations, which predate heavily on Audubon’s shearwater and juvenile Allen Cay rock iguanas. In 2012, Island conservation collaborated with the Bahamas National Trust, Government, NGO and private partners to remove invasive house mice from Allen Cay. This successful partnership protected nationally and globally significant biodiversity, and laid foundations for future restoration and conservation projects in the Bahamas.

Allen’s Cay rock iguana on beach

Island Conservation’s Small Islands, Big Difference Project

Island Conservation’s Small Islands, Big Difference (SIBD) campaign was launched in Montreal, Canada in 2012. The goal of this campaign is to financially support hundreds of partners and island nations in protecting thousands of species through the removal of invasive species from 500 islands.

Island Conservation and local partners helped protect critical habitat for the waved albatross by removing invasive goats and feral cats from Isla de la Plata

The“Island Bright Spots in Conservation & Sustainability” publication also highlights emerging initiatives such as the recent launch of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage by the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a three year open-ocean journey around the world undertaken in two Hawaiian voyaging canoes. The aim of this project is to catalyse awareness and action on how to care for Earth, the Oceans and our natural heritage. The crew aim to bring stories of our islands and oceans to inspire communities and leaders to take action to protect these critical resources.

Read more about the importance of Islands habitats

Read more about Island Conservation.

Find out how the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage is progressing.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

May 12

Conservationists from around the world were invited to London last week to receive awards for the amazing work they have done with various different species, ecosystems and local communities.

The Whitley Awards, also known as the ‘Green Oscars’, took place at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Thursday May 8th. The ceremony, hosted by television presenter Kate Humble, honours conservationists working in the field whose projects have benefitted endangered species and habitats, as well as local communities. The charity’s patron HRH The Princess Royal presented the winners with their awards, which are worth up to £35,000 to be spent on their respective projects. Additionally, there is the Whitley Gold Award which is worth up to £50,000.

Jean Weiner – Whitley Gold Award donated by The Friends and The Scottish Friends of The Whitley Fund for Nature

Before mass deforestation occurred after 1925, around 60 percent of Haiti was covered in lush forest. Just one percent of these forests remain today.

In 1992, Jean Weiner, a Haitian, founded the Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversite Marine (FoProBim), which is the only non-governmental organisation in Haiti that is dedicated to the protection of marine and coastal environments. The charity aims to encourage local people to manage their environmental resources and therefore create a better future for their families. This project has led to the creation of two artificial coral reefs in Haiti that will help to re-establish fish populations. Other initiatives of the project have included placing mooring buoys to prevent boats from anchors from damaging coral reefs and regenerating mangrove forests that had been removed for charcoal production. In future, it is hoped that Haiti’s first marine reserve will be established and managed by local people. Jean Weiner was awarded the Whitley Gold Award for his 22 years of tireless dedication.

Luis Torres - Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust in memory of William Brake

The dwarf Turk’s cap cactus is an Endangered plant species only found in Cuba

Luis Torres runs a project in Cuba focussing on educating local people about the importance of their native flora and encouraging them to help with its conservation. Around 85 percent of the amazing flora of Cuba is endemic and it is threatened by mining, urbanisation and unsustainable harvesting. The conservation of these extremely rare species is of global importance and the aim of Luis’s project is to ensure that these plants will not become extinct and that their habitats are protected.

Stoycho Stoychev – Whitley Award donated by Fondation Segré

The imperial eagle is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is listed on Appendix I of CITES

Stoycho Stoychev is the Conservation Director for the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB). Thanks to a decade’s worth of conservation efforts, Stoycho has increased the imperial eagle population in Bulgaria to 25 breeding pairs, which is around double the previous population. The establishment of this bird of prey as a flagship species for wild grassland habitats in Bulgaria has helped to gain public support for the species and subsequently bring it back from the brink of extinction. Other threatened species have also benefitted from the conservation efforts of Stoycho and the BSPB, including the European ground squirrel, European marbled polecat and saker falcon.

Tess Gatan Balbas – Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK

The conservation efforts of Tess and her team have increased the Philippine crocodile population on Luzon Island from 12 individuals to over 100

Thanks to efforts from Tess Gatan Balbas and her team at the Mabuwaya Foundation in the Philippines, the Philippine crocodile population on Luzon Island has increased from just 12 individuals in 2001 to over 100 in 2012. The project has increased the support of the local community for the conservation of this endemic reptile and there are now four locally run crocodile sanctuaries aiming to conserve this species.

Paula Kahumbu – Whitley Award donated by The LJC Fund in memory of Anthea and Lindsay Turner

Almost 100 elephants are killed each day in Africa

Paula Kahumbu is the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect and leads the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign that was launched in 2013 to help reduce the amount of poaching of African elephants in Kenya and promote their conservation. The aim of this project is to use the media to change behaviour and empower communities to respond to wildlife crime, drive the development of new legislation and enforcement and reduce international demand for ivory by establishing diplomatic relations.

Fitry Pakiding – Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation

The Pacific population of the leatherback turtle is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Fitry Pakiding is a researcher and lecturer at the State University of Papua and leads a community programme aimed at working towards improving the quality of life of local communities and conserving biodiversity. The project aims to empower local communities to become guardians of leatherback turtles and their habitat, preventing poaching and educating young people about turtle conservation. The project is run in the communities neighbouring Jamursba Medi and Wermon beaches in West Papua which is where the largest remaining Pacific nesting aggregation of this ancient species exists.

Shivani Bhalla – Whitley Award donated by The Garden House School Parents’ Association

There are fewer than 2,000 lions left in Kenya and the population could become extinct in the next two decades without successful conservation

Shivani Bhalla is the Founder and Director of Ewaso Lions, which was established in 2007 to promote human-carnivore coexistence. Conflict between lions and local communities is prevalent throughout Kenya due to this species being known to predate livestock. The project established by Shivani helps to equip people with the tools and knowledge to protect their livestock and empowers young Samburu warriors from local communities by making them wildlife ambassadors. The ongoing monitoring of the wild lion population and verification of the exact range of the species will hopefully help to inform conservation action for the future and prevent the extinction of this amazing animal.

Melvin Gumal – Whitley Award for Conservation in Ape Habitats, donated by the Arcus Foundation

The Bornean orangutan population has declined by over 50 percent in the last 60 years

Melvin Gumal is the Director of the Malaysia Programme at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Melvin initiated the Integrated Conservation and Development Project in Sarawak, Malaysia, which involved local land owners in protected area management for the first time ever. He now works with all local stakeholders to protect a 2,000-square-kilometre area of forest that is one of the last remaining habitats of the rarest subspecies of the Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus. The project aims to educate local people to reduce the hunting of orangutans, increase the amount of protection for areas inhabited by this species and conduct surveys in unstudied areas.

Monica Gonzalez – Whitley Award donated by Sarah Chenevix-Trench

Around 90 percent of umbrellabird habitat has been lost in northwest Ecuador

Monica Gonzalez is the Director of the Foundation for the Conservation of the Tropical Andes (FCAT), which is based in the Mache-Chindul Reserve, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. This area is also home to the long-wattled umbrellabird which is a keystone species within the habitat, playing an extremely important role in seed dispersal and therefore helping to maintain the health of the forest habitat. The aim of Monica’s project is to protect and expand remaining forest fragments by working with local communities, develop sustainable economic alternatives to logging and educate local stakeholders on the importance of conservation. The imminent construction of a highway bisecting the Mache-Chindul Reserve has made conservation efforts in the area extremely urgent and vital.

Congratulations to these amazing, inspirational people from all of us at ARKive, and please keep up the good work!

See photographs of the winners receiving their prizes and of their work in the field.

Find out more about the Whitley Fund for Nature.

Find out more about previous winners of the Whitley Awards and their projects.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

May 8

A recent study has found that Australian marsupials such as tree possums, bandicoots and quolls are suffering a sudden decline, placing them at risk of extinction in Australia.

Northern quoll image

The northern quoll is the smallest of the four Australian quoll species

Dramatic decline

Several of Australia’s unusual marsupials, including bandicoots and phascogales, are currently experiencing a dramatic decline in the north of the country, according to recent research. Small mammal species across the continent have been known to be at risk of extinction for some time, but Chris Johnson, a wildlife conservation professor from the University of Tasmania, noted a marked and worrying change in the northern regions of Australia.

There’s a pretty clear picture and it shows that lots of species have declined dramatically,” he said. “Where we can infer the timing of decline, it’s been fairly recent and there are now large areas where small mammals are either very rare or don’t exist but the habitat looks like it should support small mammals.”

Northern brush-tailed phascogale image

The northern brush-tailed phascogale is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Worrying changes

The recent changes have been described by scientists as being a ‘new wave of decline’, but Johnson says that it is not clear how sudden these changes were. The most noticeable declines began in the early 1990s, and were particularly evident in conservation areas such as Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. In recent decades, around 20 small native mammal species have disappeared from Kakadu, including bandicoots, northern quolls, tree possums and northern brush-tailed phascogales, and a similar pattern has been seen in other parts of the country.

Western barred bandicoot image

The western barred bandicoot is one marsupial which has already been lost from most of its former range in southern and western Australia

Feline culprits

Scientists analysed information from a database of current mammal populations, comparing the current wave of extinction across different species with past extinction patterns. The researchers reported their findings to a meeting of experts in Canberra this week, revealing that some common factors had emerged.

First, the extinctions are occurring mainly in ground-dwelling animals of small body size which live in open, dry habitat. This points the finger of suspicion strongly at an introduced predator – the cat,” said Johnson. “We have seen similar extinction patterns driven by predators like foxes in southern Australia – so the big question was: ‘Is history repeating itself, or is it something new?’”

Johnson explained that the declines were being seen in species typically eaten by cats, and that, tellingly, no such declines were seen in cat-free regions. However, cats are thought to have been introduced with the settlement of Europeans in the late 1700s, while the noticeable marsupial declines were far more recent, prompting Johnson and his colleagues to ask: what had changed to make cats such a damaging predator?

Dingo image

Professor Johnson suggests boosting local biodiversity through the reintroduction of native predators such as the dingo

Unanswered questions

Typical factors in species decline include the outbreak of disease and habitat loss through land clearance, but neither of these was evident in northern Australia. However, it is thought that the use of fire by cattle ranchers may be having an effect on native marsupial populations.

It is probably no one thing,” said Johnson, “but the data points to a combination of several effects – all of which tend to favour the hunting style adopted by cats which places small ground-dwelling animals at greater risk.”

The creation of sanctuaries in the bush or on offshore islands is one method currently being used to help protect a variety of marsupial species and boost their falling numbers. However, Professor Johnson is also championing a method which involves boosting local biodiversity by allowing the breeding and reintroduction of predators such as dingos to ecosystems where they have been eradicated by humans. It is hoped that, as the native predators replace feral predators or at least reduce their numbers, native prey species will be given the opportunity to rebound and thrive.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Australian marsupials such as possums in sudden decline.

View images and videos of Australian species on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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