Apr 25

A study has highlighted how two rare species of Chelonian are being threatened by hunting in India.

Two endemic species of the Western Ghats in India, the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle are being threatened with extinction due to poaching from indigenous and non-indigenous people. The Chelonians (turtles and tortoises) are the second most imperilled vertebrate group in the world and the two species highlighted in the study are no exception, with the Travancore tortoise classified as Vulnerable (VU) by the IUCN Red List and the Cochin forest cane turtle classified as Endangered (EN). Cochin cane turtles inhabit evergreen forest habitats, and unlike many other turtles, do not require the presence of water. This turtle species is so rare that no scientists saw the species for 70 years between 1912 and 1982. The Travancore tortoise is an omnivore, and can be found in evergreen, moist deciduous, and bamboo forests. This tortoise species is known to produce chorus calls at night, but the purpose of the call is unknown.

The Cochin forest cane turtle

A study published in The Asian Journal of Conservation Biology in 2013 investigated the illegal hunting and consumption of these rare animals, and found that many individuals are caught by non-local forestry workers, including those who work as part of fire management initiatives. However, there was also evidence that Chelonian experts were harvesting these rare species and some individuals even used trained dogs while hunting. The study indicated that 77 percent of the 104 people that were interviewed had consumed the Travancore tortoise and 22 percent had consumed the Cochin forest cane turtle. Chelonian meat was reportedly on sale in local establishments. Although it was found that the primary reason for harvesting wild individuals was for consumption, there was also some evidence that the two species were taken due to superstitions and for medicinal purposes.

The Travancore tortoise

The authors of the report, said, “Wildlife hunting in India is illegal and punishable via the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972, which includes most of the susceptible species … However, hunting continues to be widespread in several regions of India even though it is disregarded or refuted”. The interviews indicated that all 104 respondents knew the illegality of consuming the two species, but problems with pressing charges and corruption are thought to mitigate the risks.

Cochin forest cane turtle on leaf litter

The authors of the study suggest that a limit on the number of dogs allowed at each indigenous settlement may help to reduce the risk of Chelonian hunting, and that the forest department must make a concerted effort to properly supervise forest staff and educate them about the plight of Chelonians. The authors also highlighted the past success of poster campaigns introduced by the Kerala State Forest Department, which aimed to challenge similar local use of animals. Threatened Chelonians, including the Indian star tortoise, were targeted by the previous campaign, and the authors suggest that this kind of promotion could be repeated for the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle.

Read the original article at Asian Journal of Conservation Biology – Hunting of endemic and threatened forest dwelling chelonians in the Western Ghats, India

Find out more about the Travancore tortoise at Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises – Indotestudo travancorica

View photos of the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle on ARKive

Find out more about the wildlife of the Western Ghats on ARKive

Read more about this story at Mongabay – Chelonians for dinner: hunting threatens at-risk turtles and tortoises in India

Read more about turtle and freshwater tortoise conservation at the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group

Apr 11

A recent report published in the journal Nature Conservation has found that sea levels are rising at a higher rate than they have for thousands of years, putting many islands and the species living on them at risk.

Global climate change is negatively affecting the Earth and its oceans in many ways, and these impacts are predicted to be the greatest cause of future species extinctions. The increasing temperature on Earth is melting the sea ice at the North and South Poles, which is increasing the amount of water in the oceans. The temperature of the ocean is also increasing, which raises the volume of the seawater due to the molecules requiring more space to move. “Sea level rise is one of the most certain consequences of global warming, yet it remains the least studied,” the study said. “Potential effects of sea level rise are of considerable interest because of its potential impact on biodiversity and society.”

Seychelles image

The Seychelles may be one of the groups of islands at risk of flooding due to rising sea levels

Of the 180,000 islands on Earth, all low-lying islands are particularly at risk and it is thought that over 10,000 of them could disappear, along with the species that live on them, if the sea level rise predictions are correct. Islands are home to a much higher proportion of endemic species than mainland areas, with the entire population of the Alaotran gentle lemur, New Caledonia blossom bat, Seychelles frog and thousands of other species being found on just one island, or a small group of islands. The submersion of numerous islands will not just impact fauna and flora, with human populations living in coastal areas also being forced to move inland or relocate completely in response to the rising sea levels, and coastal industries being lost.

New Caledonia blossom bat

The New Caledonia blossom bat is only found in a few caves in northern New Caledonia

New Caledonia and French Polynesia are thought to be the islands most at risk of disappearing under water, with islands in the Caribbean and Mediterranean and those in close proximity to Guyana and Madagascar also under threat. The study found that, after a predicted sea rise of between 0.5 and 2.3 metres, more than 30 percent of the totally submerged islands would be in New Caledonia, 30 percent in French Polynesia and 10 percent in the Mediterranean, with the rest occurring in other regions.

French Polynesia image

It is predicted that 30 percent of French Polynesia will be under water when sea levels rise

The authors of the study said, “Considering their important contribution to global biodiversity and the threat of sea level rise for future biodiversity of some of these islands, there is an urgent need that islands feature prominently in global and regional conservation prioritisation schemes.” Less than 5 percent of the Earth’s land area is represented by islands, although they are home to around 20 percent of the world’s bird, reptile and plant species, as well as other fauna. Of all known extinctions, 80 percent have occurred on islands, and although climate change may be partially to blame, the negative effects of invasive species, deforestation, over-collection and various other threats are more prevalent in island ecosystems than on the mainland and have much greater and more severe impacts on island species.

Laysan crake image

The Extinct Laysan crake disappeared from Hawai’i due to the negative effects of invasive species

Find out more about the effects of climate change on animal and plant species

Find out more about the islands of the North Pacific, South Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Find out more about the conservation of islands

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Apr 10

The EDGE of Existence programme is an initiative of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) whose aim is to profile the top 100 most evolutionarily distinct and endangered species of each taxonomic class, including toads that give birth through their skin and mammals that are immune to cyanide, among many other weird and wonderful creatures. Each species is given a rank depending on its unique characteristics and how endangered it is on a global scale. This rank then determines how much the conservation of the species should be prioritised compared with others in its taxonomic class.

Giant ibis image

The Critically Endangered giant ibis was designated the top spot on the EDGE birds list

Until now, only the world’s most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) mammals, amphibians and corals had been highlighted, and today the top 100 birds have been announced after an extensive collaborative study between Yale University, Imperial College London, Sheffield University, University College London, Simon Fraser University and the University of Tasmania. Carly Waterman, EDGE Programme Manager at ZSL, says, “Half of the 100 highest-ranked EDGE bird species are receiving little or no conservation attention. We lament the extinction of the dodo, but without action we stand to lose one of its closest relatives, the tooth-billed pigeon or ‘little dodo’, and many other extraordinary birds.”

The nocturnal, flightless kakapo is number four on the list

Carly Waterman went on to say, “The release of the EDGE birds list enables us to prioritise our conservation efforts in the face of a mounting list of endangered species. These one-of-a-kind birds illustrate the incredible diversity that exists in our natural world.” There are 9,993 bird species known to science which represent millions of years of evolution, resulting in the numerous anatomical, physiological and morphological adaptations of birds that are not seen in any other taxonomic class. Many species highlighted in the EDGE lists do not have close relatives and have been evolving independently for millions of years.

The spoon-billed sandpiper travels 8,000 km between its breeding and wintering grounds and reached number 11 on the list

Many species on the EDGE lists have been previously overlooked by conservation projects, and the scoring system identifies their importance and how much of a loss to the world their extinction would be. Professor Walter Jetz from Yale University and Imperial College London, lead author of the paper identifying the EDGE birds in the journal Current Biology, said, “By identifying these top 100 species, we can now focus our efforts on targeted conservation action and better monitoring to help ensure that they are still here for future generations to come. As we show, conservation priorities can be adjusted to better conserve the avian tree of life and the many important functions it provides.” EDGE is continuing research on other taxa to build on its database and highlight priority species as well as the urgent need for their conservation.

See the EDGE top 100 bird species

Find out more about the EDGE project

Discover more bird species on ARKive

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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

Mar 5

Heightened conservation measures in Nepal have once again resulted in a year of zero poaching in the country.

After Nepal making a commitment to protect the future of its magnificent and highly endangered species, it has once again succeeded and between February 2013 and February 2014, no rhino, tigers or elephants were poached in the country. Nepal has a history of success in the prevention of poaching, and another poaching-free year occurred in 2011. Worldwide, Nepal has been praised for this outstanding accomplishment, with Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF International, saying, “We congratulate Nepal on reducing poaching to zero within its borders. This achievement serves as a model for WWF’s goal for drastically reducing wildlife crime worldwide – with a combination of brave policy making, determined implementation and robust enforcement.”

Indian rhinoceros

Caption: The Vulnerable Indian rhinoceros is found in scattered populations across Nepal and India

The Nepalese government led the conservation efforts, which included strengthening the protection of wildlife and increasing the enforcement of anti-poaching laws. A wide range of organisations have contributed towards Nepal’s zero poaching success, from small conservation charities, park authorities and local communities to the army and police. “The success of achieving zero poaching throughout the year is a huge achievement and a result of prioritising a national need to curb wildlife crimes in the country”, said Megh Bahadur Pandey, Director General of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. Anti-poaching measures also encouraged the co-operation of boundary officials on the borders between Nepal, India and China, which helped to prevent the trafficking of animal parts into and out of the country. The collaboration between the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police has resulted in the enforcement of wildlife laws throughout the country, both at a local and national scale.

Caption: The Endangered Bengal tiger is a target species for poachers

The work of nine different organisations that have contributed to this great achievement will be honoured by the WWF’s Leaders for a Living Planet Award, whose past winners have included Dr Thomas Lovejoy for his work on forest fragmentation and highlighting conservation as a global priority and Dr Trudy Ecofrey for her work on restoring wildlife on the Great Plains of the United States. Notable organisations that have had outstanding contributions to the cause include Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park, the Nepal Army and Police, Buffer zone management committees of Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation. Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF Nepal, said, “It is a matter of great pride to mark the first World Wildlife Day with the announcement of a year of zero poaching in Nepal. We are committed to work with the government, conservation partners and the local communities to redouble efforts to sustain this success.”

Asian elephant image

Caption: The wild population of the Endangered Indian elephant has severely declined due to poaching

Read more about Nepal’s year of zero poaching.

Find out more about the Asian elephant on ARKive.

Find out more about the Indian rhinoceros on ARKive.

Find out more about the tiger on ARKive.

Discover more species from Nepal on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer.

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