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

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


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