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.

Feb 14

On the 11th and 12th of February 2014, world leaders and experts gathered at the Zoological Society of London to discuss the drastic increase in global wildlife trade.

The Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, consisted of a series of talks given by experts from many conservation organisations, including the WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The main subject of the conference was the unprecedented and extreme rise in global trade of illegal wildlife products in the last few years. It was agreed that more legislation to combat wildlife trade is needed, as is support to the rangers working to prevent poaching on the ground. Also addressed was the need for education and marketing campaigns in regions where the most illegal wildlife products are bought, mainly in China and Vietnam.

Although animals are the main victims of poachers, the lives of many rangers have been lost in the line of duty

Officials from the 50 participating countries gathered at Lancaster House in London on 13th of February 2014 to sign the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade Declaration, which aims to ensure that signatories support trade bans, renounce endangered wildlife product use in their countries, amend legislation to reinforce the severity of wildlife crime, strengthen and implement wildlife law enforcement and analyse links between wildlife crime and other organised crime. William Hague, the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary, said, “We are at the 11th hour to prevent the wildlife trade destroying some of the most extraordinary species in the world, but today I believe we have begun to turn the tide, if we follow up everything that has been agreed.”

The black rhinoceros is Critically Endangered and there is thought to have been a population decrease of 96 percent between 1970 and 1992 due to poaching

The recent increase in poaching has already claimed its first victim, with the western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) officially declared as Extinct in 2013 after losing its battle with the illegal wildlife trade. The value of rhino horn has increased beyond that of gold, and is now sold for around £36,000 per kilogram. It is displayed as a trophy in some households and is used in traditional Chinese medicine, despite scientific evidence proving it has no medicinal value and is made of keratin, which is the same material as that found in human hair and nails. In South Africa alone, 1,004 rhinos were killed in 2013, and according to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the incidence of rhino poaching increased by 5,000% across the whole of Africa, with a rhino being killed once every 10 hours.

The market value of rhino horn is £36,000 per kilogram

The demand for ivory has also increased recently, and it now has a market value of around £1,200 per kilogram. Incidences of elephant poaching have more than doubled since 2007, with the countries in central Africa losing 65 percent of their forest elephant population between 2002 and 2011. In 2012 alone, 20,000 elephants were killed in Africa to supply the ivory trade.

Kenya lost 85 percent of its elephant population during a period of high demand for ivory between 1973 and 1989

Many suggestions of how to curb the international ivory trade were suggested, including that of Sally Case, Chief Executive Officer of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, who said, “If world leaders are serious about ending the illegal ivory trade, they need to urgently implement an ivory trade ban. This includes closing down domestic ivory markets around the world, especially in China and Japan, and stopping the ongoing debate about legalising ivory trade.” To raise awareness of the plight of elephants, many countries around the world have burned or crushed their stocks of ivory, including France who crushed over three tonnes of ivory in February 2014 which had a street value of over six million US dollars.

Many countries around the world have burned or crushed their stock of ivory to raise awareness of the illegal ivory trade

In 2015, a conference will be held in Botswana to review the progress that has been made since the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade Declaration was signed.

Read the full London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade Declaration.

Find out more about elephants on ARKive.

Find out more about rhinos on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Jan 30

A 27-year study has shown that the negative effects of climate change are increasing the mortality rates of Magellanic penguin chicks in Argentina.

Magellanic penguin image

Caption: The Magellanic penguin is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List

The Earth’s changing climate has increased the frequency of extreme weather events around the world, such as droughts, storms, abnormally high or low temperatures and wildfires, which have led to the decline of many flora and fauna species, including the Magellanic penguin.

A recent study, published in the online journal PLOSone, followed 3,496 Magellanic penguin chicks in Punta Tombo, Argentina, between 1983 and 2010. In this area, there has been an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, which were found to be increasing the mortality rate of young Magellanic penguins. Professor Dee Boersma, who led the research, said, “It’s the first long-term study to show climate change having a major impact on chick survival and reproductive success.”

Magellanic penguin image

Caption: Extreme weather means adult Magellanic penguins are less able to hunt and therefore cannot feed their chicks

Extreme weather patterns can cause mortality, as the chicks can contract hypothermia. When Magellanic penguins are young their down is not waterproof, and if it gets wet an individual cannot control its body temperature. At times when temperatures are much higher than usual, some chicks may contract hyperthermia, which is also fatal. Indirectly, climate change is increasing chick mortality through starvation, as altered fish behaviour decreases hunting success for the adult penguins, which are then unable to feed their chicks.

It is estimated that the negative effects of global warming were responsible for around 7% of Magellanic penguin chick mortalities over the period of the study, while 40% were due to starvation. The authors of the report, Professors Dee Boersma and Ginger Rebstock said, “Climate variability in the form of increased rainfall and temperature extremes, however, has increased in the last 50 years and kills many chicks in some years.”

Caption: Starvation was the main cause of chick mortality in the study

The study also found that adults start laying their eggs three days later than previously recorded, which decreases the amount of time the young have to develop before the main storm season begins in November. Professor Ginger Rebstock said, “We’re going to see years where almost no chicks survive if climate change makes storms bigger and more frequent during vulnerable times of the breeding season, as climatologists predict.”

Magellanic penguin image

Magellanic penguins are laying their eggs three days later than previously recorded

As well as climate change, it is also thought that several other factors have contributed to the decline of the Magellanic penguin, including oil spills, water pollution, reduced prey availability from overfishing, being caught as bycatch and disturbance from tourists.

The study also suggests that the negative effects of climate change in the region were affecting other Argentinean species. Populations of other penguin species around the world, such as the Adélie penguin, are also in decline due to decreasing sea-ice and other issues relating to altered weather patterns.

The Adélie penguin is also suffering from the negative effects of climate change

Read more about this story BBC News – Climate change is ‘killing Argentina’s Magellanic penguin chicks’

Read the journal at PLOSone – Climate Change Increases Reproductive Failure in Magellanic Penguins

View photos and videos of the Magellanic penguin on ARKive

Read more about the penguin conservation project at the Zoological Society of London

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Jan 23

A shocking one quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, according to the results of a new study.

Great white shark image

The great white shark is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Threat analysis

The paper, published this week in the open-access journal eLife, analysed the threat and conservation status of an impressive 1,041 species of chondrichthyans, a fascinating group of fish species including sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras whose skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone. The results were rather alarming, revealing that this group is among the most threatened in the animal kingdom.

The paper is the result of collaboration between more than 300 experts from 64 countries, and reports that, while no species has yet been driven to global extinction, at least 28 populations of skates, sawfishes and angel sharks are now locally or regionally extinct. In addition, several shark species have not been seen for several decades.

Reef manta ray image

Reef manta ray parts are highly valued in traditional medicine, posing a threat to this majestic species

Threat hotspots

The study highlights two areas which are currently experiencing a higher than expected level of threat: the Red Sea and the Indo-Pacific Biodiversity Triangle. The latter is considered to be among the most biologically and culturally diverse regions on the planet, yet unfortunately it is also one of the least regulated.

The authors of the paper explain that, “The Indo-Pacific Biodiversity Triangle, particularly the Gulf of Thailand, and the islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Sulawesi, is a hotspot of greatest residual threat, especially for coastal sharks and rays with 76 threatened species.”

It is feared that, should no national or international action be taken, these species could rapidly become extinct.

Shark finning image

Finning was revealed to be a major threat to many shark species

Major threats

The results of the study revealed that the main threat to chondrichthyans is overexploitation through targeted fisheries and incidental catches. Of particular concern for the future of sharks, wedgefishes and sawfishes is the process of ‘finning’, which is driven by the huge market demand for shark fin soup, a highly sought-after delicacy in China.

The authors of the new research paper state that, “Fins, in particular, have become one of the most valuable seafood commodities. It is estimated that the fins of between 26 and 73 million individuals, worth US$400-550 million, are traded each year.”

Habitat loss is a further threat to chondrichthyans, with 22 species being threatened by the destruction of estuaries and river systems for the purposes of residential and commercial development, and 12 species being placed at risk due to the conversion of mangroves into shrimp farms. In addition, pollution and climate change have been identified as major threats to sharks, rays and their relatives.

Scalloped hammerhead shark image

The scalloped hammerhead shark is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Additional factors

As well as providing a vital insight into the type and extent of threats to chondrichthyans, the paper also revealed other interesting factors which come into play. It was found that large body size and occurrence in shallow habitat are the biggest factors determining a species’ likelihood of being threatened. The results showed that with every 10-centimetre increase in a species’ maximum body length came a 1.2-percent increase in the probability that the species would be threatened. Dwellers of deep water appear to fare better than their shallow-water relatives, with a 10.3-percent decrease in the probability of being threatened for every 50-metre increase in the minimum depth limit of the species.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – One quarter of sharks and rays threatened with extinction.

View photos and videos of chondrichthyans on ARKive.

Read more about shark conservation and conservation in the Indo-Pacific Region.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

 

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