Jan 3

Bolivia’s Barba Azul Nature Reserve, a protected area which is home to the world’s largest population of the Critically Endangered blue-throated macaw, has been more than doubled in size thanks to conservation efforts.

Blue-throated macaw image

The blue-throated macaw is one of the rarest parrots in the world

Blue beard

‘Barba Azul’ means ‘blue beard’ in Spanish, and is the local name for the blue-throated macaw, a stunning parrot species endemic to Bolivia. Threatened by habitat loss and the pet trade, the blue-throated macaw relies heavily on its nature reserve namesake, which is the world’s only protected area for the species. The reserve houses more than half of the world’s estimated 150 wild blue-throated macaws, and the area has now more than doubled in size thanks to the efforts of several conservation groups.

Asociación Armonía, the Bolivian partner of the American Bird Conservancy, teamed up with various other groups including the International Conservation Fund of Canada, the World Land Trust and the IUCN NL’s Small grants for the Purchase of Nature programme to raise money to buy additional land for the reserve. Thanks to this partnership, 14,830 acres of land were purchased, expanding Barba Azul Nature Reserve to a total of 27,180 acres.

Massive achievement

Conservation actions of this magnitude for small organisations in poor countries are only possible with outside help,” said Bennett Hennessey, Executive Director of Asociación Armonía. “Doubling the size of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve is an excellent example of conservation groups combining their effort to achieve a massive conservation product.”

Forest fragment image

Islands of tropical forest provide key foraging and nesting habitats

Key threats

Bolivia’s Beni savannah is an area twice the size of Portugal, and endures intensive flooding in the summer and vastly contrasting drought during the winter months. This land is almost entirely occupied by private cattle ranches, and has suffered the negative effects of hundreds of years of logging, hunting and livestock rearing, which have greatly altered the area’s natural ecosystem.

The blue-throated macaw population has declined due to frequent burning, overgrazing and timber harvests within forest patches, which has degraded its habitat and limited the number of suitable nesting sites. Trafficking of this beautiful species for the pet trade has also contributed to its decline.

When we originally purchased Barba Azul Nature Reserve, it was a habitat that held a high abundance of many animals. But once we removed cattle and stopped hunting, net fishing, logging, and uncontrolled grassland burning, the true destructive impact of an overgrazed, poorly controlled ranch could be seen. Everything is rebounding as if the area is recovering from a drought,” said Hennessey.

Blue-throated macaw image

The blue-throated macaw will benefit from an increase in the number and suitability of nesting sites in the Barba Azul Nature Reserve

Increased protection

The Barba Azul Nature Reserve is the only protected savannah in Bolivia’s Beni bioregion where cattle grazing and yearly burning for agricultural purposes are not permitted. The recent extension of the reserve means that areas of seasonally flooded grassy plains are also now protected, as are a small river and islands of tropical forest which serve as key foraging, roosting and nesting habitats for the blue-throated macaw.

Further conservation work

As well as habitat protection, other targeted conservation efforts have been put in place for the highly threatened blue-throated macaw, including providing nest boxes as artificial breeding sites and working with local communities to raise awareness of the species and its importance. In addition, Asociación Armonía has provided local communities with synthetic feather head-dresses, which can be used during traditional festivals in place of those made from feathers gathered from wild macaws, offering a conservation-friendly alternative.

Giant anteater image

The extension of the nature reserve will also benefit hundreds of other animals, including the giant anteater

Additional benefits

The extension of the nature reserve will not only be beneficial to the Critically Endangered blue-throated macaw, but also to many other animals with which the bird shares its habitat. Barba Azul is home to 250 other species of bird, including the cock-tailed tyrant and the black-masked finch, both classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Flocks of waterbird species are attracted to the area’s extensive wetlands, including the Orinoco goose which has been recorded making use of nest boxes on the reserve.

Barba Azul offers important protection of the Omi River, which is the only year-round source of water for many miles, and is a critical water source during the dry season for hundreds of animals. This, combined with the protection of other habitats within the boundaries of the reserve, has contributed towards the conservation of the 27 species of medium and large mammals that reside there, including the giant anteater, pampas cat and marsh deer, as well as species which need larger territories such as the jaguar and maned wolf.

 

Read more on this story at the American Bird Conservancy – Protected Habitat Doubles for Magnificent and Endangered Blue-throated Macaw and Mongabay.com – Good news: Refuge for last blue-throated macaws doubles in size in Bolivia.

View photos and videos of the blue-throated macaw on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Dec 17

The Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA), Rainforest Trust, Global Wildlife Conservation and the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation have committed one million dollars to protect vital frog habitats around the world in the coming year.

Current figures from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimate that around 30.2% of amphibian species are currently under threat of extinction, with 12.5% of birds and 20.6% of mammals also at risk. These statistics show that amphibians are by far the most threatened group of species and its members are in dire need of conservation efforts to secure their future survival. Amphibians are at the forefront of what is being described as the ‘sixth mass extinction event on earth’, with 120 species disappearing in recent years and around 7,000 amphibian species in decline.

Southern gastric-brooding frog image

The southern gastric-brooding frog is thought to have gone extinct in 1981

Sensitive souls

The class Amphibia contains frogs, salamanders, caecilians and toads, among many others. As a group, amphibians are extremely sensitive to environmental change and are often the first species to become locally extinct in a disturbed habitat.

It is thought that habitat loss is the primary threat to amphibian populations around the world, and the Leapfrog Conservation Fund will be used for management and protection of key habitats. Don Church, Executive Director of the ASA, said, “Habitat loss is the single biggest threat to the survival of amphibians worldwide. This million-dollar commitment represents a landmark in the battle to stem the alarming loss of frogs, salamanders and caecilians. We hope that it will encourage others to step forward and make a commitment to protecting amphibians and habitats.”

Although habitat loss is thought to be the primary cause of global declines, many other factors are also decreasing amphibian population numbers, including climate change, invasive species, over-collection and diseases such as chytridiomycosis.

Lemur leaf frog image

The Critically Endangered lemur leaf frog exists in just a few pockets of its former range due to the negative effects of habitat loss and chytridiomycosis

Action plan

The million-dollar Leapfrog Conservation Fund will be dispersed through the ASA and will be used to manage key amphibian habitats around the world. It is thought that there are around 940 amphibian species living in unprotected areas around the world, and many of these species have a very restricted range, which may be as small as a single stream or pond. The most threatened habitats will be prioritised and targeted for protection. As well as having a positive effect on the amphibians within the habitat, the fund will undoubtedly help to boost populations of other species.

Western Ghats waterfall image

Areas such as the Western Ghats rely on their amphibian biodiversity to sustain the ecosystem

Success story

Previous alliances between the ASA and other conservation organisations have been very successful. The forest of Sierra Caral in Guatemala was at risk of being destroyed for agriculture, before a team of amphibian specialists surveyed the area, finding 12 amphibian species, 5 of which were endemic to the area. Funds are now being raised to further protect the area and the species which inhabit it.

Partnerships are the key to success,” said Robin Moore, Conservation Officer with the ASA, Rainforest Trust and Global Wildlife Conservation. “We all have a stake in the future of our environment, and what is truly exciting about the Leapfrog Conservation Fund is that it represents an opportunity for unique collaborations to achieve a common goal – saving amphibians and habitats upon which we all depend.”

Hidden salamander image

The hidden salamander is one of Sierra Caral’s Critically Endangered amphibians

The future is bright

Dr Paul Salaman, Chief Executive Officer of the Rainforest Trust, said, “Amphibians represent an opportunity to stem biodiversity loss through relatively modest investments. We can literally save entire species through strategic habitat protection. We are thrilled to be able to make this commitment to protecting the most threatened vertebrate group in priority sites worldwide.”

For some amphibian species, such as the golden frog, it may be too late, but the Leapfrog Conservation Fund is definitely a step in the right direction to protect other species from a similar fate.

Golden frog image

The extinct golden frog has not been seen in the wild since 1989

For more information on the Leapfrog Conservation Fund or to apply for funding for a project, visit the Amphibian Survival Alliance homepage or contact Robin Moore at rdmoore@amphibians.org.

See the top 50 amphibians on ARKive, and many more amphibian photos and videos.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content Officer.

Nov 26

The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has revealed that the okapi – the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – is creeping ever closer towards extinction.

Okapi image

The okapi is now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Into the Red

The okapi, also known as the ‘forest giraffe’, is endemic to the rainforests of the DRC, and has been found to be in serious decline across its range as a result of poaching and habitat loss. Following the latest set of assessments for the IUCN Red List, the okapi has been moved from being classified as Near Threatened to the far more serious category of Endangered. The presence of rebels, elephant poachers and illegal miners in its habitat have also contributed to the okapi’s dwindling numbers, leaving it just one step away from the highest risk of extinction.

The okapi is revered in Congo as a national symbol – it even features on the Congolese franc banknotes,” says Dr Noëlle Kümpel, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group and manager of ZSL’s range-wide okapi conservation project. “Sadly, DRC has been caught up in civil conflict and ravaged by poverty for nearly two decades, leading to widespread degradation of okapi habitat and hunting for its meat and skin. Supporting government efforts to tackle the civil conflict and extreme poverty in the region are critical to securing its survival.”

The latest update to the IUCN Red List brings the total number of species assessed to 71,576, of which a worrying 21,286 are threatened with extinction. Threats to the world’s species range from habitat destruction and climate change to pollution and overexploitation.

Black-browed albatross

The black-browed albatross has been moved from Endangered to Near Threatened

Bad news for birds

According to the update, almost 200 species of bird are now classified as Critically Endangered, with the latest addition being the white-winged flufftail, one of Africa’s rarest birds. This small, secretive bird has suffered as a result of habitat destruction and degradation in its native Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Wetland draining, water abstraction, overgrazing and conversion of land for agriculture have all played a part in the decline of this species, and the IUCN is calling for urgent action to better understand this species’ ecology and address these threats.

Positive stories

However, it is not all bad news, as the population numbers of some species are currently increasing. The albatross family is one of the most threatened bird families on Earth, with bycatch in fisheries being the main threat to their survival, but populations of two such species are on the increase, putting them at a lower risk of extinction. The black-browed albatross has improved in status from Endangered to Near Threatened, while the black-footed albatross has moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.

Island fox image

The island fox is endemic to the California Channel Islands

Conservation success

One particularly positive story is that of the island fox, a canid endemic to six of the California Channel Islands off the coast of southern California in the USA. This species was once classified as Critically Endangered following catastrophic declines in the mid-1990s as a result of disease and predation by non-native species such as the golden eagle. All four subspecies of this relative of the mainland grey fox have since increased in number or are showing signs of recovery. The island fox’s change in status to Near Threatened is a credit to the hard work of the US National Park Service, an IUCN Member, which included captive breeding, reintroduction, vaccination against canine diseases, and the relocation of golden eagles.

Leatherback turtle image

Leatherback turtle

More to be done

This IUCN Red List update shows some fantastic conservation successes, which we must learn from, for future conservation efforts,” says Jane Smart, Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “However, the overall message remains bleak. With each update, whilst we see some species improving in status, there is a significantly larger number of species appearing in the threatened categories. The world must urgently scale up efforts to avert this devastating trend.”

The importance of scientific knowledge and continued conservation action is highlighted in the case of the leatherback turtle. While the status of the global population of this species appears to be improving, the leatherback turtle continues to face serious threats at the subpopulation level. One of seven biologically and geographically distinct subpopulations, the Northwest Atlantic Ocean leatherback subpopulation is abundant and increasing thanks to successful conservation initiatives in the region. However, its counterparts from both the East Pacific Ocean and West Pacific Ocean subpopulations are suffering a severe decline as a result of extensive egg harvesting and incidental capture in fishing gear. It is feared that these threatened subpopulations may completely collapse if targeted conservation measures are not taken.

Black-footed albatross image

Populations of the black-footed albatross are on the increase

Raising awareness

Wildscreen, an IUCN Red List Partner, is working towards raising awareness of the diversity of life on Earth and highlighting the plight of its many threatened species. Through its biggest public engagement initiative, ARKive, an unparalleled collection of wildlife footage and images is being made freely available to all for conservation and education.

Educating people about the current extinction crisis is a vital aspect of the conservation movement,” says Dr Verity Pitts, ARKive Content Manager. “By connecting the world with nature, and successfully communicating the importance of biodiversity, we move one step closer to reversing – or at least halting – the decline of our most valuable resources.”

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content Officer

 

Nov 11

A project has begun on the Isles of Scilly to eradicate the invasive brown rat population in an attempt to secure the future survival of 14 seabird species.

The Isles of Scilly are composed of 5 inhabited islands and over 300 smaller uninhabited islands, which provide extremely important breeding habitats for many seabirds. There are 14 different seabird species which use the islands to breed, including the common tern, razorbill, lesser black-backed gull, puffin, shag and the European storm-petrel. In total, the breeding seabird population on all of the islands is around 20,000 individuals.

European storm-petrel image

The European storm-petrel is one of the 14 bird species which breed on the Isles of Scilly

An unwelcome visitor

The brown rat was first introduced to the Isles of Scilly from shipwrecks in the 18th century, which subsequently led to the establishment of a wild population. The brown rat is known to be one of the most successful and harmful invasive species in the world and causes tremendous damage to habitats it has been introduced to. On the Isles of Scilly, brown rats are known to predate the eggs and young of nesting birds, and they also carry and transmit various diseases. The total population of brown rats on the Isles of Scilly is thought to be around 34,500.

Brown rat image

Brown rat feeding on hen’s egg

How, where and when?

The project, starting at the beginning of November 2013, will cost over £755,000 and aims to eradicate the brown rat population on St. Agnes and Gugh, which are two of the inhabited islands in the Isles of Scilly. The company conducting the project is using techniques which have proven to be successful at eradicating brown rats in other areas while not causing damage to non-target species. Once all the brown rats are thought to have been eradicated from the two target islands, a long-term monitoring programme will begin and the local community will be encouraged to take precautionary measures to ensure that the areas remain rat free.

Puffin image

The Isles of Scilly provide an important breeding habitat for the puffin.

Taking responsibility

Johnny Birks, Chair of the Mammal Society, said, “Brown rats are not native to Britain… it’s our own fault they are so widespread and that makes it right for us to repair the damage we’ve caused.” The Heritage Lottery Fund and the EU Life Fund have both awarded money to the project, as have the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Beauty Sustainable Development Fund and Natural England.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Isles of Scilly rat eradication to ‘save seabirds’ begins.

View photos and videos of bird species found in the UK on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content Officer.

Oct 17

Large numbers of British children are missing out on engaging with nature, according to a new study.

Red squirrel image

Red squirrel

First of its kind

The ground-breaking study, led by the RSPB, marks the first time that connectivity between children and nature has been studied in the UK. Following 3 years of research, the project concluded that only 21% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 were ‘connected to nature’ at a level which is considered to be both realistic and achievable for all young people.

The report stems from growing concerns over the distinct lack of contact with and experience of nature among modern children, which some have argued is having a negative impact on their education, health and behaviour. In addition, this disconnection is viewed as being a very real threat to the future of UK wildlife.

Horse chestnut image

Horse chestnuts in autumn

Connecting to nature

Around 1,200 children from across the UK took part in the study, which was based on a specially developed questionnaire. Analysis of the results revealed several statistically significant differences in children’s connection to nature across the UK, including between boys and girls, and between urban and rural homes.

This report is ground-breaking,” said Rebekah Stackhouse, Education and Youth Programmes Manager for RSPB Scotland. “It’s widely accepted that today’s children have less contact with nature than ever before.  But until now, there has been no robust scientific attempt to measure and track connection to nature among children across the whole of the UK, which means the problem hasn’t been given the attention it deserves.”

Scotland come out top in the regional comparisons, with 27% of children in the country being found to have a particular level of connection to the natural world, while children in Wales had the lowest score across the UK, with just 13% achieving the basic level of exposure to nature.

Perhaps surprisingly, the study revealed that the average score was higher for London than the rest of England and that, overall, urban children were slightly more connected to nature than those living in rural areas.

European starling image

European starling flock in flight

Gender differences

Interestingly, this latest research found that girls were more likely than boys to be exposed to nature and wildlife. While only 16% of boys were at or above the ‘realistic and achievable’ target, 27% of girls were found to be at the same level.

We need to understand these differences,” said Sue Armstrong-Brown, Head of Conservation Policy at the RSPB. “Whether boys and girls are scoring differently on different questions, are girls more empathetic to nature than boys, for instance? We need to analyse the data to find that out.”

Positive impacts

The aim of the study was to create a baseline against which connectivity of children to nature in the UK can be measured and monitored, so that recommendations can be made to governments and local authorities on ways in which this can be increased. In turn, it is hoped that children will reap many benefits from a higher level of interaction with the natural world, including positive impacts on education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and social skills.

To further underline the importance of engaging young people with wildlife, the RSPB has signed up to The Wild Network, a unique and pioneering collaboration between organisations which is working to reverse the trend of children losing touch with their natural surroundings and is encouraging them to play outdoors.

Hedgehog image

Hedgehog

Influential attitudes

The RSPB says that some adults perceive nature to be dangerous or dirty, and that these attitudes could be having a significant effect by holding children back.

There is definitely an attitude out there, in some cases, that nature is not perceived as interesting or engaging. In some cases it is perceived as a dirty or unsafe thing, and that’s an attitude that won’t help a young person climb a tree,” said Armstrong-Brown.

In addition to the benefits reaped by young people, Armstrong-Brown believes that an improvement in the engagement of young people with wildlife is a vital component in ensuring the future of nature conservation in the UK, saying, “If we can grow a generation of children that have a connection to nature and do feel a sense of oneness with it, we then have the force for the future that can save nature and stop us living in a world where nature is declining.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Just one in five children connected to nature, says study and RSPB News – Just one in five UK children ‘connected to nature’, groundbreaking study finds.

View photos and videos of UK species on ARKive.

Get connected with nature with ARKive’s fun educational activities.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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