Mar 26

A man has been arrested for attempting to smuggle over 10% of one of the world’s most endangered tortoise populations into Thailand just a day after the conclusion of a CITES meeting where delegates resolved to clamp down on illegal wildlife trade.

Ploughshare tortoise

The Critically Endangered ploughshare tortoise is threatened largely by habitat loss.

Two wildlife smugglers have been arrested at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, for attempting to bring 54 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) and 21 radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) illegally into the country. Both species are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and occur only in Madagascar. Wrapped up alive and hidden in suitcases, the tortoises were flown from Madagascar to Bangkok via Nairobi.

Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, commented, “The criminals behind this shipment of ploughshare tortoises have effectively stolen over 10 percent of the estimated population in the wild.”

Radiated tortoise

The radiated tortoise is prized for its beauty and is in high demand in the illegal pet trade.

The beautiful appearance and rarity of these species has driven their demand in the black market pet trade. Both species are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that their trade is only permitted in exceptional circumstances. The radiated tortoise has suffered an immense decline in numbers due to habitat loss, hunting and collection for the pet trade, and is at risk from extinction within the century if further conservation action is not taken.

The 38-year-old Thai man was arrested as he attempted to collect the suitcases from the baggage carousel. However, the bags were registered to a Malagasy woman who was also arrested on site. The same man was arrested earlier in the year on a similar smuggling charge. Both felons are to face charges in Thailand.

We encourage the authorities to throw the book at these two. Making an example of them will hopefully serve as a deterrent for other smugglers,” said Shepherd.

Black pond turtle

Black pond turtles seized earlier in the day are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

The seizure was made hours after 300 Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) and 10 black pond turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) were found in abandoned luggage at the same airport. Although listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, Indian star tortoises are protected within their range (India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan), from which commercial export has been banned due to the high demand for this species in the pet trade. Black pond turtles are listed on CITES Appendix I.

Thailand seized over 4,300 tortoises and freshwater turtles between 2010 and 2012, and half of these were Indian star tortoises. The Conference of the Parties meeting saw a decision by delegates from Thailand and Madagascar to cooperate in an attempt to control wildlife smuggling between the two countries.

Illegally traded green turtles

Greater international cooperation is needed to fight the illegal trade in wildlife.

We urge authorities to go after the criminal masterminds behind these shipments and break the trade chains that threaten these incredibly rare animals,” Shepherd concluded.

The seized animals are currently being held in the Bang Pra Breeding Centre, a government rescue centre in Chonburi, Thailand. It is hoped that they will soon be able to be returned to Madagascar, where conditions and climate are more suitable for their survival.


Read more on this story at The Guardian – Over 10% of a single tortoise species’ population found in smuggler’s bag and TRAFFIC – Largest seizure of Critically Endangered ploughshare tortoises made in Thailand.

Read more about the ploughshare tortoise, radiated tortoise, and the black pond turtle on ARKive.


Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Feb 20

For the first time, scientists have caught a glimpse of the breeding behaviour of the rare giant armadillo in the wild.

Giant armadillo walking

Armadillos are one of the oldest groups of mammals

Burrowing rarity

Found throughout the Amazon rainforest and Brazil’s Pantanal region, the giant armadillo is the largest species of armadillo in the world. Classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, this species’ nocturnal and burrowing habits make it particularly hard to study and, so far, relatively little is known about its breeding behaviour.

However, a new study, led by scientists in Brazil, has used modern technology to help answer questions regarding the poorly known mating behaviour of the giant armadillo. Camera traps are a particularly effective non-intrusive method of gaining insight into the lives of shy, lesser-known mammal species, and their use in this study has been highly valuable.

Giant armadillo emerging from burrow

Armadillos have a quirky appearance

Baby giant

Scientists from the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project have monitored a female giant armadillo since November 2011  using the remote camera traps and, in January 2012, the presence of a male giant armadillo around the female’s burrows raised hopes that a romance might blossom. While aware of the possibility of wishful thinking, the scientists were optimistic, particularly when, after six months, the two armadillos shared a burrow for several days, after which the male disappeared.

Five months afterwards, suspicions were raised when the female began to use only one burrow, an unusual behaviour for this species which frequently moves between burrows. Three weeks later, the nose of a newborn giant armadillo was finally caught on camera, confirming what the scientists had hoped to find. Further photographs of the infant were captured as it emerged from the burrow, its age estimated to be around four weeks old.

Arnaud Desbiez, Project Coordinator says, “Documenting the birth of a giant armadillo is an exciting step forward to helping us better understand the biology and reproduction of this cryptic species and ultimately help us conserve it.

Although there are many questions still to be answered, the scientists have found evidence that suggests giant armadillos only have one offspring at a time.

photo of giant armadillo and infant

Camera traps snapped the approximately four week old baby giant armadillo leaving the burrow with its mother

Conserving rare species

This long-term study of a giant armadillo has provided essential information on its behaviour that can be used to help conserve this rare species, which has never bred in captivity. The information will help provide an understanding of the species’ population dynamics, which can be used to influence future conservation plans.

The secretive nature and rarity of the giant armadillo means that its local extinction can easily go unnoticed, and to lose such a species before we know anything about its ecology and behaviour would be devastating. Long-term studies such as this one are fundamental to understanding the ecological role played by rare and endangered species.

Hunter with dead giant armadillo

Hunter with dead giant armadillo

The giant armadillo is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and hunting, due to the large amount of meat its body supplies, and estimates suggest its population may have declined by at least 30 percent over the last 25 years. Without intervention, coupled with knowledge of the species’ behaviour and ecology, this trend is likely to continue. The giant armadillo is sadly the least studied species of the Dasypodidae family, a problem that the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project is working hard to solve.


Read more on this story at Mongabay – Scientists document baby giant armadillo for first time (photos)

View photos and videos of the giant armadillo on ARKive.


Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Feb 15

Nearly a fifth of the world’s reptile species are at risk of extinction, according to a new study.

Photo of female globe-horned chameleon on branch

The globe-horned chameleon is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

The study, led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in collaboration with 200 experts from the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, is the first of its kind to summarise the global conservation status of the world’s reptiles.

By analysing a random sample of 1,500 reptile species, it found that around 19% of reptiles are threatened. Of these, 12% are classified as Critically Endangered, 41% as Endangered and 47% as Vulnerable.

Reptiles under threat

The findings of the study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, also highlighted the possible extinction of three reptile species. These include the jungle runner lizard (Ameiva vittata), which has only ever been recorded in one part of Bolivia but has not been seen since its habitat was destroyed.

The study also showed that threats to reptiles are particularly high in tropical regions, where deforestation and the spread of agriculture are significant concerns.

Photo of pig-nosed turtle underwater

Freshwater turtles, such as the pig-nosed turtle, are some of the most threatened of all reptiles

Of all the reptile groups, freshwater turtles are one of the most threatened, with half of all freshwater turtle species believed to be at risk of extinction, mainly due to harvesting for food and the pet and medicine trades. Overall, 30% of all reptiles associated with freshwater and marine environments are under threat.

Sensitive to change

There are over 9,000 known species of reptiles in the world, and this diverse group includes turtles, tortoises, snakes, crocodiles, lizards, tuataras, and the worm-like amphisbaenians. Reptiles play an important role in ecosystems, both as predators and prey.

The risk is – if you lose a really important food source you can change food webs quite dramatically,” said Dr Monika Böhm, lead author of the study.

Photo of a group of young gharials at breeding centre

Classified as Critically Endangered, the gharial is under threat from habitat loss

Reptiles are often associated with extreme habitats and tough environmental conditions, so it is easy to assume that they will be fine in our changing world,” she said. “However, many species are very highly specialised in terms of habitat use and the climatic conditions they require for day to day functioning. This makes them particularly sensitive to environmental changes.”

Reptile conservation priorities

One of the aims of this study was to provide an indicator of reptile biodiversity that can be compared with other species groups and monitored over time. The findings of the study will also help scientists to decide which species should be priorities for conservation action.

Gaps in knowledge and shortcomings in effective conservation actions need to be addressed to ensure that reptiles continue to thrive around the world,” said Ben Collen, Head of ZSL’s Indicators and Assessments Unit and one of the co-authors of the study. “These findings provide a shortcut to allow important conservation decisions to be made as soon as possible and firmly place reptiles on the conservation map.”

Photo of female Antiguan racer

The Critically Endangered Antiguan racer is one of the world’s rarest snakes

According to Philip Bowles, Coordinator of the Snake and Lizard Red List Authority of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, “The findings sound alarm bells about the state of these species and the growing threats that they face. Tackling the identified threats, which include habitat loss and over-harvesting, are key conservation priorities in order to reverse the declines in these reptiles.”


Read more on this story at BBC – World’s reptiles at risk of extinction and The Guardian – One in five reptile species face extinction – study.

View photos and videos of reptiles on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Oct 15

The world’s 25 most endangered primate species have been revealed in a new report released today at the UN’s 11th meeting of the Conferences of the Parties (COP 11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Northern sportive lemur, portrait photo

Northern sportive lemur, one of the world’s most endangered primates

The report, entitled ‘Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012-2014’, lists the primate species which experts believe are most in danger of extinction.

Updated every two years and now in its seventh edition, the list has been compiled by the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI) and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF).

Under increasing threat

Of the 25 primate species highlighted in the report, nine are from Asia, six from Madagascar, five from Africa and five from South America. Madagascar tops the list in terms of individual countries, having 6 out of the 25 most endangered primate species.

Photo of a young male variegated spider monkey in captivity

The variegated spider monkey is under threat from habitat loss and hunting

Once again, this report shows that the world’s primates are under increasing threat from human activities. Whilst we haven’t lost any primate species yet during this century, some of them are in very dire straits,” said Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation.

In particular the lemurs are now one of the world’s most endangered groups of mammals, after more than three years of political crisis and a lack of effective enforcement in their home country, Madagascar. A similar crisis is happening in South-East Asia, where trade in wildlife is bringing many primates very close to extinction.”

An assessment carried out earlier this year by the IUCN found that 91% of Madagascar’s lemurs are threatened with extinction, giving one of the highest levels of threat recorded for any group of vertebrates.

Photo of male cao-vit crested gibbon

The cao-vit crested gibbon has an estimated population of just 110 individuals

Primates in peril

Of the world’s 633 primate species and subspecies whose conservation statuses are known, over half are currently classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The main threats to primates include habitat destruction, particularly the clearing and burning of tropical forests, as well as hunting for food and the illegal wildlife trade.

Conservationists hope that the new report will help to highlight the plight of some of the most endangered primates. For example, one of the species on the list, the pygmy or lesser spectral tarsier, was only known from museum specimens until a few individuals were captured in 2008. Sadly, its few remaining populations are fragmented, isolated and under threat from human encroachment and armed conflict.

Photo of lesser spectral tarsier in the hands of a researcher

The pygmy or lesser spectral tarsier is one of the world’s least known primates

Hope for the future

Despite the gloomy assessment, experts are hopeful that conservation measures for primates can be successful. The efforts of dedicated primate conservationists, together with considerable public support and media interest, mean that no primate species have yet become extinct in either the 20th or 21st centuries.

Several primates that previously appeared on the list of 25 most endangered have now been removed due to their improved conservation statuses, although not all are out of danger. These include the lion-tailed macaque of southwest India, and the greater bamboo lemur of Madagascar.

Photo of greater bamboo lemur on tree branch

The greater bamboo lemur has now been taken off the list of 25 most endangered primates

According to Dr Russell Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International, primates play a key role in their tropical forest habitats, acting as seed dispersers and helping to maintain forest diversity.

Amazingly, we continue to discover new species every year since 2000. What is more, primates are increasingly becoming a major ecotourism attraction, and primate-watching is growing in interest and serving as a key source of livelihood in many local communities living around protected areas in which these species occur,” he says.

Primates are our closest living relatives and probably the best flagship species for tropical rain forests, since more than 90 percent of all known primates occur in this endangered biome…  It is increasingly being recognised that forests make a major contribution in terms of ecosystem services for people, providing drinking water, food and medicines.”

Read the full report at Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012-2014.

View photos and videos of primates on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 16

The lemurs of Madagascar are far more threatened than previously thought, according to a new assessment for the IUCN.

Photo of ring-tailed lemur with young on back

Ring-tailed lemur

The assessment, being carried out by scientists from the Primate Specialist Group, aims to decide how lemurs should be classified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It has found that over 90% of lemur species should be placed in the Red List threatened categories.

Most threatened mammal group

The previous IUCN lemur assessment, published in 2008, classified 8 lemur species as Critically Endangered, 18 as Endangered and 14 as Vulnerable. However, the new assessment shows a worrying increase in threat levels, with 23 lemurs qualifying as Critically Endangered, 52 as Endangered and 19 as Vulnerable.

That means that 91% of all lemurs are assessed as being in one of the Red List threatened categories, which is far and away the largest proportion of any group of mammals,” said Dr Russ Mittermeier, Chairman of the Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International.

Photo of Madame Berthe's mouse lemur resting on a branch

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur

The scientists have also confirmed that there are more lemur species than previously thought. Detailed study and genetic testing have revealed a number of cases where lemurs have been presumed to be from the same species, but in fact are from different ones. The 103rd species, a new type of mouse lemur, was identified during this assessment but has yet to be named.

Lack of law enforcement

The main threats to lemurs come from widespread deforestation and hunting. Since a coup in Madagascar in 2009, repeated evidence of illegal logging has been found, while hunting of lemurs has emerged as a new and increasing threat. A decline in traditional taboos is also likely to be contributing to hunting of lemurs for bushmeat.

Photo of silky sifaka pair in tree

Silky sifakas

Although elections have been promised in the country, several scheduled election dates have already passed, and a lack of law enforcement is only exacerbating the threats to Madagascar’s wildlife.

Several national parks have been invaded, but of greater concern is the breakdown in control and enforcement,” said Dr Mittermeier. “There’s just no government enforcement capacity, so forests are being invaded for timber, and inevitably that brings hunting as well.”

Photo of Alaotran gentle lemur with young on back

Alaotran gentle lemur

Around 90% of Madagascar’s original forests have already been lost, and lemurs and other endemic species are becoming increasingly threatened within the remaining forest fragments.

The latest assessments of the conservation status of lemurs will be reviewed and confirmed by other experts before forming part of the IUCN’s next global Red List update.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Lemurs sliding towards extinction.

View photos and videos of lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author


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