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

Jun 7

Nearly 100 species of Amazonian birds have a significantly increased risk of extinction, according to the 2012 IUCN Red List update for birds, which was released today by BirdLife International.

Photo of hoary-throated spinetail in forest habitat

Hoary-throated spinetail, uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List update

For Amazon species, the new conservation assessments are based on models projecting the patterns and extent of deforestation in the region. Of particular concern are species with longer lifespans, such as the Rio Branco antbird, which is unable to tolerate even moderate rates of forest loss.

Others, like the hoary-throated spinetail, may lose over 80% of their habitat in coming decades. As a result, many species have been placed into higher threat categories on the IUCN Red List.

We have previously underestimated the risk of extinction that many of Amazonia’s bird species are facing,” said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science, Policy and Information. “However, given recent weakening of Brazilian forest law, the situation may be even worse than recent studies have predicted.”

Photo of Rio Branco antbird on a branch, flapping wings

Rio Branco antbird, uplisted from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered

Global declines

Undertaken every four years, the 2012 update is a comprehensive review of the conservation status of the world’s 10,000-plus bird species. Worryingly, it shows that the Amazon is not the only part of the world seeing large declines in bird populations.

In Northern Europe, the long-tailed duck is of particular concern, with over 1 million individuals disappearing from the Baltic Sea in the last 20 years. The status of this species has been uplisted to ‘Vulnerable’, but the reasons for its decline are unclear. Another sea duck, the velvet scoter, is faring even worse, and has now been listed as Endangered.

Photo of white-backed vulture with wings spread

White-backed vulture, uplisted from Near Threatened to Endangered

In Africa, white-backed vultures and Rueppell’s griffons are increasingly under threat, with rapid declines occurring as a result of poisoning, habitat loss and persecution. Their decline has wider implications, as these species play a vital role in the food chain by feeding on dead animals.

Good news

The update does not reveal all bad news, however. For example, the restinga antwren, a rare bird from southeast Brazil, has been downlisted from Critically Endangered after surveys found it to be more widely distributed than previously thought. The creation of a new protected area is also likely to make its future more secure.

For some birds, conservation efforts have helped to turn around their fate. The Rarotonga flycatcher, a species endemic to the Cook Islands, was once one of the world’s rarest birds. However, intensive conservation efforts, particularly the control of invasive alien predators such as black rats, have helped bring this species back from the brink of extinction.

Photo of male restinga antwren perched

Restinga antwren, downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered

Such successes show the remarkable achievements that are possible where effort and dedication by conservationists and local communities are backed up with political support and adequate resources,” said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research Coordinator.

More conservation action needed

With many bird species around the world facing a number of increased threats, BirdLife has called for conservation efforts to be increased.

Photo of Rarotonga flycatcher perched on branch

Rarotonga flycatcher, downlisted from Endangered to Vulnerable as a result of successful conservation efforts

The worrying projections for the Amazon emphasize the urgent need for governments to meet their international commitments by establishing comprehensive protected area networks that are adequately funded and effectively managed,” said Dr Butchart.

According to Jane Smart, Global Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group, “It is clear that conservation works, but more action is needed if we are to protect these magnificent species which play an integral role in maintaining healthy ecosystems on which both birds and humans depend.”

Read more on this story at BirdLife International – Threat to the Amazon’s birds greater than ever, Red List update reveals.

Find out more about threatened birds at BirdLife International – Spotlight on threatened birds.

View photos and videos of birds on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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