Nov 14

The world population of mountain gorillas has risen significantly in recent years, according to a new census released by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Photo of mountain gorilla infant

The census, carried out in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, found over 400 gorillas living in 36 distinct social groups. This brings the total world population of mountain gorillas to 880, an increase of over 10% since 2010.

According to David Greer, WWF’s African Great Apes Programme Manager, “Mountain gorillas are the only great ape experiencing a population increase. This is largely due to intensive conservation efforts and successful community engagement.”

Photo of silverback mountain gorilla resting with group

Mountain gorilla conservation is now balanced against the needs of local people, for example by tackling illegal firewood collection in gorilla habitat by providing communities with alternative energy sources.

Mountain gorillas have only survived because of conservation. Protected areas are better managed and resourced than they have ever been, and our work is a lot more cross-cutting to address threats – we don’t just work with the animals in the national parks, but also with the people,” said Drew McVey, Species Programme Manager at WWF.

Mountain gorilla silverback, portrait

Threatened subspecies

The mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, is a Critically Endangered subspecies of the eastern gorilla, the largest of the living apes. In addition to the population at Bwindi, a second mountain gorilla population is found in the Virunga Massif, a range of extinct volcanoes that spans the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

The Virunga population has also increased in the last decade, but the two populations do not interbreed and both remain under threat from deforestation, disease, regional conflict, poaching, and snares set for other animals. There is also concern that proposed oil exploration in the Virunga National Park could bring new problems for gorillas and other wildlife in an area already beset by conflict.

Photo of guard showing all the animal traps collected within two months in Virunga National Park, habitat of the mountain gorilla

Guard showing animal traps collected within two months in the Virunga National Park

More people in Virunga would likely lead to an increase in deforestation, illegal hunting and more snares in the forest,” said Greer. “At least seven Virunga mountain gorillas have been caught in snares this year and two did not survive. The gorilla population remains fragile and could easily slip into decline if conservation management was to be disregarded in the pursuit of oil money by elites.”

Tourist draw

Although the increase in gorilla numbers in recent decades is encouraging, experts say that it should not be taken as a sign that the fight to save the species has been won.

Gorilla populations are incredibly fragile and sensitive to environmental change. There are only two populations, so disease could easily wipe out an entire population,” said McVey. He added that, “Mountain gorillas are only found in protected areas, and outside these areas there are more than 600 people per square kilometre, so there is immense pressure to secure their habitat and pay their way.”

Photo of juvenile mountain gorilla

Many mountain gorilla groups have become accustomed to humans and are a major draw for tourists. Revenue from tourism is in turn helping to fund the protection of parks and is being reinvested into local communities.

The amount of revenue and jobs that gorillas generate is so important for these areas that are so desperately poor,” McVey said. “People really see gorillas as important for the national and local economies, and a portion of this goes back to conservation efforts and the local community.”

Read more on this story at WWF – Mountain gorilla population grows and The Guardian – Mountain gorilla numbers rise by 10%.

Find out more about gorilla conservation at the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.

View photos and videos of mountain gorillas on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Nov 13

The discovery of previously unknown populations of the greater bamboo lemur has led to this species being removed from the list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates, according to the Aspinall Foundation.

Greater bamboo lemur image

Greater bamboo lemur feeding on bamboo

Back from the brink

These recent discoveries, in combination with targeted conservation efforts, have boosted the known population of the greater bamboo lemur to more than 300 individuals. Given that the species was believed to be extinct in the 1970s, this news has delighted conservationists, particularly Damian Aspinall, head of the Aspinall Foundation, a charity which initiated a species survival plan for the threatened lemur.

Madagascar is the number one priority in the world for the conservation of primate diversity and the greater bamboo lemur was, until recently, a symbol of the threats facing this remarkable island,” he said. “Now the species symbolises what can be achieved with vision, passion and tireless commitment to locally relevant conservation.”

Forest destruction image

Slash-and-burn in greater bamboo lemur habitat

Not out of the woods

There is no doubt that these latest discoveries mark a step in the right direction for the future survival of the greater bamboo lemur, the largest of Madagascar’s endemic bamboo lemurs. However, the species is not out of the woods yet.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, more than 90% of Madagascar’s lemur species are considered to be at risk of extinction, and the greater bamboo lemur is no exception. It is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with the destruction of its montane rainforest habitat in eastern Madagascar cited as a major threat.

The greater bamboo lemur, or ‘panda lemur’ as it is sometimes known, is one of three species of bamboo lemur in Madagascar. While all three species rely on bamboo to survive, they are able to co-exist by having specialised feeding habits, each eating different species of bamboo, or different parts of the plant. Incredibly, the golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus) is able to eat the cyanide-containing leaf bases, shoots and piths of new-growth giant bamboo, and on a daily basis ingests enough cyanide to kill three men.

Greater bamboo lemur image

The greater bamboo lemur is one of three bamboo lemur species in Madagascar

Madagascar – from carnage to conservation

Habitat loss remains a key threat to many of Madagascar’s endemic primates, with the vast majority of the island’s forests having been cleared and destroyed for subsistence agriculture. However, the good news is that conservation is now moving to the fore and becoming a focus for the country.

Thanks to involvement by scientists and conservationists, funding from donors, and leadership in local communities as well as the national government, Madagascar is turning into a model for conservation. Its deforestation rate has decreased significantly since the early 1990s, creating a glimmer of hope for the greater bamboo lemur and all other Madagascan endemics.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Greater bamboo lemur removed from ‘most endangered primates’ list.

Learn more about the latest list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates.

Find out more about the greater bamboo lemur on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, 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

Oct 5

Happy World Smile Day! Did you know that today is dedicated to smiles and kind acts throughout the world? Smiling is a universal sign of affection instinctive to us all. But have you ever wondered where our grins come from?

Cheeky monkey

Smiling may have originated from the bared teeth expression made by monkeys when frightened. But in higher primates, teeth bearing is often a sign of submission and non-hostility from a subordinate member of a group towards a dominant member.

Picture of Grey-footed chacma baboon showing submissive behaviour

Grey-footed chacma baboon showing submissive behaviour

From signalling non-hostility and appeasement, teeth bearing is thought to have developed into showing affection and affiliation between equals.

Adult chimpanzee baring teeth

Adult chimpanzee baring teeth

Laughter is the best medicine

It’s also likely that our laughter evolved from another primate expression: the ‘play face’. This facial expression can be seen during playful encounters. For instance, a flash of teeth reassures a gorilla’s playmate that they do not intend to harm them. This appears to be a foundation of human laughter

Young chimpanzee showing prototypical 'play face'

Young chimpanzee showing prototypical 'play face'

It’s easy to imagine that all animals smile and show happiness just like us. Today, they can! For when you’re smiling, the whole (natural) world smiles with you…

Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)

Belize crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii)

Snake-eyed lizard (Ophisops elegans)  

Photo of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy World Smile Day!

Aug 30

Have you ever wondered what the smallest creatures roaming our planet are? Let’s meet some very cute, extrordinary miniature creatures with ARKive’s favourite smallest species.

What is this on my finger? 

Photo of minute leaf chameleon

This charming minute leaf chameleon is one of the smallest reptiles in the world. As expected for its tiny size, it consumes minute prey, including small fruit flies, white flies and springtails. If threatened by a predator, this clever little creature will drop to the ground like a piece of dead wood and feign death until the danger has passed. How does a predator even spot such a tiny thing!

This is the perfect little hideout for me!

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur

Awww now this one is a real cutie! Described as a new species in 2000, the tiny Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is believed to be the world’s smallest living primate! This nocturnal forager has extremely large, forward-facing eyes dramatically improving its night-vision. Weirdly, during the dry winter months, it undergoes a daily period of torpor, lowering its metabolic rate for a few hours. This causes its body temperature to drop, thereby conserving water and energy. Not just a pretty face that mouse lemur!

Where are you little mites, I’m coming to get you…!

Edmond’s ground beetle photo

Edmond’s ground beetle is just 2mm in length – can you imagine? I challenge anyone to find this beetle, which lives within wet moss on the edge of bogs! It is one of the smallest ground beetles in the UK and believe it or not, it is actually a predator, feeding on mites and springtails. You certainly won’t feel the need to run away from this mini-beast.

I’m not sure if this whole hiding thing is working out for me.

 Denise’s pygmy seahorse photo

This delicate little critter known as Denise’s pygmy seahorse is one of the smallest of all seahorse species, typically measuring less than 2cm in height! It is a master of camouflage, with its yellow colouration exactly matching the stems of its gorgonian sea fan ‘home’. What a dinky sea creature!

Oh no, I’m too high up…my legs are starting to feel like jelly.

Savi’s pygmy shrew photo

The adorable Savi’s pygmy shrew is the smallest land mammal in the world, growing to a maximum size of just 8cm! It has an exceptional metabolism, with a heartbeat of over a thousand beats per minute which means it cannot survive for more than a few hours without food. To satisfy its high energy requirements, this velvety, miniature shrew can consume as much as 1.3 times its body weight in a single day. If only we could eat that much and stay that small!

Put me down…

Hooked thread snake photo

One of the smallest snakes in the world, the hooked thread snake is rarely seen due to the fact that it lives underground and grows to a maximum of 24cm. Owing to its miniature size, extremely slender body, and pink skin; it is often mistaken for an earthworm. I’d rather come across this tiny snake than a king cobra, that’s for sure!

Up a bit, down a bit, left a bit….

Bee humingbird photo

The diminutive bee hummingbird has the incredible accolade of being the smallest living bird in the world, measuring just 6cm in height. Despite its tiny size, it is capable of beating its wings around 80 times a second in a figure-of-eight pattern, giving it the ability to hover and move with amazing agility. Even more astonishingly, the female lays a clutch of 2 tiny eggs, no bigger than 6mm in length. It’s a miracle they don’t get squished beneath her!

Ok this wing stretch exercise is really starting to ache now…

Kitti's hog-nosed bat photo

Kitti’s hog-nosed bat is not only the smallest bat in the world, but also the smallest mammal in existence! Its extinction would not only be the loss of an incredibly unique species, but an entire branch of the evolutionary tree would vanish from our planet. The body of this miniscule bat reaches just 33mm in length. How this researcher managed to catch this little thing is a mystery!

I’m definitely worth more than a pound, even if it doesn’t look like it!

Partula faba photo

This little critter is joint smallest of our top ten smallest species with Edmond’s ground beetle! The 2mm long Partula faba is one of the most endangered of all the tree snails and is currently on the edge of survival. It is Extinct in the Wild due to the introduction of invasive snails in the French Polynesian islands in the 1970s. The last remaining population of these snails can only be found at Bristol Zoo Gardens. Let’s hope they manage to reintroduce these adorable tiny snails into the wild!

Any minute now, I am going to jump right outta here!

Gardiner's tree frog photo

Check out this tiny frog, it’s smaller than a fingernail! The Gardiner’s tree frog is one of the smallest frogs in the world, growing to only 11mm in length! Unlike most frogs, the young do not hatch as tadpoles, but as fully formed small adult frogs. So the babies are even smaller versions of this little guy – how is that even possible?

Can you find any other tiny species on ARKive? Let us know.

Rebecca Sennett, ARKive Researcher

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