Apr 25

A study has highlighted how two rare species of Chelonian are being threatened by hunting in India.

Two endemic species of the Western Ghats in India, the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle are being threatened with extinction due to poaching from indigenous and non-indigenous people. The Chelonians (turtles and tortoises) are the second most imperilled vertebrate group in the world and the two species highlighted in the study are no exception, with the Travancore tortoise classified as Vulnerable (VU) by the IUCN Red List and the Cochin forest cane turtle classified as Endangered (EN). Cochin cane turtles inhabit evergreen forest habitats, and unlike many other turtles, do not require the presence of water. This turtle species is so rare that no scientists saw the species for 70 years between 1912 and 1982. The Travancore tortoise is an omnivore, and can be found in evergreen, moist deciduous, and bamboo forests. This tortoise species is known to produce chorus calls at night, but the purpose of the call is unknown.

The Cochin forest cane turtle

A study published in The Asian Journal of Conservation Biology in 2013 investigated the illegal hunting and consumption of these rare animals, and found that many individuals are caught by non-local forestry workers, including those who work as part of fire management initiatives. However, there was also evidence that Chelonian experts were harvesting these rare species and some individuals even used trained dogs while hunting. The study indicated that 77 percent of the 104 people that were interviewed had consumed the Travancore tortoise and 22 percent had consumed the Cochin forest cane turtle. Chelonian meat was reportedly on sale in local establishments. Although it was found that the primary reason for harvesting wild individuals was for consumption, there was also some evidence that the two species were taken due to superstitions and for medicinal purposes.

The Travancore tortoise

The authors of the report, said, “Wildlife hunting in India is illegal and punishable via the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972, which includes most of the susceptible species … However, hunting continues to be widespread in several regions of India even though it is disregarded or refuted”. The interviews indicated that all 104 respondents knew the illegality of consuming the two species, but problems with pressing charges and corruption are thought to mitigate the risks.

Cochin forest cane turtle on leaf litter

The authors of the study suggest that a limit on the number of dogs allowed at each indigenous settlement may help to reduce the risk of Chelonian hunting, and that the forest department must make a concerted effort to properly supervise forest staff and educate them about the plight of Chelonians. The authors also highlighted the past success of poster campaigns introduced by the Kerala State Forest Department, which aimed to challenge similar local use of animals. Threatened Chelonians, including the Indian star tortoise, were targeted by the previous campaign, and the authors suggest that this kind of promotion could be repeated for the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle.

Read the original article at Asian Journal of Conservation Biology – Hunting of endemic and threatened forest dwelling chelonians in the Western Ghats, India

Find out more about the Travancore tortoise at Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises – Indotestudo travancorica

View photos of the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle on ARKive

Find out more about the wildlife of the Western Ghats on ARKive

Read more about this story at Mongabay – Chelonians for dinner: hunting threatens at-risk turtles and tortoises in India

Read more about turtle and freshwater tortoise conservation at the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group

Oct 23

From saving the world’s most threatened species of sea turtle to bringing unusual amphibians back from the brink of extinction, no conservation conundrum is a lost cause if knowledge, dedication and strong partnerships are put into play. This is the message being championed by ARKive to celebrate its tenth anniversary this year.

Through its unparalleled collection of wildlife imagery, ARKive – an initiative of wildlife charity Wildscreen – has become a platform to inform, and a place to encourage conversation for conservation. To mark a decade spent educating, enthusing and inspiring people to care about the natural world and highlighting the importance of biodiversity, ARKive is flying the flag for conservation by featuring ten species which are set to improve in status over the next ten years should positive action continue.

Juliana's golden-mole image

Juliana’s golden-mole

ARKive’s chosen species, which were selected in consultation with species experts of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC), represent a variety of taxonomic groups, and reflect the fascinating array of organisms with which we share our planet. From Juliana’s golden mole, one of Africa’s oldest and most enigmatic mammals, to the Asian white-backed vulture, a bird which has suffered a 99.9% population decline in just over a decade, this selection of species aims to raise awareness of the myriad threats faced by wildlife, and demonstrate how targeted conservation action can truly make a difference.

ARKive is working with the world’s leading wildlife filmmakers, photographers, conservationists and scientists to promote a greater appreciation of our natural world and the need for its conservation,” said Wildscreen CEO, Richard Edwards. In this our tenth year, we wanted to celebrate not only the great diversity of life on Earth, but also the vital conservation work that is being carried out around the world, and highlight that by working together to raise awareness, share knowledge and take positive action conservation can and does work.

Lord Howe Island stick insect

Lord Howe Island stick insect

One particularly impressive conservation story is that of the Lord Howe Island stick insect, a large, flightless invertebrate endemic to Australia. Once common on Lord Howe Island, this unusual insect was driven to extinction following the accidental introduction of rats to the island, only surviving in an area of 180 square metres on a large rock to the southeast of its original habitat. Without detailed scientific knowledge of the reasons behind its decline, this fascinating species might, by now, have been added to the ever-increasing list of extinct species. However, thanks to scientific exploration and understanding, and with the invaluable application of appropriate conservation measures, it is believed that the Lord Howe Island stick insect could be re-introduced to its native habitat in the next few years.

Kihansi spray toad image

Kihansi spray toads

Another species on the road to recovery as a result of targeted conservation action is the Kihansi spray toad, a rare dwarf amphibian found only in a two-hectare area of habitat in eastern Tanzania’s Kihansi River Gorge. In addition to catastrophic population declines due to a devastating amphibian fungal disease, the Kihansi spray toad has suffered at the hands of habitat loss. The construction of a dam on the Kihansi River in 2000 caused the diminutive toad’s wetland habitat – which relied on being moistened by waterfall spray – to dry out, leading to the amphibian’s dramatic decline and its listing as Extinct in the Wild on the IUCN Red List.

By working in partnership, zoos and conservation organisations were able to set up successful captive breeding programmes for the Kihansi spray toad, boosting an initial captive population of 499 individuals to an incredible 6,000. Conservationists also took the unusual step of setting up an artificial sprinkler system, which by 2010 had restored the Kihansi spray toad’s habitat, and by December 2012 an international team of experts – including scientists from the IUCN SSC Amphibian and Re-introduction Specialist Groups – had re-introduced 2,000 toads to Kihansi. This incredible achievement marks the first time that an amphibian classified as Extinct in the Wild has been returned to its native habitat.

The state of the natural world is increasingly worrying, with many species teetering on the brink of extinction,” said Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission. “However, conservation does work and we should be greatly encouraged by success stories such as the re-introduction of the Kihansi spray toad. Many other admirable conservation achievements also show that the situation can be reversed thanks to the dedication and determination of experts and scientists worldwide. With continued effort and support, there is much we can achieve.”

Kemp's ridley turtle image

Kemp’s ridley turtle

Another case in point is that of the Kemp’s ridley turtle, a marine reptile which once numbered in the tens of thousands, but which declined dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s primarily due to the overexploitation of eggs and adult turtles. Thanks to the outstanding efforts of turtle biologists, a wealth of information on the Kemp’s ridley turtle’s biology, distribution and potential threats has been collected in recent years, which has contributed greatly to a special recovery plan for the species.

Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity have made a commitment, through the Aichi Targets, not only to prevent the extinction of threatened species but also to improve their conservation status – ARKive’s tenth anniversary campaign is a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of conservation and show that it really does work,” said Dr Jane Smart, Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “Along with our extensive network of scientific experts, we look forward to working even more closely with ARKive, an IUCN Red List Partner, to strive towards achieving the important goals the world has set.

Asian white-backed vulture image

Asian white-backed vulture

While the work of conservationists and scientific experts is a vital component in the fight against species extinctions, ARKive is also keen to highlight the role that members of the general public can play in the future survival of Earth’s incredible biodiversity. By learning more about the natural world around them and understanding its importance, it is hoped that people will be inspired to take action in their daily lives to safeguard our invaluable species and ecosystems. From recycling and limiting plastic usage to making wiser seafood choices and supporting some of the many hundreds of organisations and scientists who devote their lives to conservation, we can all strive towards building a healthier planet.

Find out more about the ten species on the road to recovery on ARKive’s Conservation in Action page.

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