Thursday, 5 December 2019

The Romer’s tree frog: green group and scientists thrilled by endangered amphibian’s surprise appearance in Tai Po wetlands survey - via Herp Digest

Once feared extinct, frog found only in Hong Kong is now breeding in more areas

Sha Lo Tung wetlands have shrunk, but ongoing survey records numerous animals
by Zoe Low, South China Morning Post, 11/11/19

An endangered frog native to Hong Kong has been spotted in an ecologically rich wetland region in rural Tai Po, in the New Territories, for the first time by a local green group.

“The Romer’s tree frog is a precious species only found in Hong Kong, so this is an encouraging find,” said Elaine Yuen Yan-ling, assistant education and conservation manager of local non-profit Green Power.

Scientists who have been tracking the tiny frog since the 1950s, and feared at one time that it was extinct, are excited to learn it is breeding in more areas today.

The group first spotted the rare amphibian while doing an ecological survey in Sha Lo Tung in June last year, as part of a management agreement with the government. The survey began in April last year and will continue for two years.

Presenting the preliminary findings of the survey on October 31, Green Power said it had so far found 128 butterflies, 56 dragonflies, 36 amphibians and reptiles, 13 freshwater fish, 11 mammals and 151 plants.

Aside from the Romer’s tree frog, it also spotted several rare animals including the crab-eating mongoose and Ryukyu Dusk-hawker dragonfly.

First Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles Wash Up on Cape Cod Beaches

November 10, 2019

WELLFLEET MA– by  Brian Merchant (in the NYC/Long Island area it will be below freezing from November 12-14. Start walking those beaches.)

The first cold-stunned sea turtles of the season were found washed ashore Saturday on bayside beaches.

Volunteers with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary discovered a dead green sea turtle in at Eastham’s South Sunken Meadow Beach and a live Kemp’s ridley at Breakwater Beach in Brewster.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most endangered sea turtle species in the world.

The live turtle will receive medical care and be rehabilitated at the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Facility in Quincy.

The turtles, which feed in local waters during the summer, get caught by the region’s geography as they try to migrate south and experience hypothermia like conditions as the waters get colder. The body temperatures of the turtles fall with the water temperature and their systems begin to shut down.

Although much of the bay remains above 50 degrees, the temperature at which turtles generally become cold-stunned, there are shallow areas that can be significantly colder.

Karen Dourdeville, the sea turtles stranding coordinator for Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, says the strandings were the result of Friday’s gusty northwest winds.

“We encourage everyone who visits a bayside beach to keep their eyes open for stranded turtles, even out on the tidal flats,” Dourdeville said.
More turtles are expected to wash ashore in the middle of the week as strong winds are being forecast.

Beach walkers who find a turtle are asked to bring it well above the high tide line and to cover it completely with dry seaweed for protection.
The turtles location should be marked with beach debris and reported to the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary at 508-349-2615.

More than 800 turtles washed ashore cold-stunned last year on Cape Cod beaches. The number of turtle strandings have been rising since the late 1970s.

A record number of more than 1,200 turtles were found cold-stunned in 2014.

The reason for more turtles stranding aren’t clear to researchers, but warmer waters in the Gulf of Maine and increased nesting productivity for some of the species may be contributing factors.

How Do We Prevent Pets from Becoming Exotic Invaders? – via Herp Digest

Outlawing possession does not appear to stem the release of alligators, snakes and other problematic species

Scientific American 10/6/19

This summer a professional trapper caught an alligator in a lagoon in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, following a weeklong search that drew crowds of onlookers and captured national headlines. Dubbed “Chance the Snapper,” after a local hip-hop artist, the five-foot, three-inch reptile had likely been let loose by an unprepared pet owner, say experts at the Chicago Herpetological Society (CHS). This was no anomaly: pet gators have recently turned up in a backyard pool on Long Island, at a grocery store parking lot in suburban Pittsburgh (the fourth in that area since May) and again in Chicago.

Keeping a pet alligator is illegal in most U.S. states, but an underground market for these and other exotic animals is thriving—and contributing to the proliferation of invasive species in the U.S. and elsewhere. As online markets make it steadily easier to find unconventional pets such as alligators and monkeys, scientists and policy makers are grappling with how to stop the release of these animals in order to prevent new invasives from establishing themselves and threatening still more ecological havoc. 

New research suggests that simply banning such pets will not solve the problem and that a combination of education, amnesty programs and fines might be a better approach. Many people who release pets may simply be unaware of the dangers—both to the ecosystem and the animals themselves—says Andrew Rhyne, a marine biologist at Roger Williams University who studies the aquarium fish trade. People may think a released animal is “living a happy, productive life. But the external environment is not a happy place for these animals to live, especially if they’re not from the habitat they’re being released into,” he says. “The vast majority of [these] species suffer greatly and die out in the wild.”

Owners sometimes release alligators, as well as other exotic pets such as snakes and certain varieties of aquarium fish, when they prove too big, aggressive or otherwise difficult to handle. But unleashing them on a nonnative habitat risks letting them establish themselves as an invasive species that can disturb local ecosystems. According to one estimate, nearly 85 percent of the 140 nonnative reptiles and amphibians that disrupted food webs in Florida’s coastal waters between the mid-19th century and 2010 are thought to have been introduced by the exotic pet trade.

A study published in June in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment found this trade is already responsible for hundreds of nonnative and invasive species establishing themselves in locations around the world. Examples range from Burmese pythons—which can grow more than 15 feet long and dine on local wildlife in the Florida Everglades—to monk parakeets, whose bulky nests atop utility poles and power substations around the U.S. cause frequent fires and outages. And because of the growth of direct-to-consumer marketplaces on Web sites and social media, “the trade in exotic pets is a growing trend,” both in terms of the number of individual animals and the variety of species kept, says study leader Julie Lockwood, a Rutgers University ecologist. “Together, those increase the chances that this market will lead to an invasion” of an exotic species, she says.

To date, the main way officials have tried to combat the problem is with laws that simply prohibit keeping certain categories of animals as pets. But the effectiveness of this approach is unclear. Even though Illinois has outlawed keeping crocodilians as pets for more than a decade, Chance is just one of many CHS has had to deal with this year alone, says its president Rich Crowley. He likens the problem to illegal fireworks, noting that bans on exotic pets are inconsistent from one state to the next. For Illinois residents, “there’s still a supply that is readily available, legally, across the border” in Indiana, he says. “There are people out there who are willing to take the chance of skirting the law because the reward of keeping [these] animals is worth the risk.”

New research published recently in Biological Invasions underscores this point, finding that banning the sale and possession of invasive exotic species in Spain did not reduce their release into urban lakes in and around Barcelona. “For these invasive species, legislation for the management of invasions comes too late,” because they have already established themselves in the local environment, says University of Barcelona ecologist Alberto Maceda-Veiga, the report’s lead author.
Phil Goss, president of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, says that instead of blanket bans, he would like to see ways for responsible pet owners to still possess exotic species—with laws targeting the specific problem of releasing animals into the wild. “We’re certainly not against all regulation,” he says. “What we’d like to see is something that will punish actual irresponsible owners first rather than punishing all keepers as a whole.”


Instead of bans, Maceda-Veiga’s study recommends educating buyers of juvenile exotic animals about how large they will eventually grow and taking a permit-issuing approach that requires potential owners to seek training and accreditation. “You need a driving license to drive a car,” and people should be similarly licensed to keep exotic pets, Maceda-Veiga says. He and his co-authors contend that licensing, combined with microchips that could be implanted in pets to identify owners, could curb illegal releases.

Rhyne agrees that giving buyers more information would likely help. “I think the education part is really important,” he says. “We should not assume that the average consumer understands (a) how big the animal will get once it’s an adult and (b) what the harm could be if it got out in the wild.” Crowley concurs and says CHS has worked with municipal authorities to make sure pet owners who might have a crocodilian that is getting too big for the bathtub are referred to the organization for assistance. Also, some state agencies offer alternatives to dumping an animal in the wild that protect owners from legal repercussions. 

Lockwood says devising responsible ways for owners to relinquish such pets could help. But for this to work, “you need to make it as easy as possible” to turn in an animal, she says. In 2006 Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) established an amnesty program that allows owners to surrender their exotic pets with no questions asked. So far more than 6,500 animals have been turned over to the program, says Stephanie Krug, a nonnative-species education and outreach specialist at FWC. A few other states have followed Florida’s lead in establishing amnesty initiatives.

Rhyne says some of the onus for controlling exotic animals should fall on the pet industry itself. “If you don’t regulate yourself and make sure you’re doing your best not to trade in species that are highly invasive, you’re going to create a problem that [lawmakers] are going to fix for you,” he adds. Mike Bober, president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, says the pet care community is considering ways to proactively address the problem. “We look at that being primarily based in education and partnership,” he says.

As for what became of Chance, the erstwhile Windy City denizen is acclimating to his new home at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in Florida. An aerial photograph of the Humboldt Park lagoon adorns his enclosure—but he is back where he belongs.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

People, climate, and water supply all played a role in the extinction of Australia's megafauna

NOVEMBER 25, 2019 

The mystery of the role of people and climate in the fate of Australian megafauna might have been solved in a breakthrough study published today. 

"Megafauna,' giant beasts that once roamed the continent—including wombat-like creatures as big as cars, birds more than two meters tall, and lizards more than seven meters long—became extinct about 42,000 years ago. But the role of people in their demise has been hotly debated for decades. 

The new study, led by a team of researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH), analyzed fossil data, climate reconstructions, and archaeological information describing patterns in human migration across south-eastern Australia. 

The team developed and applied sophisticated mathematical models to test scenarios to explain regional variation in the periods during which people and megafauna coexisted. 

For the first time, the research suggests a combination of climate change and the impact of people sealed the fate of megafauna, at least in south-eastern Australia. And that distribution of freshwater—a precious commodity for animals and people alike as the climate warmed—can explain regional differences in the timing at which megafauna died out. 

"There has been much debate among scientists about what conditions led to this extinction event," said lead author Dr. Frédérik Saltré, Research Fellow and Coordinator of the Global Ecology Lab at Flinders University. 

"Resolving this question is important because it is one of the oldest such extinction events anywhere after modern human beings evolved and left Africa," he added. 

The findings, published in Nature Communications, are the result of analysis and complex modeling based on data including more than 10,000 fossils and archaeological records. Using high-quality fossil data and archaeological evidence of human activity, the researchers were able to map regional patterns of megafauna extinction. 

How species in the wild are managing the risks and rewards of sharing space with humans

NOVEMBER 25, 2019 

by Elizabeth Allen, University of Lincoln

Endangered monkeys living in the wild are intelligently adapting their lifestyle to fit with their human neighbors, learning to avoid manmade risks and exploiting increased contact with people, new research has revealed. 

The study, which looks specifically at the behavior of an endangered monkey species, reveals that even in national parks where human presence is reduced and regulated, the animals carry out careful calculations and modify their natural behavior to balance the pros and cons of living in close proximity to humans. 

It reveals the negative impact that consuming human foods can have on the physical health of the monkeys, and highlights the need for new and sustainable conservation programs to save the growing number of endangered species in their natural habitats

Barbary macaques are an endangered species of monkeys restricted to the forests of Morocco and Algeria, with an introduced population also living on the Rock of Gibraltar. The wild population in North Africa has dramatically declined in the last decades. 

The new study, led by Dr. Bonaventura Majolo from the University of Lincoln, UK, involved a detailed examination of the effects of human activity on wild Barbary macaques in Ifrane National Park in Morocco. 

Dr. Majolo said: "When we observe animals in the wild we often talk about a 'landscape of fear.' This term refers to the decisions that animals make when they choose whether or not to avoid an area where the risk of predation is highest; weighing up the risk of attack against the possible rewards to be found there. 

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