Friday, 21 July 2017

Male fish mutating into females because of waste chemicals, expert warns

Expert calls for stronger stance on chemicals and drugs that are likely to have ‘sub-lethal’ effects on wildlife

Ian Johnston Environment Correspondent
Monday 3 July 2017 13:00 BST

Tougher controls should be considered on chemicals that can feminise male fish and cause other “sub-lethal” effects, a leading ecotoxicologist has said.

Nearly 10 years after he helped reveal how significant an impact human drugs were having on wildlife, Professor Charles Tyler has warned that scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the consequences of thousands of waste substances.

Some are from industrial processes, but others are drugs taken by people that then pass through them and into the sewers or are simply flushed directly into the toilet.

Professor Tyler, of Exeter University, will talk about the issue in a speech at the 50th Anniversary Symposium of the Fisheries Society in the British Isles.

He took part in a major study in 2008 that found nearly a quarter of male roach fish taken from 51 sites on English rivers showed signs of becoming female, such as having eggs in their testicles.

In some rivers, all the male roach were found to have been feminised to a degree because of high levels of oestrogen, which is used along with progestin in birth-control pills to prevent ovulation and is also present in other drugs.


Six of the secretive cats could be released in Northumberland’s Kielder forest if an application by the Lynx UK Trust is approved

Damian Carrington Environment editor

Friday 7 July 2017 15.39 BST Last modified on Friday 7 July 2017 22.00 BST

After an absence of 1,300 years, the lynx could be back in UK forests by the end of 2017. The Lynx UK Trust has announced it will apply for a trial reintroduction for six lynx into the Kielder forest, Northumberland, following a two-year consultation process with local stakeholders.

The secretive cat can grow to 1.5m in length and feeds almost exclusively by ambushing deer. Attacks on humans are unknown, but it was hunted to extinction for its fur in the UK. The Kielder forest was chosen by the trust from five possible sites, due to its abundance of deer, large forest area and the absence of major roads.

Sheep farmers and some locals are opposed to the reintroduction, but Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor to the Lynx UK Trust and expert adviser to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) believes there are good reasons for reintroducing the predator.

 “Lynx belong here as much as hedgehogs, badgers, robins, blackbirds - they are an intrinsic part of the UK environment,” he told the Guardian. “There is a moral obligation. We killed every single last one of them for the fur trade, that’s a wrong we have to right.”

Rural communities would also benefit from eco-tourism, O’Donoghue said: “They will generates tens of millions of pounds for struggling rural UK economies. Lynx have already been reintroduced in the Harz mountains in Germany. They have branded the whole area the ‘kingdom of the lynx’. Now it is a thriving ecotourism destination and we thought we could do exactly the same for Kielder,” he said.

In the egg, American bullfrogs learn how to avoid becoming lunch

Date:  July 5, 2017
Source:  Oregon State University

Summary:  When exposed to potential predators as an embryo, the invasive American bullfrog becomes harder to kill when it becomes a tadpole, according to a new study.

Changes in conservation planning can benefit vulnerable mammals

New research provides the first biological map of priority areas that capture several dimensions of mammalian biodiversity

Date:  July 6, 2017
Source:  Colorado State University

Summary:  New research underscores the viewing of global conservation priority areas through three lenses: taxonomy, traits and evolutionary history.

Green anoles, friends from our childhood, are friends of gardeners, too – via Herp Digest

Tyler Morning Telegraph, 6/28/17 Written by Greg Grant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Surely if you are a gardener you have noticed delicate 6-inch green lizards patrolling your landscape. These guys have been friends of mine since I was a small child.

Because of their ability to change their color from bright green to brown or gray, many people call them chameleons, but they aren’t. These little iguana relatives are actually green anoles, or Carolina anoles, as their Latin name (Anolis carolinensis) indicates. Growing up, I never heard them called anoles. We just knew them as lizards. But in the environmental science world I primarily hear them referred to as anoles with two different pronunciations. Most pronounce it where it rhymes with “a mole,” but I prefer what I think is its original Caribbean Creole pronunciation where it rhymes with “cannoli.”

Anoles do live in the Caribbean islands as well as the southeastern United States from Texas to Virginia. In Texas they live as far west as Central Texas and South Texas. Thanks to sticky pads on the bottom of their feet, they can generally be found on trees and shrubs, as well as walls and rooftops. They generally prefer shady, moist areas, and often completely blend in with nearby potted plants. It’s not uncommon, however, to see them sunbathing during the morning hours.

As children, we couldn’t help wanting to catch them. It’s because of this and their own predators that they have tails that break away quite easily. Amazingly, the tails grow back, but sometimes smaller, discolored or a bit deformed. Our favorite thing to do with them as kids was to let them bite onto our ears and hang there like ear rings.

They don’t eat humans, however. They prefer small insects up to the size of crickets and June bugs. It’s a small-scale horror movie watching them munch and swallow these guys, too. This is why it’s important to be judicious and selective with insecticide use, as birds, spiders, toads, wasps and lizards all need live, healthy insects to dine on. All of these guys provide the service of nature’s insecticide.

One would assume that anoles change colors to blend in with their environment, but the color change apparently has more to do with their temperature, mood and stress level. By far, the most impressive color change they make takes place under their neck when the males project a hot pink dewlap during courtship and territorial displays. They often bob their heads up and down while their dewlap is displayed. My Grandmother Emanis called this dewlap routine “showing their money.” Anoles are very territorial. The males seem to spend more time strutting and posturing than they do foraging.

During the breeding season from March to October, females can lay an egg every two weeks. Eggs take five to eight weeks to hatch. Unfortunately, the female doesn’t look after the egg or the baby lizards, which immediately have to start hunting tiny insects to survive.

Tell your children they are miniature dinosaurs, because they basically are.

Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Students in the US Help Scientists Save Frogs at Lake Titicaca - via Herp Digest

Dina Baker, Peruthisweek, 6/28/17

Denver Zoo’s Lake Titicaca Frog Project aims to educate local communities in Puno about the health of the Lake Titicaca Frog and of the lake itself, in addition to taking action towards the conservation of this species. The Lake Titicaca Frog (telmatobius culeus) is now considered an endangered species due to pollution of the lake, contamination of the lake from local mining operations, and from humans illegally overconsuming the frogs. Educators and conservationists from Denver Zoo visit Puno and surrounding communities regularly to work with scientists in Peru and Bolivia to study the frogs, educate locals and work towards solutions to saving these frogs.

The Lake Titicaca Frogs are important to scientists and humans in general, because they are an indicator of the health of the lake. If these frogs decline significantly in population, then scientists know that there are bigger issues at hand which can impact humans who rely on the lake as well.

It has been over 50 years since Jacques Cousteau and his team were able to use a submarine to explore the depths and floor of Lake Titicaca. Today, scientists are not even sure what the true numbers of remaining frogs might be since it is too dangerous to dive down to those depths and the technology to reach those depths is limited. Since Denver Zoo’s mission is to “Secure a better world for animals through human understanding”, it is very important to Outreach Specialist James Garcia to connect his students in Colorado to nature and educate them about global conservation issues. 

James is also the Education Lead for Denver Zoo’s Lake Titicaca Frog Project for the zoo’s Conservation and Research department, so he has decided to combine his love of education and dedication to conserving the frog by involving his students in the conservation of the frog as well.

Collaboration with St. Vrain Valley Schools Innovation Center in Longmont, Colorado began in June of 2015 when James first met Axel Reitzig, Robotics and Computer Science Coordinator, at a Girls in STEM conference. This was where the idea to have high school students build a robot to study the depths of Lake Titicaca was born and the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) Team was formed. The team started with 6 students and has grown to 15 students presently.

These students were presented with the challenge of developing a submersible drone that could navigate the depths of Lake Titicaca to study the lake floor, the frogs at various depths, record data, as well as take photographic and video footage. The ROV Team of students worked on this robot during 2016, and in June of that year, James brought it with him to Peru to be tested and used in Lake Titicaca. Prior to leaving the US, the ROV was tested by James and the students in Denver Zoo’s aquarium exhibits and in an actual lake in Colorado.

Although the ROV is now technically out of their hands, the team maintains contact with the scientists at Lake Titicaca in order to troubleshoot, make improvements and help the scientists fix any problems with the ROV. The students have their own ROV model at their school that they can use to walk and talk the scientists through exactly what to do to fix the issues via Skype.

Most of the students are bilingual in Spanish and English, which makes communication much easier with the scientists. One issue has been that the ROV currently being used in Lake Titicaca has lost power. These students are actually teaching the biologists how to remove the power panel, disassemble, fix and reassemble the ROV to address the issue. This is such a great opportunity for students in Colorado to help solve the real world conservation problem that scientists are facing in Peru, capturing footage of the depths of Lake Titicaca.

The ROV Team of students will work with scientists on both the Peruvian and Bolivian sides of Lake Titicaca, however, the ROV is currently in the hands of Bolivian scientists. Future goals of this project include having the Peruvian scientists work with the ROV more and send feedback of their own to the students. The ROV Team is also working on new sensors to measure depth and salinity. 

They are improving the navigation of the robot to make it more user-friendly for the scientists. Lastly, the team is working on a sonar device that will be able to map out the floor of Lake Titicaca in the future. Denver Zoo is very proud of James’s collaboration with the high school students of the Innovation Center and the scientists at Lake Titicaca. It will be very exciting to see the future accomplishments of this team and the discoveries that the scientists have yet to make with this technology.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Pandas could be wiped out just as conservationists think they are recovering, warns study

The 'panda survival crisis' remains serious, scientists say, despite the animals' recent reclassification as 'vulnerable' rather than 'endangered'

Ian Johnston Environment Correspondent 

Giant pandas could be wiped out despite conservation efforts being hailed as a success, according to a new study.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently decided the bear was no longer officially “endangered” but was merely “vulnerable” to extinction.

This still means the animal faces as “high risk of extinction in the wild” – rather than the previous “very high” chance – but the new research suggested its true plight was perhaps being underestimated.


Protected wildlife allegedly killed on Peak District shooting estate

 Police investigate after animal rights group films badgers allegedly being caught in snares and shot on the Moscar estate

Hunt Investigation Team’s film footage on the Moscar estate, a grouse-shooting estate in the Peak District.

Josh Halliday  North of England correspondent
Tuesday 11 July 2017 13.29 BSTLast modified on Tuesday 11 July 2017 22.00 BST

Police are investigating allegations that protected wildlife was killed on a shooting estate owned by the Duke and Duchess of Rutland.

Footage filmed by an animal rights group allegedly showed badgers caught in snares and shot this year.

The Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) , which filmed the footage, said it was part of “horrific wildlife persecution” on the Moscar estate, a grouse shooting estate in the Peak District.
It is a criminal offence to injure, kill or ill-treat badgers under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 in England and Wales.

The Moscar estate, near Bamford in Derbyshire, is owned by the 11th Duke of Rutland, David Manners, and Emma Manners, the Duchess of Rutland.

The pair, worth a reported £140m, also own the 6,000-hectare (15,000-acre) Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, a stronghold established at the Norman conquest that has appeared in films including The Da Vinci Code and The Young Victoria.

A spokesman for the Duke and Duchess of Rutland said in a statement: “They were not aware of any alleged illegal activities being carried out on the land. They are horrified by these allegations and will investigate them fully.”

HIT said an estimated 400 wire snares were set across the estate alongside a variety of traps to catch mammals and birds.

Mysterious Sea Creatures Surface in 'Big Pacific'

By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | July 11, 2017 03:17pm ET

It holds about half of Earth's liquid water, covers approximately 64 million square miles (166 million square kilometers) and extends deeper than any other body of water on the planet. The Pacific Ocean is familiar and mysterious at the same time, with much of its watery domain still unexplored by humans and many of its inhabitants yet to be discovered.
But a new five-part television series is offering a glimpse of this hidden world. From tiny, glowing squids to enormous whales, the creatures that call the Pacific Ocean their home take center stage in "Big Pacific," produced by NHNZ, the natural history unit of New Zealand media company Television New Zealand, and presented on PBS in the United States.

Arresting moments from the program are captured in the book "Big Pacific" (Princeton University Press, 2017), a photographic and written companion to the five-part series.

Reptile skin grown in lab could help save endangered turtles – via Herp Digest

Science / Endangered Species, Tree Hugger June 29, 2017

The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) is a majestic creature that can be found in tropical waters around the world. Unfortunately, the commercial harvest of these turtles and of their eggs has forced the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify the species as endangered. Pollution, loss of nesting habitats, bycatch, and disease also pose enormous threats to the survival of green sea turtles.

One of the most severe diseases to affect green turtles is fibropapillomatosis (FP), which causes cauliflower-shaped tumors to form on the turtles’ eyes, mouths, and skin. FP is often fatal as it harms turtles’ immune systems and can lead to additional infections and even internal tumors. The disease especially affects turtles in Brazil, Hawaii, and Florida. From 1980 to 2005, over one fifth of dead and debilitated green turtles found in Florida had FP tumors.

Fortunately, an international group of scientists has made a breakthrough in FP research. According to a new U.S. Geological Survey study, the group of scientists successfully engineered green sea turtle skin in a laboratory, allowing them to grow a virus called chelonid herpesvirus 5 (ChHV5) that causes tumors in sea turtles and is associated with FP. The new study marks the first time in history that researchers successfully grew the skin of a non-mammal in a laboratory.

“Fibropapillomatosis is the most common infectious disease affecting endangered green turtles,” explained Thierry Work, the lead author of the study. “Our findings provide a significant advancement in studying FP, and may eventually help scientists better understand other herpes virus-induced tumor diseases, including those of humans.”

The researchers built a detailed, three-dimensional replica of a turtle's skin using cells from tumors as well as from healthy skin, allowing them to grow ChHV5 and to observe how the virus develops in green sea turtles. Prior to the study, scientists had been unable to grow ChHV5 in the lab, hindering their understanding of how the virus causes tumors. Now, with the help of the engineered turtle skin, researchers have a better understanding of how ChHV5 affects turtles, which could lead to better treatments for turtles affected by FP. Furthermore, with the newfound ability to replicate reptile skin, other scientists studying viruses in reptiles may see advancements in their research.

“Examining viruses within the complex three-dimensional structure of engineered skin is exciting,” Work said. “Virus replication in such a system is likely much closer to reality than traditional laboratory techniques. This method could be a powerful tool for answering broader questions about virus-induced tumors in reptiles and herpes virus replication in general.”

Hot dogs: Is climate change impacting populations of African wild dogs?

July 19, 2017

Climate change may be harming the future of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) by impacting the survival rates of pups, according to one of the first studies on how shifting temperatures are impacting tropical species.

Led by scientists from ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, the study highlights how African wild dogs - already classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List - raise fewer pups at high temperatures.

Three concurrent studies, undertaken by ZSL, the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, and the African Wildlife Conservation Fund, monitored a total of 73 wild dog packs at sites in Kenya, Botswana and Zimbabwe, over a combined 42 years of study.

Tracking with high-tech collars showed that wild dog packs spent less time hunting on hot days. When packs tried to raise pups in hot weather, more of the pups died, potentially because they received less food from individuals returning from hunts.

Read more at: 

Study suggests climate change may kill off the aardvark in some areas

July 19, 2017 by Bob Yirka report

(—A team of researchers with the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa has found evidence that suggests the aardvark may face a large decrease in population as the planet heats up due to global warming. In their paper published in the journal Biology Letters, the group describes how they fastened monitors to a group of aardvarks who by happenstance were forced to endure a severe drought—and how the animals fared.

Aardvarks are interesting mammals, to say the least; they have floppy ears, a tubular snout and a body reminiscent of an armadillo. They survive by hiding from sub-Saharan African heat inside burrows they dig and eating ants and termites at night. As the researchers note, aardvarks are considered to be a keystone species because others animals use the burrows they build as nests, sleeping quarters or simply as a place to escape from predators and he intense desert heat. But their very existence might be in jeopardy, the researchers with this new effort have found, as the planet heats up and conditions in parts of Africa become more inhospitable.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Bobcat in Anthem attack tests positive for rabies​​

July 17, 2017
Arizona Game and Fish Department

​​​​​​​Bobcat in Anthem attack tests positive for rabies​​
Tips offered to prevent rare human-wildlife conflicts
PHOENIX — A bobcat that attacked a large dog and bit a man on the hand in the Anthem Country Club area on Sunday evening has tested positive for rabies.

At 7:30 p.m. Sunday, the Arizona Game and Fish Department received a call that a man was bitten on the hand by a bobcat. The man reported to officers that the bobcat attacked a German shepherd and he was bitten while trying to separate the two animals.

The bobcat quickly fled the immediate area, but was located and dispatched. The animal underwent a necropsy by the department’s wildlife health veterinarian and tissue samples were sent to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Results showed it tested positive for rabies.

While bobcats are abundant throughout Arizona – including in urban areas – they can be aggressive if they become sick, trapped or are defending offspring or a territory. They also tend to frequent habitats where food and water are plentiful, such as in neighborhoods.

Because bobcats are rarely a threat to people and commonly coexist without incident, AZGFD does not routinely relocate bobcats. To discourage bobcats from living near a residence, homeowners should:
  • Keep domestic animals such as small dogs, cats, chickens and rabbits, in a secure enclosure with a sturdy roof if outdoors and unattended.
  • Keep small dogs and cats indoors, in a secure enclosure or on a leash when outdoors.
  • Feed dogs and cats inside or remove any uneaten pet food left outside between feedings.
  • Keep the landscaping around your home neatly trimmed to cover to hide. Likewise relocate or remove piles of debris or junk.
  • Repair openings in fences that could allow a bobcat to easily enter the yard.
  • Fencing your yard is helpful, however, bobcats can jump up to 12 feet, so a 6-foot-tall fence may not deter them if they are attracted to something in the yard.
Residents can discourage a bobcat from living near their home by:
  • Making loud noises such as yelling, using whistles, horns, blaring music or bang on pots and pans.
  • Spraying it with a garden hose.
  • Throwing objects (e.g., rocks, sticks, toys, cans, shoes, etc.) at it.
For information about living in the vicinity of bobcats and how to discourage them from living near your home, visit the Department’s website at
Did you know?
The Arizona Game and Fish Department receives NO Arizona general fund tax dollars? We hold the state’s wildlife in trust for the public without a dime from Arizona taxpayers. 

The Arizona Game and Fish Department prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, religion, or disability in its programs and activities. If anyone believes that they have been discriminated against in any of the AZGFD’s programs or activities, including its employment practices, the individual may file a complaint alleging discrimination directly with the Director’s Office, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000, (602) 942-3000, or with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: Civil Rights Coordinator for Public Access, 5275 Leesburg Pike, MS:WSFR, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803. Persons with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation or this document in an alternative format by contacting the Director’s Office as listed above.
Arizona Game & Fish Dept. · 5000 W. Carefree Hwy, Phoenix, AZ 85086
(602) 942-3000 ·

Hedgehogs at risk from food scarcity, habitat loss and badgers

Experts say hedgehogs face crisis in towns and countryside, as RSPB records fewer sightings of the animals for third year in a row

Friday 7 July 2017 18.10 BST First published on Friday 7 July 2017 16.36 BST

During the day they curl up in nests of shredded paper but when night falls those that are well enough scurry and snuffle around the old fish boxes that serve as their temporary homes.

These hedgehogs at the RSPCA’s West Hatch animal centre in Somerset have had a tough time of it. Some have tangled with dogs, strimmers, bonfires, fruit netting or vehicles; others have been brought in as tiny unseeing hoglets, having lost their parents.

The hedgehogs, which arrive here from as far afield as south Wales and Cornwall, will be nursed back to health by vets and animal carers, and released either close to where they were found or into a hog-friendly piece of West Country countryside.

They are – relatively speaking – the lucky ones. Figures out this week show a deeply worrying wider trend.

In the RSPB’s annual garden watch survey, hedgehogs were spotted in fewer gardens for the third consecutive year. One quarter of the 139,000 gardens surveyed did not record a single sighting in the whole of 2016.

Seven right whales found dead in 'devastating' blow to endangered animal

Carcasses found off Canada in recent weeks in what may be biggest single die-off of one of world’s most endangered whale species, expert says

Ashifa Kassam in Toronto

Saturday 8 July 2017 11.00 BST Last modified on Saturday 8 July 2017 11.01 BST

Seven North Atlantic right whales have been found floating lifelessly in the Gulf of St Lawrence, off Canada, in recent weeks, in what is being described as a “catastrophic” blow to one of the world’s most endangered whales.

The first whale carcass was reported in early June. Within a month, another six reports came in, leaving marine biologists in the region reeling.

“It’s devastating,” said Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society, a charitable organisation dedicated to marine mammal conservation in the region. “This is, I think, the largest die-off they’ve ever had for this particularly species, at once.”

The global population of North Atlantic right whales – which live along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the US and can reach up to 16 metres in length – is thought to be around 525, meaning that more than 1% of the population has died in the past month. “So it is catastrophic in terms of potential impact to this population.”


Hot imagery of wintering bats suggests group behavior for battling white-nose syndrome

Date:  July 5, 2017
Source:  US Geological Survey

Summary:  Hot new imagery from temperature-sensing cameras suggests that bats who warm up from hibernation together throughout the winter may be better at surviving white nose syndrome, a disease caused by a cold-loving fungus ravaging insect-eating bat populations in the United States and Canada.

Whale attack simulations reveal prey escape strategies

Date:  July 5, 2017
Source:  Society for Experimental Biology

Summary:  Humpback whales feed from a range of species that have adapted to escape their fate in a variety of ways. As much as humans track their prey according to the species they are stalking, so whales lunge open-mouthed in different ways depending on the target they are hunting.

Rare Video Shows Mysterious, Worm-Like Legless Lizard – via Herp Digest

This strange reptile spends most of its time underground, but researchers got lucky and caught it on camera.

For video go to: 

By Shaena Montanari
National Geographic by Shaena Montanari, 6/30/17 

It’s not a snake. It’s not a worm. And as far as legless lizards go, the Mexican mole lizard is a strange one.

Hours after setting up a pitfall trap that is designed to catch any animal that walks over it, herpetologist Sara Ruane from Rutgers University-Newark was excited by what she saw: “It was shocking to see one in this trap, I couldn’t believe it was in there.”

She was surprised to see the Mexican mole lizard, also known as Bipes biporus, because their underground lifestyle means they don’t spend too much time on the surface.

This month, Ruane was out with University of California Berkeley graduate student Kaitlyn Kraybill-Voth, who took the video, setting traps for a general biodiversity survey as part of an Islands and Seas field course in San Juanico, Baja California Sur.

Bipes biporus is what is known as an amphisbaenian—a group of legless lizards that, surprisingly, are not snakes even if they bear a strong superficial resemblance. They are more closely related to other lizards with legs than snakes. 

All but three of the approximately 200 amphisbaenian species are legless, and all three with tiny legs are Bipes species. They possess flat, digging front limbs that help them move through lose soil while they are underground. They use both their front limbs and undulating movements of their bodies to get around.

They are only about 9 inches long with a very light pink appearance due to their subterranean lifestyle, where they live in shallow root beds and insects.

The original field study of Bipes biporus in the 1980s notes that out of over 2,000 individuals collected, only three were found on the surface, which is why Ruane was excited to find two during their field expedition.

They are not actually rare, but their life out of sunlight makes them an exciting and surprising site to people who want to see them. Still, this legless lizard is not completely beloved in Baja, where it is called ajolote by the locals.

Folklore surrounding these animals is dicey, at best. In kind terms, some are worried it will use its two front limbs to crawl up a certain orifice when one squats down to use the bathroom.

Although this story has no factual basis, Ruane says some locals did bring it up when she showed them the two Bipes biporus they found. “The rumor is out there,” she laughs. 

Exports to Asia threatening turtle population The Missouri Department of Conservation is considering restricting the commercial harvest of three wild turtle species in the state due to concerns the practice is lowering population numbers. – via Herp Digest

By Margaret Slayton News-Press Now 7/1/17

The Missouri Department of Conservation is considering restricting the commercial harvest of three wild turtle species in the state due to concerns the practice is lowering population numbers.

Jeff Briggler, resource scientist, said the changes will reflect concerns that more turtles are being removed from the landscape than is sustainable for the species. Most turtles in the United States are shipped overseas as part of international trade. The turtles are often sold to Asia for consumption and they are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Due to a decline in turtles in Asia, there has been increased exports into China from the United States. Between 2002 and 2012 there were around 126 million turtles exported out of the country. The turtles came from both commercial breeding turtle farms and the wild. Adult turtles are also taken from the wild to breed hatchlings for the international pet trade.

Briggler said biological restraints prevent turtle populations from being able to rebound after more than a 7 percent annual harvest rate. He said turtles have long life spans and most can reach over 30 years of age. However, adults don’t breed until they are 10 years old and most species produce less than 30 eggs at one time. A small percentage of those eggs survive to hatch due to predators such as raccoons. If a turtle survives to reach adulthood, they are often protected by their shell and death from predators drops.

“Adult turtles are the most important individuals for population stability,” Briggler said. “They don’t have the means to compensate for harvest.”

Briggler said flooding of rivers and waterways also decreases the number of turtles that hatch in a given year.

He said literature from studies suggests removing 10 percent of the snapping turtle population will result in 50 percent reduction in the species within 15 years. A second study indicates that removing more than 7 percent of the population would require a 234 percent increase in egg production by all females for there to be a stable population.

“You’re not going to see that increase because they don’t have the capacity to double it,” Briggler said.

He said turtle populations are slower at reproducing than big game animals that are hunted. In the time period that a snapping turtle lays their first set of eggs, a whitetail deer has produced an average of 912 offspring.

Missouri regulations allow commercial and sport harvest of common snapping turtles, smooth softshell turtles and spiny softshell turtles.

For sport harvest, a fishing license is required. Common snapping turtles can be taken throughout the year and both softshell turtles can be taken from July 1 to Dec. 31. There is a daily limit of five common snapping turtles and five softshell turtles in total.

Commercial harvest requires a commercial fishing license and the department has around 235 individuals each year that purchase the permits. They are restricted to certain waterways but there is no daily limit and no season limits.

The conservation department and the University of Missouri conducted a two-year pilot research project to estimate how much of the turtle population might be removed each year under their current regulations for commercial harvest.

The study estimated there was a removal of 21 percent of snapping turtles within their sample size, there were 16 percent of smooth softshell removed and 33 percent of the spiny softshell turtle were removed. There was an overall average of 23 percent of the population removed within their sample size.

He said surrounding states have ended commercial turtle harvest including Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska and Kansas. Since 2009, six states have ended the practice and six have become more restrictive than Missouri.

In August 2016, the conservation department was petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Great River Law Center to end unlimited commercial harvest. In November, over 100 turtle biologists wrote support for ending the trade. The department has also received two other global petitions with thousands of signatures.

In response, the conservation department mailed opinion surveys to 300 Missouri stakeholders including around 281 commercial fish permit holders and 25 conservation groups. They also sent surveys to anyone that reported turtle harvest in the last five years for feedback.

New rules on commercial harvest proposed by the department will be published on the Missouri Register on Oct. 2. and there will be a 30 day public comment period.
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